Despite the sensitivity of this topic to Jews and Christians alike, the trend of increasing Torah observance among Christians is important. There is an increasingly vocal presence of this Christian minority on the Internet.
“Torah keeping” or “Torah observant” Christians are Christians who, recognizing that Yeshua (Jesus) was a Jew, and in an earnest desire to lead what Christians refer to as “Christ-like” lives, have done a close reading of the Torah and chosen to participate in many Jewish practices, including Shabat and other holidays, keeping Kosher at least in part, and the circumcision of their sons on the eighth day after birth. Quite naturally, these people often turn to Jews and Jewish literature for more detailed information on how Jews live their lives and how to understand the commandments of the Torah. For those coming from a Christian perspective, interpreting the TaNaKh (the Hebrew Bible), and the Torah in particular (Five Books of Moses), can be a difficult and overwhelming process.
As a result, many Christian blogs boast a seemingly Jewish lifestyle. One recipe blog asks that those wishing to contribute recipes refrain from offering those calling for pork or shellfish (making it a good resource for many Jews). Another put up a picture of a Hannukiah (a nine candle Menorah) in December, while a third wished all her readers a happy Rosh Hoshanah.
Still another included a picture of all the children in the family, including the boys sporting kippot (small hats that cover the top of one’s head) and side locks (hair grown from above the sideburns).
In researching this article, I have found many other Christians condemning such practices as sinful and contrary to the teachings of Paul in the Christian Bible (which they are if you read Paul’s epistles) and Jews condemning these people as disrespectful idolators who are desecrating Judaism. Somewhere in the middle, I have found Christians who promote a deep knowledge of Jewish practice in order to put what Yeshua said into context, but cautioning that adherence to the “Old Testament” leads to a primitive understanding of what G-d wants; while I have found Jews cautioning that Christians who wish to observe Jewish practices are welcome to do so, provided they do not keep Shabbat! Clearly this issue is contentious, and I truly feel for those caught in the middle of it due simply to the fact that they feel G-d leading them down an unconventional path. So I have decided to put in my two cents, which are based on my personal opinion and a Torah-centric Jewish world-view.
The Torah teaches us to recognize that “the stranger in our midst” and the “sojourner in our land,” while different from us, is to be subject to the same laws that we are, and that by chosing to be among us, he has chosen to abide by those laws and standards (Exodus 12:49 is only one example). No, that does not make him Jewish (especially if he keeps his own faith), but it does mean that we are not to exclude him or hold him to different moral standards than those to which we hold ourselves. The only thing the Jew does that the Gentile may not do, according to the Torah, is partake of the Pesach (Passover) Sacrifice (Exodus 12:43-48). What does that mean? It means he should keep Kosher, he should celebrate the other holidays, he should observe the laws of tahor and tame (ritual purity), and he should keep Shabbat! It also means that we are duty-bound, as a people, not to misinform him.
That leads us to the next point. When Christians approach Jews or read Jewish writings about how Jews live, they do not know about the political and religious divisions that have wracked Judaism for millennia, or that Yeshua addressed these divisions explicitly during his lifetime (if the accounts of his life are to be believed to any degree). They do not know that Hannukah had not yet been invented during Yeshua’s life, nor Rosh Hoshanah, for that matter. They do not know that the wearing of side locks is an innovation created by Rabbis less than three centuries ago. These locks do not mark one as a Jew, but as a particular kind of Jew. They also do not know that the semi-lunar calendar used by Rabbinic Jews was not in use in Yeshua’s time.
By teaching these Christians about modern Rabbinic practice, rather than about the practices contemporary with Yeshua, Jews do themselves and Christians a grave disservice: not only do we lead them astray, but we drag them, unwittingly, into a distinctly Jewish conflict in which they have no stake. We are reminded throughout the TaNaKh, time and time again, that we need to treat outsiders well because of the status we once held in Egypt. Moreover, we are told that we were brought into the Land not because we were so deserving, but because the Land’s prior inhabitants were so wicked. By misleading Christians so completely in their search for knowledge and understanding of their faith, we deliberately ignore both warnings. Unfortunately, most Jews are totally ignorant of these conflicts and so mislead unintentionally.
Beyond arguments based on Scripture, I would argue that if a Christian asked me about how I keep Shabat, all I can do is tell them–honestly. It is not my place to tell a person of a different religion how to practice their faith. If a Christian decides to wear tzitzit, because that is what it says to do in the Christian Old Testament, that is not my concern. The same goes for if they decide to go to church on Saturday and unplug their refrigerator. Provided that this person does not try to do me or anyone else harm. It is a matter that is purely between him and his Creator. If they want information from me in order to make a decision about that practice, I will provide it, because I am commanded not to “lead the blind man astray.”
To any Christian who might be reading this, I would like to say that I think eating a biblical diet, keeping tahor and tame (ritual purity) to the best of one’s ability, and following the codes of personal conduct provided in the Torah are an excellent idea for physical, psychological, and spiritual well being, even if you do not believe the same way I do about the nature of G-d.