I meet a lot of people in the course of my travels who say they are Jewish or “spiritual” Jews, because they love Yeshua and embrace the Torah. As a Jew, I feel at best awkward about their self-identification. I have several problems with them wanting to call themselves Jews. My feelings do not come from elitism or racism. I do not consider myself better than other people, and I value non-Jews as much as I do Jews. The problems I have with this practice are as follows:
First, Jewish people are a people, not a theological issue to be discussed or a spiritual identity to be “claimed.” When Abram walked before God in Bereshit 15, he complained to the Almighty that he did not have a physical descendant. He wasn’t looking for spiritual children but physical. Physical children were the answer to the promise God gave him. The promise was spiritual, but tied to the physical. This fact finds its ultimate example in Yeshua who was the word who became flesh and dwelt among us. Paul goes to great lengths to point out Yeshua is the one seed of the patriarchs. This means, he represents all Israel in Himself. He is the one man, Israel. He represented all Israel in his death and resurrection, and all Israel has suffered in a continuation of his sufferings. This is why Marc Chagall in his paintings used the crucifixion as a symbol of the historic suffering of the Jewish people. The connection is there.
People coming from a Christian theological tradition are used to making a separation between the physical and the spiritual, but Jewish tradition sees man as a whole, and recognizes the connection between the physical and the spiritual. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were interested in their physical seed, and the Jewish people, with all their faults are the physical presence of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Paul wrote that they are beloved for the sake of the patriarchs. When God looks at the Jewish people, he sees in them, the face of his beloved friend Abraham.
It was with the Jewish people, the physical seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that God made the covenant at Mt. Sinai, and gave the Torah. The Torah was not just given to Israel, as an object, it was an expression of the relationship between God and the Jewish people. It says, “I will be their God and they will be My people.” Just as there are some commandments that apply only in the Land of Israel, there are commandments that only apply in connection with the people of Israel.
For example, a Kohen must be a physical descendant of Aaron haKohen. The northern kingdom erred in making anyone a priest who wanted to be one. God called it an abomination. The Samaritans tried to follow Torah in their own way, disconnected from the Jewish people, modifying or spiritualizing where they deviated from a Jewish connected observance. Yeshua said of them in Yochanan 4:22, “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.”
A person who truly follows Torah, needs to do so in connection with the Jewish people, and have a love for the Jewish people. It is a good thing for people to study the Torah and follow its lifestyle, but without connection with the Jewish people, attempts to observe Torah are at best truncated.
The bottom line? A person can not truly love Israel’s Messiah, and hate the Messiah’s people.