But What About The Gentiles?

I became a follower of Yeshua in 1973. In the nearly forty years since that life changing moment, I figured out, not only that Yeshua is the Messiah, but that in spite of my well-meaning Christian friends trying to help me fit in to their world, i.e., the church, I was and am, a Jew. When I visit churches, I feel welcome, but not at home. I feel like I’m in someone elses living room and I had better mind my manners. This feeling was reinforced by condescending remarks from christian leaders “welcoming me” to “their” communion.

In their minds, I was joining their group. In my mind, I wasn’t looking to join their country club, I was embracing Yeshua the JEWISH Messiah. My friend, Rabbi Russ Resnik has recently written a book called “Divine Reversal,” and the title describes my experiences in the world of Gentile Christians while following my Jewish Messiah.

One of the Jewish authors who had a deep impact on my life, Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “The road to the sacred leads through the secular. ” In a similar way, the road to following the Jewish Messiah leads through the Gentile world. By this, I do not mean that to follow Yeshua, I need to embrace the Christianity of the Gentiles, nor do I need to live as a Gentile or become “one of them.” I am a Jew by birth, custom, lifestyle and covenant. I am not rejecting anything of my Jewishness. I am embracing the Messiah intended for me and my own people.

I could hear my grandmother’s common sense saying “well, if you don’t want to deal with Gentiles, don’t go to church!” I tried that. I became involved in Messianic Judaism. I became part of a Messianic home group in the 70s, and have led Messianic congregations since the 80s. The congregations we formed had a vision of being a place where Jewish people could follow their Jewish Messiah without having to be in someone else’s livingroom to do it. They were to be places where we could raise our children to BE Jews, not just learn about them. A place we could live Jewish lives in peace, without having to explain and justify every Jewish thing we did, and where we could invite our friends and relatives where they would understand we had not changed religions, but had embraced our own messiah and remained Jews in the process. This was the original vision of the Messianic congregational movement, and it remains mine.

Along the way, gentiles started attending our congregations. Fine. I have no problem with gentiles attending. But there are many kinds of gentiles and they come to the table with different issues.

One type of gentile comes to a Messianic congregation to learn about the Jewish roots of their faith. Thats fine. It’s good to learn and will help them better understand the Jewish background of their own faith, and their connection to the Messiah of Israel. Hopefully they would gain a better appreciation of Jewish people, and not just “roots.”

Another type of gentile who comes is the “crusader,” the person who wants to teach us how to be real christians, and what we need to do to get our theology “right”. This is the kind of person I caution to not let the Synagogue door hit them on the tuchas on their way out. I can’t imagine anything more disrespectful and presumptuous.

Another type of gentile comes to the congregation and over time, feels at home, enjoys worshipping in a Jewish manner, and embraces our culture as we worship Yeshua together. This is also not a problem. The problem arises when they realize that even though they are worshipping as we do, they are not us. They begin to complain they are being treated as second class citizens. The problem comes about because the nature of christianity, from whence the gentiles come, is universalist in philosophy, while Judaism has always been by nature, particular. This comes from the Torah, where God said we are to be a separate people, not like the nations that surround us. There are certain rituals that are covenant markers for Jews.

Every time we try to do something Jewish, which by nature is particular, we get accused of being exclusionary. For example, a Bar Mitzvah is a Jewish rite confirming a Jewish child in the covenant made at Sinai between God and the Jewish people. Gentiles should not have Bar or Bat Mitzvahs because they are not part of the Sinai covenant, it is a Jewish milestone. The minute gentiles are told they can’t have a Bar Mitzvah, they
complain they are being treated as second class citizens. In other words, Jewish believers in Messianic Jewish congregations can’t do any Jewish ritual that distinguishes them as Jews without making gentiles feel like second class citizens. This in effect, cripples a Messianic congregation from being what it is meant to be. If we have to stop and ask “but what about the gentiles,” before we do anything that reflects who we are, then we are back to being in someone elses livingroom, and that is wrong.

