When my husband and daughter began to embrace rather than diminish their Jewish identity, many aspects of my life and faith were tested as I wrestled with how I was to fit in to life lived more Jewishly. Here I’ll try to give you an idea of what that was like, and the conclusions I came to.
In the cocoon of church environment, inevitable insecurities arising from reading Israel’s scriptures are blunted by the teaching that Christians are the “new” people of God. I had my doubts because of the nagging awareness that if that was true, it would have been prophesied in the “Old Testament” and Jesus would have loudly proclaimed it to his Jewish audience in the New. Even so, my husband and daughter’s decision took me out of my cocoon and I was suddenly faced with issues that have long contorted the Christian soul, in my very own own home.
Due to travel it’s been awhile since my last series of posts which discussed problems that ensue from denying the distinction between Jew and Gentile. If you’ve read those posts you may be wondering how I arrived, much less maintain, a belief that the distinctions weren’t wiped out by Jesus’ life, death, or resurrection. Additionally, I reject the idea that Paul had the intent—or the authority—to overturn God’s specific promises to the Jewish people, who remain “The apple of His eye.”
All that said, you may wonder what, pray tell, does that make moi ?
Expressing the view that Jewish people remain “God’s Chosen People” and His covenants with them were never annulled isn’t the most popular thing one can do, and it causes most Christians to jump to the conclusion that what’s actually being said is:
Jews remain important to God, therefore, non-Jews are not important to Him.
The Christian mind usually conforms to an either/or scenario and the typical responses seem to vary between two extremes:
- Greatly angered/offended/insecure, they say ghastly things about “the Jews” to try and convince themselves and others that God would never, could never, keep His specific promises to them.
- Overcome with insecurities, some decide they must be/act Jewish to matter to God.
Others feel very badly, assuming they’re somehow defective, but the vast majority remain aloof to their responsibilities to the Jewish people.
Both bulleted extremes are, at the end of the day, an attempt to replace Israel and I never accepted either of them—or their many variants—and never felt compelled to appropriate an identity that was not my own. Additionally, I never believed for one moment that I, or any other believer, nay, human being, was “chopped liver.”
That’s probably due to the very real, very awesome, and very tangible ways I’ve experienced His love and provision in my life that left no doubts that He loved me. Or perhaps it’s because I worried that rejecting my God given distinction as a Gentile (or a female) was tantamount to coveting at best, and an indictment on God at worst. No, we Gentiles are no more “lowly” than Jews are, which is to say we are all created in God’s image.
Therefore, I knew figuring this “identity thing” out could not entail:
- Diminishing the value of the Jewish people
- Donning a Jewish persona
- Going into the garden to eat worms
Help From an Orthodox Jewish Scholar
I didn’t realize, until I embarked on this journey, how thoroughly Jewish Jesus’ message and audience was. My focus had been the more universal passages such as John 3:16, and remarks by Paul stating that there was no longer a difference between Jew and Gentile. Completely lost on me were the provocative things Jesus said, like in Matthew 15:24:
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Of course there are many more examples like this, and I don’t mean to say that I never read them, they just didn’t “land” because in a Christian environment those perplexing passages are redefined.
Interestingly, it was my daughter and an Orthodox Jewish Theologian who helped me understand the distinction best.
My daughter, who speaks Hebrew and therefore reads the scriptures in Hebrew, accesses God’s Word without the filters of a translator and we had lots of great Bible studies as a result. She saw the importance of Jewish identity in the Biblical plan, and far from seeing it as a “blank check”, or a superior status, the words responsibility, and obligation, were what she’d constantly communicate (as I called her a “Pharisee”—oops! Did I just write that? ) All of that isn’t to say she wasn’t thrilled to join in and let “[her] calling be [her] task,” however.
Reading Michael Wyschogrod, author of Abraham’s Promise and The Body Of Faith had great impact as well because he isn’t bashful about declaring the particularity of the Jewish people, or God’s love for them.
