Controversies Involving Torah-Based “Means of Grace” – April 2018 OIM News


Update

April 2018

For those Israel lovers and students of history who are paying attention, the 5th of Iyyar on the Jewish calendar, which coincides with the 18th of April on the Gregorian calendar in 2018, is Yom HaAtzma’ut or Israeli Independence Day. As expected, a number of Israeli national celebrations will take place at this time, but because today’s world more widely follows the western Gregorian calendar, May 14, 2018 will be more prominently recognized as the seventieth anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Hence in this season of remembrance, Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) on the 17th of April and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem liberation day) on the 13th of May, there are about four weeks of coincidental anniversaries and commemorations, which should remind followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that He alone is the God of history and current human affairs. However, notable “coincidences” are not overlooked by the discerning Bible student.

Correspondingly, Believers who utilize the Holy Scriptures as one critical grid for observing world events keep a keen eye on what happens to the Promised Land (Israel), the Jewish people, and Jerusalem, in particular. After all, the inheritors of Zion will always be the “apple of God’s eye” (Zechariah 2:8), as each critical clock-like pendulum tick, directs the world toward the End of the Age. In addition, the Holy One of Israel, the Creator God, has directly stated that He has placed His Name on Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 6:5-6; Exodus 20:24; Zechariah 2:12). Thus, when anticipated significant events—such as moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in conjunction with the seventieth anniversary on May 14, 2018—the Body of Messiah should be in intercessory prayer, thankful jubilation, and praise that the promised blessings of Genesis 12:3 will be bestowed upon America for its stalwart support of the modern State of Israel.

Historically speaking, God raises up different individuals or nations at various times to advance His will on Earth, to bless or to curse, depending on how they act toward the Jewish people. Thankfully for most of American history, most governmental leaders have stood by the Jewish people. President Truman was the first national leader to recognize Israel when it declared statehood seventy years ago. As a result, God has blessed the United States, today the only remaining superpower on the planet. But such blessing should never be taken for granted, because God’s thoughts and ways are much higher than human genius or comprehension (Isaiah 55:8-9).

With God’s higher ways in mind, while studying the relatively modern history of the reconstitution of the State of Israel, and the return of the Jewish people to the Promised Land—one comes upon the prophetic conclusions of Anglican clergyman William Hechler, one person who God used to help Austro-Hungarian Jewish journalist Theodor Herzl promote his vision for a Jewish State in the late 1890s. Ironically, most students of the Holy Scriptures have been exposed to a considerable number of interpretations of Bible prophecies, which are nothing more than educated guesses on when the end-times are coming or when the Messiah is going to return. Inaccuracies and false predictions are commonplace, but God still uses incorrect eschatology to accomplish His purposes.

Hechler loved the Jewish people and was an ardent student of the Bible, when his path crossed with Herzl, who had written Der Judenstaat or The Jewish State, detailing a vision for a homeland for the persecuted Jews of Europe. Coincidentally by the time they became acquainted, Hechler had surmised from his study of the Scriptures that God had promised to restore the Jews to the Holy Land, as seen in these conclusions about the forty-two month period referenced in the Books of Daniel and Revelation:

excerpted from The Prince and The Prophet by Claude Duvernoy

THE BIBLICAL FORTY-TWO MONTHS

But how to interpret the forty-two months? Most scholars of that time agreed that one prophetic month was not thirty days but thirty years—which comes out to 1260 years. It is a number that appears both in Daniel and Revelation. So, the Temple was destroyed and taken from the Jews in 70 A.D. Add 1260 years and the year is 1330—a dead end as nothing happened in 1330.

But Daniel 12:11 also states that the 1,290 days [or years] will start after the abomination of desolation is set up in the holy place (where the Temple was.) So what is this abomination?

In 627-628, Jerusalem fell into the hands of a pagan power: Islam, under its third Caliph—Omar, Mohammed’s brother-in-law. He not only took possession of Jerusalem; he razed the medieval Christian church built on the “Holy Place,” and built the Mosque of Omer to the glory of the prophet. Hechler surely knew that in this mosque there is written the Koranic verses including “God has no Son.”

If one adds 1260 years to the year 627-628, he comes to 1897-1898. Hechler was convinced that 1897-1898 would mark the dawn of the final restoration of Israel in the Promise Land!

No, he was not announcing either the End of the Age, or the Second Coming. But what he did announce was the starting point of the ultimate restoration of the people of Israel to the Land of Israel.

Note in Hechler’s conclusions that around the time he was helping Herzl (mid 1890s), he was convinced that the final restoration of Israel was beginning. So regardless of whether Hechler was one-hundred percent accurate with his deductions, God used him to help encourage Herzl to organize the First Zionist Congress convened in Basel, Switzerland from August 29-31, 1897. In addition, through Hechler’s strategic relationships, he was able to introduce Herzl to key royalty and government officials in Germany, Turkey, and Great Britain. As a result, the prophetic statement of Herzl written in his journal on September 3, 1897, has an amazing amount of accuracy about the timing of the formation of the State of Israel:

Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word—which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly—it would be this: At Basel I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today l would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps, and certainly in fifty years, everyone will perceive it.”

Now without getting into all of the suppositions about the “jubilee” years, and the fact that from 1897-1898 to 1947-1948 is fifty or so years, or from 1917 (Balfour Declaration) to 1967 (liberation of Jerusalem after Six Day War) is fifty years, and from 1967 to 2017-2018 is another fifty years—theories and suppositions can go any of several directions, just like they did in Hechler’s studies. But the point is that God is active in the minute affairs of humanity, and He absolutely accomplishes His will for the created order, regardless of who He uses. God can use an obscure journalist (Herzl), an eccentric clergyman (Hechler), a member of the British Parliament (Balfour), or members of the Jewish Agency, when led by David Ben-Gurion declared independence on May 14, 1948 after the British Mandate expired.

Personally, having been to the unimpressive room in a converted home in Tel Aviv where the Israeli Declaration of Independence was declared on May 14, 1948, the humble irony of the leaders of modern day Israel claiming their rightful place among the nations of the world is awesome to contemplate. In fact, those inauspicious and humble beginnings are somewhat reminiscent of an ancient prophecy from Zechariah about Israel’s king entering Jerusalem humbly on a donkey:

“Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you, a righteous one bringing salvation. He is lowly, riding on a donkey—on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9, TLV).

Of course this prophecy was fulfilled by the Messiah, as He entered into Jerusalem prior to His trial, humiliation, beating, and execution:

“The next day, the huge crowd that had come up for the feast heard that Yeshua was coming to Jerusalem. So they took palm branches and went out to meet Him, shouting, ‘“Hoshia-na! Baruch ha-ba b’shem Adonai! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” The King of Israel!’ Finding a young donkey, Yeshua sat on it, as it is written, ‘Fear not, Daughter of Zion! Look! Your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.’ His disciples did not understand these things at first. But when Yeshua was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that the crowd had done these things for Him” (John 12:12-16, TLV).

As we consider these things, both God’s people and people of the world at large, are going to one day more fully understand what is transpiring in this current “season of coincidences” regarding the timing of Israeli anniversaries, Biblical jubilees, or whatever other measure one uses to try and comprehend the mind and thoughts of the Sovereign Maker. While seventy years of existence is a remarkable achievement for the State of Israel and should be celebrated, Moses’ only recognized Psalm adds yet another “time” component to speculation about the unknowable timeline regarding the End of the Age known only by our Heavenly Father (Matthew 24:3, 36):

“For all our days have passed away under Your wrath. We spent our years like a sigh. The span of our years is seventy—or with strength, eighty—yet at best they are trouble and sorrow. For they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who knows the power of Your anger? Your fury leads to awe of you. So teach us to number our days, so that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:9-12, TLV).

Yes Lord, let us present you a heart of wisdom, as we praise, worship, and glorify your Holy Name—no matter what our individually roles and assignments are to help advance your Kingdom here on Earth! Make us available vessels, because You alone are able to work through us…

Chag Samaech Yom HaAtzma’ut

Mark Huey


Controversies Involving Torah-Based “Means of Grace”

by J.K. McKee

While it is unfortunate to have to say this, some of the biggest controversies which face the contemporary Messianic movement today, involve misunderstandings of various outward actions and activities—which are intended to bless, and not divide—the people of God. Whether we want to admit it or not, as an emerging faith community, today’s Messianic movement has areas of its theology and practice which are under-developed, or which involve applications limited to a local congregation or assembly, dependent on a group’s circumstances. People can inappropriately assume, at times, that “one size fits all,” when in fact, some things might instead need to be examined on a case-by-case basis.

In my own life, I have been personally involved in planning the funeral of my father (1992) and the wedding of my sister (2015). It is fairly easy to recognize that in planning a funeral or a wedding, that the needs of the immediate family, the larger extended family, and the friends involved, need to be taken into consideration. While the basic rituals of remembering the deceased and burying the remains, and the recitation of marriage vows and a celebration of a new couple joining together, remain consistent for a funeral or for a wedding—every funeral and every wedding have things requested by the family, which the spiritual leader officiating has to take into consideration. Consequently, a number of the divisive issues involving Torah-based means of grace, are those which precisely concern a consultation between families and their local Messianic congregational leader. And if necessary, we should be honest enough as people who compose a still-developing Messianic movement, to recognize those areas where further study and investigation are required.

Bar/Bat Mitzvah

How many people really know what the discipline of going through bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah, truly is? Many have the impression, based on portrayals in popular culture, that a bar mitzvah is just an opportunity to have a party, showering a thirteen year old boy or girl with endless gifts, somehow intended for their future. While various festivities may be involved with the commemoration of a bar mitzvah, the discipline and procedures of going through a bar mitzvah—especially within today’s Jewish community—are quite serious and even rigorous.

