Archive for October, 2009

The Two Parts of Israel: Reflections on the Continuing Relevance of Rabbinic Judaism for the Messianic Community

 

One of the causes of the difficulties inherent in either the “One Law” (TorahResource) or the “Divine Invitation” (FFOZ) theological models — which were discussed in our two previous posts — is perhaps that we not duly consider all the factors involved in the issue of Gentile Torah observance. It might be that one of the neglected factors in the problem is in fact part of the solution. By this factor I mean the yet unbelieving part of Israel, more precisely: Rabbinic Judaism.

What I’m thinking of is that perhaps traditional Rabbinic Judaism and the Messianic Community are, in a mysterious way, working in tandem, so to say, for the sake of the redemption of the world.

During the time-period covered by the first parts of the Book of the Acts — the part preceding the introduction of the Gentiles, roughly Acts chs. I-IX — there were two possible results of the mission of Yeshua’s Apostles to the nation of Israel. The first possibility was that all Israel accepted the Messiah; the second was that only a part of the nation accepted him. If all Israel had accepted him, the national restoration of Israel would have happened first, is my hypothesis, and, after that, the ingathering of the Gentiles would have followed. In that schedule of things there would be no problem as we now have it of a premature mixing of Jews and Gentiles, because Israel would have been firmly restored in the Land first.

This is not what happened, as we all know. Only a minor part of the nation accepted Yeshua as Messiah. And this fact caused a change in the historical schedule of things. Now the believing remnant of Israel had to go to the Gentiles and lead them to the Kingdom of Messiah, before the national restoration of the chosen people. In this schedule the remnant minority had to mix with Gentiles in the formation of the Messianic Community. The unbelieving majority was now given the historical role of preserving Jewish national identity. Thus Israel was split “into two bands” (cf. Gen. 32:7, 10). In the great spiritual struggle against the Roman Empire (the spiritual descendants of Esau), Jacob had become two bands. One was made the instrument of “attack”. This was the missionary part that believed in Messiah. The other part stood — and until now still stands — aloof. This state of affairs can be interpreted as being part of a deep spiritual strategy, for “if Esau come to the one company, and smite it — which has happened in the formation of Roman Catholicism, when the remainders of the faithful Jewish remnant were swallowed and Torah obedient messianic faith was destroyed — then the other company which is left (i.e. Rabbinic Judaism) shall escape” (Gen. 32:8).

Maybe Paul is alluding to the emerging reality of an Israel divided in two companies when he says, in Rom. 11:25: “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in”. What I mean is that, after the fact of the rejction of Messiah by the leading majority of the nation, this splitting of Israel, and this division of roles indicated above, became a kind of necessity (with emphasis on “after the fact”). A further indication for this interpretation can perhaps be found in Paul’s words immediately following: “And so (i.e. in exactly this manner) all Israel shall be saved”. Paul’s words seem to signify that the very process of blinding is part of the greater story of Israel’s redemption.

One part of Israel, the remnant, is saved within the Messianic Community. The other part is “saved” — i.e. historically preserved — without it and will ultimately be saved in its eschatological encounter with Messiah at his second and definitive coming.

My guess is that during this time of Israel being “two companies” the Messianic Community is called to express the perfect unity of Jew and Gentile as “one new man” in Messiah (Eph. 2:15). This perfect unity of Jew and Gentile in faith and observance — which naturally includes the possibility of intermarriage — is an anticipation of the state of affairs in the World to Come, when the unity of mankind will be perfectly restored. In the meanwhile the unbelieving part of Israel is functioning — through the sovereign counsel of G-d which cannot be thwarted by their unbelief — as the preserver of the peculiar identity of the chosen nation in preparation of the Kingdom Age, when Israel as a nation will be ultimately redeemed and fully restored (cf. Acts 1:6-7!).

If what I said is true, then there is a solution for the difficulties signalled in the interaction of Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic Community (either according to the “One Law” or the “Divine Invitation” model). The equality of Jew and Gentile in the Messianic Community can be maintained and propagated, including their equal access to the blessings of the Torah and the possibility of intermarriage — which actually is a very beautiful illustration of the union between Jew and Gentile as “one new man” — because the distinct preservation of Jewish national identity is relegated to traditional Judaism and is in save hands there, until Messiah will return.

I acknowledge, of course, that this hypothesis has to be further examined. But what I like about it is that it gives a positive role to traditional Judaism, while at the same time it keeps its focus firmly on Messiah and does not give way to a cheap “two-ways” –theology in dealing with the division between traditional and messianic Judaism.

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“Divine Invitation”, “One Law” and the Case for Intermarriage: Some Nagging Questions Asked From A Generational Perspective

 

The following questionary remarks on intermarriage are meant as a follow-up of the comments on my previous article, “FFOZ’s New Theology of Divine Inviation”. They should be viewed as a contribution to the ongoing discussion between the “One Law”-viewpoint of TorahResource and the new “Invitation Theology” of FFOZ. This is the second in a series of articles devoted to enquiring the recent theological shift at FFOZ.

