Are You Being Judaism-ish?

When you walk into a Messianic synagogue service on Shabbat, you’re highly likely to hear and see things like head coverings, prayer shawls, liturgy and siddurs, the reading of the Torah portion, a Torah scroll processional, the kiddush, the hamotzi, and the traditional Jewish blessings. Throughout Messianic Judaism and the various Jewish/Hebraic roots movements, such elements—adopted from traditional, rabbinic Judaism—have become inseparably blended into Messianic culture and expression. But what do these traditions and customs accomplish for us as disciples of Messiah? Do they complement the word of God, or compete with it? Do they make us better practitioners of Scripture, or of Judaism? Do they support, reinforce and guide one in biblical Jewishness? Or do they support, reinforce and guide one in what we might call… “Judaismishness”? The problem with believers in Messiah adopting “Judaismishness” is that it causes both Messianic Jews and Gentiles alike to tend to mistake “Judaismish” things for biblical ones. It leads to a conflation and confusion over what is Scripture and what is Judaism.

The ignorance and nullification of Scripture has always been the danger of relying on man-made tradition. The Master Yeshua famously rebuked the Pharisees, demonstrating that they had “set aside the word of God because of [their] tradition” (Matthew 15:6). He called them “hypocrites” of whom Isaiah prophesied, saying, “This people honors Me with the lips, but their heart is far off from Me; and in vain they reverence Me, teaching teachings that are but the commands of men” (15:8-9). All traditions, whether from Judaism or Christianity, by their very nature have a way of infringing upon and overshadowing the simple teaching of Scripture. And for far too many believers who start down the “Judaismish” road—falsely thinking they are on the Torah road—the inevitable result is the following of their infatuation into a dead-end denial of Yeshua.

Messianic Jewish practice today has largely become so infused with Rabbinic Judaism that there is no practical distinction between keeping Torah and following the traditions (as if the traditions are necessary for Torah-keeping, which they are not). It has become automatic to assume that the way Judaism keeps a Torah command is how the command is supposed to be kept. The Torah, for example, says to keep the Shabbat. How do we do that? Candle lighting and Torah scroll processionals. The Torah says to keep the Passover. How do we do that? Attend a Passover seder. But this is not what the Scriptures say. It is false to presume that the most authentically Jewish way to keep the Torah is according to the ones who have been allegedly doing it for the last 2,000 years. Yet by Judaism’s own self-definition they have not been keeping the Torah, but rather maintaining a fence around it—exactly as the Talmud commands (Pirkei Avot 1:1). Judaism has not been keeping the Torah—Judaism has been keeping Judaism
…and so do we when we mistake “Judaismishness” for Jewishness.

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To avoid pursuing “Judaismishness” in your faith-expression, and instead elevate and come closer to the pure word of God, there are a few deliberate things you can do. First, realize and admit where you’re being “Judaismish”—where you have submitted to Judaism’s authority, rather than God’s. Second, learn the difference between Jewishness and “Judaismishness” by starting with a fresh look only at the Scriptures. Third, for Messianic Jews, understand that it is Yeshua inwardly—not outward Jewish tradition—that defines a Jew’s inward Jewishness (see Romans 2:28f). And last, reevaluate and potentially change the role of Judaism in your life. How would your life and effectiveness for Yeshua change if you put your time, energy and resources not into keeping the traditions of Judaism, but into knowing and doing the word of God?

As disciples of Messiah—Jew or Gentile—our goal should not be Jewish tradition, or even Torah-keeping, but how to fulfill our biblical calling in Yeshua. Are we really going to do that by trying to be more “Judaismish”? Or by following the example of Yeshua according to God’s pure and perfect word?

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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