Jewish Roots and non-Jews, Part 2

* * * Be sure to read part 1 before this article * * *

The problem a whole host of people face right now is a question of calling. What am I called to do?

Many people are paralyzed, incapable of moving forward defining who they are, or knowing what to do. Non-Jews in Messianic synagogues may periodically wonder, “What am I doing here?” Christians with a love for Jewish roots in churches may periodically wonder, “What am I doing here?” People too uncertain to be in community at either a church or a Messianic synagogue wonder, “Where do I belong?”

Who will play God and answer these questions for other people? Not I.

Each person has a relationship with the Living God. The details of that relationship, the influences and desires mediated by God’s Spirit in persons is a holy thing. Watching from the outside, we should be cautious about speaking into this relationship.

Of course, there are egregious cases of abuse of the idea of divine calling. “God led me to this extra-marital affair,” has a false ring to it to say the least.

In Part 2 of this series, I want to consider the intersection of the individual and the community as well as the intersection between certain principles and subjective senses of divine calling. As for the first, the relationship of individual and corporate identity, we think too much as individuals and realize too little that we are part of families, communities, and people groups. As for the second, between principles and subjectivity, we make discerning God’s will more difficult than it needs to be.

Who Am I: an Individual or Part of the Group?
This question is important for many reasons when considering what non-Jews ought to do about love for Jewish roots. People in different situations are asking their questions from different places:

–“I am a Christian, but I want to keep some Jewish observances, such as holidays, without communicating to others that somehow Christians have replaced Israel and without implying that I doubt the uniqueness of Jewish identity and calling.”

–“I am not Jewish, but have been involved for about five years in Messianic Judaism. I don’t know who I am.”

–“I am Jewish and I don’t know what to think about these non-Jews in our synagogue. I can’t imagine life without them. They are integral to my life, but should non-Jews be here?”

Our decisions about what to do as individuals affect our families, communities, and all circles of relationship. Decisions are never purely about “me and only me.”

If you are married, what effect does the identity of your spouse have on you? I speak with many intermarrieds I have met online and it seems to me that the non-Jewish spouses of intermarriage often fail to realize that their family is connected to the people of Israel. I’ve counseled many a non-Jewish spouse to work toward a more Jewish home or at least a Jewish-friendly home. Should a father of Jewish kids eat babybacks and shrimp? Can a family be divided over important covenantal commitments?

If you are married and both are non-Jewish, is belonging to a Messianic Jewish community the desire of both partners?

Another belonging we have is to congregational communities. When I first began hearing from colleagues that there should be more distinction between Jews and non-Jews, I was angry and upset. People whom I believe with all my heart God has placed in my life should not be pushed away. Our community is strong at my synagogue. And there are non-Jews whom I subjectively believe to be inseparable from the future destiny of our community.

I found that in discussions with other Messianic rabbis, most felt the same way. None were eager to start asking people to leave the synagogue, at least not the kind of people who were one with the community. The talk I have heard from colleagues is more about helping people who come for wrong reasons and who don’t belong in a Messianic Jewish community from making the mistake of false belonging.

We have a mess on our hands of individual and corporate proportions because we have been careless in our notions of identity and purpose. But if I have a point to make here, it is this: those who belong in our communities, who have established a home here in Messianic Judaism, and who believe in and work toward the goals of Jewish renewal in Yeshua — as far as I am concerned — belong to the community.

Clarifying our individual identities and purposes should not be about rupturing communities or asking people to leave. A strategy of vetting people for membership in the future or helping people not to make the mistake of joining a community for the wrong reasons is a good one. But playing God and dividing existing communities is not something I will engage in. It seems my colleagues will not either.

Principles and Subjective Senses of Calling
Another issue in the question, “What are non-Jews to do?” is the balance between principles and the subjective sense of calling.

I remember in Christian clergy circles thinking that a lot of people were confused about the difference between subjective and objective ways of knowing. Applications for ministry positions in various Christian groups would have a question like, “On what date and under what circumstances did you receive the calling?”

The calling. As if our path in life is laid out for us like some prophecy which God reveals in words. I suppose that kind of clarity has happened in some cases in history. But by encouraging an objectifying of something subjective, I noticed that pop-Christian thinking about calling was distorted.

The fact is, deny it if you like, God is largely absent, silent, hidden. Our sense of calling is subjective. There is a lot of room for free choice.

