Jews in Tunisia

Conversions in Madagascar: A Cautionary Tale

Yeah, I know. Two blog posts in one day. I was inspired.

A nascent Jewish community was officially born in Madagascar last month when 121 men, women and children underwent Orthodox conversions on the remote Indian Ocean island nation better known for lemurs, chameleons, dense rain forests and vanilla.

The conversions, which took place over a 10-day period, were the climax of a process that arose organically five to six years ago when followers of various messianic Christian sects became disillusioned with their churches and began to study Torah.

-Deborah Josefson, June 5, 2016
“In remote Madagascar, a new community chooses to be Jewish”
Arutz Sheva

mikvahTo me, the news here isn’t that 121 people in Madagascar chose to participate in a mass conversion to Judaism, it’s that they (if I’m reading this right) converted after becoming disillusioned with their various messianic Christian sects.”

The article doesn’t provide the details about the former churches involved, but it does say:

While many Malagasies were brought to Judaism through study of the Old Testament and a sincere effort to get closer to God, some see the practice of Judaism as a return to their roots and an overthrowing of the last vestiges of colonialism.

“I was a victim of the colonizers, as you know we had the French here, and then the communists and then the socialists … so I didn’t have any roots anymore,” said Mija Rasolo, an actor who hosts his own late night talk show on Madagascar TV and took the Hebrew name David Mazal.

There are two things here. The first is more applicable to “Messianic Gentiles” and Messianic Jewish congregations in general.

As I’ve said numerous times before, the majority of people I know involved in either Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots became disillusioned with their churches and with normative Christianity in general and sought out an alternative. They too studied the scriptures and particularly the interconnectedness of the Old and New Testaments.

One of the things that comes along with such study is an introduction to the “Jewish stuff,” the materials and praxis associated with Jewish theology, worship, and lifestyle.

And that’s where the problem lies.

It’s easy to get caught up in the beauty of the Jewish traditions, the celebrations, the Festivals. It’s easy to get confused between the “Jewish stuff” and the meaning and role of non-Jews within a Jewish-oriented understanding of the Tanakh and the Apostolic scriptures.

Sometimes people zig when they should have zagged. Sometimes people think the only way to worship God is the Jewish way, and you can only do that by converting to Judaism (the Apostle Paul had a lot to say about that in his Epistle to the Galatians and in Acts 15).

Lacking a proper understanding of the Apostolic scriptures and especially the Apostle Paul (called Rav Shaul in some circles), it’s easy to see that Judaism makes so much sense but Christianity, not so much (although I’m sure I have some Christian readers who would be confused by that statement).

That’s one of the big reasons (but not the only one) why I’ve dispensed with Jewish praxis, although I adhere to a Jewish-oriented interpretation of the Bible, one that favors the centrality of national Israel, the New Covenant promises of God to the Jews, and the subordinate role of the nations to Israel’s Messiah King.

Of course, having a Jewish wife, one who is not the least bit “Messianic,” and one who calls me a Christian, also has a lot to do with me keeping my head above water.

However, the Arutz Sheva article also mentioned an indigenous person’s faith in Jesus being part of colonialism.

ChristianI belong to a closed Facebook group for indigenous people (no, I’m not indigenous). I was added some years ago due to my association with a native artist I’ve exchanged emails (and one phone call) with. One of the recurring themes I see in this group is a disdain for Christianity, not for theological purposes as such, but because conversion to Christianity was historically used as a tool of colonialism to destroy the language, customs, and practices of the first nations. For them, the theft of their land and their culture by Europe and forced conversion to Christianity was the same injury.

Jews should be all too sensitive to such sentiments, having been the victim of forced conversations and assimilation for centuries. We see evidence of that heritage being lived out in Israel and elsewhere today. The Arutz Sheva article celebrates the conversion of 121 Malagasies during a single event as a victory. For many of them, conversion to Judaism was a return to their roots.

For them, maybe it was, but it was also something else.

If you are a disciple of Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) and you are firm in your faith, particularly from a pro-Israel, pro-Judaism viewpoint, you realize one does not have to lose that perspective in order to maintain steadfast faith in our Rav. For the people in this article, they traded one for the other.

More’s the pity. Consider this a cautionary tale.


12 thoughts on “Conversions in Madagascar: A Cautionary Tale”

  1. My new congregation meets on Sabbath and celebrates the Biblical feasts. They call themselves Christians, so I think that is what I must’ve always been since nobody in MJ seemed to accept me. They have called Jewish believers Jewish Christians so far…that is their interpretation and maybe most Jewish believers see themselves as Messianic Jews. I know you are describing here (I think) that MJ is classified as Christian with a lot of people also but I don’t understand how I can be so accepted with my current congregation and unaccepted with most MJ congregations.

    There is one person that is excited to see me and sits with me each Sabbath so far. So that is making me feel like I belong there. And I came from a congregation that the leader would not even introduce himself to me when I explained to him I needed to meet him and his wife before I joined. I met my current congregation leader and his wife within the first five minutes. So if that isn’t a total turn around I don’t know what is.

    I hope for the best for you in your search for answers.

