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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Why Just Trying To Keep The Ten Commandments Just Won't Do

Some people say, “Stuart, why do you talk about Torah obedience? Isn’t it enough that I try and live by the Ten Commandments?”

Of course the answer to this is “Isn’t it enough for what?” First, let’s not be confused: Torah obedience is not about “getting saved” (in Christian fundamentalist jargon), nor is it about going to heaven or keeping God happy. It is about the lifestyle that God gave the Jewish people as a people to be a means whereby we might honor Him in the midst of the earth . . .period. Neither is this kind of Torah obedience the province of all peoples on the face of the earth—rather it is specifically God’s covenant with Israel. “The Torah Moshe commanded us as an inheritance for the community of Ya'akov” (Deut 33:4).

Parshat Va’etchanan, (Deut 3:23-7:11), among many other passages in Scripture, speaks directly to this issue of honoring God when it records Moses saying,

“Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. 6Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' 7"For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? 8And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?” (Deut 4:5-8). See also the following: “He reveals his words to Ya'akov, his laws and rulings to Isra'el. He has not done this for other nations; they do not know his rulings. Halleluyah!“ (Psalm 147:19-20); “Then he gave them the lands of the nations, and they possessed what peoples had toiled to produce, 45 in order to obey his laws and follow his teachings. Halleluyah!”(Psalm 105:44).

The keeping of Torah marks the Jews out as a wise and understanding people in the midst of the earth, the people of a God who is near to them whenever they pray to Him, and nation whose obedience and unique way of life marks it out as having righteous statutes and judgments.

This means of course that our keeping of Torah must be demonstrably indicative of wisdom and understanding rather than weirdness and strangeness. And our obedience must demonstrate that the way of life we have been given by God is righteous—again, not simply strange. This would appear to give priority to the moral implications of Torah as in keeping “the weightier matters of the Torah -- justice, mercy, trust” (Matt 23:23). And by the way, this prioritizing of moral, relational matters does not nullify ritual law at all. In the same context Yeshua says this: “"Woe to you hypocritical Torah-teachers and P'rushim! You pay your tithes of mint, dill and cumin; but you have neglected the weightier matters of the Torah -- justice, mercy, trust. These are the things you should have attended to -- without neglecting the others!” He tells the Torah-teachers and P’rushim that they ought not to neglect their ritual minutiae, here, by the way, matters strictly of halachic custom rather than stipulations of written Torah.

This brings us to a kal v’chomer argument—one from the lesser case to the greater. If Yeshua said we ought not to neglect matters of ritual custom, what Jewish life calls “d-rabbanan”—the teachings of the rabbis—then how much MORE ought we not to neglect matters stipulated in Torah, termed in our tradition, “d’oraita.”

Returning now to Va-etchanan and the matter of whether adhering to the Ten Commandments is enough, let us continue to follow Moses’ argument.

It is fascinating that Moses never admonishes the people to keep the Ten Commandments [more properly, “the Ten Words”], but rather to keep the chukkim and mishpatim [statutes and judgments/ordinances] "Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you. You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you" (Deut 4:1-2).

That he never admonishes them to keep the Ten Words but rather to keep the chukkim and mishpatim is likely due to the fact that life is in the details. Life is not lived in generalities, but in details. There is no other way to live than in specifics. One does not get out of bed approximately at 7:00 AM. Every day of our life there is a specific moment when our head lifts off the pillow and our feet touch the floor—a specific moment that could be marked with a chronometer. One may speak in retrospect of having gotten up this morning about 7:00 AM, but in the doing of it, we cannot get up approximately at such and such time, but rather there is specific moment when the deed happens. And so it is with all of life. Life is in the \details.

This is why the Torah and halachic discussion deal with minute details—it is because this is the only way life can be lived. But this being the case, we must remember as well to not lose our sense of proportion. Our keeping of Torah must be to the effect that we will appear to others to be a wise and understanding people with a God near to us, who gave us a unique way of life marking us out as having has righteous statutes and judgments. And it is a unique way of life weighted toward justice, mercy and trust in this God. That is where the center of gravity of our way of life is to be found. And the way we get to the center of Torah is by remembering it IS the center, and by implementing attention to details with that always in view.