The term bar mitzvah means “son of the commandments,” with bat mitzvah meaning “daughter of the commandments.” The exact origins of the more modern process of a Jewish youth going through bar mitzvah are unclear. The workbook Messianic Judaism Class, in answering the question “Is this custom a Biblical command?”, answers, “It’s a part of Jewish tradition since the 13th century. It’s an extra-Biblical tradition that is not forbidden by Biblical teaching.”[1] mong the different reasons it lists for the significance of bar or bat mitzvah, include: a rite of passage, boyhood to manhood and girlhood to womanhood, acceptance of personal responsibility of oneself before God, learning Hebrew, learning to be a leader, identification with Judaism and the faith community. The bar/bat mitzvah process typically involves a recognition, for a young man or woman (usually 13 for boys, 12 for girls), that he or she is about to enter into adulthood.

Within the Jewish community, the process of going through bar/bat mitzvah involves Hebrew education, study of Jewish history and culture, and a review of the responsibilities that a Jewish man or woman will have as he or she enters into adulthood, and takes up some place within congregational life. At the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony, the young person who has completed his or her required classes, will often cant from the Hebrew Torah portion, and give a short teaching. As the young man or young woman is formally recognized as an adult before the assembly, he or she not only is to be committed to a life of service to God and the Jewish people, but the corporate body too has a responsibility of being there to support these young people. While it is traditional for those going through bar/bat mitzvah to be teenagers, adults well into their seventies and eighties have gone through bar/bat mitzvah.

While many of the traditions and procedures associated with bar/bat mitzvah originate from post-Second Temple times, Jewish history does record the need for young people to be trained in the Scriptures, and be recognized as members of the spiritual community. The First Century historian Josephus recorded, “when I was a child, and about fourteen years of age, I was commended by all for the love I had to learning; on which account the high priests and principal men of the city came then frequently to me together, in order to know my opinion about the accurate understanding of points of the law” (Life 1.9).[2] The authors of Messianic Judaism Class, referencing Yeshua’s encounter at the Temple in Luke 2:41-43, 46-49, conclude, “Yeshua is doing what we do at a Bar Mitzvah. The boy or girl reads that week’s passage and then they do a little teaching from it.”[3] As it was recorded of the young Yeshua:

“Now His parents were going every year to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. When He became twelve years old, they were going up according to festival custom. As they headed home after completing the days, the boy Yeshua remained in Jerusalem, but His parents didn’t know…After three days they found Him in the Temple, sitting in the center of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all those hearing Him were astonished at His understanding and His answers. When His parents saw Yeshua, they were overwhelmed. And His mother said to Him, ‘Child, why did you do this to us? Look! Your father and I were searching for You frantically!’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for Me? Didn’t you know that I must be about the things of My Father?’” (Luke 2:41-43, 46-49, TLV).

Each Messianic congregation will have some kind of bar/bat mitzvah education regimen, involving Hebrew study, Bible study, a review of Jewish history and culture, some likely review of Christian history, a review of the modern Messianic movement, and likely also discipleship instruction for young adults experiencing puberty. In Messianic bar/bat mitzvah, the young adult is honored before the congregation, as the corporate Body of Messiah does have to recognize its responsibility in seeing young people welcomed and mentored. (As it is noted in Messianic Judaism Class, “It has been copied by the church in confirmation.”[4] Protestant denominations which offer confirmation classes to young adults, usually offer classes on what it means for young people to be responsible Christians, church members, Bible readers, and they address the challenges facing teenagers going through many life changes, as they face adulthood.)

The bar/bat mitzvah process does bear spiritual importance for young people not only being recognized as adults, but for evaluating their present standing before God. Galatians 3:24 communicates how “the Torah became our guardian to lead us to Messiah, so that we might be made right based on trusting” (TLV), meaning that our common human violation of the Torah’s instruction is to show us our need for a Redeemer. An ideal time to confirm that this has indeed happened, is when a young man or young woman is going through the process of bar or bat mitzvah.

Certainly Messianic Jewish children, and the children of intermarried couples in the Messianic movement, would be naturally anticipated to be those who go through bar/bat mitzvah. But what about non-Jewish children in the Messianic movement? This is where it has to be recognized that there is variance of approach in the Messianic community. More often than not, though, your local Messianic congregation will have its bar/bat mitzvah classes open to the children of both its Jewish and non-Jewish members. In fact, it is likely that there might be grown adults in attendance at its bar/bat mitzvah classes! If you are a non-Jewish parent, your local Messianic congregational leadership might recommend some modifications of the different blessings which are offered in the bar/bat mitzvah service, for your son or daughter. And, whether you are Jewish or non-Jewish, if your son or daughter is going through bar/bat mitzvah, you might want to suggest that some things be incorporated into their service, in order to honor their lives thus far. Much of this is dependent on the venue of your local Messianic congregation, and for an accounting of the needs of one’s family, extended family, and guests in attendance.

Circumcision

At the close of the 2010s, our faith community does not have a coherent theology of circumcision, even though its physical and spiritual components do make up a critical part of the Biblical narrative. The Ancient Israelites were admonished in Deuteronomy 10:16, “circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer” (NASU; cf. Colossians 2:11), speaking to the important lesson of circumcision: removing an outer barrier placed between a human being and God. Yet, the physical rite of male circumcision, is something we seldom address—mainly because it is a sexual issue. However, anyone knowing about the standard basics of the Jewish life cycle, should be familiar enough with how by ancient convention, male Jews are circumcised on the eighth day. Furthermore, anyone with a cursory understanding of some of the controversies which arose in the First Century ekklēsia, should be aware of how circumcision was a huge debate involving the inclusion of Greek and Roman Believers into the Body of Messiah.

Male circumcision, as a medical practice, was something which pre-dated the Patriarch Abraham, even though it is correctly recognized that male circumcision is the memorial sign of the Abrahamic covenant:

“God also said to Abraham, ‘As for you, My covenant you must keep, you and your seed after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant that you must keep between Me and you and your seed after you: all your males must be circumcised. You must be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and this will become a sign of the covenant between Me and you. Also your eight-day-olds must be circumcised, every male, throughout your generations, including a house-born slave or a slave bought with money from any foreigner who is not of your seed. Your house-born slave and your purchased slave must surely be circumcised. So My covenant will be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant’ (Genesis 17:9-13, TLV).

So severe was male circumcision, it was said, “But the uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin—that person will be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant” (Genesis 17:14, TLV). Leviticus 12:3 would further codify for native born males, born into Ancient Israel, “In the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin is to be circumcised” (TLV). Sojourners, entering into Ancient Israel, would have to be circumcised in order to eat of the Passover sacrifice, but as a result would be considered as natives: “But if an outsider dwells with you, who would keep the Passover for ADONAI, all his males must be circumcised. Then let him draw near and keep it. He will be like one who is native to the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat from it” (Exodus 12:48, TLV). Israel’s enemies in the Tanach, in particular the Philistines, were often taunted for being “uncircumcised” (i.e., 1 Samuel 17:26, 36; 2 Samuel 1:20)

During the Maccabean crisis of the Second Century B.C.E., the Seleucid Greeks made it illegal for Jewish mothers to circumcise their infant sons, on the threat of death (1 Maccabees 1:48). The right for Jews to circumcise, was something that the Maccabees properly fought and gave their lives for. So, it should not be surprising that by the First Century C.E., as the good news or gospel was going out into the Mediterranean, that it was definitely believed, that in order for non-Jews to be fully admitted into the people of God, that they needed to be circumcised as Jewish proselytes. While there were ancient Jewish discussions involving what it meant for a non-Jew to become a proselyte, circumcision was widely agreed to be necessary. Debates are witnessed throughout Paul’s letter to the Galatians whether circumcision was necessary of Greek and Roman Believers for them to be fully received into the Body of Messiah, and the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 met to decisively address the issue: “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5, ESV). Circumcision was not deemed necessary for non-Jewish Believers to be fully welcomed in as equal brothers and sisters of the Jewish Believers (Galatians 3:28).

There is little doubting the importance that male circumcision continues to have for Jewish Believers in Israel’s Messiah. Yeshua the Messiah Himself, was circumcised (Luke 1:57-66). The Apostle Paul was circumcised (Philippians 3:5), and he definitely says, “Then what is the advantage of being Jewish? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Much in every way. First of all, they were entrusted with the sayings of God” (Romans 3:1-2, TLV). Paul had his disciple Timothy, who was born of a Jewish mother but had a Greek father, circumcised (Acts 16:1-3). Yet, Paul also warns against any over-inflated self-opinions about circumcision that First Century Jews might have had, as he also says, “Circumcision is indeed worthwhile if you keep the Torah; but if you break the Torah, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if the uncircumcised keeps the righteous decrees of the Torah, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision?” (Romans 2:25-26, TLV).

Most of us are not fully informed as to all the details regarding the circumcision of infant males in our various Messianic congregations and assemblies. At most, we are probably aware how a Messianic Jewish couple or intermarried couple, will make sure that a newborn male is circumcised on the eighth day. Sometimes, a Jewish mohel, who has been specially trained in circumcision, will circumcise a Messianic Jewish male infant. Involved with this will be various traditions and customs involving the naming of the male child (cf. Luke 1:59), and blessings issued upon him. When a Jewish mohel is not available, then if there is a doctor in your local congregation, he or she will usually be consulted for the options that are available, which may then result in the infant male being circumcised in a hospital setting. At a later time, some kind of infant dedication, perhaps involving Jewish circumcision blessings, will take place.

