Archive for the 'Halachah' Category

Messianic Quandaries about the “Oral Torah” of Rabbinic Judaism

by Geert ter Horst

Carl Schleicher — A Matter of Contention in the Talmud

Torah observant Messianics need to reflect on the status of what is called the “Oral Torah” — and Jewish tradition in general — for their religious practice. On the one hand it is clear that Yeshua followed many of the traditions of the Pharisees of his days, while on the other hand it cannot be denied that he opposed at least some of their traditions (cf. Mark 7:1-23).

Because of our adherence to Yeshua, we seem to enter quandaries and conundrums as soon as we get into the specific details about how actually to practice Torah. For example: It is a divine obligation to recite the Shema twice daily? Are we to follow the rabbinic guidelines about daily prayer, the halachot of Shabbat, &c?

We are in a dilemma here that cannot easily be solved and that carries with it many paradoxes or even outright contradictions. It is very difficult to accept one part of the “Oral Torah” and to reject another, and yet it is clear that we as Messianics cannot accept all of it, because this would imply our rejection of Yeshua. I have made a short list of the difficulties involved, to give a first impression of our whereabouts in this complex field

As already stated, it is part of the “Oral Torah” to reject the claims of Yeshua. Because this rejection is considered essential for Orthodox Judaism’s definition of the Jewish faith, full acceptance of the “Oral Torah” by Messianics is out of the question.

The “Oral Torah” cannot — per definitionem — be identified with any written document. It is actually nothing else but the living voice of Rabbinic Judaism in its own understanding of the normativity of Jewish tradition. For the “Oral Torah” requires the system of rabbinic authority. However, in the same manner as it is clear that we cannot accept Judaism’s rejection of Yeshua, it is also clear that we cannot without qualifications accept the authority of the Rabbis who are the embodiment of the “Oral Torah”, including its rejection of Yeshua.

According to the “Oral Torah” Gentile Messianics are simply Gentiles and nothing else. Paradoxically, our subjection to rabbinic legislation is not accepted by Judaism itself. If a Gentile Messianic should inform an orthodox Rabbi that he is obedient to the Jewish part of the “Oral Torah”, this Rabbi would contradict him by saying that in fact he isn’t obedient at all but instead very disobedient, perhaps even defiantly disobedient. For, the Rabbi would argue, while knowing quite well that Gentiles should only obey the Noachide laws, he tries to observe the laws of Israel that were never meant for him. The proper subjection of Gentiles to rabbinic authority should mean their obedience to only those parts of the “Oral Torah” which are clearly for Gentiles. Thus, on the basis of the prescriptions of the Jewish part of the “Oral Torah” itself it appears that Gentiles in fact disobey it by the very fact that they attempt to obey it. Such an attempt is completely illegal from a rabbinic viewpoint, and from the orthodox perspective it can be compared to the attempts of Korach and his followers who wanted to be priests. The only exception here is the case of giur (proselyte conversion). Gentiles are permitted to obey the Jewish parts of the Torah if they make serious efforts to become orthodox converts.

The Apostolic Writings are in the category of prohibited books by Orthodox Judaism, and this prohibition is certainly part of the “Oral Torah”. So, if we accept the entire “Oral Torah” we — eo ipso — reject the Apostolic Writings.

If we say that we as Messianics have our own viewpoint, and that we in part accept the “Oral Torah”, we seem to run into a predicament. For the very splitting up of the “Oral Torah” into parts seems to be something that, properly spoken, cannot be done at all, because it is clear that the living voice of Judaism is undivided. By its very definition the “Oral Torah” is an undivided whole which is not written and which can never be identified with its written historical sources, e.g. the Mishnah and the Talmud. This seems to exclude that Gentile believers can have proper access to the “Oral Torah” at all. For whatever written sources of the “Oral Torah” are studied by them, these sources, when detached from living Judaism, are not the “Oral Torah”.

The statement that as Messianics we accept certain parts of the “Oral Torah” needs further clarification. Above all, it requires a criterion that can provide us the instrument to decide between which parts of the “Oral Torah” should be accepted and which parts of it should be rejected. But where can that criterion, or instrument, be found? There seem only two available candidates here: The Apostolic Scriptures and the authority of the Christian Church. Of these two the authority of the Christian Church can be easily dismissed, for nothing at all of the “Oral Torah” and very little of the Written Torah is accepted by the Church. If, however, we try to find our criterion in the Apostolic Scriptures we face the big problems that, (1), these Scriptures do not nearly cover the whole domain of the “Oral Torah” and that, (2), these Scriptures were canonized by the same Christian Church which rejects the “Oral Torah”.

Only a few items of the “Oral Torah” are discussed or touched upon in the Apostolic Writings, and it is very difficult to develop from these the general instrument required to judge what to accept of the “Oral Torah”. Although we can safely conclude that for us as Messianics no part of the “Oral Torah” or rabbinic legislation may be accepted which contradicts the words of Yeshua and his Apostles, yet this negative rule of contradiction is by far not sufficient to provide us the criterion we are searching for. From this rule we can only conclude which parts of the “Oral Torah” should be rejected but not which parts should be accepted — except those of course which we already found to be observed and taught in the Apostolic Writings.

In particular we cannot, by means of the Apostolic Writings, know which later halachic delopments would have been accepted and authorized by the Apostles, had they lived in our times.

If we accept the “Oral Torah” in part — which seems to be the only possibility for Messianics — then not only a formal criterion is required for determining what parts should be accepted, but also a ruling halachic authority able to make these decisions. But it is by no means clear where this authority is to be found. We don’t have Apostles anymore nor any other undisputed authoritative body.

These difficulties should be duly recognized and as long as they remain unsolved we should try to be moderate in all things and not by our personal acceptance of disputable rabbinic halachot implicitly or explicitly lay burdens on the communities we belong to. However, in order to prevent individualism and sectarianism in our observance, we should accept rabbinic halachah where it is practically undisputed and not in any conflict with either the Written Torah or the other Scriptures, including the Apostolic Writings, as the default option for our observance. In this way we can accept much of it theoretically albeit hypothetically as well as practically.

And we should take heed of the warning expressed by David Stern in his Messianic Jewish Manifesto (p. 172) about making modifications in Jewish liturgy and ceremonies, when he said: “It would be wise for us to make such modifications only after much thought and prayer. For we are dealing with ceremonies weighted with intellectual, emotional and spiritual meaning. Ad hoc changes are likely to prove tasteless, offensive, theologically erroneous, or all three”. In my opinion this warning is not only applicable to ceremony and liturgy, but to the entire framework of halachah.

Are Kitniyot Permitted on Passover?


In the Video here below of Torah Nation TV a great explanation is given by Rabbi David Bar-Hayim of Machon Shilo, as to why he considers Kitniyot to be completely permissible on Passover for everyone, including Askenazim.  According to R. Bar-Hayim the stringency of Kitniyot was never really binding, and was rejected by a number of outstanding Rishonim as erroneous, ill-informed, and even roundly stupid. Watch the Video and draw you own conclusion.

This Video can also be viewed at the website of Jewish Press. You’ll find it included in the article: Is It Time to Abandon Kitniyot?, April 11, 2014.

