Rico Cortes was raised in a Christian community in Puerto Rico, but in the 1990s he began researching his family history. He found that he was a descendant of medieval Spanish Jews. After devoting himself to the study of Scripture, he came to a surprising conclusion: “When I kept reading the Bible, [Jesus] kept Shabbat, he ate kosher, he kept the faith.” He decided that the best way to understand and follow Jesus was to live the way Jesus had lived, which meant he too would observe the Torah. Is that what it means to follow in Jesus’ footsteps?
Of course, true Christians should want to be more like Jesus. After all, we are called to look to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). He is our ultimate example. He “suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21). Every true believer strives for Christlikeness. But what does “being like Jesus” mean?
Jesus was a Jew, obviously. He was born a Jew and perfectly obeyed all the requirements of the Law. He fulfilled the demands of the Law for us (Rom. 8:1-4). Should those who follow Jesus become observant Jews like Jesus was? Should Gentile believers try to be Messianic Jews? In the words of Richard Fisher: “Should they don a yarmulke, worship in a synagogue, blow a shofar, wear a prayer shawl, call Jesus Yeshua or Yeshu, keep the Old Testament feasts and dietary laws, and give their pastors the title of Rabbi, even though Matthew:23:8 says otherwise? Are Jewish ceremonies and practices efficacious? … Is Jewishness next to godliness?”
The Hebrew Roots Movement seems to think so. Here is our first summary the Hebrew Roots Movement’s erroneous teachings. In this article we will focus on the Torah, dress code, and their view of Israel.
The Hebrew Roots Movement teaches that believers should live a Torah-observant life. This means that the ordinances of the Mosaic Covenant must kept and should be a major focus for believers today. Keeping the Torah includes keeping the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week (Saturday), celebrating the Jewish feasts and festivals (refer Leviticus 23), keeping the dietary laws, avoiding the "paganism" of Christianity (Christmas, Easter, etc.), and learning to understand the Scriptures from a Hebrew mindset.
The Hebrew Roots Movement teaches that those who belong to Christ will keep the law, not out of legalistic bondage, but because of their love for Christ. The reality, however, is very different. They teach that to please God, a Torah-observant walk must be part of a Christian’s life. If we do not observe the Torah, at least not in the way that they believe most agrees with ancient practice, we cannot please God and therefore cannot be his children.
What many in the Hebrew RM don’t seem to realize, is that it would be impossible to return to the practices of the early church. Dr. Stephen Katz of Jews for Jesus helpfully points out that much of what the Hebrew Roots Movement espouses today is based on later Jewish and rabbinic tradition. They are actually following the Jewish Talmud, which was completed some 500 years after Christ. Few within the movement even know that there are two Talmuds, a Babylonian and Palestinian Talmud, with some serious differences between them.
Men in the Hebrew Roots Movement cover themselves with the Yarmulke (in Yiddish) or Kippa (in Hebrew). They also use the Tallit (Prayer Shall) to cover their heads. Most wear tassels, called tzitzit, though they aren’t always visible. These, again, are worn in obedience to the Torah, specifically Numbers 15:38-40. The context makes it clear that these tassels were supposed to be a reminder to Israel to obey the law. The Pharisees were known for their adherence to these external requirements, but the tassels themselves did nothing for their hearts. Hebrews 8 makes it clear that such a reminder is no longer necessary, since the law resides in the heart of the believer through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The Hebrew Roots Movement is understandably obsessed with Israel. In extreme cases they claim to be descendent of the 10 Northern Tribes and claim land rights in Israel. Some claim the right to make "Aliyah" (Law of return to Israel by Jews). They even consider themselves to be as much Israelites as Israel of this age.
Israel, then, becomes the lens through which God looks to us. It also becomes the lens through which Hebrew Roots proponents look at others. Your support for and identification with Israel will determine whether you are acceptable or not. This is clearly false. Even more concerning, is the teaching of some HR proponents that Israel will be saved even apart from Christ.
The New Testament teaches that the Father looks upon his children through Jesus Christ, his beloved Son, “whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). Gentile believers are grafted into the people of God (Rom 11:16-24). What the Hebrew Roots Movement fails to realise, is that the root of the cultivated olive is not the law, but the faith of Abraham. Israel itself is not.
Listen to what Paul writes in Galatians 3:7-11: “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed." So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith."”
Not all Israel (ethnically) are truly Israel (spiritually), and the distinction is not law, but grace (Rom. 9:6-16).
In our next article we will focus on the names of God and the Hebrew Bible.
1. O’Neil, Lorena. 2014. Hebrew Roots rising: not quite Christians, not quite Jews. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/03/13/ozy-hebrew-roots-movement/6373671/ Accessed: 5 February 2015.
2. Fisher, G. Richard. 2014. Bewitching believers through the Hebrew Roots movement. https://www.thebereancall.org/content/january-2014-bewitching-believers-hebrew-roots Accessed: 25 June 2023