Being Jewish is a Gift

jewish-t-shirtMy great grandparents were born in New York. At the end of a high school Holocaust memorial assembly, students were asked to file out quietly in the following order: those who had parents who were Holocaust survivors, those who had grandparents who were survivors, and finally those who had great grandparents who were survivors. I remained sitting with three other students in the empty auditorium. We looked at each other across rows of empty seats, and I felt shock ripple through me. I didn’t know that most of my classmates’ grandparents were survivors.

On the stage the American flag rippled in the dim spotlights alongside the Israeli flag, and I thought about the refuge that this country has been for so many Jews. My grandmother used to tell the Santa Claus who offered us candy canes at the mall: “No thank you. We’re Jewish so we celebrate Hanukkah. But happy holidays!” I’ll never forget the way her green eyes lit up with her fiery pride for Judaism. As her granddaughter, I grew up believing that being Jewish was a gift…

-Sara Debbie Gutfreund
“Swastikas in New York”
Aish.com

“…being Jewish was a gift.”

I never really thought of it that way before. Being Jewish is precious. There aren’t that many Jewish people relative to the world-wide population, and usually when something is rare, it’s valuable.

Jewish people are survivors, not just of the Holocaust, but of the world. Look at Jewish history going back thousands of years and you’ll almost always find that someone is trying to kill them. Look at ancient, Biblical history. Israelites co-existed in a world with Canaanites, Hittites, Moabites, and a lot of other “ties.” Are any of those other nations or people groups still around?

No. Only the descendants of the Israelites, the Jewish people.

They even continued to exist when they were evicted from their national homeland nearly two-thousand years ago. Who’d have thought that when the Roman empire crushed ancient Israel under its boot, that homeland would be resurrected again in 1948? Who knew that after over six decades, this tiny nation in the middle east would not only continue, but thrive and be an innovator in technology and other industries? Who knew?

Being Jewish is a gift.

Which brings me to Christianity, Hebrew Roots, and Messianic Judaism, all movements that are loosely connected by a mutual worship of the God of Israel and discipleship under the King of Israel and Messiah.

The vast majority of Jews would disagree with the last part of my statement. I understand that. But there are a very tiny minority of halachically Jewish people who have recognized that the man called “Jesus Christ” in the Church is also Yeshua HaMoshiach, Son of David, Anointed One of Hashem.

Of those Jewish people, probably most of them are assimilated into the traditional Christian church and live mostly or completely like their Gentile counterparts, foregoing most or all of the mitzvot that would otherwise identify them as observant Jews.

The “gift” of Judaism is recognized by some Gentile Christians in the Church, prompting them to leave their usual world of pulpits and pews and to join some variation on a Hebrew Roots or Jewish Roots congregation. These groups typically attempt to incorporate some form of modern, Jewish synagogue worship into their Sabbath meetings, spend more time in the Tanakh (Old Testament) than the Apostolic Scriptures, and some even tend to elevate the Torah or the Five Books of Moses, above their former devotion to Christ. They see Judaism as a gift too, tempting some of them to convert.

It’s a confusing world.

churchesAlmost all the Jewish people I know in Messianic Judaism have a previous experience in a traditional Church. Almost all of them are intermarried to a non-Jew. Many of these families live observant Jewish lives, but a few are split, with the Jewish spouse (and perhaps kids) attending a Shabbat service at a Messianic or traditional synagogue and the Christian spouse going to church.

It’s a confusing world.

Does attraction to or involvement in Jewish/Hebrew Roots and/or Messianic Judaism lead to apostasy? Or, for that matter, does such involvement increase the risk of apostasy?

I have no data to draw from. I don’t know if as many, more, or fewer people in the Church (big “C”) leave the faith altogether than people in Jewish/Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism. I only have anecdotal information only. Whispers in the dark. Rumors of this family and that who left the worship of Yeshua and converted to Judaism or, if halachically Jewish, returned to an observant Jewish life.

I can say that the temptation is there. I remember my own involvement in Hebrew Roots back in the day. It’s easy to be persuaded that the ritual, the prayer service, the Torah service, donning a tallit, laying tefillin, relating to the Judaism of our ancient faith leads to a closer walk with God. It can generate an enormous pull. Of course, with my wife being Jewish, the thought of conversion was additionally fueled, but that was many years ago. I even toyed with the idea of suggesting to my wife that we make aliyah.

