How Might We Move Toward Implementing Halachically Informed Torah Observance for Jewish Believers in Yeshua?

When I speak of “how,” I am speaking primarily of  how shall we proceed to move toward discerning what our path of obedience shall be, what it shall look like, as Jewish believers in Yeshua (JBY). Furthermore, how shall we work out the changes that must take place among us, and in our attitudes toward and relationships with the wider Jewish world? How shall we integrate the two halves of Ezekiel 37:24—fostering both allegiance to the Son of David, and a return to the chukkim and mishpatim (statutes and judgments) of Torah?  These are huge questions, and for the most part, it would be both presumptuous and out of place for me to attempt to answer them.  Why is this?

The reason is that these are all communal questions, which must be dealt with through painstaking group process in which appropriate leaders emerge who are truly knowledgable about halacha and the processes of halachic decision-making, sensistive to the leading of the Spirit, and whose attitudes toward the matters at hand are not simply safe and familiar, but rather exhibit a Spirit-engendered attentiveness and openness.

I will only make six very preliminary and broad suggestions about the how of moving forward, but these will only get communities the starting line which they themselves must cross.

1.     There can be no forward movement unless and until there emerges a felt need for change. This felt need will consist of a combination of nudging by the Holy Spirit, new realizations of what the Bible means by what it says, a certain growing and lingering dissatisfaction with the status quo, and an attraction to respected people who are thinking and living lives that seem better integrated because of the place they are giving in their lives to Torah.  But until there is a felt need for change, no change is possible. This is certain.

2.     There will need to emerge b’nei Nachshon, people who are willing to be the first to take the plunge into new territory and new paradigms. These people are called early adaptors. These will need to emerge. Look for them, and do not destroy them. To do so would be like uprooting a tender plant while yet expecting a crop. It doesn’t work that way!

3.     As the process begins, it is probably best to seek the counsel of others further along this road.  I would suggest the Hashivenu group, Messianic Jewish Theological Institute, and the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council.  These leaders have been touched by the Spirit over these matters for years, and are further along the same path others may wish to travel.  It would be foolish to ignore their counsel.

4.     More scholarly research and discussion needs to be pursued and evaluated in a non-polemical investigatory climate on issues such as responding to standard exegetical arguments against any sense of Torah obligation for Messianic Jews or since the coming of Messiah.  I have been working on a paper responding to these arguments, and have found that they are easily responded to. Increasingly, respected scholarly voices are taking exception to the received opinions on these matters.

As a case in point, consider the argument often mounted from Hebrews 7 and 8 alleging alleging that the Torah, and Judaism itself has been superseded with the coming of Messiah. In such an argument, the author of Hebrews is alleged to be saying that the first covenant (8:7) , that established at Sinai is now “obsolete” (8:13) having been replaced by “a better covenant” enacted on “better promises” (8:6).  Jesus is seen to be the mediator of this new covenant, having greater status that that of Moses.

Richard B. Hays chronicles a variety of scholars, including himself, who now call this entire interpretation into question.  Rather than the new covenant replacing the Sinai covenant, the only change in law found in Hebrews is in regard to the sacrificial system. Hays cautions, “to generalize the new covenant language of Heb. 8 into a comprehensive negation of Torah is to go far beyond anything in the text.”[1] In his article, Hays leans upon the seminal article by Charles P. Anderson which helps us recognize Hebrews as an intracommunal Jewish document concerned with how God’s purposes for Israel move forward in Yeshua. Anderson’s article, which convinced Hays to change his prior views, also convinced me, and well might convince JBY prepared to question prior assumptions.

As a taste of his views, consider this:

Whereas discontinuity between the former and the present times is vigorously affirmed in Hebrews it must not be extended beyond the limits set for it there.  Rather than covering the entirety of Torah, it applies only to cultic legislation.  And rather than proclaiming, as Paul did, a new ethnic principle inherent in the new covenant which constitutes a fundamental departure from the first covenant, Hebrews contains no evidence of an envisaged rupture between traditional Israel and the heirs of the new age.  In Israel then and now are found both those whose apistia (‘unfaithfulness’) barred them from inheriting the rest and those whose faith qualified them for it.  The ‘seed of Abraham’ (2.16), whose salvation is at stake, is “Israel.”

