Labels versus Reality
A reader recently took issue with something we said in the article, “We Are Israel—Really?“. It bothered him that I said Gentiles need to spend concerted effort to assimilate into the Jewish people, rather than simply declaring him/her-self to “be Israel” by fiat decree. In the discussion following that article, he raised several issues that I found required more space than a simple comment box. So, here is my response to comments made by my friend and brother, Mark Pitrone, at Fulfilling Torah Ministries.
I want to emphasize that I hold no personal animosity towards Mark, or anyone else sharing his views. It is the view I find misguided, not the people. We are all seeking the fullest understanding of Hashem that is available. We debate in a spirit of mutual support, challenging each other to refine our views, and respond to all angles of approach to the topic.
A Prayer Beforehand
It is said that arguments may be either “for the sake of Heaven” or “NOT for the sake of Heaven”. For instance, the debates between the schools of Hillel and Shammai were for the sake of Heaven. Their motives were righteous, and each sought only to bring greater righteousness to Israel. The argument of Korach against Moses, however, was not for the sake of Heaven. Korach sought only to enhance his own ego, with no regard to the impact on others.
Thus, we find that the mere fact of dissent is not regarded as a bad thing, in and of itself. It is the purposes of those who engage in the debate that determines whether it is a righteous or unrighteous exercise. May this debate be “for the sake of Heaven”.
But I Might Be Ephraim?
How do you know that you are not LITERALLY descended from Israel? The traditions you were raised in may have been pagan or non-biblical or Xian, but that has nothing to do with your genetic, blood line ancestry, only with the traditions you received from your ancestors.
I hear this line every time I raise this topic. I realize people are sincere, but I honestly believe they are sincerely misguided on this point. We are not talking about animal livestock pedigree. This is about identifying with a minority group that has gone to great lengths to define who is, or is not, part of the community. There are two options:
1. Being born to a Jewish mother.
Some debate whether to allow for those who have a Jewish fathers. Either way, you have a Jewish parent who knows what it means to be Jewish, and can pass on that identity.
Call it what you will—conversion, identification, etc. It is possible to identify with the Jewish community to the degree that one is accepted as “part of the tribe”. Formal conversion is the easy and accepted path. But I also know many Jewish people who happily claim my wife and me as “part of the tribe”, simply out of respect for our study and practice. However, refusal to learn what it means to be part of the people puts the lie to any claim of identification.
So, a person is identified as Jewish either by birth or by conversion. Either way, one thing that cannot happen is to just “accidently” find out one is Jewish. Such a claim would be comparable to an Irishman waking up one morning and deciding he “must be American”. Despite the current trend in American society, such foolishness is generally identified for the nonsense it is.
My ancestors, the 2 generations I have had physical contact with, anyway, were nominal Xian, but THEIR ancestry 25 or more generations before them COULD be from anywhere.
Precisely my own point. They could be from anywhere! If you were Jewish, you would know. You can’t get past three generations without tracking that identity. Even the least observant Jew always has childhood memories of seder at Tzayde’s house, or singing the Sh’ma at bedtime.
Mashiach is drawing Israel back to himself in fulfillment of prophecy through many means.
Maybe. Not really likely. More plausible would be “Mashiach is drawing Gentiles out of Gentile organized religion, and back to joining with his covenant people, as described by the prophets.
Your dismissal of many as ‘suprecessionist’ without any actual knowledge of their motives is as bad as are actual supercessionists’ attempts at superceding Israel/Judah.
Call it what you will… if you don’t have grandparents who can testify that you have Jewish blood (of whatever tribe), then you are following a sham, a pretense, a lie. And a Gentile pretending he holds rights and privileges under the covenant of Torah is supersessionism, by definition.
That we are “brand-new participants in both Torah and Messiah”, isn’t OUR fault, is it?
It isn’t about fault. It is about reality. All Gentiles (and most Jews) have to start somewhere. I went through the process, as well. It took over 15 years to fully understand the issues, and retrain my brain on a number of fundamental concepts. Changing one’s identity is a lifelong process of growth. But, like Yeshua said, the change must come from the inside, not be merely an appropriated label. Many have this process completely backwards. It is important to get this process right:
- We identify with the Jewish people, and earn the label, “Israel”.
- We cannot simply claim the label, “Israel”, then expect the Jews to accept us at face value.
The first calls for humility and commitment. The second is the epitome of hubris.
It is our fathers’ fault, as YirmeYahu said in 16.19, “O LORD, my strength, and my fortress, and my refuge in the day of affliction, the Gentiles [goyim – nations] shall come unto thee from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit.”
