This post should not be read in isolation from previous ones in this series. If you are short on time, at least read “Part 5” here.
We have now come to the part of this series which some readers have eagerly anticipated. We are going to talk about legitimate reasons for non-Jews to remain in Messianic Judaism or even to seek out Messianic Judaism. In Part 7, I will explore the question, “Is non-Jewish use of Jewish ritual absolutely forbidden?”
But for now, we are in a great dialogue, as Jews and non-Jews, as those involved in MJ and those at the borders of MJ and those looking on MJ from afar either in Christian or Jewish communities. We are wondering about this phenomenon of non-Jews taking up Jewish ritual and belonging to Jewish communities. Let’s start with some preliminary matters:
(1) I have advocated, biblically and theologically, that we must protect ongoing Jewish identity and not allow non-Jews to assume a false or shallow pseudo-Jewish identity.
(2) I have advocated, biblically and theologically, that we must not undermine the truth that non-Jews need not live like Jews in order to be kosher to God. See the article on the left sidebar of my blog called “Acts 15” if you have no idea what I am talking about.
Now a few more preliminaries:
(3) Many people are in MJ for insufficient reasons. They simply could not find a church which rejected supersessionism (replacement theology) and which had a positive view of Jewish culture and law. For these people, I have recommended the forming of Judeo-Christian congregations (though many do not prefer that name, no one has suggested a better one).
Now I want to talk about two things: (4) Many non-Jews have been drawn to MJ for very good reasons or, having been drawn for insufficient reasons at first, have grown into the full MJ vision and (5) MJ can and should develop ways of being communities with Jews and non-Jews serving a single purpose.
Drawn to MJ For the Kingdom
There are three kinds of people who find Jewish spirituality powerful and enter into MJ. One kind is the Jew-at-heart-who-should-convert. A second is the spouse in an intermarriage with a Jewish man or woman or the child of one Jewish parent. A third is the believer convinced God’s power is at work in the Jewish community and who wishes, like a sojourner, to be near and involved.
As for the Jew-at-heart-who-should-convert, there are barriers preventing most from fulfilling their desire. First, some don’t know they should or could convert. They don’t understand Jewish identity, have been told that they can assume a pseudo-Jewish identity without converting, and they are confused. Second, some are in situations that make conversion difficult, such as spouses who would not join them (note: this is an important category which Mark Washofsky discusses in the context of Reform Judaism in his Jewish Living). Third, many are held in paralysis in a conflicted and struggling Messianic Judaism which barely has conversion options available and only to a very limited group of people (see ourrabbis.org). I myself fell into this category for years, many of them in confusion, until I fulfilled my calling and completed conversion with my family. (But just because this category is personal for me does not mean you should refrain from challenging me out of fear I will be offended).
As for the spouse in an intermarriage or the child of one Jewish parent, some may choose to convert at some point and others may not. I feel bound, as a rabbi and encourager of faith in my community, to serve these families regardless of the choices they make. I make an effort to have an environment in our congregation that is welcoming to Christian spouses as well as Jewish non-Messianic participants. MJ must be a place for intermarrieds, in my opinion, in ways that are closed to them in Reform and similar alternative environments.
The fact is, by the way, that many intermarrieds choose neutral, non-religious environments, such as the JCC, to enculturate their children. Oy, I wish they knew of mature, Messianic synagogues where the whole family would be served and where faith is expressed! (CLARIFICATION: I think our JCC is great, I just don’t want people to see it as a replacement for a faith community.)
As for the believer convinced that God’s power is greatly at work in the Jewish community, I believe this is a valid and legitimate desire to be near and involved with a Jewish community. This is the category I belonged to once before becoming a Jew-at-heart and then a convert. For many, this involves a belief that in the last days, people from the nations will draw near to Jews and join in Jewish ritual. MJ is a sign to them that the last days are approaching. For others, this is bigger than a last-days-are-upon-us sensation. It is about the Abrahamic covenant, about Israel as the source of blessing for all the families of the earth, and a sense that being near to and serving Jewish faith in Messiah is a desirable place to be. Christianity and its focus on the nations is very right, but some people want to be part of God’s focus on the elder brother, the firstborn, the Jewish community.
