Several weeks ago, Dr. Rivkah Lambert Adler published a captivating article in Breaking Israel News. In “Are We Witnessing the Restoration of an Ancient Biblical Status for Non-Jews?”, she presented the biblical concept of ger, or foreigner, as a possible status for Torah-keeping non-Jews. Soon thereafter I posted a commentary on Rivkah’s article entitled “The Dilemma of the Ger” as the first round of what she and I both hoped to be a point-counterpoint dialogue.
I must apologize for the delay in posting Rivkah’s response to my remarks. She provide them about a month ago, but the B’ney Yosef North America Summit and its aftermath have taken much of my attention in the interim. Hopefully there will be no similar delay as we move forward.
What I hope you, the reader, will see in Rivkah’s remarks is a sincere heart seeking to make sense out of a development that is shaking her Jewish paradigms just as much as it is shaking the paradigms of those who have come from various Christian streams. You, like me, probably will disagree with some of the points she makes. In a few days I will post my next round of remarks to address those points. In the meantime, please do not let disagreement cause you to throw out Rivkah’s entire presentation. Look instead for those points of connection, and from there prayerfully see where we might build a relationship based on mutual respect and understanding.
A Jewish Response to “The Dilemma of the Ger“
Dr. Rivkah Lambert Adler
I appreciate very much your willingness to engage in this conversation with me. I acknowledge that we are both trying our best to be as sensitive as possible, despite the fact that these conversations have the potential to be excruciatingly uncomfortable.
My prayer is that Hashem helps me find the words that will touch the hearts and souls of those who desire to hear what the Torah actually says regarding the non-Jew.
Let me start where you started, with the definition of the word ger. It’s a complex word in Hebrew and means so much more than stranger. For the purposes of our discussion, let’s define Ger as a 100% kosher non-Jew. Hopefully, that definition has the potential to attract the attention of those who are drawn to Torah, but who do not wish to become Jews.
Thinking is hard. If it were not hard, then more people would do it.
In truth, all of us prefer to remain in our comfort zones, where familiar things surround us – including familiar answers to questions and familiar solutions to familiar problems. Most likely this preference for the familiar, the things we know and can deal with well enough, is a big reason few people take an active role in making the way for Messiah to come.
That last statement is bound to generate opposition. Those who view it from the Christian side (including Messianic and Hebrew Roots believers) will say that Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) is the Messiah (Christ means Messiah, by the way), that he has come once, and that he will be coming back. Those who approach from the Jewish side say that Messiah is yet to come. The point of this article is not to address either perspective, but to consider something both have in common: the faithful expectation that Messiah Son of David is coming as King of Israel to rule the nations from Zion.
If we all have this common expectation, then it would be wise to consider what that future Messianic realm will look like. Maybe we should even consider what we have to do to make it happen.
This is where we run into the hard part. We have to think about it, and that is scary and uncomfortable. Those of us who have come from the Christian side have lived our lives expecting Messiah to return and fix everything. According to our expectations, there is no effort required on our part to bring him here; he just shows up one day according to some predetermined timetable God established from the beginning. To think, like our Jewish brethren, that we have responsibility for creating the conditions for Messiah’s coming (or return) requires a major paradigm shift. It means we must step out in faith and do things that we usually leave up to God alone.
But then, that is the consistent testimony of Scripture –
- Noah had to do things to secure the salvation of his family (such as think about how to follow the instructions God gave him to build that very large boat, and then actually do the work).
- Abraham had to do things to receive the promises God gave him (such as pack up and leave comfortable, civilized Mesopotamia, and go to a hostile foreign land – first in Syria, and then in Canaan).
- Moses had to do things to receive God’s instructions for the nation of Israel (such as walk to Egypt, then convince the elders of the people that God had spoken to him, and then seek an audience with Pharaoh – and that was only the beginning of the work he had to do!)
There are many more examples summarized in Hebrews 11. The people in that “Hall of Faith” chapter deserve praise not because they sat around waiting for God to move, but because they got up and did the moving themselves in response to God’s promises. As they moved, He provided direction, resources, help from others, and miraculous intervention when necessary. Yet would YHVH have done so if they had not invested their own blood, sweat, treasure, and intellectual effort?
Probably not. In fact, when God’s people sat around waiting for Him to move, He had to take extreme action just to get them off their backsides and into motion! We see that in the record of the apostles. Even though Yeshua had told them to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, they were content to remain in Jerusalem until God raised up a man named Saul of Tarsus who forced them out (see Acts 8).
