Summary and Perspectives on Part 5

This is a summary and a statement of perspective on “Not Jewish Yet Drawn to Torah, Part 5.” We had a lively discussion.

Commenters have varying concerns including:

(1) Leaders of congregations who do not want to marginalize any person and who are concerned that making distinctions between Jewish and non-Jewish observance will cause harm.

(2) Messianic Jews who want to see a form of Messianic Judaism that is truly a Judaism and that follows Judaism’s norms for defining who may observe Torah in what manner.

(3) A whole lot of people in between who understand the givenness of Jewish identity, the precious obligation to maintain it, and also the legitimacy of the yearning of many non-Jews for a Jewish-patterned spirituality.

You might guess that I am neither (1) or (2). That might surprise or even seem scandalous to you.

No, I am not one who stirs up trouble for the adrenaline rush. Neither am I a purist looking for a Jews-only Messianic Judaism. No do I disdain forms of Christianity patterned on Jewish observance (what I was calling Judeo-Christian, a name which has been convincingly discredited by commenters as carrying too much rightwing political baggage in popular parlance).

Commenters have said: a Jewish-patterned Christian congregation that safeguards Jewish identity is impossible, there are no theologically sound reasons for non-Jews to keep the Sabbath, the name Judeo-Christian will sound like rightwing political talk, Jews who wish to renew Judaism in Yeshua should abandon both the term Messianic and Messianic Judaism, FFOZ and MJTI are not the ones leading MJ congregations and so the ideas of these two groups is not necessarily practical, making distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish Torah observance will fracture congregations and hurt people, the belonging of non-Jews to “spiritual Israel” is more important than you are making it, gentiles should not play dress-up or play-act Jewish observances, MJ could try not be a separate denomination but meld into mainstream Judaism with a post-congregational approach, and non-Jewish Torah observers should simply call themselves Messianic gentiles.

Wow, that is a long list, and I pared it down to the basics. I can’t respond to all of it without boring you, so here are a few perspectives.

To the purists for whom (2) above is the main issue, I disagree that there is no legitimate reason for some gentiles to desire a Jewish-patterned spirituality and for some to be part of MJ. Some will make comments like, “Gentiles play-acting Jewish rituals is silly.” If you, as Jews, do not understand the spiritual power of Jewish tradition, I will not try to explain it to you. I have a number of heavyweights on my side in this matter. A recent example is Shmuley Boteach, who leads non-Jews in a christless, semi-Jewish spirituality. Parts 6 and 7 will address these issues more fully.

To those who resonate with (1) above, for whom any attempt at distinction is either unbiblical or potentially dangerous in terms of marginalizing people, I disagree that God’s value on continuing Jewish identity can be ignored. The continuation of Jewish identity through the generations is a God-given reality. Ignoring the irrevocable election of Israel, the continued hand of God on the Jewish community, will not make it go away. Serving a God-honoring, people-respecting vision of unity with distinction is not an impossible line to walk. It’s just that few are trying.

I concede on the name Judeo-Christian as being unhelpful for Jewish-patterned Christian groups. You have convinced me. So we need to think of new names. I don’t concede that the name Messianic is proper for non-Jewish groups.

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
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21 Responses to Summary and Perspectives on Part 5

  1. jroush81 says:

    I’ll be honest: I am a mix of 3 and 2…I wrestle back and forth.

    Now to see if there are better terms that can be used…
    I am sure Yahnatan and I will discuss this…

    thanks for summing things up.

  2. Seth says:

    I’m a 3.

    Also, if one desires a Jewish-patterned spirituality, without co-opting Jewish identity, look to the worship of the early liturgical church.

  3. Cliff.C says:

    I like Judeo-Christian. I can even see calling myself that if asked point blank, “so what are you then?”

    One small point that has not been specifically addressed, is the desire to worship and act like Yeshua and his Disciples/later Apostles did. This ties in to your point about the power of Jewish tradition. In reality, by and large it is Biblical tradition. The Siddur, Sabbath observance, Jewish ethics and Bible study. These and more are so much more meaningful than other forms of Biblical faith. This should come as no surprise.

    “Apostolic Judaism” has been an applied term in the past. This just means that there are those, I would include myself, who see Jewish practice as a component of authentic discipleship, and yearn to practice our faith like the very first Jewish (and non-Jewish) believers.

