Torah and Tradition
By Jason Jordan
Since entering into a Nazarene Israelite walk, my wife and I have noted significant differences with a great many things pertaining to this faith and our former lives as Christians. Along the way, some people on the fringe of this movement have asked questions and made valid enquiries as to the origin of customs, rituals and liturgies involved in keeping Shabbat and aspects of worship services. There is also a natural curiosity about the significance of the Torah portions, lighting of candles, wearing of the tallit and reciting the Shema. Naturally the instinctive reaction when facing an unfamiliar religious custom is to ask the one hundred-thousand dollar question, “is it Scripture?”
Firstly, it is worth pointing out that Scripture commands us to love YHWH (God) with all our hearts and with all our minds. Luke 10:27-28;"And he answering said, ‘You shall love the Master YHWH your Eloha (Mighty One) with all your lev (heart), and with all your being, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’” Therefore, can anyone accuse another of not being Scriptural when a daily routine is structured in a manner that causes the Creator to be a central focus (provided that it does not go against, replace or hinder Torah)? For example, an Orthodox Jew will say a blessing upon arising from sleep, after a bowel evacuation, after showering and after donning his daily attire. In fact, by the time a religiously observant Jew leaves the front door he has prayed and spoken blessings over nearly every aspect of his morning routine, no matter how seemingly mundane or trivial. His day proceeds literally immersed in continual acknowledgement of the Creator, through various means outlined in the Scriptures, such as adhering to specific prayer times (Psalms 88:13, 69:13) and giving thanks to YHWH for anything that occurs, whether good or bad (Ephesians 5:20). To the average Christian this lifestyle comes across as time consuming and impractical. But, constant immersion in Torah will eventually lead to precisely this method of conduct.
Contrary to popular yet misinformed belief, particularly in religious circles, traditions are not only absolutely permissible, but encouraged in Scripture. Customs that first appear in the writings of the prophets such as facing toward Jerusalem in prayer (Daniel 6:11), the ordinance to avoid idle chatter on Shabbat (Isaiah 58:13) and citing righteous ancestors in prayer (Psalms 116:16) highlight traditions as being an acceptable part of correct halakha (Torah observant conduct) throughout the Biblical period.
Perhaps no other tradition is so authoritatively presented in Scripture than the festival of Purim, in which Mordechai charges his fellow Jews to annually observe a time of “feasting and gladness” in Esther 9:20-23. The observance of Purim has been accepted by Jews as an official Biblical holiday since its institution.
Any type of ordinance or regular custom that is captured in Scripture that does not originally appear in the Torah shows a deeper aspect of spiritual service deciphered through intense study of the Torah itself. King David frequently refers to maintaining physically clean hands in relation to possessing a pure heart (Psalms 18;21,25, 24:4, 26:6), alluding to the value of the ritual washing of hands that according to a surface reading of Torah is only incumbent on the priesthood.
This chapter will delve into the concept of man-made tradition and highlight the differences between a good and bad tradition. Along the way it will show how some Judaic customs, assumed by many as poisonous hindrances to Torah, actually have strong Scriptural foundations.
Many people who have come out of false religious systems and had unbiblical practices thrust upon them, develop an “in-built” prejudice or suspicion toward man-made traditions in general. As a result the concept of traditions as a part of one’s obligation in fulfilling YHWH’s will can be hard to accept. For those who feel they fall into this category, this chapter will likely be a most valuable read.
The Hebrew word for “tradition” is m'soret, which literally means “to hand on” or “pass on” something. This word is only found once in the TaNaK (Old Testament) in Ezekiel 20:37; “And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the brit (covenant).” The word “bond,” sometimes translated as “obligations” is better translated as “tradition,” therefore more accurately reading “…I will bring you into the tradition of the covenant.”
