I was at a three day religious gathering of some very nice people recently, many of them Jews who had come to believe in Yeshua, the Man from Nazareth and Messiah of Israel. Anyone who has hung out with Jewish Yeshua believers and who has bothered to think and observe will know that Jewish Yeshua believers are a widely diverse crowd. Even though some detractors try and discredit us with blanket characterizations, the blanket is much too small and it always fails to cover the reality of who we are.

This being the case, I must report that I don’t resonate at all with the outlooks and perspectives of some Jewish Yeshua believers, and many Jewish Yeshua believers don’t resonate with or identify with my views very much either. This is called diversity folks. Wide diversity.

So it is that the other night I heard someone at one of these meetings refer to Jewish religious life as “Jewish culture.”   Sorry folks, but my red flag went up real high at that one. Why?  Consider the question which serves as the title of today’s blog: “What’s the difference between a pastrami sandwich and shabbat?”  Think about it! Here comes my answer.

A pastrami sandwich is an artifact of Jewish culture, but Shabbat is very much more than that: Shabbat is a covenantal sign.  The same may be said in broad terms of Jewish religious life. It is NOT simply Jewish culture: it is the stuff of Jewish covenantal living or the lack thereof.

If I fail to eat a pastrami sandwich, even though I am a Jew, I do not compromise my Jewish identity or loyalties by failing to do so.  But not keeping Shabbat, not remembering the Sabbath to keep it holy, that is something else.

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Let me make the contrast sharper.  I heard the other day of a Jewish believer in Yeshua whose religious organizational employer obliged her to fulfill a speaking engagement to a group of Christians on Yom Kippur. I shared this information just this morning with a good friend whose husband heads up another religious organization of Jews who believe in Yeshua. When I told her of this other person’s having been obliged to fulfill a deputational [fund raising] meeting for a Jewish Yeshua-believing organization on Yom Kippur, both she and her adult daughter turned pale and reacted with appropriate face-twisting horror. Why?  Because Yom Kippur, as Shabbat, and other aspects of Jewish religious life I could list, are not pastrami sandwiches. They are not simply “do it if that’s your style” Jewish behaviors. They are not, like a pastrami sandwich, simply artifacts of Jewish culture. They are part of a web of covenantal faithfulness which we Jews are obliged to maintain. And when we fail to maintain that web of faithfulness, we detract from the glory of God.

Moses put it this way:

See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? [Devarim/Deuteronomy 4:5-8]

A pastrami sandwich is Jewish culture: but the commandments God gave to our people are far more than that.  And it gives me indigestion when people forget the difference.

How about you?