Why Non-Jews Are Drawn to Messianic Judaism

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey are inspired by what they read in the Bible. From Abraham to Moses to David to Isaiah, the Jewish people are the center of God’s plans to make something beautiful in this world. Some people who are not Jewish themselves are drawn by this, drawn to the Jewish people and toward Jewish practices that bring the sacred into the ordinary. They want to be where the Jewish people are. They want to join in the observances that hallow time and things in order to bring the presence of the God of Israel into this world.

Many of them believe that Messianic Judaism is the leading edge of God’s work in the world and ask to be accepted alongside their Jewish friends in community worshipping together. They have no desire to compromise the Jewish nature of Messianic Judaism but want to support it and help it grow. And once they have adopted Jewish culture and lifestyle, the thought of returning to various Christian traditions has no appeal to them. They are here to stay.

In my opinion this is a beautiful thing, something to be admired and appreciated. Not everyone shares my enthusiasm. Some see dangers in allowing the participation of non-Jews in Messianic Judaism.

Jewish, intermarried, and non-Jewish families together. This is a reality now in Messianic Judaism. Exploring what it all means is part of what MJ Musings is all about. To be connected, receive extras, and to be part of what happens on MJ Musings sign up here for the weekly email list.

It is true that there are people who discover Torah, adopt it as their own, and at the same time reject the very meaning of Torah which is a covenant between the Jewish people and God. They find ways theologically to make Jewishness irrelevant. Some of them find a way to consider themselves practically Jewish. Some say they are “grafted in” and equate that in practical terms with being Israel. Some have a theology that God never meant his choice of a people to be limited to physical descendants, but assume that all believers are the chosen people. Others are convinced by a sort of revisionist history in which the lost tribes of Israel (so-called) are reappearing in our day as Torah-keeping believers in Yeshua. In these movements non-Jews are, by their belief and practice, erasing and replacing the Jewish people.

Messianic Gentiles do not subscribe to these theologies. They understand the promise in Torah. There is an earthly family, a solid and real people, who are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob about whom God says, “You will be to me a treasured possession among all peoples” (Exod 19:5). But the blessing is not limited to this people, it is for all the families of the earth through the chosen people (Gen 12:3). They feel no need to replace the Jewish people by means of any sort of theological sleight of hand. These believers identify with Israel in a supportive manner, not in order to supplant Israel.

In the most mature expressions of their faith, Messianic Gentiles learn ways to share in Torah with Jews without giving the impression they are displacing Jewish people. Many have learned not to wear the tallit, reserving it as a symbol for Jewish people who are obligated by all of the Torah commandments (which is the meaning according to Numbers 15). Many say alternate blessings, avoiding phrases such as “who has given us Torah,” and saying instead, “who has given Israel the Torah.” In a variety of ways they represent themselves as co-participants with the Jewish people in Jewish communities.

For Jewish onlookers observing Messianic Judaism there are misunderstandings about Messianic Gentiles. Who are these Gentiles saying our Shema and bowing before our Ark and Sefer Torah in synagogue services? If we visit your Messianic synagogues and find that half or more of the people are not born Jewish, how can you call yourself a Judaism? Can’t you keep yourselves a Jewish movement and find a way to discourage these people from attending?

My answer is, “Why would we want to do that?” They are blessing us with their love of Jewish things. They are blessing us by coming alongside us and supporting what God says must happen among the Jewish people to bring the days of Messiah. They are filling a role very much supported in the Hebrew Bible. They are the nations who coax Israel to see God.

“Behold, I will lift up my hands to the Gentiles and raise my signal to the peoples,” says God, “and they shall bring your sons in their arms and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders” (Isa 49:22).

It is a fact easily observable in our generation that relatively few among the Jewish people are drawn to God and Torah. The same trend of diminishing faith is observable in the general population of America. Practicing faith in a community is a shrinking phenomenon. Yet there exists a sub-group of faith-practicing believers who are challenging Jews to return to their own God and their own Judaism.

There is a small but powerful movement of Messianic Gentiles who understand God’s unfolding agenda. Shabbat is growing in popularity outside of the confines of the Jewish people. And in our Messianic Jewish congregations Jews are often practicing Shabbat alongside non-Jews. In many cases the non-Jews are the ones who drew them in. These Gentiles are not luring Israel away from Judaism but are bringing us nearer to God’s covenant. It is a fair observation in Messianic Judaism that committed non-Jews, zealous for Messiah and Torah, outnumber motivated Messianic Jews.

This lack of Jewish zeal for Torah and Messiah is not necessarily going to last. Thousands of Messianic Jews have a story in which they all but ignored Shabbat and Torah until they started following Yeshua. Many were seeking God and found him through Yeshua. In their newfound faith they came with Yeshua back to Torah.

Some of us hope against current trends for a new thing to happen among Jewish and intermarried families. People commonly recognize now the Jewishness of Jesus. The idea that Yeshua-believers can be Jewish is gaining acceptance in the broader Jewish community. Reality on the ground has to trump theoretical denials.

We are Messianic Jews and as we increasingly realize who we are — Jews following Messiah through Torah and tradition — and who we are not — Christians of Jewish heritage — we will be an example to the Jewish world of a powerful kind of Judaism. Perhaps the Jews and intermarrieds who will swell our numbers are already out there and one day Messianic Gentiles will see their hopes of a Jewish Messianic Judaism realized.

