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.