There’s been an ongoing conversation on my friend James Pyles’ blog post “What Am I, Chopped Liver?” I attempted to jump back into the conversation several times, but with over 184 comments (as of Sunday night); I realized it wasn’t going to happen.
But it’s been on my heart, and prattling around in my mind since it started. To briefly recap, some say Gentile believers in Messiah should follow Torah, others say no.
This weekend, everything I experienced seemed to point back to the need to follow Torah.
For instance, the singles group I oversee met and discussed “What is spiritual unity in Messiah?” We came to the conclusion that we need to spend more time in prayer, bringing us into unity with the Spirit, which will play out in unity with each other, because our focus with be other centered. (I covered this more in my newsletter.)
Now I’ve got to admit, when I go through trying times, my lifeline to survival is spending a whole lot of time in prayer with my Father. But when things are moseying along with nary a hiccup? Not so much.
For a couple of months now, I’ve wanted to buy a siddur and start dedicating my time to structured prayer – not because I am desperate for God’s rescuing help, but because I want to spend time with my Father.
I am a list person. If I don’t make a list, nothing gets done. (And just so you know, I tend to make a much longer list than is humanly possible to accomplish in one day. But hey, I look at it this way: If I make a long list striving to get it all done, at the end of the day I accomplish more than if I made a short list and got it all done.) So when it comes to prayer and worship, I like liturgy. For me, it is a great way to get focused.
So this morning I started researching the daily prayers in Judaism. While there is a lot to learn, I am excited to have a starting place.
(As a side note, if we Gentiles would take the time to look at the prayers offered up every day – three times a day -we would see the heart of a people trusting in the love, mercy, and grace of their Creator. We would see a heart not unlike our own.)
In among the research I did this morning, I came across one of my own blogs and re-read “Torah Keeps Our Love Alive”. I realized the instructions in God’s Torah rescued me from sliding down a path I tumbled down before. I remembered the joy my granddaughter and I experience when we say the Grace after the Meal. Then I thought again about the conversation on James’ blog and just wish those that think we gentiles should not follow Torah would realize we need it. We need the instructions God sent to keep our focus on Him and His character. And we need the teachings of the rabbis and the traditions they set up to help us in that focus.
Why? Because we love God, want to show him that love by obedience, and knowing ourselves, don’t want that love to grow cold.
It all depends on what you mean by “follow Torah.” If you mean I should wear a kippah and a tallit katan as a non-Jewish disciple of Messiah, I’d have to disagree with you. On the other hand, every moral and ethical principle which we live by as disciples of the Master is derived from Torah.
Even mainstream Judaism sees the universalism in the Torah, that the nations will also “follow Torah,” but that doesn’t mean in the same way as observant Jews. I’ve even written about Torah for the nations of the world on my blog.
I’m not opposed to non-Jews studying and observing the relevant mitzvot. I simply maintain that my understanding of the overarching message of the Bible is that Torah has different applications for different people groups. We are not all the same and certainly Israel is not the same as the nations, even those of us who are within the ekklesia of Messiah.
To be honest, it’s not your article, but some of the comments following it that cuts me to the heart as I read. I realize the commentators don’t mean for that to happen, so it’s how I end up feeling affected by the conversation.
Will you bear with me, James, as I get a little bratty?
Sometimes, in these conversations, I am left feeling robbed. For instance, I end up feeling that I can read what Yeshua said, but since He wasn’t talking to Gentiles, then I shouldn’t take it to heart. Oh, but He did set up an apostle to speak to us about what is pertinent to us. Except maybe in his letter to Timothy. After all, Timothy was a circumcised Jew, so when Paul tells him, “All scripture is God-breathed and is valuable for teaching the truth, convicting of sin, correcting faults and training in right living” because he must have meant ‘all scripture’ for Timothy but not the Gentile because he didn’t qualify it by saying, ‘except the scripture having to do with tzityot and Shabbat’ and there could be others.
Okay, enough of the brat.
So seriously, I would like to ask one question – to whom are we concerned about appearing as Jews?
If it’s Gentiles, just knowing about the Torah or rabbinic thought or tradition brings the assumption that one is Jewish.
If Jews, all I can say is that I live in a community highly populated by Jews. Every one I’ve met is open to me (except the one gentleman who was offended that a woman was wearing tzitzyot, so now I tuck them in.) Many of them might be curious as to why I want to attach myself to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but they are willing to teach me and open to listening what I share about how I believe Yeshua is their very misunderstood and misrepresented Messiah. Bottom line, they know I am from the nations.