Although this deserves another posting, I must not hesitate to remark here that Yeshua is of course at the center of our Messianic Jewish consciousness. He is not the nullfication of Torah, nor the replacement of Torah but rather the embodiment of that righteousness toward which Torah points—it is in this sense that “the goal at which the Torah aims is the Messiah, who offers righteousness to everyone who trusts” [Romans 10:4]. So, to keep the matter brief in the current context, our faith in Yeshua does not vitiate nor render outmoded the imperative for Jews to communally honor God in the context of Torah-living.

Speaking of “Torah-living” I found it interesting to see that Moses refers to the chukkim and mishpatim—the statutes and ordinances—by the collective term “Torah.” See Deut 4:8: “What great nation is there that has laws and rulings [chukkim and mishpatim] as just as this entire Torah which I am setting before you today?” So, we can see that living as Torah-true Jews means living by the chukkim and mishpatim—the statutes and ordinances of Torah, as mediated to us through communal discussion and precedent. I say the latter because the Torah—here, the chukkim and mishpatim—were not given to us as individuals but were given to a people, the people of Israel. If we would keep these chukkim and mishpatim, it is the height of chutzpah for us to simply ignore or discount over three millennia of communal discussion on what it means to honor and obey God in these ways.

On the question of Torah-living and honoring the Covenant God made with our ancestors, we have already seen that Moses never admonishes the Israelites to keep the Ten Words, but rather the chukkim and mishpatim, because, after all, life is in the details—in the specifics. We do not live in generalities but in the most specific of ways. This interpretation is further illustrated in Deut 4:13-14, where we read: “He proclaimed his covenant to you, which he ordered you to obey, the Ten Words; and he wrote them on two stone tablets. At that time ADONAI ordered me to teach you laws and rulings, so that you would live by them in the land you are entering in order to take possession of it.” It is clear from this passage that they way in which one honors the command to obey the Ten Words is by keeping the laws and rulings---the chukkim and mishpatim.

Moses Maimonides, the Rambam, helped us to learn that “mitzvah,” like Torah, is a general word. “Mitzvah” is the general word for “commandment,” and the terms chukkim, mishpatim, and eidot, are specific terms for kinds of mitzvot. And of course, to use another general term, the path of mitzvot is in Jewish life the path of Torah-true living.

Generally speaking, the mitzvot are divided into two categories: logical mishpatim ("laws" or "judgements") and supra-rational chukkim ("decrees").

The mishpatim are mitzvot such as the commandment to give charity or the prohibitions against theft and murder, whose reason and usefulness are obvious to us, and which we would arguably have instituted on our own if God had not commanded them. The chukkim are those mitzvot, such as the dietary laws which we accept as divine decrees, despite their incomprehensibility and -- in the most extreme of chukkim -- their irrationality.

[A third category, the eidot ("testimonials"), occupies the middle ground between the decrees and the laws. A testimonial is a mitzvah which commemorates or represents something -- e.g., the commandments to put on tefillin, rest on Shabbat, or eat matzah on Passover. These are laws which we would not have devised on our own, certainly not in the exact manner in which the Torah commands; nevertheless, they are rational acts. Once their significance is explained to us, we can appreciate their import and utility.] (This material on Rambam's analysis of the types of mitzvot is excerpted and adapted from material found at Chabad.org, but may be found elsewhere as well--it is the standard explanation in religious Jewish religious discussion).

This understanding of Torah-true living as keeping of God’s specific chukkim, mishpatim, (and eidot as well) is attested to in the Book of Malachi 4:4: “"Remember the Torah of Moshe my servant, which I enjoined on him at Horev, laws and rulings [chukkim and mishpatim] for all Isra'el.

An astute reader will query me on the basis of the Newer Covenant, as for example, where Yeshua refers to the Ten Words in his encounter with "The Rich Young Ruler," as he is commonly called. In Mark 10, we read:

17 As he was starting on his way, a man ran up, kneeled down in front of him and asked, "Good rabbi, what should I do to obtain eternal life?" 18 Yeshua said to him, "Why are you calling me good? No one is good except God! 19 You know the mitzvot -- `Don't murder, don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't give false testimony, don't defraud, honor your father and mother, . .'" 20 "Rabbi," he said, "I have kept all these since I was a boy." 21 Yeshua, looking at him, felt love for him and said to him, "You're missing one thing. Go, sell whatever you own, give to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come, follow me!" 22 Shocked by this word, he went away sad; because he was a wealthy man.