While we wait, we may look foolish to outsiders. If you don’t understand what makes a certain kind of person who they are, the thing to do is seek understanding. What you will find if you get to know us, Messianic Jews and Gentiles in community together, is a people yearning for more of God and the coming of Messiah. We take seriously what we pray, “Blessed are you . . . who will bring a Redeemer to their children’s children for the sake of his name in love” (from the first benediction of the Amidah).

44 Comments

  1. Thank you for a well-phrased and succinct statement. In its succinctness, however, you’ve glossed over a negative impact of non-Jewish enthusiasm, which does justify limitations to non-Jewish attendance or participation in Jewish community functions. Even well-intended love is capable of becoming a smothering and overwhelming force if it fails to honor its object with respect for its distinctive existence and integrity. A Jewish community must consist primarily of practicing Jews or it ceases to be a Jewish community. Otherwise it can only be, even at its best, a Jewishly-styled community. How much integrity could a “Jewishly-styled community” demonstrate if it fails to constrain its non-Jews from practices that belong only to Jews? And if its majority are, in fact, so constrained, how much Jewish style can it demonstrate? Therefore only a community of Jews for whom unconstrained Jewish praxis is permissible can demonstrate what is a truly Jewish community. Hence some boundaries are required between a Jewish community and what may be a strongly supportive companion “Jewishly-styled community”. Let us hope that the boundless love of non-Jewish messianists will impel them also to guard the boundaries that enable Jewish ones to flourish.

    1. ProclaimLiberty:

      I do understand and respect your concerns as a Jewish person that the presence of non-Jews may dilute the observance of Messianic Jews. I respectfully disagree. Sometimes what sounds good in theory does not work in practice. I have colleagues who do not allow non-Jews to be members. Most allow them to attend. I respectfully disagree with them about this too. I have a few arguments to make for a Messianic Judaism open to all who share our vision regardless of their Jewish status.

      First, diversity is a Jewish virtue. Many non-Jews (though not in the same proportions) attend mainstream synagogues. I have been surprised to learn about this trend. It is true of intermarried families, with non-Jewish spouses attending, and with non-Jewish families as well who attend and participate in mainstream synagogues. American Jews have been a minority people and have experienced the down side of that status, making the Jewish community one of the most tolerant toward other cultures. Welcoming diversity in our synagogues is a positive expression of love for all human beings. If they attend or if they are members who support and do not resist the practices of Judaism, then it is a beautiful thing.

      Second, what are we saying to our intermarried families if we say “Jews only can practice Judaism”?

      Third, there is an approach that works very well without excluding non-Jews from membership. At Tikvat David we practice equality with distinctions. Non-Jews willingly accept distinctions such as not having a Bar or Mat Mitzvah, alternative blessings, and other means of avoiding the pretense of being Jews.

      Fourth, those on the outside who have not seen how equality with distinction can work in a synagogue simply do not understand the value of Messianic Gentiles. It is easy to reject a category if you don’t understand it or have little experience with it. Those of us who are in community with Jews and non-Jews sharing a vision for Messianic Judaism, we have learned by experience that God has revealed himself to Messianic Gentiles and that they bless the community with their presence.

      Fifth, even when talking with people who have a strong “Jewish-only” value, in every case I have seen that they acknowledge exceptional people, non-Jews who they consider to be an asset to Messianic Judaism. And I am saying that Messianic Gentiles who share our vision are all exceptional people.

      I understand the concerns. I find inclusion and teaching to be the way to carry MJ forward, not exclusion. And if we think redemption will unfold throughout history, then I think truths like Isaiah 49:22 will be seen in real expressions by real people. In the case of Isaiah’s prophecies, they always speak to real people on the ground who are already practicing an ideal which will not be fully realized until the future.

      1. With all due respect, Derek, American Jews, even Orthodox ones, are trying to practice Judaism under varying degrees of duress — and, if I may say so, barely succeeding in even the best cases. The duress is even greater for Jewish messianists, and I believe you would be hard pressed to identify an American Messianic Jewish community that actually succeeds to practice Judaism as it ought to be done. The “dilution” of observance, of which you wrote, is not something theoretical that “may” occur. It has been occurring for decades. By the way, it occurs also in Israel, so don’t think I’m merely bashing the good-ol’ USA.

        Sharing a “Messianic Jewish vision” is not identical to practicing Judaism, even a form of Judaism adjusted by Rav Yeshua’s Torah perspectives. The companion communities that I called “Jewishly-styled communities” may share the vision of Messianic Judaism, but they are not permitted to practice Judaism fully because they cannot intend for non-Jews to be indistinguishable from Jews, thereby limiting the ability of Jews to exercise unconstrained Jewish praxis by the very definition of the community’s constituency. A truly Jewish community cannot operate properly under those constraints, no matter how welcoming they may be to a non-overwhelmingly limited number of non-Jews permitted to attend suitably arranged events. At such events, “equality with distinction” may be practiced, indeed, must be practiced, but such events are not the fabric of the whole day-by-day existence of a Jewish community. The issue is not who may attend, but who controls the environment.

        1. Very interesting comments. I side with Derek on this, but I am not qualified to have an equal-footing discussion with either of you. However, I’m particularly intrigued by your close of this post as you bring up the issue of who “controls the community”. I think I understand what you mean by that.
          I would ask: Would you feel more comfortable with Derek’s position if you felt confident that the majority of non-Jews surrounding and participating in these communities were respectful and congnizant of the Jewish people’s ongoing and irrevocable call from God to steward the guarding the Torah and for guiding its interpretation? Is your concern more based on a fear of assimilation, or are you truly against Jewry being assessible to the nations? Perhaps I misunderstand you.