To be honest, James, if I were a man I would likely start pursuing circumcision. (Though I realize that’s easy to say, being a woman.) The reason is not because I think it is necessary for salvation, but the desire to be obedient to the Creator of the Universe.
In fact, I already spoke to my rabbi about beginning the process for Bat Mitzvah. Yet in all that, I don’t need to be legally recognized as a Jew, but my heart’s desire is to be a daughter of the commandments.
As I’ve written before, I don’t think we Gentiles take the place of the children of Israel, but by adoption come alongside our older brother – who has all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of the firstborn (including the right to the entirety of the land of Israel.)
I am happy to be the kid sister, learning to walk in the rules of the family. It just gets a little discouraging when I am made to feel as though I don’t belong to the family; as though I am the orphan standing outside in the cold, face pressed against the window, watching the kids inside bask in their father’s love, knowing they don’t want me there.
I think if your local community standards allow for you to, for example, don tzitzit (most Jewish communities aren’t comfortable with even Jewish women wearing tzitzit), then you should probably go with the ruling of your Rabbi or reliable local poskim.
That said, I tend to err on the side of caution and my circumstances are vastly different than yours. My wife is Jewish and not Messianic (long story) in the slightest. From her point of view, I’m a Christian. Back in the day, she tolerated me praying with my former congregation while wearing a tallit and kippah because she felt she had no right to tell me how to be religious, but I know how most Jews feel about a Goy playing at what one pundit called “Evangelical Jewish Cosplay”.
My current position was as much inspired by watching my wife explore her Jewish identity (she was raised in an intermarried home and her mother wasn’t observant), becoming bonded with the local Jewish community, and developing her praxis as a Jew as it has been from Bible study. I live with a spouse who illustrates for me all of the time how special it is for her to be a Jew and I will not dilute her distinctiveness as a child of Jacob not one little bit.
If other people live different lives and other communities tolerate a greater Jewish praxis from Gentiles, that’s up to them. I can only do what I do from my point of view given the life I have.
@James, I understand your circumstances are different and respect you for the decisions you’ve made. I also want you to know that I thoroughly enjoy your posts and ensuing conversations, even when we don’t see ‘eye-to-eye’, because of the unoffensive way you moderate. I truly appreciate you.
Thanks, Ro. People don’t always have to agree in order to talk with each other and learn from one another.
It sounds to me, Ro, that you are well on your way toward conversion to Judaism, during the training for which you should receive instruction clarifying the proper use of Jewish mnemonic tools like tzitzit and their place in the tradition. Since converting to Judaism will make you into a Jewish woman and not a Jewish man, it will still not be proper for you to wear tzitzit. One of the important aspects of the notion that “all scripture is profitable…” is the recognition that not all scripture is applicable to all people in exactly the same manner. Profitable, certainly; similar in the lessons to be learned, probably; prescribing identical praxis, certainly not. Cohanim are still different from Levi-im, men are still different from women, and gentiles are still different from Jews, in terms of their proper praxis and responsibilities. Moral principles and attitudes are shared common elements — not all specific performance behaviors can be so. This is, in some degree, where Korach also was mistaken (among his other more serious problems). Those who value the tradition that preserves Jewish knowledge and civilization must respect all its boundaries and limitations. Regrettably, there are entire modern Jewish movements that were founded on a perspective that feared being seen as too distinctive, as if adhering to Jewish tradition were somehow contradictory to notions of modernity. Similarly, modern skepticism about properly-exercised authority, and mistaken egalitarian applications of the principle of equal worth, have denigrated some aspects of Torah in Judaism.
On the other hand, as Rav Shaul (and the prophet Isaiah) took great pains to point out, there are valuable reasons for non-Jews to remain as such — among them, to ensure that HaShem may be recognized as G-d over all nations and not only the Jewish one. So one needn’t be Jewish to value the lessons of the Jewish scriptures or Jewish literature in general or Jewish civilization in general; and non-Jews may be just as supportive of the Jewish community and its praxis as Jews should be — though it has been extremely rare to find such gentile gems throughout human history (leaving their Jewish neighbors often quite properly skeptical when one seems to appear). One may live in Grace even without being a member of the Jewish covenant, nonetheless relying on HaShem’s faithfulness (perhaps relying on it even more than those who also bear covenantal responsibilities).
I’m not sure to what you were referring with your comment above about sometimes feeling robbed while reading comments from others, presumably in the responses to James’ “chopped liver” essay. But some folks (I hope not you) may feel robbed because of misplaced assumptions about what belongs to them. If they are in error about what belongs to whom, then they may feel such things quite unnecessarily. The solution, then, is not to pat them on the head saying: “There, there, you may play with any toy that pleases you, in any way you may chose”, but rather the solution is to teach to them the mature notions of properly limited and specific ownership, the proper usage even of such tools as may be borrowed, and the self-denial that comes of responsibility.
