The history of humanity is filled with mothers in all eras and all cultures saying to their children the equivalent of, “I don’t care if you don’t like how that tastes. Eat it; it’s good for you.” In my case, it was broccoli, but I can imagine children around the world sitting glumly in front of their food as their mothers tell them they won’t grow up big and strong unless they finish their borscht, ceviche, pho, or ugali. God created mothers to be right about such things, which is why each generation survives and (depending on the degree to which they listen to Mom) thrives.
This principle works just as well regarding nourishment for the mind, soul, and spirit as for the body. That is why those who persevere in reading and studying even when the subject matter is uncomfortable tend to come out much better in the end – smarter, wiser, more tolerant, and better able to cooperate with others in the interest of a greater good. Rivkah Lambert Adler has provided rich nourishment of this sort in her book, Ten From the Nations: Torah Awakening Among Non-Jews.
The groundbreaking aspect of Ten From the Nations is that Adler is among the first (perhaps the first) Jewish scholars to document the global phenomenon of Christians coming to an appreciation of Torah. She describes the phenomenon this way:
All over the world, current and former Christians are becoming aware of Torah. They are learning about, and implementing, what most of the world thinks of as Jewish practices, including celebrating Shabbat [Sabbath] and the Biblical holidays. They are refraining from eating pork and shellfish. They are studying Torah and seeing the Land of Israel, and especially the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, in a new light. They are building positive relationships with the Jewish people.
That is a brief description of what is happening. What Adler’s 46 contributors provide is an outline of the breadth, depth, and variety of this phenomenon. The national origins of her contributors is sufficient testimony to the global nature of the Torah Awakening: they come from the United States, Israel, South Africa, Canada, and the Netherlands. They are also quite diverse in their spiritual, ethnic, and economic backgrounds. The 34 contributors “from the nations” (meaning non-Jews) include Christian Zionists, Messianic or Hebrew Roots followers of Jesus Christ (whom they refer to by his Hebrew name and title, Messiah Yeshua), Ephraimites (those who identify as part of the returning Ten Tribes, or Lost Tribes, of Israel), converts to Judaism, and those who have rejected everything about Christianity (including Jesus), but instead of converting have opted for the “in-between” status of Noahide or ger (foreigner attached to the Jewish people). The Jewish contributors all have some connection to these Torah-honoring non-Jews, and even among them there is a wide variety of opinions about the correct status of these from the nations and what to do with them.
How does one make sense of this odd assortment of people who do not seem to fit neatly into any standard categories? Perhaps it would help if we could define exactly what they are talking about. Yet even that is nearly impossible. Although all of these contributors agree that Torah is the standard, there is no commonly accepted definition of Torah. Certainly it includes the commandments, instructions, and teachings God gave to Israel through Moses, and that is why all now honor Shabbat, keep the Feasts of the Lord (Passover, Tabernacles, etc.), and try to eat something approaching a kosher diet. However, while some consider Torah to be strictly the written words recorded in the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), others take a more Jewish approach, such as expressed by Gidon Ariel:
This multi-faceted word [Torah] encompasses a number of things. It includes the Pentateuch (the Five Books of Moses), the entire Tanakh and the orally transmitted laws, stories and ideas given to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai together with the Written Torah. It also includes any idea that any student comes up with related to any of these, from the time of Moses some 3,400 years ago to this day.
With such diverse opinions even on such basic issues as definitions, how can one even say that this Torah Awakening is a phenomenon?
Because it involves so many people who, from their various perspectives, are taking the God of Israel seriously and acting on His commandments and promises. Jewish contributor Hanoch Young says as much in the account of his first exposure to people who believe themselves to be part of Israel’s Lost Tribes. He goes on to say:
During that time period, the mid-1990s, this wasn’t the only group of people drawn to the Torah, Israel and the Jewish people. In fact, several movements were all developing, simultaneously, and apparently independently of one another, namely the Hebraic Roots of Christianity, the B’nei Noah (Noahides) and what people have called the Torah Faith Movement.
The fact is, the Torah Awakening has been going on for a generation, but only a few in the Jewish world have been aware of it. Until now, that is. And that is the great value of Ten From the Nations. The Torah Awakening has now reached a place where it justifies attention from Jews who, until now, have regarded Torah as something exclusively reserved to themselves as the remnant of Israel. Adler’s work has revealed a growing trend among serious followers of the God of Israel from many backgrounds who understand in their various ways that Torah is for all nations, and that Jews as the custodians of Torah have an obligation to help the nations understand and live by it.
Where is this going? To her credit, Adler makes no predictions. She does not even attempt to analyze this movement, but rather presents it in the words of those caught up in it. By so doing, she has done the world a great favor. The work of analyzing, categorizing, explaining, and refining the Torah Awakening will go on for many years, perhaps even generations. The scholars who carry that process forward in the coming decades will point to Adler’s work as their starting point.
To be perfectly honest, Ten From the Nations is difficult and uncomfortable to read. That is why Adler includes a straightforward warning to her readers in her Editor’s Introduction. Regardless one’s theological position, the reader is guaranteed to be offended before getting beyond the first five contributors. Those five include Ephraimites, Noahides, and a Christian Zionist, all of whom relate spiritual journeys that seem to have taken them in opposing directions. The occasion for offense continues to the end of the book, with some upholding belief in Yeshua as the divine Messiah, and others relating their rejection of such claims. And yet, this strange collection of testimonies does convey a unified message: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is doing something profound in our day. He is shaking up belief systems and religious structures within both Christianity and Judaism, and is establishing a new (or perhaps renewed) thing that the prophets wrote about millennia ago.
What exactly is this new thing God is doing? No one can say for certain. To her credit, Rivkah Lambert Adler makes no attempt to define it with any degree of certainty. All she can say is that this Torah Awakening has something to do with the geula – the Final Redemption which will sweep Israel and the nations into a new reality and relationship with the Almighty. Thus, no matter how difficult or offensive it may be for the reader, the one who perseveres to the end will be much enriched by the experience, and better equipped to take part in the transforming process of geula in our day.