It should not be a great surprise to anyone studying or evaluating the kosher dietary laws, principally contained in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, that the question “Is eating kosher really healthier?” is something commonly asked. There is little doubting how the Hebrew Scriptures are materialistic, in the sense that normal human activities like eating or drinking, are not to be looked down upon or spurned.
How do any of us, in a still-emerging and still-maturing Messianic movement, sort through some of the issues regarding “kosher”? How do we get a little more realistic about what we see among the Jewish and non-Jewish Believers within our faith community, remembering that not all people share the same views as we do, and allow for a little more grace and mercy to come forth—rather than any unfair or unnecessary condemnation? How many of our challenges have been caused by an insufficient or under-whelming handling of Bible passages—versus having been caused by an under-whelming level of spiritual maturity on behalf of too many people?
There is little doubting that within the broad Messianic community, there can be huge debates over the application of the Torah’s dietary laws. Most frequently, as has been our family’s experience, the perspectives surrounding kashrut have been too quickly polarized into the realms of those who keep “Biblically kosher,” versus those who keep “Rabbinic kosher.” Those who keep “Biblically kosher,” are those who often have eliminated pork and shellfish from their diet, but at the same time will often buy commercially processed meat at the supermarket, will not look for a hechsher or approved Jewish seal on many food products, and will eat out at most restaurants (perhaps even including fast food). Those who keep “Rabbinic kosher,” are those who will only purchase traditionally slaughtered meat, will look for a hechsher on most food products, will not eat out at most restaurants, and will observe practices such as not mixing meat and dairy, having multiple sets of dishes and utensils.
Much of the Messianic community has promoted what it considers to be “Biblically kosher,” which primarily begins and ends at not eating pork and shellfish. In traditional Judaism, however, what it means to be kosher is much more involved than observant Jews not eating certain meats labeled to be “unclean.” Kashrut involves classification of unclean meats to be sure, but also involves some significant traditions regarding the butchering of animals, how meat is to be prepared, what can and cannot be eaten together, separation of utensils and cookware—as well as a variety of theological and philosophical reasons proposed for the institution of these Biblical instructions, and their subsequent interpretation and application over the centuries by Jewish religious authorities and diverse Jewish communities.
For most Messianics I know who celebrate Chanukah, they hear a great deal about the military exploits of the Maccabees and the rededication of the Temple. Many of them honestly take the time to flip through the Books of 1&2 Maccabees in the Apocrypha, the principal historical record that influences our understanding of the wars fought by the Maccabees. When Jerusalem was recaptured and the Temple was rededicated, much more really did take place. This goes beyond the lives of Judah Maccabee and his brothers. Sadly, too many congregations and fellowships that honor Chanukah are not that familiar with this period of complicated history—not only for what took place in the Second Century B.C.E., but how it would influence the First Century C.E.
The holiday of Chanukah, or the Festival of Dedication, is full of many customs and traditions that give our celebration great life and depth. During this time of year, we have the awesome opportunity to commemorate the work of God from some 2,200 years ago during the time of the Maccabees. If they had not fought against the Seleucid invaders of Israel, the Jewish people would have either been destroyed through war, or would have disappeared via cultural assimilation.
The festival of Sukkot or Tabernacles (also commonly called Booths) begins on 15 Tishri and is intended to commemorate the time that the Ancient Israelites spent in the wilderness after the Exodus. Images of the post-Exodus period, God wanting Israel to remember what happened in the desert, and perhaps most importantly the need for His people to physically be reminded of His desire to commune with them, are all themes that are seen throughout one’s observance. The Feast of Tabernacles was considered to be so important in the Torah, that God gave it the distinction of being one of the three times of ingathering, along with Passover and Shavuot (Leviticus 23:39-43).
The Day of Atonement for Messianics can equally be a challenge, because of a possible emphasis on celebration at Yom Teruah/Rosh HaShanah, instead of a serious attitude and call to reflection from the sounding of the shofar. Many Messianics likewise have difficulty reverently focusing on their relationship with the Lord, and in considering where they need to improve in their spiritual walk. For us, while recognizing that our ultimate forgiveness is indeed found in Yeshua, we still need to know that we are humans with a fallen sin nature, and that we need the Lord to empower us for good works. We need to be reminded that without Him, we are nothing, and we need to intercede for the salvation of others.
There is a great deal of significance attached to this day in Jewish theology, as it is most often emphasized as a time when God looks down from Heaven and reconsiders where He stands with people. It is a time where we are to rejoice and celebrate, remembering His goodness to us, but also begin a sober examination of our humanity, and consider faults and sins that must be rectified.