But that seems like another life.

Don’t seek Christianity and don’t seek Judaism. Seek an authentic encounter with God.

That’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received and it cuts to the heart of the problem. Who the heck are we anyway, Jew and Gentile, in the body of Messiah?

There are a lot of writers in the Messianic Jewish space who write about distinctiveness between Jews and Gentiles in the faith, about the obligations to the Torah and how they are applied differently, radically differently to Jewish members and Gentile members. Men like Mark Kinzer, Stuart Dauermann, and David Rudolph write periodically or even regularly about the drive, the need, the absolute requirement for Jews in Messianic Judaism to see all other Jewish people and national Israel as not them, but us.

In other words, Messianic Jews are Jews first and Messianics second. I think that’s what Dr. Dauermann’s statement means. But that statement, while it repairs many an old wound, creates other problems.

How do you balance Jewishness and Judaism against a faith that in any real sense, hasn’t been Jewish (for the most part) in nearly twenty centuries? The very word “Christian” immediately screams “GOY!” in the ears of any Jewish person.

jewish-repentanceBeing Jewish is a gift.

Yeah, I get it. And if a Jewish person comes to faith in Jesus…excuse me, Yeshua, then do they throw away that gift?

I know a few Jewish people in my church. At least one of them has a passing relationship with the larger Jewish community in my little corner of Southwest Idaho, but she’s actually Christian through and through. Did these Jewish Christians throw away that gift?

I know that Kinzer, Dauermann, Rudolph, and other Jewish scholars and writers are choosing to see being Jewish as a gift that being Messianic does not require to be returned to sender. The apostle Paul was Jewish, proud of his heritage as a Pharisee, circumcised on the eighth day, zealous for the Torah. He worked closely with many Gentile disciples, established Gentile congregations among Romans and Greeks in the Diaspora, was aided, shielded, and supported by the Goyishe believers for decades.

If any man had the opportunity to leave Judaism, assimilate into Gentile “Christianity,” and “go native” among the Greeks, it’s Paul.

And he didn’t (I’ll get a lot of pushback from both Christians and Jews on that one).

I’ve gotten just tons and tons of advice since the most recent apostasy scandal hit the Hebrew Roots and Messianic section of the blogosphere. Most of it basically says, “Keep your eyes on Jesus.”

I sometimes wonder where God went, that is, God the Father, the one Jesus could do nothing without, the one who Jesus watched and imitated perfectly, the one Jesus told his disciples to pray to. Jesus said “no one comes to the Father except through me,” but he didn’t say the Father was replaced by the Son. Shouldn’t I be looking at the Son because opening his door, reveals the Father?

Being Jewish is a gift.

jewish-christianAnd there’s a terrible crisis in the Jewish world today. Jews are turning their back on being Jewish and practicing any form of Judaism in droves. Jews in this country are assimilating into Christianity, other religions, or secular atheism at a tremendous rate.

Jewish children are no longer receiving even the most basic Jewish education. They grow up in communities that do not have children knowing that their parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents are Holocaust survivors.

I’m not Jewish so I can only imagine this. If you are passionately, religiously, ethically Jewish and also passionately and religiously a devoted disciple of the Messiah who the Church calls “Christ,” then you must feel powerfully torn in two directions.

Except…

…except if devotion to Moshiach was originally Jewish and considered a valid Jewish religious stream in the days right before and then after the destruction of the Second Temple, why can’t it be just as Jewish today? Why do there have to be two opposing directions for a Messianic Jew? Why isn’t it the same direction, another stream of Judaism among many streams of Judaism?

I know…two thousand years of anti-Semitic Christian church history has severely tainted those waters.

For a Messianic Jew, faith is an unavoidable tightrope walk. For non-Jews associated with Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots, the draw is there, but it’s different. We weren’t born into the covenant that every Jew who ever existed was born into. We don’t have the same spiritual connection that is infused into our blood, our flesh, our bones, our very DNA. For Jews who turn their back on the covenant of Sinai, I believe there will be an accounting one day.

We from among the nations are not called to that covenant, but we are called to God through the Messiah, through a faith that righteous Abraham demonstrated. Yeshua is the doorway but we must remember that Messiah, not Judaism, not Jewish practice, not Jewish identity, is the key to being reconciled to God. That was Paul’s entire point when he wrote his famous letter to the Galatians.

