In recent postings, I have been sharing nine foundational principles I find helpful to keep in mind when thinking soberly and responsively about Messianic Jews and halachicly informed Torah observance. In this posting, I introduce the last three of those principles.
Our seventh principle holds that Jewish believers in Yeshua (JBY) need to work out standards of Torah living communally, and not as a matter of “every man doing what is right in his own eyes.”
This is something which will be very difficult for many of us for whom a sense of communal beingness is foreign and unknown. By “communal beingness” I mean that innate sense of self which lives out of an assumed and fully internalized sense that the “I” is a subset of the “we.” This means that who I am is derived from and responsible to and for a prior and more foundational we. Whereas post Enlightenment people, especially in the West, assume that being part of a community is an elective decision which the individual may withhold or withdraw at will, people in cultures with an innate sense of communal beingness judge such individualism, and such withholding or withdrawal of participation and accountability to be inauthentic and narcissistic.
This non-communality, this subjection of communal accountability to personal fiat, is reinforced among us in a number of ways. Notice for example how many worship songs in our context speak in the first person singular, or how the basic integer of spiritual discourse in many circles is one’s “personal relationship with God,” and that it is only after that relationship is established, and out of that reality, that the individual chooses to affiliate in some manner with a congregation or is even considered to be a candidate for communal membership–personal experience first, communal participation second. Another way this non-communal sense of self is transmitted among us is by our conviction that it is the very nature of Scripture and spiritual reality that one may rightly interpret Scripture and one’s entailed obligations through personal Bible study in isolation from community and tradition. This is a concept which would have been foreign to all the writers of Scripture, for whom communal (and covenantal) beingness was a given.
Such individualistic presuppositions result in a fracturing of community, polemical schisms and multiplied encampments at war with each other. The solution is to swallow a very bitter pill: we are all accountable to all of us, as well as being responsible for the well-being of the individuals and the collective of the covenantal communal reality in which God has sovereignly placed us. This of course pertains to our relationship with other Yeshua believers from whatever nation. But there is more. Wrap your arms around this one: we are born into klal Yisrael, it was not our elective decision (except for Jews by choice–converts), and as the Talmud rightly says, “All Israel is responsible for one another.” Communal beingness.
I am reminded of an article I read in the Los Angeles Times years ago about a sixteen year old boy in Afghanistan who had an opportunity to go to school in the West but instead decided to stay home and work the family farm where he was needed. From the vantage point of people in the West, he made a tragic mistake. But from the vantage point of Muslims living in Afghanistan, he had done right, basing his decision on communal responsibilities rather than personal desires. The difference was that he had a communal sense of beingness, which is why his decision makes no sense to the average Westerner or westernized person.
How will this work out practice for us? This is something I cannot and should not answer for us: it is something which we as a community must consider with the help of obviously learned, committed and appropriate leaders. Without doubt, the implications of embracing communal beingness are monumental. But what is the alternative, and is it truly biblical or only familiar and comfortable?
Eighth, as part of the remnant of Israel, JBY communities are meant to be a sign, demonstration and catalyst of God’s consummating purposes for Israel as a whole.
Dan Johnson demonstrates how Scripture presents two different modalities of remnant identity, one being survivors of a time of judgment, the other being the seed from which God’s continuing purposes will be realized. Both of these perspectives are to be found in Romans 9 to 11. Johnson finds the earliest reference to the remnant as the seed and earnest of future blessing in the verb form used in Gen 7:23, “only Noach was left (vayisha’er akh noakh), along with those who were with him in the ark,” the term, vayish’er being a verbal form related noun for for remmant. As Noach/Noah, his family, and the animals in the left with them in the Ark (as a remnant) were a sign of God’s continuing purpose for the earth, and instruments for its realization, so the eschatological remnant of Israel of Romans 9 to 11 is meant to be a sign, demonstration and catalyst of God’s continuing purposes for the Jewish people—a seed of good things to come. This is our calling. We are called not simply to protect what we have known: we are called to serve what is to come.
Ninth, this issue must not be dealt with simply on the basis of convenience. Were we to discern and accept that a return to Torah living is the will of God for Jews, then the issue should become, “How shall we return,” rather than, “Is this convenient?” I respect that being JBY in the Land is inconvenient in the extreme, and that many have paid and do pay a big price for their loyalty to Yeshua. But a divine call to JBY to return to Torah in a manner commensurate with the broad outlines of Jewish observance would be most inconvenient because it would require a repudiation of the degree to which we have needlessly and wrongfully assimilated into foreign ways of thinking, living and associating, having unwittingly replaced the chukkim and mishpatim of Hashem with chukkat ha-goyim, of which we are told in Scripture, “uv’chukkoteihem lo telekhu—you shall not walk in their ways” (Lev 18:3). Historically, this prohibition has been especially applied to our adopting a behavior simply to accommodate to foreign ways. But as a community, ought we not to wonder whether our customary ways of thinking and doing are over-accommodated to Christian thought forms and norms, while being inadequately responsive to and reflective of Jewish thought forms and norms and to a fresh hearing of Scripture?
Whatever the case, old habits die hard, and there can be no doubt that a return to Torah living would be a most humbling, somewhat difficult, and certainly inconvenient path for many of us, for our congregations, and associations, even if it were the will of God. It would be misunderstood and vilified by many of our friends and supporters in the Christian world. Therefore, considering these things requires of us a high degree courage and self awareness, recognizing our ingrained and reflexive proclivity to say a categorical “No.”
 Dan G. Johnson, “The Structure and Meaning of Romans 11.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 46(1), 1984:91-103.