If Messianic Judaism claims to be a Judaism within the wider Jewish Community, than it behooves us to consider the place of halachah in our midst. Messianic Judaism is more than just a form of “Biblical Judaism.” To make such a claim denies the history of the Jewish people over the last two-thousand years, and the fact that other forms of Judaism are also “Biblical.” Such a perspective also fails to acknowledge the role Rabbinic Judaism has played in determining Jewish life, teaching and practice; as well as the preservation of us as a people throughout recent history.
We should understand halachah for what it is, and what it is not. What has been lost in the strictest forms of Orthodox Judaism in recent years is the fluidity of the halachic structure and the innovation out of which it was birthed. Gordon Tucker, of the Jewish Theological Seminary, helps to point out:
“The body of Jewish law is not uniform in texture, but is rather composed of materials which fall into two main categories, usually referred to as de-oraita(biblically ordained) and de-rabbanan (rabbinically developed). That which isde-oraita can be considered to be the very core of the system, which holds it in place and provides a frame of reference. It therefore must be treated as inviolable. Tampering with that which is de-oraita is tantamount to destroying the core of the Jewish pattern of life as it has existed for millennia…The much greater (that is, in terms of volume) overlay which is de-rabbanan, on the other hand, comes with procedures for change and development. What isde-rabbanan can develop, is in fact meant to develop, as the conditions of the Jewish community change. That is what ensures the vibrancy and the continuity of the halakha as the coordinate system which roots all Jewish communities.”
Jewish law was never meant to be static, but rather to be reinterpreted in every generation. Rabbi WayneDosick describes halachah as “ever-developing” and “ever-evolving.” Halachah is derived out of evolving case law, which is based on prior precedent. As such, it is developed by wrestling with texts, the practicalities of daily life, and the teachings of previous leaders in order to decide halachic matters. It is a process. A process that is not set in stone, and not without inerrancy. However, while engaging with rabbinic texts and decidinghalachah, Professor Tucker guides,
“Development in the domain of de-rabbanan must not be abrupt or discontinuous, [but] must be rooted in traditional exegetical methodologies, and above all, must be ratified by the community of the committed and informed.”
This is exactly what the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council (MJRC) seeks to do – to wrestle with halachah in a way that is responsible to our history as Jews, to the halachic process, the inspiration of the Ruach, and the additional consideration of the Gospels and the Apostolic Writings. The MJRC is truly on the forefront of Messianic Jews who are re-engaging our texts, traditions, and the application of Torah in our lives today.
This is actually a historical moment! Although there have been significant rabbis who have come to faith in Yeshua over the last two millennia, and remained faithful to halachah and Jewish life, there has not been a body of Messianic Jewish leaders and rabbis engaging our tradition on this level since the earliest centuries. We as Messianic Jewish rabbis have a significant voice to add to the Jewish conversation of the last thirty centuries. As a body of ordained and educated rabbis, we are once again adding a voice for Yeshua within our tradition that has remained largely dormant for over 1,500 years.
Messianic Jews are obligated to engage in knowledgeable discussion with Jewish law. At times we may interpret it differently, especially in light of New Testament understandings. Yet, that does not mean we can just “do as we see fit.” We have a responsibility to ourselves and the larger Jewish world to engage in halachah through a knowledgeable and informed process.