Torah-free repentance: The problem with Jews for Jesus and other Missions to the Jews

Jews for Jesus affirms Jewish believers who, for the sake of honoring our heritage and developing a Jewish testimony, choose to give up some of what grace allows to conform to dietary standards and various other Jewish practices. As long as such practices are not presented as incumbent upon others in the body of Messiah, Jewish or Gentile, we hope to be an encouragement to those who desire to uphold their Jewish identity in this way.

(from Fall 2003 Havurah, a publication of Jews for Jesus)

In the above sidebar to an article in the Fall 2003 Havurah newsletter addresses the view of Jews for Jesus (even now 11 years later I would say is still representative of Jews for Jesus’ view and that of other Jewish missions groups) on the issue of Messianic Jews observing Torah commands like kashrut, Shabbat and others.  It is a huge statement that lays out their view that the observing of Torah and Jewish practices are seen as acts that one is “allowed” to do and by observing Torah and Jewish practices the Jewish believer is giving up of God’s “grace” that in their understanding no longer requires observance of Torah by Yeshua believing Jews.

In this short paragraph the organization, Jews for Jesus demonstrates that they see the Torah as no longer relevant in the life of Messianic Jews and also that obeying the Torah and observing Jewish practices is not doing an act of obedience by all Jews to the God who gave the Torah but as an acceptable activity that one can do as “evangelistic shtick” for the sake of witness or some kind of heritage attachment.

This is not an expression of Messianic Judaism and despite Jews for Jesus’ many attempts to try to paint themselves within the Messianic Jewish world the above statement clearly puts them outside the realm of being a part of the worldview of Messianic Judaism and outside a life within Jewish space and at odds with the Messiah that they seek to proclaim.

Besides the sociological problem of the statement is the huge issue of Jews for Jesus (a prominent Evangelical Christian affiliated organization) saying that Jewish believers in Yeshua can obey God if they want to, but obeying God’s Torah should not be seen as incumbent!

Stop and think about this, they are seeking to draw Jewish people to believe in the Jewish Messiah, yet they do not take the Messiah’s own example of the importance of living Torah and therefore they are offering the Jewish community a “Torah free” and “Judaism free” Messiah.

Torah observance is an act of obeying God, it is not just an acceptable “abandoning of grace” for heritage connection or witness. Though it is true that obeying Torah and living Jewish life is a way of connection to Jewish heritage and a witness of God to the world, the obeying of Torah is to be primarily an act of obeying God’s commands and His Torah.

The call of missionaries like Jews for Jesus is for Jews to put their faith in Yeshua as Messiah and repent of their sins.  But what is Jewish sin, other than living outside the bounds of Torah?  What is the sign of true repentance but to turn from violating God’s Torah and seeking to live within it’s boundaries.  A call to Yeshua faith and repentance for Jews  that does not lead toward a life the new Jewish believer of walking on the path of Torah is not a true call to repentance and can be an example of what Paul called “another Yeshua and another good news”, but this Yeshua is not the true Yeshua and this good news is at best inadequate and at worst leading people to live in rebellion to God with the stamp of approval from Jews for Jesus and other missions groups.

The shape of Jewish repentance is bound up in seeking to live Torah, a Torah-free life of a Messianic Jew is not a God honoring life.  If we are going to call Jewish people to accept Yeshua as Messiah our message must include that following God for all Jews (especially Messianic Jews) is a life tied to Torah.  If the great Messianic hope is Yom Shekulo Shabbat, a time of unending Shabbat, a time of all creation living in the light of Messiah and ordered by his Torah, should we not now who call Yeshua our Messiah begin now to live our lives ordered by the very Torah that the world to come will be ordered?

So then for living God honoring lives and the building of a mature Messianic Judaism we need to obey Torah daily because that is what God commands and it is the Torah that is God’s way of living for all Jews (especially Messianic Jews!).

Repentance for Jews and coming to believe in the Messiah is not true repentance without a life ordered by Torah.

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4 thoughts on “Torah-free repentance: The problem with Jews for Jesus and other Missions to the Jews

  1. Forgive me for being anonymous. I was going to point out the difficulties with this approach, but I’m sure you know what they are already. Instead, let me do some dreaming…

    I have a dream that, one day, messianic jews will all live Torah-observant lifestyles, similar to those found within the non-messianic jewish community.

    I have a dream that, one day, the christian influences that are widespread within the messianic movement will be consigned to history, the products of a previous age that was still working things out.

    I have a dream that, one day, new Jewish believers in Yeshua from non-observant backgrounds will become baalei teshuvah, joyfully taking on a Jewish lifestyle. And those from observant backgrounds will not have to leave that behind.

    I have a dream that, one day, messianic jews will not drive on shabbos and will live within walking distance of their shuls !

    I have a dream that, one day, messianics will be such positive models of torah observance that they will be accepted and valued within the entire Jewish community, rather than ostracised as missionaries.

    (I know, I’m living on another planet, but if you aim for the stars, you might just hit the moon!)

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    1. The status quo is not working for us so your dreams are great because they point to a future wherein Messianic Jews can fully live out their calling as Jews that honor Yeshua as the Messiah and live lives guided by Torah.

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  2. It is well put. At the very most, the message might be that instead of Torah and Jewish practices being seen as acts that one is “allowed” to do, it should be assumed that we keep Torah and our culture and our tradition… and are maybe “allowed” not to. But the words of Yeshua in Matthew 5:17-19 ring in my ears when I write that, so that’s not the route I follow.

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