    This is all a very great discussion, and Hashem should bless each one as these issues are debated cordially.

  4. justin david says:

    Blessings Derek;

    Wow, my position was so poorly represented that I actually had to refer back to my original posts. It appears that in my attempts to not marginalize ‘gentiles’ I will single handedly destroy the Jewish people? Are you serious? Have I proposed what is contained in your summation of point (2)? I humbly submit to you that that is not the case…Ignore: Jewish identity? Israel’s election? Interfering with God’s plan? Broad sweeping statements which I do not support and did not propose.

    Messianic Jews must maintain their own identity, individually and corporately; honest ‘gentiles’ in the movement will not co-opt Jewish identity, if they do, how can we stop them? If we believe the Scriptures, the Jewish people will be with Him and identifiable forever. In my community I will not rebuild a wall which has been torn down, we see this in Acts and the writings of Paul; Jews and Gentiles living, traveling and assembling together for worship. Paul rejected the dividing wall and contended with Peter over issues of separation; I will not insult your intelligence by providing Scripture.

    Messiah told us to be at peace. I am at peace with you and I am your brother although we appear to disagree on these points. Again, no affront or anger intended. Looking forward to reading the continuation of this series.

    Shalom,
    J

  5. Justin:

    I didn’t mention your name in my summary. And perhaps I was speaking not specifically about your comments to the post, but the larger rationale behind the “let’s not make any changes in the status quo” argument.

    I will say, though, that now your clarification helps me see better where you specifically are coming from. So tell me if I get it right this time. You believe that:

    (1) Messianic Judaism should be open to all comers.

    (2) Non-Jews in MJ synagogues are responsible to avoid co-opting Jewish identity, but if they do co-opt Jewish identity, we leaders would do wrong to try and stop them.

    (3) Jews in MJ synagogues are responsible to maintain Jewish identity themselves.

    I don’t understand how you propose dealing with certain matters such as:

    –People who come to MJ because they are mad at Christianity and see us as a refuge.

    –People who think God only accepts Torah-keepers as kosher.

    –Non-Jews who wear tzit-tzit but no kippah, who by their dress communicate that Judaism is wrong and we must develop some fictitious biblical Judaism.

    –People who intermarry with no plan to maintain Jewish identity or pass it on to their children (or a naive plan as if “it will just work out”).

    Furthermore, you say that making any distinction is rebuilding the wall of partition. That I strongly disagree with. You cannot in the same breath say, “Jews need to remain Jewish” and” do not make distinctions between Jews and gentiles or you are sinning.”

    I think you and I have the same respect for all the people in our sphere, but we differ a bit in our theology of Jewish identity. And so far I don’t know how you would handle the kinds of situations I raised above.

    Derek Leman

  6. I am a 2.

    I want to be a 3. Really. I do. It’s just that all the Gentiles I know who demonstrate an authentic and long-term interest in Jewish spirituality are either on the path to conversion or are married to someone Jewish (or both). Which means that they fit within the paradigm of someone who thinks like a 2.

    What I am not and will never be is a 1. Glossing over real issues of identity and communal belonging for the sake of tender feelings (or for the sake of the budget) is usually an unintended cruelty in the long-term. If we had been willing to talk about these issues out loud 20 years ago, we’d have a very different movement today.

  7. I suppose if Justin were Paul he would not write such a harsh letter to Gentile Judaizers of Galatia lest they get offended that they are being denied entry into a full Jewish lifestyle, feel marginalized and leave the faith as the result. Harmony and membership above all.

    BTW, Justin, the so called misused “wall of partition” slander is not about Jews preventing Gentiles from fellowshipping with them. Rather, Gentiles were prevented, through their idolatry (not through Jewish hatred of Gentiles), from having access to G-d himself (and Jewish people by extension). With Yeshua’s sacrifice, G-d himself has removed that wall – no man can ever put it back up. Millions of Gentile Christians worshiping around the world enjoy the full benefits of the removed “wall of partition” with no Jews in sight.

    • justin david says:

      Just lost my comment…will try to recreate.

      Gene: We are both glad that I am not Paul. I have been referred to as a Judaizer many times in nearly every church that I have ministered in; this is usually for not removing my head covering…either a hat or kippah in the sanctuary. So I do understand, very clearly the issues we face as MJ’s.

