A Gentile Torah-Believer's Testimony
Friday May 15, 2009
Recently a particularly thoughtful commenter on this blog mentioned in passing that he identifies as a Noachide, that is, a Gentile believer in Torah. I was so interested to hear this that I wrote to him and asked for his story, which he graciously provided. I am copying it below. It's truly a privilege for me to have such a person among my readers.
But first a note of introduction. A few weeks back I startled some Jewish readers by saying that Judaism in its classical sources is a missionary religion. Not that Jews are enjoined to convert Gentiles to Judaism, but rather to draw them to the primordial Torah religion of Noachism. This is assumed to be the faith practiced by Noah and bequeathed to humanity.
In this model, which the Talmud details in tractate Sanhedrin, Jews follow the moral and ritual Mosaic code, while Gentiles follow the Noachide code. But the model of spiritual reality revealed in the Torah is a gift given to both Jews and Gentiles.
Maimonides makes it very clear in his Mishneh Torah that Jews are commanded to use whatever means are at our disposal to encourage (that's putting it mildly) non-Jews in this Noachide path (Laws of Kings 6:10). Yes, Judaism is an aggressively missionary religion, if not in current practice then in theory.
That having been said, I'll introduce you to my reader and friend, Brian Beckman:
I'm a physicist, and was brought up as a very conservative, traditional Catholic. The church changed dramatically in my youth. From my point of view, it wasn't wrenching, because I didn't change. That left me without an emotional connection to God, but also free to pursue a more durable, intellectual connection.
It can be tricky to look for God in a science-saturated life, but if one digs deep enough, one will find the need either for an Original Cause or for an Anthropic Principle. While I grant that anthropism is logically coherent, I find it empty, like a tautology. It's equally sound to suppose that the universe is here because God wants it. At that point, all one needs to compose a logically coherent notion of God is to study and sift good ideas from bad ones, which, as a physicist, I know how to do.
I am an unofficial Noahide. I follow the Seven Laws of Noah found in the Torah and detailed by Maimonides. I'm unofficial only because I have not yet had the chance to take a formal oath, but I would certainly do so. In ancient Israel, I might have been ger toshav -- a legal alien, and I might have aspired to be ger tzedek -- a righteous gentile, a very high calling indeed, likely beyond my ability to achieve.
These laws contain nothing surprising to any typical American with a passing acquaintance with the Bible and the Ten Commandments. According to my reading of Rabbi Elijah Benamozegh (see Jewish and Christian Ethics, and Israel and Humanity), a typical American Christian trying to follow basic Christian ethics would, in fact, be a de-facto Noahide even if not aware of it.
That's kind of the point though. How did an nice, ordinary, American Catholic boy like me end up in such an unusual place? Visions? Dramatic conversions? No, much more boring. I found it by studying and listening to smart people.
There are three aspects to my Noahism: how I act, how I think, and what I believe.
Practically, I study Torah almost daily and, when I have the privilege, I share Shabbat and other events with my Orthodox Jewish friends. These are new habits for me, but not conflicting with the life I've led since I went into religious "dry docks" in the early 1970s. Like many others, my traditionalist ship was unable to respond quickly enough to the tidal changes in the Catholic Church and I just put religion in-toto into safe storage and got on with other things.
In my thinking, I've reached a synthesis that I can articulate and defend. Orthodox Jews and Catholics regard the Torah (the five books of Moses) as a direct revelation from God. But there is a fork in the road: Orthodox Jews regard it as permanent and immutable, like the laws of physics. Catholic doctrine studies the Bible in the light of St. Paul and the Church fathers. In that light, Jesus' resurrection changed everything and the Old Law doesn't apply any more, even though Jesus himself didn't repudiate it. So which is it? After four years exploring the "permanent and immutable" hypothesis (just beginning, really), I haven't found anything yet to refute it. I know of no place where the Torah states that it is changeable, and I know many places where it states that it is permanent. So if it is, in fact, true, then it seems it must be permanent and immutable.
There are those who reject revelation and treat the Torah not like the laws of physics but as ordinary human literature. I like to note that the claim of Sinai (two million eye witnesses to the theophany) is so outrageous that it must either be true or the most astounding hoax in human history. I have met people who can name their ancestors back to Sinai and claim unbroken verbal transmission of the eye-witness account. It is impressive that a claim like this can last more than 3,000 years with an entire nation believing it. I'll take it on faith.
I believe there is One God, the God of Israel. This much is in keeping with Catholic doctrine, which adds the Mystery of the Trinity. I personally come to grips with this as follows. If Jesus is divine, then he is completely identical with God the Father (according to the doctrinal Mystery). It would then seem inconceivable that Jesus could have any objection at all to devoting oneself to God and to the selfsame Torah that Jesus himself embraced. I realize that this is a personal syllogism and that Catholics will barbecue me over it, but it's the way I have always seen things even when I was a churchgoer.
I am very fortunate to have found this path, and it is only because of the wisdom and kindness of certain Orthodox Jewish acquaintances, now dear friends, that I was even aware of it, let alone enabled to pursue it.
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