          1. @David — My concern is not about assimilation, but rather about goals and responsibilities. Non-Jewish disciples do not have the same responsibilities to the Jewish covenant as do Jewish ones, as re-iterated in Acts 15 (& Gal.5:3). A community controlled by a majority population of non-Jews can never experience the sense of commitment and responsibility to that covenant that a community of Jews must pursue. It is not supposed to do so. It operates in a different “space”, with a different set of expectations. It is difficult to convey, to someone who has never lived within a Torah-observant community, the difference in that atmosphere. It is not a matter of whether Jews are accessible to non-Jews, not the mutual respect between them; it is rather of how the worlds in which we live are to be constructed and operated.

          2. Thanks for your response. Again, some great perspective. As you state, you are attempting to briefly synopsize an experience that can’t be adequately described to someone who has not experienced it themselves. That is understandable. I am at a disadvantage in that regard.
            I fully embrace the notion that when Paul talks about “one new man”, he is not dismissing the inherent distinctiveness of the groups. However, your objections seem very similar to me to what was being debated around the time of the Jerusalem Council, and throughout Paul’s ministry. As though we’ve been here before, albeit it’s been a long time.
            Perhaps, and I’m musing here, we need to be more patient to allow this movement to gain more acceptance, and for the Orthodox Jewish world to have more time to warm up to the idea. I know that Vine of David, for instance, is very committed to presenting resources which intersect a Messianic, Yeshua-centered approach with a traditional Orthodox approach, in a respectful and reverent manner. If this effort (and others like it) were the norm rather than the exception, would it not make the presence of non-Jews in a Messianic Jewish assembly more reasonable, or would you still (and I’m throwing forth conjecture here) surmise that the two communities should remain apart from each other?
            Finally, and I don’t know where you would stand on this obviously, but don’t the scriptures clearly teach (or at least imply) that the main function of the Jewish people is to be a “light to the nations”?

          3. Well, David, since a unified renewed humanity (i.e., the meaning of the phrase rendered as: “one new man”) still consists of Jews and non-Jews (since all the finest details of Torah remain valid as long as the heavens and earth endure [Mt.5:18]), we really must consider whatever may be necessary to ensuring that that continues to remain so. Scary, isn’t it, that the ancient arguments have become fresh all over again now that Jewish messianists exist and are trying to regain their Jewish characteristics? I’m not sure if the “light to the nations” is a primary purpose or a secondary consequence of the beginnings of human redemption being demonstrated in a pilot program with the Jewish people, but either way this function seems to require Jewish distinctiveness. We’ve seen demonstrations throughout history, including recent Messianic Jewish history, of how the Jewish community is affected by greater and lesser degrees of separation from their surrounding gentile communities, and whether their light can be seen or recognized or received. There is an ancient prohibition in the Torah against using two different kinds of animals to pull a plow. It’s not actually explained therein explicitly, but a little thought can yield the observation that smaller weaker animal will only slow down a larger stronger one and thus never achieve the efficiency or effectiveness that two of the same sort can accomplish as a matched team. Likewise in an mis-matched pairing the smaller animal is continually being strained and exhausted trying to keep up with the larger one. It’s not a healthy situation for either animal, and neither gets to exercise its strongest features. One must be careful about extrapolating lessons from such analogies, but I can say from personal observation across four decades that MJ has suffered by not being allowed to separate itself from non-Jewish surroundings in order to strengthen its native characteristics. Could our light have been intensified had we done so? I believe it could, and Derek seems to view it differently. Would such a separation have been temporary, until a stronger light had seeped into deeper crevices? Possibly so; but we won’t know that until we try it for at least some while.

          4. I like the way you’ve phrased your thoughts, and you make a compelling case for your viewpoint on this. I remain somewhat unsettled, based upon various Pauline texts as well as other passages such as the blessing of Judah by Jacob, and the prophecies in Isaiah, and others. Even Song of Solomon comes to mind (the orchard of nut trees concealing the revealed Kingdom), but without digressing into a meta-discussion which is too broad….
            Some very interesting points indeed. Your view of intensifying the “light”, as it were, by being separate, would be similar to the approach that Christian fundamentalists take towards their communities, in the aspect of separateness serving to avoid dilution. This is precisely the position of Independent Fundamental Baptists, for instance. How this translates to effectiveness when surrounded by other, distinct communities is not clear to me. You mention this dynamic without really giving any concrete examples of what you are implying. (Of course I am congnizant that you are not necessarily buying my preposition that the primary function of the Jewish people is to be a light to the nations. You mention it as a secondary function, and I have no desire to debate this because I’m not sure you aren’t correct.)
            Quoting the story of the oxen is very interesting. Certainly scriptural arguments can be made (quite easily, just thinking off the top of my head), to support your line of reasoning.
            I guess, simply on a base level, to continue with the “light to the world” idea; when you build a fire, people are attracted to its light and its warmth, naturally. It is not a question of halacha for those who draw near, it just feels right. What of the many folks who have embraced this lifestyle already, having never had it occur to them that perhaps they should have been discouraged from doing so? As Derek pointed out in the piece, once they taste of the richness of the Jewish expression, they rarely will want to go back to a more simplistic, traditional Christian expression. Are they to leave?
            To me it’s like a blended family, which we see examples of in the text of Torah. The most poignant examples I can think of right away would be obviously Ruth (which is fresh in our minds) but also, and perhaps more germane to our discussion; Joseph and Asenath, and subsequently their children. It seems clear that Asenath was Egyptian. I don’t buy the interpretation that she was related to Dinah. There are other examples, too, of Gentile inclusion by faith into the community of Israel in the Tanak. I don’t know that the answer is as simple as exclusion.
            Thanks for your thoughts on this.