I am not in favor of taking a universal approach to Jewish rituals, opening them to Jews and gentiles alike, because all that does is water down what it means to be Jewish. Gentiles co-opting defining Jewish rituals meant to set apart Jews from non Jews is no better than religious identity theft. In the end, Jews will feel it loses its meaning, and I never want my children to feel Jewish practices are not special.

So what about the gentiles? It would be heartless to say, “It’s too bad for them.” There has always been an option for gentiles. If they truly wish to embrace Jewish practice, AND Jewish people, they can convert. Certainly they don’t have to, but if they feel so strongly, they surely have that option. It’s the way in to our community. Joining a Messianic congregation is not conversion, and doesn’t make someone a Jew, just like an illegal alien living in the US doesn’t make them an American citizen. If they wish to be a citizen, they have to go through the requirements and then they can become one. So it is with being a Jew.

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36 thoughts on “But What About The Gentiles?

  1. Great post – I wholeheartedly agree with most points made.

    Now, about conversions. Conversions are a fact of Judaism. As such, they should naturally be a fact of Messianic Judaism. Now, if only we, in Messianic Judaism, had tight standards for 1) Jewish identity, 2) Halacha, and 3) Conversion process itself (who is authorized to conduct them, what will they involve, what constitutes an invalid conversion?).

    My position: if we are to conduct conversions with MJ, as in many branches of traditional Judaism our own conversions must be made very arduous and lengthy – with a non-trivial chance of failure. Also, while we should not forbid conversions we must still discourage them at the same time. Being a Jew, historically and in the foreseeable future until Messiah returns, carries great responsibility and also great spiritual and mortal danger, not only for the Ger him/herself, but also for ALL the generations after him or her. It’s easy to be a Jew in the pluralistic America. Before the Six Day War the number of conversions were negligible – hardly anyone wanted to be a Jew! But now being a Jew is “cool” and highly desirable. Growing up, I had not seen a single Gentile claiming to be Jewish by distant ancestry (but I’ve seen plenty of Jews claiming to be Gentiles!)

    While allowing conversions, considering the great numbers of Gentiles already in our movement (multitudes of whom would no doubt line up to convert the moment such conversions are made available) I believe that we should probably discourage the seekers even more than any other “Judaisms” (which do not have the demographic problem that we have nor the willing droves of converts banging at their doors). Many Jewish communities have in times past have put moratoriums on new conversions when such would impact a community in a negative way (and I contend that our being perceived as being composed of mostly Gentiles who converted via MJ and are now calling themselves Jews would certainly do cause further problems). I am not calling for a moratorium – just extreme caution, selectivity of conversion candidates, small number of allowed conversions, and VERY tight conversions standards.

    • Thanks for your comments Gene. We discussed all this at great length in the Messianic Jewish Rabbinic Council over a seven year period before we started doing conversions. Before we started doing them, we had to develop a halacha or else what would we be converting someone to? Our halacha did not attempt to reinvent the wheel, but we chose to interact with the historical traditional halacha. It can be viewed on the MJRC website http://www.ourrabbis.org. As to who gets to decide who can convert and who can preside over such conversions, we did not leave it in the hands of any one rabbi. We set up our Beit Din structure and have a personal status committee that oversees the process. They must have a sponsoring rabbi and the process is quite rigorous and takes years of study. There is also a financial fee involved that is not cheap. Only those truly committed will make it through, as our rabbis are not afraid to say no or not yet. I can tell you the process works. No moratorium is needed. The floodgates haven’t opened. We have a good process and people are seriously working on their conversions. Those who aren’t serious won’t make it. Those who shouldn’t, won’t make it into our program. Their sponsoring rabbi needs to be part of our council, and that means he needs to adhere to our standards.

      Some people criticize us for doing conversions, but frankly, when they allow gentiles to take on hebrew names, come to the torah, wear talesim and tefillin, have bar mitzvahs, etc, etc, they have basically done defacto conversions without asking people to do the work or make the committment. At least when we invite people into the conversion process, we are offering them a sense of formal status as a Jew, instead of some make believe status.

      One thing is certain. On the day we began doing conversions, it was then that Messianic Judaism truly became a Judaism.

      • “Those who shouldn’t, won’t make it into our program.”