Which brings us to the dilemma of the present day. Are we really at the “end of the age”, when Messiah is about to show up? If so, what does that mean? More importantly, what are we to do about it? How do we prepare for Messiah’s reign in what will be a very real Kingdom centered in a very real place called Jerusalem? What will this Kingdom look like? How will it resemble what we know today in the modern nation-state system? How will it be different?
There is no doubt that God works in big, dramatic ways. The problem for most of us is that we are so inclined to expect Him to do so that we miss the miracles happening right in front of us. For example, consider this prophecy we read about in Jeremiah:
“Therefore behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “that it shall no more be said, ‘The Lord lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt,’ but, ‘The Lord lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north and from all the lands where He had driven them.’ For I will bring them back into their land which I gave to their fathers.” (Jeremiah 16:14-15 NKJV)
This is the Second Exodus. It is so important that YHVH had Jeremiah record it twice (see Jeremiah 23:7-8). In fact, this restoration of the entire nation of Israel is the largest single prophetic topic in all of Scripture. Yeshua’s disciples asked Him about it just before He left them (Acts 1:6). The reason they asked was that He had accomplished so many other Messianic prophecies, but since He had not restored the Kingdom to Israel, and so they wanted to know when He would do so.
By the way, that is also a question our Jewish brethren have – if Yeshua of Nazareth really is Messiah, why is Israel not completely regathered from the nations with a son of David ruling over them from Zion? It’s a valid question. Those of us from the Christian side of the house are satisfied with the answer that Messiah comes twice: first as the Suffering Servant (Messiah son of Joseph), and then as the Conquering King (Messiah son of David). Our Jewish brethren are not satisfied with that answer, which is why the greatest test before us all in this day is whether we can still get along on terms of mutual acceptance and respect in the expectation that God Himself will reveal the full answer to all of us in His timing.
As for the Second Exodus, we are prone to expect that it will unfold in ways similar to the First Exodus. You know: the prophet and his brother confront the mighty dictator, supernatural judgments rain down from heaven, the seas split, and the people are delivered. That sort of thing.
But what if the Second Exodus happens differently? What if it’s not so dramatic? Would we still recognize it as a miracle? Would we praise God because He had done something even greater than the Exodus from Egypt?
There is a joke from World War II that no longer makes sense without some explanation. It is said that a foreign student at an American university wrote an essay about General Douglas MacArthur. In the early months of 1942, as MacArthur presided over a doomed defense of the Philippine Islands, he was ordered to leave his command and go to Australia, there to organize the multinational Allied force that would halt Japanese expansion in the South Pacific. At his departure, MacArthur reportedly promised the people of the Philippines and his Filipino and American troops that he would one day come back with an army to liberate them – which he did two years later. On that momentous day in 1942, though, all he could do was promise, “I shall return.”
Those were inspiring words to Americans about to lose their forward bases and their largest military force in the Far East, and who could not bear to lose with them one of the most senior officers of their Army. MacArthur’s words inspired this young foreign student as well. However, his knowledge of English being imperfect, he conducted his research in his native tongue, and therefore committed an unfortunate faux pas when he presented his paper. Standing proudly in front of his peers, the young man said, “I write about Douglas MacArthur, who said those famous words, ‘I’ll be right back!’”
What is the proper response in such a situation? If there is no offense, then laughter erupts. However, if the hearers take offense, then they respond in anger.
It may be that neither is the proper response. If the one who made the error is trying to communicate in good faith, then the audience should give grace, seek to understand the true message, and help the author overcome the error. That is the point behind King Solomon’s wise words:
Solomon’s observation is rooted in a Torah principle:
You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:14 NKJV)
Jewish sages understand that this principle refers not only to the physically deaf and blind, but also to people who cannot hear or see things clearly. Perhaps they are not present when something is said, or perhaps they do not have the language or experience to grasp the intricacies of a subject under discussion. Consider, for example, a man who is brilliant in his native language, but struggles to order a cup of coffee in English, and is laughed to scorn by those who do not realize the importance of being kind to strangers (another Torah principle).
To be honest, Jews are strangers to me, and I am a stranger to Jews. Although I identify as a Hebrew Roots follower of Messiah Yeshua, I have yet to grasp the intricacies of Judaism. The more Jews I meet and get to know, the more I begin to understand, but always what I say and do is tempered with the fear that I may give offense in some way that I had never anticipated.
There is an old joke about Moses standing on Mount Sinai waiting the hear from YHVH. The hand of the Almighty appears with the Ten Commandments written on stone, and a great Voice says, “Take these two tablets and call me in the morning”.
It is funny because it is not a joke. We know what happened: Moses took the tablets with the Ten Commandments back to the people of Israel, but when he found them celebrating in idolatrous revelry (oddly enough, in worship of YHVH by pagan means), he threw down those tablets written by the Finger of God and shattered them.
Parents should have special insight about YHVH’s reaction to all of this. First, He punished everyone – both the instigators who provoked the people to disobedience, as well as the willfully ignorant who allowed themselves to be led astray. Even those who stood by and let it happen did not escape His notice. Do we not act similarly when our children embark on a path of foolishness that wrecks the house?
That was the negative reaction. What came next was His solution to the problem: He directed Moses to clean up the mess. Consider these words:
And the Lord said to Moses, “Cut two tablets of stone like the first ones, and I will write on these tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you broke. So be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself to Me there on the top of the mountain. (Exodus 34:1-2 NKJV)
In other words, “Bring two tablets and call me in the morning.”
Yesterday morning, as I reviewed the news over breakfast, something unusual caught my eye. It wasn’t actually a news item, but it did appear in one of my usual news sources. There on the sidebar of The Times of Israel web page was this article with the title, “To My Daughter Under the Chupa”. As soon as I saw it, I thought, “Hey! In about a month I’ll have a daughter standing under a chupa. Maybe I should read this.”
I did read it, and I was greatly blessed. It is the speech Rabbi Shmuley Boteach presented recently at the wedding of his daughter. What I found in his remarks was something I have come to expect in Jewish biblical exposition: a profound depth of truth and wisdom that not only supports, but to a great extent completes what I learned in my Christian upbringing.
Perhaps it would be good to explain what a chupa is. It can also be spelled chuppa. The Hebrew pronunciation is difficult for an English speaker, but saying “hoopa” is close enough. One reputable Jewish source explains the chuppa this way:
The chuppah is a tapestry attached to the tops of four poles. The word chuppah means covering or protection, and is intended as a roof or covering for the bride and groom at their wedding.
The chuppah is not merely a charming folk custom, a ceremonial object carried over from a primitive past. It serves a definite, though complicated, legal purpose: It is the decisive act that formally permits the couple’s new status of marriage to be actualized, and it is the legal conclusion of the marriage process that began with betrothal. . . .
Chuppah symbolizes the groom’s home, and the bride’s new domain. More specifically, the chuppah symbolizes the bridal chamber, where the marital act was consummated in ancient times.
This helps explain what I mean when I say that Jewish learning complements my Christian learning. What I mean in this case is that the pastors and teachers I have been blessed to know have consistently taught me that I am part of the Bride of Christ. What they did not teach me was what that means. To understand this requires a Hebraic perspective that takes into account the entire record of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. That is where the Jewish learning comes in. The rabbis know that Israel is the chosen of God, and that He will betroth her as His bride. What the rabbis and the pastors together could not have known until now is that this blessed betrothed one, the Israel of the rabbis and the Church of the pastors, is the same corporate body of believers joined together in the covenant sealed with the blood of YHVH’s Anointed.
Jesus was perhaps the greatest Torah teacher of his day.
Think about that for a moment. We do not often consider the fact that Yeshua haMashiach (Jesus Christ) taught from the Torah, and that he was recognized by Jewish leaders as a great teacher. It began in his youth, when at the age of 12 he astounded the doctors of the Law (Torah) in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52). When he entered into public ministry, the teacher of Israel himself came to inquire of Yeshua about spiritual matters (John 3:1-21). His greatest oration, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:29), was in fact an extensive midrash on the Torah and its application in daily life. That is why Yeshua stated early in that sermon that he had not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it – meaning to teach it correctly and live out its full meaning (Matthew 5:17-20).
This should lead us to the conclusion the Torah was given not only to the Jews, but to all of God’s people. In fact, the Torah applies to every person on earth, or at least it will when Messiah reigns from Jerusalem. How else are we to understand such passages as this one from Isaiah?
Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:2-4 NKJV, emphasis added)
Notice the key to Isaiah’s oft-quoted prophecy: universal peace does not happen until after the nations of the earth submit to the judgment of YHVH’s Messiah and learn and obey the Law (Torah) which he shall teach.
In recent days my friend Pete Rambo and I have enjoyed a lively email exchange with a Jewish brother. By this time we have identified many of the key differences in our beliefs and the ways we perceive the world. I think it is safe to say we are confident enough in our relationship that we can ask some pointed questions without fear of alienating one another. The good thing is that we are all curious about what we believe, and we genuinely want to know how we each perceive the world. This has been eye-opening on all sides. I have learned that some of the things I thought I knew about Jews and Judaism were not quite right, just as our friend has learned that some of the things he thought he knew about Christians and Messianic believers were not quite right. This is the kind of dialogue that is essential if we are to come to an understanding of one another and begin to cooperate in bringing Messiah and building his kingdom.
