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What is a Judaizer?

by Rabbi Ken Maccabees

Shalom mishpucha v haverim,

We are about to celebrate Purim, when lots were cast to determine the fate of our Jewish people. The Jewish people dress in costumes, donate to the poor, exchange gifts, and have a festive time to celebrate the occasion. On Purim, we also read the story of Esther, which unlocks a profound and perhaps, a familiar mystery.

Jewish followers of Yeshua have often been accused of being Judaizers, or Jews who try to convince Gentiles to become Jews. This accusation has also been waged against non-Jewish believers. What was a Judaizer in a first century context?

The Greek verb ioudaizo (to Judaize) appears only once in the Septuagint (Esther 8:17) and once in the New Testament. (Gal 2:14) In the Septuagint, this verb describes Gentiles in Persia who adopted Jewish practices in order to avoid the consequences of breaking King Achashverosh’s decree. (Esther 8:13) They converted out of fear so that their lives would be spared. The edict allowed Jews to take vengeance on their enemies and to protect themselves.

The Gentiles in Persia felt forced to convert to Judaism. Hence, the Septuagint uses ioudaizo (Judaize) to translate the Hebrew mityahadim (to become a Jew) in a context of being forcibly “Judaized” and insincere about living a Jewish life.

This was not the case with Shaul’s disciples, nor is it the case today in Messianic Judaism. Messianic Judaism’s adherence to Judaism and to Torah are born out of love--not fear. We approach the teachings of Torah and Judaism as an answer to Yeshua’s call in our lives. As an act of free will, a disciple may or may not undergo conversion.

Romans 2:25 For circumcision is indeed of value if you do what Torah says. But if you are a transgressor of Torah, your circumcision has become uncircumcision!” CJB

1 Corinthians 7:17-20 “Only let each person live the life the Lord has assigned him and live it in the condition he was in when G-d called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the congregations. 18 Was someone already circumcised when he was called? Then he should not try to remove the marks of his circumcision. Was someone uncircumcised when he was called? He shouldn’t undergo b’rit-milah. 19 Being circumcised means nothing and being uncircumcised means nothing; what does mean something is keeping G-d’s commandments. 20 Each person should remain in the condition he was in when he was called.” CJB.

We are told that circumcision (conversion) is of value only IF you keep the commandments, then, we see Paul apparently talking out of the other side of his mouth.

There seems to be a dichotomy between Rom. 2:25 (good and valuable to be circumcised), and 1 Cor. 7 (stay uncircumcised). How do we harmonize these passages?

The common denominator in I Cor. 7:19 brings these verses into agreement, emphasizing that the most important thing is for the believer, Jew or non-Jew, to keep the commandments/mitzvot. Rom 2:25 also states that keeping Torah is tantamount/equivalent to being circumcised. Keeping the commandments is the common thread. Whether circumcised/converted, or unconverted, keeping Torah is a must.

Today, we are confronted with believers on their own journey to G-d and Torah. Should we marginalize those that are not in the same place as we are? No! We all come from different walks of life and are on our own Journey.

If being a Judaizer means forcing conversions, may we not be that! If being a Judaizer means that we teach adherence to Torah and share in the richness of Judaism, and to shine a light into the darkness, let us be that Judaizer!

The Apostle (Paul) Shaul‘s mission was to persuade those practicing paganism to flee from paganism, and to practice Torah. If this is what it means to be a Judaizer, let us gladly be called Judaizers. To follow the G-d of Israel through Yeshua according to Torah and to be saved and to bring people to the light of Torah and Yeshua.

This Purim, may we approach our L-rd through Yeshua in complete sincerity and unity, regardless of where we are on our journey.

May we join together in unity and bless the G-d of Israel for sending His only begotten Son, who would not have come if Haman had successfully stamped out the Jewish people!

Chag Purim Sameach!

Happy Holiday of Purim!

Rav Ken

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