A (Belated) Fourth of FIve Questions for Pesach – Question (What About Torah Observance?)

July 30, 2019

Last Passover I began a series responding to five questions imbedded in a readers response to a video I had posted. You may see that video here:

The five questions were as follows.

  1. My Apparent Prioritization of Outreach - That was really interesting. Can you unpack for me why you think Messianic Judaism is by definition a movement called to reach the Jewish people with the gospel? Obviously that's a perspective which arises naturally in Christian thought - evangelical churches define themselves in terms of their purpose being evangelism. I'm not trying to ask mischievous questions here, I'm trying to ask what underlies, what's at the basis of, this theology which focusses completely on converting people, rather than on a broader picture of mission (ie to congregations, networks of congregations, movements to work for social justice, feed the hungry, etc).
  2. What About the Messianic Jewish Movement's Predominant Gentile Influx - What happens theologically to this understanding if it's actually overwhelmingly non-Jews whom the Ruach HaKodesh is calling in? What is God saying then about purpose?
  3. What About Discipleship/Discipling? - What happens, most importantly, to discipleship, creating a learning community which creates a life-giving, Yeshua transformed setting for ordinary believers in Yeshua to live out their lives and raise their children?
  4. What About the Priority of Torah Learning for Jews? - What happens to the purpose approached from a Jewish perspective, of 'from generation to generation' transmission in terms of Torah learning? What happens to the ability of the Messianic community to engage in ever deeper Torah learning to develop its maturing theology? I'm trying to make sense of how you and others see the bigger picture.
  5. What About Gift Projection? - I've seen how easy it is for one person who has a strong calling, say, to pastoral care, to 'convert' a whole string of churches into seeing themselves as being there only to give pastoral care to one another and new people as they come in. Their entire 'skill set' becomes seen through, evaluated through, and enacted in terms of pastoral care. I've seen it happen with social justice, with congregations being led by a passionate social justice pioneer into this being the reason for the existence, their calling and purpose, to the point where pastoral care is virtually non-existent. How is all this balanced out?

Today we will (too) briefly deal with the fourth question, because the three prior ones have already been handled. The fourth question wondered about my commitment to a Messianic Jewish future which properly honors Torah learning.

I have written extensively on this subject, both on this blog and in print, as in "https://www.amazon.com/Chosen-Follow-Believers-through-History-ebook/dp/B00BSUO4CQ/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=caspari+center+jakob&qid=1564521167&s=gateway&sr=8-1 in an article titled "Jewish Believers in Yeshua and Halachic Torah Obserance: Whether, What, and How?"

The article was written for an Israeli audience, many of whom had objections to the priority, necessity, and halachic shape of Torah observance. I addressed these issues, and strongly that inquirers read the article in its entirely

But for now, here is part of its conclusion. Please note that the term JBY means "Jewish Believers in Yeshua."

What we are 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 them 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.  And it does not mean that we would 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 the rulings and conduct of extremists.   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.  More fundamentally, obeying Torah in concert with other Jews is about honoring him, 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 Diaspora 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.

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, our 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!

Halachically Informed Torah Observance For JBY- How

When I speak of “how,” I am speaking primarily of “How shall we proceed to move forward toward discerning what our path of obedience shall be, what it shall look like, as 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 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 sensitive to the leading of the Spirit, and whose attitudes toward the matters at hand are not simply safe and familiar, but are rather touched by a Holy Spirit engendered newness and openness.

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

• 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 a certain attraction to 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.

• 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!

• 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 from out of the United States. These people have been touched by the Spirit over these matters for years, and are further along the same path you will travel.  It would be foolish to ignore their council.

• There will be among you, wherever you 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.

• 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 the 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.” 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. 


One comment on “A (Belated) Fourth of FIve Questions for Pesach – Question (What About Torah Observance?)”

  1. Thanks, Stuart, for formulating this response to question #4. However, to me it seems you haven't answered the question except perhaps in a most superficial way. Your answer seems to reduce to a simple: "Yes, we really ought to do this, and we ought not allow ourselves to be deterred by prior Christian supersessionist antipathy toward Jews and Judaism, nor by reaction against perceived excesses by hyper-frum extremists". You even invoked obliquely an old Christian "Law-versus-Grace" salvation canard that was anti-Jewish on its face from its inception. You addressed a question of "how" in a context of "discerning what our path of obedience shall be" (shall!), implying that it is merely something to be considered at some time in the future rather than emphasizing a responsibility that has been incumbent upon haRav Yeshua's Jewish disciples ever since he commanded them to obey the proper Mosaic authority of the Scribes and Pharisees some 20 centuries ago.

    That Matthean passage alone ought to indicate how we should integrate obedience to the "Son of David" with the 'hukim and mishpatim of Torah as interpreted by those who continued in that line of Jewish authority. Further, perhaps this is a good opportunity to address the term "JBY". The book from which you excerpted the term may be a little dated, so perhaps you wouldn't currently use such a term, but I would like to elucidate here the error inherent in it. There is an inherent distinction to be made between "believers" and "disciples". The emphasis on what one "believes" derives from a non-Jewish perspective; the Jewish perspective focuses on what one does, and how diligently or wholeheartedly. One may connect these perspectives by recognizing that what one does is generally likely to be an outcome of what one believes; however, the Jewish one cannot be satisfied to stop short at merely believing something if it does not result in proper, Torah-informed action. Thus it may be part of the problem that some folks think of themselves only as "JBY" rather than as "Jewish disciples of haRav Yeshua ben-Yosef". A disciple takes on a greater degree of commitment.

    Now you're undoubtedly right about the need for "b'nei Nachshon" or early adopters. And certainly there is a need for motivation, even urgency, perhaps even desperation, to repent and change based upon recognition of communal shortcomings within the JBY community. And such recognition depends upon conviction under the Jewish integrity paradigm that you described in your referenced book. Perhaps your reference to "the Hashivenu group, Messianic Jewish Theological Institute, and the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council from out of the United States" is itself an answer to the portion of this question #4 that asked about the priority of Torah learning within the movement. The implicit answer appears to be that the priority has been so low for so long that the movement must start from a position of profound ignorance to learn how to be integrally Jewish members within the larger world of Jews committed to Torah. Implicit also is a shortsightedness of perception that could perceive and condemn some Jews as "hyper-frum". One really can't use such a term meaningfully unless one is already "frum", whereby a comparison becomes possible. Therefore, I suppose, communities of these "JBY"s will thus need to become like "hozrei b'Tshuvah" communities in other sectors of Judaism. A little rending-of-garments and weeping, over the Torah that has yet to be rediscovered among so many, would not be out of place. Perhaps only then might the conversation become possible about the actual means to transmit the Torah from generation to generation, together with its cultural tradition, its praxis, its mores, its literature, its halachah. Then, with one major stumbling block out of the way, that has given our fellow Jews good justification for rejecting anything we might wish to say about the Galilean rabbi that we have presumed to serve, perhaps we may be able to retrieve the leper messiah from his captivity at the gates of Rome (as one version of the story describes it), and let the anointed priest declare him cleansed (and us along with him).

    "May it come soon and in our days." Amen!

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