          5. @David — You mentioned the analogy of light and warmth from a fire, with respect to those non-Jews who have tasted a “warm” Jewishly-influenced lifestyle and would not wish to return to the seemingly cold or empty religious venues from which they fled previously. Thankfully, those need not be the only choices. Let me draw another analogy from the camp pattern in which the tribes of Israel were arrayed around the sanctuary. The Levitical tribes were the closest to the sanctuary, for obvious reasons, while the remaining tribes surrounded them concentrically, but all participated in the “warmth” of Jewish civilization (such as it was at that time) though only the Levites bore responsibility for the construction and the operation of that sanctuary. Similarly, a Jewishly-informed lifestyle in a Jewishly-styled non-Jewish community could enjoy the warmth of Jewish civilization in some appropriate degree, pitched as satellites around the distinctive Jewish communities who solely bear the responsibilities of the Torah covenant. We’re not envisioning “exclusion” here, but rather an orderly coordination of organizations with differing functions and responsibility environments.

            You also mentioned ancient intermarriages like Yosef and the Egyptian Asenath, or Boaz and the Moabitess Ruth, which reminded me that I had neglected to address one of Derek’s points asking about the effect and the treatment of intermarried couples in my distinctive community models. Let me answer the first by noting that a lot has happened during four thousand years of Jewish civilizational development. At one time, patrilineal tribal identity was the primary method to establish the Jewish identity of subsequent generations of children; hence gentile wives could be more easily tolerated. During the past two thousand years, without the genealogical records that were destroyed with the Temple, tribal identity was no longer reliable, and the more immediate connection with a verifiably Jewish mother became necessary and thus paramount as the determinant of a child’s Jewish identity. In such a social environment, conversion of non-Jewish women (and their children) thus became much more important as a means to address issues of intermarriage.

            I would suggest that the more intensively Jewish communities which I advocate would tend to have a much lower incidence of intermarriage, and would likely resolve by means of conversion any such intermarriages as may be unavoidable (e.g., those contracted prior to the family’s entry into the community). Any remaining non-Jews would likely conform with Jewish norms even if they resist formal conversion, due to the characteristics of their social environment; hence they would tend not to dilute its Jewish intensiveness.

          6. Fascinating. I like your analogy of the encampment. I think it works. We see the same picture, really, in the marriage union itself; an equality yet a distinction of roles and responsibility…a division of labor which does not implicate a sense of superiority. I can embrace that as a scriptural model.
            Regarding your vision of exclusively Jewish Messianic communities at the center of the movement with as you put it “Jewishly-styled” Gentile congregations surrounding it…I believe this is reasonable and is in fact what I am attempting to establish here in my community: A Jewish-friendly, theologically sound Gentile fellowship which observes the calendar, diet and generally the doctrine of obvservant Messianic Jews, without the identity markers of Jewishness. This is fine.
            While you address the intermarriage issue (I was also aware of this change in how geneology is reckoned in the Jewish culture), I was not considering that specifically with my mention of the two examples I gave, but focusing rather on the more esoteric symbolism associated with these stories. They seem to represent (to me) examples of non-Jews who “drew close” to the promises of Israel after they had been “grafted in”.
            Additionally, what about Isaiah 56, which seems to makes certain promises to the foreigner who enjoins themselves in obedience to the Covenant? By calling them foreigners, they would be God-fearers and not converts, because once they converted they would no longer be foreigners.
            Regarding the purity of observance of the occasional non-Jew in a predominantly Jewish assembly, I agree that it seems reasonable that such a person would seek to “assimmilate” into the practice of the community, which, again, speaks to your original point of who controls the environment. The issue of the chief influence in an environment such as we are talking about, and I don’t want to beat a dead horse as it were, does seem to be identical to the type of complexities and debate surrounding Paul’s communities, and exactly the type of situation he spoke into in Romans 14. Not sure there is a model that would satisfy all parties. It’s the seasonings of the salad, I’m afraid.
            Which brings me back to the analogy of the encampment. While I love your analogy and it really works for my brain and satisfies my desire for a clean and tidy resolution, it falls short in one respect: The role of the priest is different today than it was 4,000 years ago. Back then, the priest displayed the separation of clean and unclean, holy and unholy, through ritual and formal observance. The observance of the priest has left the realm of the Temple and now reveals itself in prayer, liturgy, and mitzvot. Prayer and good deeds, specifically, have taken the place of sacrifice in Jewish practice. So Jewish liturgy, while entirely and specifically Jewish in tone, character and intent, nonetheless shares much common ground with the faith practice of all of the community, and is no longer exclusive to the priestly duties. Now all observant men and women in Jewry are expected to practice traditions which in many cases symbolize or replace practices which at one time were exclusively the realm of the priests.
            So even in Orthodox practice, to my understanding, there has been a dilution of division and separateness, as a result of the absence of the Temple. Therefore, to exclude Gentiles from this level of observance on the basis that they are Gentile, would be inconsistent with the very foundations of Orthodox practice to begin with, which by its very nature has now included all Jewry into practice once exclusively reserved for the priests.
            Just something to think about.