Being Jewish or not being Jewish doesn’t justify one before God. Faith justifies. However faith and justification doesn’t erase who we are. Men are still men, women are still women, Jews are still Jews, Gentiles are still Gentiles.

Being Jewish is a gift and most of us don’t receive that gift. A few Gentiles become Jewish by choice under the authority of the proper Rabbinic court, but born-Jewish, conversion to Jewish, or born something else, if we turn away from our sins and turn toward God, we must do so as who we are, knowing that our identity doesn’t justify, only faith in God through Messiah does.

prophetic_return1Being Jewish is a gift and I defend those Jews who believe their gift and their identity is being threatened by Christianity, by Gentiles who suffer from identity confusion, or by anything else linked to our religious streams and even how we search for God. I’m not Jewish but I understand that God chose the Jewish people from all of humanity for a special purpose, and as a Christian, I have a unique responsibility to cherish and uphold their purpose and their role, because only through the blessings of the covenants God made with the Jewish people do I have access to God at all.

But…

…but, that purpose and that role isn’t the end of all things. Being Jewish does not grant exclusive rights to enter the presence of God or a place in the world to come. God will do what God will do, but it is only the faith of Abraham that grants anyone righteousness before a righteous God. In that, Messiah is the gift, and he is a gift everyone may receive, to the Jew first and even to the Gentile.

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14 thoughts on “Being Jewish is a Gift”

  1. I absolutely concur that we should not look to any religious system, whether Judaism, Christianity or the various forms of Messianism; neither should we look to any human vessel. The scripture says that we are a people that dwell apart, and when we choose to violate this directive, heaven and earth move to intervene.

    I have to believe that every historical act and influence has been sieved through the hand of the Holy One, and contributes to his ultimate purpose, and the restoration of all things no matter how the view is from here.

    The vast majority of American Jews, including myself, did not grow up with strict halacha, but rather with tradition plus cultural identity plus identification with and pride in the nation of Israel. Part of this identity was negative, as some of my older family members built themselves into a Jewish ghetto in their minds, where practices had little to do with love of the things of heaven or the beauty of our heritage, but was because the goyim hated us and were against us. I found that polemic unappealing, and couldn’t identify with it as I had not experienced antisemitism personally, as they had, and am not aware of any Holocaust survivors within my family, as they all immigrated to the US in the early 1900’s, although my grandmother’s brother left Romania for Israel in the 1930’s ahead of Hitler.

    So following torah was as new to me as following Messiah, and following Messiah came first. As men’s hearts wax cold, we should not be shocked that many fall all around us, as this is something we have been warned about. And what appears solid may only be an illusion. BTW: Is David Rudolph the son of Mike Rudolph, Rockville attorney, married to a German non-Jewish lady with a German name that I don’t remember?

  2. Here’s Rudolph’s bio.

    Notice what I said though that placing Messiah at the center of our focus neither makes our identity more relevant or less relevant. Actually, for Jewish believers, I suspect that the relevancy increases as the prayers, Torah service, and the mitzvot take on greater meaning in Messiah. For Gentiles, it doesn’t make us more “Jewish,” but we should become aware of just how we are connected to God as a consequence of the blessings of the covenants God made with Israel, and specifically God’s covenant with Abraham.

  3. James, I know you directed this blog mainly to Jewish people, but as I read it I was reminded how they have been such a gift to the world. And also to those of us, especially us gentiles, who believe Jesus/Yeshua is the the Messiah of Israel.

    I think I mentioned before that in the past six months my wife has decided to begin attending a local church. I have struggled with doing the same thing myself, in spite of the merit of the idea of restoring the Tent of David. Over the past almost 10 years I have really been blessed by learning about the roots of our faith and a growing appreciation of the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the faith Jewish people have preserved over the centuries. And learning to appreciate their perspective of the Scriptures has helped understand them a little more in their original context. The main thing it has done is cause me to be more in love with and in awe of our Messiah, not only what He did for me personally but seeing His faithfulness to His people and the future plan for their restoration. It has also helped me see Yeshua’s devotion and faithfulness to the Father.

    When you said: “I sometimes wonder where God went, that is, God the Father, the one Jesus could do nothing without, the one who Jesus watched and imitated perfectly, the one Jesus told his disciples to pray to. Jesus said “no one comes to the Father except through me,” but he didn’t say the Father was replaced by the Son. Shouldn’t I be looking at the Son because opening his door, reveals the Father?” it really struck me personally.