People sometimes tell me God has shown them what to do. They move from failure to failure and eventually blame God. If God told me to do this, why didn’t it produce fruit?

I think the balance between subjective calling and objective principles is not as hard as people make it out to be. Consider first the commandments and wisdom that bear on your decisions. After that, follow your desires which fit with the commandments and wisdom.

Commandments and wisdom are the most objective criteria in decisions. Desires are subjective, but should not be despised as a form of recognizing God’s will. Look up “desire” in a concordance. Wrong desires conflict with commandments and wisdom. Right desires agree with commandments and wisdom. And desire is a primary way God leads us.

Some will sense the danger here. “Derek, are you saying that the desire people have to adopt Jewish customs or to belong to Messianic Jewish communities could be from God?” Am I simply rubber-stamping all forms of desire? Yes, if.

Yes, if these desires are consonant with wisdom and commandments.

The following is a list of principles which I think should inform people as they think about calling and purpose in their lives specifically with regard to Jewish roots or belonging to Messianic Jewish communities:

God does not love Jews more than people from the nations. No one needs to be Jewish to find greater favor, blessing, or role in life. If there was any uncertainty about this before Yeshua came and the apostles carried on his work, that uncertainty has been removed completely.

The Torah covenant is not between non-Jews and God, but between God and the people of Israel. As a non-Jew, you do not need to take on Jewish identity markers. It is not wrong for you to eat pork. It is not wrong for you to work on Shabbat. Any sense of guilt you have over these issues is not from God but from false teaching.

The Church is God’s multi-national institution for non-Jews and being human is as corrupt as anything human will be. Israel is God’s national people set apart for a purpose in history. The people of Israel show the same failings as the Church and vice-versa. There is no room for comparing the Church or Israel unfavorably. Both are a mixture of blessing and curse, hope and failure, light and darkness.

Supersessionism (replacement theology) is wrong, but does not disqualify the Church any more than rampant sin disqualifies Israel or the Church. There is no righteous community you can join. God will not judge you because your corporate community is imperfect. We are called to be a light to those around us, in the Church or amongst the people of Israel.

The people of Israel is not a refuge from “Babylon,” as some people put it, or a righteous place for people to run to get away from the alleged paganism of Christianity. Do not seek out a Messianic synagogue because you see no option between church practices that bother you and becoming Jewish. If you think for a minute, people seeking a community free from uncomfortable practices could and perhaps should start Christian community based on those principles before retreating to Israel and giving up on the Church.

Do not try to change Messianic Judaism into a universal Torah movement so you can have a home. If you cannot see in the Bible that God has a remnant of Yeshua-faith in Israel and that this remnant has a purpose in the plan of God in history, I have doubts about your ability to read the Bible. Any attempt to dilute the remnant of Israel with sloppy theology denies that God has a plan for the remnant of Israel. This point gets me in trouble with my friends in the universal Torah movements. Too often, this is what I think they are doing — redefining Israel to include gentiles with faith in Yeshua. If that is true, then why did God bother to choose Israel at all and why are there continuing statements of Israel’s unique election and calling in the New Testament?

It is not necessary to come to Judaism or Messianic Judaism to practice a faith more in line with the whole Bible. It is possible to have Christian communities which celebrate Passover. Though I am not in favor of Shabbat observance for Christians, if you believe this is God’s will, you can do it in a Christian group. You don’t have to take over a Messianic synagogue to be a Sabbath-keeping Christian.

It is possible to be a member of a church and to have periodic fellowship, such as at holidays, with Jewish and/or Messianic Jewish groups. You don’t have to join Israel to have a relationship with Jewish people.

There certainly are non-Jews who have Jewish souls. Conversion has always been an option through intermarriage and also through other forms of joining the Jewish people. If you look at websites about conversion, you will find that the reasons most Jewish teachers list for conversion are similar to the desires many non-Jews in Messianic Judaism have. Some of my colleagues might criticize me for saying this, but I invite them to dialogue. Why should Messianic Judaism be more dissuasive of potential converts than mainstream Judaism? As long as people have healthy senses of their own identity and worth in God’s eyes, I don’t think we should deny persistent desires to become one with the people of Israel. (NOTE: I do not think “Paul’s rule in all the churches” disagrees with what I am saying here — more on that in the Paul’s rule series of blog posts I will continue here on Messianic Jewish Musings).

