17 Days: They’re Not Me

like-a-prayerQuestion:

I’ve been repeatedly approached by Jews for Jesus guys near the campus of UCLA. The pamphlet that they hand out alleges that “Messianic Jews” are Jews who believe that Jesus was the Messiah. That didn’t make sense to me. I would label a person “Christian” if they believed Jesus was the Messiah. But my friend claimed there are a great number of Jews who believe that Jesus was the Messiah – yet do not consider themselves Christians. I had never heard of this.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

No matter how disconnected a Jew may be from Judaism, he is still likely to be appalled by the idea of worshipping Jesus. And that poses a great problem for Christian missionaries seeking to convert Jews.

Given this, some missionaries got the idea to try a backdoor tactic. They invented “Jews for Jesus,” which uses a whole lexicon of Jewish-sounding buzz words in order to make Jesus more palatable to Jews.

For example, members of Jews for Jesus don’t go to church, they go to a “Messianic Synagogue.” Prayer is not held on Sunday, but on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. They say that by accepting JC, you’re not converting to Christianity, you’re instead becoming “a fulfilled Jew.” The New Testament is called “Brit Chadasha” (Hebrew for New Covenant). It’s not the cross, it’s “the tree.” Not baptism, but “the mikveh.” Not a communion wafer, but “matzah.” Congregants wear a tallit and kippah, and bring a Torah scroll out of the Holy Ark – just like every other synagogue. After all, they proudly proclaim, Jesus himself was a Jew!

These missionary campaigns are well-funded and relentless. Jews for Jesus has been spending millions of dollars in print and radio advertising, and has run a campaign of banner ads in New York City subways and on major web sites. If you see one of these ads, you should write a letter of protest to the host organization.

It is the responsibility of all Jews to take a stand. Comedienne Joan Rivers started screaming on the air after a commercial for Jews for Jesus aired on her radio show. The ad featured two Jewish men arguing over whether JC is the Jewish messiah, while the Jewish song “Hava Nagillah” played in the background. “Do not proselytize on my show,” Rivers ranted. “I was born a Jew and I plan to die a Jew. How dare you advertise on my show. I find this disgusting, I find this offensive, and I find this ridiculous!”

Jews for Jesus is a subversive organization. The missionaries’ approach to ensnare unsuspecting people includes quoting Torah verses out of context and gross mistranslations. These deceptions are most successful with Jews who have no knowledge of their own Jewish heritage. In Russia, for example, where Jewish education had been suppressed for 70 years, missionaries sponsor “Jewish revival meetings,” where a tallit-clad clergyman asks throngs of unsuspecting Russian Jews to “accept Jesus into your heart.” The sad thing is that tens of thousands of Jews (including an estimated 50,000 in Israel today) have fallen for this falsehood.

Ironically, Jews really could be called “Messianic Jews.” One of Maimonides’ classical “13 Principles of Faith” is: “I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may delay, nevertheless I anticipate every day that he will come.” In a sense we are all “Messianic Jews” – expecting the Messiah to gather the Jews back to Israel, usher an era of world peace, and reestablish the Temple. Though Jesus achieved none of this.

There are two excellent organizations which counteracts missionary activities and have succeeded in attracting “converts” back to Judaism. You can find them online at www.jewsforjudaism.org and www.outreachjudaism.org.

“Jews-for-J”
from the “Ask the Rabbi” series
Aish.com

This is a very traditional Jewish response to any suggestion that it might be appropriate for a Jew to consider Jesus as the Messiah. It’s also typical that much of religious and secular Judaism confuses Jews for Jesus, which works to convert Jews to Christianity and then direct them to the church, and Messianic Judaism, which maintains that faith in Jesus as the Messiah is a valid expression of Judaism, much as the Chabad consider that the Rebbe will be reincarnated as Moshiach.

jewish_holocaust_childrenNevertheless, the Aish Rabbi has a point. For nearly 2,000 years, the Christian church and the world it has influenced has been working very hard to destroy Jews and Judaism, all for the glory of the Christian Jesus, trying to “save” the Jews from their “carnal religion.” If someone were trying to kill you or at least completely destroy your way of life and your unique personal and cultural identity, chances are you’d resist; you’d fight back.

So even if Messianic Judaism is a valid Judaism, and even if there is validity in considering Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, most Jews, including secular Jews who have no attachment to a Jewish religious expression, are going to act the way Joan Rivers reacted as described above.

But if I didn’t know some Jewish people who live as halalaic Jews and who are Messianic, people who are intelligent, faithful, and highly credible, I would have my doubts, too. But I also know a few of these intelligent, faithful, and highly credible Jews who have previously identified themselves as “Messianic” and who are now unsure of their faith in Messiah Yeshua. I know that my wife in particular has adopted the opinion of the Aish Rabbi regarding Messianics and believes only uneducated, secular Jews can be swayed by Christian missionaries to “fall for” Jews for Jesus/Messianic Judaism.

