Core Value #1
Messianic Judaism is a Judaism and not a cosmetically altered "Jewish style" version of what is extant in the wider Christian community.
This was the great leap which was taken when we changed our self-designation from "Hebrew-Christian" or "Jewish-Christian" to "Messianic Jew." We were saying that we no longer saw ourselves as Christians-Presbyterians, Baptists, Episcopalians, Pentecostals, etc.-who happened to come from Jewish ethnic backgrounds. Instead, being "Jewish" is, for us, a fundamental religious category. We are those who by birth share in the covenant G-d made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and whose ancestors pledged themselves and their descendants to a particular way of life with G-d at Sinai. Having been born into the covenant, we have also come to recognize Messiah Yeshua as the One sent by G-d to bring the covenant to its appointed goal.
We expressed this reality by switching our worship day from Sunday to Saturday, by celebrating the biblical feasts, by adopting traditional Jewish religious terminology (such as "rabbi" and "synagogue") and traditional Jewish religious customs (such as wearing tallit and kippot, having Torah services, and reciting the Shema), by employing selected Hebrew prayers in our services, by singing in a minor key and dancing Israeli dances. All of this was positive and good, though for the most part, superficial. The surface structure is the easiest to change. Of more importance is the deep structure, and this level has proved more intransigent.
The deep structure of religious life consists of the rooted patterns of thought, speech, action and identification reflected in our daily lives as individuals, families, and congregations. How do we think and talk about G-d, about His involvement with the world and with Israel? What is the actual texture of our daily and weekly religious practice? How is our sense of connection with the Jewish people as a whole expressed?
Too often the deep structure of Messianic Jewish religious life is indistinguishable from that of popular evangelicalism and bears little or no resemblance to any form of Judaism, past or present. When the world is easily divided into the classes of "saved" and "unsaved," when our speech is peppered with casual references to "what G-d just did" and "what G-d just said," when our exclusive mode of prayer is conversational and begins "Father G-d" and ends "in the precious name of Yeshua," when our kids go to Christian schools because the public schools are filled with "satanic influences," when speculation about the end-times is more natural to us than reciting a berachah -- then we know that the deep structure of our religious life is Hebrew Christian and has been untouched by the drastic changes in the surface structure of our movement.
We in Hashivenu believe that the radical innovation initiated in the 70's with the birth of "Messianic Judaism" -- founded on first century precedent but radically "new," nevertheless -- has not yet been brought to its logical conclusion. The deep structure must now be transformed.
When we say that Messianic Judaism is "a Judaism," we are also acknowledging the existence of other "Judaisms." We do not deny their existence, their legitimacy, or their value. We are not the sole valid expression of Judaism with all else a counterfeit. We recognize our kinship with other Judaisms and believe that we have much of profound importance to learn from them, as well as something vitally important to share with them. Top
Core Value #2
G-d's particular relationship with Israel is expressed in the Torah, G-d's unique covenant with the Jewish people.
Within the Messianic movement it is an accepted assertion that the Jewish people have a unique covenant relationship with G-d and a particular vocation in this world. The Pauline affirmation of the irrevocable nature of the promises, gifts, and calling of G-d is axiomatic throughout the movement. While opening up new possibilities for the Gentiles and placing them in a new relationship to Israel, the coming of Yeshua does not obliterate Israel's character as a people set apart with a special destiny.
Neither is the ongoing value of Torah a contentious issue within our ranks. It was the embracing of noteworthy elements of Torah observance, such as Shabbat, the festal calendar, and tzitzit, which distinguished our movement from its inception. Matthew 5:17, with its assurance that Yeshua came to fulfill and not abolish the Torah, is just as foundational for our movement as is Romans 11:29.
It is the connection between these two affirmations that causes some consternation among us. We in Hashivenu believe that the specific observances of the Torah serve as signs of the distinctive character and calling of the Jewish people: "You must keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout the ages, that you may know that I HaShem have consecrated you" (Exodus 31:13). It is emphasized time and again throughout Jewish tradition that the Torah is G-d's special gift to the people of Israel: "Blessed are You ... who chose us from all nations and gave us Your Torah."