The problem with that claim is that you have no “fathers”. There is no community testifying that your grandfather, or even your grandfather’s grandfather, used to be part any tribe. Let’s face it, the statute of limitations has run out on anything rooted in reality.
Because of Israel’s bent to idolatry when there was no tzaddik in leadership, the entire nation, all 12 tribes, went into diaspora. The 10 tribes of the north were largely lost to the world and mostly lost any knowledge of their being Israel; only YHWH truly knows who are Israel and who are not. MANY of the 2 tribes were ALSO lost to the world, though a large minority of them remained faithful to their Eloha and His Torah [HalleluYah for that!].
This story might have carried some weight back when the Assyrian captivity was only three or four generations old. No longer. The promise of restoration was given to those who were in the captivity. Then, “Cyrus, my Messiah” released the Hebrews/Jews to return to their home land. All who wished to go home, regardless of tribe, returned to “Israel”, the new and re-unified nation. There was no longer any “Northern Kingdom” or “House of Ephraim”. It is done… over. That is what Jeremiah meant by saying that God “divorced” Israel—he destroyed the Northern nation as a singular political entity.
Secondly, you present a false equivocation. While both Israel and Judah did violate the covenant with Hashem, resulting in the punishment of diaspora, there was a major difference between the two—their leadership. The Northern kingdom completely fell apart at the seams. There was no continuity, no central leadership to hold things together. Judah was different because they had the promises to the Davidic line. They carefully monitored the offspring born to that line, and encouraged the nation to remain faithful to Beit David, even while in diaspora. There was a central core of leadership around which the nation could re-group. This is why the northern nation lost its political identity, while the southern kingdom retained its integrity, and could serve as the magnet to draw all Israel back home to the Land.
You also said, “If we truly desire to identify with, and share in the communal life of, Israel, then we must truly act in accordance with that desire.” I agree wholeheartedly.
The problem I have is in equating only “Jewish” to Israel, because some of that which is “Jewish” is not according to the Torah that the Jewish culture has brought through history for and to us.
I’m glad we found something upon which we can agree wholeheartedly.
I’m not sure I understand your “problem”, however. Surely, you realize that the Bible/Torah is the product of Jewish culture, not the other way around. There has always been plenty of material available to the Jews that was never included in the collection of sacred writings. The Bible contains the partial record of Jewish experiences.
When that which is according to cultural tradition in not in accord with what Torah says, it is to be questioned and investigated. If it turns out to go against Torah, it is to be discarded, no matter the length of time that cultural tradition has been held to religiously.
This is NOT supercessionism. This is living according to YHWH’s Word and not men’s traditions. Living according to men’s traditions in the face of Torah’s truth is a form of idolatry.
OK… my turn to present a “problem”.
There is a concept known as “community of reference”. One either identifies with the Jewish community, or with the community of those “outside”. This is precisely the point of my post about Gentiles at seder. It is easy to say we identify with Israel. It is easy to say we are part of the covenant community. It is even easy to say that we are keeping the pure and simple Torah.
But the fact is, the vast majority of those in the Hebrew Roots world come to Hebrew Roots from the church. The initial changes involved in this transition appear huge to the individual—and rightfully so. Nevertheless, they are only baby steps in the grand scheme of things.
“I accept the Torah now.”
Great! But we then proceed to study Torah according to our Christian standards of interpretation, not Jewish.
“I honor the message of the prophets.”
But we ignore the fact that the prophets spoke to, and about, the Jewish nation and her neighbors. Geographically, historically, and culturally, we have nothing to do with the subject matter treated by the biblical prophets.
Now, carrying all that Christian baggage, we come and lay claim to the title “Israel”. It is a false claim, both in terms of any verifiable blood lineage and in terms of ideology. Claiming one is part of an existing social structure with no credible evidence for such identity is called “lying”. Or “wishful thinking”, at best. It is practical supersessionism, if not consciously so.
And so, what you have described to me is…
- Jews don’t count because they fail to live up to your Gentile religious ideology and Torah interpretations;
- Gentiles can claim, with no credible evidence, to be in the “correct” bloodline—if we go back 50 or 60 generations!
- The conclusion: Supersesionism, plain and simple.
Now, I am all for unity of Jew and Gentile in one body. It is a major topic of mine, and has been for decades. But I can assure you that Gentiles running roughshod over Jewish sensitivities and world view is NOT going to accomplish unity. It will only accomplish further alienation of the Jewish people. Unity can only be developed by approaching the Jewish people with humility and compassion, not with high-handed declarations of self-professed “truth” which is based entirely on falsehood and fantasy.