Upcoming
So far, we have discussed (in Part 1) the reasons for a wide interest among non-Jews in Jewish roots and Messianic Judaism. We have considered the importance of communal identity as opposed to thoughtless individualism. And we have considered the balance between the subjective and objective in finding God’s will for our calling.

In further installments in this series, we will look at options and issues for non-Jews. We will consider questions like, “How would Christianity have looked if it had not been for supersessionism (replacement theology) and anti-nomianism (a rejection of commandments)?” We will discuss the situations of people in different places, all with a love for Israel, for the Hebrew Bible, and for various parts or the whole of Jewish tradition.

Posted in Bible, Christian, Gentiles, Judaism, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism | Tagged | 33 Comments

Jewish Roots and non-Jews, Part 1

A great thing has happened in the past few decades in the lives of numerous thousands of Jesus-followers. The yearnings of people who love God and who read the sacred texts of scripture with eyes of faith has broken through centuries of error, misanthropy, and the tragedy of anti-Semitism.

Hundreds of thousands of Jesus-followers have become philo-Semites in various ways and at various levels.

Common issues have included:

(1) The rejection of supersessionism (replacement theology), which was the idea that Christianity had replaced Judaism in the promises and plan of God. The fullest definition of supersessionism is given in R. Kendall Soulen’s The God of Israel and Christian Theology. Supersessionism has varying types and levels as well and some people manage to shed the most egregious levels while retaining others.

(2) The rejection of anti-nomian reactions to God’s commandments. The explanation many heard about why Christians do not keep the Sabbath is so obviously false, it has been a continual problem. Note the glut of Christian writing attempting to spiritualize the Sabbath (including even recent major books by popular authors). The same arguments used against the Sabbath would call for a commandment-free Christianity. It occurred to practically no Christian authors that Sabbath was and still is God’s commandment for Israel (including Messianic Jews) and that Paul’s freedom-from-Sabbath statements were about non-Jewish disciples only.

(3) A discovery of and deep love for the Biblical holidays. Christians began hearing missionaries to the Jews (such as Jews for Jesus) give Passover presentations in churches starting in the 1970’s. The growth of the early Messianic Jewish movement began to include many non-Jews and the idea of Jesus-followers celebrating Passover, Tabernacles, Hanukkah, and other Biblical holidays spilled over and spread. Hundreds of thousands of Jesus-followers have taken hold of the holidays to one level or another. And the joy of God’s calendar is as evident to these lovers of God as it should always have been and always should be for Jewish people.

(4) The growth of teaching organizations and the proliferation of literature with various names including Hebraic and Jewish roots. Some of this material was poorly thought out, lacking in depth, and so on, but it was new for these Christians who soaked it up. And the beauty of it for many people was bringing the whole Bible back into view, so that study of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) became popular again in this subset of people.

(5) The realization that Jesus is Jewish hit many people with force. The essential denial of the Jewishness of Jesus throughout church history is a scandal. The realization that Jesus did not start a new religion rightfully caused many a non-Jew to repent and seek a deeper way of viewing his identity and purpose.

(6) Related to the second point (above), many found that the old arguments about grace versus law were distorted and that the Torah is full of grace. A new view of Paul was developing in scholarly circles. Many in the Jewish roots movement sought alternative ways to interpret Paul. Sadly, the well-thought-out New Perspective on Paul by scholars proliferated a bit late for many in the Jewish roots movement who had already developed less helpful ways of reading Paul. A common Jewish roots reading was to deny any Torah-free statement by Paul using scriptural gymnastics. The realization that Paul’s letters are directed at a non-Jewish audience which is not obligated to Torah missed the Jewish roots movement just as it has missed church theology for thousands of years. To this date the Jewish roots and universal Torah (One Law, Two House) movements have not absorbed the benefits of the New Perspective on Paul literature.

(7) The growth of non-Jews in Messianic Judaism started fairly early and quickly Messianic Judaism became a movement not about Jewish faith and practice in Yeshua, but about non-Jews discovering their Jewish roots. Messianic Jewish leaders welcomed the people and money this brought to their work. The goals of establishing a Jewish movement for Yeshua were sacrificed to popularity.

The Present Situation
Something beautiful and potentially world-changing is at peril due to confusion and the demanding of rights and privileges.

