On Not Becoming Weird Aunt Ida

Almost everyone has a Weird Aunt Ida or a Definitely Different Uncle Dave.  Maybe Dave is fixated on extraterrestrials. Or perhaps Ida is adamant JFK is still alive because she read it years ago in a supermarket tabloid and “just had this feeling about it.”  Usually, whether it’s religion, politics, or social mores, such people stand out because their compass is always pointed in a skewed direction.  Whatever the case, because of family ties and out of love, we generally just embrace such people, making allowances for them because it’s the right thing to do. After all, they’re family!

Although no one wants to be Weird Aunt Ida or Definitely Different Uncle Dave, I sometimes feel we have more than our share of such persons in the Messianic Jewish congregational movement and also in the Jewish missions world which in some ways overlaps our own. I think all of us need to be on our guard lest we too become weird and different by subconsciously marching to Ida’s and Dave’s very different drummer who sometimes seems to be positioned at the head of a pack of lemmings!

One of the Ida/Dave fixations I see cropping up here and there is the strange idea that God’s end game strategy for the Jewish people will not include any kind of national return to living by His statutes and ordinances, his chukkim and mishpatim, the nuts and bolts of Torah living.  Some people prefer to imagine some kind of national culmination for redeemed Israel that leaves in the dust the kind of Jewish life we’ve known for thousands of years.  This sounds to me like Ida and Dave are in town.

This is especially weird when you consider that such people claim to believe in the Jewish Messiah (as if there was any other kind)!  I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the Jewish community has a right to expect that whoever the Messiah is, one of the things he is sure to do is to make Jews into better Jews in some kind of synch with communal Torah standards that have prevailed for thousands of years!  When you ask Jews what it would look like if they were better Jews, wouldn’t about ninety-nine percent of them say, “If I was a better Jew I would be more observant, like my grandfather who was a better Jew that I am?”

One of my biggest problems with a Torah-free Jewish consummation is a gaggle of verses that keep honking at me.  If God had in mind a Torah-free consummation, then why, when speaking of the end of things, does he have Malachi say this? “Remember the Torah of Moshe my servant, which I enjoined on him at Horev, laws and rulings for all Isra’el. Look, I will send to you Eliyahu the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible Day of ADONAI” (Mal 3:22, Hebrew, 4:4. English).   And why does God have to confuse us in Jeremiah 31:33 by telling us that in the end he is going to write his Torah on our hearts?  And then Ezekiel really throws us a curve when he portrays God’s end-game as including the Holy Spirit bringing all Israel back to God’s mitzvoth: “I will put my Spirit inside you and cause you to live by my laws, respect my rulings and obey them” (36:27).  And even worse, in the next chapter the prophet links this Jewish return to Torah living to our allegiance to Messiah: “My servant David will be king over them, and all of them will have one shepherd; they will live by my rulings and keep and observe my regulations” (37:24).  I don’t know about you, but I hear honking, and it sure is loud!

And one more thing. To be honest, and as you may have already heard, many people who I’m calling Weird Aunt Ida and Decidedly Different Uncle Dave think that I’m the one who is strange. To them I’m Alarmingly Strange Stuart, or A.S.S. for short.  They think I’m untaught, naïve, even dangerous! Well if they’re right,  being so strange I just don’t see it.  And when they say that God’s will for Jewish Yeshua believers is simply that we obey the Law of Messiah (a phrase taken from Galatians 6), which they say substitutes for Torah living, then I get really confused, because that means that God just wants Jews at the end of days to live like good godly Gentiles, who are also responsible only to keep the Law of Messiah.  I find that awfully weird, and definitely different.

I think I’m just going to continue to look for, celebrate, and however I can, assist all signs of Messianic Jews beginning to get serious about returning to paths of Torah, in the power of the Spirit and in allegiance to Messiah.  Like I said, that’s what I hear the prophets honking at me.

About Stuart Dauermann

The blog of Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann, teacher, mentor, radio talk show host, denizen of Los Angeles, and a visionary with a long career in Messianic Jewish activism. You can hear Rabbi Dauermann as he hosts Shalom Talk, a weekly radio show, and even listen online at ShalomTalk.com. Rabbi Dauermann spends time traveling nationally and internationally, and throughout the year is in Israel as a Scholar in Residence at the MJTI Jerusalem Center. He has plenty to say about Jewish-Christian relations, the need for shalom in the world, and the agenda of Messiah, the Son of David.
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13 Responses to On Not Becoming Weird Aunt Ida

  1. Michael Miller says:

    Most of the weird folks I’ve encountered in the movement are more prone to tell Jews that they don’t know how to keep the Torah properly, and that God has revealed to them (the weird folks) how to do it. Ultimately, it still comes down to a removal of the difference between Jews and Gentiles.