Beyond the Jewish community, male circumcision has been a widescale medical practice in much of the West, for well over a century. Although its medical benefits have been debated in recent times, the authors of Messianic Judaism Class address the question “Are there any physical benefits to circumcision?” with, “There might be. They have discovered in Africa that the tribes that circumcise their males have a lower rate of HIV/AIDS infection.”[5] Because male circumcision is a common medical practice, questions inevitably arise regarding what non-Jewish families in the Messianic movement should do, when having a male child. All agree that physical circumcision is not required for salvation. There are those in the Messianic movement, approaching a passage like 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 as it addressing a vocational calling, who think that non-Jewish infant males should not be circumcised.[6] There are others, who think that physical circumcision as a medical practice, is hardly prohibited, but that some of the traditional Jewish ceremonies and blessings involving the naming of a male child, should be reserved for infant males of Messianic Jewish and intermarried couples. Another sort of ceremony or child dedication should be practiced to bless a non-Jewish infant male. Significant questions are posed for the future, given how in the Millennial Kingdom, no one uncircumcised of heart or flesh can enter into the Lord’s sanctuary (Ezekiel 44:9).[7]

Water Immersion

Within the broad Christian tradition, to be sure, some significance is placed on what is customarily called “baptism.” Baptism as an English term is widely derived from the Greek verb baptizō and Greek noun baptisma. The verb baptizō appears in not just the Greek New Testament or Apostolic Scriptures, but also the Septuagint, or ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Tanach. As is noted by the Thayer lexicon, baptizō can mean “to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water.”[8] Due to much of the socio-religious associations that can go along with the English term “baptism,” the Messianic community tends to employ the more neutral term “immersion.” It is also quite common to hear the term mikveh employed, representative of a “gathering of water, esp. the ritual bath of purification” (Jastrow).[9] Many of the debates that take place in Protestantism, to be sure, involving “baptism,” do not need to be repeated in today’s Messianic congregations.

While Believers in Israel’s Messiah can often conclude that water immersion is something which is only witnessed in the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament), water immersion for Believers is rooted in the purification rituals of the Tanach (cf. Exodus 29:1, 4; Leviticus 17:15-16; Psalm 51:2). Individuals, and certainly members of the Levitical priesthood, had to typically go through a ritual purification in water, before approaching God in the Tabernacle or Temple. In Second Temple times, water immersion was required of new proselytes to Judaism, who would often be regarded as “born again” (b.Yevamot 48b). Yet, Jewish persons would often go through ritual immersion in water for other reasons in life, namely to denote a significant status change. When John, the precursor of Yeshua of Nazareth, arrived on the scene immersing people in water, it was precisely so that they could be called to repentance and be readied to recognize the coming Messiah (Matthew 3:4-6; John 1:24-25; cf. Matthew 3:13-17).

Water immersion following salvation (cf. Matthew 28:19-20), was deemed quite critical for new Believers in the First Century C.E. Those who were saved on the day of Shavuot/Pentecost were immersed in water (Acts 2:38), as were Cornelius and his companions when the good news was declared to them by Peter (Acts 10:45-48). The total immersion of a human person into water following a declaration of faith in Israel’s Messiah, is to not only signify a status change (Romans 6:6-7), but also for one to be identified with His death, burial, and resurrection: “Or do you not know that all of us who were immersed into Messiah Yeshua were immersed into His death? Therefore we were buried together with Him through immersion into death—in order that just as Messiah was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become joined together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also will be joined together in His resurrection” (Romans 6:3-5, TLV).

Messianic Jewish Believers can, at times, have some initial difficulty with water immersion as a part of coming to faith, because of forced baptisms enacted during the Middle Ages by Roman Catholicism. Frequently, European Jews were forced to convert and be baptized, or they could face seizure of property, deportation, or even death.[10] Non-Jewish Believers from evangelical Protestant backgrounds—particularly where “Believer’s baptism” was practiced—can have difficulty with not necessarily seeing how water immersion is rooted within Tanach purification rituals, but how the Jewish mikveh is something which has a wider range of applications. While the most important status change for a man or woman, is when he or she receives the salvation of Yeshua—there are likely other times when going through water immersion may be something useful. In Orthodox Judaism, women are immersed in water following their menstrual cycle. People in today’s Messianic community, may decide to go through a mikveh when a significant status change in their life is about to take place. Your congregational leadership should be consulted, before you go through any water immersion. As obvious as it might be, while Messianic congregations frequently do not require one to be re-immersed for congregational membership—going through a mikveh might be something you find useful, should you enter into a new community of Messiah followers.[11]

Communion

Significant questions can be raised by various people entering into the Messianic movement, from evangelical backgrounds, particularly regarding what is done regarding the common practice of communion. In diverse Christian traditions, remembering the Last Supper of Yeshua can take place any number of ways and any number of times. Sometimes communion is weekly, sometimes it is monthly; sometimes communion is offered to all in church attendance, and sometimes it is only offered to members of a particular denomination or assembly. Sometimes Christian communion uses leavened bread and grape juice, and sometimes Christian communion uses an unleavened wafer and wine.[12]

Messianic people are of the broad conviction that what is commonly called the Last Supper, held between Yeshua and His Disciples before His execution, was actually a Passover seder meal. Yeshua’s establishment of the New Covenant, by referencing the elements of bread and wine, were conducted in association with the unleavened bread and wine of the traditional seder meal (Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25). While many Christians remember the Lord’s Supper via a weekly or annual communion, Messianic practice tends to be far more infrequent.

How do Messianic people approach “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup” (1 Corinthians 11:26, TLV)? As indicated by the workbook Messianic Judaism Class, “Some interpret this to mean, ‘as often as you celebrate Pesakh, once per year. Some interpret this as every time you gather together. Some interpret this as one per week, month, quarter. Some interpret this as whenever you are guided by the Spirit.”[13] On the whole, within the broad Messianic community, the Lord’s Supper will be remembered within the context of the Passover seder, making it an annual serious occurrence. If the Lord’s Supper is at all honored a bit more regularly, it will likely be observed at some kind of a private prayer meeting, employing unleavened bread and grape juice.

Consult Your Rabbi

The four areas we have just covered: bar/bat mitzvah, circumcision, water immersion, and communion, are areas where today’s Messianic movement is admittedly still developing and exploring. The way that these practices are observed and applied in one congregation, is not likely to be the same as they are observed in another congregation. In the customary packaging for items labeled as “Kosher for Passover,” one also frequently finds “Consult your Rabbi.” This means that there might be some questions that need to be asked of one’s local, spiritual leader. And indeed, when it involves bar/bat mitzvah, circumcision, water immersion, communion, or some other significant practice witnessed in today’s Body of Messiah—your local, spiritual leader(s) will likely need to be consulted. And, such leader(s) should be honest enough with you, to indicate those areas where the Messianic movement as a whole is in need of some further theological refinement.

The admonition of Hebrews 13:17 directs Messiah followers to “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as ones who must give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no benefit to you” (TLV). Yet, all of us—recognizing a few of the present difficulties of our still-emerging and developing Messianic faith community—have at times been in (strong) disagreement with congregational leadership, over a particular issue or two. We need to each recognize how there is only one Messianic movement, and it is very small. None of the subjects we have just talked about, should merit one leaving a congregation or assembly, if you have a disagreement with your congregational leadership—or more likely some (outspoken) people within your congregation—over their implementation and application. Instead, we should each learn to give one another the space that we need to live out a Messianic walk of faith, and also respect the individual and familial needs of other people.


NOTES

[1] Messianic Judaism Class, Teacher Book, 56.

[2] The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, 1.

[3] Messianic Judaism Class, Teacher Book, 56.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Messianic Judaism Class, Teacher Book, 56.

[6] There is no agreement among examiners whether 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, and its reference to “Let each man abide in that calling wherein he was called” (1 Corinthians 7:20, American Standard Version), relates to a vocational calling or a calling into salvation and sanctification.

The latter position is what the author ascribes to, based on the Greek source text and related statements in the Pauline letters. Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “1 Corinthians 7:17-24.”

[7] For a further review, consult the author’s article “Is Circumcision for Everyone?”, appearing in Torah in the Balance, Volume II.

[8] Thayer, 94.

[9] Jastrow, 829.

[10] Messianic Judaism Class, Teacher Book, 63.

[11] For a further review, consult the article “The Waters of Immersion,” appearing in Torah in the Balance, Volume II.

[12] For a further review, consult Paul E. Engle, ed., Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007).

[13] Messianic Judaism Class, Teacher Book, 67.

Kosher and Torah-Based “Means of Grace” – March 2018 OIM News


Update

March 2018

The month of March this year began with the Festival of Purim, and will conclude with the commencement of Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread, with the remembrance of the Passover seder. These commemorations are conducted throughout the Jewish and Messianic Jewish communities, with an increasing number of non-Jewish Believers embracing the significance of Passover, in a variety of ways. These two annual convocations are derived from passages found in Esther 9:27-28 (Purim) and Leviticus 23:5-8 (Passover). Of course, when coupled with the annual Chanukah celebration, these are two of the three annual reminders of how God’s chosen people have faced annihilation or great oppression, and how the Holy One has had to miraculously intervene to save them.

From generation to generation over thousands of years, the Jewish people have been remembering these historical events with plays, dramatic renditions, liturgy, and appropriate readings of the Holy Scriptures. These celebratory events are intended to teach each generation about the harsh reality that over the ages, different people groups have tried to obliterate them, by physical death or altering their cultural mores. In antiquity, the Egyptians, Persians, and Greeks almost succeeded, but by the grace of God, their plans were thwarted by faithful prayers and actions followed by miraculous displays of God’s mercy. When Yeshua the Messiah came to Earth, He was able to fulfill His role as the Sacrificial Lamb according to the commandments found in the Torah of Moses.

Since Yeshua’s resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father, the goal of the Evil One has been to prevent Messiah’s prophesied return and the establishment of His Millennial Kingdom on Earth. Consequently, over the past two thousand years, the Romans, the Roman Catholic Inquisitions, the pogroms in the Russian Empire, the Nazi Holocaust, and now Islamic terrorists, have been examples of this unrelenting spiritual force occupying depraved individuals in different societies, with a desire to eradicate the Jewish people and frustrate God’s plans for His Creation. Nonetheless, in a humorously macabre sort of way, the Jews have a tongue in cheek saying when it comes to these annual celebrations, when they state in a matter of fact way: “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!”

But joking aside, the real challenge for any society is overcoming the inherent depravity that has plagued humanity since the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The Tanakh or Hebrew Bible not only chronicles the origin of humanity and the Fall, but also the history of Israel from the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In addition down through the millennia, the Rabbis and Sages of Judaism have concluded that there are 613 commandments or mitzvot present in the Torah. It is by attempting to adhere to most, if at least some, of these God-given laws, that the Jewish people have been able to culturally survive and even thrive down through the centuries.