First, the growth of philo-Semitic Christianity is harmed by the adoption in the Jewish roots and universal Torah movements’ disdain for Christianity and the church. Instead of reforming church structures and bringing many of the joyful realizations of Jewish roots into churches, many of these people left, joined Messianic groups, and developed a line of literature denouncing Christianity as pagan.

So now, you are either a Christian pagan or a Messianic. And Messianic to these people means that you keep the holidays, the Sabbath, and various aspects of the Torah (but almost always reject the rabbis, Judaism, and Jewish tradition).

Second, the goals of Messianic Judaism were co-opted by well-meaning non-Jews who simply wanted to live out their Jewish roots. It was easier to do this in a Messianic congregation. The beleaguered leaders of small Messianic synagogues were happy to welcome an influx of people and funding. Meanwhile, the churches people fled from were not willing to take on Passover or Tabernacles. These Jewish roots people were not welcome to express themselves within church structures.

When you have a church in denial of its Jewish origins, a church which does not understand the Pentateuch, a church which promotes unhealthy views of Judaism, can you blame people for leaving?

Even at this moment, churches are largely blind to these issues. Progress has been made. Christians are far more aware today of the Jewishness of Jesus than a decade ago.

But the pressing problems of church life still cause the repair between Judaism and Christianity to be a back-burner issue. Struggling to remain strong in the post-modern world, the church pays only minor attention to its history of anti-Semitism, the new and better views of Paul and Torah, and so on.

It is all too easy for philo-Semitic followers of Jesus to drop out of such church contexts. And there is no home, other than Messianic Judaism, for these disaffected people. So variant forms of Messianic Judaism have developed which are not Judaism, per se, but universal Torah movements.

Looking Ahead to Practical Solutions
Commenters and friends have recently asked me to suggest a way forward for them and people like them.

On the one hand, I have friends in the universal Torah movements who are not at all happy with me. I have been insisting that the Torah was given to Israel on Mt. Sinai, that it is a covenant between Israel and God, that non-Jews are not part of the Torah covenant, that the New Testament affirms the freedom of non-Jews from Torah obligation, and that the relationship of Torah commandments to non-Jews is complex.

I have insisted that Torah does not mean merely the biblical commandments but the whole tradition of Israel that goes with it. There is no such thing as Torah without tradition. The Torah is designed to be filled in by the community of Israel with traditions. So Torah without Judaism is bankrupt. In fact, the word Torah includes tradition inherently (so that the universal Torah movements are not really practicing Torah, but a sort of neo-Karaitism).

I have insisted that the Church is God’s community on earth for bringing Yeshua to the nations. The supersessionism and anti-nomianism of the Church do not mean God has abandoned Christianity. If God abandoned Israel for waywardness and errors we would have ceased to exist long before there ever was a church.

But what are non-Jews who realize all these things to do? How can people stuck between a church indifferent to Jewish roots and a Messianic Judaism that is trying to regain its purpose as a Jewish movement to do?

There are a number of related questions people want answered:

(1) How should Christianity have developed if it had not been supersessionistic and anti-nomian?

(2) What should non-Jews presently in community in Messianic synagogues do?

(3) What should Jesus-believers who love Jewish roots do?

In a series of posts I want to focus first on issues 2 and 3, the more practical ones. If I don’t forget (remind me), I will come back to issue 1. It is less practical, but for many it would form the theoretical base for the kind of community they would like to see.

Posted in Christian, Gentiles, Holidays, Judaism, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism | Tagged | 12 Comments

Rudolph's "Paul Rule" Article, Part 1

One of the things that astounds me is the depth of scholarship in our tiny little movement. Messianic Judaism, further delimited in my understanding as the Jewish movement by that name and not the slightly larger movement including many non-Jewish groups, is very small as religious denominations go.

One mega-church or metro Reform synagogue can outnumber our entire movement.

Yet we have a contingent of a dozen or so every year at the Society of Biblical Literature. We are working on having our own track at SBL. If you can be a fly on the wall at our annual Hashivenu event, you will be surprised at the level of research and knowledge in the room. We have a number of scholars with PhD’s from top schools including Cambridge and Harvard.

And the trend is increasing, not decreasing.

The name of Mark Kinzer is already well-known to many beyond the provinces of Messianic Judaism. Another name that will become increasingly known is David Rudolph, a New Testament scholar who is young, articulate, a PhD from Cambridge, and whose measured writings show promise of bringing the ideas of Messianic Judaism to the broader world of Judaism and Christianity.