Why Extinguishing a Fire Could be Considered Permissible on Yom Tov

Exploring an Awkward Halachic Problem


by Geert ter Horst

Should it be kept burning during Yom Tov?

Should it be kept burning during Yom Tov?

[This article is exclusively written for scholarly discussion purposes. It’s author, and his opinion expressed here, have no halachic authority or competence.]

The traditional halachah distinguishes between two manners of making fire: (1) creating a flame from a flame, and (2) creating a flame from a non-flame. On Yom Tov the first is permitted while the second is prohibited. [1] On Shabbat both are prohibited. On all other days both are permitted.

Creating a flame from a flame comprises three kinds of activity: (1) Transferring a flame from one place to another place; (2) Increasing the magnitude or intensity of a flame; (3) Numerically diversifying a flame, either by splitting it up or by extending it to other combustible material. [2]

I.      The Problem: Extinguishing a Fire on Yom Tov

My purpose in this article is to address a particular problem which arises on Yom Yov. This is the problem that after cooking — a biblically permitted activity on Yom Tov (Ex. 12:16) — it is not permitted to extinguish the flame of the furnace. The reason for this prohibition is that extinguishing a flame is treated as the negative equivalent to creating it. So if I simply turn off the gas switch of the furnace after cooking, this is considered as the negative equivalent of striking a match. It is creating a non-flame from a flame, which is equally prohibited as the positive creating of a flame from a non-flame. [3]

The alternatives are either to leave the flame burning or to let it extinguish through some permissible cooking activity. The first alternative is often considered dangerous or alarming, especially if there are children around. The classic suggestion is here to put a pan of water on the furnace, using the same flame, for making soup or tea, and to let the water boil over it. This will cause the flame to be extinguished. This solution is often considered awkward and no less dangerous, either because of the risk of forgetting to turn the switch off after the flame is extinguished, or because this method is not infallible and the flame sometimes stays burning.

The question is thus: Are there no halachic reasons why extinguishing a flame could be considered permitted? Actually there are, and I’ll present three of them.

1.     The Yom-Tov rule for creating a fire is that is should be derived from an existing flame. Extinguishing such a derived fire just seems to be the complementary equivalent to creating it. Therefore it seems that such a derived fire may be extinguished under the condition that its source flame keeps burning.

2.     Extinguishing the flame after cooking marks the completion of the cooking process, and for that reason should be considered as part of this process. Since cooking is permitted, its completion must be permitted too.

3.     The traditional prohibition leads to dangerous and awkward situations and thus to discouragement of cooking on the Yamim Tovim. Discouraging cooking cannot be the purpose of the halachah and the dangerous situations are detrimental of experiencing the typical joy of the holy day.

Against the first reason one can argue that, once a derived flame is brought into existence, it is a flame in its own right, which exists independently from its source flame. Its existence is only dependent on its fuel, the combustible material that was brought into contact with the source flame.

Extinguishing a derived flame is therefore not the exact opposite of its bringing into existence. In fact, there is no difference between extinguishing a flame that was derived from a source flame and extinguishing the source flame itself.

The halachic problem is thus that, although there is a difference in the coming into existence between a fire that is generated absolutely and one that is generated from another flame, there is no corresponding difference in the going out of existence between these two types of flames. The reason for this lack of a corresponding difference in the act of extinguishing is that the causal connection between the source flame and the derived flame only concerns the process of generation, the coming into existence.

The secondary or derived flame is not dependent on the source flame for its existence absolutely, but only for its coming into existence. There is no continuous dependence. Albeit the derived flame is generated by another flame, its dependence on this other flame ceases as soon as the generation process is completed. Producing fire by deriving if from an existing flame is thus a case of univocal causality: a new examplar of the same species is generated. Extinguishing a derived flame is a case of producing non-fire out of fire, which the exact complement of producing fire out of non-fire. Since the last is forbidden, the first is also forbidden.

II.     A Possible Solution Considered

Perhaps there may be a way out here if we give a more detailed attention to the above mentioned three ways of creating fire from fire. Nobody considers it prohibited to bring back a flame to its original place or room, after it was removed and transferred to another place or another room. There are also authorities who find it permissible to lower the flame during or after the cooking process — although there is some opposition to this opinion. Now, if two of the three permitted activities of creating a flame from a flame have their permitted negative equivalent in a reversal of these activities, one would expect there to be such an equivalent for the third as well.

If we take the first activity, transferrring a flame to another location, we see that it is symmetrical, meaning that it’s negative equivalent is included in it. If we bring a burning candle from the dining room to the kitchen, the flame not only starts to exist in the kitchen but it also ceases to exist in the dining room. The cessation of existence in one location is here an inseparable aspect of its coming to existence in another location, in a continuous movement. This movement is purely accidental to the flame itself.

This symmetry is lost, however, when we compare the enlargement or intensification of a flame, the second activity, to diminishing its intensity or magnitude. By lowering the flame of a furnace we ‘destroy’ a part of it by making it smaller in size. If we increase the magnitude of a flame no such destruction occurs. The two changes here are not symmetrical. The destruction is not part of the increasing but only of the decreasing. For this reason some authorities are opposed to lowering a flame on Yom Tov, because of the partial destruction involved in it. Enlarging or diminishing its size affects the flame itself. And while the first is undoubtedly permitted, since it is the creating of fire from fire, the second is often considered of dubious permissibility since it involves a destruction, a partial creation of non-fire from fire.

When the third activity of making fire from fire, the numerical multiplication of a flame, is compared to its negative equivalent, extinguishing a derived flame, not only the above mentioned symmetry is lost. There’s the additional problem that the extinguishing itself doesn’t seem to be the proper equivalent of the kindling. For the kindling is done by means of another flame and is in the category of generating fire from fire. But the extinguishing is a simple destruction and is the return of fire to non-fire. So we again meet the obstacle that there doesn’t seem to be a real negative equivalent of the permissible action of creating new flames from existing ones.

We have to conclude now that the three kinds of activity: transferring, increasing and multiplying, are not comparable to each other in all respects. In the first the negative equivalent is simply included in the positive because of the symmetry of movement; in the second this negative equivalent is not included but is a separate action; in the third there doesn’t even seem to exist a real negative equivalent of the activity at all.

However, matters may not be exactly as they seem. For there’s an aspect in the extinguishing which until now was left out of our consideration. We saw in the above that the generation of a new flame from an existing one is a case of univocal causality, whereby a new individual of the same species is generated. It is this analysis in terms of individual and species which may be relevant here.

III.    Analysis in Terms of Species and Individual

By a numerical expansion nothing new is created in the order of the species (flame), only in the order of the individual: the number of light- or fire-bearers is multiplied. What happens is not the generation of fire per se but only of instances of fire. Similarly, by a numerical reduction nothing is destroyed in the order of the species, only in the order of the individual: the number of light- or fire-bearers is reduced.

Now for the purpose of our analysis the species must here be accurately defined as fire or flame of Yom Tov (within the limits of a particular household).

