Not Jewish Yet Drawn to Torah, Part 7

It has been a long series, but this post will be short. I said in “Summary and Perspective on Part 5” to some of those who were dubious about my views: “If you, as Jews, do not understand the spiritual power of Jewish tradition, I will not try to explain it to you.”

Now I will break that promise. I will try and explain what makes Jewish tradition so powerful for non-Jews. More after the jump.

My answer will be brief. Perhaps commenters will draw more out from this with challenges or questions.

The first reason Jewish tradition is so powerful for a modern religious person who is not Jewish is simple: rootlessness.

Modern religion for large masses of people is rootless. Fundamentalist Christianity was built on an isolated and archaic, rural-America model that exists less and less even in rural places. Churches in towns you’ve never heard of now routinely imitate the mega-churches and seek to be rock concerts with talking heads. Evangelical Christianity (not the same as fundamentalist) shares some of this background but combines it with a revivalism and individualism that has sought to be as rootless as possible.

What do I mean by that? I mean that evangelicals hate the word “tradition,” pretend they don’t have any, do things to downplay any sense of tradition, don’t read the church fathers, deplore more rooted forms like Lutheranism, Anglicanism, Catholicism, Orthodoxy and so on. Even before the shallow quest for the new, the entertainment model, the church for the unchurched approach that now dominates, evangelicalism ran counter to ideas like ancient, community, and tradition. Tradition for many fundamentalist and evangelical churches was a word for things like, “Should we allow a keyboard instead of an organ?”

When your idea of tradition is a certain kind of instrument to be used in the performance of music, you lack rootedness in something ancient and meaningful. Jewish ritual, much of it springing directly from biblical texts, is a great substitute for people who never formed a tradition. Your background might make you feel weird about picking one of many historic Christian traditions. Vespers? Divine hours? Sacraments? Compline? Tenebrae? Eucharist? Communion? Vestments? Since these kinds of words are not in the Bible, they seem foreign to people who have not come up in a tradition.

But if Christians had grown up in a tradition with a continuous history (I’d love some sort of Irish-Anglo-Arthurian-Medieval tradition!), that would be a beautiful thing. Jesus can and should be mediated through cultural traditions. These may end up looking very different from the cultures of biblical peoples. There would be nothing wrong with Assyrian Christianity, European, Far Eastern, and so on.

So, for lack of a rooted tradition to belong to, rootless Christians naturally saw Jewish cultural expressions as a home, traditions that in various ways matched descriptions of worship and life in the Bible.

The second reason Jewish tradition is so powerful for a modern religious person is that Jewish ritual is beautiful, intelligent, many-layered, a world you can explore your whole life and never come to the end of it. That’s all I need to say about that reason.

Finally, and this is very formative, the third reason is eschatology. Eschatology means belief about future hope, last days, end times, the world to come, and so on.

Modern religious persons as Bible readers can (and should, in my opinion — but I would need to argue that separately and it involves more complexity than most realize) see the Age to Come as a world with Jewish ritual. For those of us who do not think the Israelite prophets were merely preachers serving their community, but who think the biblical view of history’s unfolding is based on a pattern established by God (mutual blessing through Abraham’s seed to the nations), we see no reason to relativize Isaiah 2 or 56 or Jeremiah 23 or Zechariah 14.

The eschaton is centered on Israel and the Jerusalem Temple and ritual associated with the Hebrew Bible and later Judaism is part of it all.

Is there something wrong with people, who have no tradition currently, wanting to have that sort of tradition in their life?

Not at all. My only caveats are:

(1) If you want to pursue Judaically informed Christianity, don’t think your model is inherently superior to other cultural expressions. Jewish culture is not sacrosanct for all people.

(2) If you wish to pursue Judaically informed Christianity, do not assume a false or shallow Jewish identity. Differentiate yourself from those who are Jewish disciples of Yeshua. You might choose to be in community with them (see Part 6). But be open to the need for Jewish identity to be continued and strengthened. Don’t contribute to its collapse through your own insecurity and lack of identity. You actually have an identity that is just as powerful: a child of Abraham and disciple of the Son of God. What more do you need?

So, all of that leads to Part 8, coming up: toward a halacha of differentiating non-Jews and Jews in the practice of ritual and tradition.

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christian, Gentiles, Judaism, Judeo-Christian, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism, Torah. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Not Jewish Yet Drawn to Torah, Part 7

  1. tripwire45 says:

    Modern religion for large masses of people is rootless.

    While I don’t disagree with you, you paint “the church” in a less than admirable light and might be accused of “not respecting the work God is doing in the church, to borrow from Boaz Michael’s latest blog. I certainly don’t believe that is your intent, and I understand you are speaking to the motivation for some Christians in adopting more “Judaically-aware” congregations. Still, I don’t doubt that there are many churches who faithfully serve the will of the Master.

