What I am talking about here is a Messianic Jewish movement living in credible solidarity with the halachic norms developed for millennia among our people. This does not mean that we will always agree with those norms. But it does mean that we will show respect for those norms in all ways possible, and conform to them out of respect for community solidarity except when we are convinced that to do so would be a sin on our part, which is quite unlikely.
No one is suggesting that we must conform to sectarian hard line positions, but rather to the core of what it means to be an observant Jew in the 21st century. Here we must discipline ourselves not to be distracted by a straw man argument that repudiates halachic living based on taking exception to extremist rulings. (I run across this argument all the time, but view it to be spurious and convenient for those who want to avoid being restricted by a commandment keeping mentality). We are not seeking here to be hyper-frum or Haredi, rather, our goal should be to be recognizably observant, and this for two reasons.
First, the collective testimony of Jews keeping the same Torah honors God in the midst of the earth, as indicated here:
Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?
Second, HaShem tells us that keeping Torah is fundamentally not about earning salvation, or about getting a perfect score, or even fundamentally about sanctification, although holiness is certainly embodied in Torah, which Mark Kinzer elegantly terms “Israel’s way of national holiness.” More fundamentally, obeying Torah in concert with other Jews is about honoring HaShem, as children honor their father. This point is made clearly in Jeremiah 35, the story of the Rechabites, of whom God says, “The command that Jonadab the son of Rechab gave to his sons, to drink no wine, has been kept, and they drink none to this day, for they have obeyed their father’s command. I have spoken to you persistently, but you have not listened to me.”
Ultimately, there is something tragic about disrupting the unity of klal Yisrael. It is something we should avoid wherever possible.
Our Messiah warns us not to put a stumbling block in the way of others. In the disapora I know it to be true, and perhaps it is true in Israel as well, that Torah avoidant or Torah minimizing communities place a stumbling block before Jews who might otherwise consider our message. We needlessly give them reason to discredit our message.
A particularly glaring example took place this year when an international conference on Jewish evangelism overlapped Tisha B’Av. Simply scheduling such a conference where many Jewish believers in Yeshua were in attendance over Tisha B’Av was in itself questionable. But how much more of a stumbling block it was that three square meals were served on Tisha B’Av (a holy fast day), complete with ham! Although I know that few of us reading this would countenance such carelessness, this is but an extreme example of ways in which we can, with theological proof texts in hand, discredit the One of whom we speak as the Jewish Messiah.
Ultimately, decisions and guidelines as to what our observance should look like will need to be discussed as a matter of group process. There is nothing to be gained and much to be lost by every man, or every congregation, simply doing what is right in their own eyes. God is calling us to something more.
Again, ours is a religious message: but is the religion we are teaching a Judaism or is it something else, and does that matter? I am convinced it does!