Of course, this last category may draw ridicule from purists whose vision of Messianic Judaism is Jewish-only. I haven’t sufficiently proved that this category is legitimate (I understand). Oy, I need a whole additional post (Part 8, perhaps?).
Building an MJ for a Diverse Community
What is needed to make an MJ work which is populated with Jewish and non-Jewish congregants?
First, keep in mind that I think entirely or predominantly non-Jewish congregations should move in the direction of being Judeo-Christian congregations and quit using the name Messianic. Jews who believe in Jesus chose the moniker Messianic first. The world (I think this is still true in spite of years of confusion) thinks Messianic means Jewish. So, many are in “Messianic” groups that ought to be Judeo-Christian congregations (feel free to coin a better name).
Yet, in those congregations in which it is possible and even likely that the Jewish community may come and see renewal of Judaism in Yeshua (what I define as real Messianic Judaism), how can we have a meaningful tradition which respects numbers (1) and (2) from the top of this post?
The answer is that we will need to form halachic standards that differentiate between Jews and non-Jews.
We need to get rid of bad and imprecise theology such as, “As a non-Jew, I see no problem reciting the blessing “who selected us from all peoples and gave us his Torah,” since God chose me in Yeshua and Torah is part of my scripture too.” No, this blessing is intended to articulate God’s irrevocable election of Israel. Non-Jews need a substitution in wording.
There are many such examples. Bar and Bat Mitzvah for non-Jews? A bris for non-Jews? Think about it.
We can do this, even though it is messy, even though those from mainstream Judaism will criticize us (so what, look at Jewish internal criticism on the whole), even though some churches will call us Judaizers (so what, look at the fights in Christendom and move on), and even though we continue to attract confused people.
We can patiently teach (1) and (2) and wait for people to get it. Meanwhile, I don’t blame non-Jews for drawing near to the Jewish community, for loving the idea of biblical Israel, for loving the actual Jewish community, for wanting to be close to God’s plan for the Jewish community. This very real and very good motivation should be absolutely separated from the divisive, false, and unhealthy forms of pseudo-Jewish identity promoted in the broader MJ movement.
I like the point you make about the recitation of blessings. For example, even in orthodox Judaism, women are permitted (technically) to don tallit and tefillin, although no blessing is recited. Thus, the distinction is make made between those obligated (Jewish men) and those not (Jewish women). I realize the halachic status of Jewish women and Gentiles are different, but in those communities trying to make distinction, could a similar course of action be pursued? Although, the number of MJ synagogues that would encourage Jewish men to don tefillin (and make the blessings) is probably slim.
I’ve also thought long and hard about bar/bat mitzvah and bris for Gentiles. As a Gentile, the answer I’ve come up with is no. I think those are off limits. Both represent the incumbency of the Torah upon the Jewish people. If one so desires such things for his family, then they are probably in the category of a Jew-at-heart-who-should-convert.
Another related subject that should receive more attention in MJ and Judeo-Christian churches is that of immersion. We should place more emphasis upon confession of Yeshua as Messiah and Lord than whether a 13 year old non-Jew is bound to the Torah. Without that confession, we Gentiles are “without hope, without God” and “strangers to the covenants of promise.”
“What is needed to make an MJ work which is populated with Jewish and non-Jewish congregants?”
Derek… very much in relevance to your post here, in my return today from blogging sabbatical I have created a post that advocates for building of Jewish MAJORITY Messianic Communities. I make practical and what I believe sensitive recommendations for implementing what I view as the next step in maturity for Messianic Judaism. Click on my name to see it.
First off, if you haven’t done so already, click Gene’s name above to read the blog he wrote today. It very much addresses this issue and is a good read.
Moving on, I believe Justin commented in Part 5 of this series that if all the Gentiles left formally Messianic Jewish congregations, there might not be much of a population of worshipers available to continue the existence of those congregations. Only in areas with a very large Jewish population and with a large subset of Messianic Jews who are religiously and culturally Jewish would a “real” Messianic Jewish synagogue be possible.