The parallel account in Luke 18 reads this way:

18 One of the leaders asked him, "Good rabbi, what should I do to obtain eternal life?" 19 Yeshua said to him, "Why are you calling me good? No one is good but God! 20 You know the mitzvot -- `Don't commit adultery, don't murder, don't steal, don't give false testimony, honor your father and mother, . . .'" 21 He replied, "I have kept all these since I was a boy." 22 On hearing this Yeshua said to him, "There is one thing you still lack. Sell whatever you have, distribute the proceeds to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come, follow me!" 23 But when the man heard this, he became very sad, because he was very rich.

Do these passage demonstrate Yeshua's disparagement of the chukkim and mishpatim? Hardly! First, since the body of Torah mitzvot [chukkim, mishpatim, eidot] is the detailed explication of living out the Ten Words, referring to the Ten Words is shorthand for the entire body of Torah Law. Secondly, this account sets up Yeshua speaking first of one's responsibility to people--what Jewish tradition speaks of as "mitzvot bein adam lachavero" commandments pertaining to one's relationship to one's neighbor, and "mitzvot bein adam l'Makom"--commandments pertaining to one's relationship with God. This being the case, the gospel accounts may be stating the astounding proposition that if the Rich Young Ruler wishes to fulfill his obligations to God, then he should sell what he has and give tzedakkah, and come follow Yeshua.

In either case, these texts, taken in the context of Yeshua's broader teaching and his way of life as an observant Jews, and the lives of his disciples, cannot be taken as a nullifcation of chukkim and mishpatim as fulfillments of the Ten Words. If that were the case, then why do we find the apostles leading Torah observant lives--in the context of chukkim, mishpatim, eidot, and Jewish custom more broadly considered? See, for example, Acts 21:17 ff., a very powerful confirmation of Torah-true living as the apostolic norm for Jews, and also and 24:17, wherein we read even of the Apostle to the Gentiles being Torah observant and bringing offerings to the Temple about twenty-five years after Pentecost: "After several years away, I returned to Jerusalem with money to aid my people and to offer sacrifices to God" [NLT]; "Now after some years I came to bring alms to my nation and to offer sacrifices" [NRSV]; "After an absence of several years, I came to Yerushalayim to bring a charitable gift to my nation and to offer sacrifices" [CJB].

Questions For Your Consideration

1. What bearing does this lesson have upon people who might be a bit obsessive about commandment keeping, treating everything as if it were equally important?
2. If it could be demonstrated from the Newer Covenant Scriptures that God no longer cares if we keep the commandments, statutes, and ordinances of the Torah, would this be an improvement or not, and why?
3. Have you ever kept God’s commandments in such a manner as people came to see you as wise and understanding because of it? Explain.
4. There are a number of places the tradition proposes that we might begin in keeping an observant life. One of these is in the keeping of shabbat. Why might shabbat keeping be an appropriate means of demonstrating to others that God has given us righteous laws, and that the path has set before us is full of wisdom and understanding?

At 8/14/2006 7:04 AM, Anonymous Derek Leman said...


Even before I went "Messianic," as an 19 year old with no church background and as a new believer in Jesus, I found the common view of the law troubling.

I kept asking myself in Sunday School class, "But how can we say the Bible is inspired and reject 3/4 of it as irrelevant?"

Over time, I caved in to the community concensus that the statutes and commandments are obsolete. What a joy it was qa few years ago to put my Bible back together again and see it as a whole!

Anyway, thanks for putting out great thoughts for all to ponder. I hope that some who disagree will read and be changed by the Word.

Derek Leman

At 8/14/2006 8:00 AM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

Dear Derek,

Thanks for your kind words.

I try and present reasoned and Scripturally defensible cases for what I advocate. For me, as for you and for others, it is in the nature of paradigm shifts that once we begin to see things differently, we wonder why we never saw it that way before and why others cannot see it as we do. But of course, it is in the nature of human experience that people will, in many cases, see things differently, regardless of the evidence presented.

