Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Messianic Jews

[This is the fifth of five blogs from Israel where I am currently traveling with rabbis and evangelical ministers from Nashville.]

Are Messianic Jews really Jews? This is one question that has come up that I find especially curious. While Jewish interest in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sufism is so commonplace as to have given rise to terms like Bu-Jus, Hin-Jews, and Jufis), a Jew who finds herself attracted to Jesus (who was after all a Jew) is somehow beyond the pale.

The issue isn’t theological. Buddhism and its absence of God, Hinduism and its plethora of Gods, and Islam and its final Book and Prophet, are each antithetical to Judaism. If we can have Jewish Buddhists, why can’t we have Jewish Christians?

Nor is the issue sociological: a Jew who becomes a Christian (or a Hindu for that matter) and then decides to return to Judaism, doesn’t have to convert back, he or she simply has to come home; making a strong case that a Jew is a Jew no matter what.

Nor is it historical: the first Christians were all Jews. Christianity was a Jewish movement. The New Testament is predominately a Jewish book. And Jesus was nothing if not Jewish. So if was good enough for Matthew, Mark, John, and Paul, why not today’s Jews?

The problem is psychological and has everything to do with the way we Jews have been treated by Christians over the past two thousand years. If we had been persecuted by Buddhists; had Hindus come out of their temples screaming for the death of the Jews; then Bu-Jus and Hin-Jews would also be anathema. So Jews are leery of anything Christian. We imagine they want to destroy us, convert us, set us up to die as the final proof that Jesus is Lord.

Of course most Christians today want nothing of the sort, but, perception trumps reality every time. So we Jews see Messianic Jews as an oxymoron, and do our best to prune them from the family tree, and write them out of Father’s will. They have given up their inheritance and gone after false gods. Good riddance.

Personally, I am happy when someone finds God (or the Absolute) as long as what they find makes them just, kind, and humble. A Jew who finds Jesus is just that: a Jew. If he is obnoxious about finding Jesus, my guess is that he was just as obnoxious before finding Jesus. Jesus won’t make you obnoxious, but he won’t stop you either.

Given all of this, the question for me then becomes, Who is a Jew? I offer this definition: A Jewish is a person who calls herself a Jew, makes rabbinic Judaism her primary source of spiritual exploration and celebration, wrestles with God, Torah, Mitzvot, and Israel, and who identifies with, joins with, supports, and defends her fellow Jews world-wide.

My definition is behavioral rather than genetic, and is stricter than blood, if not thicker. I am saying it is my final thought on the matter. I try not to have final thoughts. But it is what I am thinking today. So, does this definition include or exclude Messianic Jews? Honestly, I am not sure. I will have to give it more thought.


Adam J. Bernay, The Radical Rabbi of the Right said...

Here's a question:

What about a person who calls him or herself a Jew, wrestles with God, Torah, Mitzvot, and Israel, who identifies with, joins with, supports, and defends his or her fellow Jews world-wide... but makes Torah Observant Messianic Judaism his or her primary source of spiritual exploration and celebration? Someone who rejects the paganness that has crept into Christianity (rejects all pagan holidays and ceremonies, such as Christmas, Easter, and Communion), keeps Torah, rejects the Day of the Sun as a proper day of worship, and exists only to serve the God of Israel... but believes -- as the Zohar teaches -- in a three-pillared Godhead, the middle pillar is the Son of Yah... but identifies that middle pillar as Yeshua HaMashiach?

What then?

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Anonymous said...

Is "rabbinic Judaism" shorthand, or do you really mean that a prospective convert has to immerse herself in that great mikveh of patriarchy before she can belly-up to the bar (or bat) with the rest of the frum?

Anonymous said...

Of course the issue is theological! Judaism is a religion, not a race. You can't be Jewish and Christian at the same time because the beliefs are antithetical. Jews believe the Messiah hasn't come. Christians believe Jesus Christ was the Messiah. Theology 101, Rabbi.

Can someone who eats meat be a vegetarian? I think not.

Messianic Judaism is a lie.

Adam J. Bernay, The Radical Rabbi of the Right said...

So, Ellen, I guess you don't believe that Lubavitchers are Jews?

Vania said...

I just found this post and though it is an old one, I am compelled to weigh in here.

I am a Messianic Jew. And I get a lot of flack over it. But I like Jesus (ok, Yeshua) better than Rashi. I want to be able to pluck an ear of corn on Shabbat without fear of recrimination. I do not want to shave my head, sit behind a veil in Temple like a leper. I do not want to be "exempt" (which really means "excluded") from certain aspects of Judaism because I am a woman and if I want to touch my husband when I am "niddah" why is that the Rabbi's business?

In Jesus, I found bottom line common sense. I am free to be myself and follow my heart that has been telling me for years that rules and regulations do not earn you brownie points with God.

I do not want to tremble before God because I reached for the toilet paper on the roll rather than for the tissue on the back of the potty. Does anyone really think God cares what you wipe your behind with on Shabbat? Or on any other day for that matter.

I choose to follow the freedom Jesus offered. I choose to find the kingdom of God here and now. I do not reject myself as a Jew, I reject the "Judaism" created by disgruntled old men. So why don't I just convert to Christianity? A better question is "why should I convert to Christianity"? My Rebbe (Jesus) never heard of Christianity. I don't understand the Christian Jesus, I looked all over the gospels and didn't find that guy there. So in order to divorce myself from Judaism (or allow some Rabbi to kick me out of it) would be to divorce myself from my Rebbe.

I know all about Shoah and it still freaks me out that the Rabbis are so afraid of losing Jews to Jesus. If they are so worried about the head count, wouldn't the best answer be to embrace Jesus for the uncompromising radical "face" of God on earth that he was? If they continue with this exclusionary BS they will find themselves caught in a self fulfilled prophecy. Messianic Jews will not "reject" Jesus, (who wants to go back to rabbinic Egypt?) but they will eventually reject all things Jewish - except for Jesus. Does that matter to me anymore? Not a bit.