Shalom my friend,
I am an ordained minister who has been studying the Hebrew roots of Christianity for around 10 years. Over time I have been forced to “unlearn” much of what I inherited and learned at higher levels of education. The bottom line is that much of Christianity is a false faith which detracts from the true faith given to all mankind at Sinai: Biblical Judaism.
I am questioning converting. It seems to me that as a god-fearer I have the best of both worlds. Let me explain. Understanding the Laws of Noah, and then going on to choose those things that please Hashem and taking hold of His covenant in Isaiah 56 by acquiring other mitzvoth and incorporating them into my life… is this not a better position for me to be in than full conversion where I would then be obligated to fulfill all the 613? You see where I live there is not a Jewish community close which could support me. Buying foods and meats killed in a kosher manner, observing regulations of travel on the Sabbath, etc… these seem to be so difficult living in a Gentile society today which is blind to Torah. Can you advise for I value your comments very much. Blessing on you and your family I pray. Shalom.
You are raising an important question which is asked of me frequently. What should a former Christian do when he discovers that the Almighty’s salvation program has never changed, and the path to express His eternal truth is still uniquely realized within the Jewish faith? This is a dilemma which confronts so many seeking souls who have emerged from the Church and have embarked on the very same spiritual journey you have.
According to Jewish law, non-Jews are not obligated to convert to Judaism, but they are required to observe the Seven Laws of Noah. Those who devote their lives to the observance of these laws are referred to as B’nai Noach , Children of Noah.
This Torah-based code is a set of moral imperatives that, according to the Talmud,1 were given by God as a binding set of laws for the “children of Noah”—that is, all of humankind. According to Judaism, any non-Jew who lives according to these laws is regarded as a righteous gentile, and is assured of a place in the World to Come (Olam Haba), the final reward of the righteous.2
Judaism does not promote conversion to Judaism but does, on the other hand, believe that the Jewish people have a duty to provide information to those interested in fulfilling the Noahide Laws. Some Jewish groups, in fact, have been particularly active in promoting the Seven Laws.
Technically, the Hebrew term B’nai Noach applies to all non-Jews as descendants of Noah. However, nowadays it is also used to refer specifically to those non-Jews who observe the Noahide Laws.
Remember that you were created in the image of God, and called to walk in the path of the righteous gentile. This journey is realized by your commitment to observe the seven Laws of Noah. While their numbers are uncertain, there are many thousands of men and women with your religious background who have come to proudly identify as a Noachide, or B’nai Noah. They diligently remain on this sacred path of observance of the Seven Noachide Laws, which will ultimately bring each of them into the presence of God for all eternity.
Be mindful that as you observe these seven mitzvoth, do not say in your heart, “I am performing these commandments because they make sense to my intellect and understanding.” Rather, proclaim that you are fulfilling them because the God of Israel commanded you to keep them.
The seven Noachide Laws are:
- The prohibition of idolatry
- The prohibition of blasphemy
- The prohibition of murder
- The prohibition of theft
- The prohibition of immoral sexual relations
- The prohibition of eating the limb of a living animal
- The commandment to establish courts to enforce the commandments
It is a mistake to suppose that since the children of Israel have 613 commandments and the children of Noah have seven commandments, that the ratio of spiritual worth of a gentile to a Jew is proportionally 7 to 613.
In reality, the seven Noachide Laws are general categories of commandments, each containing many components and details, whereas the 613 commandments of the Torah are precise, each relating to one basic detail of the law of the Torah. Therefore, the numerical disparity in no way reflects the relative spiritual worth of the two systems of commandments.
It may be said that the Noachide movement is the oldest religion in the world.
Because of their profound spiritual connection to the nation of Israel, many righteous gentiles symbolically commemorate some aspect of the Jewish festivals. For example, it is not uncommon for B’nai Noah to in some way celebrate the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and Day of Judgment. This festival is of particular interest to the righteous gentile because God judges all of mankind on that day—the Jew as well as the gentile. Rosh Hashanah is also the day Adam, the first man, was created by God. Just as all mankind is descended from Adam, we are all also descendants from Noah.
The holiday of Shevuoth (the Festival of Weeks) is also of unique interest to the Noachide because the descendants of Noah received their commandments as binding at that time as well. When the evening of Shevuoth arrives, righteous gentiles often
spend the entire night contemplating the momentous occasion of the giving of the Torah to the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai. In essence, the affinity that the truly righteous gentile feels for the Jewish people ignites within his soul a fervent desire to cling to the God of Israel and His people.
Bear in mind though, whichever observances B’nai Noah choose to keep, they must not keep the Shabbat according to Jewish Law, for the observance of the Shabbat was set aside for the Jewish people alone.
(16) The children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, for an eternal covenant. (17) It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and rested.