I’m an intermarried person but unique in “the movement” since my wife is Jewish but not Messianic. I have considered the idea of conversation on more than one occasion but in order to do so, either at the local Reform shul or, if the Rabbi were willing, at the Chabad here in town, I would have to consciously surrender my faith in Yeshua, which I’m unwilling to do. As I mentioned elsewhere, I’m not even sure that conversation from Gentile Christianity (which, as far as most Jews in the world are concerned, is what I am) to Messianic Judaism is possible, let alone advisable, relative to Paul’s commentary on the matter. As far as my wife would be concerned, a conversion to Messianic Judaism would be totally unacceptable, so it wouldn’t do my marriage any good. Nope. Looks like I’m a Gentile for the duration.
I don’t see that it’s up to the rest of us to come up with an alternative label to “Messianic” as applies to mainly Gentile congregations who choose to follow at least some Hebraic or Jewish worship practices. Again, as I’ve said elsewhere, the term is the most applicable given the nature of such congregations and developing an alternate label just builds another fence between Jews and Gentiles who are supposed to be like-minded disciples of the Jewish Messiah.
Gentile One Law congregations have been criticized for being “lone wolf” communities who have no connections to either their local Christian churches or Jewish synagogues or for that matter, other “Messianic” congregations. While I agree that Jewish distinctiveness needs to be maintained in the Messianic world, unless you also recognize that these primarily Gentile congregations are your brothers and sisters in the Messiah too, they will spin off into their own little orbits never to be heard from again. Creating a separate label and “class” for Gentiles in “the movement” will likely have the effect of further isolating these groups from a more Jewish Messianic Judaism.
Oh, and understanding that it wouldn’t be appropriate in an actual Messianic Jewish shul for Gentiles to say the Shema, the Amidah, and the other traditional prayers, what role would non-Jews have in a worship service and how could said Gentile worship be adapted for use in Gentile “Judeo-Christian congregations?” Gentile “Messianic” congregations have no other model for conducting a worship service except the Jewish model, unless you’re advocating a traditional Charismatic Christian service. If not, what model is left?
Last word. While my comments here and on my blog may seem “challenging” or even “aggressive”, I do applaud your efforts to try and build a bridge between our two worlds or at least our two viewpoints. Even if you can’t tolerate me as an individual (I know I’m hard to be around), I encourage you to keep at it.
The issue of “conversion” is still very much open. Paul EXPLICITLY taught that it ought not to be done (1 Cor 7 – Paul’s “rule for all the churches, so ably discussed by David Rudolph some months back). G-d create some as Jews and most as other (whatever they are – Argentinian, Italian, Indian, Chinese, etc., etc.) for HIS purposes… how dare we seek to change what G-d created “according to His will”?
I have yet to hear a coherent discussion of the MJ justification for conversion that deals with 1 Cor 7. Can you explain it to me? Can someone? Because after 30 years of studying the Scriptures, I don’t see any way of “getting around” what is specifically said.
I’m hoping someone can shed some light on this issue. It is of utmost importance in the direction we as a movement are headed…or splitting over (G-d FORBID!).
One more issue that has not been addressed – whether the gentiles flocking to the Jewish community and the believing Jewish community especially is a fulfillment of Zech 8:23. I believe it is…and I believe that Isaiah 56 is being fulfilled as well. How can Jewish believers presume to send those gentiles away or exclude them in any manner? (No, I am NOT advocating One Law or gentiles becoming pseudo-Jews – this leads to identity confusion and is NOT helpful.)
As in my previous comment – Jews should be Jews and others should be whatever/whoever G-d created them to be. But trying to stop this move of G-d is…well, I’ll leave that to the reader. Your thoughts?
I spoke to Dr. Rudolph regarding his article about “Pauls rule”.
His stance is not as…black and white as you may think. While he certainly believes in/agrees with “Pauls rule” that each one remain as they are; Dr. Rudolph does believe in exceptions to the rule and sees conversion as a viable option for those exceptions.
However, he sees these cases as being few and far between lest the exceptions become normative…then “Pauls rule” becomes no rule at all.
I would suggest you reach out to Dr Rudolph for an indepth explanation.
Dr. Rudolph may see exceptions. Does Paul? Do the Scriptures? That is more my concern.
Thanks for taking time to answer.
My suggestion to speak with Dr Rudolph still stands. You cited his article and that very article was the reason I contacted him.
Are you simply trying to say that in your estimation the scriptures don’t “see exceptions”? If so it may have been easier to say just that…
The way you put that though could imply that Dr Rudolph is ignoring what the scripture says. I am sure though that you aren’t imputing that motivation on anyone.
