Custom: a habitual practice; the usual way of acting in given circumstances; a practice so long established that it has force of law. Customs give communities their identity. Every community, large or small, generates customs. Cities have customs, towns, even families have customs of their own. It is human nature, and it is by design. [The Designer being G-d Himself]. Customs are not always evil. We see many customs alluded to in scripture which יהוה neither commanded nor condemned. He specifically condemns many customs and practices. Those we stringently avoid. But, the reason to embrace a custom is to express with others a desire to identify and unify. We, as Messianic Jews and Gentiles, wish to identify with the Messiah Yeshua, and with His people, His community. He IS a Jew! So, we embrace the customs of His people which we can easily identify as biblical. This article identifies those customs, and demonstrates their biblical foundation.
Jewish culture is the most ancient, rich, and Biblically symbolic, lasting culture in the world. The custom of Brit Milah, or circumcision, is the oldest religious rite in the world, and is still practiced today. Many christian customs derive in some way from Judaism, though many endeavor to REPLACE Jewish biblical custom, or blend them with pagan sources. But, biblical Jewish customs have their root in scripture, and in some way point to Messiah Yeshua.
In our society, unique culture is virtually lost. The human heart desires, and even needs customs. יהוה designed us that way. But, the heart needs customs that are handed to us from G-d and HIS Word, and not foisted on us by hasatan. Some Jewish culture is not implicit in scripture, but is present in scripture nonetheless. This was true in the days of the Prophets, and in the days of the Exile, the times of Yeshua, and in the days of the Apostles as well, as we will demonstrate.
Is it wrong for the Jews to have created customs on their own? According to Torah, it CANNOT be wrong! In Genesis 32:32, we learn that the Jews created a custom of not eating the meat of the inner thigh, as Ya’akov’s sinew there was made lame. יהוה did NOT command them not to eat it, but they, as a community, CHOSE not to eat it to memorialize the event, and they STILL do so to this day.
Since the CUSTOM is acknowledged in scripture and not followed by a reprimand, it cannot be wrong.
The same is true of offering gifts at Purim. Esther’s salvation of Israel was something to celebrate, and a custom of giving gifts was created, and acknowledged in scripture approvingly. יהוה did not command them to celebrate, nor to give gifts, but neither did He reprimand them for doing so. The customs were created for “remembrance” and celebration, and to teach Israel about things יהוה had done for them. It is only the customs that Jews created that go against Torah for which Yeshua chides Yisra’el, and NOT all their customs. He participated in, spoke about, and approved of many Jewish customs that are not directly commanded in scripture. There are customs that are useful, and do not violate Torah. These are the customs Yeshua acknowledged and followed, and which we practice, for the purpose of elevating our reverence for יהוה and teaching our children His precepts, and for giving our Community a Biblical identity. Identity as a community is virtually lost in our homogeneous world.
For this reason, many wander from their faith. Customs help us “impress” the Torah upon our children. Our children are a huge part of our lives, and one of our greatest responsibilities. It is not good enough to tear them away from pagan custom; we must give them an identity which they can embrace, and which teaches them of G-d their Father and His Savior and Son, Messiah Yeshua.
Our congregation is made up of many people who were not at all familiar with Jewish culture, or customs, before attending. Many of them have said that having an explanation of the customs would be very helpful, and would have been helpful upon their first visit, so we have attempted to summarize the more frequent and more important customs of the Jews that we as a Messianic Jewish congregation embrace.
Customs sometimes do not come without controversy, especially when they seem ‘new’. For instance, ‘Christmas’ was a ‘new’ custom in the United States in the Victorian age, as the earliest settlers and the founders had outlawed this custom, viewing it as “papal” and not biblical. But the tide has turned, and now that many Christians have been practicing that custom for some time, but are now beginning to leave it behind again, or at least some facet of it for its lack of biblical root, controversy follows swiftly. Change is difficult to accept at times. But, sometimes change is necessary where truth is concerned.
Again, the Jewish culture is the most ancient, lively culture that is full of customs which have survived the ages and the constant effort by the world to exterminate them. Yes, many customs have changed slightly, due to the Diaspora and the need to adapt some of the customs into a more modern lifestyle. But, at their root, the biblical Jewish customs which Bat-Tzion embraces have their original purpose and message in tact, and do not violate or contravene Torah.
Our customs have meaning. They convey a message to us, and more importantly to our CHILDREN. That message is that Messiah Yeshua is the salvation of the WORLD. Every biblical custom we embrace points to Messiah and some important facet of His ministry. He is the goal of our faith, and by extension, the goal of the practice of our faith, or, our customs. Faith without “doings” is dead faith. Before we get too far, we will first assert that there are SEVERAL places in the Brit Khadasha [New Testament] where we see Yeshua AND the Shlikhim (apostles) KEEPING Jewish customs, AND teaching GENTILES to do the same:
First, Messiah prayed often. There is NO COMMAND to pray! But, Yeshua prayed frequently, in a Jewish manner, which will be elaborated upon. But, suffice it to say that prayer itself is a CUSTOM and NOT a “law”! Yet, Messiah practiced this custom often. Matt 14:23, Luke 9:18, 11:1
Likewise, Yeshua attended the synagogue on the Sabbath. This was not a command, but a CUSTOM, and He made it HIS custom! Luke 4:16.
“And He came to Natzrat, where he had been raised, and as HIS CUSTOM was, He went into the Synagogue on the Sabbath Day”.
There are many places in all the gospels where we see Messiah in the Synagogue [never a ‘church’], but here we see that it was HIS CUSTOM! See below the explanation as to the fact that SYNAGOGUE attendance is NOT commanded, but it was the common practice even long before Yeshua.
In the early congregations, there was a rumor circulating that the JEWISH followers of Messiah were trying to do away with the CUSTOMS of Moshe.
“…and [they] set up FALSE witnesses which said…that this Yeshua of Natzrat shall destroy this place, and shall CHANGE the CUSTOMS which Moshe delivered to us”. Acts 6:13-14
“You see, brother, how many THOUSANDS of Jews there are which BELIEVE; and they are ALL ZEALOUS for the TORAH! And they are informed of you, that you teach all the Jews to forsake Moshe, saying they ought NOT to circumcise their children, neither TO WALK AFTER THE CUSTOMS!” Acts 21:26
So, we see here that the Jewish believers in Messiah Yeshua not only followed the Torah zealously after they believed in Yeshua, but also CONTINUED to DO the customs of Jews! And, when reading further, we find that Shaul agreed to PROVE that He did NOT teach Jew NOR Gentile not to follow the CUSTOMS. In later scripture, we find that he TAUGHT the CUSTOMS of JEWS to gentiles!
Shaul ends up having to defend his OWN keeping of the CUSTOMS at a later time.
Since we see that Shaul not only practiced the customs, but vehemently and passionately defended the fact that he did, as a matter of PUBLIC RECORD, we now must decide whether he taught them. He did.
In each of the Brit Khadasha portions above, the word in the Greek text is “paradosis”, which means JEWISH CUSTOMS. So, not only did Shaul practice them, but he TAUGHT GENTILES to KEEP THEM, and encouraged them to KEEP THEM after he heard they began again NOT TO! Probably one of the bigger violations he was addressing was their turning away from SYNAGOGUE worship on the Sabbath, as he also expressed in his letter to the JEWS.
We will address this custom first.