What Does It Mean to Join Oneself to Israel?

In my own blog as well as in blogs I have read, the greatest controversy revolves around issues of Torah for non Jews. The minute I make a distinction between Jews and non-Jews, I can almost hear the hair on the back of people’s necks standing on end as they sharpen their fangs. I have unashamedly supported the view that the Torah is a unique covenant between God and the Jewish people. The many gentiles who have joined the Messianic movement get their dander up as soon as I say this, because they feel they have joined themselves to the Jewish people and they are very quick to point out the verses in the Torah that say the Law is the same for the native-born Israeli as well as the “ger,” the stranger who dwells among us. I agree with those verses and readily embrace them. The self-proclaimed strangers, say they have “joined themselves,” to the Jewish people and therefore have a portion in the Torah. Once again, I do not question the logic that those who have “joined themselves to the Jewish people” have the right to live by the Commandments. The question I am raising, is what does it mean to have “joined oneself” to Israel?

Whenever I raise this question, proponents of the “joined to Israel” position usually quote the above mentioned verses to me. They say, “this is what the Torah says,” as if simply quoting the Torah is the end of the story. The problem I have is, they never address what the Torah means. There is no question about what it says. What it means can go in many different directions. The idea of Sola Scriptura, only scripture, comes out of the Protestant reformation. Judaism has long looked to its methods of rabbinic interpretation when seeking to understand the Torah. When I visit among non-Jews who follow Torah, I deeply appreciate their zeal for the Torah, but when I look at the mode of how they interpret it, the hair on my neck stands on end, so I guess we are even.

While the Torah does teach that non-Jews who have joined themselves to the Jewish people are to have the same Law over them as over us, it doesn’t say they are to do it in any way they see fit. That’s what the Samaritans did. They followed the Torah in their own way rather in the way Israel followed it. Yeshua said to them that “we worship what we know, you worship what you don’t know.” If it’s truly one law for both, I have to ask why they don’t follow it in the manner in which Jews follow it. We follow the Commandments according to the way our community decided they should be followed over thousands of years. I would assume anyone following our Torah who claims to have joined themselves to us, would follow it in the same manner as we do. If someone comes into my house, I would expect they would follow the house rules.

A second issue for me, is that those who claim to have joined themselves to us, do not live among us. I don’t see the non-Jewish Torah followers living in Jewish communities, so I wonder in what way they have joined themselves to the Jewish people. I would expect those who have so joined themselves to us to live among us. The non-Jews I do see living in the Jewish community, are those who seek to or have converted to Judaism. It may be that the non-Jewish Torah followers don’t live among Jews because they follow the Commandments any way they like, and not in a way that the Community of Israel has decided they should be followed.

A third issue for me goes back to what it means to “join oneself” to Israel. How does that happen? Is it a matter of personal decision or is it something that needs to be acknowledged by the community? I was at a conference where the non-Jewish spouse of a Messianic Leader reacted strongly against the idea of Messianic conversions. Of course, it called her own place into question, so I understand the reaction. She said its just a piece of paper. I wondered, if a marriage license is just a piece of paper as well, or is its value in what it represents?

In the Holy Scriptures, Ruth, the Moabite who joined herself to the Jewish people was acknowledged by the Jews around her as someone who had done so. She made a decision to embrace the God of Israel and the People of Israel. She verbalized it, and lived by it among Jewish people in a Jewish manner, and the Jewish people acknowledged it. As Judaism developed, they formalized the process of conversion. It wasn’t a do it yourself thing. Marriage developed in a similar manner. In ancient times, a man took a woman to his tent and they shacked up. That was marriage. Later, the men shook hands, made a deal with the woman’s relatives and they handed her over to the groom. Over time, they developed marriage contracts, vows, dowries, etc. Today if a couple wants to get married, they need to take out a marriage license and hopefully make vows, get a caterer, etc. Shacking up is not marriage. Joining oneself to Israel in some way is like marriage. Both parties need to consent. The individual consents, and the Jewish people, at least their official representatives, need to consent. I recently heard of a group doing conversions by a so-called “Orthodox” Messianic Rabbi who isn’t even Jewish. This is one more example of people making up their own rules as they go along. A non-Jew can not welcome other non-Jews into the Jewish people. If a person truly wants to join themselves to the Jewish people, I would expect there would at least be leaders of the Jewish community involved in the process.

If you are reading this and fuming because I stepped on your toes, let me remind you this is nothing personal. By all means, go about your life and do what you are going to do. I was just giving my opinion. I’m not passing judgment on you, I’m only asking the same questions I ask of myself.


16 thoughts on “What Does It Mean to Join Oneself to Israel?