It is clear when we hypothetically consider reducing the number of fire-bearers during Yom Tov as permitted, that care should be taken that this number is not reduced to zero. For then the species (i.e. the Yom Tov fire itself) would be extinguished. Reduction to zero corresponds to the situation in which a numerical expansion would start from zero, which is not permitted on Yom Tov because it implies the act of creating fire from non-fire.

Simply reducing the number without reducing it to zero can be considered permitted, however, because it is the negative equivalent of producing more flames from other flames. In this analysis such a reduction is not an act of making non-fire from fire. For before and after there is fire. It is an act of diminishing the number of flames, or instances of fire. If one considers the extinguishing of an individual flame here as making non-fire from fire, then, equivalently, the ignition of new combustible material (for instance new candles) in the multiplication of flames should be consisered as making fire from non-fire. But this would destroy the whole permission to multiply the number of flames by deriving a flame from another flame. And thus the logical consequence of this permission seems to be that reducing the number of flames is permitted. For fire is not extinguished absolutely or on the level of the species, but only an instance of it or on the level of the individual.

IV.    Hypothetical Conclusion

This halachic option is dependent, as the reader will have noticed, on the opinion that accepts the permissibility of decreasing the intensity or magnitude of a derived flame. If the partial ‘destruction’ of an individual flame is prohibited, then obviously its total destruction will also be prohibited. If, however, the destruction of an individual flame is permitted under the condition that its source flame keeps burning, then obviously the partial destruction of an individual flame is also permitted.

If my conclusion is valid, the awkward and dangerous situations referred to in the exposition of the problem (in the first paragraph), can be easily avoided, without the specific halachic distinctiveness of Yom Tov being damaged.

A question which may possibly arise here is the following: What about the situation in which a Yom Tov fire is in existence and a new fire is produced directly, without deriving it from an existing flame? Is there no danger that this too would become permitted under this new halachic option? For this doesn’t seem to be an expansion from zero to one, because there was already a flame burning.

The answer to this question is simply that a newly created flame is outside the species of Yom Tov fire. For it belongs to the nature or definition of Yom Tov fire that it isn’t created from non-fire. Therefore this procedure would still be not permissible. Under this halachic perspective it would thus remain prohibited to extinguish a Yom Tov source flame, i.e. a flame which was already burning before the arrival of Yom Tov and which was kindled in advance in order to derive other flames from it during Yom Tov.


[1] Ganzfried III.98.1: “Carrying objects from one place to another, and kindling a fire  are also permitted on a festival, even when not needed for cooking but for some other purpose.”
Ganzfried III.98.31: “It is not permissible to draw fire on a festival, either from a flint, , or a glass, or a match.” [R. Solomon Ganzfried, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Hebrew Publishing Company — New York 2004 (1961).]

[2] Zevin I.23: “To produce fire (as opposed to using, increasing, or transferring an already burning flame) is forbidden.” [R. Shlomo Yosef Zevin, The Festivals in Halachah Vol I, Mesorah Publications — New York 2002 (1981).]

[3] The reason why simply creating a flame from a non-flame is prohibited is the legal principle that those parts of food preparation which can be done beforehand, without diminishing the quality of the food, should not be done on the Yom Tov. The prohibition of producing fire is held to be scriptural by some because they hold this legal principle to be scriptural.

On the Separation of Meat & Milk: Why the Traditional Halachah Should be Followed


by Geert ter Horst

Recently, Tim Hegg (TorahResource ministry) has written a paper on the issue of the separation of meat and dairy. [1] He concludes that this part of traditional kashrut is not biblical and can be ignored by Messianics. We at Messianic613 don’t agree with Hegg and are actually of the opinion that his approach to halachah on this point shows some serious defects, and that his exegetical method leads to irresponsible and anti-traditional reductions and simplifications in kashrut observance, to endless community disputes, and even to a dissolution of the traditional halachic framework as a whole. However much as we appreciate Hegg as a reliable biblical scholar on many Torah-related questions — in particular the question of Gentile observance — we are unable to go along when he takes issue with the traditional kashrut laws of Judaism.

We intend to go into the details of Hegg’s exegesis in a separate article. Here we’ll limit ourselves to a critical review of the basic ideas of his paper.

The fundamental problem with Hegg’s paper is that it takes the Protestant Scriptura Sola axiom — plus its accompanying maxim that historical-grammatical interpretation is the all and everything — as the guideline for establishing halachah. But historical Judaism never was committed to this principle or to this exegetical maxim.

Messianics perhaps will be surprised to hear that the kashrut laws cannot be established by means of only the Written Torah. Take for example the question which species of fowl are kosher. The Pentateuch only presents us two lists of fowl families that may not be eaten (in Lev. XI, and Deut. XIV). These lists have never functioned in Jewish tradition as an exhaustive categorization of treif fowl. They are considered to be a summary of the most important prohibited fowl families, which presents us the criteria for determining which fowl is kosher and which is not. The Sages have never concluded that we can eat all fowl species that aren’t explicitly mentioned in these lists. Instead, rabbinic exegesis extracts four indicators from them, which are used as traditional criteria for determining kosher fowl species. [2] To avoid all risk of error the Rabbis have since long refused to add any later discovered species to the list of permitted fowl. Only species uncontested by tradition are permitted. They are the following: All members of the chicken family, domesticated ducks, domesticated geese, pigeons, and domesticated turkeys.

There is no dispute in the messianic world about this, and everyone seems to accept the rabbinic tradition on kosher fowl. At least until now we don’t hear of Messianics that want to expand the list of kosher fowl to everything that isn’t included in the families explicitly prohibited by the biblical texts. However, Messianics generally are so ignorant in halachic issues that the majority of them may never have heard of the fact that the criteria for kosher fowl are to a high degree dependent on rabbinic tradition.

Another important principle of kashrut is that milk and eggs are only permissible if they are produced by kosher cattle and fowl. This is not a biblical commandment but part of the Oral Torah. [3] This principle is also accepted by Messianics, at least in in practice. Or, if it is not, new discussions will inevitably come up, e.g. about the permissibility of camel’s milk and ostrich’s eggs.

The traditional separation of meat and milk has to do with typical features of halachic exegesis, which differs from historico-grammatical exegesis. In halachic exegesis the main purpose is not to find out the literal and/or historical meaning of the text, but to rely on an interpretation which minimizes the danger of transgressing the Torah. From a traditional viewpoint historico-grammatical exegesis is always feeble and unreliable, since historical knowledge can change. One would take great risks if one tried to establish the halachah solely on the basis of the discipline of historical-grammatical scholarship. Now since the Torah text says “thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk” and it is difficult to establish what exactlty is meant by this injunction, halachic exegesis opts for the interpretation that all mixtures of meat and milk are prohibited. By doing so we are quite sure that, whatever is the true and divinely intended meaning of this commandment, we won’t transgress it. And that’s the essential thing.

It may be clear from the above that the concept of “biblically kosher” is erroneous and unsustainable. It only leads to endless discussions and congregational quarrels, resulting in the situation of each individual making his own halachah. Such a disaster should be avoided at all costs. The rules of kashrut are a community matter which concerns the whole Jewish nation and the whole Assembly of Messiah. No-one can make decisions here on his own, for this would lead to a complete chaos. And no local congregational leadership or ministry has any say in this matter.

