In this section I will address questions that I am frequently asked as one who worships in the context of the First Century and who believes the Torah is the foundation for our faith and practice.
Why do you wear those funny strings on your clothing?
The "strings" that you see on many observant Jews and Messianics actually comes from the attempt to be obedient to the command in Numbers 15:37-41. The fringes of our garment are known in Hebrew as "tzitzit" and are placed on the four corners to remind us all of the commands given to us by G-d. Along with the tzitzit we are commanded to attach a thread of blue known in Hebrew as "techelet". This blue thread reminds us of the blue within the Tabernacle as this techelet was a primary color used throughout the construction of the Tabernacle. In Numbers 15:37-41 the word "you" is in the plural demonstrating that the wearing of tzitzit is done to benefit the believing community at large. When others see my tzitzit they should be reminded of the commandments they are obliged to obey and remember that the presence of our G-d goes with His people just as it did in the Tabernacle. As Messianics we believe that Yeshua our Messiah wore these same fringes and that most likely it was these fringes that the woman with an "issue of blood" touched in being healed.
Why do you wear that funny looking round thing on the top of your head?
The covering that many Jewish men wear on their head is known as a "kippah" or in Yiddish as a "yarmulke". The kippah is not a requirement of the Torah or any part of the Hebrew Scripture for that matter. The kippah is a tradition that allows the men of the synagogue to cover their head as one would have done in the past when coming into the presence of a king. Since we are coming into the presence of the king when we worship it is traditional for men to cover their head as a symbol of respect for G-d. Many wear the kippah as a way of identifying with the Jewish people and as a sign of respect when entering the synagogue. Many synagogues provide kippah's for those men attending who do not own one of their own. Again the kippah is not a requirement and is therefore an optional item of apparel.
Why do you eat certain things and avoid others?
Within the Torah we are commanded to eat certain foods and avoid others based on Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. The purpose for eating the way G-d has commanded is Holiness. Many recent authors and commentators have asserted that the purpose for the "food commands" are to make us healthy or bring us a Biblical diet. While there may be health and dietary benefits to eating as G-d prescribes the ultimate purpose is Holiness. Since eating is a necessary part of life, G-d desires for His people to submit what they eat to His sovereign will. There are many commands within the Torah regarding food but one of the primary commands concerns the ingesting of blood. Since blood is a "life fluid", and all of life belongs to G-d, we are commanded to return the blood back to G-d when slaughtering an animal for food (see Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 3:17; 7:26; 17:12,14; Deuteronomy 12:16; 15:23). The modern word for making sure that the blood has been drained from an animal is "kosher". Kosher meat means that the animal has been slaughtered in such a way as to allow the blood to drain out. By giving the blood of the animal back to G-d we are honoring His commands and confessing our belief in the need for Holiness.
Why do the Jews (and you Messianics) worship on Saturday instead of Sunday?
This question, or variations of it, are asked a great deal by many Christians since the different day of worship is a significant divider between Christianity and Judaism. As one looks at the Scripture the Sabbath (from Friday evening to Saturdany evening) is the day that G-d established as a perpetual statute as the day He wanted His people to worship and rest in Him. For some Scripture related to the Sabbath see Genesis 2:1-2, Exodus 20:8-11; 31:12-17; and 35:1-3. In Genesis 1:14 the word translated "seasons" is the Hebrew word "moedim" and refers the "appointed times" listed out for us in Leviticus chapter 23. According to Isaiah 56 even the foreigner who has attached himself/herself to Israel is obligated to observe the covenant sign of the Sabbath. Nowhere in the Apostolic Scripture (commonly called the New Testament) do we find Yeshua or Paul abolishing the Sabbath or replacing the Sabbath with Sunday. In fact if one reads the Apostolic Scripture carefully you will find that both Yeshua and Paul both kept and encouraged others to keep the Sabbath and the other "appointed times" recorded in the Torah. The Sabbath is a memorial of both the Creation (Exodus 20) and the Redemption (Deuteronomy 5) that G-d has provided for His people. Further the Sabbath is a reminder that one day in the future we will "Sabbath/Rest" with our G-d for eternity (see Hebrews 4:9).
Why do you avoid using the terms "Old Testament" and "New Testament"?