  1. Very thoughtful questions, Rabbi Doctor. Thanks for your sound logic. As a non-Jewish member of a Messianic Jewish community, I understand the “hair standing on end” response because I have heard a of few who don’t want non-Jews involved in their congregations. That leaves no place for someone like me, since I no longer fit in the Christian community. Fortunately, I am a member of a congregation that accepts me wholeheartedly. At the same time, we struggle with this question. So far, I think we are figuring it out pretty well.
    I don’t think I have used the term “joined myself to Israel” often, if at all. In future, I will avoid it. And keep working on the question of how to (appropriately) fit in.

    • Peggy, I can’t imagine a Messianic Jewish community that wouldn’t want you as a member. I have no problem with non Jewish members of our community. I DO have a problem when said non Jewish members wish to change our communities to suit themselves rather than come along side and partner in our vision.

  2. This is a good post. You raise valid points.

    I would add there are some practical problems to Torah-loving gentiles joining Israel in the way you hint.

    For example, a Torah-loving gentile that serves Yeshua would probably not be much welcomed in Jewish communities. Another issue is the fact that many Torah-loving gentiles we’re talking about here are those in the nations, not in Israel; Jewish communities in exile are in many ways suspicious (probably for good reason) of non-Jews joining their communities (this varies, of course, but the point remains). And even in Israel, the options are limited for a gentile wanting to physically join an Israeli community. The extent is temporary work visas, tourist visas, etc.

    Anyways, good post. You make some valid points. Thanks for bringing this up.

    • Thanks Judah. I agree there are practical problems. I wonder if one of the reasons Jewish communities are not as welcoming of Torah loving gentiles is because they follow it in their own way, often ignoring the way traditional Jews approach Torah. I have seen Torah loving gentiles receive acceptance to some degree when they seek to follow Torah in a traditional manner seeking to learn from the community. It has been my observation that when they make up their own approach to the ignoring of what is traditional, that the Jewish community steps away from them.

      • Based on what you have said, you only acknowledge Orthodox Judaism as “the valid Judaism”, at least its interpretation of Torah? So I think the question would be better asked why so many different interpretations of Torah, is this allowed, or does everyone have to keep the exact same interpretation. Because quite honestly the battle between Conservative Judaism following Torah and how they interpret vs Orthodox vs Chabad(in some areas) is still going on, this is not so much a gentile issue, but a uniformity issue.

      • Actually, you are jumping to wrong conclusions. I did not say I only acknowledge Orthodox Judaism as valid. I accept Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Hasidic, and Messianic Jewish (as opposed to Messianic). I respect the variety of their interpretations. All these Judaisms have different interpretations, but they are Jewish interpretations, its in house. Non Jews, may be our guests, but when it comes to deciding what color to paint the living room, my guests don’t get a vote; only family decides. It is very much a Jew – non Jew issue.

    • Jeruz, Gentiles are not “joining a Jewish religion,” as that would imply that it’s somehow possible for a Gentile with no Jews around to participate in Judaism (which is the “Jewish religion”) sans Jews (as long as they do things the “right way”). Instead, Gentiles who placed their faith in Israel’s Messiah, as people who do not live or worship directly with Jews in a Jewish setting (as most Gentiles certainly do not) are part of the Commonwealth of Israel, which is simply another word for the saved people from the nations with Israel’s leadership at the helm. These “nations of the saved” now share in Israel’s spiritual blessings (namely, citizenship in G-d’s Kingdom and redemption through Israel’s Messiah).

      Gene Shlomovich

  3. [OT: “In case you need a second opinion,” I think you should change that to, “You NEED a second opinion. This one is gratis. Such a deal!” That seems to have the tad more marketing pizazz (in my humble opinion, of course).]

    Unity vis-à-vis diversity: whose halechah is authoritative? That of a predominantly Gentile community manifesting the trappings of Torah-conformance? The knee-jerk answer is, “You’ve got to be kidding!” It doesn’t matter even if in every other regard they are in fact conforming. They are not under Torah no matter what they think they are because they are certainly not Jewish. But then they are not impressed by halechah issued by scholars who intensely refute significant beliefs of Yeshua and His disciples. Indeed, many of those scholars hold that Torah requires them to stone to death anyone in their midst who does agree (gasp!) publicly with Yeshua and His disciples about those particularly infuriating concepts. Under such circumstances, it is not easy to get either side to consider the other side’s ideas of halechah–they won’t even agree on the canon underneath it all.
    The Koran (substitute your preferred transliteration as necessary) says, “If you mingle your affairs with them, then they are your brothers.” I’m sure nobody I mentioned earlier holds that to be halechic on any basis, but maybe it fits into the LORD’s thinking just the same. After all, the God recognized by Islam is the very same God of Abraham referred by the other two major monotheistic worldviews. Is He exhibiting some MPD symptoms or have His purported children (mostly the know-it-alls) possibly misunderstood His mind along their ways?