  2. “It’s easy to get caught up in the beauty of the Jewish traditions, the celebrations, the Festivals. It’s easy to get confused between the “Jewish stuff” and the meaning and role of non-Jews within a Jewish-oriented understanding of the Tanakh and the Apostolic scriptures.”

    The truth and “beauty” of Judaism is far more than just rituals and traditions. I would give these people more credit. I propose that the eventual disillusionment these people have experienced has little to do with church culture being judged inferior to Jewish trappings or their initial (and quite probable) attraction to exotic rituals. Instead, and I speak from personal experience as well as my extensive interactions with former Gentile messianics, the true cause may have more to do with the gaping holes and fundamental flaws these former Christians gradually discovered in the New Testament, with its main hero and in the religion based on him when they finally had a chance to evaluate it all in the light of Torah and Judaism.

    1. I do not disdain these people making such a decision. It was theirs to make. However, I have an experience of my own that says I do not have to be a Jew in order to be considered significant by God. I’m glad you have found your way to an understanding of Hashem, Gene. Please allow me to choose my own path. It is not your place to choose it for me.

  3. From what Rav Shaul taught, if one is a Gentile, one needs to follow the Noahide Laws plus the minimum avoidance of idolatry, and kashrut as specified in Acts 15. One does not need to do anything else as a Gentile, but I think looking forward to the Kingdom, and the laws we will be living under warrants enjoying the Sabbaths and Feast Days in a quiet, gentilish manner unless one belongs to a Synagogue.

    For a Jew, one is supposed to remain Jewish, but simply recognize that Rav Yeshua ben Yosef is the Anointed One of G-d, as determined by Yeshua’s much witnessed supernatural abilities, and his resurrected state as the first of many brethren in the establishment of the New Covenant. This, with the help of the Ruach haKodesh, makes a Jew MORE determined than ever to please YHVH by keeping the Commandments, whichever of the 613 apply to them.

    It would be really a blessing if we could get on the same page for what is basic in The Way…love of YHVH, and love of those who love YHVH.

    Jews are supposed to love and honor me for being a Ger Toshav…because I am not an idolater, and I worship YHVH. Gentile Believers in YHVH are supposed to love, honor and assist Jews towards their promised destiny, because they were trusted with the oracles of

    Is there no way to get this simple message out to the masses, Jew and Gentile alike, or must Christians and Jews forever be at each other’s throats because of what they THINK the other is doing?

    As for the many missionaries of all the variants of Christianity…before they talk to anyone I agree that they need to read their Bible, and not the Nicene and Westminster Creeds.

  4. “Jews are supposed to love and honor me for being a Ger Toshav…because I am not an idolater, and I worship YHVH. ”

    Questor … in Judaism, Ger Toshav is a non-Jew who 1) resides in the Land of Israel and 2) accepts Torah (Noahide Laws) and authority of the Jewish leaders (rabbis) upon himself. The majority halachic opinion also states that a non-Jew must present himself before the Jewish court to formally declare himself as Ger Toshav. Just an FYI.

  5. @Gene: Anytime someone tries to “correct the error of your ways,” it’s an attempt to influence them. That said, I’m allowing your comments so obviously, I’m not objecting to what you’re saying (even though I may disagree on occasion).

    @Questor: Besides what Gene said, Acts 15 does not apply the Noahide Laws. There’s a superficial similarity between what’s written in the “Jerusalem Letter” and the Seven Noahide Laws, but that’s as far as it goes. From that I can gather, the restrictions written in that letter were to make it possible for non-Jews to have fellowship with Jews and avoid offending and perhaps ritualistically contaminating those Jews.

    Acts 15:21, which has been misused quite a bit, seems to imply that the non-Jew was to hear the Torah being read and taught, but not for the purposes of observing the mitzvot. Rather, nothing that Rav Yeshua said or did would have made a lot of sense to a non-Jew with no background in Torah and Jewish praxis of the First Century C.E.

  6. The caution I would take is to know colonialism isn’t good and really messes with people. I am actually amazed there are people who have learned Christianity in a context of oppression and then somehow internalize it and aren’t offended by it. And people who were slaves by heritage and throw off slavery but keep faith. It’s pretty awesome. I believe this is possible to do in a healthy way (and not just as an extension of having been colonized in the soul). Of course, I would see this healthy direction in terms not so much of Christianity per se.

  7. @Questor, I like what you said. I shared this to my FB and said, HR and MJ pay attention. Not one comment. I read the very lengthy article shared by Hatchalah. Vendyl Jones was once Baptist, became a Noahide. The ones in the article were Pentecostal. What this tells me is that the education of preachers is very shallow. The Scriptures referenced in the epistles is the Tanakh, aka, Old Testament. If the teaching and training was based on the foundation of the ‘law and prophets, and the apostles’ perhaps there would be less of these stories? I don’t know, I say that more often than I used to.

  8. @Marleen: On the one hand, colonialism was used to spread the good news, but on the other hand, it was a tool of oppression, not freedom. I know some Christians would say colonialism was necessary, but that’s the voice of the colonial speaking, not the subjugated people. I too find it amazing that an indigenous person could find faith in Messiah.

    @Cynthia: I’ve done some writing about Christians who have become Noahides. Seems like it’s a growing movement.

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