Not at all. I’m asking what the basis for such “exceptions” is. This is not about Dr. Rudolph – or any other individual.
I don’t see exceptions. If someone can show them to me …please do. Thanks!
Remember that Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was necessitated by the concerns and context of the day. They should not be interpreted as blanket and systematic statements on the matter. Paul even expressly states that he wrote “in view of the present distress.” Therefore, his instructions in 1 Cor. 7 are somewhat time-bound.
Notice that he does allow exceptions to his instructions for slaves (v21) and marriage (v28)
Does this mean they are irrelevant? Not at all. But, we should use wisdom in applying the underlying principles in the passage, and not regard them as laws of black and white. His instructions are just that: instructions, judgments, or advice. He says explicitly, “I have no command from the Lord (v25).”
You raise worthwhile questions. However, they are not the focus of this post.
For dialogue to be helpful, it needs to be focused. It appears that you are looking to poke holes in my proposal by bringing up peripheral issues.
The main issue in this post is that there are legitimate reasons for non-Jews to be drawn to MJ and I suggest it is important that people understand the need for distinction and purpose.
What you are asking in your comments is for me to write a new post showing how MJ conversion is consistent with 1 Cor 7. Not gonna do that in a comment.
You then asked about Zech 8:23 and Isa 56. Did you read my post? I said that for some non-Jews, the reason to be part of the Jewish movement known as MJ is to be close to Jewish people as the focus of God’s power and plan in the last days. I did not comment on my position on this matter, but certainly Zech 8 and Isa 56 are included in that.
I’d like for you to come back and comment on the specific material in the post. What is it that bothers you? Is it the idea that non-Jews should not be encouraged to assume a false or shallow pseudo-Jewish identity? If you think Jewish identity doesn’t matter, then please defend your position.
I stated in a previous comment that I do NOT think it is acceptable for gentiles to assume a “pseudo-Jewish” identity. I very much agree with the idea that Jews must remain a distinct people.
What I take exception to the idea that believers in Messiah should convert to MJ if they feel as if they are a “Jew-at-heart”. As far as I can tell, the Scriptures specifically address this issue and say it is not needed (1 Cor 7) and can even cause problems. Everyone who has been immersed in Messiah is an heir (Gal 3:29) and a member of G-d’s household. (Eph 2) There is no need…and as far as I can tell by studying – shouldn’t be done.
My question is whether someone can show me (from the Scriptures) that this can be justified except for one who is of ambiguous Jewish status due to parent/ancestor issues. Does that help?
Funny. So what is the naive vision here? That non-Jews should not assume a false or shallow pseudo-Jewish identity? That non-Jewish groups who like Jewish ritual should rename themselves Judeo-Christianity? That non-Jews can fit into the purposes of MJ and many already do?
Well, Gene does not think it is funny. I posted it on his blog and he deleted it. Russian Jews have no sense of humor.
To your questions:
1)Not at all. To be a covenant member one does not have to be a Jew. Pseudo, or otherwise.
2)Why? Did the first Christians in Antioch insisted that only they be called Christians?
3) Does MJ have purposes? Last time I checked the people who claim to represent MJ had different opinions on almost everything, what puposes?
As you, Gene, and others already admited, the current model of MJ does not work yet no one has the guts to start expelling non-Jews from their congregations, why? Does it have to do with the pocketbook?
“Russian Jews have no sense of humor.”
Dan, you’ve gotta be kidding! Off all the MJ bloggers I know I am the only one to have a huge post dedicated to jokes. Not only that, they are Russian Jewish jokes!
However, Dan, admittedly I did not find your attempt at sarcasm funny.
“As you, Gene, and others already admited, the current model of MJ does not work yet no one has the guts to start expelling non-Jews from their congregations, why? Does it have to do with the pocketbook?”
Expelling Gentiles vs. living as Jews in a Jewish community and being ambassadors of the Jewish Messiah to our own people. The first one is a non-goal and a slander, where’s the second one is a deep longing of many if not most of the Jewish believers I know.
“As you, Gene, and others already admited, the current model of MJ does not work yet no one has the guts to start expelling non-Jews from their congregations, why? Does it have to do with the pocketbook?”