The arguments in Hebrews regarding Law and covenant are misunderstood if confused with Paul’s argument concerning the incorporation of the gentiles into faithful Israel. The religious world of Hebrews is narrower and more traditional than Paul’s. With the one fundamental exception relating to the cult, the Torah is still valid for those to whom it was given by Moses.  No break with Jewish tradition apart from priesthood, sacrifice, and temple is assumed in Hebrews. Discontinuity centers upon cult, not Torah.[2]

Hays himself, who formerly adhered to and published a supersessionist interpretation of Hebrews, has reversed his position, partially due to being convinced by Anderson’s work.

He says the following:

One of my students recently proposed the following thought experiment: “Forget that there was ever such a thing as Christianity, let alone Christianity as a predominantly Gentile movement. Now reread Hebrews with this renewed absence of knowledge.  Is there anything that would lead one to conclue that the author of this homily is anything other than a Jew (albeit a Messianic one) weighing in on a controversy within his own religion?”  Carrying out this experiment, we notice that the Letter to the Hebrew nowhere speaks of Jews and Gentiles, nowhere gives evidence of controversies over circumcision or food laws, criticizes nothing in the Mosaic Torah except for the Levitical sacrificial cult, and contains no polemic against Jews or Jewish leaders. . . . Nowhere does Hebrews suggest that the Jewish people have been replaced by a new and different people of God. Indeed, it appears that the addressees of the letter are considered part of God’s “house,” the same house over which which Moses was faithful—that is, “the House of Israel.”

. . . The author of Hebrews is not interested in a blanket abolition of the Mosaic Torah. Rather, his concern focuses narrowly on the cultic practice of offering sacrifices for sins under the first covenant, particularly on the Day of Atonement, as Heb. 9 will show.  The new covenant instituted by Jesus provides an alternative way for purification and atonement through Jesus’ once for all offering of his own blood. But to generalize the new covenant language of Heb. 8 into a comprehensive negation of Torah is to go far beyond anything found in the text.

The cumulative force of these observations is to suggest that the classic “new covenant” chapter in Hebrews has often been over-interpreted through a supersessionst framework. The possibility should be considered that Hebrews’ use of the new covenant image envisions not the rejection but the restoration of Israel.[3]

These references to Hays and Anderson are but examples to demonstrate that well-reasoned arguments wielded by responsible scholars are available  to those willing to consider arguments questioning prior assumptions.  I have found this to be so for every proof text and argument that is mustered to discount the persistence of Torah as a requirement for Jews this side of the new covenant.

However, as long as any of us are simply poised to bat away new ideas and to denounce them on principle, no change is possible. There are those who believe all change is dangerous and unnecessary: I am not one of them. Are you?

5.     There will be among us, wherever we are, some individuals who have irenic and trusting relationships with rabbis and leaders from the wider Jewish world. These contacts need to be explored and expanded upon. One of the changes that must occur is a great tempering of the adversarial and polemical stance that has prevailed concerning the wider Jewish world.  This needs to be reconsidered and discussed, and yes, there may even need to be some repentance.

6.     There will need to be much repentance over that pride that refused to even consider change, over the animosities that have long festered between various leaders and various camps of JBY, and over any demonstrated inability to really talk and listen to one another with respect.  The Book of Malachi gives us counsel as to the attitude that always should have prevailed: “Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name.”[3] Fearing HaShem, speaking to one another, and like HaShem Himself, paying attention and really hearing.  There can be little doubt that it is only when we are able to behave in this manner that change, and the blessing of God will come.

May it come soon and in our days.

[1] Richard B. Hays, “’Here We Have No Lasting City:’ New Covenantalism in Hebrews,” in The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology, ed. Richard Bauckham et al. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 151-173, here 152. Hays also references Gabriela Gelardini, “Hebrews, An Ancient Synagogue Homily for Tisha Be-Av: Its Function, Its Basis, Its Theological Interpretation,” in G . Gelardini, ed, Hebrews: Contemporary Methods—New Insights (Leiden: Bril, 2005), pp. 107-27. See also in the same volume, E. Tönges , “The Epistle to the Hebrews as a ‘Jesus-Midrash,’” pp. 89-105, and Pamela Eisenbaum, “Locating Hebrew Within the Literary Landscape of Christian Origins.” Pp. 213-37.  Each of these scholars and more are challenging the received interpretation of the book and its sitz im leben.

[2] Charles P. Anderson, “Who Are the Heirs of the nw Age in the Epistle to the Hebrews?” in J. Marcus and M. L. Soards, eds., Apocalyptic and the New Testament: Essays in Honor of Louis J. Martyn, JSNT Sup 24 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1989), 255-277, here 272-274.

[3] Mal 3:16

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 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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