This is not to say that the Torah is irrelevant to Gentile Christians. Though it addresses a particular people and serves as its national constitution and customs, it also has universal implications. It points prophetically and typologically to the coming of Yeshua and the inclusion of the Gentiles in a covenant relationship with G-d. The specific ordinances of the Torah also reveal principles that apply beyond Israel's collective national life. Nevertheless, in all its particularity, the Torah is G-d's gift of love for one particular people, the people of Israel.
We in Hashivenu believe that this truth requires emphasis within the Messianic Jewish movement. Though Messianic Jews never cease to attack "replacement theology" (usually known outside our movement as "supersessionalism"), we are in danger of failing prey to a more subtle form of the same error. If, in all its ordinances, the Torah addresses Gentiles as much as it does Jews, if it defines the life of the Church as much as it defines the life of the Jewish people, then what remains of Israel's unique character and calling? In the past Jews who entered the church were compelled to surrender Jewish observance and identity and, as a result, they were assimilated and they and their children lost any sense of being Jews. If, contrary to the Apostolic decree and the Pauline injunction, Gentiles in the church are now encouraged to live just like Messianic Jews, will not the same result occur? And what of the Jews who do not believe in Yeshua? What need is there for them? G-d now has a people who are truly keeping his Torah-the Church! We are left with a Messianic Jewish movement without any Jews, a movement that loves Jewish things but not Jewish people.
In our second core value, we express our love for the Jewish people, as rooted in the unique divine love for the Jewish people. We also make known our love for Torah as the divine gift to the Jewish people. Last, but not least, we affirm our conviction that this divine gift to Israel, the Torah, manifests this unique divine love for Israel and is not applicable in the same way to the Gentiles. Top
Core Value #3
Yeshua is the fullness of Torah.
As long as theological statements have been codified, the Torah has been viewed against Grace. This phenomenon has colored the perception and understanding of many generations of people regarding Torah. People who have seen the world through the Christian worldview have, along with the many advantages, accepted a distorted view of Torah. To them, the Torah is bad, the Gospel is good. Gospel is life and freedom; Torah is seen as slavery and death. With this view as their starting point, it would have been impossible to avoid the inevitability of a negative view of the Law.
With the birth of the Messianic movement, Jewish believers began to have a new self-perception in which their Jewishness was something good and positive and not something to be "saved from." Yet the misperception of Torah persisted as that which was, at best, a "schoolmaster to lead one to Christ" and, at worst, "the temptress who seeks to seduce its victims from salvation by grace through the lure of a salvation of works righteousness."
The real problem with the Torah is not the Torah but the human misunderstanding of Scripture. The Torah was given by G-d at Mt. Sinai. Yeshua was more than a latter born Moshe. He is the Word who was in the Beginning, through whom the world was created. He is the G-d of Israel, the G-d who gave the Torah to the sons of Israel through the hand of Moshe. The commandments of the Torah are Yeshua's commandments, not an arbitrary set of rules or rituals. They are a revelation of the heart of G-d; they are a reflection of Yeshua's heart. They cannot be understood to be G-d's lesser commands. Yeshua's teachings do not permit such a view. Those who wish to be more like Him must follow the Torah's teachings because they are His very heart. This is the true meaning of the Torah as a schoolmaster to lead us to Messiah. The Torah is not a divine introduction service, arranging blind dates, after which its usefulness is completed. It is a schoolmaster, a teacher -- to guide and train us to become more like Him because this was how He lived and what was in His heart.