Ironically, when the State of Israel was declared some seventy years ago next month, the then-proposed “constitutional assembly” was never able to fully formulate and approve an Israeli constitution. After all, basic survival of the nascent nation in a hostile Arab and Muslim neighborhood was of paramount importance, as the declaration of statehood was greeted with warfare from the surrounding powers. In addition, the adage of “two Jews, three opinions” was exacerbated by the Zionists, Orthodox, and both secular and religious Jews converging from a multitude of cultures, backgrounds, and languages from where they had been scattered. Hence, in lieu of a formal Israeli constitution, over the recent history of Israel, the “Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and the Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation,” has addressed certain rights. But for the most part, due to the British Mandate from 1923-1948, British Common Law, with some vestiges from the previous four centuries Ottoman rule, and even a smattering of German civil law, formulate the Israeli legal system. Inevitably, the precedent from adjudicated cases forms a sound basis for much of Israeli civil and criminal law, and any perceived need for a “constitution” has no serious traction at this present time.

From an American perspective, this discovery about the overlooked fact that there was not a formal Israeli constitution, at first was alarming for me. The United States Constitution is so revered as the basis for our culture, that we proudly proclaim “We are a nation that abides by the rule of law.” But because of recent circumstances in the American governmental system in the past several years that are finally coming to light, the possibility of a “constitutional crisis” has surfaced. But thankfully, based on statements written in the Federalist Papers published during the ratification period, one can joyfully conclude that the principal framers and writers of the American Constitution were appropriately aware of human beings’ inherent depravity because of their Judeo-Christian beliefs. For example, in Federalist Paper #51 by James Madison, the following quotes indicate that when forming a constitutional republic employing democratic practices, such a system had to have a series of “checks and balances,” in order to overcome basic human nature subject to corruption and the abuse of powers granted:

“But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

“In framing government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

“As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form.”

Of course, in the later part of the Eighteenth Century when the American Revolution was being fought and the Constitution was being authored and ratified, the great majority of influential Americans believed in the Judeo-Christian principles found in the Bible. The authors of the Federalist Papers each understood the intrinsic flaw in human nature toward self-centeredness and susceptible to corruption. But such understandings are not the case in the post-Christian, secular humanistic, and progressively more pagan America of the Twenty-First Century. But it needs to be because the very survival of Western civilization founded on these Scriptural truths is at stake.

Israelis and Jews around the world (in general) are reminded three times annually, of the cataclysmic dangers that continue unabated by unsavory characters and hate-filled nations toward their extinction. But Israel is not alone. In fact, the United States of America because of its Christian heritage and God’s blessings remains the strongest country in the world. Nonetheless, since it was also established on Biblical principles, it is also a prime target for destruction by the same nefarious forces.

Perhaps you, in all likelihood are an American follower of the Messiah Yeshua and the Holy One of Israel, then whenever the subject of the Constitution arises, you can boldly remind all who would listen about human beings’ depraved and fallen nature and need for a Savior. For certainly the subject of the U.S. Constitution, the undisputed foundational building block of American society, is an increasingly frequent topic of discussion in a multitude of venues. Hence, American followers of the same Almighty God as Israel, should unequivocally declare without reservation, the seriousness of the blatant attacks on American society and values by corrupt individuals.

Maybe in God’s mercy toward those who are humbly and prayerfully seeking His face, God will turn back with revival winds and heal the land, so America can continue to support and defend Israel! This is my prayer for this Passover season, when we remember God’s deliverance of Israel from physical bondage and our personal deliverance from sin—in order to serve Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength!

Chag Samaech Pesach!

Mark Huey


Kosher and Torah-Based “Means of Grace”

by J.K. McKee

A major historical difference, that has been witnessed between Judaism and Christianity, has been how Christianity has often been responsible for promoting a dualism, where one’s inward heart condition is so important, that external actions of spirituality can be disparaged. Judaism, in stark contrast to this, emphasizes the wholistic unity of one’s being, where internal heart attitude and external deeds, are carefully balanced.[1]

Within the Hebrew Tanach, external activities such as work, sexual intercourse, or eating and drinking, are all lauded as having value. Qohelet says, “Behold, this is what I myself have seen. It is beneficial and good for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy all of his toil that he labors under the sun during the few days of his life that God has given him—for this is his reward” (Ecclesiastes 5:17[18], TLV). Given the certain fact that human beings cannot earn favor before God for their salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9), Christian people throughout history have especially struggled with the fact that while works or deeds are not the cause of salvation, works or deeds are to result from salvation. James 3:13 directs, “Who among you is wise and understanding? By his good conduct let him show his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom” (TLV). And, as James 1:27 specifies, “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (TLV).

Certainly throughout history, there have been faithful Jews and Protestants who have recognized the significance of the external good works that God requires of His own. The famed word of Micah 6:8 states, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (NRSV). It should not be unreasonable to note that those who are best able to live forth such an imperative, are men and women who are disciplined in their relationship with the Creator. These are people who pray, they read and study the Holy Scriptures, they fellowship with those of the local faith community—and consequently they do look out for the needs of others.

Today’s Messianic community, because of its undeniable connection to its Jewish theological and spiritual heritage, will emphasize various physical actions of God’s people, that today’s evangelical Protestantism not only considers unnecessary, but will backhandedly dismiss. Yet, once you start attending a Messianic congregation or fellowship on Shabbat, it is not difficult to be exposed to questions about eating what is considered clean or unclean, and various tactile objects such as prayer shawls or the mezuzah, which obviously have importance for not just the Torah or Law of Moses, but also Jewish heritage.

Many Bible readers are conditioned to take Yeshua’s words of Matthew 23:28 to the Pharisaical leaders, and then see them applied to anyone who takes seriously outward forms of Biblical expression: “Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to people, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (PME). So, whether it be Messianic Jews who were raised in a normally religious home, (re)claiming a definite part of their heritage, or non-Jewish Believers integrating into the Messianic community and actually wanting to live in a similar manner to Yeshua and His early followers—such people can find themselves criticized for apparently being inwardly decrepit and bankrupt. However, such Messianic people would not be alone, as those in various holiness and piety movements in Protestantism since the Reformation have had similar accusations issued to them. It was thought that their significant commitment to doing good deeds, was apparently trying to compensate for a lack of salvation assurance.

While only our Heavenly Father knows the true intent of any man or woman trying to obey Him internally and externally, there is a strong spiritual value in performing external actions of faith. How one eats, and how one employs ritual objects such as tzitzityot or a kippah, can be spiritually edifying. Certainly in much Christian thought, the process of being immersed in water (baptized) as an outward sign of one’s redemption, is critical not only for identifying with Yeshua’s own death and resurrection (Romans 6:4), but also as a time for publicly declaring before the world of one’s salvation. Various external instructions, appearing in the Scriptures, were called by John Wesley to be a “means of grace,” whereby Believers can physically partake of deeper, internal spiritual realities. When Messianic people do anything that is external, whether it is specified by commandments in the Torah, or derived from Torah commandments, how are they partaking of deeper, internal spiritual realities? 1 Thessalonians 5:23 astutely admonishes,

“Now may the God of shalom Himself make you completely holy; and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept complete, blameless at the coming of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah” (TLV).

Kosher (Kashrut)

The term kosher does not appear in the Hebrew Bible, but is instead derived from the verb kasheir, “to be suitable, fit to use” (HALOT).[2] A term used throughout Judaism is kashrut, “fitness, worthiness, legitimacy” (Jastrow).[3] In most of the common usage that Messianic people will encounter—kosher, kasheir, and kashrut—will almost always be employed in reference to the Torah’s dietary instructions, and the list of clean and unclean meats in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. However, in Jewish usage, the term kosher will be employed in a much wider array of applications, involving not only food and diet, but also the condition of various ritual objects, as well as one’s moral and ethical behavior.[4]

Today’s Messianic people often find various reasons for considering the kosher dietary laws important. Many Jewish people, who have come to faith in Yeshua, were raised in Reform Jewish homes which did not bother to keep kosher, but ate unclean meats, and so many of today’s Messianic Jews have actually reclaimed an important part of their ancestral heritage. Many non-Jewish Believers, often starting with the prohibitions of the Apostolic Decree (Acts 15:19-21, 28-29), find that adopting a kosher-style of diet is useful in emulating the Torah obedience of Yeshua the Messiah and/or for various health considerations. The workbook Messianic Judaism Class recognizes these significant reasons for today’s Messianic Believers and kosher, first noting how,

“[T]he animals that are forbidden to eat are predators and scavengers. You don’t know what a predator or scavenger has just eaten. It could be something diseased. Also some of the animals are high in fat and cholesterol.”[5]

It is then further stated,

“It is obedience to God. If the Ruakh HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) is leading you to be grafted in and you have been changing your lifestyle to identify more with Israel and with how Yeshua lived on this earth, then this is one more way to do that.”[6]

Principally within the Torah, one turns to Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 for the list of clean and unclean meats, to begin one’s review of the dietary laws. Kosher land animals (Leviticus 11:2-8; Deuteronomy 14:3-8) must have a split hoof and chew a cud. Clean land animals would include cattle, sheep, goats, deer, and various other sorts of wild game. Unclean land animals would include the camel, and most especially the pig. Kosher fish (Leviticus 11:9-12; Deuteronomy 14:9-10) must have fins and scales, which would automatically disqualify all popular shellfish such as shrimp, crabs, lobsters, and oysters as being kosher. Non-kosher birds (Leviticus 11:13-19; Deuteronomy 14:11-18) are mainly birds of prey or carrion eaters, with kosher birds determined entirely by Jewish tradition (i.e., chicken, duck, goose, and turkey). Kosher insects (Leviticus 11:20-23; Deuteronomy 14:19) mainly involve locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers.