Messianics do better not to try to outsmart the Rabbis in these highly technical domains such as kashrut, the rules of Shabbat, the construction of a mikvah and so on. The classical solutions are often the simplest and the best.

Perhaps it may be added to this that observing the separation of milk and meat is not a burden at all. The point is simply to take the trouble of installing and kashering one’s kitchen once and for all and separate all items correctly. After that, everything goes smoothly. But Messianics often seem to be so concerned with possible ‘burdens’ that they actually prefer to make matters more complicated and burdensome by their endless and repetitive discussions and quarrels on long-established matters, presumably having the idea that they should re-invent the wheel. As said, this is simply not a smart appraoch.

In its classic form, kashrut teaches us symbolically about two great truths of the Torah. The first is that there are things that are bad, e.g. stealing and lying, and that there are things that are good, e.g. honoring one’s parents and speaking the truth in love. This truth is symbolized by the distinction between kosher and treif. The second truth is that there are things that are good in their own right but cannot be combined with other things, e.g. family love and marital love, the combination of which is incest; or working for one’s bread and the Sabbath day, which constitutes a transgression of the Sabbath. Working for one’s bread is good and observing the Sabbath day is good, but working for one’s bread on the Sabbath day is not good. Marital love is good, and family love between children and parents and sisters and brothers is good. But both cannot be combined in one and the same relation. This truth is symbolized by the separation of milk and meat.

Kashrut is full of spiritualtity and beauty, if kept in its entirety and according to its traditional standards. [4] Properly understood and observed, it gives us a ritual awareness in all situations of daily life, which is something to be experienced as a great blessing.

In his paper Hegg relegates everything that isn’t contained in the text of the Pentateuch to the level of rabbinic legislation, which in his eyes can be ignored. He doesn’t seem to realize that his opinion leads to a complete dissolution of traditional Jewish observance. The daily recitation of the Shema for example cannot be deduced from Scripture by historico-grammatical exegesis. Dt. 6:6-7 doesn’t say that we should recite the Shema twice daily. It says that “these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart”. It also says that we “shall talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up, &c”. But it never says that the Shema must be ‘recited’ — as part of the evening and morning prayers. This text doesn’t even properly single out the words of the Shema, for it simply refers to “these words, which I command thee this day”, which may indicate the Torah in general. [5]

Does the fact that the traditional obligation to recite the Shema twice daily cannot be demonstrated from Scripture by historico-grammatical exegesis imply that we can neglect it? Surely not. According to the traditional interpretation the reading of the Shema is indeed part of the scriptural commandments. Maimonides declares that it is expressed in the words : “and thou shalt talk of them” (Dt. 6:7). [6] Here we see how the commandments of the Written Torah are intricately interwoven with their interpretation and determination by the Oral Torah (and later rabbinic tradition). To ensure that we shall “talk of them”, i.e. that the words of the Written Torah are found in our mouth, we are told (by the Oral Torah) to recite that part of it which constitutes its spiritual center, the Shema. This result can never be obtained by historico-grammatical exegesis. It is born out of the halachic mindset to be attentive to all details of the text that may contain injunctions, and to devise practical clues on how to execute them. As a consequence of Hegg’s approach, however, the daily recitation of the Shema should fall under the same verdict as the separation of meat and dairy and be disapproved of as an ‘unbiblical’ practice.

This is only one illustration of the disastruous effects of disrespecting the Oral Torah and Jewish tradition. It leads to a type of observance which differs so much from the traditional, that in practical terms it will be viewed as establishing a new religion, based on the subjective exegesis of the biblical texts by individual ministers and their followers. Messianics should be aware of this typical Protestant pitfall of individualism.

As Messianics we should be firm in maintaining that Scripture has supreme authority. But this doesn’t imply at all the Calvinistic dogma of Sola Scriptura, making Scripture the only and exclusive source of authority. This dogma is never taught in Scripture itself.


[1] Hegg, T., “Separating Meat & Milk: An Inquiry”, at: TorahResource.

[2] The traditional four criteria are: (1) that the muscular wall of the gizzard must be easy to peel off by hand; (2) that the bird doesn’t eat in the manner of hunters, which use their claws for capturing and holding their prey; (3) that they have three toes in front and one in the back; (4) that they have crops. The first two criteria are of primary, the other of secondary importance. Ducks and geese are kosher, despite the fact that they don’t have crops, since they fulfil the two primary and one additional criteria.

[3] View for example the following summary, in the Shulchan Aruch, at:

[4] The only exception to this for Messianics would be the rabbinic halachah on gentile wine, cheese and bread. To keep the rabbinic halachah on wine makes no sense for (Gentile) Messianics, since it stipulates that the wine becomes treif if a Gentile opens the bottle, even if before opening it was rabbinically kosher according to the strictest criteria.

[5] Rivkin 272: “The Pentateuch begins with the creation of the world; the Mishnah, with the reading of the Shema. The first laws commanded to Israel relate to the Passover, whereas the first tractate of the Mishnah deals with prayers not even mandated in the Pentateuch”. [Rivkin, E., A Hidden Revolution — Abingdon, Nashville 1978]

[6] Sefer HaMitzvot #10: “By this injunction we are commanded to read the Shema daily, in the evening and in the morning. This injunction is expressed in his words (exalted be he), And thou shalt talk of them“. [Maimonides, The Commandments. The Soncino Press — London, Jerusalem, New York 1967, 1984]

Driving a Car on the Sabbath? Halachic Considerations on Travelling for the Sake of Fulfilling a Mitzvah


by Geert ter Horst

[Note: This article is only published for the purpose of study, and neither it nor its author do claim halachic authority. Questions regarding one’s personal situation and rule of observance to be followed in this matter should be directed to one’s local Rabbi.]

Many Messianics, as well as many traditional Jews who try to return to a Torah observant lifestyle, face the difficulty that to attend a worship service on the Sabbath they have to travel. Since travelling is one of the biblical Sabbath prohibitions (Ex. 16:29) and having a “holy convocation” on that day is one of the biblical Sabbath commandments (Lev. 23:3), it seems that they are on the horns of a dilemma, i.e. in a position that leaves only a choice between two transgressions.

The following considerations are meant as an exposition of what is halachically involved in travelling on the Sabbath in modern circumstances. From the outset I want to make clear that this exposition is not meant to rebuke or condemn anyone’s sincere practice in this matter. I know about the problems involved and I fully concede that there are no easy solutions. Especially for families with children growing up it is essential to have a worship service in the context of a community on the Sabbath.

One of the causes of our difficulties is that most Messianics were not born in observant families that belong to an established community. An orthodox Jew, born in an orthodox family and a member of a traditional community doesn’t face these difficulties. If, for example, he intends to apply for a new job in another town, his first thing in mind will be: where is there a Shul over there? And if he finds out that there is no Shul in that place he will cancel his plans to move to it.

From a halachic viewpoint modern ways of travelling, such as driving a car or going by train give more complications on the Sabbath than the travelling prohibition per se. In fact modern ways of travelling cause a fourfold transgression of the biblical and traditional Sabbath restrictions: kindling (and extinguishing) fire, travelling itself, carrying and handling money.

