Hat-tipping my source for a story about the appointment of Christian missionary Hananya Naftali as Netanyahu’s new media advisor landed me in hot water with some of my readers back in April. Dr. Rivkah Lambert Adler, they said, was part of the problem. By acknowledging her as the source of my story regarding one Christian missionary, they felt I sanctioned others.
That’s because Dr. Adler works closely with non-Jews who seek their personal truths in the Torah, or so they say. Adler shares their stories in her book Ten From The Nations: Torah Awakening Among Non-Jews. She also has a blog that continues where her book left off.
Besides offering a platform for these non-Jews, both book and blog offer a voice to the Jews involved in working with them. These are Jews helping non-Jews who express an interest in Torah find their way, whatever that way may be.
To be clear, Dr. Adler places Hananya Naftali squarely in the box of Christian missionary, as do I. But in many respects, this is where we part ways. We talked about this, and she asked if she could send me her book. Unhappily, I said yes.
I wasn’t thrilled to read the stories of non-Jews I believed to be missionaries infiltrating my country and stealing Jewish souls. But I respect Dr. Adler as a colleague and as a person. She is a wonderful writer and a good person. I know this from my dealings with her over the years and from watching the way she uses her writing to help organizations and individuals.
I decided I would at least try to keep an open mind regarding her book.
The book arrived. I started to read. It wasn’t pleasant. There is a lot of Jesus talk in this book. As a religious Jew, it makes me nervous to read this stuff. You surround yourself with this invisible shield of “NO” as you read, so that none of it enters your heart. And still, you worry it will have an effect.
I felt that I had a grimace pasted on my face the entire time I read. It made me that uncomfortable, this book. It made me feel dirty.
Though she writes her own preface and a chapter relating her own story, Dr. Adler mainly serves as editor here. Her book gives voice to the various people in this world she has encountered in which non-Jews have rejected the established norms of Christology. Some of the people in her book embrace Judaism and convert. Others reject Jesus but adopt the 7 Noachide laws as Bnei Noach, rather than convert. Finally, there are the Ephraimites who believe in Jesus but use the framework of the Jewish bible for their religious context.
There is no doubt that all of these people bucked the worlds they came from. They risked their relationships with family, friends, and community for their unusual beliefs. Some of them lost their jobs because they worked as clerics and once they rejected mainstream Christianity, they lost their careers and their churches.
And of course you might say that all of the people featured in this book are strange ducks. They don’t fit into normative society. So you’re suspicious. You wonder how much you can credit them, knowing they’re all odd men (and women) out: iconoclasts. Are they the kind of people that must always buck trends? Or are their journeys a sincere awakening?
You don’t mind and are even inspired by the stories of those who convert or become Bnei Noach, but wonder why Ephraimites are lumped together with those who renounce Jesus and embrace the Torah as if the three groups are monolithic. This, to my mind, is a major fault of this book. If someone is a seeker and finds Torah, bravo. But if someone is a seeker and still sees Jesus as the answer, cherry-picking from the Torah to round things out, then NO. I don’t need to know about you. It’s just another false, manmade ideology. It’s a distortion of the truth.
The Ephraimites are problematic, even dangerous, from my point of view. They seem to see themselves as rivals to the Jews. They think they’re from the biblical Kingdom of Israel as opposed to the Jews, who are traditionally associated with the biblical Kingdom of Judah. Some of the Ephraimites are living in Israel as part of HaYovel, an organization that helps Jews plant and harvest their vineyards. Others are living as close as they can get to Israel, in Aqaba, Jordan.
The Ephraimites still believe in Jesus. They just think the New Testament gets it wrong, having discovered some of the inconsistencies between the bible and that book, as well as the internal inconsistencies of the New Testament.
The grapevine, if you’ll excuse the pun, tells me that the Ephraimites are trying to raise money for a large center in Gush Etzion. This is very disturbing to me as a believing Jew. I don’t think these people belong in my country, which is a Jewish State. I don’t think they should be able to preach Jesus and missionize in the heart of my neighborhood.
I didn’t move to Israel for more of that.
I don’t understand why some rabbis and religious Jews support their endeavor.
I don’t understand why any Jew wants to help these people, instead of their own people, as a calling. I think that’s bizarre.
I don’t understand why Jews want to help non-Jews learn Torah. I have always learned that it is forbidden to teach non-Jews Torah (except in regard to the 7 Noachide commandments, which non-Jews have to know and follow). The fact that it is forbidden to teach non-Jews Torah outside of the Noachide laws isn’t even touched on by any of the Jews cited in Ten From The Nations.
And if it isn’t as much of a problem as I think it is, teaching Torah to non-Jews, then why doesn’t the book contain a letter of approbation as is common practice in a book meant to be read by Torah Jews? Why don’t some of the Jews in the book write about this and explain why they think that teaching Torah beyond the Noachide laws to non-Jews is permissible?
Dr. Adler sees the process of non-Jews seeking the truth through the vehicle of the Jewish Torah as a fulfillment of the prophecy, the coming of the Redemption and Messianic times. She sees this work as holy work.
I do not. I see it as a misdirection. This is not what Jews are supposed to do. Being a “light unto the nations” doesn’t mean preaching Torah to them. It means being a good and moral example. No more, no less.
I couldn't care less if these people find their way to the truth as I see it. That isn’t and shouldn’t be a focus of the Jewish people. Our goal should be to do the commandments and strengthen our own people. This makes the world in general a better place. What non-Jews do, on the other hand, is up to them.
We aren’t supposed to teach, persuade, or work with non-Jews in a Torah context.
If they, on the other hand, manage to push past this very traditional Torah attitude and actually convert, well, that’s a whole ‘nother ballgame.
If they become Jewish, they ARE Jewish. They were with me at Mount Sinai when we received the Torah. It takes a fight and a lot of difficulty, a lot of pushing away, to get to the point of conversion. If they make it, they’ve passed the test and I fully embrace them.
I also very much respect the Bnei Noach, those who have rejected Jesus and embrace the 7 Noachide laws as a lifestyle. I have to say I never understood why they don’t convert to Judaism. That is until I read Ten From The Nations, which is the main value for me in reading this book. I now understand that the Bnei Noach see the Jews something like the way we see Cohanim, as a priestly caste. Or as my husband put it: why would they want to convert—they get to eat bacon!
And it’s not even a sin for them!
Prior to writing this review, I wrote to Dr. Adler, outlining my objections to her book, while praising the understanding it gave me of the Bnei Noach movement. She said there are many rabbis that approve this work, pointing me to this "ask the rabbi"article: https://www.jpost.com/Magazine/Judaism/Ask-the-rabbi-May-a-Jew-teach-Torah-to-a-gentile and citing Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, whose views have sometimes been regarded as controversial. I personally would need approbation to come from more mainstream rabbis in order to come on board with this sort of focused work.
Dr. Adler also tells me her views have altered in some ways since the book was published. She says that her understanding of Jews being a “light unto the nations” has, for instance, changed. She also tells me that some of the holy-rolling Ephraimites in her book have since renounced Jesus.
But again, I really don’t care what they do (and don’t trust it, either). From my perspective, this has no bearing on my life or on my people. In fact, if I were looking for signs that the end times are near, I’d look at Iran inching ever closer to the bomb before looking at this very small number of people feeling their pulse about the gospel.