Ahavat Yisrael (Love for Israel)

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.


5 thoughts on “Ahavat Yisrael (Love for Israel)

  1. Dr. Schiffman,
    Well put, my friend.

    The distinction of identity between Jew and Gentile (or between Messianic Jew and Christian) is ultimately a bodily distinction that is made in the context of covenant. The descendants of Abraham by faith (Christians) are not Jews in any sense for the simple reason that (unless they convert) they aren’t part of the community that descends physically from Jacob. It’s equally true that descendants of Jacob can’t escape from Jewish identity because they can’t escape from their own bodies.

    The physical dimension of Jewish identity is crucial. Christians may reject or escape from their identity by denying Yeshua while Jews are bound to our identity regardless of our beliefs or relationship with God.

  2. Thanks Carl. I find it depressing to have so many people come against legitimate Jewish identity for the sake of their self serving theology. It leaves me wondering if anything matters. How can I trust the Holy Writings if they can be twisted to mean anything a person wants. Of what value is being legitimately Jewish if people steal our identities under the guise of spiritualistic interpretation?

    The really sad thing is that 6 million genuine Jews died for this identity whether they wanted to or not, as had countless millions of Jews over the centuries. Where were the “spiritual Jews” then? Why didn’t any of them step up to the plate? They remove their spiritualized identity like someone changes their clothing. What our people paid for with their lives should not be tossed aside by our own people, nor stolen by people who pretend for their theology.

  3. “Where were the “spiritual Jews” then? Why didn’t any of them step up to the plate?”

    I suppose they would have to create a further sub group…”fair weather spritual Jews”…

    “What our people paid for with their lives should not be tossed aside by our own people, nor stolen by people who pretend for their theology.”

    The older I get the more sensitive I am to this kind of thing…whether it be people calling themselves “Jews” when they are not, or if it is an article in the Washington Post about a local penecostal church and the people are wearing tallitot.
    It gives me great pause and discomfort when i think about how these things (and many more) will affect my children (who will be Jewish, though I am not) and their identity.

    It’s identity theft on a different level…and ultimately it leads me to agree that you are correct: “A person can not truly love Israel’s Messiah, and hate the Messiah’s people. “

  4. You have hit on an issue to which I am most sensitive. HaShem says that the Jews are a holy nation, and then says over and over that we are to distinguish between that which is holy and that which is not. As a Gentile who has drawn near the Jews in their worship of the G-d of their fathers, this is a line which I must guard.

    The holiness of the Jews as a people is the only type of holiness that I see that we can pollute. I’ve had some funny conversations with local non-Messianic Jews on this issue. They are addressing a different problem than I am, and I have to be clear that I am unqualified to criticize their openness while I feel passionately myself about what must be done.

    For me, the lines are few, but clear. A Gentile should not be called to the Torah first, second, or third any more than a Levi should be called first. And Jews and Gentiles should not marry each other. (In an environment where Gentiles have accepted the Torah, conversion should not be a problem.) This is necessary because HaShem has commanded that Kohanim are not to marry converts or Gentiles. And of course, Gentiles are not to eat of the Passover sacrifice, once the temple is rebuilt.

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