@PL – Are not the Jewish people and Gentile believers called to be a peculiar people? Isn’t that part of what makes us a light to the nations?
Regarding feeling robbed, after leaving conversations like Chopped Liver I sometimes look at scripture and think, “Well he’s not talking to me.” For instance, Peter’s 1st letter addressed to ‘those in the Diaspora’. He’s talking to Jews so I might as well not listen because nothing he is saying is relevant to me. (Not that I believe that, but it’s the feeling I sometimes get after such conversations. Again, I know that’s not the intention.)
If you read my post ‘Torah Keeps Our Love Alive’ you see how much I depend on the Mo’edim to keep life in balance.
As to the difference in people and their roles, in my youth I bought into women’s lib for a while. I even sang “I Am Woman” with gusto in a school production. But having been a single mother of six, I learned the beauty of the gender roles the hard way. (But am grateful for the lesson.) So I understand the importance of differing roles. I guess I just see the definitions of those roles differently, as I mentioned to James above. For me, the Israelites all had the same base Torah, with the differences coming with gender and ‘job’ descriptions. Even those with leprosy had responsibilities different than the average Israelite who never had leprosy. (ie – go out of the camp, how to re-enter the camp.) So yes, there are differing roles, but one base Torah because Hashem is in the camp.
As to being like Korach, that’s a tough one because I do see many in the Hebrew root movement who are disrespectful toward our big brother in one way or another. As an adopted kid sister, it makes me mad.
And speaking of being a kid sister, I appreciate the patience of the big brother as she gets into things that maybe she shouldn’t, but will learn as she gets older.
@Ro – You asked: “Are not the Jewish people and Gentile believers called to be a peculiar people? Isn’t that part of what makes us a light to the nations?” I suspect that if gentile disciples were to succeed in enacting 1Pet.2:1 – “putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander”, they’d seem quite peculiar enough. It’s possible, however, as you yourself noted, that this letter was intended for Jewish disciples, as indicated by the introduction to those who are “aliens in diaspora” in the very first verse of the letter, as well as references in chapter 2.
But that perspective invokes the very problem you cited above, of uncertainty about whether gentiles should ignore passages or entire letters that were not actually addressed to them. The answer is: no, these passages are not to be ignored, but they need to be read in a manner that recognizes both their primary application to Jews and a secondary derivation of principles for non-Jews. Since gentile disciples are, in fact, representatives of the very nations to whom Jews succeeded in bringing light as they were expected to do, one may well ask whether these gentiles now bear some moral responsibility to assist Jews in bringing light to additional gentiles (even if the actual legal or prophetic responsibility to do so still remains solely on Jewish shoulders).
Adopting such multilayered reading techniques is certainly a challenge for gentile disciples who formerly presumed that everything they read was equally applicable to all disciples regardless of any distinctive categorical situation. That’s undoubtedly why many gentiles resist the distinctive categories of discipleship implicitly defined by the Acts 15 decision. Certainly the Torah’s definition of the specialness or “peculiarity” of the chosen Jewish people is not transferred or shared with gentile disciples, just as the covenant itself is not shared with them. That would be destructive of the Torah’s definitions (which would be a denial of Rav Yeshua’s teaching in Mt.5:18). But, then, gentile disciples are also distinct from the gentiles who have not yet been “cleansed” or filled with HaShem’s Spirit. Hence, gentile disciples are not participants in the classic definition of the chosen race, royal priesthood, peculiarity that defines the Jewish people; but they are nonetheless special because of their uncharacteristic acceptance by HaShem to pursue the redemption that He has made available to them. That is why additional layers of meaning must be discerned in a variety of scriptural passages.
So, the challenge to be considered is not one of gentile disciples living without the Torah, but rather of living (however metaphorically) “alongside” the community to whom the Torah is dedicated, and in harmony with it. Note that I invoke the analogy of “harmony” deliberately. I am not recommending gentiles singing from the same page in unison with Jews, even for only a portion of the notes; but rather I am recommending that gentiles sing different notes that harmonize with the Jewish melody.
PL, I guess that’s where we see things differently. I see Acts 15 as a minimum place to start, then grow from there. If I’m not mistaken, you see it as all that is required, as well as Gentiles being outside of a covenant relationship.
Even so, I enjoy our exchanges (and trying to keep up with you guys on James’ blog!)