In a decade, I would not be surprised to find that the name David Rudolph is recognized by New Testament scholarship as a leading player.

I can see David blushing and telling me I am wrong, because that is his humble nature. To meet David Rudolph is to love him. I find that his kind make the best scholars — not the brash ideologues who beat on others (like me), but the calm, humble scholars whose ideas are well-organized and able to speak for themselves with little chest-pounding.

The peer-reviewed journal, Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations has just published an important article by David Rudolph and it is available free online at http://escholarship.bc.edu/scjr/vol5/iss1/2/.

It’s not that David Rudolph has not been published elsewhere (he has) or that this is his first major article (it is not). It is that this is such a good article with important implications for Messianic Judaism, Christianity, Judaism (and something I hope the universal-Torah (a.k.a. One Law or Two-House) people will read).

Overview and Main Argument
Please take the time to click on and read Rudolph’s article at Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations. The article is not long. And the number of clicks can help promote further work by David Rudolph in that journal and others in the future.

Clicking here is a mitzvah: http://escholarship.bc.edu/scjr/vol5/iss1/2/

The full title is: Paul

Posted in Bible, Christian, Gentiles, Judaism, Mark Kinzer, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism, Paul | Tagged , | 30 Comments

PODCAST: Yeshua in Context – Resurrection Absences

N.T. Wright concludes that the resurrection narratives in the four gospels develop from early accounts, accounts in which the startling fact of the resurrection is still raw, undigested (Resurrection, 610-15). Assuming Wright is correct, this feature of the gospel resurrection accounts is beyond strange. Since they are written down quite late (in all probability and as most scholars agree), after four to six decades of theological reflection one would think they would express the meaning of the resurrection clearly and thoroughly. Yet, in fact, Paul

Posted in Bible, Christian, Jesus-Tomb, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism, Yeshua | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Notes on the Shema, Daily D'var

I have an email service known as the Daily D’var with notes on the daily Torah (Chumash) readings and readings from the Gospels and Acts. A community of about 120 people receive them at present. If we pass 200, I’ll have to use some type of email service and quit using Apple Mail.

But I believe very much in the value of reading daily. Chumash (the five books of Moses, Torah) is the obvious choice from the Hebrew Bible. It is the foundation of the Bible (all biblical ideas are tied to something in the Chumash), of Judaism, and in ways that few recognize, of Christianity. The Gospels and Acts are the logical choice from the New Testament. Paul’s letters have gotten inordinate attention to the detriment of the gospel. The apostles used the term besorah or the Greek evangelion (good news, later English coined the term gospel from “God spell”) for the life of Yeshua. The stories of his life are good news, light, and life for us.

Today’s Chumash notes are about the central text of the Chumash, Judaism, and Christianity: the Shema and V’Ahavta (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). If you’d like to sign up to receive the Daily D’var by email, contact me at derek4messiah@gmail.com.
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DEUTERONOMY 6:4-25
Shema (4), V

Posted in Bible, Christian, Gospel, Judaism, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Deuteronomy 4 and Israel's Unique Calling

There are many reasons, coming from many different philosophies, why people do not believe that the Jewish people have a uniqueness or a unique calling. Just a few days ago a commenter said that I would be “hard-pressed” to show any text in the New Testament which argues for a unique calling for Jewish people in the continuing reality of Yeshua’s Congregation.

How about Romans 11:29?

Should faithful readers of the Bible believe that Israel has a unique calling? Has Israel ever had a unique calling? If so, does it continue?

One text to consider is in this week’s Torah portion (Va’etchanan): Deuteronomy 4:5-40. Consider an outline of the passage’s larger topics:

(4:5-8) The teachings (chukkot and mishpatim) are full of wisdom and worthy of obedience

(4:9-14) Remember the Sinai revelation

(4:15) God did not appear in a form like an idol

(4:16-18) Do not make images of earthly or heavenly things

(4:19) Do not worship the stars and heavenly bodies

(4:20-24) God is jealous as our story up to now has shown

(4:25-31) If you turn your back you will be scattered, but God will not give up on you

(4:32-40) Has any nation had such a revelation?

Uniqueness in the Torah Portion
There is a relativizing tendency many readers of the Bible fall prey to.