No one wants to expel Gentiles from Jewish congregations. Gentiles are not the problem – the problem is that the Messianic Jewish movement forgot about its raison d’etre and because some have steadily turned the movement into an alternative to Christianity and the universal religion for all by demonizing Christianity as perverted and pagan. That’s where the bone is buried, my friend.
You said a lot (darn writers are so long-winded!), so let me go point by point:
(1) I didn’t say non-Jews should make a mass exodus out of MJ. I did say that congregations that have no involvement in the Jewish community should consider becoming Judeo-Christian congregations and stop acting like something they are not. But the point of this post is that non-Jews in MJ synagogues have legitimate reasons to be there.
(2) Yes, in a city with no significant Jewish population, there is no point in a group of non-Jews forming a “Messianic” congregation and implying they are a Jewish group. But if they were known as a Judeo-Christian congregation, the confusion would end, both from those outside and those inside. And in places with small Jewish populations, Judeo-Christian congregations certainly could be a home for the few intermarrieds or Jews in the area who might be drawn to Yeshua.
(3) You are intermarried. The conversion question for you is a complicated one. I won’t try on the public internet to get into it. If we ever got to share a beer and some conversation, it would be a good friendly topic of conversation. But, as a Christian deeply involved in Jewish learning (that is how I see you), your faith connects better with your wife than if you ignored the Jewish component of faith in Jesus.
(4) You are worried I am building a fence? Come on. Look at Christianity and Judaism. The fences are not Jew-Gentile, but about almost every issue under the sun (worship with images or without, infant baptism or not, Torah changes with the times or it looks like 18th century Poland, etc.).
(5) Please do not think that God intended everyone to follow one tradition, agree on all points, blend into one congregation in every place, and so on. Is that your vision? Diversity is God’s way. Unity in diversity is a better goal than uniformity.
(6) Non-Jews can definitely say Shema. In fact, some Christians call it the Jesus Creed (google Jesus Creed and Scot McKnight). Amidah has a few places where modification would be a good idea.
(7) If some creative leaders like yourself were to form Judeo-Christian congregations and make some standards, then you could answer your own question. I’m not saying that it is absolutely forbidden for non-Jews to practice Jewish ritual. Part 7 will cover that.
Frankly Derek, this would be easier to hash out over a couple of cold ones, but I’ve never been in your neck of the woods and chances are, you’re not coming to Idaho anytime soon. I’ll have to consider your response points a bit later.
You never know when we just might get to enjoy those cold ones. It could happen.
I stand corrected, then, and your issue is more a part of this post than I realized.
I still don’t want to attempt in a comment to make a case that 1 Cor 7 does not make conversion an absolute prohibition. But here is what I will do (and this is a rhetorical trick, as I readily admit): I will ask you if you can explain Paul’s argument that singleness is to be preferred over marriage and how it relates to the situation in Corinth as addressed in the letter.
You see, what I am prodding you to do is to stop reading the Bible simplistically as a law-code from which you may draw a point you agree with here and ignore a point you don’t agree with there. 1 Corinthians is a letter and we hear one side of the conversation. You might enjoy reading some commentaries on 1 Corinthians 7.
Now don’t come back and tell me, “I already did read a lot of commentaries on 1 Corinthians 7,” because if you do, I will call your bluff.
I probably don’t have to tell you this, but by “commentary” I do not mean some free resource online. I mean scholars from the last 100 years who have engaged with many other scholars about the meaning of 1 Corinthians. A lot of evangelical Christian “commentaries” are really sermons disguised as commentaries (not all by any means).
Of course, you don’t have to do this. But the point is: if we are really going to understand issues we need to do our homework and not talk from the surface of the Bible and assume we understand the intent of complex rhetoric such as 1 Corinthians.
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I responded to Gene’s proposal (read it here) as follows:
I commend you on your proposal. It is internally consistent. And I know of one group which does things this way and it works well in terms of keeping the congregation Jewish. He is able to succeed (relatively speaking, the group is small and the funds are far from adequate) because of his family’s deep connections in the Jewish community where he lives and the trust his family has earned over the years.
It is not a model I would follow. But neither is it a model I would condemn.