Biblically Kosher and Traditional Jewish Kosher

In much of today’s Messianic movement, Messianic people are seen witnessed following a dietary regimen which they label as “Biblically kosher.” This is a level of kosher which mainly avoids unclean meats such as pork and shellfish. Traditional Jewish kosher, as particularly witnessed in the Orthodox Jewish community, is much more strict. Traditional Jewish kashrut involves explicit details concerning the slaughter of animals, the removal of blood, separation of meat and dairy (based on Deuteronomy 14:21), as well as dishes and utensils intended for meat or for dairy. There are Jewish regulatory agencies which inspect the factories and equipment where processed foods are produced, to ensure their kosher status, and that no non-kosher items were used in their manufacture.

It is safe to say that today’s kosher-friendly Messianic people do appreciate the higher level of standard observed by the Orthodox Jewish community, and like to see that various food products they purchase may have a stamp of approval. However, the higher cost of kosher-certified meat, for example, is prohibitive to many Messianic families who are not willing to completely eliminate meat from their diet. So, the meat of clean animals is usually purchased from the supermarket, but with various steps taken, such as soaking in water or broiling, to see that any remaining blood is removed.

Observance of kosher can, at times, become tense in various congregations’ fellowship meal times. Some have “Biblically kosher” policies where only pork and shellfish need to be avoided, but where meat and dairy can be mixed. Others have stricter policies where all meat must have a kosher certification, and where meat and dairy cannot be mixed. Yet others follow a policy of parve (neutral), where meat is not served, but fish is served because those observing a strict level of kosher can mix fish with dairy. These are all areas where it is appropriate for each of us to be flexible and tolerant of others’ opinions.

Eating Controversies in the Messianic Scriptures

While any emphasis on the importance of the kosher dietary laws, is likely to immediately upset or confuse many Christian people who look at the Messianic movement, it cannot go overlooked how many Jewish people were raised not keeping kosher. Reform Judaism dismissed the kosher dietary laws in the late Nineteenth Century as not only being antiquated, but as instructions which would unnecessarily impede Jewish integration into modern society. So, while non-Jewish Believers led by God into the Messianic movement might have more obvious challenges when considering the value of a kosher style of diet, many Messianic Jewish Believers have a few challenges as well, as they were not raised with kosher being a part of their background. And, many of these same Messianic Jewish Believers may have come to faith in an evangelical Protestant setting, which was dismissive of the kosher dietary laws.

There are a number of significant objections that are raised, as they involve the ongoing validity and relevance of the kosher dietary laws. Peter’s vision of the sheet in Acts 10, where he is shown a diverse array of unclean animals, and the declaration “What God has made clean, you must not consider unholy” (Acts 10:15, TLV), is commonly interpreted to mean that the distinctions of clean and unclean meats have been abrogated. While there are details to be evaluated, as to what “four-footed animals and reptiles and birds of the air” (Acts 10:12, TLV) may represent in regard to ancient paganism, Peter’s own interpretation of his vision, as he met with the Roman centurion Cornelius, cannot go overlooked: “You yourselves know that it is not permitted for a Jewish man to associate with a non-Jew or to visit him. Yet God has shown me that I should call no one unholy or unclean” (Acts 10:28, TLV). The main issue communicated to Peter, by the vision, was the overturning of non-Biblical injunctions which prohibited Jewish people from interacting with outsiders, particularly in terms of sharing a common meal (Jubilees 22:16; m.Ohalot 19:7).[7]

Also frequently referred to by many people who are dismissive of the kosher dietary laws, is the statement of Mark 7:19. In most English Bibles it appears as “Thus he declared all foods clean” (RSV), and many will conclude that Yeshua the Messiah not only canceled the Torah’s dietary code, but all forms of external ritual purity. Surely, it is absolutely true that “There is nothing outside the man that can make him unholy by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of the man that makes the man unholy” (Mark 7:15, TLV), as internal purity of the heart is more imperative than external purity. However, the actual issue in view was not the kosher dietary instructions, but instead a ritual handwashing practiced by many First Century Jews (Mark 7:1-13), but not necessarily by Yeshua’s disciples. Bread eaten with unwashed hands does not defile someone, “For it does not enter into the heart but into the stomach, and then goes out into the sewer, cleansing all foods” (Mark 7:19, TLV). It has been widely recognized among commentators how the clause katharizōn panta ta brōmata can be rendered as continuing the sentence, with “purging all the foods” (PME) speaking of the process of execretion.[8]

Kosher continuance is something detected in the Apostolic decree issued by the Jerusalem Council, to the new Greek and Roman Believers coming to faith in Israel’s Messiah. While they were not mandated or coerced to keep the Torah (Acts 15:1, 5), there were various stipulations that they had to observe for proper fellowship with Jewish Believers, and hence also interaction with the Jewish community. These included things strangled and blood (Acts 15:20, 29), which would surely limit the number of places where meat could be procured. Were they to keep kosher? A resource like the workbook Messianic Judaism Class concludes, “They are not required for Gentiles according to Acts 15, but Gentiles may keep them if they are led by God to do so.”[9] Frequently, it is thought that non-Jews in today’s Messianic movement are likened unto the gerim or sojourners in Ancient Israel, who were notably not permitted to catch unclean wild game (Leviticus 17:13), by necessity implying that the domesticated animals they would have eaten would be clean.

Problems in the Messianic movement tend to erupt when people are completely inflexible about the issue of kosher—especially from those whose faith tends to rise or fall on what people eat, rather than on internal heart cleanliness. If you keep a kosher style of diet on the outside, but do not take care that you are internally clean in your heart and mind, what have you achieved?

For fellowship meals at various Messianic congregations, one generally finds that pork and shellfish are off limits. The guidelines prescribed by the workbook Messianic Judaism Class are, “No Biblically un-kosher foods, please: no pork, no shellfish, no hunted meat.”[10] Your Messianic congregation or fellowship might be a little more strict in some areas, as it may look for a hechsher or an authorized symbol from one of the various Jewish kosher certification agencies. Some fellowship meal times do not permit the mixing of meat and dairy, they might be parve and permit fish and dairy, or they might be vegetarian. Other fellowship meal times might, in stark contrast, allow for meat and dairy to be served together, and one might even see fried chicken from a KFC or pizza from a local establishment, available for general consumption.

There are issues that do arise in the Messianic movement, as they concern the implementation of the dietary laws in modern settings, recognizing some of the more specific details of blood and fat, being sensitive to the diversity of opinions—but also recognizing various exceptions due to life circumstances. In the context of ancient missionary evangelism, Paul instructed the Corinthians, “If an unbeliever invites you over and you want to go, eat whatever is set before you, without raising questions of conscience” (1 Corinthians 10:27, TLV). There are going to be times when one might be served unclean things, and as a matter of being gracious to one’s host, they should be eaten (without taking seconds). As the workbook Messianic Judaism Class properly directs, “‘Go and preach the Gospel’ is a higher law than the dietary laws.”[11]

Tzitzits and Tallits

An important Torah instruction is witnessed in Numbers 15:38, “Speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout the ages; let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner” (NJPS). The fringe, tassel, or tzitzit was originally to have a cord of tekheilet or blue, although the traditional dye employed for the tekheilet from the chilazon sea snail was lost for many centuries, with most tzitzit today being all white. Fringes or tassels were worn by Yeshua the Messiah, as witnessed throughout the Gospels. The general statement made in Mark 6:56 is, “And wherever He entered villages, towns, or countryside, people were placing the sick in the marketplaces and begging Him to let them touch even the tzitzit of His garment—and all who touched it were being healed” (TLV; cf. Malachi 4:2).

In Judaism today, the fringes or tzitzityot are to be attached to a four-corned garment, with the tallit having developed in the post-Second Temple period. Orthodox Jewish males will often wear an undergarment called a tallit katan at all times, whereas other Jews will employ the tallit for traditional morning prayers and daytime Shabbat services. Traditionally, the tallit is to be worn only during the daytime, with the exception of the evening services of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Given how the command is issued to b’nei Yisrael or the “children of Israel,” Conservative and Reform Judaism permits females to employ the tallit. There is a wide degree of variance witnessed in the Messianic movement regarding tzitzityot and the tallit, some of it sitting without the general bounds of Jewish tradition. It is safe to say, though, that homemade tzitzits tied to one’s beltloops, which one will frequently encounter in the independent Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement, sit well outside of what is traditionally witnessed.[12]

Tefillin (Phylacteries) and Mezuzah

Within the Shema of Deuteronomy 6, where God’s supremacy and exclusiveness is declared, it is explicitly stated, “These words, which I am commanding you today, are to be on your heart. You are to teach them diligently to your children, and speak of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up. Bind them as a sign on your hand, they are to be as frontlets between your eyes, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9, TLV). There is a definite need to see the Instruction of God placed impressed onto the human heart, and to convey the significance of His commandments to one’s offspring.

In Jewish practice, certainly from Second Temple times, it is seen how the direction to bind the Word on one’s hand and forehead is taken literally, via the tradition of wrapping tefillin or phylacteries (derived from phulaktērion). The tefillin are a set of two leather boxes, one for the arm and hand (the opposite of whether the user is right or left handed), and one for the head, containing four Torah passages written on parchment (Exodus 13:1-10; 13:11-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21). Wrapping tefillin is something that takes place at traditional times of prayer. Various people in today’s Messianic movement are seen to wrap tefillin, whereas others interpret the commandment to bind God’s Word as something metaphorical. There are some who do not wrap tefillin because a pair of tefillin can frequently be very expensive, although they do not frown on the value of the tradition.[13]

When one walks into a Jewish synagogue, or the home of an observant Jew—and certainly many Messianic congregations and Messianic homes—a mezuzah will be seen at the entry. The term mezuzah is today frequently taken to apply to the small case and parchment attached to the doorpost, which includes the Deuteronomy 4:6-9 and 11:13-21 instructions. Just as touching the Torah scroll during the Shabbat service is intended to honor it, the mezuzah will be touched as a sign of honor by those entering or existing a doorway that has one attached.[14]

Kippah (Yarmulke)

One of the most obvious elements of modern Jewish identity witnessed in the world today, is men wearing the kippah (or yarmulke) or skullcap. The main idea behind wearing this small skullcap is that it shows submission to God. Other ideas is that wearing the kippah is a sign of mourning the destruction of the Second Temple, or that it is a symbol of how human beings have a Divine authority over them. Still, wearing a head garment like the kippah may simply be rooted in Ancient Near Eastern customs of people wearing things on their head keeping the sun off them. In various Jewish communities, and in modern Israel, wearing a particular style of kippah may identify you with a particular religious or even political sect.