Scriptures View of Traditions
Interestingly, all the instances of Yahshua’s criticism of the traditions of the Pharisees are, if examined closely, primarily focused on the contrast between their obsession with manmade ordinances and their declining interest and in some cases total abandonment of some of YHWH’s commandments. On the contrary, many rabbinical traditions set more workable platforms for the articulation of performing different kinds of mitzvoth (commandments). This is why 2 Thessalonians 2:15 says; “Therefore, Yisraelite brothers, stand fast, and hold on to the commandments and the traditions that you have been taught, whether by word or our letter.” And this is why Rabbi Sha’ul boasts of traditions in Galatians 1:14; “And I progressed in Yahudim’s religion above many of my equals in my own nation; above all I was especially zealous of the teachings of my ahvot (fathers).” Even the Scriptures speak affectionately about a tradition, which was started by Jeremiah in 2 Chronicles 35:25; “And Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) lamented for Yoshiyahu (Josiah) : and all the singing men and the singing women spoke of Yoshiyahu in their lamentations until this day, and made them an ordinance in Yisrael: and, see, they are written in the lamentations.” Messiah Yahshua upholds a tradition in John 10:22 when he enters the Temple to celebrate the festival of Chanukah. Would anyone dare accuse Yahshua of observing a manmade tradition? No, because there is nothing wrong with manmade traditions as long as they do not overshadow, impede, obstruct or contradict Scripture. 2 Thessalonians 3:6 speaks of following a tradition handed down by the Apostles. “Now we command you, Yisraelite brothers, in the name of our Master Yahshua ha Moshiach that you withdraw yourselves from every Yisraelite brother that has walked disorderly, and not after the tradition that he received from us.”
The Traditional View of Traditions Challenged
Let’s look at the major passages and verses that are often cited when attacking traditions.
Matthew 15:2-6; “‘Why do your talmidim (disciples) transgress the tradition of the Zechanim (elders)? For they do not wash their hands when they eat food?” But He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you also transgress the commandment of YHWH by your tradition? For YHWH commanded, you saying, Honour your abba (father) and eema (mother): and, he that curses abba, or eema, let him die the death. But you say, Whoever shall say to his abba, or his eema, It is a gift by whatever you would have been profited by me; And does not honour his abba, or his eema, he shall be free. This is how you have made the commandment of YHWH of no effect by your tradition.’” Yahshua responds to criticism of his apparent failure to instruct his students to wash their hands before eating (in general). According to Judaism, the tradition of washing hands is only partaken upon arising, before prayer, handling set-apart objects, before eating bread during ritual service, after relieving one’s self and before uttering specific blessings. Yahshua criticises the Pharisaic tradition of obligating a father and mother to forego direct financial benefit from offspring, thus impeding the commandment to honour parents. Mark 7:1-23 also has a rendering of the above encounter with more initial detail. It is worth noting that one can actually break a commandment if the doing of it brings about evil, such as refraining from applying first aid to a person on Shabbat.
Colossians 2:8; “Let no man beguile you of your reward of a false humility and in the worshipping of heavenly malachim (kings) spiritually standing on things that he has not seen, empty handed things, created by his fleshly mind.” This verse warns Israel not to go after philosophies and concepts that are concocted from the carnal minds of men (i.e. Scientology, environment focused religions, secret societies). The entire nation of Israel beheld the cloud of YHWH at Mount Sinai. Therefore no other religion on earth can make the claim that all its original members witnessed its foundation by an audible and visual manifestation of their g-d.
1 Peter 1:18; “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver, or gold, from your futile spiritual conduct received by tradition from your ahvot (fathers).” Yahshua is reaffirming that traditional conduct and fancy objects have no power to bring about Salvation on their own. He is not addressing traditional conduct that is incidental in the observance of Torah. Nor is he saying that physical objects have no purpose in furthering the Divine Will. On the contrary, there are instances in Scripture where objects are used as conduits to enact YHWH’s will. The staff of Aaron, the bronze serpent, the Ark of the Covenant and Yahshua’s tzitzit are some divinely empowered objects found in Scripture. Even the mezuzah , a small Torah encapsulated cylinder affixed to the doorpost of the home, is likened to a guard box in which an angel can post himself to watch over a dwelling. A mezuzah may channel significant spiritual protection, but unlike a talisman it has no power of its own and is useless unless the occupants of the home are obedient to YHWH.
The above verse is not saying that traditional conduct or fancy objects are to be avoided. But such things are certainly worthless if seen as having isolated value in achieving redemption.
Mark 7:8; “Laying aside the commandments of YHWH, you guard the traditions of men, such as the washing of pots and cups; and many other such things you do.” The Pharisees that Yahshua is addressing had ridded themselves of some of YHWH’s mitzvoth (love deeds) for the sake of their own traditions. The Messiah is not condemning the fact that they had traditions. This verse is an extract from the same encounter in Matthew 15:2-6.