          7. @David — I think I would disagree that the role of the priest has changed. Rather, the classic role is in abeyance until it can be re-established in the restored Temple. Meanwhile, the kingdom of priests in the holy nation is commemorating aspects of priestly function by other means. Many of these means invoke ancient memories, not as replacements but rather as mnemonic place-holders. Similarly prayer and mitzvah do not replace the sacrifices as much as they link us back to them and their meaning in terms of spiritual and psychological impact. This is also the mechanism by which Rav Yeshua’s symbolic sacrifice, reflected in his martyrdom, becomes effective. In this activity, non-Jews are just as welcome as Jews, though some minor differences in liturgy are necessary to accommodate covenantal distinctions. In orthodox (and Conservative/Masorti) praxis, particularly in the synagogue liturgy, distinctions are maintained between Cohen, Levi, and Israelite-at-large, also in commemoration of distinctions that are more pronounced within Temple procedures. The synagogue originated as a reflection and satellite of the Temple (not a dilution of it), and still functions thus in many ways. If Rav Yeshua’s modern non-Jewish disciples wish to structure their praxis as a satellite reflection of modern Jewish synagogue praxis, I have no complaint but I offer a recommendation that they should similarly reflect liturgical and other distinctions between Jewish and non-Jewish praxis analogously to the synagogue distinction of Levitical roles.

          8. Certainly I understand that the priests and their particular duties will be resumed in the Messianic Age to come, but I was speaking more pragmatically regarding modern practice and how it developed. My only point is that practice was added, over time, to the greater community as a whole which was once relegated to the priests and thereby there is a precedent for inclusion of people who in a perfect model would be excluded. I was nodding to your greater point that the exclusion you advocate is not prejorative, but distinctive, while still making a case for non-Jewish participation.
            I appreciate your dilineation of the various distinctions and exlcusions to the liturgy regarding a Cohen or Levite. I remember being told this before but I had forgotten about that. I have worshipped at synagogue, but not much and there is much that I am unfamiliar with.
            You did not address my comments on Isaiah 56. Do you have any thoughts on that?

          9. @David — I didn’t add anything to your comment about Is.56 because it seemed to me that you had recognized its key point that the “foreigners” remained so rather than becoming part of the Israeli people as converts. The promises implicit there for honor and acceptance of their sacrifices on His altar are one reason why a “court of the gentiles” existed in the second Temple and will no doubt be incorporated into its restored structure. We may well ask how we might see this reflected in a synagogue structure. The Orthodox use of a “mechitzah” between distinct areas for men and women would probably have been applied also to an area reserved for gentile seating if not for the general antagonism, rejection, and persecution against Jews and the synagogue throughout the period of the second exile when the synagogue developed as a haven for the protection of Jewish community functioning. The destruction of the Temple effectively destroyed that option; but under friendlier circumstances as the exile draws to a close this may be reconsidered. At present, gentile visitors (or intermarried spouses of Jews) are not excluded from synagogues, nor are they segregated (other than male-female separations); but they are sufficiently rare or few that their presence represents minimal impact on the functioning of the Jewish community. The surge of intermarriage in recent years has threatened to destabilize matters and is a matter of concern. However, I already discussed that issue somewhat in a previous reply. Nonetheless, there is a significant difference between having non-Jewish visitors in a synagogue to pray and hear the Torah teaching on Shabbat or at other special events, and absorbing them into the Jewish community wholesale. Again we must consider what constitute controlling or limiting influences.

          10. Excellent. Very thoughtful and forward-thinking response. Thank you! Shalom!

        2. How are Jews supposed to flawlessly practice Judaism in the US? Build a temple?

          After observing how Jews in other nations around the world are being forced into hiding, even in the west, it is nice to know that the biggest complaint for Messianic Jews in the USA is that they’re being smothered by interested Christians.

          1. @benicho — Let me begin my reply by noting that I never suggested the term “flawlessly” in connection with Jewish praxis, neither in the USA nor in Israel. Likewise, I didn’t see anyone suggesting that MJ’s “biggest” problem was one of smothering in Christian love as contrasted with more unpleasant persecutions. Note also that your facetious suggestion of building a temple there wouldn’t resolve any of the problems. I might suggest that returning to Israel could be a step toward the rebuilding of ourselves that could begin to resolve some existing problems. One of the classic Zionist slogans was about a goal “livnot ul’hibanot” (to build and to be rebuilt). In a number of ways, this slogan can be applied also to modern MJ. And similarly to the rebuilding of modern Israel, self-imposed limitations can inhibit various kinds of restoration or redevelopment of MJ praxis just as much as can external restraints. I’ll save for another occasion any discussion of the limitations that inhibit the re-building of the Jewish Temple in its proper place in Jerusalem, but in the present discussion I have touched on limitations that inhibit the re-building of modern MJ communities in their richest possible expressions of Judaism. I’m looking at the upper end of the spectrum of possibilities rather than at the bare minima that may be found at the levels of merest survival in the face of persecutions.

    2. “Even well-intended love is capable of becoming a smothering and overwhelming force if it fails to honor its object with respect for its distinctive existence and integrity.”