    I think this is what I miss the most when I go to church. It seems the focus at church, at least the ones I have attended, is more on personal salvation and what Jesus can do for us in our individual lives. Although Jesus is definitely worthy of praise and worship for a lot of reasons, as you said one reason He came was to show us the Father and draw us to Him. When you made that statement I realized how much I miss the Jewish focus on HaShem when I attend church. He is hardly ever mentioned nor are His purposes for nation of Israel or the Jewish people. Hopefully that will change in the future. I am convinced the Spirit of God is increasing this awareness to those who will listen.

  4. Questions about Holocaust survivors in the family have often perplexed me, because, while experience of that trauma is a uniquely Jewish experience, it is not the definitive Jewish experience. The story above about the New York high school Holocaust Memorial presentation addresses an audience of students who could not themselves have had direct experience of the Holocaust, though their indirect experience of it through surviving family members offered a powerful illustration of its impact. But some American Jewish families actually were present already in the USA before the Holocaust, and even before the rise of German national socialism or its precursors. They also, nonetheless, were impacted indirectly by the Holocaust. Therefore they too may be deemed survivors of it, as may all the Jewish people who survive to this day. Many families in Israel lived in Middle Eastern or North African territories and suffered their own traumas, persecutions, and expulsions; but no one in Israel is unaffected by the Holocaust.

    Nonetheless, I think it important to emphasize that the Holocaust can never be allowed to become the central focus that defines the gift of Jewish heritage, any more than should the expulsions from Spain and Portugal 500 years ago, nor any of the Eastern European pogroms, nor any of many other anti-Jewish persecutions across the globe wherever Jews have been dispersed. “The goyim” may have hated us and harmed us because we are Jews, but we are not Jews because of their attitudes and actions against us. We continue to be Jews despite such antagonism, but not because of it. Such antagonism may have contributed to our isolation and inhibited our losses to assimilation, but it could not preserve our heritage. Particularly now, in the face of assimilation as the most current scourge threatening the Jewish people in the Western world, dedication to preserving the Jewish heritage, cultures and civilization is the trait that is demanded.

  5. @Mel: I think what you said emphasizes why it’s important for any believer to is “Judaically-minded” and going to church to also keep up with personal study and maintain contact with like minded believers. It provides a counterbalance to the traditional ways most Christians relate to and teach about Jesus. Even then, it can be frustrating.

    I think “going back to church” is easier for people who have had a previous and positive church experience, especially in childhood. If they can connect to what seems familiar and positive as related to past experience, it feels more “natural.” I never spent that much of my history in church and not all of my previous church experience was positive, so I don’t have much of a “hook” to hang on, so to speak. Nevertheless, I have met people I consider truly holy and in the service of God.

    @PL: I mainly quoted that story about the Holocaust survivors so I could use the phrase “being Jewish was a gift” as a jumping off point for this blog post. I’ve read a number of articles recently, including Stuart Dauermann’s write up in the most recent issue of Messiah Journal, focusing on the connection of Messianic Jews to other (non-Messianic) Jews and to Israel (being “Us” not “Them”). While such sentiments are necessary to repair damaged relationship between Jewish people, they necessitate setting the commonality Messianic Jews have with believing Gentiles in the body of Messiah. I was attempting to create a counterpoint to such articles and trying to balance out the equation, as it were.

    I can’t speak from Jewish experience in terms of the Holocaust, but I would tend to agree that being Jewish is more than just relating to the Holocaust or any tragedy in Jewish history. At the center, is being chosen as a unique people at Sinai and being given a role and life to live in accordance with the will of Hashem, a role and life that is ultimately distinctive from the rest of the world, but also meant to be a light to that same world, leading them to the One God.

  6. Thanks James for the good advice. My church history is I grew up in a denominational church which didn’t mean much to me at the time. After a number of rebelious years in 1980 I was led to a real relationship with Jesus and began attending a pentecostal church. For 25 years that was all I knew. Then about 2004 I just felt like the Lord was leading me out of the church for some reason. There weren’t any real problems and I still have good relationships with many of the people from that time. I began to study how the apostles and early believers would have worshipped and that’s when I discovered the “Jewishness” of our faith and things began to make more sense to me.

