Putting the Judaism in Messianic

Photo by Gila Brand. Judaica - candlesticks, e...
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YNet did a story last month about Messianic Jews living in Israel that has some items of note:

Some 15,000 Messianic Jews currently live in Israel, but if you saw one on the street you would almost certainly fail to recognize any difference. They honor Jewish circumcision, bar-mitzvah, and wedding ceremonies, but believe Jesus is the messiah. . . .

Messianic Jews live in the US, and one would be just as hard-pressed to recognize them there as in Israel. Some are Orthodox, and dress as the haredim do, while others are traditional and wear a yarmulke or no religious symbol at all. They are for the most part Zionists, and see IDF service as a top priority. In the army they serve as pilots, commanders, and elite unit members, but usually make sure to keep their messianic beliefs under wraps.

That’s pretty much my experience: If you’re not handing out tracts or picking arguments while wearing your kippah, a Messianic Jew really doesn’t stand out all that much. Rabbi Gavri’el, for example, is pretty well known to some of the local kosher butchers and Judaica store owners here in Atlanta. (I would be, but my wife handles most of the shopping while I’m at work.) However, the fact that we follow the Torah in a manner consistent with mainline Judaism definitely helps, which causes me to wonder about a few other details in the story:

[Jonathan] Bar-David explains . . . “[O]ne of the main missions is to understand that Yeshua is the messiah who came into being according to prophecies in the Torah. We are Jews. The Torah is a basic principle for us.” . . .

The Jewish rites, or mitzvahs, [Jonathan] Bar-David performs are also plentiful, and do not always conform to those of religious Jews. He doesn’t work on Saturday, but can light a fire. He attends prayers at his community and even teaches the Bible to younger members. He fasts on Yom Kippur, but doesn’t keep kosher.

Here we have to wonder exactly what is meant by “keep kosher.” I can reasonably assume that Bar-David isn’t going out of his way to Tel Aviv to buy pork and shrimp, so kashrut–the whole corpus of Jewish Law regarding the proper preparation of food–is probably what the article means. Likewise, the issue of lighting a fire on Shabbat may be simply disagreement with the rabbinic injunctions around its use (maybe he flips on a light-switch), but as described the article makes it sound like our brother is deliberately violating Exo. 35:3. That sort of thing can cause problems in trying to present faith in Yeshua as truly, well, Jewish.

Some months ago, I noted a story about the results of a lawsuit that came from the trashing of a Messianic synagogue. What I did not emphasize, out of a desire for solidarity and not rubbing salt in the wounds, is what my Messianic brethren were doing at the time of the riot: “The trouble started on Christmas Eve day in 2005 when the congregation had planned to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah with a special baptismal service.”

To be very honest, I can kind of understand Yad L’Achim’s outrage, though of course I condemn the assault. Hanukkah is a celebration of the Holy One protecting Israel from assimilation into Greek culture and religion. Christmas, on the other hand, was originally a pagan holiday that the Gentile Christians re-packaged as the Messiah’s birthday. And baptism, to the Jewish community, is the rite by which a Jew is formally assimilated into the Gentile–read that “Greek” and “Roman”–Christian culture.

Can we see just why some traditional Jews might be just a tad angry about the careless juxtaposition?

There is a reason why so many Messianic Jews are not willing to associate with Messianic synagogues, but instead live their lives quietly within the boundary markers of mainline Judaism. I think that one day soon, the Holy One is going to “out” these believers to the community, and that when He does, everyone is going to be surprised at how many there really are. But in the meantime, those who have put their faith in Yeshua front-and-center need to seriously consider what they are willing to sacrifice in order to be good lamps. Are we willing to commit ourselves to eat kashrut, or will we “destroy with your food him for whom Messiah died” (Rom. 14:15)? Is lighting a lamp on the Sabbath more important than being a light on the Sabbath?

I can’t tell anyone what to do here, but I can sympathize with our more traditional friends who scoff at the “Judaism” in Messianic Judaism.



9 Replies to “Putting the Judaism in Messianic”

  1. “To be very honest, I can kind of understand Yad L’Achim’s outrage, though of course I condemn the assault”

    Why would you even wish to understand Yad L’Achim?

    Surely you should be principally trying to understand Yad L’Achim’s victims aka your fellow believers?


      1. So why not just say you understand the haredi position on Christmas – why bring terrorists into the equation?

        Furthermore, the Yad L’Achim quite clearly misled folk about there being busloads of Jewish children taken to Bass’ congregation to be baptised, when in reality it was a couple of mature teenage believers.


      2. I’m pretty sure that is what I *did* say: “To be very honest, I can kind of understand *Yad LAchims *outrage, *though of course I condemn the assault* .”

        I didn’t call it a “position,” because that would suggest a reasoned stance in a logical debate. This wasn’t. It was a gut-level response of outrage and anger–and a foolish one, at that. It has (rightly) set Yad L’Achim up as the bad guys and the Messianic synagogue in a sympathetic light to the Israeli public.

        In other words, I’m not saying that the attack was justified–only that the anger was understandible and that IMHO our brethren in Yeshua made some mistakes of their own.



  2. No, that’s fair enough RoB, I appreciate the nuances in what you’ve said. I agree that as believers we shouldn’t demonise or seek easy solutions to these problems, and we always have to love our enemy.

    But the messianics were perfectly within their rights to celebrate Christmas – me, I love Christmas and it would ruin Christmas for me if I thought people might come into my church, beat me up, and think they were serving God in this way.




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