Rabbi Meir Soloveichik sums him up well when he says that Wyschogrod argues:
“. . .God’s unique and preferential love for the flesh-and-blood descendants of Abraham. The election of the Jewish people is the result of God’s falling in love with Abraham and founding a family with him. And, out of passionate love for Abraham, God continues to dwell among the Jewish people..”
Unlike most in both Christianity and Judaism, Michael Wyschogrod firmly states that God elected the Jewish people because of He loves them. If you’re wondering how that could bring any clarity or comfort to me, it’s because I already understood how profound Abraham’s acts of faith were.
God told him in Genesis 12:1 to go away from his country, family, and people, to an unknown place.
He trusted God enough to obey Him and boom, God indeed “fell in love” with Abraham. Think of the repercussions! (We still learn about Abraham almost 4k years later) It resonated for me because as a long time believer I’d already learned a few things about trusting God even in the face of drama and trauma, and I’d received such blessing as a result. My understanding, and what I taught my kids, was that trusting God is a game changer.
Christians divorcing from the Jewish people resulted in a ginormous amount of mistrust of all things Jewish, unreasonable theological scenarios, gaps in Biblical understanding, and confusion about identity—theirs, and ours. So it isn’t easy to understand it, much less express it.
Learning a few key things made a big difference for me. “The Torah”, for example, means “teaching” and not strictly “law” as I assumed. Additionally, Jewish people don’t look at the Torah as a repugnant curse given by a (once) capricious God who’s since seen the error of His ways, and that had tentacles that reached into every part of my understanding since Jews actually see it in opposite terms, like King David did in Psalm 19 and 119.
When I sorted out Jesus’ audience in the Gospel accounts and saw it must be the Jewish people who call for his return (Matt 23:39 Lk 13: 35), I saw it was proof the Jews were no mistake, and they weren’t used and then discarded upon Messiah’s birth, death, or resurrection either, as many believe. So a non-Jew taking on a pseudo Jewish identity wasn’t going to be the answer, since it was to his Jewish people that he said:
“You won’t see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Who’s Identity Prevails Under Our Roof?
So, he (my husband) is a Jew, with distinctions and obligations to God that I, Ms. Christian, don’t have. For example, he’s specifically commanded to keep the Sabbath, Passover, and dietary laws, but according to Christianity, I do not have such obligations since I’m not part of the Mosaic Covenant. Additionally, Christianity has taught these things are wrong to do, for they supposedly deny Messiah’s work on the cross.
Well, I went with God on this one…
I’ve been asked a number of times “whose identity prevails” in our home. Since I supposedly have the “freedom” to eat pork, it’d be wrong for me not to, right? And I confess I entertained that idea for awhile, flatly stating:
“I’m not quitting pepperoni pizza until God convicts me to do so.”
It became evident that my “love for the Jewish people” was based solely on feelings; I knew God loved them, and in theory, I did too. But I wasn’t truly put to the test until “my Jews” became more openly, behaviorally, Jewish. Although it was never a secret, my husband and I downplayed it a lot so as not to potentially inflame anyone. My daughter, however, never had such an inclination and consistently identified as a Jew even while the anti-Semitic remarks would fly in class by a few particular kids.
To put it plainly, I’ve taken the approach that their identity prevails within the framework of God’s commandments, and I keep Shabbat with them, and Passover, Sukkot etc. I keep a kosher diet with and for them since it isn’t possible to have any measure of a kosher kitchen if it contains traif (roughly, anything forbidden by God). But my family also understands the commandments (both in the Torah and Acts 15) about avoiding anything strangled, which means improper slaughter, so we only have kosher meat in our home. They also wish to keep the tradition of keeping meat and dairy separate; I respect their wishes and work with it. I won’t say all of this was easy, although much of it really wasn’t that hard.
The biggest surprises have been twofold:
- How many blessings have come from keeping these commandments
- How other people have had a much harder time about us refraining from bacon than any of us ever did
I’ll be posting the remainder of this in a day or two.