Issues do arise in some Messianic congregations, particularly when non-Jewish Believers can be witnessed to be insensitive to the Jewish tradition of wearing the kippah or yarmulke. Many recognize that wearing the kippah, while not a Biblical commandment, is appropriate for synagogue protocol. Others, based on some statements appearing in 1 Corinthians 11, conclude that wearing men the kippah is prohibited. While a complicated passage for sure, when it is recognized that there were ancient First Century Corinthian issues in view, then 1 Corinthians 11:4 cannot be seen as prohibiting the kippah. As the Brown and Comfort interlinear renders pas anēr proseuchomenos ē prophēteuōn kata kephalēs, “every man praying or prophesying down over [his] head.”[15] What was considered dishonorable as something hanging down from the head (kata kephalēs) for the men in Corinth is stated in the text as long hair: “Doesn’t the natural order of things teach you—if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace for him?” (1 Corinthians 11:14, TLV).[16]


NOTES

[1] Consult some of the relevant points appearing in the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Dualism.”

[2] Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, eds., The Hebrew & Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2001), 1:503.

[3] Marcus Jastrow, Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi, and Midrashic Literature (New York: Judaica Treasury, 2004), 677.

[4] Consult the many useful thoughts offered by Ron Isaacs, Kosher Living: It’s More Than Just the Food (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005).

[5] Messianic Judaism Class, Teacher Book, 53.

[6] Ibid.

[7] For a further evaluation of details, consult the analysis on Acts 10:1-48 in the Messianic Kosher Helper by Messianic Apologetics.

[8] For a further evaluation of details, consult the analysis on Mark 7:1-23 in the Messianic Kosher Helper by Messianic Apologetics.

[9] Messianic Judaism Class, Teacher Book, 53.

[10] Ibid., 54.

[11] Ibid., 54.

For a further evaluation of details, consult the analysis on 1 Corinthians 10:14-33 in the Messianic Kosher Helper by Messianic Apologetics.

[12] For a further evaluation of details, consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Tzitzits.”

[13] For a further evaluation of details, consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Tefillin.”

[14] For a further discussion, consult Chapter 13 of Torah In the Balance, Volume II, “Messianic Believers and Religious Symbols.”

[15] Robert K. Brown and Philip W. Comfort, trans., The New Greek-English Interlinear New Testament (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 1990), 603.

[16] For a further evaluation of details, including “covered” and “uncovered” in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 involving ancient hairstyles, consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Headcovering Garments.”

Controversies Involving Biblical and Jewish Holidays as a Messianic Believer – February 2018 OIM News


Update

February 2018

At the conclusion of this month on the 14th of Adar (February 28th), the worldwide Jewish and Messianic Jewish communities will be observing the Feast of Purim (Esther 9:26-32). The Book of Esther is typically read or reflected upon through plays or skits, and the reader of the megillah or scroll of Esther discovers how one wicked person, Haman, was almost able—except for the providential protection of the Almighty One—to annihilate the Jewish population of the Persian Empire. How could this near tragedy occur, you might ask? As I reflected upon that possibility, in light of what has been transpiring in the United States government in recent years, I saw some distinct parallels.

First, I was reminded of how the “evil tongue” or lashon hara (slander, lies, mistruths, etc.) was effectively used to incite the possible murder of untold thousands of Jewish souls, by one anti-Semitic individual placed high in Persian government circles. In the following passage, because Mordecai the Jew would not bow down to Haman, Haman cleverly convinced Persian King Ahasuerus that all of the Jews must be destroyed because they “did not observe the king’s laws.” Clearly in his lust for power, Haman twisted the truth, as he over-zealously concluded that everyone must pay homage and bow to him:

“Day after day, they spoke to him but he would not listen to them. Therefore they told Haman in order to see whether Mordecai’s resolve would prevail, for he had told them that he was a Jew. When Haman saw that Mordecai was not bowing down or paying him honor, Haman was filled with rage. But it was repugnant in his eyes to lay hands on Mordecai alone, for they had told him the identity of Mordecai’s people. So Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus. In the first month (that is the month of Nisan), in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, they cast the pur (that is, ‘the lot’) in the presence of Haman from day to day and month to month, up to the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar. Haman then said to King Ahasuerus: ‘There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose laws differ from those of every other people and who do not obey the king’s laws. It is not in the king’s interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let an edict be written to destroy them. I will pay 10,000 talents of silver into the hands of those who carry out this business, to put it into the king’s treasuries.’ The king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman—son of Hammedatha the Agagite—enemy of the Jews. The king said to Haman, ‘The silver and the people are yours—do with them as you please’” (Esther 3:4-11, TLV).

Secondly, I was reminded in the concluding words of the B’shalach Torah portion (Exodus 13:17-17:16) that Israel will continually struggle with the physical, and apparently also, spiritual descendants, of Amalek, from generation to generation:

“So Joshua overpowered the Amalekites and his army with the edge of the sword. ADONAI said to Moses, ‘Write this for a memorial in the book, and rehearse it in the hearing of Joshua, for I will utterly blot out the memory of the Amalekites from under heaven.’ Then Moses built an altar, and called the name of it ADONAI-Nissi. Then he said, ‘By the hand upon the throne of ADONAI, ADONAI Adonai will have war with Amalek from generation to generation’” (Exodus 17:13-16, TLV).

This memory took me to 1 Samuel 15, where the graphic description of King Saul’s defeat of the Amalekites is chronicled. But lamentably, Saul does not immediately execute Agag, the king of the Amalekites, but spared him until the Prophet Samuel arrived on the scene. In the following selected passages, the consequences of disobedience are recorded:

“Then Saul struck down the Amalekites from Havilah until you come to Shur, which is close to Egypt. He captured King Agag of Amalek alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag as well as the best of the sheep, the cattle, even the fatlings and the lambs, and all that was good, since they were not willing to utterly destroy them; everything that was worthless and feeble, they destroyed completely” (1 Samuel 15:7-9, TLV).

“‘But I did obey the voice of ADONAI,’ Saul said to Samuel. ‘I went on the mission on which ADONAI sent me, and brought back Agag the king of Amalek—and utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took some of the spoil, sheep and oxen—the best of what was under the ban of destruction—to sacrifice to ADONAI your God in Gilgal.’ Samuel said: ‘Does ADONAI delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of ADONAI? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, to pay heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry. Since you have rejected ADONAI’s word, He has also rejected you as king’” (1 Samuel 15:20-23, TLV).

“Then Samuel said, ‘Bring me Agag the king of Amalek.’ Agag approached him in chains, thinking, ‘Surely bitter death has turned back.’ Then Samuel said, ‘As your sword has made women childless, so will your mother be childless among women.’ Then Samuel cut Agag into pieces before ADONAI in Gilgal” (1 Samuel 15:32-33, TLV).

The result of this encounter was not only Saul losing his kingship, but the Jewish Sages have widely concluded that during Agag’s brief reprieve from death, he had relations with a woman who was a direct ancestor of the aforementioned Haman. Hence, Saul’s lack of obedience perpetuated further physical, and I might add, spiritual troubles, upon the Jewish people down through the centuries.

In addition, by recalling God’s instructions to blot out the memory of the Amalekites, every time the name of Haman is mentioned during annual Purim plays, the audience hisses, boos, or uses noisemakers to derisively mock this wicked enemy of the Jews:

“Remember what Amalek did to you along the way as you came out from Egypt—how he happened upon you along the way and attacked those among you in the rear, all the stragglers behind you, when you were tired and weary—he did not fear God. Now when ADONAI your God grants you rest from all the enemies surrounding you in the land ADONAI your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, you are to blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. Do not forget!” (Deuteronomy 25:17-19, TLV).

So how do the recollections, of these ancient words and the existence of the spirit of Amalek, apply to today’s challenges in the American government? Obviously, the Apostolic Writings give Believers more insight into the invisible spiritual warfare which has been persistent from the very Garden of Eden, as noted in these statements of the Apostle Paul:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you are able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the worldly forces of this darkness, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12, TLV).

Here Paul describes the invisible, yet discernible schemes of the Devil, which are being orchestrated by “the angelic Rulers, the angelic Authorities, the potentates of the dark present, the spirit-forces of evil in the heavenly sphere” (Moffat New Testament). When one breaks down these four distinct entities, it is abundantly clear that Satan, the enemy of our souls—coupled with the world and the flesh—is a worthy adversary. But Paul earlier has also described the prince of the power of air, who is working through vessels of disobedience, to thwart God’s chosen with lies and distortions through the very airwaves used for communication:

“You were dead in your trespasses and sins. At that time, you walked in the way of this world, in conformity to the ruler of the domain of the air—the ruler of the spirit who is now operating in the sons of disobedience. We too all lived among them in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind. By nature we were children of wrath, just like the others” (Ephesians 2:1-3, TLV).

It is my contention that the Evil One is using willing accomplices in the various media outlets to spread lies, slander, and misinformation about certain people in leadership using the technological tools currently available. The distortions of character and the blatant lies are difficult to hear over and over. Certain media outlets are making false statements and claims, which are obviously coordinated, because they use the same phrases and words in what has been labeled a “mockingbird” pattern.