The two primary reasons that I do not use the terms "Old" and "New" when referring to the Scripture is that these terms are both inaccurate and misleading. When someone hears the word "Old" they tend to think of something that is worn out, useless, or outdated. When compared with something "New" that which is "Old" is often considered inferior. To think of the Hebrew Scripture as inferior to the Apostolic Scripture is clearly an error in judgment. The word "testament" is also problematic as the word "testamentum" comes from the Latin and translates into "covenant" in English translations. While the Hebrew Scripture "contains" covenants that is certainly not the extent of it's multiple genre's. Finally, to speak of the "New Testament" ie "New Covenant" obscures for many the reference to the "New Covenant" in Jeremiah 31:31-34. The "New Covenant" is not the Apostolic Scripture but is rather the Hebrew Scripture or the Torah written on the heart (mind).
Why do so many Messianic congregations use Hebrew language when the majority of people speak English?
I have been asked this question many times over the years by new attendees of Messianic congregations. The primary reason that Hebrew language is used is because this was the language that our G-d chose to use to communicate the truth of Scripture (along with Greek). The second reason is that the Hebrew language is the language which the liturgy of the synagogue delivered to us historically. I also believe that many translations into different languages have missed the nuance meanings and accuracy that is found in the Hebrew Scripture alone. Anyone who does much translation work in the text can attest to the incredible amount of difficulty it takes in bringing the Hebrew language over into English or any other language for that matter. By returning to the Hebrew language as the basis for our liturgy and reciting of Scripture we are demonstrating that this language has importance for all of our understanding of G-d's Word. I do think it is important for those congregations that use Hebrew in their liturgy to provide classes for all to learn Hebrew and to provide English text along with the Hebrew so that everyone can understand what is being said.
Isn't the Torah just for the nation of Israel?
This is a question that invariably arises any time a discussion of the Torah goes very far. After all it was the nation of Israel that G-d delivered from Egypt and then brought to Mount Sinai and gave the Torah was it not? To be sure the Torah was given to the nation of Israel as a marriage contract between G-d and the nation. The Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant were clearly made with those of G-d's choosing and He chose to work through the nation of Israel. But the question that must be asked is, "Did G-d intend for His Torah to be the exclusive domain of the Israelites"? There are two Hebrew words that should lay to rest the notion that G-d only intended Israelites as the keepers of the Torah. The first word is "ger" and the second is "nokri". The word "ger" (foreigner) refers to one who primarily lives in the land of Israel while the "nokri" is a foreigner who does not live in the land of Israel. Throughout the Hebrew Scripture the "ger" who lives in the land is included as one who has the responsibility and privilege of keeping the Torah just like the native born Israelite does. The "nokri" on the other hand does not live in the land of Israel. Isaiah 56:1-8 demonstrates that even the foreigner who does not live in the land can choose to attach himself/herself to Israel and her G-d, and then they too will be obedient to the Torah just as the Israelites are commanded to do. There is only One G-d and He has only given One Torah for His people. The Israelite and those of the other nations are not treated differently with one being required to keep the Torah and the other free to do as they please. When Solomon dedicated the Temple he prayed that even the foreigner (nokri) would face Jerusalem and pray toward the Temple. Only the true G-d of Israel resided in the Temple of Jerusalem and it was to this G-d that all were to pray and it was His commands that all were obey.
Why do people pray facing east in the synagogue?
In many traditional Jewish synagogues and in some Messianic synagogues you will notice that when prayers from the liturgy are recited people face toward the east. The idea for this actually comes out of the Hebrew Scripture and can be found in several places. For instance in I Kings 8:38,42, 44, and 48 Solomon talks about those worshipping at the Temple and how they will face east toward the city of Jerusalem. Since Jerusalem is the city of King David and was also the place where the Temple stood it became a custom of Jews living outside of Israel to turn toward Jerusalem when praying. We can see this clearly in the life of Daniel in the book of Daniel (6:10). It made a good deal of sense for Jews who were dispersed into many different places to orient their minds back to Jerusalem when they prayed. The Psalmist just assumes that those who are praying will be facing toward Jerusalem (see Psalm 5:7; 28:2; 138: 2). While there is no Torah command to face east when praying, we are commanded to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (Psalm 122:6) and what better way to remember Jerusalem than to turn our bodies and thus our attention toward Jerusalem when we pray.
I hear you use the word "Torah" but what does that word mean?