Mark 7:9; “And He said to them, ‘Full well you do reject the mitzvoth (love deeds) of YHWH, that you may keep your own tradition.’” The concern here is the setting aside or abandoning of mitzvoth. As long as the tradition didn’t inhibit, replace or contradict the performing of any mitzvoth, prayer or praise, it was never considered harmful in Yahshua’s day or any other time within Scripture. For example a group may have a tradition of reciting a specific sequence of praise songs. The motivation for this might be because the songs lyrics and melodies are simply preferred. Either way it is not an issue as to whether this group is being Scriptural in following a particular recital of songs, but observing a repetitive action to enable the performing of praise and worship.
Michah 6:16; “For the chukim (statutes) of Omri are kept and all the works of Beit Achav (house of Ahab), and you have your halacha (ways) in their councils; that I should make you a desolation, and your inhabitants a hissing: therefore you shall bear the reproach of My people.” This verse is talking about the observance of pagan practices, which are an abomination to YHWH and has nothing to do with the condemnation of traditions.
The Pharisees’ Respect for Yahshua’s Teachings
Scripture contains quite a bit of material that exhibits the Pharisees’ respect for Yahshua’s authority. Normally this demographic is portrayed as being enamoured with vain tradition, but close inspection reveals that many of them agreed with Messiah's teachings. Take for example Yahshua’s verbal exchange with the teachers of the Torah in the book of Mark. Firstly, note the distinction that the Word makes between the Pharisees and Herod’s henchmen when they came to try and catch him out. Mark 12:13; “And they sent to Him certain of the Prushim (Pharisees) and of the Herodians, to catch Him (Yahshua) in His words.” Not all the Pharisees in Yahshua’s day agreed with those on Herod’s payroll, but they did none-the-less tolerate them, having no other alternative. This sometimes took the form of them tagging along to fulfil Herod’s agenda. In the next verse note the opening remark, which would have offended the Herodians had they not falsely believed this was a lie to set Yahshua up. Mark 12:14; “And when they had come, they said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You are emet (truth), and are not concerned with man’s opinion: for You regard not the person of men, but teach the way of Elohim in emet (truth).’” A little further on, one of the Scribes, having come later in the discussion, perceived that Yahshua was answering questions exceptionally well. Mark 12:28-33; “And one of the Sophrim (Scribes) came, and having heard them (Yahshua and the Pharisees) reasoning together, and perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, which is the first mitzvah (love deed) of all? And Yahshua answered him, The first of all the mitzvoth is, Shema (hear), Yisrael; the Master YHWH is our Elohim, the Master YHWH is Echad (One): And you shall love the Master YHWH your Elohim with all your lev (heart), and with all your being, and with all your mind, and with all your strength: this is the first mitzvah. And the second is like it, namely this; You shall love your neighbour as yourself. There are no other mitzvoth greater than these. And the Sopher (Scribe) said to Him, Well, Rabbi, You have said the emet (truth): for there is One Elohim; and there is no other besides Him: And to love Him with all the lev (heart), and with all the binah (understanding), and with all the being, and with all the strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself, is more than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.” The Scribe, having ascertained that his agreement with Yahshua would have caused offence to some of the Herodian’s, responded discreetly. Rather than this approach being met with rebuke for lacking courage to stand by Yahshua publicly, the Messiah confirmed his nearness to achieving his heavenly reward. Mark 12:34; “And when Yahshua saw that he answered discreetly, ‘He said to him, You are not far from the malchut (kingdom) of YHWH.’ And no man after that did ask Him any questions.” This response by Yahshua was deliberate, allowing him to lay a pillar in a larger foundation that would enable his own brother Yakov (James) to receive enough support from such men like this Scribe to become head of the Sanhedrin after his death and resurrection.
Weighing the Value of a Tradition
It is the responsibility of each individual to carefully examine the nature of a tradition as it is handed down from one generation to the next. English playwright, W. Somerset Maugham, once wrote, “Let tradition be our guide, but not our jailer.”
Some things you should ask yourself when faced with a tradition:
1) Is the practice originally adapted from a pagan ritual?
2) Does the practice or ritual hinder other mitzvoth or drown them out in some way?
3) Does it cause you to do and say things that contradict your knowledge of Scripture?