      Well said. IMO this happens when faith-walkers, whether jewish or gentile, allow their own focal constructs [interests, empathy, sympathy. fidelity, loyalty, anger, joy] to over ride the primary focus, the G-d of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob and His Plan of Redemption for a planet filled with ‘fallen Adams’! That is the minute we allow our sympathy for the ‘other’ to become the focus of our faith walk, the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob ‘backs-off’ — He has been replaced by our sympathy, and now our sympathy is an obstacle to allowing G-d to work His will through us. The second commandment says it all — “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” [Exodus 20:4-6].

      Thus, the messianic gentile’s ‘smothering and overwhelming love’ for their jewish friends may become an ‘obstacle’ which hinders the movement of the Will of the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — that His family, both born-into and adopted, will work in unity of being atoned for and redeemed, worship, focus, keeping of the Shabbat as decreed in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, celebration of the Feast Days of the Lord, unity in their faith walk.

      1. Mary Jane:

        I can’t agree with several of your statements. Loving people is not making an idol of them. People are already idols. That’s what it means to be an image of God. No one has a problem with having too much sympathy. They may be too selective in who they have sympathy for.

        And the Christian scriptures most certainly do not decree Shabbat. I am not sure why you assert that. Paul is clear that Shabbat is not something non-Jews keep, Romans 14, which is also the view of Torah, Exodus 31:13.

  2. Derek,

    After so many years finally there is an article that describes me… haha! Well, I mean you described so accurately the way I (and many others) feel about Judaism.

    “Messianic Gentile,” never thought of that title (having no title for a long time), but fits so well.

    I just hope more Jewish congregations around the world would embrace this point of view towards gentiles, because I don’t think there are many… at least where I live…

    Many blessings!!

    Rodrigo

    1. Thank you, Rodrigo. It is my hope to support Messianic Gentiles in their sense of identity because both Judaism and Christianity potentially have little room for such people.

  3. Wonderful article Derek. There is such a need for this….I see this even though I’m observing the movement somewhat from the outside in. Just as Paul faced in the first century, we need to withhold making dogmatic judgments upon the movement simply based on traditional understandings. I personally agree that Messianic Judaism is in fact the vanguard of God’s movement upon His people in these days, and in fact I will go farther to say that I believe it is the “outpouring of the Spirit” so longed-for in charismatic circles. While many modern Christians pray for revival and an “outpouring of the Spirit”, their prayers are in fact being answered without their knowledge, only (so typical of HaShem, if I can say that) not the way they expected or recognize.
    It is a beautiful phenomena in many ways, in spite of its flaws and inconsistencies, and offers great hope for the future of faith in Messiah for all people.

  4. Zec 8:23 Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.'”

  5. I loved this article. It also described me. I was involved with a group of gentile Christians for seven years who were “looking for truth”. We met at a time that would not conflict with either evangelical Christianity nor Jewish services. I was even completely observant for two years!
    But, in the end, I left the group because I decided that I could not live with the rejection from both sides. I returned to traditional evangelical Christianity and am now serving as a pastor in a fellowship in South America.
    I yearn to return to all that I did before, but I just don´t see how this can happen. But, it makes me feel good to read an article that best describes me. I know that I cannot “convert” to Judaism as I cannot deny my Messiah.
    Perhaps, one day, we will learn to love and accept one another.

    1. Mike, I say this most respectfully, as you were sharing your heart and your personal experience, but how is it that someone would be rejecting their Messiah by turning to Judaism? Or did you mean something other than what you wrote?

      1. David, I agree with Mike. He meant that where he is the only option to convert to Judaism is by means of synagogues who require a denial of Yeshua to do so. He was saying he so identifies with the Jewish people he desires to live in a Jewish community and become Jewish. But that is not a reality where he lives and so he remains a Christian with ahavat Yisrael (love of Israel).

        1. Thanks Derek,
          In that case I also agree with him as his circumstance is also my own. Appreciate the distinction.

  6. Rabbi Leman,
    As a Gentile who loves the Jewish people and all it’s tradition, cannot imagine not being able to fully participate in all of Jewish culture. I don’t believe that Yeshua would object. Everything that He is and does is where I would want to be.

  7. Derek, will you be posting about your time with the MJRC recently? I ask because I’ve been thinking lately how Messianic Gentiles should relate to and submit Jewish authority, whether they are in churches or messianic congregations.

  8. This one’s hard.

    Sensitizing Gentiles to Jewish perspectives (and psyche) is no easy task, and most are unwilling to learn. Although they come to MJ because they “love the Jewish people”, which is a good thing, the problem is 1) they don’t actully know any Jews, at least not well enough to know what a Jewish person’s life experiences are (not to say they are all identical, but there are common threads) or family life was/is like, and 2) theologically, they favor what I call “One New Manity” and are easily offended by notions of Jews being distinct. (Not only in their obligations to Torah, but life their life experiences too).

    One Shabbat dinner at a friend’s home, a gentile man who has been in MJ for several years because “God told him to” and because he “loves the Jewish people”, told us there is a gap in his family tree regarding his great-great-great aunt, so he promptly filled it with a mythical Jew. (Also, “God told him” he is Jewish)

    Then, he puffed his chest and turned to my husband saying: so, what makes you think you’re Jewish? What? You think you’re gonna have a better place in heaven than me? And on it went. My husband had said nothing to this man to prompt this tirade he went on, and my husband is no Jewish “peacock” by any means. I tried to explain a few things to the guy as I noticed my husband’s obvious discomfort, but he didn’t want to hear it. He also wouldn’t accept anything my husband said to him. “The Jews didn’t do their job, so Gentiles has to do it for them” blah, blah, blah. This is not uncommon, and it’s also not the only scenario that causes Jews a great deal of discomfort, such as seeing Gentiles play “out Jew the Jew”).