I believe you’ve misunderstood me, Ro — I emphasize that the legal performance obligation is minimal for gentile disciples. However, as their knowledge of Torah grows, per Acts 15:21, of course they will enact more of their Torah understanding in practical forms. Nonetheless, they have an ongoing responsibility to guard Jewish distinctiveness, in keeping with Torah requirements, which means that there are some Jewish things that they must not do. The mitzvah of tzitzit is among these signs that are commanded only of Jews, precisely to distinguish them from other nations; and some would insist the commandment is only for Jewish men, not to be worn even by Jewish women (and certainly not gentile ones). Some limited exceptions are granted by modern custom, that are halakhically questionable, with regard to a tallit in a public Torah-reading venue. But the act of a gentile woman emulating the arba kanfot undergarment could well be construed, by the standards of HaShem’s Torah as understood in depth by the authoritative sages of Israel, to constitute lewdness, rebellion, and mockery. I don’t think that is a message you want to produce, even if only for your own internal consumption. I’m sure you would never do so intentionally, but well-meaning gentiles have done many offensive things in their ignorance of Torah, especially when they are just beginning to study. This is where the guidance of an halakhically-structured and knowledgable community is of critical importance.
Gentile disciples who wish to express their growing knowledge of Torah, and their devotion to it, cannot simply take on the use of Jewish cultural artifacts without being accused of over-reaching, of stealing something that does not belong to them and making a mockery of it. In this framework, imitation is decidedly *not* the sincerest form of flattery. True gentile knowledge of Torah will be expressed in cultural artifacts and practices that fit the gentile cultural milieu and the aspects of Torah that apply to all redeemed humanity, rather than those that are specific to a distinctively Jewish civilization.
Sorry for the delay in responding PL. Yesterday (into last night) was a crazy, busy day/night at work.
I think I understand where you’re coming from, but please correct me if I’m wrong.
I see the totality of the Torah as what sets the Jew (or Gentile follower of the Master) apart from the rest of the world. Things like caring for the widow and orphan, honesty in business, dealing with each other in compassion, love, and mercy just as Hashem deals with us.
Now one could say that secular philanthropists do this as well, so the additional behavior/mindset of placing the Creator as the top priority in life, exampled by obedience to His mo’edim starting with Shabbat, sets one apart from the rest of the world. After all, who in their right mind would ‘step off the world’ one day in seven, one year in seven, two years in fifty? That requires faith in the character and provision of Hashem, something the world deems foolish.
For me, these are the distinctives that set followers of the Creator apart from the world.
I don’t mean for the following to sound belligerent, antagonistic, or disrespectful. Written words don’t always express the tone meant by the author. Please correct me if I am wrong, but it sounds like you see the outward signs like kippah and tzitzit as distinctives that set the Jew apart from the rest of the world.
As I said, I believe it is the totality of Torah that sets us apart from the rest of the world, whether Jew or Gentile follower of Yeshua. I wrote two posts that cover some of this – What’s So Special About Torah? and God Explains the Purpose of Torah.
I suppose, Ro, that you might draw multiple concentric circles around the Jewish people. The innermost circle would enclose the Jewish people in its entirety. (I’ll neglect for the present any subsidiary circles within the Jewish framework.) The next circle outward would contain the non-Jews who exhibit faith like that of Avraham and who thus adopt Jewish Torah morality because of their trust in the promises of Rav Yeshua. The next circle outward might contain other gentiles whose sense of universal morality also resembles HaShem’s principles. Outside these circles you may envision however much of humanity is left over, whose native self-centeredness probably produces an environment reflecting very little of the social contract without which Thomas Hobbs described life as very likely to be nasty, brutish, and short.
The Torah, and the Jewish civilizations derived from it, maintain the distinction between the Jewish people, whom HaShem chose uniquely, and all the other families of earth, for as long as this Torah and its associated covenant remain valid, which is as long as the present heavens and earth endure. You may choose to focus on these two innermost circles, described above, as set apart from the rest, but even so the innermost Jewish one must remain set apart from the non-Jewish one surrounding it and in contact with it, as well as from all the others that are farther outside, or the covenant is meaningless.
I like your idea of the circles. Reminds me of the camp around the mishkan.
I understand well the feeling of being shoved out of the door in the candy shop because I just want to ‘look’, but as a Messianic Gentile I am observant…at least to the point I have gotten to since I began my journey away from pagan influence in 2008.
That circumstance is an odd one, since I was told by a Very, Very Christian forum to go read the Church Fathers for a while, and come again later. I was raising unpleasant questions. I read them, and feeling ill, went on to the Hebraic Roots side of the equation, and slowly to being unpagan, and a Messianic Gentile.