        Thanks, Michael. I feel better already:)

        “Some people criticize us for doing conversions, but frankly, when they allow gentiles to take on hebrew names, come to the torah, wear talesim and tefillin, have bar mitzvahs, etc, etc, they have basically done defacto conversions without asking people to do the work or make the committment. ”

        Indeed. It’s a ridiculous situation that has made us a laughing stock in the eyes of both Christians and Jews, and our congregations a mess that will take many years to fix (and many people will needlessly get hurt in the process as the result by the time we are done cleaning the house).

        “One thing is certain. On the day we began doing conversions, it was then that Messianic Judaism truly became a Judaism.”

        I have to agree with the above sentiment.

  2. What would you do with leaders in Messianic Judaism who, on one hand prohibit Gentiles in their midst from wearing Tzitziot, and Kippot and on the other hand perform Bar and Bat Mitzvah for their younger children, and weddings for their older ones?
    How many leaders in the movement do not teach Torah observance at all? How many of them eat pork openly?

    Don’t you think that the movement should start with educating their leaders first before they take on the Gentiles?

    • Dan,

      I agree with much of what you say. I dont believe gentiles should wear Tzitzit (kipot are ok), but should not bar and bat mitzvah gentile children. I think there is a bigger question that you don’t bring up. Leadership in Messianic Judaism is mixed. Some are well trained and others are somewhat trained. Still others have no training at all. Even worse, some are not even Jewish. What you have is a mixed bag, with some well trained rabbis and others that are more like lay rabbis, and some that are not rabbis at all. The less a person is trained, the more they seem to reject Torah observance. On the other hand, some try to make up for lacking Jewishness by becoming overly Frum (Orthodox). Being observant and being Orthodox are not the same thing. I dont have any statistics on who does what, and who falls short where and how much, but its not my job to be their scorekeeper. I am observant… probably too much for some, and not enough for others. I don’t have a problem with that because I dont do it for them, I do it for myself and for God. Its a covenant thing.

      It would be nice to have the luxury of taking on one problem at a time, but the reality is, all the problems are in the living room at the same time. We just have to deal with things as they come.

  3. The fact is, leadership is lacking and there are no steps taken toward correcting this huge problem. It is a lot more easy to throw the blame at the gentile in MJ midst, it seems.

    • The one has nothing to do with the other. You are just diverting the issue away from gentiles and trying to focus attention on leadership issues. I dont mind addressing them both, but not at the same time. We have established schools for training and there are Messianic leaders present and future taking classes and getting their education. MJTI offers a graduate level education. There are other schools as well. Thats not doing nothing. So are you saying until we get the leadership issue dealt with, we shouldn’t address the gentile issue as well? SO what is the answer…. get rid of all the gentiles until we get the leadership thing settled? Both issues can be, and are being addressed. Attempting diversionary tactics to steer away from the gentile issue is not the answer. The bottom line.. gentiles are not Jews. Undertrained Messianic leaders is not excuse. Bad weather is no excuse. If gentiles want to be Jews, let them convert. Taking on Jewish sounding names, using Jewish symbols, saying they are Israel when they aren’t is identity theft. I once had a gentile woman come to me and tell me she was a levite princess. When I stopped laughing, it made me realize, for some gentiles, this is like a spiritualized Dungeons and Dragons. You make up your “Jewish character,” blow your shofars, and voila! we are Jews. There are many well qualified Messianic Rabbis. They are credible. The problems you see are those whom I would call lay rabbis, or D&D rabbis. Its not the same thing and I think you know it.

  4. Here is where I see the glaring error in the teaching of MJ UMJC style: “Gentiles are not Jews…”

    Where in Scriptures do we find that being a member of the covenant reqires someone to be Jewish?

    • we are dealing with 21st century people, and I’m talking about 21st century conversion rituals. I have no problem with Rabbinic methods, since they determined how Judaism is to be practiced over the last 2000 years. I’m not looking to be “biblical.” Im a 21st century Jew, living in a 21st century Jewish community. All the biblical Jews are dead. THey are not my model. My understanding of Torah and Judaism is to make it real in my century, not be part of a society of creative anachronisms. Being “biblical” is not a Jewish thing. Its an evangelical protestant thing. I affirm the bible, but it has to be interpreted for our time and applied accordingly.