    • This is why, Mr Miller, standards of Torah practice must always be a matter of wide communal discussion and consensus, not a matter of “private interpretation.” The rabbis of the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council have made some diligent and intelligent efforts toward establishing standards in harmony with Jewish communal discussion. Developing strange idiosyncratic and personalist standards is not a strictly Gentile affliction, by the way. It happens among Jews as well.

  2. zayin says:

    Great post Rabbi Dauermann. I respect you immensely.

    I think another weirdness that is common is this odd anti-science, anti-modern medicine, anti-critical thinking that goes on in many communities (particularly among the women). It is definitely not the Jewish way and in my opinion is a gigantic distraction to the bigger picture we should really be focusing on.

    I always find it ironic because their choices in those areas go against many of our own brothers and sisters — great Jews who have used their knowledge to advance the world around us and better our lives.

    I am a fan and supporter of the MJRC and am thankful there is an organization working to get things straightened out in MJ’ism and working to finally form a distinct Halachah for the movement.

    • Dear Zayin/Jordan.

      Thank you for your kind words about myself.

      I must add that my experience with women in this movement does not mirror yours. It is sad that in too many cases women are in an ambiguous position, because frankly, some of the most capable people I have known in this movement are women. In fact, the last three presidents of my synagogue have been women, and the next president is likely to be a woman too because these people are the doers and in some ways the shapers of my congregation.

      I agree that it is a shame whenever anyone is anti-science, anti-modern medicine, or anti-critical thinking. This is indeed bizarre when we consider the major contributions our Jewish people have made and continue to make in these areas. We are not vigilant enough about shaking off the imprint of a certain kind of fundamentalist culture alien to our people Israel.

      I agree with you that the MJRC is making an important contribution. More people should find out about their contribution via their website, http://www.ourrabbis.org

      Thanks again for writing.

      Stuart

  3. VirginiaMary says:

    Thank you Mr. Dauermann for supporting us Torah Observant Women who have those gaggle of verses multi-tasking across our brains. It was very encouraging to read this blog. Verses that have lead me to Observance and a deeper desire for halachah are :” this is for all generations” Bereishiet 9:11-13 Shemot12:42; VaYikra 23:31; Isaiah 60:15
    If it is for all generations then why would anyone want to do anything else?
    This is what our Creator asked us to do that pleases Him; therefore is it that much of an inconvenience to set this time apart for the One who gave us the breath of life? To spend time “LOVING ONE ANOTHER”, even the weird of us. . . .
    When Yeshua is born & raised by a Jewish mother and they could find nothing wrong with His halachah how much more are we to do the same. Emotions are like the word e-motions= always changing, always in motion, like emoter=actors not accurate of reality and can be used to divide or unite. Let us keep our focus on unity. Halachah is a guide to moving our emotions to unity by actualizing “love one another”.

    • Dear VirginiaMary,

      Previous experience with another blog I published demonstrates that I ought not to open the can of worms about whether Gentiles may consider themselves Torah Observant People. And I will not. However, since your response was published here, I need to reply briefly. Think of it this way: suppose there were a person in your area who considers herself to be a Koran Observant Person. She reads the Koran and tries to live by the Koran. She is not part of any Muslim Mosque, nor received/perceived as a Muslim by any orthodox Muslims. While granting that this woman has a right to do as she wishes, this being a free country and all, would you not find her claim to be a Koran Observant Person to be a bit “Weird Aunt Ida?”

      This example is given as an analogy. There are plenty of people gathered in and around the MJ Movement who not only feel as this woman does about their adherence to Torah: they also get irate when anyone questions the appropriateness of their claims. Although they are not identified as Jews by the Jewish community, nor are they part of a normative Jewish worshipping community, yet many of such person not only view themselves to be Torah observant: they also craft Torah observance in a manner which deviates from the norms of that community to whom the Torah was actually given: the Jews! I often tell people that we have a name for Gentiles who keep Torah: they are called Jews. But this means they must become part of that people to whom Torah was given, the Jewish community, by means of Jewish communal conversion rites, and be received as a member of that people by appropriate duly authorized authorities. Otherwise, it seems Ida-ish to me, just as I assume that the person I described to you who considered herself Koran Observant would seem strange to you.