      Monique: My ‘openness’ is not a budget issue and I certainly do not gloss over the issues. Our community is not incorporated, we have no official membership and we do not have membership dues or collect offerings. We simply place a basket by the door and if people want to give they do. There have been many times that I have paid the rent on our build myself. So money is not an issue, for my part. We are still established and are building strong believing families; whether they are Jews or ‘gentiles.’

      Yes, I look forward to the day we can all sit and sing Kumbaya! Anyone have the chords.

      Shalom,
      J

  8. Monique:

    Thanks and I am glad to have your view represented. You and Gene voice well position number 2 (with some 3 leanings possibly).

    In a coming post, I am going to go out on a limb and explore the limits of Jewish tradition on defining who may observe Torah and how. I am going to suggest some reasons for taking a softer halachic line on non-Jewish Torah observance. But I am not going to throw Jewish identity out the window.

    I count on you and others who are on the Jewish traditional side of things to challenge me. It’s not good if the only pressure I get in these dialogues is from the “no disctinctions” side.

    Derek Leman

  9. justin david says:

    Blessings Derek;

    Perhaps I read to much of myself into your statements; if I did I apologize.

    1) Yes

    2) If they are intellectually and spiritually honest they will avoid this. IF they do co-opt, the leader should sit and have a conversation with them regarding this matter; and make an attempt to understand what is happening in their minds and correct any Biblical confusion.

    3) The MJ Synagogue will provide an environment suitable for such maintenance; but they must be willing to maintain that identity outside of our doors and in their homes.

    Sub-points:

    a) This is a pastoral counseling issue. It would be handled like any other life issue. I have had much experience with this issue and in each case I have pointed, not to Messianic Judaism, but to Messiah; He is the only refuge. I then advise them to sit and learn and begin healing. If I know the pastor or congregation in question, I speak directly to the pastor for a more complete understanding of the situation.

    b) Again, I tell them to sit and learn. I will usually have my assistant run off our series on Romans for them; easy enough to clear up if it is handled head on.

    c) In my experience most of these people are unteachable; and some are just poorly informed. When pressed by them I ask for a reference from the Bible that tells them how to tie the tzitzit they are wearing…I have received some very interesting responses over the years…obviously they cannot do this.

    d) This again is a pastoral counseling issue; this happens everyday in Judaism. We had one intermarried couple where the wife insured that the children were raised with a Jewish identity; regardless of what I said to the man, it was just not a concern for him (with his parents, both Jews, it was the same way, the father just did not care about raising Jewish children…until one of the became a Christian.).

    Jews do need to remain Jewish in the MJ movement but I welcome the saints of the nations into the family. I will not allow, at least in my community, a delivered saint to feel inferior to, or less accepted in His House. Many of our people will tell you directly that they are not there to be Jewish, they are there for the Word. We are a relatively small community, about 60 regulars and if we add family who do not attend regularly we are at about 80 or 85. These issues which you have brought up I can handle one on one without much issue; the people who embrace the ‘Israelite’ or ‘Hebrew roots’ elements have learned to stay away, not because I have thrown them out, they just don’t agree with me on some rather serious Biblical issues.

    Perhaps, if MJTI began to author books that helped leaders pastor these issues, and provided guidelines or thoughts to help them rather than creating ‘doctrine’ or ‘theological’ answer I would be more supportive, if they have amen. I believe that FFOZ does an nice job with their teaching materials for the Church and the Vine of David series will be valuable to the MJ movement.

    If we are pastoring our people and maintain a one on one relationship with them, this will go a long way to help them understand who they are in Messiah within the MJ movement. The key, in my opinion is pastoring.

    Yes, I believe that we are both passionate because we love and respect all spheres involved in this discussion. Passionate, intellectual and faithful people will disagree but still be united in brother love.

    Shalom;
    J

    • “These issues which you have brought up I can handle one on one without much issue; the people who embrace the ‘Israelite’ or ‘Hebrew roots’ elements have learned to stay away, not because I have thrown them out, they just don’t agree with me on some rather serious Biblical issues. ”

      Well, there you go Justin. No one here is advocating throwing people out (unless they truly become a destabilizing force in the community) – instead, teaching, pastoring and leading services in such a way that those who would be better off serving G-d elsewhere would get the message and take themselves out to better pastures. How is it different that what you already do?