Nevertheless, "we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard."

Regards to your splendid wife and amazing children. And thanks again for your kind words.


At 8/14/2006 7:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stuart, some people say they are Torah observant. How can a person know for sure they have been Torah observant more days than not?

At 8/14/2006 7:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


How does a guy claiming no church background also state he was in Sunday School?

At 8/14/2006 10:30 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

Re" ""How does a guy claiming no church background also state he was in Sunday School?"

I don't know. Either he is speaking of his experiencce as a child in what he might term a Liberal Church experience, which fundamentalistically oriented people would not count as church background [yeah, I know that's strange, but it is common] or he is claiming that at the age of 19, when he began attending church with no previous church background, he "found the common view of the law troubling." Works either way.

At 8/14/2006 11:04 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

As for the question from Anonymous, "Stuart, some people say they are Torah observant. How can a person know for sure they have been Torah observant more days than not?," I am afraid this seems to me a very strange question. Torah is given to the descendants of Jacob as a way of life whereby He might be honored and obeyed: it is not, and should not be allowed to become, a criterion whereby we "keep score" on how well we are doing. It is a way of life in which we walk and to which we return again and again. We cannot really know "how well we are doing," but we can know that we are on the path--seeking the glory of God--at this moment. See my message on "Today"" for a perspective on this.

At 8/21/2006 9:05 PM, Anonymous Chayamindle said...

In Questions for Consideration, #4 you stated,
"There are a number of places the tradition proposes that we might begin in keeping an observant life. One of these is in the keeping of shabbat. Why might shabbat keeping be an appropriate means of demonstrating to others that God has given us righteous laws, and that the path has set before us is full of wisdom and understanding?"

Please comment on how you believe we are to adapt & apply the 39 specific melachot to our personal as well as communal Messianic Jewish observance of Shabbat.

As always thanks again for always so generously sharing your wisdom and insights.

At 8/21/2006 10:11 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...


I hope this find you in good health and fullness of joy.

The question you ask cannot be answered "while standing on one foot." The point is, yours is a halachic quesition, and we need a halachic standard that is a product of informed and tradition-respectful communal reflection. Fortuantely, for a number of years, moves have been afoot in the Messianic Movement, with a number of responsible, informed, tradition-respetful leaders have been seeking to answer just such questions from a Messinaic Jewish viewpoint.

The group, called the North American Halachic Council is now subsumed under a newly formed Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Assembly. However, the results of our deliberations, some years in process, are not yet ready for publishing.

Until that time, suggest that the halachic norms commonly held by the religious Jewish community are very much the place to start. But these questions ought not to be resolved in a solitary manner, but in ineraction and participation within an appropriate community.

So the sixty-four thousand dollar question is, are you inovled in such a community? You cannot live a Jewish life nor find your direction in isolation.

Pardon this rambling response, It is late, but I think I have given you something to grow on.


At 8/24/2006 9:44 PM, Anonymous douglas said...


What a pleasure to take in again your teaching. Though this whole post was full of subject matter that could be a post in its own I did find this particular section so 'needed' for our day and age:

"This means of course that our keeping of Torah must be demonstrably indicative of wisdom and understanding rather than weirdness and strangeness. And our obedience must demonstrate that the way of life we have been given by God is righteous—again, not simply strange."

It is sad how so fully distant from this point of view we have become and how necessary it is to return in all expressions of Messianic believers.

Thank you.


At 9/22/2006 9:24 PM, Blogger jon cline said...

Thank you for your thoughts here Stuart. The prioritizing is so important so as not to get mired in the overwhelming details but start the journey from a realistic perspective.

The begging question here is "what are we afraid of?" in seeing if HaShem is right about this way of life leading to "wisdom and understanding".

Yeshua said that we should take on His yoke which is described as "easy" with a burden that is light. Is this not the yoke he modeled for us? It seems we are quite averse to taking any yoke on these days given our "free choice" mindset.

It is interesting that Yeshua states that one day "many will say LORD, LORD and I will say 'depart from me, for I never knew you - you who practice lawlessness,'".

So, lawfulness must be a good thing.

May we follow David's example in that our "delight is in the Law of the LORD, and on His Law [we] meditate day and night."


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