      This is not meant to disparage anyone. But sometimes arguments are held forth which ignore and redraw Jewish communal boundaries, and which even do violence to the thrust of Scripture while using proof texts to do so. Indeed, the attitudes underlying such actions often echo supersessionist assumptions: that now that the Messiah has come, old communal boundaries no longer apply! In the process, unintentional disrespect is paid to the Jewish religious community and its tradition going back thousands of years. And whenever such persons claim some sort of entitlement to do so, I am and shall remain greatly troubled.

      For anyone reading this posting, please be advised that I will not at this time open on line discussion of this issue. That means your responses to this line of discussion are not apt to be published. This is because I have learned from experience that the blog will then be overwhelmed by those arguing vehemently for a position I cannot in good conscience countenance, which I do not hold, while demanding more of my time than I am willing to invest in fielding such responses. Sorry. Somehow VirginiaMary’s letter was posted (I found out a well-meaning colleague had approved of the posting without checking with me) and I simply needed to either remove VirginiaMary’s posting from this site, or respond to it for the sake of clarity. The latter I have done.

      This response comes with all due respect for VirginiaMary, and for the kinds of people with whom I have expressed my disagreement here. And, I continue to have great respect for the many capable women who are in and around the Messianic Jewish Movement, yet always within the confines of respecting the kinds of communal boundaries I have outlined here.

  4. Sue M says:

    This is such an important topic, and I love that you treat it with respect but also humor and self-deprecation, making it approachable.

    You mention that Ida & Dave are often leading a pack of lemmings. I have had the opportunity to visit several of these types of congregations, and while it is frustrating, I’m not sure what the path forward is. I choose to believe that they are sincere in wanting to do what pleases G-d. But often these leaders are resistant to change. And my sense is that frequently, Ida and Dave-type leaders are either self-taught, or under-educated. How can these leaders be encouraged to expand their education in a non-threatening way?

    • Thanks for ringing in, Sue.

      The problem is as you state, but more complicated than that. It is not that people are simply under-educated or self-taught. They are also mis-taught, if I may coin a term.

      Also, many, I would venture to guess, most of these people come to the MJ movement either from cultic groups or from sectarian groups. By sectarian, I mean groups that split off from wider bodies either over a focus on a pet doctrine, or through claims to have been called to a deeper purity than the wider body exhibited.

      Such people bring their purist and separatist mindset to the MJ world. Often they will say things like this: “The Church is apostate because they don’t celebrate the Feasts (including Shabbat) or keep the Torah.” This kind of naive and blanket dismissal of that body which Messiah bought with his own blood plays into a kind of pride which holds that their Messianic Judaism, or in the case of many, what I term Messianic Jewishism (which lacks real adherence to Jewish norms) is an elite religion. It is viewed to be elite (1) because it is alleged to be the purest of the pure, (2) because it is alleged to be an end-time revelation which only the enlightened have embraced, (3) because it involves an alleged return to an earlier state of pure praxis and doctrine from which the Church has departed, especially in terms of the place of “the Feasts” and “the Law.”

      All of these attitudes are sectarian at best, and cultic at worst.

      Besides all of this, some (not all!) of these people are shopping around for a new identity. They feel somehow adrift, no longer moored in their families of origin, communities of origin, or church bodies of origin. When Messianic faith is misrepresented to them along the lines outlined here, they grab hold of it because it makes them feel solid again-indeed it makes them feel special. This is sad.

      I hasten to emphasize that not ALL the Weird Aunt Idas and Definitely Different Daves in and around the MJ Movement are as I describe here. There are many who are, as you say, untaught or mis-taught, but who gladly embrace a better truth when shown the error of their ways. The recent turnabout of leadership in the First Fruits of Zion organization is a fine example of the this healthier trend. The righting of the careening ship of the World Wide Church of God is another.

      What is needed at the very least is that influential people, organizations, and congregations promulgate the truth in the face of falsehood, embodying a healthy respect for Gentiles as Gentiles, for the Church, for Jewish communal boundaries and norms, and for the truth. What is needed is schools like Messianic Jewish Theological Institute and organizations like Hashivenu and the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council which have worked hard and long to identify, articulate and embody appropriate boundaries and values. In addition, leaders of groups like the UMJC must continue to maintain boundaries, so that sectarian views are uprooted or excluded from our ranks. No matter how ego-satisfying these views may be to some, and no matter how “nice” such people may be, no matter what proof texts are adduced to prop up their claims, these views do not have a place in a Messianic Judaism rightly so called.

      And yes, I know this will infuriate some people. Such is not my intent, but this is the way I see these things. And I believe we are responsible to raise up congregations for Yeshua within the household of Israel that are not flocks of strange new birds which almost all Jews would prefer to avoid.