4) Does the practice replace an aspect of the Torah?
5) Does it help you focus your thoughts on YHWH?
6) Does it help, encourage and increase your ability and understanding of core Torah or Scriptural principles?
7) Does it provide a good framework to study, worship and interact with YHWH?
8) Does the practice establish a good foundation for performing mitzvoth?
Now let’s look at some practices observed by Nazarene Israelites, which up until recently have almost exclusively been considered strictly Jewish customs.
The Weekly Shabbat
The Shabbat is a weekly rehearsal (miqra), which was not just given to the Jews, but to all twelve tribes of Israel and the strangers that dwelt among them. It is the first feast listed in Scripture (Leviticus 23) and is the head of all the set-apart days. It is a day that amplifies the blessings of all the other feasts and it is a glimpse of the restored kingdom of Israel. It is a delight to a believer, not a burden, but most of all it is a sign between the Creator and the believer throughout all their generations that they are truly His people (Exodus 31:13, 17, Ezekiel 9:4 & Revelations 7:3).
The Messiah kept the Shabbat (Luke 4:16, 6:6, 13:10; Mark 1:21; 3:1-2; 6:2) as did early believers after His death and resurrection (Acts 15:21 & 16:13).
The Shabbat commences at sundown (Genesis 1:5). It is to be set-apart from other days and is therefore to be structured in a way that best vehicles rest, study and meeting together with other believers. The Shabbat is a set-apart (holy) convocation (Leviticus 23:4), which means believers should try and congregate together in a central location. A synagogue is preferable, but a house or a community hall is also acceptable. It is a day when a believer is to particularly focus and connect with YHWH. The Book of Acts records both Jews and Greeks attending a synagogue together. Acts 14:1; “And it came to pass in Ikoniom, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Yahudim, and so spoke, that a great multitude both of the Yahudim and also the Greeks believed.”
Since my wife and I first started keeping the Shabbat we have noticed an amazing change in our lives. The day has without a doubt become a most exciting event. We look with great expectation as the week draws to a close and the Shabbat nears. It’s difficult to explain to a person who has never kept Shabbat before of the feeling of delight one gets from keeping it. Even with a Seventh Day Baptist background and attending church on the Saturday, my wife and I never really understood the uniqueness of the day until we began keeping it in the same manner as our Israelite ancestors. Unfortunately most Nazarene Israelites do not have an opportunity to attend a Messianic synagogue in their respective geographical areas. If possible it is advisable to affiliate oneself with a group that does, via internet correspondence.
Synagogue Attendance and the Torah Portion
The custom of meeting in a synagogue was observed by Yahshua (Mark 1:21, Luke 4:15, 16 & 13:10). This act was espoused from Leviticus 23:3 “…but the seventh day is a Shabbat-Shabbaton (Sabbath of solemn rest), a Miqra Kodesh (Set-apart gathering).” The custom of reading a Torah portion in the synagogue is evident even in the Brit Chadashah (New Testament). Acts 15:21 describes that in them Moshe had been read “from old times.” This included an accompanying selection from the books of the prophets (Halftarah) (Acts 13:15). The practice of reading Torah and Halftarah parshas (portions) was never practiced in any church that I have ever set foot in, yet according to Christian translations of the Brit Chadashah the alleged early church observed this practice.
The Lighting of the Candles
Traditional Judaism opens and closes the Shabbat with an Erev Shabbat Celebration and a Havdalah service. Havdalah is a Hebrew word, which means “division” or “distinction.” The lighting of the candles for both the opening and the closing of the Sabbath symbolises many things and while it is not documented as a specific mitzvah the act represents core Scriptural principles. They symbolise the bride (Israel) who waits for her Husband (YHWH) and the light of the two houses, which are called Ephraim and Judah.
It is up to the individual as to whether or not they pore over the Scriptures on the subject of the Shabbat or any other mitzvoth with a pretext of extracting the minimal requirements for their observance. Alternatively an individual may prefer to adopt the Scriptural principle of going the extra mile (Matthew 5:41) and see how they might be able to do the most they possibly can to set apart the Biblical festivals from other days of the week. In doing this, one’s motivation should be to set a more receptive atmosphere to focus on YHWH and not compromise the Torah in anyway.