The Torah is not a lesser revelation of Yeshua, like an uncompleted puzzle. Simply attaching an addendum to a prayer or commandment does not make it any more complete than it was prior to the addendum. The mitzvah is already complete in that it reflects the heart of Yeshua. When a mitzvah is completed as it was intended when given, it reflects the heart of G-d. Our goal should not be to amend every prayer, commandment, and ritual with Messianic nomenclature. Rather, our goal should be to follow Torah, having faith and a desire to connect with G-d through the act of following. Surely, this was the life Yeshua lived and the life He desires His people to live. Every act of observance is an opportunity to connect with Him. He is the fullness of Torah. Our lives should be so full. Top
Core Value #4
The Jewish people are "us," not "them."
Like a boat that had drifted from its moorings, we were not cognizant of what was happening to us until a key event, conversation, or combination of factors jolted us awake to the realization that we were farther from our Jewish moorings than we had realized.
For most of us, experience in evangelical contexts taught us to look at Jews only as people to whom we ought to witness. For us, the subtext of every family gathering became "How can I bring the subject up?" and the objective in our relationships with Jewish family, friends and acquaintances became "How can I witness to them without their closing the door on the Gospel and on me?" As important as these issues are, we realize now how wrong it was for these evangelistic concerns to be the sole axis of measurement of relationship with other Jews, even our own family members. We became church-culture chameleons, adept at blending in, showing that even though we were Jews, "we weren't like the other Jews": we were real Christians, too. More often than we were prepared to admit, though, we felt ourselves uneasy strangers in a strange land of potluck suppers, hallelujahs, and obligatory right-wing politics. But we had been taught, "You can't go back to what you were. This sense of distance from the Jewish people, Jewish ways, and from family is the cost of discipleship, the cross you are called to gladly bear. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad." One day we discovered that we had become habituated to speaking of the Jewish community in third person. We awoke with a start.
Now we know we can go home again. In fact, we must go home again for, truly, there is no place like home. And home for Jews is Jewish life. No doubt, we will have to remodel that home a bit to properly accommodate Yeshua, our Messiah, but better to remodel our own home than to be a permanent guest at someone else's address.
We dare to believe that among the many mansions prepared for Yeshua's people, some have mezuzot on the doors. We dare to believe that by rediscovering and reclaiming our own identity as Jews, we will be better brothers and sisters to Gentiles who love our Messiah. In all aspects of life, we want to live in a Jewish neighborhood socially, culturally, conceptually so that we and our children and our children's children will not only call Yeshua Lord but also call the Jewish people "our people" and Jewish life "home." Top
Core Value #5
The richness of the rabbinic tradition is a valuable part of our heritage as Jewish people.
Although weaned and wooed to believe that our New Covenant faith was based on the Bible and nothing but the Bible, "the only rule of faith and practice," we gradually discovered that living out our faith inevitably had a cultural component. The Bible cannot be understood apart from a community context, which helps one understand its deepest meanings. In this way, obedience might become incarnate in daily life. We realized that having our views shaped entirely by a non-Jewish context was leaving a foreign imprint on our hearts, minds and lives. We wondered if this was the best we could expect.
Many of us had been brought up ignorant of, or even hostile to, the varied voices of Jewish tradition. Some had parents who paid lip-service to the G-d of our fathers, while in reality served the lesser G-ds of assimilation, success, and the unquestioned ideals of a good marriage, a home of their own in a good neighborhood, a comfortable retirement, and a better lifestyle for their children. Although these ideals were not unworthy in themselves, they become a form of idolatry when they get treated as the ultimate good. This form of idolatry can never, in the end, satisfy a people formed by HaShem to show forth His praise. But, we had been taught by omission not to look to Jewish tradition to learn how to live "the good life" in the modern world.
Certainly, our evangelical contexts taught us to distrust the opinions of "the rabbis" whose views on life and faith were perceived as a deceptive and legalistic counterfeit of the more abundant life to be found in Yeshua. After all, we had the Holy Spirit! What could we possibly learn from the rabbis except dead religion? "The letter kills but the Spirit gives life." Eventually, we recognized the superficiality of our judgments. We began to reckon with the fact that the proclaimed polarity between Torah and Spirit distorts the testimony of Scripture. We came to appreciate that New Covenant benefits include the Holy Spirit writing the Torah on our hearts, therefore causing us to walk in the statutes and ordinances of G-d. We began to appreciate the unity of Torah and Spirit.