A common Christian mode of reading of Torah passages (there are different Christian modes and many people mix and match with little consideration of method) is to assume that the individual Christian is being addressed. This is usually combined with a filter: anything about guilt or judgment is about Israel but any timeless truth that can be derived is for the Christian as is any promise.

In this Christian mode of reading, Deuteronomy 4:25-31 could be read “devotionally” as a statement that God will not give up on any Christian who is in sin. God’s love will pursue and reconcile (in this life or the next) any disobedient child. And 4:32-40 could be read as a statement about the uniqueness of revelation to those who read and believe the Bible (note: that is the whole Bible as understood via a Christian reading as opposed to the Torah covenant as read specifically by the descendants of Israel).

Another mode of reading, one that has been constrained to various Sabbath-keeping Christian groups and, in more recent times, to universal-Torah-movement groups (often called “Messianic” and sometimes self-defining as One Law or Two House movements) is a reading of identification and extension.

By identification I mean that this type of reader writes himself/herself into the text, the promises and relational statements of the Torah.

But Deuteronomy 4:32-40 resists such identification by non-Jewish readers..

Has anything as grand as this ever happened, or has its like ever been known? Has any people [other than the Jewish people] heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have, and survived? Or has any god ventured to go and take for himself one nation [the Jewish people] from the midst of another by prodigious acts . . . from amidst that fire you [the Jewish people] heard His words. And because He loved your fathers [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob], He chose their heirs [the Jewish people] after them; He Himself, in His great might, led you out of Egypt, to drive from your path nations greater and more populous than you, to take you into their land and assign it to you [the Jewish people] as a heritage, as is still the case. . . . Observe His laws and commandments, which I enjoin upon you [the Jewish people] this day, that it may go well with you and your children after you . . .

The entire point of this passage is based on physical descent:

–Israel is chosen because of the patriarchs from whom they descend.

–Israel saw the revelation at Sinai and no other nation did.

–God took for himself one nation — both words (“one” and “nation”) are important here.

–God enjoined his Torah upon this one nation.

–The continuation of this Torah covenant is for the benefit of the children (physical descent) of the nation.

Not Diluting Uniqueness
Has anything as grand as this ever happened? God asks.

It is a point worth remembering that the Torah covenant between God and Israel is unique. Nothing like it happened before with the nations (gentiles).

And if Israel breaks the treaty of Torah, Deuteronomy 4:25-31 describes the results: punishment but not final rejection.

None of this means God’s love, his redemptive purpose, or his calling of people to relationship was, is, or will be limited to the Jewish people. Torah itself deals with Israel’s calling as priests to the nations (gentiles) and gives more than one category for non-Israelite people (temporary resident in the land, permanent resident, foreigner).

None of this means God would not extend an offer of relationship to other peoples.

But the Torah covenant is between Israel and God. Israel’s calling is unique. And the Torah denies that this calling will ever end.

Posted in Bible, Christian, Gentiles, Judaism, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism | 19 Comments

Historic Moment: MJ's Future Through Education

Coming up on Messianic Jewish Musings: It happens occasionally that I have so many topics for the blog and so few days. Look for the following this week and next. (1) A series on a crucial paper by David Rudolph, MJTI professor and a New Testament scholar of note about “Paul’s Rule in All the Churches” (see Yahnatan Lasko’s write-up here), (2) a theology of Torah and election from Deuteronomy 4, (3) a theology of redemption and election from Acts 3, (4) an interview with Mark Kinzer about the Helsinki Consultation on Jewish Identity, (5) more on our J-BOM selections for July and August, and (6) podcasts on the resurrection narratives.
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History is often made with little notice until years after the fact when an event is looked upon as a turning point.

A good bit of history has been made, in my opinion, in recent weeks. A group of Messianic Jews and Jewish Christians met in Helsinki, Finland, and resolved together to work on faithfulness to the covenantal identity of Jewish people who follow Yeshua (Jesus). That Jewish followers of Yeshua in churches and in Messianic synagogues (and in mainstream synagogues) could work out theologies and practices for continuing the unique calling of Jewishness is a major advance from the Reverse Galatianism of the past (Galatianism = requiring Gentiles to live as Jews, so you can imagine what Reverse Galatianism has been).