If we adopt the “One Law” position endorsed by Tim Hegg of the ministry of TorahResource [1], intermarriage heightens the problem — already inherent in this position — that being Jewish loses all practical and legal relevance, at least within the context of the Messianic Community, since both Jew and non-Jew are accountable to the same standards regarding Torah observance. The distinction between Jew and non-Jew evaporates into an empty distinction that only reveals something about a person’s descent. Intermarriage in this theological position has the additional effect of completely wiping out Jewishness. For the question that arises now is: what offspring of a mixed marriage should count as Jewish offspring? Offspring of a Jewish mother? Of at least one Jewish parent? What halachah is to decide this question? What halachah is to be followed in this domain by communities who adopt a “One Law” position?

The inevitable effect of “One Law” — at least as it is currently proposed — is that after a few generations all children that stay within the community will simply enjoy a homogeneous “Israelite” status without any remaining possibility to determine whether they are in fact Jewish or Gentile. The Jew-Gentile distinction is thus not merely made irrelevant, i.e. of no practical importance; it is also made unmanageable, i.e. unfit to be handled at all. It simply can no longer be known, and thus no longer reasonably be asked, who is a Jew and who is a non-Jew, for these names do not make sense any more. Only new members, coming from traditional Judaism could rightly be called Jews in “One Law” communities.

This seems to imply that the “One Law” position, that endorses the full equality between Jew and Gentile within the Body of Messiah, remains dependent on traditional Judaism in referring to persons as Jews or non-Jews. In declaring the equality of Jew and non-Jew in matters of Torah it makes use of the commonplace Jew-Gentile distinction while at the same wiping out its relevance and, for future generations, even its meaning. It uses the names “Jew” and “non-Jew” thus in a parasitic manner, for its communal policy doesn’t allow for the preservation of the distinction referred to by these names.

If we adopt the FFOZ “Invitation theology” perspective, intermarriage itself has problematic aspects. For the Invitation perspective requires a clear distinction between Jewish believers, who are legally obligated to full Torah observance, and Gentile believers, who are not under the same obligation. Now the question is: What actually does happen, legally or halachically, in the case of intermarriage? Does the Gentile partner perhaps become formally obligated to the whole Torah by his or her marriage with a Jewish person? In other words, does he or she become Jewish by the marriage itself, (for being Jewish and being obligated to the entire Torah are one and the same thing, according to FFOZ author Daniel Lancaster in his blogpost: “An Unbearable Yoke”)?[2] If not, how is unity of observance to be preserved in such a marriage?

What halachah is to be followed in this question? And what is the status of the children? Are they Jews or non-Jews? This is a matter of importance here, because if they are Jews they are born within the legal framework of being obligated to the Torah. If they are Gentiles, however, their relation to the Torah is one of invitation. If, for example, a certain male child is considered Jewish, it will make sense to have a Bar-Mitzvah ceremony when he reaches the age of 13 years. This would be superfluous — or non-obligatory at least — in the case of a Gentile male child. One can legitimately ask whether it is recommendable at all to have Jewish and Gentile children to have strong communal ties if the obligations of the one are to be considerably different from the obligations of the other. And how can, in the situation of a mixed marriage,  a Gentile father, who is only invited, not legally obligated to a Torah obedient lifestyle, prepare his presumably Jewish children for a lifestyle of obligatory obedience to the requirements of the Torah in a credible and sustainable way?

If the traditional halachah is followed Invitation theology leads to the consequence that intermarriage between a Gentile man and a Jewish woman causes the children to be Jewish. However, traditional halachah also teaches that such a marriage, although it is valid, is prohibited. Should this traditional halachah be adopted by the Messianic Community? This would lead to a general prohibition of intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews within the Body of Messiah. And then the question about the wisdom of having Jews and Gentiles together in one (local) community returns.

Intermarriage and offspring are very interesting topics for investigating the broader and deeper inherent problems and viabilities of the diverse theological positions on Gentile Torah observance. Thus far, however, all proposed solutions — save only perhaps that one that simply keeps intact the since long accepted traditional distinctions and separations between Jews and Gentiles — seem to lead to rather puzzling and confusing consequences. These traditional distinctions and separations, however, although internally consistent, are clearly opposed to the message of the Apostolic Writings. In these writings, and particularly in the letters of Paul, the Body of Messiah is regarded as a community in which Jews and Gentiles worship and live together. And thus the problems surrounding intermarriage in a messianic context remain unsolved for the time being.

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[1] For example in Fellow Heirs: Jews & Gentiles Together in the Family of God, First Fruits of Zion — Littleton, Colorado 2003. And in his article: “Is the Torah Only for Jews?”. The pdf-version of this article can be found at: http://www.google.nl/search?hl=nl&source=hp&q=%22Is+the+Torah+Only+for+Jews%3F%22&btnG=Google+zoeken&meta=&aq=f&oq=

[2] D. Thomas Lancaster, “An Unbearable Yoke”, In: FFOZ Blogs, at: http://ffoz.org/blogs/2009/09/an_unbearable_yoke_acts_1510.html