By Rabbi Rich Nichol

I'll have to admit, I was nervous.

My wife and I were on the way to the beautiful home of one of our member families for one of Ruach Israel's special brunches geared for the many intermarried families in the synagogue. We would eat together and then gather in the den for my lecture/discussion. The topic this time: the MJRC standards regarding the role of non-Jews in the synagogue.

Unsettling thoughts raced through my mind: Would the couples accept the fact that there are some roles which would be inappropriate for non-Jews? Would someone stand up, throw down his napkin and shout, "How dare you suggest that I don't have every right in this synagogue as my Jewish wife? Are we not all believers in the Messiah?" This would be unlikely knowing our gang, but, perhaps more realistically, would there be a strained silence in the room indicating begrudging acceptance of the new norms without the hearty approval for the direction which I view as so mature, godly and life-giving?

We arrived, ate sumptuously with the fourteen or so others and then gathered for the teaching.

I handed out the materials, explored the MJRC Website via a computer and projector and explained the standards:

  • Non-Jews among us would not be invited to make a Torah aliyah except if joined at the bema by a Jewish family member.
  • Wearing the talit during public worship would be reserved for Jewish people.
  • Non-Jews would be welcome to read the English text of Scripture during the Torah service and could read the Hebrew of the Besorah (New Testament).
  • Non-Jews could carry the Torah scroll during the Torah processional.
  • Bar and Bat Mitzvah would be limited to Jewish members as would marriage under the huppah.

 

I explained the underlying reasons for these distinctions - that Ruach Israel is a synagogue - a little piece of Israel, a spiritual home geared principally for Jewish people and their families and not a church. Of course, we are a unique kind of synagogue in that we exalt Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah of Israel - but ours is "Jewish space." Thus, establishing these kinds of boundaries - limited, covenantally essential and symbolically powerful - must be an essential feature of our lives together as a community.

Honestly, I was overjoyed at the collective response of our intermarried families. One gentile spouse, Paul, made this comment: "I don't mind there being rules; I just want to to be clear as to what they are." Sensing the room as the discussion continued, I perceived no major objections, no hostility, no passive aggression, just a mixture of trust for my rabbinical sensibilities (and that of my MJRC colleagues) and a willingness to allow our synagogue to fulfill its unique destiny. Several months have passed and I have not sensed that any of these good folks have had second thoughts about following the MJRC's direction.

So, what is the recipe here? First, try to avoid baking an entirely new cake! in a de facto way, many of the MJRC standards had already been operating at Ruach Israel for years. There were few observable changes with which to take issue. If greater change is needed, affirm the best in an older recipe and change it gradually.

Second, stir in a generous helping of honesty along with a pinch of courage. We are reminded how much people appreciate forthrightness in their leaders. As congregant Paul said, people don't mind playing by the rules, so long as these are clearly explained and justified. (This is the great contribution of the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council. For the first time the "Jewish rules of the game" are being clarified by a community of ordained rabbis. This is in sharp contrast to the common pattern in Messianic Jewish congregations where lone leaders are forced to figure out the contours of Jewish practice for their communities, often leaving gaping holes and great confusion among spiritually-sensitive congregants.)

Finally, add a generous helping of pastoral love. These intermarried members can see that the MJRC seeks to honor our non-Jewish members. There is liturgical space for them, too - but, that space must be limited for the sake of communal integrity.

I count it a profound privilege to serve as the current President of the MJRC. The collective wisdom of my colleagues - men and women, many of whose gifts far exceed my own - is enabling me to serve my community with relaxed joy as Congregation Ruach Israel seeks to build beautiful Messianic Judaism here in Boston, MA.

ark-bima

 

"The MJRC consists of ordained Rabbis and associates who promote a life of faithfulness to God's covenant among Jewish followers of Messiah Yeshua by providing realistic and practical guidelines for Messianic Jewish observance."

Our Mission Statement

Rooted in Torah, instructed by Tradition, faithful to Messiah Yeshua

MJRC

The Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council (MJRC) consists of ordained Rabbis and associates who promote a life of faithfulness to God's covenant among Jewish followers of Messiah Yeshua by providing realistic and practical guidelines for Messianic Jewish observance.

Our core mission is to define, clarify, and foster standards of observance for council members and for those in the Messianic Jewish community who look to us for leadership.

We also exist to serve the professional and personal needs of our members by fostering high standards of professional competence, ethical behavior, and halakhic conduct.

The Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council (MJRC) was formally established in May 2006. It consists of a group of ordained Messianic Jewish Rabbis and associated leaders who share a common vision for Messianic Judaism rooted in Torah, instructed by Tradition, and faithful to Messiah Yeshua in the twenty-first century.

The MJRC had its beginnings five years earlier. At that time a set of Messianic Jewish leaders from New England invited some of their colleagues from outside the region to join them in working on a common set of halakhic standards for themselves and their congregations.