What I share here is a response provided to our friend in answer to two questions. The first concerned our celebration of Passover (Pesach) – as in, why do non-Jews celebrate the Feast, and how do we do it? The second question involved our description of ourselves as something other than Christian. In other words, how is it that we believe in Yeshua, or Jesus, as Messiah, but do not consider ourselves Christians (or at least traditional Christians). In the interest of building mutual understanding, here are my answers to those questions.
This year we participated in a Passover seder with friends in Austin, TX, just as we have done for the last three years. All of our friends have come out of the traditional church, but all embrace Yeshua as Messiah and have a heart to learn and live the Torah as he taught it. This year we had ten people around the table, including our youngest daughter. Although she is 22 and about to graduate from the University of Texas, she was still the youngest person there, and it fell to her to ask the traditional questions.
We used a Messianic haggadah from Lion and Lamb Ministries. In years past we have produced a haggadah of our own, but it’s easier to take one from a source we appreciate and modify as we go along. That’s precisely what we did. Since none of us grew up Jewish, we do not know the traditional songs and sayings and prayers. However, we know enough to see where the traditions of Judaism mesh with what we have learned about Yeshua as our Messiah. That is why we are comfortable taking a traditional Jewish seder and inserting Messianic and Christian elements. For example, although we sang a chorus of “Dayeinu”, most of our songs were Christian hymns celebrating the death and resurrection of Yeshua as our Passover Lamb. We had the four cups of wine and we said the traditional prayers in Hebrew (since my wife and I have studied the most, we got to lead the prayers), but we did leave out a few things (such as horseradish – much to my chagrin since I like horseradish).
Somewhere in the prophets, just before God talks about the terrible things that happen when Israel is attacked in the Last Days and Messiah comes in the nick of time, there is this promise of restoration:
“I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will bring them back, because I have had compassion on them; and they will be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the Lord their God and I will answer them. Ephraim will be like a mighty man, and their heart will be glad as if from wine; indeed, their children will see it and be glad, their heart will rejoice in the Lord. I will whistle for them to gather them together, for I have redeemed them; and they will be as numerous as they were before. When I scatter them among the peoples, they will remember Me in far countries, and they with their children will live and come back. I will bring them back from the land of Egypt and gather them from Assyria; and I will bring them into the land of Gilead and Lebanon until no room can be found for them. And they will pass through the sea of distress and He will strike the waves in the sea, so that all the depths of the Nile will dry up; and the pride of Assyria will be brought down and the scepter of Egypt will depart. And I will strengthen them in the Lord, and in His name they will walk,” declares the Lord. (Zechariah 10:6-12 NASB)
What are we to make of this? It sounds like a prophecy about Israel, but the word Israel does not appear in this passage. In fact, Israel is not named at all in Zechariah 10. Unless we know that Judah and Joseph and Ephraim are all parts of Israel, we would have no clue who is the subject of this chapter.
But then we know that Judah and Joseph and Ephraim are all parts of Israel, do we not?
Or do we?
Ask an average person that question and the answer may be a shoulder shrug, a blank look, and words like, “The Jews are Israel.” The assumption is that “Israel” and “Jewish people” are synonyms. They mean the same thing. Israel is Jewish and the Jews are Israel. Period. Anyone who claims to be Israel must either be Jewish or be in the process of becoming Jewish. That is the consistent understanding of Christians and Jews and Muslims and anyone else who cares to offer an opinion.
But that consistent understanding is consistently incorrect.
Strange things happen when disciples of Jesus (Yeshua) awaken to their identity as Hebrews. One phenomenon is that they begin to see the Two Houses of Israel throughout the Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. Judah (Yehuda) and Joseph (Yosef) have been rivals since the days of their youth, when Judah led his brothers in putting Joseph into a pit and selling him into slavery in Egypt (Genesis 37:18-28). By the time of their reunion over twenty years later, Joseph had become the leader of a foreign nation and Judah had become the leader of Jacob’s family. Their father Jacob formalized that division before he died, passing on the birthright and the family name to Joseph and to his son Ephraim, but giving the rulership to Judah (Genesis 48:8-22; 49:8-12; I Chronicles 5:1-2).