David Rudolph has published a paper which breaks new ground, even restoring to Christian theology Paul’s “rule in all the churches,” an idea you would not think could have been lost by a church so devoted to Paul’s writings. Yet, as Rudolph shows in his paper, Paul’s rule has been forgotten and the consequences have been disaster.

And history, I believe, will look back on the MJTI summer intensives of 2010 in Beverly Hills as a turning point as well (see more about MJTI here).

Seven students gathered including a congregational rabbi (myself), a candidate due to receive rabbinic ordination this summer (Joshua Brumbach of the Yinon blog), two students working on ordination requirements, a long-time Messianic Jewish lay-leader and teacher of Hebrew, a much-beloved rebbetzin whose work in Messianic Judaism has touched scores of lives, and a brilliant Jewish physician from Brazil who is also a budding scholar of rabbinics.

MJTI’s Rabbi Carl Kinbar and Rabbi Rich Nichol poured their lives and knowledge into us with some help from Rabbis Stuart Dauermann and Paul Saal.

What was potentially historic about this week-long intensive class?

(1) When in MJ history has there been a trajectory set for study of the Tradition (rabbinic literature) in the original languages by a group capable of engaging the ideas and creatively forming them into theology and practice? We read Eichah Rabbah texts in the difficult language of early rabbinic Hebrew and found in midrash a place in the tradition which affirms the immanence and emotional involvement of God in his creation and among his people. The midrashic conceptions of God are very amenable to Messianic Jewish faith and counter the rather deistic tradition of much modern Judaism. It will not be easy for Jewish opponents of Messianic Judaism to claim that our faith is un-Jewish as our scholars (present and future) delve deeply into the more immanent and mystical parts of the Tradition.

(2) With great wisdom the course was set for MJTI’s educational pattern to blend the practical/spiritual with the academic/theological. The afternoon course was about the prophetic and spiritual power and endowment of God upon his people. MJTI’s students will not simply be readers of Hebrew texts, writers of theology, and teachers of ideas. If the power of God is not made known among us, if we do not have the sense of immediacy that characterized the sons of the prophets in Elisha’s day and the Yeshua-community in Acts, then our message will fall on deaf ears.

The week-long class was a turning point.

MJTI is making the future, I believe, through the blessing of God upon us. He has brought together the intellectual and spiritual leadership of key people. Rabbi Mark Kinzer is leading the way in dialogue with Jewish and Christian scholars. David Rudolph is intimately involved in this Jewish-Christian relations work as are a few others (whose names I am not sure I should publicize). Jewish scholars whose names are well-known (but again, until there are press releases, I am not sure I should name them) are talking with us and even delivering lectures at events MJTI is sponsoring. Christian leaders and scholars of equal note are involved.

Messianic Judaism is functioning as it ought to, as the bridge of peace between the parts of the Congregation of Yeshua, bringing Jewish and Christian leaders together.

Rabbis and other leaders in the future will be equipped as never before, with a Jewish and Christian education of depth and breadth that will help us restore ancient divisions and equip and empower many people for a vibrant and active faith.

Truth time: Messianic Judaism is a small movement. The actual numbers in our movement are misunderstood. Our survival as a movement is very much in question. Many competing ideas exist including models in which Messianic Judaism is Christianity practiced with a veneer of Jewish tradition or in which Jewish identity is lost in a universal Torah movement. The large influx of Jewish people toward faith in Jesus came to a virtual stop after the 1970’s. Jewish interest in Jesus is largely expressed through assimilation in churches or through private and uninvolved interest by postmoderns who refuse to identify and join.

Will the year 2020 see a vibrant Messianic Judaism? Our leaders mostly come from the Jesus movement of the 1970’s that caught up many Jews in the Jesus-fever. Most will be retired by 2020. What will replace current structures? The number of rabbinic students is small. The prospects for a paid rabbinate are small.

Will there be a new influx of Jews and intermarrieds looking to bring together Yeshua-faith and Jewish identity and tradition? Will it be a God-initiated movement of power like what we saw in the 1970’s?

I hope so. But in the meantime, those who share the vision need to come together around the vision of a faithful Messianic Judaism: faithful to Yeshua and faithful to the covenant between the people of Israel and God. Perhaps by 2020, people will point to events such as this class in midrash and Spiritual endowment as a watershed. The studies will continue. Those joining us for the studies will increase. The voice of Messianic Jews and Christians who support the vision will broaden and the old discourse of anti-missionary vs. missionary will diminish.