We also began to appreciate how our own spiritual lives stood to benefit from the fruit of thousands of years of Jewish struggle for understanding. Like Paul, we began to bear witness to the undying flame of Jewish zeal for G-d. We began to lean upon these structural pillars, which stabilize Jewish religious life, understanding that they could help strengthen us and the Messianic Jewish community as well.
And what are these three pillars? The first is Torah, instruction for the good life based on the study of the sacred texts. This practice is helping us become more deliberate and informed in discerning the shape of obedience as we encounter life in all its complexity and particularity. Here, too, we learn afresh of the saving acts of G-d, of His promises, and see a reflection of His face.
The second pillar is avodah, the practice of liturgical prayer, which continues to surprise and delight us in its power to enrich our lives. In daily davvening we take our place with our people in the promises and purposes of G-d, reminded again and again of His irrevocable promises to the Patriarchs. We sing His praises with them at the shore of the Red Sea, celebrating our deliverance, sobered by the righteous judgment that overtook our foes, of which not one was left. We hear again and again, as if for the first time, His promise to gather our people from the four corners of the earth, for not one letter of His word will go unfulfilled. Is He not the Blessed One, who says and performs, who decrees and fulfills? We rediscovered daily the faith-transforming power of the Passages of Praise, the time-honored wisdom of the prayer agenda mapped out in the Amidah, and the stability and challenge encountered as we join our people at the foot of Sinai, listening again to the living word of the one who never stops saying to us, "Shema Yisrael." And we leave His presence reoriented and renewed, having again pledged allegiance to Him in the stirring words of the Alenu.
The pillar of gemilut hasadim, deeds of lovingkindness, supports and informs us as we learn to understand the meaning of "true religion," which one New Covenant writer defined as "visiting orphans and widows in their affliction and keeping oneself unspotted by the world." His is a vision totally consonant with this third pillar. The splendid and rich tradition of Jewish ethical writings and discussion of the fine print behind "doing justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with your G-d" never ceases to chasten us, providing teaching, rebuke, correction, and training in righteousness, that we might be fully equipped for every good work.
In all these ways and more, we have become informed and transformed by our own heritage. We rejoice at the privilege of drinking from our own wells, the wells from which our fathers, and from which Yeshua and the Apostles also drank and were sustained. Besides these wells we meet with Yeshua today, and here He speaks with us anew. Top
Core Value #6
Because all people are created in the image of G-d, how we treat them is a reflection of our respect and love for Him. Therefore, true piety cannot exist apart from human decency.
In the science fiction saga, Star Trek, there was a planet of people who had a cloaking device for their ships. They were able to fly around the universe while escaping the detection of any other starships. While their cloaking device was in operation, they were able to travel where and when they wanted without opposition from others, and it gave them an advantageous position from which to attack their enemies. In a similar way, people have misused religion as a cloaking device through which they could maneuver through life, escape detection for wrongs committed and even launch attacks on others.
Historically, this misuse of religion can be seen as far back as organized religion itself. All the prophets cried out against this abuse; Yeshua of Nazareth railed against it as well. The Church persecuted the Jewish people for almost two millennia in the name of religion.
Most thinking people would admit it is not fair to blame religion itself for these things. The problem is one of human nature. It is easy to cloak wrong intentions and problems under a cover of religious piety. Karl Marx thought the answer was to ban religion, but communism proved that politics could be just as effective a cloak as religion.
Religion can be affirmed as good and right. Ritual can be affirmed as a valid expression of faith and a means of connecting with G-d. Sadly, wherever the valid expression exists, the corruption of the ritual can also exist.