It’s part of what I was trying to say yesterday. It’s part of the reason why both Jews and Christians involved in the Messianic movement are forsaking Jesus and either (in the case of halalaic Jews such as my wife) adopting a traditionally Jewish cultural and religious lifestyle or (in the case of non-Jews) converting to some form of Judaism, usually Orthodox.

It removes the dissonance between attraction to a Jewish lifestyle and faith in Jesus by removing faith in Jesus. The alternative is to remove attraction to Judaism, which is disastrous for a Jew and sometimes troubling for the Judaically-aware Christian. But it does bring a sort of peace with those Jews who make a very convincing argument against “Messianic Judaism.”

Many of my critics who oppose my support of Messianic Judaism as a Judaism cite examples such as the Aish Rabbi and the anti-Messianic article written for the Atlantic, saying that it’s impossible for Messianic Judaism to be accepted as a Judaism. Paradoxically, these critics believe the valid alternative is to support a “One Law” theology that offers a manufactured “inclusiveness” of both Jews and Christians as members of the Mosaic covenant and equal citizens in Israel (thus “destroying” Israel and Jewish distinctiveness by making everybody Israel).

I can only imagine what the Aish Rabbi and Jewish reporter Sarah Posner would say to them and their suggestion. Probably nothing “inclusive.”

The sins of Israel in the time of the Greeks were: Fraternizing with the Greeks, studying their culture, profaning Shabbat and Holy Days, eating t’reifa and neglecting Jewish tahara. The punishment-tribulation was the spiritual destruction of the Sanctuary, death, and slavery in exile. Through teshuva and mesirat nefesh, that great, miraculous Divine salvation – the miracle of Chanuka – came about.

“Today’s Day”
Tuesday, Keslev 29, Fifth Day of Chanuka, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Add to that the fact that the Bible isn’t the simple, straightforward document we have been taught it is…that it’s not something that God just dictated to dozens of people under His Divine influence, and that it forms a perfect, flawless, inspired “Word of God.” We have complete faith in God but we shouldn’t necessarily have complete faith in the Bible because the Bible is full of flaws, is internally inconsistent, and we don’t know who wrote all of the words, verses, chapters, and books it contains.

As you can see, religious and cultural identity, let alone a simple faith, is a lot more difficult to maintain once you start reading, studying, discussing, and thinking.

You can blunder around in the dark, carefully avoiding every pit. You can grope through the murky haze for the exit, stumbling and falling in the mud, then struggling back to your feet to try again.

Or you can turn on the light.

Without a doubt, inside your heart, the light switch awaits you. Even if the light it brings is ever so faint, even that will be enough. For the smallest flame can push away the darkness of an enormous cavern. And then you will make yet more light.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Stop Groping”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

I can see why some Jews who formally had faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah have abandoned that position. I can see why some Judaically-aware Christians have forsaken Jesus and converted to Judaism. It can be very confusing establishing a sense of identity and belonging. A Jew is always a Jew, regardless of belief, regardless of faith, regardless of what he or she understands about the origin of the Bible. A Christian is only a Christian because of what they (we) believe. Add doubt to that mix and Christian faith dissolves like an alka seltzer in a swimming pool.

jews_praying_togetherThat’s why community is important to faith. If the world is your community, almost the entire population is going to continually challenge what you believe as a Christian. If Jews are the majority population, it’s the same thing. To some degree, faith requires that you stop listening to the world around you except for your community of “like-minded believers.” You have to ignore the atheists and if you are specifically a Judaically-aware Christian, you have to ignore Jewish anti-missionaries who define Judaism as wholly inconsistent with Jesus in any form.

The irony, besides converting to Judaism, is that the only other place for the Christian to go is back to church. Well, that’s ironic for me, anyway.

“Quitters are losers!”

This is frequently true, but not always. Of course it’s a mistake to quit prematurely. But at times, quitters will be winners since they devote their newfound time, money, and energy on a project that seems more likely to succeed.

Weigh the entire picture to figure out your best course of action. But don’t let fear of quitting lead you in the wrong direction.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #668, Quitters can be Winners”
Aish.com

I can see why Pastors discourage the members of their churches from exploring Judaism. I can see why Rabbis are totally against Jews marrying non-Jews. The collision of worlds is just devastating. But when you’re intermarried, you have no choice but to be part of the mix. There is no place you can hide, no community that can shelter you. Each day is lived at the raw edge, running on a razor blade, trying to keep your balance, hoping you won’t fall, praying you can keep your balance.

sitting-on-a-razor-bladeBut each moment on the edge is cutting and there’s blood everywhere. Falling off seems like it would be so peaceful. But no one can help me with that kind of decision.

I am going in the way of all the land (all mankind), and you shall strengthen yourself and be a man.

I Kings 2:2

These were the last words of King David to his son and successor, Solomon. David is essentially saying, “I am no longer able to struggle. My strength is failing, and I must now go in the way of all humans. But you are young and vigorous. You must be strong and be a man.” Implied in this message is that Solomon was to be strong enough not to go in the way of all men, but to be his own man.