    Ideally, from a gentile perspective, I agree with you about including Gentiles. The reality, however, makes me very protective of “my Jews” as well as other Jews, and so I understand the desire to limit gentile inclusion.

  9. If you are going to post about that, I’m saying it would make sense to discuss my question there probably.

    Or maybe when you publish your review post of Mark Kinzer’s latest book on Catholicism and Messianic Judaism, it would make sense to discuss it there. I myself am a member of Anglican Church and they share the episcopalian form of church government with the Catholic Church. That’s the context my question comes from.

  10. Proclaim Liberty or Derek,

    I can not help but think of Ruth in this discussion. She was outside of the Jewish community and intermarried. What was her status? Was she considered Jewish after her marriage to Boaz? Certainly intermarriage does not bestow that title upon those who are intermarried today. Jesse and David are both considered to be Jews, which I do not think would be the case either today.

    I have asked before and never got a clear answer. What are the options of a messianic gentile to become Jewish, that they be in full unity with the Jewish community? I am weary of not being accepted in either camp. Or perhaps the word convert would be more appropriate, as I don’t see how one can become Jewish anymore than someone becoming Chinese or Irish.

    Proclaim Liberty- when you speak of Jews are you referring to a biological ethnic group of descendants of Avraham? Is there any place for converts in your community/congregation? Am I correct in understanding Jews to be both a nation and a religion? I know I am not articulating this clearly, it is quite muddled in my brain. When Avraham circumcised his household were they then considered Jews by the act of circumcision?

    Derek, do you personally oversee conversions at Tikvat David? Or do you tell people conversion is not necessary , yet you yourself converted. What compelled you to go beyond a messianic gentile? Please explain.

    Thank you Julie

    1. @Julie — I’m sorry, but I can’t (or shouldn’t) attempt to reproduce the position I articulated on James’ Morning Meditations blog within the past few days; but I believe you’re familiar with it and could look in on the topic of conversion. In Ruth’s era, the pressures of famine were what originally drove Elimelech into Moab, where his sons intermarried (though not with women of the forbidden Canaanite peoples). However, by the time the widowed Moabitess Ruth re-married with Boaz, as part of the property settlement redeeming Elimelech’s heritage allotment, she was deemed to be a convert (at least in accordance with such standards as could be considered to exist at that time). Neither of Ruth’s marriages was the basis of her conversion; and Avraham sent away many circumcised members of his household who were not to be counted as what we now call “Jews”, because the covenants and promises were to be established only with Yitzhak’s descendants. And even though Yitzhak had twin sons (both undoubtedly circumcised), only one of them was designated to carry the covenantal inheritance. Thus it is not sufficient, for a non-Jew to establish Jewish covenantal identity and responsibility, merely to marry into the extended Jewish family, nor merely to become circumcised. There is at least one other element required — one which we do see demonstrated by Ruth in her declaration to Naomi and her corresponding behavior.

      When I speak of Jews, my reference frame is the covenant that defines our peoplehood, and not the notion of “religion”. The Torah covenant provides the interpretive authority structure that enabled elaboration of the notion of conversion or joining with the covenantal people and accepting the concomitant responsibilities. Rav Shaul nonetheless emphasized that gentiles could be cleansed and accepted by HaShem without joining them into the Jewish covenant and peoplehood, thus preserving HaShem’s faithfulness to keep His Torah promises that are distinctive to Jews, and demonstrating that He is G-d over all peoples and not merely the one special people of Israel.

      You mentioned being “weary of not being accepted in either camp”. Conversion for the sake of being accepted into someone’s camp is not valid, as it obscures the real purpose of taking on the covenantal responsibilities. While Rav Shaul strongly emphasized that gentiles should not seek to become Jews, for similar reasons that would not only invalidate their conversion but also deprive them of the Messiah’s benefits to them as non-Jews. That does not mean that no gentile disciple of Rav Yeshua would ever have a just reason or calling to join the Jewish people; but it does mean that each individual case would need to be evaluated thoroughly to verify its validity (and it suggests that such cases would be rare). If being a Jew can be compared to being Chinese or Irish, then one must consider the possibility of becoming a naturalized citizen. However, such analogies are limited and incomplete when applied to Jewish identity; and of course nowadays it is clear that there exist non-Jewish Israeli citizens. Covenantal boundaries are somewhat different from those of nationality. Perhaps the question I really should ask is: “Why do you not feel accepted in the camp of Rav Yeshua’s non-Jewish disciples?”

  11. I realized after posting that my choice of wording did not reflect my situation accurately. I’ve never stepped foot inside a synagogue or a messianic congregation. However, in my own church setting (very conservative Mennonite) I am becoming acutely aware of some doctrinal and theological issues that don’t resonate. This disconnect has come about due to reading and listening to Derek; and reading and listening to Orthodox Jewish teaching. So it is not that I am weary of not fitting in as much as the yearning to have the rich Jewish Covenant experience. Christian Sundays can be meaningful, yet they are definitely NOT Shabbat. The prayers and blessings in the Siddur are deeply connecting to the soul, yet I am not to partake of them according to some Jews. I can not explain the strong desire that burns within me. I certainly did not “choose” this yearning.