Different Messianic groups may have slight variations in their Shabbat service, as do seventh-day observant churches, which is an encouraging quality, because it makes them unique from each other, yet unifies them because of YHWH’s key requirements.
Observing a group’s order of service or liturgy and wondering whether some aspect of it is Scripture is fine, but if the motivation is because of a minimal requirement attitude, this can become the seed of true legalism. In other words, it’s like saying, “What is the least I can do to get into the kingdom of YHWH?” This type of outlook reflects a poor relationship with the Creator. Things we do for YHWH should not be motivated for fear of hell, but by progressing in stages of love and appreciation for Him as we learn and accept His will in our lives. If our attitude toward our partner was to do the absolute minimum to keep them happy it would turn into a legalistic going-through-the-motions exercise. But if we approach our relationship with our significant other with the attitude of going the extra mile whilst expecting nothing in return we begin to enact true unconditional love, the same type of love we hope to receive from YHWH.
The Kippah – Heavenly Head Gear
Ezekiel 24:15; “Also the word of YHWH came to me, saying…”
Ezekiel 24:23a; “…your turbans shall be upon your heads…”
In my experience, few other Hebraic practices have the potential to expose such obvious anti-semitic driven disdain within a Christian than the subject of the distinctive headwear that sits unobtrusively at the back of a Jewish or Messianic believer’s head.
Why does a Jew come under such heavy fire for wearing a little hat, if it wasn’t Biblical, when a Christian’s “What would Jesus do?” wristband, which definitely isn’t Biblical, yield comparatively minimal objection? In contrast, Judaism has adhered to the Creator’s instruction to bind His Word on the arm (Deuteronomy 6:8) by literally wearing passages of Scripture since Sinai, as opposed to Christianity’s late twentieth century invention of a slogan emblazoned fashion accessory. Why does the title “Rabbi” get singled out as a prohibited term when the titles, “teacher” and “father” in Matthew 23:8-10 also apparently receive equal objection by the Messiah?
One has to be curious as to why distinctly Jewish things such as the kippah receive criticism when Christian men think nothing of praying whilst wearing conventional headwear, supposedly shameful according to Sha’ul, or why millions of qualified Christian educators go by the title “teacher” supposedly renounced by the Saviour?
The most common verse sequence used to attack the wearing of head coverings for covenant keeping men is found in 1 Corinthians 11:4-7. Sha’ul’s initial address on the subject seems pretty straight forward in verse 4: “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, brings shame to his Head….” It is then reconfirmed in verse 7; “For a man indeed ought not to veil his Head” As amazingly as this may sound, Sha’ul was not suggesting that a head covering, much less a kippah, was dishonorable for a man to wear during intimate communication with the Father or during the delivery of a prophetic message to the masses. Let me explain.
The Head is Authority
The head being covered has a double meaning. It refers to a man wearing a woman’s veil and to Messiah, which should be the head of every man! 1 Corinthians 11:3 provides the context. “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Moshiach (Messiah); and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Moshiach is YHWH” The second part of this verse reveals a deeper scope to Genesis 3:16; "…And your desire shall be to your husband, and he shall rule over you." A woman should only submit to a man (a woman’s head) as a man submits to Messiah (a man’s head) as Messiah submits to YHWH (Yahshua’s head). This is reiterated by Peter who told covenant keeping women to “…be in subjection to your own husbands…” (1 Peter 3:1), and why a man is to honor his wife “as to the weaker vessel,” (1 Peter 3:7). The order of human authority harks back to the order of creation. Adam was constructed from raw material by YHWH, but a woman was constructed by YHWH from the material of a man. Therefore in context “the head” signifies “authority.” A little bit further on in 1 Corinthians 11:5,6 it outlines a woman’s optimum form of worship apparel and code of conduct with yet another double meaning. “But every woman that makes tefillot (prayers), or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head: For that is the same as if she were shaven . For if the Woman does not have a head covering, let her also be shorn…” The double meaning refers to her head, which must be covered, and her husband who must be covered by Messiah.