So brothers and sisters here is a warning! The same spirit of Amalek (an agent of HaSatan) which attempted to destroy the Jewish people in ancient times, is still seeking to rob, steal, and destroy whomever it can. It seeks to control through perverting the truth. It is alive and well on Planet Earth, circling in the airwaves, desiring to distort justice and create confusion and mistrust wherever it can. So with all this in mind, it is highly recommended that we all pray—like in the days of Esther—and ask for discernment regarding what we hear and see from the multitude of powers and forces that are working constantly to gain our attention, and if possible, our allegiance. We do indeed need to put on the armor of God in order to ward off the wiles of the Devil (Ephesians 6:10-20). May the Holy One of Israel have mercy on each of us, our families, friends, and most especially the Body of Messiah in these trying days!

Chag Samaech Purim!

Mark Huey


Controversies Involving Biblical and Jewish Holidays as a Messianic Believer

by J.K. McKee

For people throughout the broad Messianic movement, the appointed times or moedim of the Torah, and the various traditional Jewish holidays and commemorations, are significant moments of celebration, enrichment, and enlightenment. Jewish Believers in Israel’s Messiah are often reconnecting with deeply significant traditions and customs, practiced not only by their ancestors, but by their immediate family which has yet to recognize Yeshua. Non-Jewish Believers called by God, into the Messianic movement, are embracing things which were practiced by Yeshua and His first followers. When the Biblical and Jewish holidays take place, these are supposed to be seasons of great personal, familial, and congregational unity and spiritual growth. As we reflect upon what the Lord has done in the past, we are to all embody the Psalmist’s grand word, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1, NRSV).

A majority of you who commemorate the Biblical and Jewish holidays experience precisely this: a sense of spiritual fulfillment and unity when they appear in the annual cycle. Yet, it would be entirely inappropriate to introduce you to the appointed times, without also letting you know that these can be periods of division and discord within the Messianic community. Many of you all already know this to be the case, if for any other reason because you have volunteered at your local Messianic congregation or fellowship to help, in some capacity, during the Fall high holidays or with the congregational Passover seder. You probably got a quick lesson in how it is one thing to remember the Biblical and Jewish holidays within the privacy of your own home; it is another thing to remember the Biblical and Jewish holidays in a much larger venue of people who have opinions about the “right way” things are to be done.

Unnecessary divisions and tensions are a part of human living, and whenever you have to help out, usually behind the scenes, with a large group of people remembering something important—it is inevitable that an incident of some kind will take place. This especially involves gatherings where large quantities of food have to be prepared and served, different people have been asked to cook the same item, but each has probably altered a recipe here or there to his or her liking. For a great number of you remembering the Biblical and Jewish holidays at a congregational level, the controversies you will encounter are likely to be involved with the logistical details of how a larger gathering of people can get the most out of them.

I wish all of the controversies involving the Biblical and Jewish holidays in today’s Messianic movement solely concerned “the menu” of traditional foods and recipes offered at congregational gatherings. Most of the controversies involving the holidays actually tend to concern individual people investigating particular aspects or components of a season, either on their own or usually via some Internet source, which challenges a traditional Jewish understanding. While the Messianic Jewish movement, because of its affirmation of Yeshua as Israel’s Messiah, has certainly challenged traditional views of the Synagogue—a wide array of traditional Jewish practices and customs are still observed. In our information age, though, it is very easy for those involved in a Messianic congregation to see the appointed times observed according to a philo-traditional model, but then have such a model either criticized or condemned, by encountering some online media. While not always offered by those within the independent Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement—and sometimes even presented by evangelical Christians opposed to Messianic Judaism—those who tend to challenge Messianic Jewish employment of mainline Jewish traditions and approaches to the appointed times, are not too concerned with the Messianic movement’s original vision of Jewish outreach, evangelism, and Israel solidarity.

Titus 3:9 does astutely communicate, “avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about Torah, for they are unprofitable and useless” (TLV). Yet at the same time, whether it be the weekly Shabbat service, or seasons such as the Fall high holidays or the Passover—the appointed times tend to be the major periods when one’s local Messianic Jewish congregation is able to reach out to the Jewish community with the good news of Yeshua. You need to know what a number of the common controversies associated with the Biblical and Jewish holidays are, so when you encounter them, you can not only not be disturbed—but you can help stop potential problems before they start. Our list is by no means extensive, but will highlight some of the most common problems you are likely to witness.

The Sabbath Debate

Whether various leaders and teachers want to publicly admit it or not, the fact that today’s Messianic movement holds its main worship services on Saturday, in observance of the seventh-day Sabbath as prescribed in the Fourth Commandment (Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15), immediately places it in conflict with most of the worldwide Body of Messiah.

An honest reading of the Gospels and Book of Acts will reveal that Yeshua the Messiah and His first followers, observed the seventh-day Sabbath or Shabbat—although Yeshua did come into conflict from time to time with how various Jewish religious leaders and Pharisees applied various Sabbath regulations. As Yeshua poignantly asked, “Is it permitted on Shabbat to do good or to do evil, to save a life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4, TLV). The Sabbath keeping of Yeshua of Nazareth was one where it was permitted to perform the good deeds of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Messiah is indeed witnessed performing significant acts of healing and restoration to people on Shabbat. Later, it is said of a figure like the Apostle Paul, “As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:2, 2011 NIV). Rather than abandon the institution of the Sabbath as a result of his Messiah faith, Paul used the weekly Shabbat service as a venue by which he could go to a Jewish synagogue, and declare Yeshua as Israel’s Messiah from the Tanach Scriptures.

While there are varied reasons given by modern evangelical Protestants, the most common claims issued for why the seventh-day Sabbath is not observed by most Christians any more are either: (1) The discovery of the empty tomb of Yeshua by Sunday morning necessitates a Divinely-approved transfer of the seventh-day Sabbath to the first day of the week, Sunday. Or, (2) the seventh-day Sabbath has been abolished for the post-resurrection era. Non-Jewish Believers in today’s Messianic movement, as well as many Messianic Jewish leaders trained in Protestant institutions, have been exposed enough to both of these points of view. More frequently than not, Christian people who are supportive of the Messianic movement as a means for Jewish evangelism, will come from a (dispensational) theological framework which approaches the seventh-day Sabbath as an institution which was only intended for Ancient Israel of the past, and not for the worldwide Body of Messiah in the present. Still, even though thinking that the seventh-day Sabbath was a thing of the past, such people will pragmatically recognize that Messianic congregations holding their services on Saturday is an appropriate way to attract Jewish non-Believers to the gospel—certainly in a way that a church which holds its services on Sunday will broadly be incapable of doing.

While it is doubtlessly true that Messianic congregations holding their services on Saturday should attract Jewish people who need to hear the good news of Israel’s Messiah—today’s Messianic community broadly does not think that the only reason why Shabbat is to be observed, is for matters of Jewish outreach. In the future Millennium, the seventh-day Sabbath is unambiguously to be enforced as a mandatory, worldwide observance (Isaiah 66:23), and today we are to largely represent such future realities in our present conduct, as we are able. Shabbat is a time to rest from our labors, commune with God and with one another, and to truly enter into a period of intimacy and union with our Creator. And for many Messianic people, Shabbat truly is a time of physical rest and spiritual refreshment. Attending one’s Shabbat service on Saturday becomes something that many Messianic people look forward to—not just because it is a significant time for worshipping the Lord and for studying the Scriptures—but often because it is the social highlight of the week, where we get to fellowship with fellow brothers and sisters in the Messiah.

Many Messianic people have learned how to carefully interact with Christian people who do not keep the seventh-day Sabbath. They recognize that the focus of our common faith is to be the atoning sacrifice of Yeshua of Nazareth, and rather than condemn those who disregard Shabbat or think it was changed to Sunday—they prefer to invite Christian friends and colleagues to their Messianic congregation on Shabbat, so they can see what makes the Shabbat experience much different than Sunday church. For many, the close community of a Messianic congregation, centered around its weekly service on Saturday, can do more to get people to see the value of Shabbat than any theological argument.

There are scores of Internet teachings out there which over-emphasize how the first day of the week was used in ancient paganism as a religious day—but most Protestants think that Sunday church originated much earlier, in the time of the Apostles (cf. Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2). Yet, few are informed enough from either study of the Scripture or contemporary examinations, that it has been challenged as to whether or not some sporadic references to the “first of the week” seen in the Apostolic Writings (New Testament) are actually the beginnings of what would become “Sunday church.” What if various “first of the week” gatherings actually took place on Saturday evening, per ancient Jewish reckoning of time where the new day would begin in the evening—and such gatherings were more reminiscent of havdallah, the ceremony that closes out the Sabbath?

While it is true that by the early-to-mid Second Century C.E., with the death of the Jewish apostles and their major successors, that the ekklēsia largely abandoned the seventh-day Sabbath in favor of Sunday activities—pockets of Christians over many centuries are witnessed to have observed the seventh-day Sabbath as a Creation institution (cf. Genesis 2:2-3). As the shackles of Catholicism were being thrown off, the issue of Sabbatarianism arose in the Protestant Reformation, although most Protestants believing in the continuance of a Sabbath-principle from the Fourth Commandment were actually seen to practice semi-Sabbatarianism—with the Sabbath believed to be changed from Saturday to Sunday. Still, various groups ranging from the Seventh-Day Baptists to the Seventh-Day Adventists have kept the discussion of the validity of the seventh-day Sabbath alive and well in the world of theology. Various resources of note have been released over the past several decades, in favor of, and against, the continuance of the seventh-day Sabbath.[1]

In our external relations, today’s Messianic movement is going to have debates with others about the seventh-day Sabbath. And, there are certainly some significant discussions which have taken place in theological quarters about the ongoing importance of Shabbat. Yet for many of us, we see the Sabbath as a great gift given to people by our Creator, a gift that far too many have dismissed or rejected. So, in our keeping of Shabbat, let us be forever mindful of the famed admonition of Isaiah 58:13-14,

“‘If you turn back your foot from Shabbat, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call Shabbat a delight, the holy day of ADONAI honorable, if you honor it, not going your own ways, not seeking your own pleasure, nor speaking your usual speech, then You will delight yourself in ADONAI, and I will let you ride over the heights of the earth, I will feed you with the heritage of your father Jacob.’ For the mouth of ADONAI has spoken” (TLV).