      I believe the grumblers were both. In any case, the grumblers were all judged for their grumblling.

    • uh… how about starting with God’s Name.. the “GOD OF ISRAEL.” Jewish = Israel. Your error is in not seeing this. Revelation 3:9 says, “Indeed I will make [those] of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie–indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.” Its talking about people who aren’t Jews but say they are. That kind of says it all.

  5. Speaks volume for everyone to see. We no longer should strive to stand on the shoulders of our forefathers…Quite iluminating…And yet you quote Acts 15 and 21 as the bsorah, oh, well….

    • What speaks volumes is what you read into things. I didn’t say what you imply. You read it into my statements, but that is what you do, isnt it? You are fairly closed minded. I dont blame you since you haven’t presented anything concrete, to back up your position. You only question the ideas of others and look for ways to distort what others say. You can take on whatever names you want and play whatever games you want, and pretend to be Jewish but dont try to act like you are noble and true. You don’t even deal with the issues.

      • I did not mean to offend. I only concluded that from what you said, that dead biblical figure are not models. Anyone will conclude the same thing.

        I am just asking questions, if you want me to present anything concrete, then point to an issue. And why is it when you feel challenged you resort to the old pattern of questioning the Judaism of the challenger?

  6. Dan, you are not just asking questions. You are criticizing Messianic Leaders, and trying to redefine the very meaning of Jewish to fit your own ideas. Being Jewish is not just a view or position. It is being part of a people who are the phyiscal literal decendants of Abraham Isaac and Jacob. Its not made up or make believe. I have no problem with honest questions posed by people who wish to learn. You were taking pot shots posed as questions.

    If you want to make your point, make it. Actually, if you want to make your points, it would be better if you started your own blog and let people question you.

  7. You said “Dr. please, where did I say that Gentiles are Jews?”

    you said, “uh…then I guess Eph. 3:6 does not really means “fellow heirs,” but “second heirs”….”

    If you are not saying gentiles are the same as Jews, what are you saying here?

  8. Gentile are not ethnically Jews, but have the same privileges and duties as native-born.

    I started asking question when I read in your post that you agree with Bilateral ecclesiology, and I wonder how does it stand in reality given 1 Cor. 7:19 for example?

  9. I would agree that gentiles have some of the same duties and privileges as native born. I see no command for gentiles to be circumcised nor do I see they have the privilege of dwelling in the land.

    I do not see 1 Cor 7:19 as problematic since it is speaking in general,to make a point. Circumcision is nothing regarding eternal things, but its not nothing in regards to who we are as Jews and gentiles living in the world, as we are also men and women living in the world. If Paul feels there is really no difference, why does he say in Romans, “I am speaking to YOU GENTILES…. as an apostle to the gentiles…. obviously Paul did not believe there was no difference in all circumstances.

  10. I do not redefy what a Jew is to fit my own idea. 90% of the Jews in Israel who are secular will define Jewishness far different that you do yet you say they are fully Jews. Well, so am I, Jwish born and raised in Israel to Jewish parent. And you, without knowing this, already labled me in haste, just because my ideas and beliefs are different than yours.

  11. I am well aware of how Jews in Israel define themselves. I did not label you basied on a difference of opinion. I labled you based on what you showed me through your responses. I jumped to conclusions about you because you were sounding like a gentile pretending to be a Jew. I have met many who have made the same arguments. YOu finally identifying yourself as you did puts much of your arguements in perspective.

    As far as your views of gentiles who follow Yeshua, I still don’t buy your position. But for me, a person doesnt have to agree with me for me to get along with them. Be fair and even handed in your remarks and I will do the same.

  12. Dan views himself as the new messianic Nelson Mandela out to liberate the “oppressed” Gentiles from under the “apartheid” set up by their Jewish masters, who, according to Dan, are bent on denying Gentiles Torah and Israelite status.