    • David:

      First: It says, “In case you need a second opinion.” No where does it say I was asking for one. If I wanted Pizazz, I know how to effect it myself.

      Second: It seems to me you went off on a tangent rather than address the point of my post. You mention halachic scholars and their views, but to be honest, you didn’t accurately represent their views. Generalizations never do.

      Third: The god of the Koran is not the same God as the God of the Bible. Just because a religion affirms a monotheism, doesn’t mean its the same One God as other monotheistic religions.

    • Mr. Craig, I am appalled at your lack of knowledge as to the identity of God. I presume you repeat the Shem during your worship. What part of “Adonai echad” don’t you understand?

      Allah, the god of islam, is a false god created by Mohammed back in, I think, the 14th century. He selected one from a bunch of wooden statues he found in Mecca, declared it to be god, and named it, “allah.” He then wrote the koran and declared allah to be the only god. Allah is the Arabic word for god, and the moslems have cleverly published the idea that that makes allah the same as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, WHICH IT IS NOT.

      These FACTS render every word of the koran as traif, including the part you quoted.

      Just to clarify, there are two kinds of people in the world: Jews and non-Jews, usually called Gentiles. Gentiles do not have halacha, because halacha is a Jewish thing. Gentiles have laws and rules, all of which they claim are made to be broken. Need I say more?

  4. Sigh.

    Clearly, I needed a couple smileys on that first OT paragraph that I had thought were unnecessary. Please, do not be offended by that failed attempt at kibbtzing (in the widest sense). It was offered as my humble opinion in an aside intended to be taken lightly.

    So much for the humorous attempt at initiating communication–on to the rest of the points made by yourself and David Ben Avraham…

    Why are generalizations used? They simplify discussions of high level and complex subjects. The very concept of generality is it IS general, not to be confused with universal. No grouping of human beings is a unified monolith in every possible regard, and most certainly, not religious groupings.

    Allah is accepted by Islam as the same God Avraham knew and introduced to his sons. So from the Jewish and Christian perspectives, Islam has perverted and grossly distorted the nature of the God of Avraham whom they revere as the only true God. This is their fundamental disconnection. Now, who is culpable for this travesty of spiritual leadership? And more importantly, who is going to rectify this situation so mainstream Islamic lay people can understand that early Islamic leadership must have fully intended to abuse history in order to receive and maintain authority over said lay people, and mainly for their own selfish interests?

    “Echad” is a very basic word that has many nuances associated with its “ordinal number” root concept. Almost as significant is the idea of “unity”: a collection of completely congruent components. Herein lies the fundamental difference between the worldviews of Christianity and Judaism (speaking generally in order to make a point in a paragraph vis-à-vis a Master’s Thesis). The Jewish side considers this “unity” viewpoint to be a gross distortion that falls under the jurisdiction of Deuteronomy 13; i.e., Christians proclaim “Other Gods” not known to the fathers of Judaism. The Christians make the case it is not so, and offer much support of the legitimacy of that concept from the Tenach. In view of the fellowship the original non-Gentile Christians experienced with some portion of mainstream Judaism, the myriad leadership of CE Judaism remains suspect regarding their motives for declaring some types of halechah. Both sides are convinced the other side is, with malice of forethought, twisting what the LORD had in Mind strictly for their own selfish and irresponsible benefit–sin of the highest level, to be sure.

    So if all the Koran is traif, and therein are any word groupings also contained in the Tenach, must not you then maintain the position that the Tenach also contains traif? The Koran speaks highly of honesty in relationships of all kinds; therefore, is it not therefore incumbent upon right-thinking Jewish people to be dishonest in such relationships, since the entire Koran is traif?

    All the preceding is IMHO, of course–YMMV. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • David – Just because Islam identifies its Allah as the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob doesn’t make it so. When the northern kingdom of Israel made its two temples in Dan and Beth-El, they said they were worshiping the God of Israel, but the Bible said it was an abomination, or as David ben Avraham said, Its Traif.

  5. Islam may claim allah always existed as you suggest, but the facts show it is just not so. Please go back and read my description of how allah came to be. My description may be off as to minor details, but it is essentially correct and backed up by history. Allah was a STATUE in Mecca, created by a statue maker, and nothing more. It was Mohammed, a mere man, who came up with all the blasphemy by which he proclaimed allah to be god. Islam can say whatever it chooses, but allah still is not God. IT is a god, but not God.

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