Here are a few problems I see in practical outworking:
(1) You are from the outset causing yourself problems with intermarried families. You will have to treat one spouse differently than the other. The disrespect that happens when the non-Jewish intermarried partner is viewed as less a participant is not good. Look at mainstream Judaism and the problems with particularism and the complaints of congregants and the many intermarried families who have nothing to do with Judaism due to discrimination.
(2) You are going to have to plant a new congregation, unless you propose taking people who have been in MJ for a long time and disenfranchising them. To me, the community is more important than purity of vision.
(3) You are going to have the unenviable job of being the enforcer of particularism. This really is a form of community apartheid. As I will say in Part 7 of my series, the old Jewish answers which excluded gentiles need updating. Particularism made sense in a time when Jewish people were forced into shunned communities. In a world where Jewish people are full participants in society, particularism is out of step with righteousness.
(4) Lest you think I am forgetting myself, I still believe in the importance of ongoing Jewish identity. I am proposing a way of keeping what is sacred without falling into particularism. I am trying to bring the Jewish norm up to snuff with the new social reality of being a Jew in a pluralistic society. There are other ways to do it than particularism. I commend the works of Gary Tobin. I also think Shmuley Boteach has something valuable to say here and I am waiting for his book (wrong about Jesus, of course, but forward thinking about Jewish spirituality for non-Jews).
Derek… see my reply to your post here.
I’m going to try to address one of your points right now, Derek. More may follow.
If some creative leaders like yourself were to form Judeo-Christian congregations and make some standards, then you could answer your own question. I’m not saying that it is absolutely forbidden for non-Jews to practice Jewish ritual. Part 7 will cover that.
I can’t wait to read that one, Derek. From what I’ve heard thus far from what I’d call “strict Messianic Judaism”, the idea of Gentile groups “co-opting” Jewish ritual is considered unacceptable.
As far as changing my congregation and the limits to that ability, I am part of our board but the board doesn’t always go along with my ideas and suggestions. For instance, we do read the Torah portion each week. I feel it’s important, if we have ten readers, to be able to read this as a congregation to promote learning and understanding.
While the board was OK with me “reducing” the amount of ceremony around this practice, when I suggested that Jewish members be given preference to read first, one of the Jewish board members was dead set against it. So even if I were to spontaneously agree with every single point supported by the MJTI (which isn’t likely), it’s not like I could just snap my fingers and change the congregation to my whims.
While my ideas and understanding relative to my own faith are “evolving” on a personal level (I pretty much wear my heart on my sleeve on my personal blog), that doesn’t mean I can implement that understanding on a corporate level. I don’t believe in the one-man leadership model. I’ve suffered under that before and people got hurt. That’s how cults are born and egos are stroked. Accountability is good.
Forgive the excessive italics above. I forgot to close an html tag. :duh:
” But the point of this post is that non-Jews in MJ synagogues have legitimate reasons to be there.”
Gentiles have no lagitimate reason to be a part of a Jewish movement. Period!
MJ finds itself with an ugly bone stuck in their throat.
Please do not think that God intended everyone to follow one tradition, agree on all points, blend into one congregation in every place, and so on. Is that your vision? Diversity is God’s way. Unity in diversity is a better goal than uniformity.
That one swings in a number of ways, Derek. If what you’re saying is that congregations have a right to select whatever worship style suits that them, then a Gentile congregation is free to choose various Jewish worship elements and incorporate them into their service.
Non-Jews can definitely say Shema. In fact, some Christians call it the Jesus Creed (google Jesus Creed and Scot McKnight). Amidah has a few places where modification would be a good idea.
I looked up McKnight and the Jesus Creed. Not sure I’d go so far as to say that Yeshua changed the Shema into the Jesus Creed when he was explaining the two greatest commandments, but then I hardly have his credentials.
I recall from one of these blog conversations some months back that only the beginning of the Shema is “kosher” for Gentiles, at least according to strict Jewish standards. I think you’ll get some arguments about this from other Jews in the Messianic movement who are fairly conservative in their thinking.
It seems like we’re right back at the point where each congregation has the right to select what elements they want to include in their worship and prayer services, including various Jewish elements. This, of course, will inspire protests from some.
Just a clarification.
You seem to be using “Judeo-Christian congregation” to be referring both to congregations that repudiate supersessionism and congregations that incorporate Jewish ritual practice.
Do you think these two go hand-in-hand, or are you trying to denote both at the same time, or what?