Being a non-conformist is not virtuous in itself. Behaving in a manner similar to others in our environment is not wrong, as long as we know that our behavior is right and proper. In this case, we are acting according to our conscience. What is wrong is when we abdicate our right to think, judge, and decide for ourselves. It is easy for us to allow ourselves to be dragged along by the opinions and decisions of others, and thereby fail to act according to our conscience.

The expression “I am going in the way of all mankind” does more than euphemize death; it actually defines spiritual death. It states that true life exists only when we actively determine our behavior. A totally passive existence, in which the body is active but the mind is not, may be considered life in a physical sense, but in a spiritual sense it is closer to death.

No wonder the Talmud states that “wrongdoers are considered dead even during their lifetime” (Berachos 18b). Failure to exercise our spiritual capacities and instead relegating the mind to a state of passivity, allowing our physical and social impulses to dominate our lives, is in reality death.

Today I shall…

try to engage my mind to reflect on what I do, and think things through for myself rather than submitting to a herd mentality.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tevet 2”
Aish.com

If there is an answer for my life, it rests with God and hopefully, as Rabbi Twerski suggests, with me. No group, Christian or Jewish, has the answers I seek. They are within themselves and of themselves and united as completely compatible units inside their containers. They are not me, and I am not like anything I’m supposed to belong to, not the church, and not even my family.

6 thoughts on “17 Days: They’re Not Me”

  1. I think being a Jewish follower of Messiah is one of the most cognitively dissonant things out there. Not because I personally feel conflicted internally about Yeshua or Judaism (I have no problem with holding Yeshua as Messiah while upholding Judaism who looks for a Messiah), but rather because the whole world tells me that I can’t really be a Jew who lives as a Judaism observing Jew (among Jews) AND one who believes in Yeshua as Messiah. I can certainly understand those who would choose one or the other – just quit the Jewish thing and just be an ethnically-Jewish Christian worshiping among the Christendom or just forget about Yeshua and rejoin your people. It would certainly bring a measure of peace, although it will be a forced, fleeting one.

    Now, personally, I couldn’t care less what the Christian world thinks of my remaining part of Judaism (although most of my Christian friends accept me as I am, if not approve). My pain stems from the fact that in the eyes of my own people the Jew Yeshua has become this horrible foreign idol who was often championed by those who have caused great suffering to the Jewish people. I have to bear on my weak shoulders not just the original Jewish rejection of Yeshua (and Yeshua himself said that they didn’t know what they were doing), but also all the unspeakable injustice and atrocities committed in his name (spurned on by all the anti-Jewish beliefs spawned in the last two thousand years) by his professed followers, including those done to my own family and even to me personally.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Gene. It’s the Jewish side of the story I’m trying to tell. You may not want to answer my next question, but in terms of your home life, are you and the missus “in synch” with your beliefs? If you and your wife are both Jewish and both Messianic (or even if she’s a non-Jew but holds a faith very similar to yours) it’s one thing, but if she’s Jewish and *not* a believer, I can only imagine it would be “different.”

  3. Thank G-d, we are in sync when it comes to Judaism and faith in Yeshua. Can’t imagine if it were not the case, with all the other stuff piled on top. Although I do know enough MJs whose wives or their children barely tolerate Judaism. I know one MJ rabbi whose daughter (from a non-Jewish wife) almost never visits his congregation because it is, and I quote, “too Jewish” for her.

  4. I do know enough MJs whose wives or their children barely tolerate Judaism. I know one MJ rabbi whose daughter (from a non-Jewish wife) almost never visits his congregation because it is, and I quote, “too Jewish” for her.

    I know that feeling, but from the opposite direction.

  5. Intermarried here too. Been a Christian for many years, married a Jew, unintentionally tried to “gentilize” him, found MJ and started attending.

    Wow…

    Totally different experience than Church and Christianity and in many ways uncomfortable for me, but he likes it and so I support him.

    I’m in between, even with all the problems, my heart is in Christianity; that’s how I’ve experienced my spiritual life. But there’s problems in MJ too, and in regular Judaism, and every other “ism” because they’re filled with people. Sinful, arrogant, prideful, fearful, frail, mistaken people.

    So, I love my Christian peeps, try to impact and influence them to become supersessionisticlly aware, pray for and support my Jewish peeps, serve in our MJ congregation, and trust in God to sort it all out in due time.

    I believe we (in MJ) are called into something very big, and it isn’t for everyone; those who have more insecurities than trust need not apply! But for the faithful who keep their eyes on God instead of themselves or “man”, be they Christian “men” or Jewish “men”, will bring healing and mending and redemption.

  6. But there’s problems in MJ too, and in regular Judaism, and every other “ism” because they’re filled with people. Sinful, arrogant, prideful, fearful, frail, mistaken people.

    That’s just humanity. No community is really better than another as far as all that goes. It just depends on where you feel more at home. For you it’s Christianity. For me, I don’t really know anymore. Plus there isn’t a community my wife is willing to attend with me.

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