A Response: The Risk of Loving Your Heritage More Than You Love the Messiah

Several years ago I was invited to teach in a Messianic  Jewish bible school in Budapest, Hungary. A special meeting of the evangelical pastors of the city was arranged while I was there to address their questions and concerns about Messianic Judaism. I was well received by most of the pastors, but there were a couple that were quite antagonistic. During a fairly heated exchange, one of the pastors asked what’s more important, being Jewish or believing in Jesus. I responded that they were equally important. I said, if someone were asked, is it more important to be a man or a woman or believe in Jesus, what should he or she say? It’s a silly question because being a man or a woman is the essence of who someone is and whom God created him or her to be. The same is true for being a Jew. Even the Apostle Paul, who the author of the article implied wasn’t concerned about his Jewishness, said about the Jews, “the gifts and call of God are irrevocable.”

The Scriptures mention numerous times that God loves the Jewish people, He will never forsake them, never divorce them and even in the granting of the new covenant, He says, “only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done.” Jer. 31:37. So, what does it mean to be a Jew? We know according to halachah that a Jew is one born of a Jewish mother. Modern Judaism, including Messianic Judaism, has extended Jewishness to one born of a Jewish father. We know based on these decisions and upon the Bible that generally one is a Jew through ethnicity. Yet, Jews are called by God to be a distinct people, and their distinctiveness is shown through the keeping of the Torah’s commandments.

The author of the article may respond that Yeshua fulfilled the Torah, so his Jewish followers are no longer obligated to keep the commandments. But that contradicts Yeshua’s own words, where he says, “I have not come to abolish the law (Torah) or the Prophets but to fulfill them.” His words to fulfill cannot mean the law is fulfilled in Him but are no longer applicable to His followers. Why? Because He continues by saying anyone who breaks the least of the commandments will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. In addition, the Apostle Paul, the alleged ringleader of the anti-Torah movement, strictly kept the Torah himself. When Paul met with the elders in Jerusalem following his last missionary journey, they warned him about what the believers in Jerusalem had heard, i.e. that Paul was teaching the Jews on his journeys that they were free from the Torah. They then instructed Paul to take certain vows, and concluded with the following: “Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law.” Acts 21:24.

Of course, the laws that Paul was keeping were different than how the rabbis of today define the keeping of Torah. Even Yeshua challenged the interpretations of the Torah during His lifetime. Yet, the laws Yeshua and Paul kept were certainly defined and interpreted by someone. Yeshua and Paul lived 1200-1400 years after Moses. Judaism had gone through numerous permutations since Moses, as it still does. Yeshua often sided with one group over and against another in his disputes. In fact, Yeshua issued his own halachah in some matters. From the writings of the Church Fathers, we know that Jewish followers of Yeshua continued to keep the Torah. Unfortunately, however, information as to how they kept the Torah was lost.

Instead, both Judaism and Christianity organized themselves separate and apart from each other. Judaism continued with the keeping and interpreting Torah but rejected Yeshua. Christianity built its own traditions but rejected any connections to the Jewish people and the Torah. Consequently, we have no historic record of how Jewish followers of Yeshua kept the Torah. The only things we have are Yeshua’s words about the Torah and the fact that Paul observed the Torah.

So, what are present day Messianic Jews supposed to do? The reality is Judaism has developed throughout the millennia with a concentration on the Torah. Every branch of Judaism wrestles with the application of Torah to daily life. According to Yeshua, our righteousness should exceed that of the Pharisees, the precursors to the rabbis. Yeshua even said that we should follow what the Torah teachers say, only not do what they do. Matthew 23:2-3. Consequently, as Jews, we should also be keepers of the Torah and equally wrestle with its application to our daily lives. We should take the teachings of Yeshua and the New Testament and join them with rabbinic interpretations of the Torah to walk out a Messianic Jewish expression of Torah obedience. Then, our light will shine before men, and they will see our good deeds (mitzvot) and praise our Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16.

Contrary to what the author in the article wrote, Messianic Jews shouldn’t be keepers of the Torah in order to be accepted by the Jewish community. Rather, we should be keepers of the Torah in obedience to God’s command to the Jewish people.  We cannot be a light to our own people and reject the gift and responsibility God gave to us that made us Jews in the first place. In that way, we would become something and someone that God never intended.