Some Jewish followers of Jesus believe that if the New Testament message is not valid, then they have no other way of being sure that the Torah is from God. If they found that Jesus’ teachings were false, they would not necessarily continue to believe in the covenant made at Sinai or follow that law. Many people have grown up feeling that traditional Judaism is dull or missing something; not believing in Tanach on its own terms, or accepting the Jewish understanding of God until they accepted Jesus. Their faith, convictions, and personal experience of God are all anchored in their experience of the church and the reasons they believe have compelled them to listen to its message. Jesus’ life and message are the only reason why many people trust in this day and age that the Torah itself was given to Israel by her God after the exodus from Egypt.
The five books of Torah reflect a different assumption. Their message was given to Israel to be held steadfastly in faith and loyalty as the primary basis of all their future beliefs and choices. It is rooted in the experience that the whole nation had of God in the time of Moses. This message was to resonate with their children who sought God, for all generations in the future, as the story and the covenant law would be passed down in their lives.
The book of Deuteronomy in particular expresses this theme constantly. Israel is often reminded to keep carefully the laws that God has given them. Over and over again, the experience of the exodus, their time in the wilderness, and the importance of faithfulness to this covenant are brought as the first reason to listen and obey. It is understood that in all the generations to come, this covenant and this message will remain the foundation for knowing what God wants. The phrase “What I command you today,” and words similar to it, shape the framework.
A clear example comes in chapter 13, where the children of Israel were taught to test the revelation claims that people would tell them to accept in the future. This passage shows us the order of the process in which Israelites are able to show their faithful love of God, according to Deuteronomy, while sifting through the question of what they should believe and be loyal to. The message is that even if the signs that a person prophesies come true, if they then lead Israel away from these commandments (for example, into idolatry), they should not be accepted or listened to. Any other ‘reasonable proofs’, miracles or wonders, would also have to be considered in the same light of a prior belief in Torah, as we can see from the rationale: “for the Lord, your God, is testing you, to know whether you really love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul… For you shall hearken to the voice of the Lord your God, to keep all His commandments which I command you this day, to do that which is proper in the eyes of the Lord, your God.” (Deut 13:4, 19)
This loyalty to the Sinai relationship is always the first place to look when considering any later claims about truth. If the message of the Torah is true, then in every generation it is possible for Jews to accept this, as it is passed down in the community, and understand it on its own terms as the foundational belief among their beliefs. The story of Sinai and its laws presents itself as the central hub for all beliefs that are later understood to join with it. The message of living Torah passed on through generations is never believed to be true simply because people realise that any particular man was a prophet. Instead, the acceptance of each prophet is tested on the basis of the knowledge that the community has of what was taught through Moses about how God wants the nation to follow Him.
This is not to say that logic, evidence, and signs are not needed or important for faith. We should not run blindly into things that we are told by our parents or communities, or things that seem and feel right to us, without using the minds and desire for truth that God has given us to test our own biases. We always need to humbly check whether we are following Him, or following a mistake. But at the heart of any human’s belief in God, and any Jew’s acceptance of Torah, is an aspect of relationship that is deeper than proof. It is true that when the evidence seems confused, we are limited in how well we can walk forward in it, and must continue to search diligently for the anchors and foundations of our obedience. But even then, the response that a Jew has to God in the Torah is a personal relationship and a deep experience of loyalty, at its very core. The Torah suggests that this knowledge, and this loyalty, are possible for Jews to know in every day and age. It should be taken as it was spoken in the time of Moses as the solid foundation for testing any additional belief.
Any Christian Jew who feels that the message of the Torah and the importance of loyalty to it are not accessible until you place your trust and loyalty in a later idea has missed the process that God set in place for preserving the knowledge of Himself among Israel. If a Jew finds it impossible to question Jesus while continuing to believe in the Torah, or is never drawn to test his message in light of their faithfulness to God in the Torah covenant, then they have come at everything from the wrong perspective and missed the depth of what the observant community is holding onto.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal