Sabbath for Christians?

Messiah Podcast talks with Orthodox Jewish theologian David Nekrutman about why he has invited Christians to keep the Sabbath.


Messiah PodcastOct 19, 2021

Messiah PodcastOct 19, 2021


David Nekrutman at a speaking event. (Image credit: eagleswings.org)

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Messianic Judaism is a movement whose influence extends far beyond the Jewish community.

Millions of Gentiles have connected with Yeshua of Nazareth and with the Jewish people through celebrating the biblical festivals and observing, to some degree, the Sabbath. This has elicited a varied reaction from the Jewish community. This week, Messiah Podcast interviews David Nekrutman, Executive Director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, about his recent book inviting Gentiles to celebrate the Sabbath.

David was born into a secular, New York Jewish family. In an effort to become more observant, his family sent David to Yeshiva of Brooklyn. He had no love for Christians and no knowledge of Christianity beyond medieval Catholicism. After finishing his master’s degree and working in the public sector for some time, he began working for the Israeli consulate in New York. In this capacity, he was asked to visit Bay Ridge Christian Center, a charismatic church in Brooklyn, to participate in a night to celebrate Israel during the Second Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Conflicted, he asked his rabbi, Gerald Meister, whether he was even allowed to enter a church. After explaining the situation, Rabbi Meister told him that he had to go as a representative of Israel under orders from the Israeli government. He prepared for the occasion by watching Sister Act, as he thought Catholicism was the only expression of Christianity.

Afterward, Nekrutman was asked to take the lead on Jewish-Christian relations for the consulate. After receiving permission from his rabbi, he began to research evangelical Protestantism, as he felt they would be the most receptive. Later, he moved to Israel joined Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin to help found the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, the first Orthodox Jewish organization dedicated to Jewish-Christian dialogue.

David cites Dr. Mark Rutland and Dr. Brad Young as the primary drivers who influenced him to attend Oral Roberts University. He was forthright about his Jewish identity throughout, continuing, for example, to wear his kippah; however, no one tried to convince him to convert to Christianity.

He likens the modern renewal of Jewish-Christian dialogue as the second-greatest miracle of our era, with the first being the State of Israel. He sees the Jewishness of Jesus as the greatest point of commonality between Jews and Christians. Citing the fact that Jesus was an observant Jew, he encourages Christians to “allow the Judaism of Jesus to enhance your identity and also the covenantal partnership you have with your elder brother—namely, the Jewish people.”

When it comes to specifics, David is reticent to lay down any halachah. In the end, he discourages Gentiles from an Orthodox-style observance of Sabbath. However, he cites Isaiah 66:23, in which the prophet envisions all nations celebrating Sabbath in some form or another. As for the Talmud, which prescribes the death penalty for Gentiles who keep the Sabbath, David indicates that this law is referring to an idol worshiper and maintains that Christians are not idol worshipers “at all.” He compares Christians to the ger toshav, a resident in Israel who has renounced idolatry; the rabbis argue over whether the ger toshav is obligated to keep the Sabbath and to what degree, leaving it an open question.

Sabbath for Christians is not salvific, says David; however, “if you do believe in Jesus… there is a way to celebrate the Sabbath that doesn’t compromise your Christian identity.” He’s not asking Christians not to make their coffee or go to Starbucks on Saturday morning. However, Christians can participate in the Sabbath by “soaking in the amplified presence of God.” It’s a time of reflection on what one has done for the kingdom in the previous week and thinking about what one will do in the next.

As for practical advice, David notes that a big part of observing the Sabbath is through anticipating Sabbath during the week. Preparing and planning for a special meal—whatever cuisine one might serve to a prominent guest—to be served on Shabbat changes how one shops during the week. All this preparation is done in honor of the Sabbath.

Asked how to promote healthy conversations between Christians and Jews, David responds, “It’s all about the kingdom of God. It’s all about relationship.” The mixed multitude has been with the Jewish people since the exodus from Egypt. Today, many Christians still stand with the Jewish people. From the Jewish side, David encourages Jews not to place two thousand years of Christian anti-Semitism onto the shoulders of any individual Christian. However, he also encourages Christians to allow Jewish people the space to process the post-traumatic stress of persecution and exile at the hands of previous generations of Christians.

You can pre-order David’s book, Your Sabbath Invitation, at yoursabbathinvitation.com

Check out this week’s episode and more at messiahpodcast.org

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