The Plank in the Eye of an Uncovered Christian’s Head
An interesting thing about the common 1 Corinthians 11 attack on head coverings for men is that it never seems to focus on Christian women who ritually pray with their heads uncovered. Some Christian men draw on this verse sequence to attack the wearing of a kippah and yet completely ignore taking the issue up with their wives who do not pray with head coverings, despite the verse clearly stating that praying without them is dishonorable to a woman. The kippah police are always poised ready to level an attack, yet a young man who prays whilst wearing a baseball cap or beanie at a church outreach function gets off scot-free. Can you imagine a soldier in Iraq crouching in a ditch under heavy gunfire unable to pray because he’s wearing a helmet that if removed will increase his chances of never going home? I can just imagine him ducking bullets thinking to himself, “Father, I want to pray to you, but if I do with this life preserver on my head, I’ll dishonour myself.”
The Jew even tries to accommodate the Western tradition of removing headwear inside a building by reducing the size of the kippah to a ridiculously small dimension, but somehow this manages to draw out heavier criticism than a criminal wearing a Mexican sombrero in a police line up.
God Cop, Bad Cop Theology
Christianity has so much trouble with the books of the Old Testament because their replacement theology portrays a schizophrenic Creator. On the one hand you’ve got YHWH requesting that all priests in the Temple, especially the high priest wear head coverings (Exodus 28:4, 28:36-38,40) and centuries later you have a devoted follower of this same Elohim saying that it’s now shameful. The verses from Malachi 3:6; “I am YHWH I change not…” and Hebrews 13:8; “Yahshua is the same yesterday, today, and forever," seem not to sink into the mind of the average Christian. The Old Testament is continually relegated as a book that depicts a vengeful and angry Creator. This is despite YHWH mercifully flooding mankind with water in the Old Testament and in the so-called grace garnished New Testament, raining down on the population with fire and brimstone and a rock called “Wormwood” that wipes out one-third of the earth’s population in a single hit.
The only change according to Scriptural that happens is in the hearts of men. A head covering is a sign of a changed nature. It signifies a transformation from uncleanness to purity in Messiah. Zechariah 3:4,5; “And He answered and spoke to those that stood before Him, saying, ‘Take away the filthy garments from him.’ And to him He said, ‘See, I have caused your iniquity to pass from you, and I will clothe you with a change of raiment (garments).’ And I said; ‘Let them set a clean turban upon his head.’ So they set a clean turban upon his head, and clothed him with garments. And the heavenly malach (angels) of YHWH stood by.”
On Earth as it is in Heaven
The pure gold banded turban of the Kohen HaGadol’s (High Priest’s) vestments is one of the most distinguishing features of his attire (Exodus 28:36). Approaching YHWH without it would have been an extremely dangerous violation of Torah. Leviticus 8:9; “And he put the turban upon his head; also upon the turban, even upon its forefront, did he put the golden plate, the kadosh (set-apart) keter (crown), as YHWH commanded Moshe.” The Kohen HaGadol could not preside in any part of the Temple, much less enter into the Set Apart Place (Holy of Holies) unless his head was covered at all times. He was even forbidden to remove any of his garments in mourning for the dead (Leviticus 21:10,11). A risen and glorified Yahshua, being our perfect High Priest after the order of Malkitzedek (Hebrews 5:5,6), who now ministers in the heavenly Temple, would not violate the Torah or be excluded from having a similar heavenly appearance to his mortal predecessors.
Just like the kohanim who performed sacred duties and worked together with the High Priest in the Temple, all believers are called to be priests, working in one accord under the headship of Messiah. 1 Peter 2:5; “You also, as lively stones, are built up as a spiritual bayit (house), a kadosh (set-apart) priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to YHWH by Yahshua ha Moshiach (The Messiah).”
Scripture attests to Yahshua’s own practice of wearing a head covering. Matthew 4:9; “And he (HaSatan) said to Him (Yahshua), all these things will I give you, if you will fall down and worship me and bare your head to me.” If the kohanim were instructed to wear less distinctive headwear than the Kohen HaGadol, how much more should we cover our own heads as a nation of priests who are all part of one body whose High Priest is now a crowned and glorified Messiah?
Middle Eastern people wore head coverings from ancient times to the present day. The Scriptures never portray the Almighty commanding or requesting an Israelite to uncover his head. There are very few, if any, ancient depictions of Israelites with uncovered heads. Christianity even admits that their Jesus (the Greco-Romanised version of Yahshua) wore a garment (almost certainly a tallit) that was often pulled up over the back of his head. In fact it is absolutely reasonable to deduce that Sha’ul first wrote the statements in 1 Corinthians 11 whilst wearing a head covering, if for no other reason than the information I am about to present.