First, one cannot drive a car without kindling fire. This isn’t only about turning on and off the engine. Adding fuel to an existing flame, which occurs by touching the accelerator — or any direct handling of a flame by whatever means — is considered as a transgression of this commandment. Simply to transfer a fire that was lit before the Sabbath constitutes a transgression on the rabbinic level, since it causes a fire to be in a place where before it was not, which is one of the ways of “making” a fire. This transferring of fire of course happens continually when driving a car.

One should further consider that handling electric devices is a manner of making fire. This means that to open the car doors is already a transgression of the Sabbath — since this action causes an electric circuit to function and a light to turn on — as are numerous other things done while driving, e.g. turning on the radio, turning on and off the car lights. The reason why all these things are seen as transgressions is twofold: 1) a spark of genuine fire is generated by turning on and off an electric switch that opens or closes an electric circuit; 2) electric devices are used for generally the same purposes today as was fire in earlier times and using them constitutes creative work. In today’s halachah electricity and fire are treated as almost completely identical phenomena, and for good reasons.

If one chooses to travel by bus or by train one can avoid the kindling of fire that is involved in starting a car. However, one cannot avoid using electric devices, such as for instance turning on and off switches to open doors. This is prohibited even in the case of automatic processes that are set in motion when one runs into an electric circuit. The common halachic ruling is that the making of the fire is to be ascribed to the person who runs into the circuit, and thus causes the device to work. Thus, to give an example, a person who runs into the domain of an electric detector that causes a light or any other electric device to turn on, from a halachic perspective is making fire.

Oftentimes the opinion is expressed that in biblical times making a fire was a laborious work, and that this is the reason for the biblical prohibition. I don’t think, however, that the amount of work, or the level of exertion, is decisive here, and there are no indications to this in the texts. Work as defined in relation to the Sabbath (melachah) is about prohibited actions that are independent of the amount of work involved. The reasons for the prohibition of kindling fire are not given by the Torah, but one can easily suspect that it is a profanation because it is a creative action. Making a fire on the Sabbath destroys the idea of that day as being the perfect goal or end of creation. Kindling a fire on the Sabbath carries the message that the Sabbath isn’t perfect and is in need of additional perfection. Making fire actually shows a resemblance to what G-d did on the first day of creation, making light (Gen. 1:3).

Sometimes the argument is brought forth that fires may be lit for the sake of a Sabbath service in Shul because fire was lit in theTemple and nowadays the Body of Messiah is the Temple. This argument is not valid. Although the Assembly of Messiah is a spiritual Temple, this doesn’t imply that a messianic Shul service possesses or should possess — or by any means is able to possess — the levitical levels of sanctity and purity that were required for theTemple. The Temple is a very special and sacred domain and it is extremely difficult to make valid inferences from this sacred domain to secular places as a Shul. One cannot compare the travelling needed to attend a Synagogue service to any legitimate activity in the Temple.

Second, driving a car normally means going out of town and travelling a greater distance than permitted by the Sabbath borders. Since travelling itself is prohibited on the Sabbath it doesn’t matter much — from a practical perspective — whether a person travels by car or by other means, e.g. by walking. One transgresses the commandment of travelling as soon as one crosses the Sabbath limits. Only the number and categories of the transgressions involved are greater in the case of going by car or by train. One might think that in ancient times it was possible to travel on horseback or so, but this is clearly excluded, even within the Sabbath limits. Animals may not be used at all on the Sabbath. They are explicitly mentioned in the commandment of Ex. 20:10.

Third, if one travels by car or by train one has to carry things, which is prohibited on the Sabbath (Jer. 17:21-22). Examples of this are carrying the keys of the car and the drivers licence papers, which must be brought from inside the home to the inside of the car and back. This often implies carrying these items through a public domain, either at home or at the place of destination. Even if one has his car parked in his own place at home, it is often impossible to park the car within the precincts of the destination building, i.c. the Shul. If one goes by train or by bus one has to carry money and ones train tickets.

Fourth, also a person travelling by car has to keep money with him for a number of reasons. Money — which of course includes credit cards — is muktzeh on the Sabbath and may not be touched. Although touching it is only a rabbinic prohibition, it is clear that in an observant social context it doesn’t make sense to touch money on the Sabbath, since no transactions can be performed. When driving a car, however, one oftentimes even has to perform real money transactions, for instance if one has to park at a spot that must be paid for. Real transactions are of course unavoidable if one travels by train. One has to buy tickets.

For all the reasons stated above it thus seems impossible to travel in a legitimate manner during the Sabbath. However, by choosing not to travel many people will miss the opportunity to attend a worship service. And we have already seen from Lev. 23:3 that we are commanded to have a holy convocation on the Sabbath day. This raises the question whether the prohibition of travelling can be set aside for the sake of fulfilling the commandment of having a holy convocation.

The answer to this question must be that this cannot be done. The halachic tradition generally doesn’t allow for the transgression of a scriptural commandment in order to fulfil another scriptural commandment. One can easily see that such as “solution” threatens to dissolve the whole structure of the Torah. The halachic tradition is that it is not permissible to transgress in order to fulfil, for to do so would defy all logic. If for the sake of having a worship service on the Sabbath it is permissible to transgress the prohibition of travelling, then why is one still obligated to have a service? If one Sabbath commandment can be set aside all Sabbath commandments can be set aside. This is the real difficulty of the dilemma.

One of my sympathetic correspondents referred to Hosea 6:6 as a possible solution for this dilemma: “I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of G-d more than burnt-offerings”. She pointed to Yeshua’s citation of this verse in his discussion about the Sabbath with some Pharisees in Mt. 12:1-8. Her main point was the following syllogism.

Major: Sacrifices supersede the Sabbath, which is proved by the fact that “the priests in the Temple profane the Sabbath — e.g. by bringing sacrifices and by lighting the menorah — and are blameless” (Mt. 12:5, cf. Num. 28:9-10).

Minor: Mercy and knowledge supersede the sacrifices, according to Hos. 6:6: “I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of G-d more than burnt-offerings”

Conclusion: If sacrifices supersede the Sabbath prohibitions and if mercy and the knowledge of G-d supersede the sacrifices, then a Torah service in Shul, which teaches and instils the knowledge of G-d, supersedes the sacrifices. And thus according to a kal v’chomer or a fortiori reasoning a Torah service certainly supersedes the Sabbath prohibitions, since it already supersedes the sacrifices.

Is this reasoning valid, and is it sufficient for demonstrating that in certain cases it is permitted to transgress some of the Sabbath prohibitions in order to perform a major Sabbath mitzvah, such as having a holy convocation? Let us try to analyse it.

