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 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.
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.
The one element of Steven Spielberg’s movies which has remained just beneath my consciousness for nearly thirty years is not his stunning cinematography or compelling drama. It is a song; a simple Welsh melody which carries us through Empire of the Sun. We first hear Suo Gân (Lullaby) as the movie opens. British choir boys sing it in church in the compound reserved for foreigners living in Shanghai. The soloist is Jamie (Christian Bale), a boy of about 10. He is British by birth, but he has never set foot on his parents’ homeland. Jamie’s family live as privileged foreigners have lived ever since China capitulated in the First Opium War a century before. They take no notice of the Chinese except where their own wants and needs are concerned. Jamie, a son of privilege, knows no other way than to lord it over the natives beneath his station.
Change comes quickly when the Japanese attack. China and Japan have been at war for years, but Shanghai is undisturbed until December 8, 1941. As America’s Pacific Fleet burns in Pearl Harbor, Japan’s legions occupy Shanghai. Jamie’s family flees, but in the confusion he is separated from his parents and left to fend for himself, eventually landing in an internment camp adjacent to a Japanese airfield.
By 1945 he is no longer Jamie, but Jim, a rough lad learning to survive among the mixed multitude in captivity. Jim can hold his own, having grown accustomed to lying, stealing, cheating, and other mischief. His innocence dies bit by bit, not only through the tribulations of war, but through betrayal by men he trusts. Yet Suo Gân remains with him. One morning he awakens to see Japanese aviators participating in the ceremony of the kamikaze. Jim comes to attention, salutes, and sings the lullaby in tribute to these men who will soon die in the service of their Emperor. Their deaths come more quickly than expected. At that instant, American P-51 Mustangs, the “Cadillac of the sky”, attack, rapidly transforming the airfield into a smoking ruin. In their wake Jim pauses to consider the dreadful price he has paid to survive. With despair he confesses, “I can’t remember what my parents look like.”
At war’s end Jim finds himself in an orphanage among children awaiting reunion with their parents. Tears of joy flow, but he stands in shocked silence. His father passes by, not recognizing the hardened youth as the beloved, if rebellious, child he knew. It is his mother who sees him, first as the Jamie she loved, then as the Jim she does not know how to love, and finally as a young man with gaping wounds in his soul who desperately needs the healing that only a parent’s love can bring. He looks into her face and four years of pain and death wash away in peace beyond hope – the peace promised in the strains of Suo Gân.
All Jim can remember is the song, but it is enough to set him on the path of healing and reconciliation. So it is with the exiled, destitute people of YHVH. He also gave a song to them – a song that would carry them through time to peace beyond hope:
Then it shall come about, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song will testify before them as a witness (for it shall not be forgotten from the lips of their descendants); for I know their intent which they are developing today, before I have brought them into the land which I swore. (Deuteronomy 31:21 NASB)
Isaac Asimov could have written I, Robot without Karel Čapek’s help, but he would have needed a different word for the artificial life forms featured in his writing. Asimov’s robot stories shifted the paradigms of science fiction by exploring the unintended consequences of creating something smarter and stronger than a human, but without a human’s ethical configuration. For over half a century he probed dark and difficult territory, asking questions and spinning scenarios that remain disturbingly applicable to our present reality. Yet Asimov neither invented the word “robot”, nor initiated the inquiry into the potential nemesis of unbridled technological innovation.
Bad things happen when man plays the role of God, as Mary Shelley demonstrated in 1818 with her first novel, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. Shelley brought the question into the modern era, but it was Karel Čapek who mechanized it. Čapek’s play R.U.R. (Rossumovi univerzální roboti; Rossum’s Universal Robots) was a success from its first performance in 1920. The play introduced international audiences to the Czech word robota, meaning hard work, a word rendered into English as robot. The play is not a comedy; in Čapek’s imaginary world the robots are manufactured life forms designed to assist humans, but eventually they rebel and extinguish all human life.
Čapek revived this scenario in War with the Newts, a novel published in 1936 as satire on the hypocritically self-serving international system which enabled Nazi Germany’s dismemberment of Czechoslovakia two years later. It is a humorously dark tale about a race of sentient amphibian creatures discovered in the waters of Indonesia. The newts prove to be swift learners and adept at a multitude of tasks, making them ideal candidates for exploitation not only as workers, but also as undersea warriors. In time the newts, like the robots, rebel, destroying the dry land and turning it into shallow waters suitable for their environmental needs. The nations of the earth find themselves in a war for survival against a global amphibian army. It is a war humanity will not win, but Čapek reveals that the victorious newts will turn on themselves and become the instruments of their own destruction, leaving a remnant of mankind to rebuild the planet.
It is frightful to contemplate the end of one’s world, particularly when the end is justly deserved. Asimov, Shelley, and Čapek relate scenarios of judgment resulting from mankind’s own selfish shortsightedness – playing God, if you will. The element of terror they invoke lurks in the revelation that the instruments of judgment are the works of our own hands. As usual, art imitates life. YHVH renders judgment on those who disregard His standard of righteousness and set up standards of their own – playing God, if you will. Judgment brings a sentence of destruction and death, which is terrifying enough. What makes it more chilling is to learn the name of the one who will bring about the anticipated death and destruction. About 35 centuries ago, the doomed Canaanite civilization experienced that very thing shortly after Moses spoke these words:
It is the Lord your God who will cross ahead of you; He will destroy these nations before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua is the one who will cross ahead of you, just as the Lord has spoken. (Deuteronomy 31:3 NASB)
The worst fate a person can endure? That would be loss of self. It is not the same as selflessness, a desirable state of humility which YHVH honors. Loss of self means removal of what defines a person as a person. We see this in loved ones who slip slowly away through the ravages of progressive dementia. Little by little they forget who they are until in the end there is nothing left of them but the memory carried in the hearts of those who once knew them. It is a tragedy as old as humanity.
Some of our best stories spring from this loss of identity. Nearly 2,500 years ago Sophocles dramatized this phenomenon in Oedipus the King, a tale of a man whose birth was accompanied by a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. The parents attempt to circumvent the prophecy by ordering the infant slain, but to no avail. Oedipus is saved and brought up by foster parents, completely ignorant of his identity. Eventually he fulfills the prophecy. When at last the secret of his identity is revealed, his mother commits suicide and Oedipus puts out his own eyes.
This motif of hidden identity and forgotten knowledge manifests not merely in classic Greek drama, but in every literary form. It appears even in fairy tales, where protagonists like Beauty’s Beast and the Frog Prince lose their humanity. Rapunzel’s prince retains his identity, but he wanders in blindness. Similarly, Hansel and Gretel lose their way in the forest despite their best efforts. Princesses also succumb to identity loss, as we learn from Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. Even Cinderella’s true station in life is a mystery to her prince.
The fairy tales generally have happy endings, or at least the Disney renditions make them so, but that is not the case in every tale of this sort. One might say this identity issue is a perpetual human condition. We make it worse by ignoring our history, severing the connection with our fathers and mothers of ages past. This ignorance, whether self-inflicted or imposed by other forces, is the foundation of George Santayana’s famous warning, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. It is also a reflection of prophetic truth uttered by two men of God in the 8th century BCE:
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. (Hosea 4:6 NASB)
Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge; and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude is parched with thirst. (Isaiah 5:13 NASB)