Long-time commentator ProclaimLiberty (PL), in response to Chaya, another of my enduring readers, has framed a detailed outline of his perspective on the Messianic Jewish viewpoint on God, Messiah, and the Bible. After a bit of editing on his part, he’s asked me to post it here, and I agreed. From here to the end is what PL has crafted. The comments section is open. Since I didn’t author what you’re about to read, please direct any specific questions to PL. Thank you.
@Chaya — You wrote:
“@James, @PL and others, I would like to know what you view as the, “MJ viewpoint,” because, according to my understanding, there are many viewpoints and the situation continues to evolve/change.”
I would answer that I see two possible ways of trying to envision what is “the MJ viewpoint”. One would be some sort of aggregate summary of whatever those who claim to represent MJ seem to be expressing. Since there seem to be a great many conflicting expressions extant, I suggest that this method is intractable. It lacks a coherent objective model by which to qualify the various subjective views and how well or badly they actually reflect “genuine” MJ. The other method, which I believe to be more accurate and much easier to define, is a theoretical or philosophical construct or model. Hence I would answer that the definition of “the MJ viewpoint” may be stated simply, though its ramifications can be elaborated broadly. I would like to outline it thusly:
Point 1. Messianic Judaism (“MJ”), or Jewish messianism, begins and ends with Jews and Jewish behavior and outlook. It is, however, the nature of HaShem’s choice of the Jewish people that they affect all of humanity because ultimately all humans are one Adamic (or even Noa’hide) family. Nonetheless, Jewish messianists must define themselves within Judaism and the Jewish people; and their lifestyle must reflect the traditions that are definitive of the Jewish people and their (our) four millennia of developing civilization. MJs must not view themselves as factional separatists (“minim”) at odds with other Jews.
An MJ organization in the USA called “Hashivenu” (@ hashivenu.org) expressed this as one of their core principles with the phrase: “The Jewish people are ‘us’, not ‘them’.”. They elaborated it, with a degree of perspective developed from prior Hebrew-Christian experiences, as follows:
Like a boat that had drifted from its moorings, we were not cognizant of what was happening to us until a key event, conversation, or combination of factors jolted us awake to the realization that we were farther from our Jewish moorings than we had realized.
For most of us, experience in evangelical contexts taught us to look at Jews only as people to whom we ought to witness. For us, the subtext of every family gathering became “How can I bring the subject up?” and the objective in our relationships with Jewish family, friends and acquaintances became “How can I witness to them without their closing the door on the Gospel and on me?” As important as these issues are, we realize now how wrong it was for these evangelistic concerns to be the sole axis of measurement of relationship with other Jews, even our own family members. We became church-culture chameleons, adept at blending in, showing that even though we were Jews, “we weren’t like the other Jews”: we were real Christians, too. More often than we were prepared to admit, though, we felt ourselves uneasy strangers in a strange land of potluck suppers, hallelujahs, and obligatory right-wing politics. But we had been taught, “You can’t go back to what you were. This sense of distance from the Jewish people, Jewish ways, and from family is the cost of discipleship, the cross you are called to gladly bear. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad.” One day we discovered that we had become habituated to speaking of the Jewish community in third person. We awoke with a start.
Now we know we can go home again. In fact, we must go home again for, truly, there is no place like home. And home for Jews is Jewish life. No doubt, we will have to remodel that home a bit to properly accommodate Yeshua, our Messiah, but better to remodel our own home than to be a permanent guest at someone else’s address.
We dare to believe that among the many mansions prepared for Yeshua’s people, some have mezuzot on the doors. We dare to believe that by rediscovering and reclaiming our own identity as Jews, we will be better brothers and sisters to Gentiles who love our Messiah. In all aspects of life, we want to live in a Jewish neighborhood socially, culturally, conceptually so that we and our children and our children’s children will not only call Yeshua Lord but also call the Jewish people “our people” and Jewish life “home.”