  10. justin david says:

    Blessings Gene;

    As an aside, I have only tossed one person out. This man barked like a dog during worship and claimed to receive prophecy while doing this…he did see the mean side of me.

    I suppose that it comes down to what you are teaching. I am sure that you have had similar experience, new people visiting every week but they just ‘can’t take all this Jewish stuff.’ Those who stay are there to learn, some for a season, some for years; many usually go back to the Church, but with a positive understanding of what we are called to do. Some realize that the MJ stuff is just not for them.

    Regarding the middle wall comment, Yes, I do understand the history and context but used the term in the context of what has been expressed and argued on other blogs.

    Shalom;
    J

    • Justin, thanks for your thoughts.

      In your community, do you differentiate between Jews and Gentiles when it comes to performing bar/bat mitzvahs, calling to aliyahs to read from Torah, etc. (assuming you do those types of life cycle and liturgical things)?

  11. justin david says:

    Blessings Gene;

    Although I personally would not object to a bar/bar mitzvah ‘type’ event for gentile, those in our community with children who have reached or are reaching this age have opted not to do it because of the Jewishness of the event. Although the children go through the same type of training and spiritual teaching, the families have marked the events in different ways.

    Calling for aliyahs, regardless of how many times I have explained it, is still a foreign concept to many. Our Jewish contingent, obviously no issue; if we should ‘run out of Jews’ who desire an aliyah we will call other saints up. Being that, as of right now, only myself, my wife and our sons can or are willing to read from the Torah, this has not been much of an issue.

    We do all Jewish lifecycle events, often for MJ’s who cannot get them done elsewhere. The liturgical portion of our service is comparatively short, when compared to a traditional Synagogue; about 15 to 20 minutes. Not really an issue, most pick up the melodies quickly, pronunciation…that still needs improvement.

    Shalom;
    J

  12. Ovadia says:

    Derek:

    As someone of overwhelmingly-Gentile descent, and a prospective convert to Judaism, I can testify to the spiritual power of the Jewish tradition. That is why I am respecting that tradition enough to let it speak, on its own terms, about who is a part of it, and choosing to enter that community on its own terms. It would be an incredible act of disloyalty to the community I love if I were to jump over the fences it has built and appropriate post-Biblical, post-Christian, Rabbinic Jewish worship practice and identity, the same way that Christians for centuries have jumped over to reclaim pre-Christian Israelite identity.

    I understand the Christian longing for roots and tradition. Had I not found in Judaism something that was not foreign but rather, connected to my very being, I would now be a proudly confirmed member of a large, faithful, socially active, historically-rooted Episcopal parish in North Dallas.

    The evangelical church has already done a thorough-enough job of promoting a Christianity that is devoid of the lived experience and tradition of the Church. We should not exacerbate this problem by encouraging people who have no claim on the post-Biblical, post-Christian, rabbinic Jewish heritage (and who are not Israelites in the pre-Christian, Tanakh sense) to run amok with it.

  13. Ovadia says:

    Derek:

    As someone of overwhelmingly-Gentile descent, and a prospective convert to Judaism, I can testify to the spiritual power of the Jewish tradition. That is why I am respecting that tradition enough to let it speak, on its own terms, about who is a part of it, and choosing to enter that community on its own terms. It would be an incredible act of disloyalty to the community I love if I were to jump over the fences it has built and appropriate post-Biblical, post-Christian, Rabbinic Jewish worship practice and identity, the same way that Christians for centuries have jumped over to reclaim pre-Christian Israelite identity.

    I understand the Christian longing for roots and tradition. Had I not found in Judaism something that was not foreign but rather, connected to my very being, I would now be a proudly confirmed member of a large, faithful, socially active, historically-rooted Episcopal parish in North Dallas.

    The evangelical church has already done a thorough-enough job of promoting a Christianity that is devoid of the lived experience and tradition of the Church. We should not exacerbate this problem by encouraging people who have no claim on the post-Biblical, post-Christian, rabbinic Jewish heritage (and who are not Israelites in the pre-Christian, Tanakh sense) to run amok with it at the expense of their own.

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