It must be clear that the saying found in Hos. 6:6 doesn’t mean that it was permissible to neglect or override the Temple service in order to study Torah or to perform acts of mercy. An animal dedicated for sacrifice couldn’t return to its owner, not even for the sake of selling it to perform an act of mercy or tsedakah with the money. Similarly, this verse doesn’t mean that one could set aside the Temple service for the sake of Torah study. What then does the prophet intend to say? The basic point seems to be here that the Torah is an undivided and interdependent whole, and that to neglect one part of it does harm to the other parts as well. In the words of the Apostle James: “whosoever shall keep the whole Torah, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (Jm. 2:10). One can argue that mercy and the knowledge of HaShem are to be reckoned under the very goals of the Torah, since these virtues are akin to those of the Great Commandment. And thus to perform the ritual commandments, for instance the sacrifices, in a manner that despises with the demands of mercy and fear of HaShem is to miss the mark completely. Hosea possibly refers to those who misused the institutions of the sin and guilt offerings to atone for merciless and unrighteous behaviour without repentance and without any intention to repair the damage done. His prophetic cry is directed against religious hypocrisy.

In Yeshua’s ministry we meet this same cry, now directed against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Yeshua’s point seems to be that the goal of Torah observance is not to be sought in the perfect execution of the ritual demands on a technical-halachic level. The pericope of Mt. 12:1-8 also contains an argument taken from the Temple service, while the whole tenor of Yeshua’s conclusion circles around the fundamental values of mercy and compassion. It can be expected, therefore that this pericope is relevant for our understanding of the case of driving a car on the Sabbath for the sake of attending a congregational worship service.

The first thing that strikes us in Mt. 12:1-8 is that we are told that Yeshua’s talmidim were hungry: “At that time Yeshua went on the Sabbath day through the corn; and his talmidim were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat”. This walk through the cornfields probably took place during the Sabbath afternoon, and the hunger of the talmidim would signify that nobody had invited the Master and his talmidim for a Sabbath meal after the morning service in Shul. And now the Pharisees come and complain against Yeshua that his disciples transgress the Sabbath laws. According to a strict interpretation of the law they may have argued that what the disciples did — plucking ears and rubbing them in their hands according to the parallel passage in Lk. 6:1 — should be classified as reaping and threshing respectively. These were understood as belonging to the activity of harvesting, which was clearly prohibited on the Sabbath (Ex. 34:21). Reaping and threshing were among the 39 basic Sabbath prohibitions which were logically derived from the types of work prohibited on the Sabbath while the Mishkan was being built (cf. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, pp. 44-45).

Yeshua’s answer to the charges of the Pharisees begins with a reference to the incident of David and his men eating the shewbread (Mt. 12:3-4): “Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; How he entered into the House of G-d, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?”. From this history, recorded in I Sam. 21:1-6, we learn that for the sake of feeding the hungry David and his men the divine commandment concerning the shewbread was set aside. How much more, seems to be Yeshua’s inference, may a rabbinic commandment be set aside for the same kind of necessity.

One could argue against this explanation that the analogy between the situation of David and his men and the situation of the Yeshua and his talmidim doesn’t hold. While David and his fellows were hungry fighters on a dangerous mission and therefore needed to eat something, to all probability there was no real danger of life or of health involved if the talmidim had abstained from eating.

This argument may actually lead us into a deeper issue of the conflict. Yeshua’s reproach of the Pharisees doesn’t seem to be directed against their classification of the 39 categories of melachah and he doesn’t dispute the rule that one shouldn’t reap or thresh on the Sabbath day. We have seen above that activities that can be classified as harvesting are clearly prohibited by the Torah itself. The real point of conflict might be in the interpretation the Pharisees gave to this prohibition. From a common sense viewpoint nobody would describe the casual plucking and rubbing done in passing-by, by the categories of reaping or threshing, or harvesting. And this common sense perspective might be confirmed by the Torah, in its permission to pluck and eat from the standing corn of one’s neighbour, in Dt. 23:25: “When thou comest into the standing corn of thy neighbour, then thou mayest pluck the ears with thine hand; but thou shalt not move a sickle unto thy neighbours standing corn”. Moving the sickle unto the corn would constitute an instance of harvesting, since the Torah connects the use of the sickle with the beginning of the harvest, in Dt. 16:9. The opinion of the Pharisees, that considered any accidental plucking and rubbing as prohibited on the Sabbath could thus be refuted on pure halachic grounds. For this opinion presupposes that if this plucking and rubbing occures on a weekday it still counts as harvesting.

The Torah, however, does not classify these acts as harvesting, which can also be inferred by the injunction found in Lev. 19:9: “…when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field”. This injunction limits the acts of harvesting and reaping to “your land” and “thy field” respectively. It doesn’t say “…when ye reap the harvest of your neighbour’s land…”, for, obviously, a person is not supposed to harvest his neighbour’s field.

Thus Yeshua’s talmidim didn’t transgress the Torah when they plucked and rubbed ears. With the permission of their Master they only set aside a prohibition of the Pharisees which was based on an over-scrupulous interpretation of a Torah commandment. And they did this for the greater good of honoring the Sabbath. For according to the common and overriding tradition nobody should be hungry on a feast day or Sabbath. And for that reason the inference drawn by Yeshua from the example of David and his men eating the shewbread should be considered as valid. If David and his men were permitted to transgress a commandment of the Written Torah and eat of the holy bread because they were weakened and hungry, then certainly the talmidim were permitted to transgress an aggravating interpretation of the Written Torah for the sake of giving proper honour to the Sabbath.

As to the argument from Hosea 6:6, it faces two difficulties. The first difficulty is that using this text involves making halachot on the basis of the prophetic writings. However, since Yeshua does this we cannot object to it. The second difficulty is that it is doubtful whether attending a Synagogue service is in the category of an act of mercy. It can be argued that a service is in the category of “burnt offerings” mentioned in this text, since a service is primarily an act of worship. An act of worship is in the category of the ritual acts (i.e. the acts which have HaShem as their immediate object)  and not — at least not primarily — in the category of the moralacts (which have our fellow men as their immediate object). One could say, though, that there is some value in this argument, if one explains it as a permission to travel on the Sabbath because of a person’s ‘hunger’ to be nourished with the word of G-d. Such a permission would fit in with the demand of mercy.

It is true that such a permission would be an act of compassion. Yet it is far from sure whether such compassion is permitted if it leads to a direct transgression of the Torah on a regular basis. Both the case of David’s men and the shewbread and Yeshua’s application of Hosea’s text to this case deal with exceptional and unique situations. Yeshua’s appeal to Hosea is in the context of mercy since the disciples were hungry. Probably no one had invited Yeshua and his disciples for a Sabbath meal!

My personal view is that the most consistent way of reconciling the two demands of abstaining from travelling on the Sabbath and having a holy convocation on that day is through the principle that one shouldn’t transgress a commandement in order to fulfil another commandment. This reconciliation sets priorities and gives greater weight to the Sabbath rest than to communal worship and fellowship on that day. It seems to me that this principle rightly prioritizes the Sabbath rest as the more fundamental aspect of the Sabbath (cf. Gen. 2:2-3). The Sabbath rest is a precondition of the Sabbath worship and to overstep the boundaries set by this this precondition seems to overthrow the divine order of things and not only to damage the Sabbath rest but also the sabbatical nature of our worship on that day. Nevertheless, I understand the considerations of those who, for serious practical and communal reasons, don’t follow this principle and decide otherwise.