Point 2. MJ is a Jewish messianism that views Rav Yeshua ben-Yosef ben-David as a valid candidate for the position of the ultimate Jewish King Messiah, on the basis of his teachings, his example, his piety, and his resurrection from death. His qualifications are derived from the Tenakh and elaborated in later Jewish literature. The qualifications for Messiah cited by the RamBam focus on only a portion of overall messianic qualifications, which are termed the “ben-David” Messiah who will restore the Jewish kingdom and rule therein as the “conquering king”. His rather “Johnny-come-lately” perspective on the Messiah neglects other messianic qualifications that have been described as a separate messiah-figure termed the “ben-Yosef” Messiah who suffers and dies because of the sins of Israel and on our behalf. Without benefit of a resurrection, it would be rather difficult for a single messiah to fulfill the entire set of qualifications. While it can be argued that Rav Yeshua has not yet fulfilled most of the requirements for the conquering king ben-David Messiah, hence the prophecy and expectation of his return to do so at the proper time, he has fulfilled the purposes of the ben-Yosef suffering servant Messiah admirably well, and he has been suitably positioned via resurrection and ascension to enable such a return and task-completion. Meanwhile a proper understanding of the Torah perspectives he taught enables would-be Jewish disciples to pursue a form of ‘Hasidut that would demonstrate the validity of his messiah-ship.
Point 3. MJ derives its view of Rav Yeshua from the writings of his disciples who were commissioned to teach his perspective on how to apply Torah toward Jewish living. These disciples were all Jews (though one may have been a convert, or at least a former Hellenist). Rav Yeshua’s teachings were essentially Pharisaic in character, particularly with regard to their interpretive methodology. From a much later Jewish perspective we would describe him as a ‘Hasidic “admor” and “tzaddik”. However, these “apostolic writings” were adopted and preserved by non-Jews who professed to follow their teachings; and these non-Jews, who called themselves Christians, were excessively influenced by political influences by which they distorted the interpretations of the apostolic testimony to exclude its particularistic Jewish application and perspective, and to denigrate Jews and Judaism — even creating a fictitious Greek-styled demigod, known today in English as “Jesus”, in place of the original Israeli rabbi Yeshua in his natural context. Nonetheless, MJs have identified and continue to research correspondences between the apostolic writings and other Jewish literature in order to re-develop their native Jewish character and improve general understanding of what Rav Yeshua and his apostles actually intended and taught. Their exegesis is not derived from traditional Christian doctrines but from the Jewish text and its context.
Point 4. Because of historical persecutions of Jews by Christians during at least 15 centuries (some would say as much as 18 or 19), Jews in general resist any involvement with Rav Yeshua or the apostolic writings, and mistakenly assume that anyone who does so must be some sort of a Christian or to have joined forces with them against Jews. Regrettably, there are well-known historical examples of just such treachery by Jewish converts to Christianity. Hence MJs who attempt to reclaim and restore the original Jewish character of the apostolic literature about Rav Yeshua frequently are required to assert that they are not Christians, and that neither they nor the writings are anti-Jewish. However, since some modern Christians have learned to eschew the anti-Semitism of past Christian tradition, and even to become ardent supporters of Jews and Israel, MJs do interact positively and cooperatively with them when possible.
Point 5. Among the implications in the Jewish apostolic literature is a view of how Jewish redemption can be extended to the rest of non-Jewish humanity, which is the basis on which the non-Jewish religion of Christianity began (before it became directed against Jews and Judaism). Therefore, many non-Jews seeking the authentic roots and origins of faith in Rav Yeshua have turned to MJs for help in their parallel quest to understand the Jewish context of the apostolic writings. However, for MJs such assistance must be prioritized as secondary to MJ re-development and restoration of Jewish praxis and knowledge, without which there is little or nothing meaningful to offer that can support the non-Jewish request for help. Regrettably, this left somewhat of a vacuum during the initial decades of MJ development, which has become filled with a wild mixture of notions that falsely claim an MJ or related label.
