Continuing our series on a chilling comment (this is the next to last posting on that subject), today I want to pick up with the first sentence of my interlocutor’s final paragraph which says this: “While Jewish believers may feel free to maintain respect for their ethnic heritage, that simply isn’t an explicitly religious issue.”
I feel compelled to sound a loud alarm siren at this point because the nature and implications of this comment should no more be ignored than one would ignore the smell of smoke in one’s house, or the first fingers of flame peeking out beneath the floorboards. His words are alarming in the extreme and destructive to the household of faith God has been building among the seed of Jacob since the beginnings of the Jewish people.
Let’s cut to the chase: to reduce the life of Torah obedience to one’s “ethnic heritage” is no less offensive than for me to tell my interlocutor that his commitment to Baptism and Holy Communion is simply a cultural fetish that he needs to ease up on. He would be up in arms with nostrils a-flaring were I to say such a thing, crying out that Holy Scripture sanctifies these sacraments, or if you prefer, ordinances, by verba dei, the very words of God.
Where does this fellow, my interlocutor, think that Jews got their commitment to Torah? Did we make it up after finishing authoring a Seinfeld script? Is it simply a cultural shtick, part of our “ethnic heritage” like Oktoberfest for Lutherans or Santa Claus for American Christianized culture?
Didn’t the concept of Jews keeping God’s Torah begin at Sinai, with the voice from the Mount and the Ten Words written by the very finger of God on tablets of stone (Dt 5:22; Ex 31:18)? And weren’t the apostles careful to honor Torah-living when, for example, in Acts 21, Ya’akov, a.k.a. James, urged Paul (the Apostle to the Gentiles mind you) to participate in a Temple rite as proof that he himself walked orderly (that is, halachically) according to Torah and that there was no truth in the rumors that Paul, as a Jew, urged other Jews in the diaspora to forsake Moses (that is, Torah living), circumcision, and Jewish customs (Acts 21:23-24)? And didn’t Ya’akov say that it was of Gentiles that the Church required “no such thing,” while living by the precepts of Torah was expected of Jews who had believed in Yeshua (Acts 21:25)? And if Paul the Jewish apostle to the Gentiles maintained a halachic life, then is it not woefully inadequate to refer to Messianic Jewish Torah living as simply part of our “ethnic heritage” like bagels and lox, but “simply [not] an explicitly religious issue?” And finally, was it not the same Paul who said that anyone who receives circumcision is obligated to keep the whole Torah, who was himself a circumcised Jew, and who personally circumcised Timothy? (Gal 5:1; Acts 16:3)
No doubt my interlocutor fails to realize that his viewpoint is grounded not so much in the Bible as in assumptions growing out of something that happened on September 27, 1791. At that time, the French National Assembly, after extensive debate as to whether Jews were fully human, passed a declaration, “Admission of Jews to Rights of Citizenship.” It was in that document, and by statute, that Jewish religious identity was torn asunder from the holistic covenantal identity that God had established for Israel, where her commitment to Him, to one another, and to Torah were inseparable aspects of their unified and unifying identity. Read this dandy brief description of what the French Assembly did, and note especially the material in bold print.
After several tumultuous discussions about the Jewish communities still excluded from political rights, the National Assembly finally voted to regularize the situation of all the different Jewish communities on 27 September 1791. Adrien–Jean–François Duport (1759–98), a deputy of the nobility of Paris, proposed the motion. The deputies shouted down those who attempted to speak against it, and it quickly passed. A subsequent amendment indicated that swearing the civic oath implied a renunciation of previous Jewish privileges, that is, the right to an autonomous community ruled by its own members according to its own customs. The law required Jews to be individuals just like everyone else in France. (Found on line at http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/browse/texts/#)
The point of the Assembly’s actions was that as a price of citizenship in France, Jews were to be required to henceforth think of themselves primarily as individual Frenchmen and Frenchwomen who happened to be of Jewish heritage, with the latter being a non-obstructive incidental. This kind of language is so familiar to us that we risk missing its import: contrary to the Assembly’s preferences, Jews are not primarily individuals, but are inseparably a people called by God into a covenantal identity of which obedience to the demands of Torah is an inseparable part.
I think I will just continue to side with the Apostles who recognized that God’s calling on Gentiles and Jews who believe in Yeshua is differentiated. Paul said elsewhere that Jews and Gentiles are, as a rule, to abide in the respective callings in which they were called (1 Co 7:20), Messianic Jews living as Jews, Gentiles in the Body of Messiah living as redeemed Gentiles. And in the view of the Apostles, and not just Paul, Jews are expected to walk orderly, in accordance with the prescriptions of Torah (Acts 21:24).
“Not an explicitly religious issue?” Come on now!