    The second reason Jewish tradition is so powerful for a modern religious person is that Jewish ritual is beautiful, intelligent, many-layered, a world you can explore your whole life and never come to the end of it. That’s all I need to say about that reason.

    I give this comment two thumbs up and five stars as far as my personal desires go. While, as both you and Gene keep reminding me, I don’t really worship in a “Jewish context”, I still find the prayers and songs uplifting and compelling and being married to a Jewish woman, we practice many of “the traditions” in our home life. I can’t explain it in rational terms, but there’s something about these traditions that just “calls” to me.

    Finally, and this is very formative, the third reason is eschatology.

    I find a lot of non-Jews in “the movement” seem almost obsessed with “end times” and “prophesy” almost to the point of an X-Files like (though I suppose “Fringe” would be a more timely TV show to reference) conspiracy theory mindset. While it’s prudent to be mindful of the future, many people seem to forget that we’re living in the present, where we are supposed to be doing the good works of the Messiah.

    If you want to pursue Judaically informed Christianity, don’t think your model is inherently superior to other cultural expressions. Jewish culture is not sacrosanct for all people.

    I couldn’t agree more strongly. I’ve met more than a few folks who pursue a form of “Messianic Judaism” that borders on cultism and create little “kingdoms” they believe are the only source of “truth”. The idea is to create community with the larger world of faith and to take counsel from the body of Messiah, not to build a fort and then surround it with a moat.

  2. cybrsage says:

    [i]The first reason Jewish tradition is so powerful for a modern religious person who is not Jewish is simple: rootlessness[/i]

    I was born Jewish but did not know it…it was a family secret from when we first came to the US during the US Civil War. No one would hire a Jew, so it was hidden. Each generation passed the secret to the next on their deathbed, until my great aunt decided it was stupid and told the entire family on her deathbed. That was a few years ago.

    My entire life I was Evangelical Christian. Rootless is the best word I have ever heard to describe it. I always felt there was more…that religion should not just be a Sunday thing, but a life thing. I did not know there were Messianic Jews until just recently, though in hindsight it should have been obvious the group existed.

    Thos of you who have always been in a Jewish community cannot truely fathom the feeling of being alone and without support. The family nature of Judaism is so powerful, so full, that I am still reeling from its intenseness. I had to attend a big meeting on Saturday, so I wore my Yamulka…and a random stranger came up to me, pointed at my cover, and called me a Yiddish word which means “part of the tribe”, she explained (I know very little Yiddish). She was genuinely happy to see me, and I felt a lot less alone in this huge world at that moment. Did it matter that we never met before, and will never meet again? No, all that mattered was that I was family…of the extended Jewish family. It still brings tears to my eyes when I type it out.

    Trust me when I say this, the world would be a better place if Christianity had the same unity (due to common traditions) that Judaism has.

    Never take the closeness tradition brings for granted, it is a miracle from G-d. He really knew what He was doing when He set things up…more than I ever realized.

  3. danbenzvi says:

    Well said, Derek, though I wonder why a non-Jew has to become Jewish in order to enjoy and participate in this beautiful tradition?

  4. tripwire45 says:

    Well said, Derek, though I wonder why a non-Jew has to become Jewish in order to enjoy and participate in this beautiful tradition?

    In my opinion, they don’t.

  5. dicemixbeath says:

    Just wanted to say thank you for posting this series. You’ve shed some light on some stuff I’ve been curious about.

  6. Carl says:

    “But if Christians had grown up in a tradition with a continuous history (I’d love some sort of Irish-Anglo-Arthurian-Medieval tradition!), that would be a beautiful thing.”

    You’re right. Traditional Christians (Catholic, Orthodox, etc.) partake of rich theological, liturgical, and pastoral traditions. While traditional Christians may be an oddity in the Messianic blogosphere, they are by far the majority of Christians in the world.(Sadly, many evangelicals think that traditional Christians are, almost by definition, “un-saved”!)

  7. “Rootless Christianity.” This must be a big shame for the church which claims to be the offspring of the root of Jesse. I understand (as a Christian) the great longing to keep the feasts and familylife as what the people of God have to keep, as written in the bible.

    But in general the church tradition don’t want to get changed and get rooted again in “Messiah ben David melech Israel”

  8. cybrsage says:

    The biggest problem with tradition, and why much of Christianity avoids it, is because tradition can easily turn into vain repetition. Many Catholics are VERY devout…but are devout to the traditions and do not understand the core reasons FOR the traditions. That is not their fault, it is the fault of their spiritual leaders. Not a Catholic bashing, just an example. It is present in every religion which has a lot of tradition, Judaism included.

    It is something to guard against, not a reason to get rid of traditions.

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