The Hashivenu website offers a few additional core values elaborating its statements of MJ principles. Though their formulation is, at this stage, somewhat dated, I would still recommend them as worthwhile reading. I suspect that “the MJ viewpoint” described above is not much different from the views of Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein in 19th-century Hungary, a century prior to the formulation of the MJ paradigm of the 1970s in the USA and just as different from the HC viewpoint as it was from the 19th-century views of the Jewish Christian Feivel (Paul Phillip) Levertoff. Consequently I would not place much credence in the notion that “there are many viewpoints and the situation continues to evolve/change”. I see two basic models, which I would associate with “MJ” (Lichtenstein) and “HC” (Levertoff), respectively, and which have persisted for more than a century. The MJ model re-emerged in the 1970s, but still it has been overshadowed by the HC model, despite the latter’s adoption of terminology more suited to MJ. The strength of HC has been its appeal to Jews who wish to maintain a semblance of Jewish culture and identity within an otherwise foreign Christian religious environment. A weakness of MJ (in terms of popular perspective and appeal) has been its somewhat insular Jewish perspective and its more demanding requirement to conform with Torah-based Jewish culture that differs from the surrounding mainstream environment and which is therefore often denigrated or disdained. Perhaps we should also consider a form of the perspective mentioned in statement #5 above, which may be termed the gentile seekers of “Hebrew Roots” (“HR”). While this is not at all a part of MJ, in some ways it resembles HC, adopts MJ terminology, and associates itself with MJ. That might offer an appearance that the “MJ movement” (so-called) comprises three perspectives and a lot of developmental confusion. However, much of HR suffers from effects derived from the supercessionism developed by earlier versions of Christianity. HR tends not to recognize continuing Jewish distinctiveness and validity, as it focuses on trying to distinguish itself otherwise from traditional Christianity by trying to act in some manner that it perceives to be Jewish in some first-century sense. It suffers from the lack of clear MJ guidance cited above in statement #5, because it is true that MJ is still challenged by the need to develop itself by elaborating an otherwise stable MJ viewpoint into stable, well-defined, and wide-spread praxis.
A significant consideration in current discussions of “Judaism” is the notion of “continuity”, which is a reflection of a primary reason mentioned in Torah for why HaShem so favored Avraham Avinu (in addition to his extraordinary faith). He, as the primary of three visitors to Avraham, in Gen.18:19, is quoted as “saying”: “For I have known him, so that he will command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice; so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him.”. It is well-recognized that various forms of Orthodox Judaism have diligently continued the practice of teaching Jewish children thoroughly to perform both private and communal aspects of Judaism, generation after generation. The modernized halakhah practiced by Conservative Judaism has only been tested for a few generations so far, and there is some question about whether it can successfully maintain itself or whether it will succumb to assimilationist pressures and the effects of intermarriage with non-Jews. Reform Judaism has been through a cycle of recognizing that many aspects of Jewish practice that they previously discarded left their children with little by which to distinguish themselves as Jews or with which to identify, which has contributed to their assimilation, their intermarriage with non-Jews, and their loss to the Jewish people. Within the current generation they have re-adopted some of the distinctive forms, within religious contexts rather than lifestyle ones, in order to stem this loss. Even newer forms of so-called Judaism have arisen within the current generation, and these have not been tested for their ability to maintain Jewish continuity. Messianic Judaism has included examples of multi-generational families that have maintained at least as much Jewish identity as the Reform or Conservative movements, even among those whose praxis and theology is more like that of Hebrew-Christians, but the movement still faces assimilationist and intermarriage pressures arising from close association with Christians of one sort or another who still don’t quite grasp or support the Jewish responsibility to remain a distinct people. It has been stated in various places that if the Jewish people does not maintain its communal distinctiveness, thus ceasing to exist as an identifiable people, then Hitler wins a posthumous victory. Some would note that such a victory also belongs to the spirit of Amalek, and to HaShem’s ancient adversary known as HaSatan. Regardless of whether anyone grants credence to such pessimism, I would insist that a proper response is to ensure that no actions taken by any Jew should ever contribute toward such an outcome – and we might extend such a principle to apply it to anyone who seeks HaShem’s favor. Therefore I would like to reiterate from my defining statement #1 above that MJs should conduct themselves as Jews, preserving Jewish tradition in their actions and in their teaching to their children (and to anyone else who may care to listen). Incidentally, we can see from Rav Yeshua’s observation in Mt.5:19 that this is also a recipe for greatness in the kingdom of heaven. May it be so for all MJs, and for the gentiles who affiliate with us (and let us say, “Amen”).