    One problem I am having is with some of the pentecostal doctrines and expressions of the faith, since my wife has chosen to go back to that kind of church. That is where her spiritual history is too. By nature, I’m not a real emotional person and since I am obviously a lot older now I don’t really enjoy the loud, emotional form of worship as much as I did before. But, more than that, I have trouble with people seeking after the gifts of the Spirit in a way that makes them think they and certain leadership people are more “anointed” than others and that every thought that some people have is considered a “word from the Lord”. I don’t doubt the reality of the gifts of the Spirit but I agree more with the balanced approach that was shared at the FFOZ Shuvuot conference.

    Another problem I have been wrestling with is that some pentecostal people think if people aren’t speaking in tongues and prophesying, with people being “slain in the Spirit” then the gifts of the Spirit aren’t “operating”. As you no doubt know, many who believe like this think those who don’t do those things don’t “have” the Spirit. For example, the pastor we took to the conference said he didn’t see the gifts of the Spirit in operation there, in spite of all the testimonies that were given of the Lord working in a lot of people’s lives in miraculous ways.

    I know I am sort of mixing at least two of your blogs, but for the reasons I stated above I really appreciate your blogs on the “strange fire” conference and controversy. It seems to me those people are treading on dangerous ground by attributing things of the Spirit to the devil. Like I said, I believe the gifts are real but I think it’s also obvious there are excesses and abuses in some parts of the body. I’ll sure be glad when Messiah arrives and straightens all of us out. I know I need it.

  7. I think what you describe is some of the legitimate criticisms of the Pentecostal church. Like any other church, they operate off of a set of assumptions about what they believe the Bible is saying, focusing on the more “dramatic” spiritual aspects of tongues and so forth. You left once you started questioning those assumptions and realizing that the Bible was actually saying something different and more than the Pentecostal church (and probably most other churches) believes.

    I know I wouldn’t fit into a Pentecostal church, probably for the same reasons you do. I’m not a particularly “emotive” person, and I don’t believe that the Spirit of God comes upon each person during every Sunday service like clockwork. My personal opinion is that “dramatic” expressions of the Spirit in our world are relatively rare and you never know when God is going to do something “supernatural.” I think, most of the time, God does influence people and events, but in such a way that we don’t really notice, at least not until after the deed is done.

    Going back to church isn’t for everyone. Sometimes I wonder if it’s even for me. I assess and re-assess my role in church day by day and who knows, one day, I may determine that I have no value within its walls. I’ll just have to wait and see, I guess.

  8. Paul seems to elevate his faith/knowing the Messiah above all else, and I don’t think he was tryign to say those things no longer matter(or he would have contradicted himself in many places), but simply putting into place the correct priorities… Philippians 3.

    I think the reality is, for both Messianic Judaism/Hebrew Roots or whatever else there is, is the problem of putting something before God. Whether that be Jewish identity or Torah observance… Hebrew Roots groups, at least some, have elevated Torah observance above all else, and much in the same way, Messianic Judaism, at least some, especially those among the ‘BE’ groups, have elevated Jewish identity above all else. This in my opinion leads to apostasy, because you don’t need Yeshua in order to practice either and it really loses focus of the purpose of both.

  9. Zion, my intent in writing this was to find some sort of balance between Jews in Messianic Judaism finding/needing a strong connection to the larger Jewish community and to national Israel and Jews in the body of Messiah having a shared faith with Gentiles in Messiah.

    The bottom line for all of us is God. At the end of the day, Jew or Gentile, we will all stand before His throne and be required to give an accounting. I suspect (if we are sane) that we will all be sweating and trembling.

  10. I was taught by my parents that showing gratitude was the proper response to receiving a gift. As gratitude for the gift of redemption passed on to me through the Jewish people from Abraham, I support the Jewish people in the here-and-now and defend the memory of the Shoah. This comes from my heart as my way of expressing the inexpressible gratitude I feel toward them for carrying the Torah of redemption on their backs through the pain of suffering of the centuries. It is my way of doing so. It is my way of expressing gratitude. And I think it blesses the Jewish people very much to “do” on their behalf more than it does to “do what they do” as if on their behalf, if you get my meaning. That’s my two cents for today. Thanks, James, for this post as it heightened my sense of gratitude beyond what it might have been today… 🙂

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