Thursday, February 23, 2017

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Karaite Messianic Judaism?

One open question in the Messianic community is the significance of Rabbinic authority. While Messianic believers generally recognize the God-breathed nature of the Scriptures (i.e., the Written Torah), the importance of the so-called Oral Torah is not universally accepted. But should the Oral Torah be placed on par with the Written Torah?

Jewish Rabbis claim that the Talmud (i.e., the Oral Torah) contains things from God that Moses did not write down at Sinai. The Rabbinic defense of this position goes something like this: the Written Torah tells you what to do (i.e., animal sacrifice, Sukkah construction) but not how to do it. The Oral Torah provides the necessary details that are “missing” from the Written Torah. For example, no explicit biblical command exists for the wearing of the Kippah (with a possible exception being the high priest) yet it is discussed in the Talmud.

There is a stream within Judaism called Karaite Judaism. Put simply, Karaites accept only the Written Torah, not the Oral one. As you can imagine, this position puts Karaites at odds with other streams of Judaism that rely heavily upon the Oral Torah. Karaite interpretation of certain Jewish customs can be quite different from those of Rabbinic Judaism: for example, Karaites follow a slightly different calendar, do not wear phylacteries and don’t light Shabbat candles.

In a very short but helpful book called As It Is Written, the case for Karaite Judaism is presented. Karaite reliance on the Written Torah shows the fallacy of an Oral Torah, let alone placing it on par with the Written Torah. For example, we learn that that Torah was written (Deuteronomy 31:9) and that this text should be read to Israel (Deuteronomy 31:11). Furthermore, Joshua 8:34-35 informs quite clearly that “all the words of the Torah” were read by Joshua. I was glad to see how the Karaites used Scripture to interpret Scripture (taken in the proper context, of course).

As Messianic believers in Yeshua, we should think like the Karaites because this is how God chose to reveal Himself: through the written word, through literature. The Written Torah (which in the Messianic’s case is the entire Bible) is the basis for our authority. Not the Talmud. Not the Westminster Confession. Not any commentary or popular speaker. Not even, *gulp*, me (hard to believe, I know).

I should point out that there is value in the Talmud for different reasons. The Talmud provides important historical details in ancient Judaism and a means to see Jewish thought at work. Importantly, most Jews derive their traditions from Rabbinic/Talmudic Judaism. Take the Kippah for example; although wearing it is not a Biblical commandment, many Messianic believers wear one to identify with the Jewish people. So in our thought, we are not saying the Talmud has no value. We are saying that the authority of the Oral Torah is not binding; it is custom and opinion.

Before you rush into thinking Karaites have it all figured out, note they are not believers in Yeshua. They make the same mistake as the Rabbis in that they jettison animal sacrifice for atonement. But I thought this group of not well-known Jews provided a nice and concise argument for relying upon the Written Torah as the standard for faith and practice. Sole reliance on the 66 books of the encyclopedia known as Scripture is our position at Ben David, and should be for any Messianic Jewish congregation.

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