I have enjoyed the journey mostly, but the consequences are beginning to be felt. When I began observing Shabbat as strictly as I know how to do, not being a complete devotee of the Talmud, my pagan Christian friends began to back away. It is no different for Jews, who become Messianic, but somehow, I didn’t think it would be that way…Christians were more generous or something…all that LOVE!
Keeping Torah gets me no closer to being Jewish than I want to be without conversion, and I have no Synagogue or Rabbi except via Internet. I even study Hebrew over the internet…live classes, but it doesn’t take the place of intimate chat about G-d, and once within Torah, even without Hebrew, you are talking a subject and language that Christians do not understand, and do not want to participate in readily. I have been told that people ask if I am still doing my Jewish ‘thing’, which since I am, and moreso, makes me feel a bit unwanted by the people I can fellowship with because we have Yeshua in common.
When the hour of persecution comes nigh, and I am supposed to ‘gather together with one another’, I don’t quite know under which group heading I will be persecuted…I think Jews and Christians in California will get the same treatment.
This time around, persecution will be general to anyone who doesn’t commit to the Adversary, but if you are going to be observant of Torah, trying to do it as I have, completely alone and without support is a grim situation. I imagine Messianic Jews in Israel feel the same way, but at least they can talk about everything Jewish together. I am neither fish nor fowl… merely Messianic, but I suppose it is a good thing that I still speak Christianese, or I wouldn’t be able to communicate with any local humans.
I am not sure exactly what I am trying to say, Ro, except that people should count the cost. When I say I keep Shabbat, Christian’s take it as a reproach to their lawlessness…which it is. Few Christians would be Christians in our time if they knew it was going to be troublesome, and most don’t just yet understand the future consequences of being a Believer in Yeshua, much less doing so as an Observant Messianic Gentile.
At the same time, though, I think this is where the true Believers will be going as the end of days comes nearer, Jews and Gentiles alike…living in Yeshua, and observing Torah.
@Questor, I cannot imagine being without my mishpocha, because as you, I am no longer accepted within Christendom. Tolerated, yes, but not accepted. However, I still have a call to help educate my Gentile brothers and sisters, so I do what I can to plant seeds.
It breaks my heart when they don’t see the truth, so I understand Rav Shaul when he wishes he would be cut off from Messiah if it would help his people accept Yeshua.
I agree, Questor, that if people truly followed Yeshua’s instruction and counted the cost – focusing on discipleship rather than conversion – most of the churches would be empty. But the power that would radiate from those smaller communities would change the world.
Thank you for sharing your story. I will be praying for a community for you.
@James and PL – Regarding tzitzit, I prayed about it for quite some time before undertaking because I knew it was not something to be taken casually. Once donning, it was a lifelong commitment.
In speaking with my rabbi, he said there are instances in the Talmud where women donned tzitzit. He gave the reference, but I can’t recall it.
Out of respect for the larger Jewish community, I have taken to tucking them in, only wearing them out when at TAK or at home. Every morning the act of praying, renewing my commitment to taking on the mitzvot accomplishes two things:
1- it reminds me that I am a servant of the Most High and He has given me a standard to live by, one that trains me up to be His child.
2- I am His representative called to behave and react differently from the world. I am taking on the Torah/Law of the Kingdom.
As far as tzitzit and women go, I know that in my local Conservative/Reform synagogue, when a woman receives an aliyah to read from the Torah, she dons a tallit gadol but then removes it once she is finished reading. I’m not aware of any Jewish women, even those who are Reform, who wear a tallit katan, although, as you say, if they wore the tzitzit tucked in, I’d never see them.
You are correct that there are talmudic examples of women donning tzitzit, although I don’t recall the specifics. I do recall that the mitzvot that are “time sensitive” exempt women because of the traditional household role women have played. For instance, women are exempt from praying at the appointed times because that might interfere with their duties involving childcare and the home.
However, if a woman, for instance, lived in a wealthy family where all those duties were taken care of, she would be permitted, according to some poskim, to daven at the appointed times. Not sure how tzitzit would factor in, though. My guess is that it’s more a convention that has become tradition over time.
In Hebrew Roots circles, the praxis involving tzitzit is highly variable.
I did quite a bit of digging before moving forward in my desire to wear a tallit katan. There are more Gentile women doing this than Jewish women, but there are Jewish women who don them.
One thing I made sure of – I wasn’t going to wear a man’s version. So I purchased 100% cotton camis, 100% cotton thread and made my own. (I’ve looked for 100% cotton tzitzit strings but haven’t found any yet.)