Sha’ul (Paul) the Little Tallit (Tent) Maker
Most Christians are understandably ignorant of the fact that Sha’ul did not make tents despite the verse in Acts 18:3 that says; “because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.” This is because the word, “tentmaker” has been mistranslated! Sha’ul actually made four-cornered garments called “tallitot” (plural), which functioned as prayer shawls. The tallit (singular) was literally used as a personal “prayer closet” that was pulled up over the head of an occupant when praying to prevent distraction and heighten concentration. The ignorance the church has as to the true nature of Sha’ul’s profession most likely adds to their inability to see the significance of wearing tzitzit (tassels), which hang from a tallit (a four cornered garment).
The practice of wearing four cornered garments (Numbers 15:38) is ritually avoided within church despite YHWH specifically instructing all the tribes of Israel (not just Judah) to wear such garments throughout their generations.
Why would Sha’ul say that no man should cover his head when he sold garments that were used to do that very thing? The answer is Sha’ul was not talking about head coverings, but veils as worn by women.
YHWH not only commanded priests to wear head coverings, but all followers to wear them, even in exile. The disenfranchised Temple priest Ezekiel (Yehezkel), called by Elohim to be a prophet, was told to have the heads of all those who joined him in exile to wear turbans. Ezekiel 24:15; “Also the word of YHWH came to me, saying… (17) …bind the turban of your head upon you… (23) And your turbans shall be upon your heads…” This was a direct command to wear a head covering written by a prophet that according to a cursory understanding of Sha’ul’s writings is dishonorable.
As stated earlier, all Israel is a nation of priests (Revelations 1:6) and the wearing of a head covering by a Jew or Messianic believer is an outward sign of a believer’s constant anticipation and readiness for the Bridegroom’s return. Isaiah 61:10b; “He has clothed me with the garments of Yahshua, He has covered me with the robe of tzedakah (righteousness), as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
I’ve read many well researched papers on the tradition of head coverings and how they have no Biblical basis. Some of the most compelling studies that refute the wearing of kippah are actually written by fellow Nazarene Israelite believers. But at the end of the day, the final word has to come from the Scriptures themselves.
Half a Hill on Your Head
Depending on the source, the traditional appearance of the kippah has a variety of origins. Some sources cite its diminished size and shape as having evolved to make it easier to remove and hide from Greek or Roman soldiers. But the most reliable source for the shape of the head covering is provided in Scripture. The old English word “tires,” which means “round,” appears in the King James Version in Ezekiel 24:17, 23. Interestingly the word “tires” also appears in Isaiah 3:18 when referring to a round or domed shaped pendant. The Hebraic meaning of the head covering in Ezekiel 24 literally means “half of a hill” or “dome,” hence the domed shape of the kippah worn by the modern Jew today. The funny thing is that even the Vatican, the mother of all Christianity, holds to wearing head coverings. All Popes wear a kippah. But for some reason the Vatican hierarchy do not encourage their followers to do the same.
Deuteronomy 22:12; "You shall make yourself twisted threads, on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself."
The head covering is part of the tallit, which foreshadows the heavenly garment all members of the Commonwealth of Israel will receive in the New Kingdom. Adam and Eve were not naked before the fall, as we perceive someone to be naked today. They were clad in a heavenly covering that was not a foreign object, which is the definition of clothing in the true sense of the word. In a way, they were just like a crab or a bear that are technically naked, but clad in their own natural coverings.
The wearing of four tzitziot (tassels) that must hang from a four-cornered garment is a mitzvah (commandment). Numbers 15:38; "Speak to the children of Yisrael and you shall say to them that they shall make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations, and they shall affix a thread of blue (Hebrew: תכלת - tekhelet) on the fringe of each corner."