    Not once have I heard from you Dan about reaching out to Jews – not even ONCE!

  13. Circumcision is a sign of the covenant. It does not make one Jewish. The members of abraham’s household, outside of his immediate family members were under the same covenant all before they were required to be circumcised.

    The land is non- issue here. Like you said, there is no commandment for Gentiles to dwell in the land. 1 Cor. 7:19 refers to commandments. That is why Eph. 2:12 uses the term commonwealth.

    i also agree with paul. a gentile remains a Gentile even under the covenant. circumcision does not miraculously change his ethnicity.

  14. Gene,

    I thought we all pledged to speak nice…..Putting labels on others is not nice, it can one day bite you in the tuches….

    Dr. I am honored. I will do my best to keep the conversation civil, and as you probably know, it is quite a drag for a Sabrah…LOL!

  15. drschiffman:

    I am so glad you are blogging. Now, I admonish you, don’t stop. Please keep up at least two or three posts a week with your entertaining, witty style.

    Your integrity speaks volumes. Whereas I am a (relatively) young, unproven loudmouth, you can speak softly and carry a weight of authority I hope to attain by the time I am your age (not trying to offend you about your age, just to show deference).

    Anyone who knows you respects you. Anyone who reads you on the web and does not know you, will come to know you by your measured words and your trenchant and very Jewish logic.

    Derek Leman

  16. Glad you’re blogging. Your only mistake is engaging for far too long with Mr. Benzvi.

    He’s fond of raising bloggers’ blood pressure. And to what end?

    Not worth it.

  17. Hello Michael. As one of those gentile Christians, I can only hope and pray that I can become as gracious as you have been in this blog. Though I am not Jewish I will still claim you as my brother. Why? Because we do indeed share the same Messiah. And I for one intend to remain eternally grateful to the Lord’s chosen people as the bearers of the light of Messiah to us gentiles out here in the darkness. Besides all that how many of these bloggers had thier first experience of roast beef pizza with you in Highland Park, like I had so long ago with you? Good grief, that was 34 years ago. How time flies. And btw, I love your take on the struggles with the less educationally motivated MJ congregations. Many of the churches that sprang up out of the Jesus movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s suffer today from the same lack of educational appreciation for those who have put in the study to be approved. Far too many hear a “word from God” that only leads to continued ignorance and even more division within the Body of Jeshua. I am a branch grafted in. But that does NOT make me Jewish. Even from a gentile perspective, those who are claiming to be MJs without having done the process of conversion seem like they are children playing house rather than followers of the Jewish Messiah and the Gentile Savior. It does make me appreciative and grateful for all the insights that I’ve been able to glean from the Jewish Scriptures both old and new and from you over the years. May the Lord bless you and keep you in the middle of His will!

  18. Thanks for your comments Brad. I wish more people understood as you do.

    NOTE: I gave up mixing meat and dairy many years ago.. but as I recall, the roast beef pizza was good.

  19. Pingback: 2010 in review « Drschiffman's Blog

  20. As a Christian I believe that belief in Jesus Christ grafted me into the covenant.I fully support Messianic Jew as Brothers in Christ.The Word says God will bless those who bless Israel.I also believe that my belief that Jesus is God’s Son and that He died for our sin and rose on the 3rd day makes me a gentile,a spiritual jew.Let stop focusing on how we are different,and focus on Yeshua.

    • Its wonderful that you have been grafted into the covenant, but you need to grasp the importance that God Himself has placed upon the Jewish people. He created us, not simply “spiritually” but in the flesh as a unique people that He calls His own. He is called in Scripture as the God of Israel, not by any other people. The uniqueness of being a Jew is a good thing, reiterated over and over in scripture. Yeshua is the Messiah of Israel. That is a good thing. When gentiles are grafted in, they are still gentiles. I saw an orange tree that had grapefruit and lemon branches grafted into it. The tree produced Oranges, Lemons and Grapefruits. Being grafted in did not change what they were. It simply meant that they partook of the same sap of the tree. It means we are brothers in Yeshua, but but Israel is still Israel, and the nations are still the nations. The important thing is to love one another, being who God created us to be.

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