Does an Emphasis on Torah Living Undermine Messianic Jewish Outreach?

July 9, 2015

Once in while, people who don't know me, who have heard nasty things about me or who don't feel comfortable with the positions I hold will accuse me of being weak on outreach, that is, they will accuse me of being indifferent to promoting Yeshua-faith among Jews. As soon as they say that, one thing becomes clear. They don't know what, or better, who they are talking about. But the accusation still wounds, and it gets legs among the myriads of people who just love to play "Ain't it awful?" Fine. I can live with it and do. 

But let's talk for a moment about Torah and faith in Yeshua. The discussion will turn in a direction many people don't want to go. But if you have courage, come along with me, that is, if you don't mind thinking new thoughts.

I have long taught that when Jews who believe in Yeshua no longer care about Torah and do not lead a Jewish life, it makes believing in Yeshua look ridiculous! Remember ours is a religious message, a Jewish religious message. And it seems to me that Jews have a right to assume that whoever the Messiah might be, if there is a Messiah, he will make Jews into better Jews. That seems incontrovertible!  And Jews have every right to say, "What kind of a Messiah is this that leads Jews AWAY from Jewish life?"  In fact, I consider the widespread assimilation of Jews who believe in Yeshua to be the main obstacle to other Jews considering Yeshua faith. 

Moses warns us about this in Deuteronomy 13. He tells us that if a Prophet comes who leads us away from the commandments of Torah, we Jews must not follow him.

If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. YOU SHALL WALK AFTER THE LORD YOUR GOD AND FEAR HIM AND KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS AND OBEY HIS VOICE, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery,  So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 13:1-5 ESV)

What do you suppose Moses meant by "fear Him and keep his commandments and obey his voice?"  And notice how a departure from the path of God's commandments is connected with serving other gods, or, to put it another way, how departure from the pathway of these commandments is incompatible with following the LORD who brought us out of the land of Egypt. A little later in the paragraph he puts it this way,

But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, TO MAKE YOU LEAVE THE WAY IN WHICH THE LORD YOUR GOD COMMANDED YOU TO WALKSo you shall purge the evil1 from your midst.

Obviously, in context, Moses is speaking of the life of Torah living, Jewish life. obeying Torah, mitzvot, chukkim and mishpatim. The whole nine yards of observant Judaism.  Moses is saying that we should not receive any prophet who leads us away from Torah obedience.  He is saying that following the LORD who brought us out of the land of Egypt is synonymous with following his commandments. Dare we say this, that Jews can't have one without the other? That seems to be what the text is saying. 

Let me say by the way that there are too many schismatics attached to the Messianic Jewish Movement who will go off in all sorts of strange directions in the name of Torah. Not everything done in the name of Torah is right, rational, or healthy. But the problem is not the Torah: it is the people and their quest for gnostic glory--their need to see themselves as elite holders of secrets denied to the less anointed. Such people have little if any regard for community and tradition. They are setting up shop for themselves. This is not where I am leading us with this posting. In fact, I of course would lead us all away from those kinds of excesses.  But still, back to my point. Read below. 

This blog post began with a question, "Does and emphasis on Torah living undermine Messianic Jewish outreach?  Let me respond by asking me a question of my own.

On the basis of what you have read here, does a failure to emphasize Torah living undermine Messianic Jewish outreach?

I am sure it does. What do you think? You have seen my basis for my position. What's yours? And if you are now reconsidering, what's the next step?



Ilustration at top of blog CC BY-SA 3.0 File:ReadingOfTheTorah.jpg Uploaded by Roylindman

9 comments on “Does an Emphasis on Torah Living Undermine Messianic Jewish Outreach?”

  1. Personally....I do not see why a Messianic Jew who has a conviction that Yeshua is Messiah does not stand tall and take heavenly pride in the fact that Yeshua did not come to do away with Torah Observance. While one may feel portions of Observance are excessive and depending on the parts being considered, there remains a Torah Observance than should unite Jews world-wide. What are Messianic Jews afraid of?
    This is a worthwhile 'conversation' to be having! IMHO

    1. I whole heartedly agree that as a Prophet like Moses, Messiah's message had to be consistent with what God had spoken through Moses as embodied in the Law. Everything Jesus said upheld the Law of Moses, which serves as evidence that on that point, He met the qualifications. Furthermore, many times His answers to people's question were an exhortation to follow the commands of Moses. As far as I can see, Jesus was calling us back to observance of the Law of Moses as well as faith in Him and what He would do as the Passover Lamb. The question is "what is the Law of Moses He was calling us back to?". Was He referring to the written Law as recorded in written Torah (five books of Moses) or written Torah and Oral Torah as embodied in what was later written down in the Misha and Talmud, and as taught by the Pharisees at the time of Jesus. This is where you and I see things differently. I believe we, as Messianic Jews must ascribe appropriate kavod to the Oral Law, and that it's practice in as much as it does not conflict with the teachings of Jesus or Paul is encouraged. However, to place Oral Law as equal in authority to Written Torah is something I do not believe Jesus was calling us to do. He had strong words to the Pharisees regarding some of their practices and while they sat in the seat of Moses as where held accountable by Him to teach the Law, I understand Jesus' words to mean that He felt that some of their practices and teachings fell very much short of the written Law of Moses. I do not feel we should reject everything they said, by no means, but I do feel we necessarily cannot elevate the practice of Oral Law to the same level as the practice of Written Law.