The Calendar Debate

One of the biggest controversies—which always tends to erupt at the most inconvenient time for Messianic congregational leaders and teachers—involves the Biblical calendar. The appointed times of the Torah are obviously observed on a different calendrical cycle than the Gregorian calendar used by secular society today. In the Creation account it is specified, “Let lights in the expanse of the sky be for separating the day from the night. They will be for signs and for seasons and for days and years” (Genesis 1:14, TLV). The common Hebrew word for month, chodesh, also means “moon,” a sure testament to the Hebrew calendar being lunar based.

During Second Temple times, the Jewish religious council known as the Sanhedrin would have been able to determine and agree when a new month had started, by the visible sighting of the New Moon. When the New Moon was sighted in the vicinity of Jerusalem, and the Sanhedrin could agree, then signal fires were lit, and passed on over many hundreds of miles, signaling to the wider Jewish community that a new month had begun. This system was not exact, but it was what was employed until several centuries after the fall of Jerusalem. In 358 C.E., Rabbi Hillell II introduced a pre-calculated calendrical system for the worldwide Jewish community, now in a broad worldwide Diaspora. A pre-calculated calendar is what is employed by the mainstream Jewish community today.

For today’s Messianic Jewish movement, the issue of what calendar to use for the Biblical holidays is a simple one; the Messianic Jewish movement uses the same calendar as the mainstream Jewish community. When the Jewish community meets for Yom Kippur, so does the Messianic Jewish community. If the Messianic Jewish movement uses a completely different calendar for the Biblical and Jewish holidays, how is it going to best fulfill its mandate of reaching out to Jewish people with the good news of Israel’s Messiah? Attendance at Messianic Jewish congregations peaks during any of the holidays, after all!

While today’s Messianic Jewish movement follows the pre-calculated calendar of the wider Jewish community, it is widely observed that the independent Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement does not tend to follow the mainstream Jewish calendar. A number of fellowships and groups within the Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement may be seen to follow the mainstream Jewish calendar, for most of the dates of the Biblical holidays, with a number of exceptions like following the Saddusaical rather than Pharisaical determination of counting the omer to Shavuot. The Saddusaical method of counting the omer reckons “the day after the sabbath” (Leviticus 23:11, NASU) to be the weekly Sabbath during the Festival of Unleavened Bread, whereas the Pharisaical method interprets the Sabbath here as being the High Sabbath of the Festival of Unleavened Bread. It is historically documented though that the Pharisaical method was followed in Second Temple times (Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 3.250-251; Philo Special Laws 2.162), and it is what is observed in the Jewish community today.[2]

Unlike Messianic Judaism, the independent and mostly non-Jewish Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement will widely follow various calendars of its own invention. Some of these calendars will follow the determination of the New Moon as offered by the Karaite movement in Israel, a Jewish sect which rejects all forms of Rabbinical authority and the commentary of the Oral Torah. At the same time, other fellowships and groups are witnessed to formulate their own calendar on the basis of their own sighting of the New Moon, at a place outside of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel, which is usually where they meet. Further complications are witnessed when various groups’ presumed “restored Biblical calendar” interjects speculations on the actual year since the Creation of the universe, but most especially prognostications about the time of the Messiah’s return.

Ultimately, the issue involving the calendar followed by today’s Messianics does concern our approach to Jewish tradition and the authority of the Rabbis. Many people are of the opinion that Jewish religious authorities which have rejected Yeshua of Nazareth, are to be rejected as having any legitimate things to say about any Biblical matters. Others, per Yeshua’s words about the Pharisaical authorities sitting in the seat of Moses (Matthew 23:2-3), would conclude that the Jewish religious authorities should be followed in major matters such as what calendar should be followed for the Biblical holidays. Spiritual hypocrisy is actually what is to be dismissed (Matthew 23:4-35), not the dates on which the religious community remembers the Passover. For Messianic Jews, and non-Jewish Believers in the Messianic movement, following the mainstream Jewish calendar for all of the dates of the appointed times, is as much about Jewish outreach and evangelism, as it is about recognizing that the Jewish religious leaders do have an authority to not be easily disregarded. What kind of testimony is it to Jewish non-Believers, to not stand in solidarity with them during the appointed times—because a completely different calendar may be followed?[3]

Traditional Jewish Liturgy

There is little doubting the fact that liturgy is an important part of traditional Jewish worship, which the Messianic Jewish community is significantly affected by. Any Messianic Jewish service, on Shabbat or otherwise, is going to employ traditional and customary Jewish prayers and hymns. The significant majority of the liturgical prayers found in the siddur are taken either directly from Tanach Scripture, or from the prayers and hymns offered up to God in the worship of the First and Second Temples.

While it might be said that in the Orthodox Jewish tradition, liturgy and traditional prayers make up the bulk of one’s worship activities—a moderate amount of mixed Hebrew and English liturgy is what one tends to find in the Messianic Jewish community, concurrent with what is seen in Conservative or Reform Judaism. For many Messianic Jews, employing liturgy in congregational worship services is not just a vital part of being connected to one’s Jewish heritage and the prayers issued to God from one’s ancestors; it is also a critical part of providing structure and reverence to corporate worship. Many non-Jewish Believers, from various Protestant backgrounds, greatly appreciate the value of liturgy, particularly in its ability to instill a sense of holiness.

Not everyone who comes into the Messianic movement likes liturgy. Some Messianic Jews, who were perhaps raised in Orthodox settings, would prefer that little or no traditional Hebrew liturgy be used by today’s Messianic movement. Those from Pentecostal or charismatic backgrounds, are those who especially frown or oppose any usage of liturgy, as it is believed that only spontaneous forms of prayer are acceptable to God. Statements by Yeshua the Messiah, are typically invoked to dismiss any place for liturgy. Did He not say, “And when you are praying, do not babble on and on like the pagans; for they think they will be heard because of their many words” (Matthew 6:7, TLV)? Did He not also criticize the Pharisees of His day, in how they “make long prayers as a show” (Luke 20:47, TLV)? Frequently, there are those who conclude that liturgy only facilitates dead, rigid religion.

Yeshua the Messiah certainly opposed prayers which were repeated over and over by the religious leaders of His day, for the sole purpose of others observing them and being seemingly impressed by false, outward piety. However, how many of us in our spontaneous prayers to God, have ever been led to open our Bibles and read the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), or perhaps recite a Psalm? If you have ever done this, you have employed a liturgical style of worship.

Today’s Messianic congregations should not unnecessarily bore people with endless Hebrew liturgy, where one’s worship activities become stale and manufactured. At the same time, liturgical worship does have a place in one’s remembrance of Shabbat and the appointed times. When employed properly, it is something that can be edifying, spiritually enlightening, and above all cause each of us to stand in awe of the holiness of Israel’s God.

Extra-Torah and Extra-Biblical Jewish Remembrances

Within the annual cycle of the Messianic Jewish community, there are various holidays beyond those of the appointed times of Leviticus 23 which are observed. These holidays commemorate events which post-date the Exodus. Within Holy Scripture, Purim commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people from the schemes of Haman to annihilate them. Mordechai saw to it that an annual remembrance be founded (Esther 9:20-22). Messianic Jewish Believers and most non-Jewish Believers in the Messianic movement recognize that without the deliverance of Purim, there would have been no Jewish people into which the Messiah Yeshua would be born. They recognize the value of Purim, although from time to time one will find people in the independent Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement who (significantly) frown on it. It is their opinion that commemorating historical events in the life of Israel, subsequent to the giving of the Torah, is “adding” to the commandments.

Chanukah, or the Feast of Dedication, is an extra-Biblical holiday commemorating the defeat of the Syrian Greeks and cleansing of the Temple (1 Maccabees 4:59). In the Jewish community today, Chanukah is remembered for eight days, where families and synagogues light the menorah, eat traditional foods such as potato latkes, and give gifts to one another. In Biblical Studies, the events surrounding the Second Century B.C.E. Maccabean crisis are imperative to understanding some of the complicated relations between Jews, Greeks, and Romans in the time of Yeshua and His early followers. The Jewish people faced forced assimilation into Hellenistic paganism, and rightly resisted. Today’s Messianic Jewish community appropriately celebrates Chanukah, as did Israel’s Messiah (John 10:22). People in the independent Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement will, at times, be found dismissive of Chanukah, thinking that its remembrance is in violation of the Torah—when the celebration of Chanukah is technically similar to American Independence Day or any holiday remembering an important victory over evil.

Your Further Education in the Appointed Times

Whether you are a Jewish Believer in Yeshua, who is reconnecting with his or her heritage as a result of your Messiah faith, or a non-Jewish Believer first connecting with his or her Hebrew and Jewish Roots—every year the appointed times are remembered, is going to be a year of learning something new and important. This might involve further Bible studies, a greater appreciation for ancient histories, or admiring various Jewish traditions and customs. The appointed times possess a significant Messianic substance to them (Colossians 2:17), and as such we should learn more about the salvation history work of Yeshua when we observe them. Given the fact that we are all limited human beings on a steady path toward greater spiritual maturity, we also have the responsibility to learn to act and behave more like Yeshua, and focus on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable” (Philippians 4:8, TLV).


NOTES

[1] Two books that have widely framed the debate are Samuele Bacchiocchi, From Sabbath to Sunday (Rome: Pontifical Gregorian University Press, 1977), defending the validity of the seventh-day Sabbath from a Seventh-Day Adventist perspective, and D.A. Carson, ed., From Sabbath to Lord’s Day (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1999 [1982 actual publication]), cross-examining Bacchiocchi and defending Sunday as “the Lord’s Day” from a broadly evangelical viewpoint.

A more recent analysis from a Seventh-Day Adventist standpoint is Sigve K. Tonstad, The Lost Meaning of the Seventh Day (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2009). More general is Christopher John Donato, ed., Perspectives on the Sabbath: Four Views (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2011).

[2] For a further evaluation of technical details, consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Omer Count.”

[3] For a further discussion, consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Biblical Calendar.”