Yes, you will hear the word "Torah" quite often if you attend a Messianic congregation or talk with a Torah pursuant individual. The word "Torah" is a Hebrew word that is derived from the verb "Yarah" which means "teacher". The word "Torah" means "teaching" or "instruction". When someone asks you for directions to a particular location and you tell them how to get there then you have given them "Torah" ie direction or instruction. Almost everyday parents give their children directions/instructions in order to provide for them and protect them. As a Father, our G-d gives His children directions/instructions so that we will have a quality of life and a quantity of life through obedience to His commands---Torah. If my children choose to disobey my instruction they do not cease to be my children but they do put themselves in a place to receive my discipline. By keeping my instruction my children do not receive any more or less of my love. Likewise, with our Heavenly Father, we do not cease to be His children when we disobey nor do we become more loved or unloved but we can be disciplined for disobedience. In most English translations the word "Torah" is translated "law" which gives many the picture of a black-robed judge sitting on a bench handing down legal rulings. While this picture may have a place in our understanding of G-d it is not the primary picture contained in the word "Torah". The translation of "Torah" into "law" is a very bad translation since Torah is the loving instruction of a Father to His children in hope that they will be obedient for their own benefit.
Messianics and Jews say the word "Tanak" but what does this word mean?
The word "Tanak" is an acronym built off three Hebrew letters. The first letter is the Tav and represents the first letter of the word "Torah". The second letter is a Nun (pronounced "noon") and stands for the word "Nevaim" which is translated as "prophet" in English. The final letter in the acronym is the Hebrew letter Kaf (prounounced "cough") and this represents the Hebrew word "Ketuvim" ie writings. Thus the word "Tanak" is a way of saying The Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings which are the three major divisions of the Hebrew Scripture. Rather than saying each division separately when referring to the whole of Hebrew Scripture one can just say "Tanak" and encapsulate all three divisions in one word.
Why do many Messianic congregations have a liturgy of set prayers?
Certainly one answer to this question could be "tradition". At least one other reason is that many of the liturgy prayers date back to around the time of Yeshua and may have been prayed by the First Century believers. There are eighteen prayers of the standard liturgy (a 19th was added later) with the tradition of saying seven of the eighteen on Shabbat. One must keep in mind that many of the prayers are a collaboration of different texts of Scripture fused together to create a specific focus. It is traditional for the eighteen prayers to be recited three times a day (based on Daniel's prayer habit) by many within mainline Judaism. Some Messianic synagogues have more or less liturgy than others depending on the preference of the individual congregation. Many books have been written in recent years that give a good explanation of the individual prayers and I would commend a study of these prayers to all who are interested. The eighteen prayers are a great place to start when wanting to unravel the basic themes of the Hebrew Scripture.
Why do you follow a Torah reading cycle?
In the First Century it is believed that a one-year Torah cycle of readings existed along with a three-year cycle of Torah readings. There is evidence that the First Century believers used the Torah cycle as a means of working through the Hebrew Scripture within the First Century Synagogue. Along with the cycle of readings of the Torah there existed readings from the remaining portions of the Hebrew Scripture known as the Haftarah readings. By reading the Torah and Haftarah portions together one senses a continuity of thought and purpose behind the Hebrew Scriptures. The primary reason that the Torah reading cycle is the centerpiece of the Messianic synagogue is that the Torah is the foundation texts upon which all subsequent texts of Scripture are built. The Torah is the foundation text, while the Wisdom literature is Torah put to poetry, and the prophets are calling the nation back to Torah obedience. The Apostolic Scripture is First Century commentary on how the believing community of Jews incorporated the Gentiles into a Torah based culture. It's difficult for many of us to believe but the only canonized rule of authoratative Scripture for the First Century believers was the Hebrew Scripture. Since Torah was the foundation for the believers of the First Century it seems fitting that it should be our foundation as well.
Why do Jews and Messianic believers follow a different calendar than the mainline churches?
According to Leviticus 23 our G-d has outlined a calendar for His people so that we will meet with Him at regularly scheduled times. The Hebrew word for these appointed times is "moedim". The moedim fall into two sections with three appointed times coming in the Fall and three occuring in the Spring of the year. The word "moedim" first appears in Genesis 1:14 where we find that the sun, moon, and stars were placed in their orbits for the theological purpose of letting us know when we were to observe the appointed times. In the book of Numbers (chapters 28/29) the sacrifices that would be offered in the tabernacle/temple are listed for us. Today we have no existing priesthood, temple, or sacrifices but we commemorate the appointed times since they are perpetual commands, memorialize the past, and have relevance for the future. According to Zechariah 14, one day all the nations will come up to observe the festival of Sukkot (booths). The calendar that currently exists within mainline churches has very little (if any) basis in the Biblical text and needs to be seriously rethought for those who desire a return to the Bible. For those like myself we see the festivals as a prophetic timetable for the first coming of Messiah Yeshua and the timetable for His second coming. I encourage all believers to study the festivals and begin a return to the Biblical calendar of the Hebrew Scriptures.