There are many Jewish people rediscovering their heritage as well as its beautiful practices. This rediscovery enables us to affirm identity as well as pass on our heritage to our children. Unfortunately, there are some who misuse ritual and form as a pretext to gain acceptance and authority. Some have taken to wearing the black hats and clothing of the Ultra-Orthodox. Others have sought to learn the rituals themselves as a means to grasp authority in the congregation. They have taken something that, in and of itself, is good, and have transformed it solely by their wrong intention into something malevolent.
Yeshua did not speak against ritual and tradition but against the wrong attitudes of those who taught and practiced them with improper motives. When people treat people poorly, whether for religious reasons or non-religious reasons, the value of their religious practice becomes nullified.
The parable of the sheep and the goats makes this clear. To the sheep it is said, "I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was naked and you clothed me." They answered, "L-rd, When did we ever see you in need?" And He said, "When you did so to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me." To the goats it was said, "I was hungry and you gave me nothing. I was thirsty and you let me thirst. I was naked and you did not clothe me." They answered, "L-rd, When did we ever see you in need?" and He said, "When you did not do so to the least of these my brethren, you didn't do it to me." The only difference between the sheep and the goats was what they did or did not do. Yaacov, the brother of Yeshua, said that pure and undefiled religion is to take care of the needs of widows and orphans. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Yeshua taught the issue is not WHO is our neighbor, but that we are to BE a neighbor, rendering assistance to anyone in need. When an individual becomes a neighbor, a person who seeks to reach out and meet the needs of others, it can be a deeply religious act.
Religious people easily become preoccupied with words, presuming to become the voice of G-d to those around them. But it is far more fulfilling to be the hands of G-d in the world, as Yeshua and the prophets taught. Yeshua stated "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve," and "He who wishes to be the greatest among you must become the servant of all."
Long ago people tuned out the many self-proclaimed voices of G-d. It gave them headaches. People need to experience His love through kind actions. They need to feel His hands blessing them. The time is long past where religious pretext can cover up man's inhumanity to man. "Holier than thou" attitudes will prove unprofitable is unacceptable as we approach the next millennium. Actually, they never were acceptable from G-d's point of view. The ability to quote Bible verses or the practice of dressing in religious attire are not acceptable alternative standards of spirituality. All people are created in the image of G-d, therefore, how we treat them is a reflection of our respect and love for Him. True piety cannot exist apart from human decency. This is the heart of G-d; people need to feel it beating. Top
Core Value #7
Maturation requires a humble openness to discovery within the context of firmly held convictions.
The heavens declare the glory of G-d;
the skies proclaim the work of His hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
The psalmist beheld the vastness of creation and stood in awe of the inscrutable nature of the Eternal Personality who ordered the universe. Though most religious thinkers would give intellectual assent to the abstruseness of both creation and Creator, the human need for certainty has forced most traditional religions to operate as closed systems, tightly bound by a set of immutable presuppositions and dogma. Though we recognize the importance of firm and clearly held convictions, we consider the cultivation of supple hearts and minds essential if the Messianic Jewish community is to move on to maturity.
With the blessings of the information age, new challenges have arisen. The sheer volume of new and continual discovery has been coupled with the nearly unlimited potential to disseminate and receive information and insight. The result is a new climate, which affects how we view Messianic Judaism, our role, our past, our future and the world about us. Our social, theological and philosophical paradigms have become subject to both new and old thought, which may have previously been ignored, if at all considered. Rather than retreat into the safe and sure fortresses of our immediate past, we must courageously, yet wisely, engage and interact with our dramatically changing world.
Hashivenu affirms the titanic contributions and complementary relationship of the historical Church and the Synagogue to the ennoblement and advancement of the human enterprise. We therefore encourage the Messianic Jewish community to avail itself of the insights of both institutions while critically evaluating the usefulness of such insights as we pursue maturation. We also recognize the tremendous value offered by contemporary cross-disciplinary scholarship. Since truth may be found in surprising places, the over- worn categorization of liberal and conservative will not, in our opinion, serve the best interest of an emerging Messianic Judaism. Top