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INCREASING JEWISH INTEGRATION AND LOYALTY
Dr Daniel C Juster
"My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans." Acts 28:17
Many years ago, I first heard the concept that the Apostles continued to live as loyal Jews, members of the community of Israel. This was taught by Richard Longenecker at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, now Trinity University in Illinois north of Chicago. This was a new thought, but did not become life changing until a few years later when I had became part of the beginnings of the Messianic Jewish movement. I found that such Jewish loyalty was indeed the practice of the Apostles according to the consensus of scholars of early Jewish Christianity. Only the in the case of Paul was this doubted, but many argued that Paul was himself loyal in the same ways as the other Apostles. Paul could hardly make the above statement if he simply had abandoned Jewish life but did not urge others do to so. If he had abandoned Jewish life, then his life would be an example for other Jewish believers in Yeshua in all the cities where he had influence. He would then indeed be doing something against the customs of his ancestors. Many think customs here go beyond biblical commandments to worthy traditions within the Judaism of that day. W. D. Davies in his great classic Paul and Rabbinic Judaism argues that Paul remained a loyal practicing Jew until the day of his death. His orienting his life around the Jewish Biblical Feasts, his Nazarene vow (Acts 18:18) and his profession of Torah loyalty in Acts 21 were sufficient proofs to Davies and to many others.
We are far removed from the days of the apostles, but without principles of Jewish life and loyalty we will bear little fruit. What are the keys to Jewish life and loyalty?
No amount of personal traditional performance or private Jewish sentiment can compensate for a lack of integration into the larger Jewish community. We all are involved in busy lives. It is so easy to be involved in our families, work and our congregations and to be separated from the Jewish community. This is a very common pattern in Messianic Judaism. Yet, as we are distant from the larger community, our witness suffers. The Jewishness of Jewish members becomes more and more abstract and superficial. The understanding of Gentile members becomes abstract and superficial as well. We no longer identify intellectually and emotionally with the larger community.
Jewishness is something that rubs off as we are with a people. Our cultural ways of speaking, thinking and reacting are changed. We are educated simply by spending time with people. Through such experience we will find ourselves even speaking of the Gospel language that will communicate much more effectively. Of course, the renewal of the mind through the Word is crucial so that our cultural life is within the bounds of the Word of God. However, much of Jewish culture is our corporate personality that is to be shared by those who are in the Messianic Jewish community. I do believe that this is our first priority. It is a higher priority than how we deal with practices within our congregational communities. For some who have not had such involvement in the past, there will be awkwardness and some fear. Some actions and words will undoubtedly be out of place. Yet it is crucial to plow through this. Synagogues, Zionist organizations, clubs, discussion groups, classes, and volunteer organizations supply very many venues for this involvement.
I do believe that the key in all of this is that leaders in our congregations have quality points of integration. It is worth the sacrifice and an essential part of our calling. We are to lead our congregations into this in word and deed.
The Second Key is Education
While all should be deeply committed to gaining a biblical education, at the same time, Jewish education is crucial to a Messianic Jewish congregation. We can kill two birds with one stone by making use of the opportunities in the Jewish community for such education as well as providing classes in our own congregation. What should we know? I would suggest the following. We need to know have basic introduction of Judaism and Jewish practice. I recommend an Orthodox or Conservative introduction since Reform interpretations are sometimes too far from the historical consensus. Then I would include an introduction to Jewish Worship, including the Jewish prayer book, the Siddur and the High Holiday Pray book, The Machzor. An introduction to Halakah is important because many of those practices effect normal every day Jewish life. A full introduction to Jewish practices for the Sabbath and Festivals is also important. Hayim Donin's To Be a Jew is still a great and simple resource for all of these things. This education does not imply that we will get involved in the entire breadth of historic Jewish practice – but unless we know about such things, we cannot make informed and prayerful decisions concerning the wisdom of incorporation.
The Value of Tradition
Jewish life is a life of ethics and tradition. "Tradition" is the word of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. This word is the all-encompassing answer for why we do what we do. We all laugh as we listen to the song. However, without traditions that are worthy, the continuity of our identity as a people is greatly compromised. We light candles at Shabbat or at Holiday times. We listen to the sound of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Teruah. We say Kaddish at the gravesite. Yes, traditions that are contrary to the Word of God must be avoided. However, good traditions are important because tradition is the stuff of the common experience of a people. It provides part of that sense that we are "part of." It gives us a sense of familiarity in various Jewish gatherings for various occasions. It is the opposite of foreignness. Our practice of tradition should be mixed with faith, love, and at times humor. Our own family Passover table has been full of fellowship and humor and seriousness as well. The anti-tradition bent of some forms of charismatic Christianity is not helpful to us. In the long run, this bent leads to community disintegration.
This should also impact our weekly Sabbath Service. There is no reason why prayers and hymns from the Jewish traditional service may not be filled with faith, empowered by the Spirit and reflect great meaning. Some have wanted to call such forms and content, "old wineskins." However, since most Jewish Worship is based on biblical content, it cannot possibly be generally inappropriate. Rather the problem is a lack of familiarity and ease in usage. We too easily dismiss that which requires some effort and learning as unspiritual. We make absolute the forms in which we have personally experienced blessing and then dismiss other forms. I believe that few have argued more than I that Messianic Jewish worship must be full of New Covenant content and must explicitly lift Yeshua up. However, I have also argued that we would do well to provide an experience that in from and content has significant overlap to the Synagogue. This includes the Shema, which should include the very readings we are to hear, the Amidah (the Eighteen Blessings), the Torah Service, the Aleinu, and the Kaddish. Most of these represent the essence of first century prayer that hits a height of faith confessions. There are other worthy prayers and biblically based hymns as well. People can be trained to use these materials well and will feel and anointing and power in it when done by faith.
A New Covenant Jewish service makes room for the move of the Spirit. It does not demand that we have only spontaneous immediacy like so many of the charismatics. Services that are planned and actions that are regularly repeated can be powerful when our hearts are correctly engaged. That which is spontaneous and immediate in the service has greater punch when part of a context that has stability! People need to be trained to a deeper spirituality where insight and emotion are touched and engaged in the patterns of regularity as well as in the experience of something new. The quest to always have something new and different is a recipe for eventually wearing ourselves out. Yes, it is possible to enjoy the same content and to be re-stimulated, at least for part of the service, on a weekly basis. It is of great value for our people to visit the synagogue and to find much that is familiar. These are thoughts after many years of reflection. I trust they are helpful to you.