May it be true, the ability of Jewish people to ignore or dismiss Yeshua as a foreign deity will fade.

Posted in Christian, Intermarried, Judaism, Mark Kinzer, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism, Spirituality, Talmud and Tradition | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Observing Tisha B’Av (Reprint from Last Year)

pictureHow lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she that was great among the nations! . . . She weeps bitterly in the night, tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has none to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies.
-Lamentations 1:1-2

Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair.
-Elie Wiesel

Tisha B’Av (the ninth of Av) begins tonight at sundown, July 19, 2010. According to a Talmudic passage (Taanit 26a), five things happened in history on this date:

(1) The Exodus generation was told they would die in the desert.

(2) The first Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians (586 B.C.E.).

(3) The second Temple was destroyed by the Romans (70 C.E.).

(4) Bar Kochba’s fortress was destroyed by the Romans, ending the second Jewish revolt (136 C.E.).

(5) The city of Jerusalem was plowed under.

Tradition has it that practically every tragedy in Jewish history is connected to this day. According to George Robinson (Essential Judaism) there is literal historical truth to that fact. The ninth of Av is the date when the Romans began destroying the Temple in 70 C.E. (they finished on the tenth). He says that it was truly on Tisha B’Av in 1190 when the Jewish population of York, England was massacred and in 1290 when Edward banished all Jews from England and Tisha B’Av was the deadline for Jews to leave Spain the expulsion of 1492. The Nazis deliberately chose this date in 1942 to send Jews from the ghetto at Warsaw into Treblinka for extermination.

A Disturbing Day, a Mournful Day
Walking into synagogue on the eve of Tisha B’Av, you find the chairs either removed or turned upside down. People sit on low stools or on the floor, as did Job in his distress. Curtains and coverings are removed, making the synagogue look bare.

The last meal before sundown is traditionally lentils and eggs. Their round shape is said to speak of mourning, since life is a circle of mourning.

The texts for reading are sad ones: Lamentations, Jeremiah (but not the consolation passages), Job, Deuteronomy 4:25-40, Jeremiah 8:13 – 9:23, and also Kinot, sad poems of mourning composed through the ages for reading on Tisha B’Av.

Lamentations is read in whole at the evening service. The cant gets louder through the first three chapters, silent on the fourth, and then loud again on the next to last verse:

Hashivenu, Adonai, eleikha v’nashuvah! Chadesh, chadesh yameinu, chadesh yameinu k’kedem!
Restore us to thyself, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old!
-Lamentations 5:21

Tisha B’Av as Spiritual Discipline
It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.
-Ecclesiastes (Kohelet) 7:2

As long as we live in the age of death and futility, we ought to set times to meditate and reflect on these things. Our prayer and worship is heavily populated with verses of hope and consolation. May Messiah come speedily. Rebuild the Temple. May our own eyes see your return to Zion.

Such hope is vital and rightly emphasized. But in this age we will deal with death and we ought to deal with it purposefully and thoughtfully.

Tisha B’Av is a spiritual discipline. We eat our lentils alone and not in the joy of a communal table. Fasting on Tisha B’Av is a way of experiencing the pangs of suffering to remind ourselves, even in good times, that this is the lot of humankind. We pray silently and alone, even in synagogue, because death separates loved ones and harms community.

We need Tisha B’Av to remember how great the hope and consolation of Messiah truly is.

Posted in Bible, Holidays, Judaism, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism | 9 Comments

We pass 500,000 reads!

I had planned to announce when Messianic Jewish Musings passed the mark of 500,000 reads. We passed it yesterday and I wasn’t paying attention. Anyway, it’s a cool number and I’m glad so many people like reading theology, Jewish-Christian relations, biblical issues, rabbinic texts, and so on. Thanks to you all and keep reading — reading as a habit to stay connected to God is not a hobby, it is survival!

Posted in Messianic Jewish | 4 Comments

Few Jews Following Yeshua?

Just a quick thought for today. I am reading Luke Timothy Johnson’s commentary on Acts for the Daily D’var, an email list commentary through which I send out readings from the Chumash (five books of Torah) and the Gospels and Acts.

I came to Acts 2:37, “Now when they heard this, they were acutely distressed and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘What should we do, brothers?’

Posted in Bible, Christian, Judaism, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism | 35 Comments