      Thank you for raising the issue and being open to dialogue. I am very appreciative of your knowledge and voice, even if we don't agree in this one area.

      1. I am not discussing putting the Oral Torah on equal footing with the Torah of Moses. Rabbinic Judaism itself reserves different categories and status for d'oraita (laws from the written Torah) and d'rabbanan (Laws from the rabbis).The issue to which I bring you back is the great damage done by reflexively recoiling from adhering to the way of life venerated by our people.Talmudic scholar David Weiss-Halivni speaks of private truth and public truth. Faithful Jews are allowed, encouraged, and even required to be honest about the ways they differ from the accepted interpretations of the Tradition. The ways in which you see things, whether in agreement or disagreement, are your private truth. As an example, he speaks of Rashbam, Rashi's grandson, who opined that the Jewish community was wrong in thinking that "Bind them as a sign upon your hand and as frontlets between your eyes" was a mandate to make tefillin. He said it seems more likely a metaphpr for guiding our actions and thoughts by Torah. Nevertheless, in one of his halachic works, he spends considerable space detailing the proper way to make tefillin! ALthough he believed the community had misinterpreted the text, he he knew that he was not therefore entitled to disrupt communal cohesion. He upheld public truth. We too, if we are loyal members of that community, are not thereby justified to disrupt or unravel communal practice and cohesion because we think we have a better idea or that we are somehow smarter than myriads of Jewish scholars and their fellows who lived by and died for this way of life. In keeping with Weiss-Halivni’s insight, is it not better for us to preserve group cohesion than to show everyone how bright we are?. We have been taught to categorically fear and distrust "the rabbis." We would do well to come to grips with that fact and to challenge this avoidant reflex, considering the long-term damage it causes. The only place where we MUST diverge from Jewish tradition is where, God forbid, it requires us to sin in some manner, unimaginable, or where it clearly contradicts the teaching of Messiah and His sh'lichim.

        1. Having read your reply above, it would seem we are much closer than we probably both understood in our dialogue on Facebook yesterday. You clarified that you do not put Oral Torah on equal footing with the Torah of Moses which had not previously been explicitly stated in our dialogue yesterday or was not clearly enough implicitly implied for me to catch it. That was my biggest concern.

          I don't feel there is any need to "fear or distrust the rabbis" and we do need to be mindful that we don't "reflexively recoil" from following the practices of our people because we put more stress on the individual than on the community (a common Western tendency). That said, I do feel we are necessarily required to examine any long held practices in light of the written word and IF there are aspects that clearly conflict, then we must choose the word over our traditions, no matter how rich.

          I also agree that we need to consciously avoid the "avoidant reflex" as not doing so has the very real risk of our families, within a few generations losing all identifiable Jewishness.

          I have no issue with accepting public truths in as much as they do not conflict with the teachings of Yeshua or Paul and I agree that we should not feel we need to impose our 'private truth' on an acceptable 'public one' that meets the criteria I just stated, above) for no other purpose than to be different.

          The one area I feel we may still disagree is on what Yeshua was saying to the Pharisees and why and whether His referring to them sitting on the seat of Moses was Him saying we ought to listen to them anyway BECAUSE they were sitting on the seat of Moses or if He was holding them responsible for what they were teaching because it resulted in the people focusing on things that were different than He intended in the Law.

          Thanks for the dialogue.

          1. In response to your last paragraph, any fair reading of Matthew 23:1-3 demonstrates that it is BECAUSE the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat that we must do as they say. And this text is intentionally echoing Deutereonomy 17:11. the very text upon which the rabbinical establishment bases its authority. Clearly then, Yeshua is reaffirming that, while giving some guidelines and exceptions.

  2. "In fact, I consider the widespread assimilation of Jews who believe in Yeshua to be the main obstacle to other Jews considering Yeshua faith"

    I wish your point above was realized more among Messianics. I have had a saying for years, "I know it is Messianic but is it Jewish". Identity and Context inform "belonging" to other Jews. History and tradition is organic to the communal witness of what we mean when we say we are Jews. Messianics tend to live a Judaism informed by supereceding "newness" beyond "the older" but we are talking about being Jews, which by definition is not just whether you have a Jewish mother or have an idea that Judaism is in the "eyes of the New Covenant beholder" but carrying the oracles of HaShem as well as the oracles of our fathers, or at least realize that when we call ourselves Jews, that is informed by belonging to every other Jew that came before us. It for me is not about the theological "distinction" of Yeshua faith as much as a Jew with Jewish distinction living a Yeshua distinctive "Jewish" life, as Yeshua is the all in all Jewish hope. Therefore, we need to be the best Jews we can be, faithful to our G-d and faithful to our Messiah. So, back to your statement. In the name of being faithful to proclaim Yeshua to Jews, while not proclaiming Jewish life, how are we qualified to tell Jews who the Messiah is (apart from context)?

  3. What you define as "Torah", has nothing to do with Torah... (You don't really think Moses wore a Yamakah or wrapped Tefillin do you??)

    1. (P.S. I've should of changed my "Name", it kept it from the last time I commented. This time it has nothing to do with MotiEitan.)

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