The Shema – The Long and the Short of it
The Shema is a set-apart declaration of faith and a pledge of allegiance to the one El-Elyon (Most High Mighty One). It is taken from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21 and 15:37-41 and is regarded as the most important prayer in Judaism. The word “Shema” means “hear” and commences the declaration. “Shema (hear) Yisrael: YHWH is our Elohim, YHWH is Echad (one): And you shall love YHWH your Elohim with all your lev (heart), and with all your being, and with all your might. And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your lev (heart): And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your bayit (house), and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall bind them for an ot (sign) upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the posts of your bayit (house) and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
The Shema is said upon arising in the morning and upon going to sleep at night (Deuteronomy 6:7; "And you should speak about them when you... lie down and when you get up"). It is also said when praising and beseeching YHWH. It is the first prayer that a Jewish child is taught to say and it is (if possible) the last words a Jew says prior to death. But the Shema is not exclusively for the tribe of Judah (the Jews). It is applicable to all who are members of the Commonwealth of Israel.
One of the most prominent rabbis in Jewish history, Rabbi Akiva, recited the Shema whilst Roman executioners stripped the flesh off his body with iron combs. When asked by his followers (who were nearby) how he managed to maintain his faith enough to recite it, he answered, “All my life I have been troubled by this verse, ‘You shall love G-d... with all your soul.’ As I have explained its meaning: ‘all your soul,’ ‘even if they take your life.’ I have always wondered: will I ever have the privilege of fulfilling this mitzvah? And now that the opportunity has finally arrived - shall I not seize it?” The Talmud records Rabbi Akiva’s last word as a long and drawn out “echad” (YHWH is one).
Shema at Dawn and Evening
The Shema is more than just a preparatory act; it is primarily a spiritual elevation that requires considerable internalization when spoken. It is likened to a jewel in the crown of an Israelite’s daily morning prayers and blessings. Psalms; “My voice shall You hear in the morning, O YHWH; in the morning will I direct my tefillah (prayers) to You, and will look up.” It is also recited at one’s bedside. Psalms 4: 4(5); “Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own lev (heart) upon your bed, and be still. Selah.” The Jewish sages taught that it was to be recited twice before entering the world of sleep to allow a total of 248 words to be said, enabling a garment of protection to cover the body’s entire 248 organs. As sleep is a state that constitutes 1/60th of death its recitation is likened to standing guard with a double edged sword at the ready throughout the entire night.
The Most Important Commandment
The sages also wrote that before Jacob was about to reveal the end of days to his children, he was concerned that one of them might be a non-believer. His sons reassured him immediately by crying out, “Shema Yisrael.” Even the Torah records Moshe including the Shema in his farewell address to the children of Israel.
Yahshua quoted the Shema in the beginning of his discourse in Mark 12:29; “And Yahshua answered him, ‘The first of all the mitzvah (love deeds) is, 'Shema (hear), O Yisrael; The Master YHWH is our Elohim, the Master YHWH is Echad (one).’” This statement was in response to the question, “What is the greatest of all the Commandments?”
Yahshua also referred to the Shema in John 10:30 during Chanukah (Feast of Dedication) where some Jews asked him if he was the Messiah (the Anointed One). He answered them with the words “I and my Father are echad (one).” This was an allusion to the Shema, which the Jews immediately recognised, which prompted them to gather up stones to kill him.
Christianity Substitutes the Shema
In contrast the Christian declaration of faith is the “Apostle’s Creed,” which declares acknowledgement of a triune deity and a pledge of allegiance to the Catholic Church. This creed was principally derived from the council of Nicea, which was presided over by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine who went on to murder his wife and child.
Ultimately, if an act glorifies YHWH and does not dismiss, breach or cause the Torah to be curbed in any way it should never be a question of whether it was originally set down in Scripture (especially if the act supports performing a mitzvah). Questioning whether or not a perfectly acceptable act of worship is Scriptural astounds me. Invariably such a line of questioning exposes the enquirer as an individual who looks for the least that they have to do as opposed to the most they can do to please the Almighty. A person wouldn’t normally have this attitude toward their spouse, so why should they have it toward their Creator? If a wife asks her husband for breakfast in bed and specifically asks for toast, eggs and juice, the husband, if he’s devoted to her, will bring more than just the bare requirement of one egg and one piece of toast. He’ll bring two eggs, two pieces of toast on a beautiful plate, with accompanying salt and pepper shakers, a large glass with his wife’s preference of freshly squeezed juice and maybe even a rose, all neatly arrayed on a tray. Why should this desire to go the extra mile for one’s own wife be any different from a desire to do the same for YHWH?
Traditions, provided they glorify YHWH in a manner that does not contravene His Torah, should not be rejected out-rightly for lacking an origin as obvious Scriptural commandments.