When facing a dilemma that cannot be escaped by the halachic device of “avoiding the situation” and in which one faces serious difficulties on both sides, one has simply to follow one conscience in the fear of HaShem and in trusting his mercy. This doesn’t imply, in my view, that one can use Hosea 6:6 as an excuse to escape the Sabbath prohibition of travelling. I actually don’t think the verse can be used for making a halachic rule. What I’m saying is that an appeal to this verse is perhaps possible in situations in which all rules fall short. There will always be situations that cannot be covered by rules, and rule-making itself, though necessary, only goes so far. In the end of the matter it is always the fear and love of HaShem that are decisive.  The problem of travelling on the Sabbath in order to have a holy convocation because of one’s particular circumstances should be dealt with in this spirit and as a matter of one’s personal conscience. And I think this is in accordance with what Yeshua taught in Mt. 12:3-8. However, one should never accept the dilemma one faces here as normal and be prepared to make serious efforts to move to a location which has functioning congregation.

The Yahrzeit of Rachel Imeinu


Today, the 11th day of the month Cheshvan, is the Yahrzeit, the annual remembrance day of Rachel Imeinu (i.e. the Matriarch Rachel). Many in Israel travel to Bethlehem on that occasion and say prayers at her tomb. There is a story connected to this practice, which attempts to give a deeper motive why Rachel was buried there and not in Hebron, where all the other Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried. The story tells us that this happened with a purpose. When in their later history the Israelites were led into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar, they would pass Rachel’s tomb and have the opportunity to say prayers there. Rachel would hear her children praying at her gravesite and she would cry and plead to G-d on their behalf [1].

A disturbing thing about this story is the mentioning of a dead person pleading to G-d on behalf of the living. This is not a concept found in Scripture. It is wholly contradictory to the teachings of Scripture. The Bible tells us again and again that the dead are really dead and not alive [2]. They cannot intercede for us with G-d or help us in any way. Only living people can help others or intercede for them in prayer. Accepting the concept of the dead pleading for the living easily leads to the acceptance of the closely related concept of the living praying to dead saints as intermediaries with G-d. This last mentioned concept is expressly and definitely prohibited in the Torah (Dt. 18:11).

Praying at a gravesite of a dead saint with the intention that these prayers should be heard by him in order to gain his intercession is dangerously close to transgression of the prohibition of praying to the dead, even if one directs these prayers to HaShem. The first error, that the dead are somehow alive and can help the living through intercessory prayers, naturally leads to the second, that it is proper to seek the intercession of the dead and ask them to act as intermediaries with HaShem [3].

If one wants to avoid the error of praying to the dead, one should first avoid the misconception that the dead are somehow alive, having knowledge and being able to interfere in the affairs of the living. The biblical teaching is that the dead have no knowledge or power at all. Death according to Scripture is simply the end of existence. For that reason, all practices that suggest otherwise or that can lead to misunderstanding and confusion should be avoided.

At this point it is perhaps good to remind ourselves that, from a Torah viewpoint, a gravesite is an unclean place and a major source of uncleanness. One can ask oneself what sense it does make to perform the ritual of handwashing (Netilat Yadayim), required before prayer, and then to say one’s prayers at a place of unclean contamination. [4].

It is certainly proper to honour the memory of the faithful departed, and to remember the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of Israel is a way of fulfilling the commandment to honour one’s parents (Ex. 20:12). It is also proper to honour the memory of the deceased of one’s family or nation. There is nothing wrong with observing their Yahrzeit and marking this day by burning a Yahrzeit candle. But one should avoid erroneous or confusing practices. One should not pray for the deceased. This is senseless, since the deceased are no longer in existence. For the same reason, and because of the prohibition found in the Torah, one should not pray to the dead. One should also avoid all prayers which seek the intercession of the deceased.

A proper prayer for the occasion of a Yahrzeit consists in thanksgiving for the lives of the deceased persons and for their contributions to the life of later generations.

It is by no means excluded by the foregoing that HaShem grants us blessings because of the faithfulness, piety and righteousness of saints who lived in earlier generations. And accordingly, HaShem may still answer prayers which they in their time offered on our behalf. But these things are secrets of which we cannot have accurate knowledge. It is sufficiently certain, however, that we can no longer actively seek the assistence and intercession of the departed. Their earthly tasks and responsibilities have ended. They have gone out of existence and will not be restored to life again before the resurrection [5].

The only person who can now intercede for us is Messiah Yeshua, our living High Priest in heaven, who is always prepared to pray to the Father on our behalf. That’s why we should offer our prayers to G-d the Father in his name.

Rachel the Matriarch is connected to Yeshua’s life through the terrible event of the slaughter of the innocent children of Bethlehem by the cruel king Herod. In his account of this Mattityahu quotes the prophet Yirmeyahu (31:15):

Mt. 2:17-18: Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Yirmeyahu the prophet, saying, In Ramah was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

Rachel is introduced here in a figure of speech, as a personification of the nation of Israel, because she is a mother of Israel and because her tomb is situated in the neighbourhood of Bethlehem, in Ramah. Israel is the intended mother of this personification, bereft of her children through exile and slaughter. Rachel died in giving birth to Benyamin, and thus she literally gave her life for one of her children. Her self-sacrificing care for her children would grow utterly bitter and without purpose, if these children, or their posterity, should be murdered or sent into exile.

About the time of the Maccabean revolt and the rise of Pharisaism, belief in the immortality of the human soul was introduced in Judaism. And thus it became possible to interpret Yirmeyahu’s words, cited above, in a literal manner and to understand them as speaking of the immortal soul of Rachel. This interpretation afforded the foundation for making the person of Rachel into a kind of national mediatrix with G-d for Israel. This was a wrong spiritual development in Judaism, which shows uncanny analogies to the excesses of later Catholicism as to the status and position of Miryam, the virgin mother of the Messiah.

We should avoid all these excesses, and honour the memorial of our ancestors on a biblical basis and within the limits provided by the Torah. This we can do by not only giving due attention to their Yahrzeit days, but above all by following their walk and example of faithfulness. We believe that the following Yahrzeit Prayer is in accord with this duty.


Yahrzeit Prayer:

O G-d, the King of saints, we praise and magnify thy Holy Name for all thy servants who have finished their course in thy faith and fear; for the blessed Virgin Miryam, the Mother of our Lord; for the holy Patriarchs and Matriarchs, for Rachel the Matriarch; for the Apostles and Martyrs; and for all other thy righteous servants known to us and unknown;  and we beseech thee that, encouraged and inspired by their examples we may with them be partakers of the inheritance of the Saints in light, in that great Day of the Appearing of our Lord and Saviour Yeshua the Messiah, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Ruach HaKodesh, world without end. Amen. [6]


[1] “11 Cheshvan – Rachel Imeinu Passes Away” at: Orthodox Union.

[2] View the article:  “The dead are dead until the Rapture or Resurrection” at: Truth or Tradition.

[3] That the intercession of Rachel is actually sought is clear from the following quote from the Kever Rachel Imeinu website: “Since the time of her burial- more then 3000 years ago,  the Tomb of Rachel has always been a special place for prayer.  To this very day, men and women go to Rachel’s Tomb to shed tears and beg “Mother Rachel” to intercede with G-d on their behalf — for the health of a loved one or for Divine Intervention for those in need.”  “Rachel’s Tomb. The Jewish Second Holiest Site.” at: Kever Rachel Imeinu.