      Stuart

  5. The problem is self-perpetuating in much of the Movement, unfortunately. Once Ida & Dave get their way in a group (and they tend to be the “loudest” sort of folks), the more grounded individuals run for the hills, only to be replaced by more Ida-and-Dave types attracted to a group that now caters to their idiosyncrasies. After a while, we have whole groups composed of Ida & Dave types.

  6. M Hurley says:

    Great stuff as usual. One of my fantasies, since the ripples of MJ necessarily reach wider than the Jewish and certainly into the Christian world, is for those non-Jews who find themselves somehow within the Venn diagram of Messianic Judaism. I am wishing somehow that Non-Js could initially have come through the portal of the wider (including Traditional / “Orthodox”) Judaism.

    Unfortunately, in my experience of 38 years (which I acknowledge as partly anecdotal), many well meaning non-Js’ ONLY introduction to Judaism is through Messianic Judaism, or more commonly called–just “Messianic.” Because the rubric (MJ) is so broad now, that introduction may in fact be skewed, especially if there is no interaction by the individual or their congregation with that wider Jewish community.

    This is an issue for me, because in my bias, a true respect for Judaism–that comes out of course from the committment to the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob–must entail at least minimal understanding and respect (even if in disagreement here and there) for the very authority structures of Judaism.

    So for example, my respect for the Torah will include my careful assessment of what I as a non-J can do–under Torah authority) and can’t do. UNLESS (again, my bias here) I deliberately go before a Bet Din and complete the process of Gerut (conversion). Or, as Stuart says, a “gentile who keeps Torah is called a Jew” (IF they complete the process.)

    Once during a Shabbat, a non-Jewish woman in my (MJ) congregation asked me (another non-J) to light some candles for her since she “couldn’t” do it. While I respected her intent, it was a little to Aunt Ida for me. (Later I was able to fill her in on some important lessons learned when I lived in Israel, having been a part of trad Judaism, on WHY I chose to not to adhere to certain things, like avoiding the malachas (prohibited work-oriented actions) on a Shabbat, precisely out of the same respect she had.)

    Please understand here this is NOT about caste systems, dividing people or any other verbiage. It IS about maintaining the unique distinctives that I believe are radically overdue and G-d given.

    • You touch upon some crucial issues, not often raised. The first is that Gentiles seeking or claiming to bond with the Jewish people, or claiming a “calling” to do so, ought to evidence this calling by relating to and participating in the wider Jewish world intensively and over a considerable period of time. The Messianic Jewish community is emphatically NOT the community through which this should or can occur because we neither manifest Jewish norms, are accepted by the full spectrum of the jewish community, nor are we in many cases significantly Jewish in our demographic! However, for how many Gentiles who consider themselves part of the Messianic Jewish Movement is their congregation their only touch point with Jewish community? Quite a few I would guess.

      It is also sad but true that there are many people who claim to bond with Judaism but who want to reject the Jewish communal consensus. They even want to stand over and above the Jewish community in relation to interpreting Torah. And this seems quite chutzpadik (nervy) to me. What these people miss is that the calling is first to a people, just as they are, and it is this people who embody the life of Torah across the ages. Ruth understood this when, after mentioning “Wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge,” she listed even before her allegiance to Israel’s God her bond with the Jewish people: “Your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God.” There are people who want the God of Israel as he is, while rejecting or avoiding the people of Israel as they are. It does not work that way.

      I think many who are reading this blog understand already that it feels awfully Aunt-Ida-ish/Uncle Dave-ish to Jewish people, and even offensive, for non-Jews to lay claim to the Torah of the people of Israel while bypassing or standing in judgment over that people to whom Torah was ineluctably given. They want the Torah of the people without the people of the Torah. Paul understood this rightly when he said: “Then what advantage has the Jew? What is the value of being circumcised? Much in every way! In the first place, the Jews were entrusted with the very words of God” (Romans 3:1-2). He saw the dignity both of the Torah and of the people of Israel.

      Thank God there are sprinkled throughout the Messianic Movement some Gentiles who evidence the kind of respect for boundaries and authority which you extol here. May others learn from their fine example.

  7. Sue M says:

    M, I love every word you said…it feels like you are speaking words from my own heart.

    Rabbi D, when you crystallize a complicated and delicate subject like this into simple phrases like:
    “There are people who want the God of Israel as he is, while rejecting or avoiding the people of Israel as they are…..They want the Torah of the people without the people of the Torah. ”

    …it fills me with hope. Thanks for that.

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