The division of status did not work out well. In time Judah’s descendant Solomon began to oppress all the other tribes of Israel, and Joseph’s descendant Jeroboam led ten of the tribes in rebellion against Solomon’s son Rehoboam (I Kings 12:1-19). For the next 250 years the nation was divided into the Northern Kingdom of Israel, led by the tribe of Ephraim, and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The Ten Tribes of the Northern Kingdom eventually fell into such wicked idolatry that YHVH pronounced a sentence of national death on them: He allowed the Assyrian Empire to conquer them, and then dispersed them into every nation on earth. Judah, however, remained a people, although they lost their national sovereignty in the Babylonian Conquest. They regained sovereignty for a time before the Roman era, but the Jews for the most part were a wandering people until the State of Israel came into existence in 1948.
But what happened to Joseph, or Ephraim as that people are also called in Scripture? They are still dispersed in the nations, but it seems that they are awakening to their identity. In fact, it seems that such was the main purpose of Messiah Yeshua’s ministry 2,000 years ago. He Himself said He had come to the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel (Matthew 15:24) – something that brings to mind the prophecies of Micaiah the man of God to Ahab the wicked king (I Kings 22:15-18), and of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 50:6).
What has happened over the last two millennia is that the Lost Sheep and many of their companions among the Gentiles (nations) have been found. Through Yeshua they have joined themselves to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The next step in the process is the awakening of these formerly Lost Sheep to the full revelation of their identity as Israelites – as Hebrews. From there is is but a small step to eager anticipation of their reunification with their Jewish brethren of the House of Judah. That is happening right now, in our day.
Jewish sages have long taught about two messiahs revealed in the Tanakh (Old Testament). One is Messiah Son of Joseph (Mashiach ben Yosef), the suffering servant who will take the punishment for Israel’s sin and covenant-breaking departure from YHVH’s standards of righteousness (His Torah). The other is Messiah Son of David (Mashiach ben David), the conquering king who will regather and restore the scattered tribes of Israel, subdue the nations under his rule, and bring the resurrection of the dead. That is the message of such passages as Isaiah 11, Daniel 7:13-14, and Psalm 110, whereas Isaiah 53 is the quintessential passage describing the work of Mashiach ben Yosef, the Messiah whose life and ministry was prefigured in the life and ministry of Joseph.
Since Yeshua of Nazareth suffered greatly, even to the point of death as a criminal through a horrendous miscarriage of justice, it would seem that He fits the description of Mashiach ben Yosef. The question is whether He is also Mashiach ben David. That is the position of Christians and those who come from and align with the Christian position on Yeshua (including this author). Jews do not see it that way. If they even consider Yeshua to have fulfilled any messianic function at all, it would be Mashiach ben Yosef. We can all agree that Yeshua has not completed the work of Mashiach ben David; the entire world is still awaiting the coming King of Israel who will arrive in power and great glory. How fascinating that Christians, Jews (Messianic and non-Messianic), and Hebrew Roots believers are all waiting on the same Mashiach ben David. The only disagreement seems to be on that Messiah’s identity.
Let us consider for a moment what Yeshua’s work as Mashiach ben Yosef might mean for the many hundreds of thousands of people around the world who consider themselves non-Jewish Hebrews. If they are Ephraimites of the House of Joseph, then that introduces a whole new dimension on Yeshua’s redemptive work. Just as the story of Joseph prefigures the life, death, and resurrection of Yeshua, so also the story of Yeshua prefigures the national life, death, and resurrection of the House of Joseph. If one day is as a thousand years to the Lord (Psalm 90:4; II Peter 3:8), then we are now nearing the end of the third day since the Northern Kingdom’s national death in 721 BCE. Are we therefore witnessing the Northern Kingdom’s resurrection as the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel return to national life as a people?
Much has been written on this, and much more will be said and done in the days to come. For now, consider these illustrations of New Testament passages in the context of the Two Houses, the Two Sticks, and the Two Brothers coming together as their Father in Heaven has promised.
This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am going to take the stick of Joseph—which is in Ephraim’s hand—and of the Israelite tribes associated with him, and join it to Judah’s stick. I will make them into a single stick of wood, and they will become one in my hand. (Ezekiel 37:19 NIV)
From Pete Rambo on natsab:
I have just started reading Angus Wooten’s Restoring Israel’s Kingdom, a book that promises to deepen my understanding of who I am and what my Father’s business is.
In the comments on the cover credit (artwork of the two sticks being made one, Ez. 37:15ff), I saw a neat paradigm shifting idea: the house of Israel was scattered into the nations for disobedience. If they were sown as Israelites, what makes us think they’ll be harvested as anything other than Israelites?
In fact, the Scriptures attest, over and over, that God’s intent is to restore the whole house of Israel. See Acts 1:8; Ez. 37:24ff; Deu. 30; Is. 2:1-5; Eph. 2:12, etc…
If God will harvest Israelites, what might they look like?? Hmmmm…