[4] Cf. Rav David Brovsky, “Washing Hands upon Waking and before Prayer” at: The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash.

[5] View footnote [2].

[6] An adapted version of the prayer found on page 489 of The Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church, Edition 1979, The Seabury Press.

On the Problem of “Holy Communion” in a Messianic Passover Seder (Part I)


by Geert ter Horst

A couple of weeks before Passover I purchased FFOZ’s Vine of David Haggadah and I have studied it with great interest. This Haggadah is beautifully designed and contains a lot of valuable suggestions on the messianic celebration of Passover within a format that is faithful to the traditional Seder and its liturgical rubrics as developed in Jewish tradition.

My study of this Haggadah brought a problem to mind, however, that is common to messianic Haggadot in general and which doesn’t seem to be easily solvable. It is a problem hardly acknowledged in messianic circles, but which in my opinion is important enough to deserve a fundamental discussion.

The problem I’m referring to is about the inclusion of “Holy Communion”, or the Lord’s Supper, in the Passover Seder. All the messianic Haggadot I have seen have — in a more or less explicit manner — the Lord’s Supper included in the Seder proceedings. And from the viewpoint, shared by many, which considers Yeshua’s Last Supper to have been a Passover Seder this inclusion seems only natural. The point which I want to make here, however, is that, independent from the historical question whether the Last Supper was in fact a Seder or not — and the whole controversy about it — there are perhaps theological and halachic difficulties involved in celebrating Yeshua’s Supper at the Seder.

The problem I’m referring to is largely independent of the liturgical question whether the words of Yeshua: “this is my body, &c” are to be recited over the Matzah at the beginning of the Shulchan Orech section, at HaMotzi Matzah, or that they should specifically apply to the Afikoman and thus be recited at Tzafun. As to the cup, I have not noticed any controversy about it and all seem to agree that it is the third cup, the cup of thanksgiving, over which Yeshua’s words: “this is my blood &c” should be recited.

The (unintended) consequence common to all messianic efforts to include the Lord’s Supper in the Seder liturgy seems to be the necessitated acceptance of what is commonly called child communion”, since all participants in the Seder are to eat from the Matzah — both at HaMotzi Matzah and at Tzafun — and all are to drink from the third cup. This is the essential problem involved in including the Supper in the Seder. Although I’m fully prepared to investigate the question of child communion, and to consider the theological arguments in favour of it, for the time being I have my reservations, which are based on the following, more general ecclesiological considerations.

To me the Assembly of Messiah is a community to which one belongs on the basis of faith, not on the basis of natural birth or education, and I think this fact has to be honoured and marked by the manner in which the typical rituals of this community are performed. These typical rituals are primarily water immersion in Yeshua’s name, (i.e. what is traditionally called “Baptism”) and the celebration of Yeshua’s Supper (i.e. what is traditionally called “Holy Communion”). And it seems to me a matter of logic that the admission to the second ritual is dependent on the fact of having received the first. A person who isn’t baptized cannot partake of the Supper because he is not a recognized member of the community. And because Baptism is to be administered on the basis of personal faith, it has a status that is importantly different from many Torah rituals.

One can easily detect this difference. For the sake of simplicity let us limit ourselves here to the Jewish context and take, as an example, a Jewish boy whose parents are believers in Messiah and members of a Torah observant messianic congregation. This boy is to receive Brit Milah on the eight day and Pidyon HaBen on the  31st — if he is the firstborn of his mother —, and to become Bar Mitzvah on his thirteenth birthday, simply because he is Jewish. These rituals are fixed by Torah laws and customs and wholly independent of the faith of the person who receives them. This is not so with Baptism. There is no fixed date set for it, and the only thing that matters about receiving it is a living faith and the personal decision to belong to Yeshua and follow him. As soon as a person is baptized he is a “professed” (i.e. confessing) member of Yeshua’s Assembly and admitted to the community meal of this Assembly, which is the Lord’s Supper. The celebration of the Supper always expresses — or at least should express — the unity of the Assembly as the mystical body of Messiah. This is an aspect of the Supper strongly present in Paul’s teachings on it (cf. I Cor. 10:17).

Therefore it seems to me that children or youths who are not yet baptized should not be admitted to the Lord’s Supper. They cannot legitimately partake of the Supper before having made the personal decision to belong to Yeshua and having expressed this decision by the public act of water immersion in Yeshua’s name. That’s the reason why I think the Supper and the Seder cannot simply be held to be one and the same. They are essentially distinct celebrations. For it is clear that Jewish children should participate in the celebration of the Seder, eat the Matzah and drink of the cups, since in importants respects the Seder is about them and concentrates on the role of children. To deny them particular features of the celebration, e.g. the Afikoman or the third cup, requires convincing halachic grounds and does not seem, at the outset, to be a viable option. On the basis of the Torah Jewish children are fully entitled to partake, for instance, of the Afikoman, by which is signified the now absent Korban Pesach.

Although I’m personally of the opinion that the historical Last Supper was not a Passover Seder — but was held shortly before Seder night, probably the night before — and also that the Apostle Paul doesn’t identify the two, this is not my main point. My point is about theological and liturgical systematics, not about history. The Assembly of Messiah, being a community of faith, is a distinct body within Israel as a nation to which one belongs by natural birth, and, as it is clear that one cannot administer Baptism in Yeshua’s name on the basis of natural birth or on a family basis, so too one cannot celebrate the Supper on this basis. The Supper and Baptism are rituals which can only be administered on the basis of a confession of personal faith.

Yet it is also clear, apart from the historical question of the exact date of the institution of the Supper, that, from a liturgical viewpoint, there is no occasion more appropriate for its celebration than the Seder, which, by its rich symbolism, in many ways points to Messiah’s suffering and death and their salvific effects. That’s the reason why it is worth considering whether a solution for the problem of child communion can be found within the framework of the existing messianic practice of celebrating Yeshua’s Supper during the Seder night. While it is obvious that some changes would be required here and there in the traditional Seder procedures, and thus in the Haggadah, to make such a solution possible, it is no less obvious that any possible change should be carefully studied on its theological and halachic implications. It cannot be the intention of a messianic Haggadah to disregard the halachic background of the liturgical rubrics of the Seder, since the entire structure of the Seder is highly dependent on this background.

Although some may bring up here that the Seder procedures in our days are almost completely a matter of the Oral Torah and rabbinic legislation and can be disregarded by Messianics, this seemingly impressive argument is really a very poor affair and potentially destructive of any orderly regulation of the celebration of Passover. If one wants to avoid chaos and arbitrariness, and preserve a minimum of consistency and uniformity in messianic celebrations, then there’s no other realistic option than to take recourse to rabbinic halachah. In cases where changes are necessary one has thus to proceed on the basis of a solid halachic analysis.

Our problem can now be formulated as the following question: Is it possible to celebrate the Lord’s Supper at the Passover Seder without accepting the consequence of “child-communion”, and without destroying the basic halachic framework of the Seder precedures? I hope soon to investigate the possible answers (in Part II).