There are gentiles, however, whose connection to the children of Israel runs much deeper than a devotion to the God of Israel and a feeling of profound affection for the Jew and his Torah. Often, these special individuals felt an irresistible longing and unquenchable desire to be a part of the Jewish people throughout their lives. In fact, one middle aged woman recently confided in me that she inexplicably knew she was Jewish for as long as she could remember. This is not an uncommon phenomenon. Because the vast majority of B’nai Noah were brought up within the Christian religion, their attachment to the nation of Israel has always meant far more than just a passing interest or ephemeral fascination.
Since in its most primitive stage, Christianity emerged as a heresy of Judaism, “Jews” play more than an incidental role in Church literature. While this role is rarely a flattering one, for some the mere mention of the Jew was enough to ignite a fervid and inquisitive spark within the soul of the destined convert. The discussion about the nation of Israel may have occurred at home or even a church. Nevertheless, a simple passing discussion of the children of Israel generates an almost unbridled, and sometimes inexplicable enchantment with the Jewish people. These are the gentiles who experience an irresistible calling to convert to Judaism.
Ironically, there are some gentiles who have this undeniable yearning to somehow connect to the Jewish people, and mistakenly stumble into the Messianic movement. When at first they hear about Christians who worship employing Jewish symbols and liturgy, their hearts become filled with excitement and joy. They conclude that the messianic movement is precisely what they were looking for. They believe that they
can finally express their desire to associate with Judaism by attending Messianic congregations. Once they immerse themselves in these groups, however, it doesn’t take long for it to dawn on them that a Messianic house of worship is nothing more than an evangelical Church, deceptively designed to appear as a synagogue for the purpose of luring Jews who might otherwise resist the Christian trappings of a Church. They eventually grasp that the Messianic movement is the very antithesis of what they thought they were joining. They finally realize that this modern movement seeks to turn Jews into Christians, using nefarious means.
In essence, they correctly conclude that while the veneer of the Messianic movement is carefully crafted to appear ethnically and culturally Jewish, it is thoroughly Christian, and then look elsewhere for authentic Jewish worship. Therefore, genuine converts to Judaism frequently associated in the past with a messianic congregation.
The sacred path that emerges out of the decision to convert to the Jewish faith differs significantly from the commitment to continue as a B’nai Noah. For whereas the Noachide has embraced the faith of the Jewish people, the righteous convert, on the other hand, has in every manner become part of the Jewish people—sharing in full their Torah, as well as their wondrous history and eternal destiny.
The distinction between the righteous convert to Judaism and the Noachide is often difficult for Christians to comprehend. For whereas Christianity and Islam are both religions of creeds alone, the Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group, comprising both a unique faith and distinct nationhood. The Jewish people define their identity through a shared, ancient covenantal ancestral heritage and destiny, and religious affiliation.
For example, if a Christian declares that he does not believe in Jesus, is he still a Christian? Or if a Moslem confesses that he does not trust in the prophet Moham- med, is he still a Moslem? Certainly not. On the other hand, if a Jew declares that he doesn’t believe in God, or he has embraced the alien deities of surrounding peoples such as Hare Krishna or Jesus, is he still a Jew? Yes, albeit a sinner who is called by the prophets to repent. Paradoxically, the word religion appears nowhere throughout the Bible. The Jewish people are referred to as an “Am,” a nation.
Jewish tradition holds that genuine converts possess a migrating Jewish soul, and therefore tirelessly cry out to God for clarity of his or her true identity.
A rabbi never takes the request of a gentile to convert to Judaism lightly. On the contrary, this petition is considered with the utmost concern and apprehension. The rabbi who is asked to perform a conversion will in almost all situations repeatedly attempt to dissuade the petitioner from going on with his conversion and send the potential convert away. This effort of dissuasion will continue throughout the conversion process. For once a gentile has converted to Judaism, there is no going back. There can be no undoing of this eternal decision. Once the conversion has occurred, the convert is forever a Jew.
Bear in mind that it is no sin for a gentile to eat pork or perform work on the Sabbath day. Once his or her conversion ceremony is completed, however, the Jew by choice is required to observe all the 613 commandments as any other Jew.
If a convert backslides and returns to his former heathen ways, Heaven forbid, the conversion that he has endured has now become his spiritual affliction. In a sense, he would have been far better off had he not converted, for before the conversion these acts were not considered sinful, but as a Jew they are forbidden. Rabbis are extremely sensitive to this, and carefully screen potential converts.
We see this principle outlined in the Bible as well.
When Ruth entreated her mother-in-law, Naomi to return with her to the land of Israel and join the Jewish people, Naomi made three attempts to dissuade her daughter-in-law. Only after Naomi realized that Ruth was unshakable in her commitment to return did Naomi relent and bring her to her home in Bethlehem (Ruth 1:8-18). Ruth emerged as one of the most extraordinary women in Jewish history, and the grandmother of King David.
May the Merciful One guide you on your own sacred path.
Rabbi Tovia Singer