Read an Excerpt
(Excerpted from the Introduction)
THE IMPORTANCE OF CUSTOMS
While the song and concept were popularized by Tevye in Fiddler On the Roof, tradition is something that has been with the Jewish people for several millennia. The Hebrew Scriptures have long been the foundation of Jewish life and practice. Yet, as immense as the Bible is, many details need explaining. Welcome to the world of tradition!
Every culture has its own traditions. Whether it be Israel, Africa, China or the western Church, it does not take long to realize that tradition is an important foundation on which to operate one's life. Even those who say that they are "non-traditional" have, in reality, established their own new tradition. The issue, therefore, is not whether believers in Yeshua have traditions or not, but what the approach should be to these traditions.
This book is about certain traditions and customs that come directly from the Bible. One may note that these are usually identified as "Jewish" customs, but the fact is they are actually "biblical" customs. This means that these traditions are not only enriching to Jews, but that any Bible-believer can be blessed by an understanding of biblical culture. After all, every Christian knows that the Messiah lived as a Jew within the land of Israel. He had a Hebrew name, Yeshua ("Salvation"), and all of his earliest disciples were Jewish.
It is unfortunate that many Gentile believers in Yeshua have had little exposure to the Jewish roots of their own faith. The Jewish people also need to take a fresh look at the biblical/Jewish customs to understand their true meaning. Many in the modern Jewish community are being challenged to see the connection between Jewish culture and the New Testament. Today, hundreds of thousands of Jewish people believe that Yeshua is the Messiah and savior of mankind. The Jewish people are rediscovering that Yeshua is a Jew and that the New Testament is a Jewish book. As summed up by Dr. David Flusser of Jerusalem's Hebrew University:
One should view Jesus against his Jewish background, the world of the Sages, to recognize and appreciate his great influence on those around him. Only thus shall we be able to understand how Christianity was formed. Jesus was part and parcel of the world of the Jewish Sages. He was no ignorant peasant, and his acquaintance with the Written and the Oral Law was considerable (Jewish Sources in Early Christianity, p. 18).
What better way to understand the Messiah than to study the context of the New Testament? The biblical customs are often the missing key to unlocking the depths of the Scriptures.
THE DANGER OF CUSTOMS
Why is it that many people are so ignorant of the customs of the Bible? Undoubtedly, many fear that an emphasis on tradition might lead some people away from the pure teaching of the Word of God. It is true that a spirit of legalism has all too often afflicted the church and synagogue. Isaiah the prophet rebuked his people for making the customs of Israel an empty expression (Isaiah 1). Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides), the great rabbi of the Middle Ages, similarly wrote:
Man should try to understand why he is asked to observe precepts and customs; but even when he fails to fathom their reason he should not hastily pronounce them as trivial (Birnbaum, Mishneh Torah, Me'ilah 8:8).
Such ideals reflect the words of Yeshua. He denounced the emptiness and hypocrisy of those with a skewed view of the ancient traditions (Matthew 23:13-32).
This book is not about legalism. Salvation is not contingent upon keeping the Law or the customs, but is based on faith in Yeshua's atoning sacrifice and resurrection. Therefore, believers need to practice the freedom to choose and the withholding of judgment (Romans 14:13-15). Believers in Yeshua can have differing convictions in the area of lifestyle. However, this book will show that by practicing God's appointed customs, the believer in Yeshua will receive a multitude of spiritual blessings.
This book is about gaining an understanding of the biblical customs. Historically, the church has had a deficient understanding of its own roots because of its fear of legalism. What is even more ironic is that the Christian world has often rejected the biblical/Jewish customs and substituted non-biblical ones. The danger of legalism is always present, yet incredible blessing can be found through a biblically-based study of these God-appointed customs.
THE BALANCE OF CUSTOMS
This book seeks to present a balanced approach to understanding the importance and the danger of traditions. There are good traditions and there are bad traditions. Additionally, there is a good spirit and a wrong spirit in which one can approach the customs. These were certainly issues that faced the first Jewish and Gentile believers in Yeshua.
On the Jewish side, the acceptance of Yeshua did not mean that they converted to a new religion. The Jewish believers actually saw themselves as having received the fulfillment of what was spoken of in the Hebrew Scriptures. They understood this to mean that they were now Messianic Jews who would naturally continue in their God-given heritage. This fact is confirmed in a description of this Messianic Jewish community in the Book of Acts: "You see, brother [Saul], how many tens of thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealots for the Torah" (Acts 21:20).
These first Jewish believers in Yeshua continued in the only lifestyle they knew: the Jewish life based on the Scriptures and customs consistent with the Bible. Their new understanding that Yeshua of Natzeret ("Nazareth") was the Messiah made them even more zealous for their traditions, as they understood the spiritual reasons behind them. Modern Messianic Jews frequently feel the same way and share the same enthusiasm.
The Gentile believer in Yeshua was not excluded. Saul wrote to many of them concerning their new life in Messiah: "Therefore, brothers, stand firm; and hold to the traditions [italics mine] you were taught by us, whether we spoke them or wrote them in a letter" (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
The first-century, non-Jewish believers in Yeshua understood many of the details of the Hebrew Scriptures and many of the traditions that enhanced them. An example of this is the cup shared at Messiah's last Passover seder. This element is not mandated in the Hebrew Scriptures, yet it became part of the tradition of Passover. The third cup is called the Cup of Redemption and, although it is a rabbinic tradition, it was blessed by Yeshua himself.
All traditions were weighed by the authority of the Bible, yet these believers were blessed as they understood the Jewish roots of their faith in Messiah. This is the balance that believers in Yeshua need to return to today. This book is an effort to bring out the spiritual richness of the biblical/Jewish traditions. It is a daunting task, but one that will enrich those believers who put forth the effort to study God's appointed customs.