    Agree totally that once tasting of that banquet there is no going back, and I haven’t even tasted!! I watch from afar. I appreciate you clarifying the confusing ideas of nation, religion, identity etc., and how all of those relate to the covenant. I will keep reading, watching, listening and praying for understanding.

  12. All I know is the first person to believe was a Gentile (Abram) Jew and Gentile together making ONE In Messiah. There is a Jewish people and a Jewish religion. What does it mean Chosen of God? John the Baptist make a statement “don’t you know God can raise up children from stone” The Lord formed man from the dust of earth and breath into his nostrils and man became a living soul. It’s never been about any “chosen people” but about God. The Lord appeared to Abram and said and I paraphrase Hey Abram I made a promise to Adam that I would send a savior and I would like to do it through you. Are you in? God had dialogue with Moses and called Israel Your people Moses said oh no they are your people. The Lord said I will destroy this people and start over with you. The law was given to keep the people of Israel in line so the Lord could accomplish the coming of the messiah. Well he came. (and he is coming back. The first people to accept Jesus as messiah were of Jewish lineage the second was the Italians of which I descend from. I don’t advocate starting an Italian church. Well I think the Roman Catholics already did that. And in doing that they pushed out the Jews which was not right. We are one in messiah not one in Torah. Even Paul stated that he counted all that he ever learned in Jewish religion dung for the excellent knowledge of messiah. So I view messianic Judaism as a separate group if they are to only allow people who live by their belief of holding to the law to attend. A rabbi said to me he doesn’t the reason Jesus came was so people can eat pork. Actually the law came so people couldn’t eat pork Up until after the flood people ate no meat. After the flood they were given permission to eat meat. There is no record of Abraham getting food restrictions. Or the law for that matter. And Christians are the best at division. What did Jesus say? A house divided cannot stand. Man with the influence of Satan has divided the household of God.

  13. It’s all going to happen person to person as it did in the first century. Shared community. And many things will go awry, as they did in the first century. But the kingdom of God will not fail, and He will not fail his people Israel. The Fathers saw it from afar. It’s not yet. But we are in the midst of it. This conversation is part of it.

    I love Derek’s statement:

    “If you don’t understand what makes a certain kind of person who they are, the thing to do is seek understanding.”

  14. The “We” and “Us” statements makes me sad to hear. Great article Rabbi, but there is still a spirit of segregation in your writing that in my humble opinion should not exist. God is no respecter of persons, and he did not chose Israel because of some special quality they possessed. When a Gentile says/afirms in their heart and thru action that they will attach themselves to the God of Israel to obey all of his laws and ways, they are no less israelites than a (“Jew”, which is a fairly new name to describe an Israelite). God told Moses to speak to Israel, not just to the Jew.
    Ephesians 2:15 Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
    15 by destroying in his own body the enmity occasioned by the Torah, with its commands set forth in the form of ordinances. He did this in order to create in union with himself from the two groups a single new humanity and thus make shalom,

    1. Lavi, I am sad to hear that you don’t think Jews have a need to speak about ourselves as Us and We. Every people on earth needs to be able to do that. Why should Jews be the only people forbidden to do so? The Bible does not support your refusal to allow Jews to speak.

      Your notion that non-Jews become “Israelites” or virtual Jews by faith and attaching themselves to God is clearly disavowed by the New Testament. You misread Ephesians. His analogy in Ephesians 2 is to the Roman empire in which people who were not Roman could be citizens of the empire (members of the commonwealth, to use later terminology). A non-Roman would not become Roman by being granted citizenship. But they enjoyed equal status under the justice system. Similarly, non-Jews in Messiah become co-heirs with Israel but do not become Israel. The statements in the New Testament about equality should not be confused with sameness or lack of distinction. There is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, does not mean we erase distinctions, but that we erase inequality.

  15. I am a Messianic Gentile, for lack of a better term, and know that my spiritual standing with God is equal to a Jewish believer. It is sad that the one movement that truly reflects the early church would be hijacked by Judaizers just as was attempted back when the early church started adding more Gentiles. Many times the Apostle Paul explained what should be the focus and goals of the body of believers. I love the prayers and all the trappings but I know that I am not compelled to join in on those unless the Holy Spirit prompts me to. There are so many ways that Satan tries to divide the body and your article Derek is like a breath of fresh air!! It is supposed to be about honoring the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and not promoting our own agendas. Yeshua’s sacrifice is worth nothing if people think Jewish traditions are supreme to confessing with our mouths that Jesus is Lord!

  16. As a child my family had a dear Israeli friend who spent quite a lot of time with us. He was a musician, he sang Israeli songs for us and we sang Christian songs for him. It was always magical when he was with us. I vowed I would learn Hebrew and someday go to Israel as a result of his music and friendship. Many years later I consulted with a Rabbi regaurding Hebrew lessons but was turned down due to not being Jewish. The 2nd Rabbi I consulted was delighted to oblige. He was insensed that the first Rabbi rejected me saying it flew in the face of all things Jewish. He took an hour out of his insanely busy schedule every week to teach me Hebrew for free. He welcomed me to Friday night Shabbat services and would call on me to read from the Siddur. He explained that there is a long tradition of non-Jews who join the Jewish community as ‘righteous gentiles’. He was a traditional Jew, not Messianic. To this day I feel humbled and honored by this precious mans kindness and generosity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *