In November of 2014, the Caspari Center in Jerusalem invited me to participate in a panel discussion titled “Four Different Views on Messianic Judaism.” It wasn’t a debate, but rather just an opportunity for the panel members to express their own thoughts on the subject.
from The Director’s Letter: “Four Different Views on Messianic Judaism,” p.8
Messiah Journal, issue 118/Winter 2014/5775
I’ve been having an interesting discussion in a closed Facebook group dedicated to Messianic Judaism in relation to my blog post Will Our Children Have Faith. Some of the dialogue addressed issues of Jewish and non-Jewish roles and responsibilities within the Messianic community and whether or not there should be any significant presence of Gentiles in Messianic Jewish synagogues.
Then the current issue of Messiah Journal arrived in my mailbox and I start reading Boaz’s latest “Director’s Letter.”
In an earlier letter presented in issue 117, Boaz said:
When I say that “Messianic Judaism is the practice of Judaism,” I mean to imply that we should regard ourselves more of a functional sect of Judaism rather than another Protestant Christian denomination.
In the current letter (pp.7-8), Boaz acknowledges:
I realize that this definition of the Messianic movement is not to everyone’s taste, and that many Messianic Jewish leaders would phrase it differently, but I believe that Messianic Judaism should be a real Judaism — not a Jewish flavored sect of Protestant Christianity.
I agree that statement would not work very well for many, most, or all Protestants, and probably not for many, most, or all Hebrew Roots Gentiles either. But here’s where I think Boaz is coming from. Remember that Boaz and his family made Aliyah and moved to Israel, specifically Jerusalem, some months ago. He stated earlier in his letter:
Messianic Judaism in Israel is faltering and fragile, and Messianic Jews here face enormous pressures. For the most part, Messianic Judaism in Israel has been raised up under the heavy influence of Missionary Messianic Jewish theology, and the Messianic congregations in Israel are sometimes more like Pentecostal churches than Messianic synagogues.
I know nothing of Messianic groups in Israel, but I’ve attended plenty of Gentile-driven Hebrew Roots groups over the years here in the U.S., and their services are often some form of “Jewish-lite,” with a few really seeming like typical Evangelical or Pentecostal churches with a little Hebrew thrown in for seasoning (and to be fair, a few of them strongly attempt to map to a more authentic synagogue service).
But Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity is where the movement came from decades ago and the influence of the Church on the Messianic movement can still be keenly felt, particularly, as Boaz points out, in Israel.
However, I’m building to a point which is to call out a few details about the four perspectives Boaz presents in his letter. The presenters, other than Boaz, at the Caspari Center for Biblical and Jewish Studies were Seth Ben-Haim (UMJC; MJTI), Baruch Maoz (Soli Deo Gloria), and Alec Goldberg (Caspari Center).
Mr. Maoz’s perspective on Messianic Judaism matches how Evangelical Christianity sees the role of believing Jews; that Jesus replaced the Law and that a Jewish Christian is no longer obligated to observe the mitzvot. Mr. Ben-Haim’s view is the polar opposite and coincides with Rabbi Mark Kinzer’s conception of Bilateral Ecclesiology as presented in his book Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People.
Boaz’s definition of Messianic Judaism is represented by four points, which I’ll present in summary here except for point four which I’ll quote in its entirety:
- Peace, particularly between believing brothers and sisters and between Jews and Gentiles.
- Torah observance for the Jew in Messiah.
- Observance of the traditions in Messianic Judaism.
- Gentiles: I stated that, since the kingdom is represented by both Jews and Gentiles worshiping together, Messianic Judaism today should have a mechanism and broad enough self-definition to include Gentile disciples in positive and affirming ways. This is the message of Messianic Judaism for the nations.
As you can see, Boaz’s definition of Messianic Judaism is very inclusive of non-Jewish disciples, although it’s true that he didn’t specify what sort of mechanism should be used to “include Gentile disciples in positive and affirming ways.” He did mention the phrase “Messianic Judaism for the nations” which also appears on the website of Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship located in Hudson, Wisconsin. Beth Immanuel is led by one of First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) head teachers D. Thomas Lancaster who has also been a good friend of Boaz’s for many years. The fact that Beth Immanuel seems to have a leadership that is mostly Gentiles and presents itself as “Messianic Judaism for the Nations” may be the mechanism Boaz had in mind.
But this doesn’t change the need of Jews in Messianic Judaism to belong to wholly Jewish community and to live completely Jewish lives of performing the mitzvot and observing the traditions, just like their other Jewish brothers and sisters in other branches of Judaism.
Going back to the panel discussion, the wild card in the deck seemed to be Alec Goldberg. Boaz expected Mr. Goldberg to agree with Mr. Maoz’s understanding that Jesus replaced the Law, but he was in for a surprise:
He said, “I have come to realize that as a Jew, I am called to live out the Torah.” Goldberg explained that the prophetic-kingdom promise of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31 had revealed to him that the Torah is part of the new covenant: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). Moreover, he had come to realize that the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 which exempted Gentiles from circumcision and obligation to the Torah’s Jewish identity markers said nothing at all about exempting Jews from any aspect of the Torah. Since the Jerusalem Council did not address Jews in their ruling, he deduced that they intended Jewish believers to remain faithful to Torah.
Actually, from my perspective now, Mr. Goldberg’s conclusions seem fairly obvious, since the problem the Jerusalem Council was trying to solve was what to do with all the Gentiles, not how has devotion to Messiah changed Jewish obligation to Torah. Jews and the Torah weren’t on the table, so to speak. Only trying to figure out how Gentiles were receiving the Holy Spirit without first converting to Judaism. The answer was that conversion was not necessary and thus Gentile Torah observance was not incumbant upon them, only an Abraham-like faith in God through Messiah. But like I said, Jews and Jewish Torah observance weren’t even on the radar screen.
At one point in his letter, Boaz wrote, “I could hardly contain my enthusiasm over Mr. Goldberg’s remarks.”
It seems that on occasion, a person’s long-held and firm beliefs can be changed thanks to regular and diligent Bible study and the influence of the Holy Spirit upon a human life.
I’m writing this “meditation” for a few reasons. I wanted to present the fact that there’s no one, overarching definition of Messianic Judaism. I wanted to show that there are Jews who (sadly, in my opinion) view Messianic Judaism in the same way as Evangelical Christianity, taking a low view of Torah, of religious Judaism, and of the traditions. I wanted to show that, at least in this one limited context, the majority of Jews present supported Messianic Jewish Torah observance as well as adhering to the traditional lifestyle of religious, ethnic, and cultural Judaism. And I wanted to show that at least one of those definitions was accepting of a Gentile presence as “Messianic Judaism for the Nations.”
I do want to make sure to add one thing:
While I truly do respect Baruch Maoz for his tireless years of service to Messiah, I cannot find much common ground with his theological perspectives. His view that the Torah is canceled and Jewish believers in Yeshua have no obligation to it has been the prevailing view among Jewish believers here in Israel. Mr. Goldberg’s words offered me hope that things are changing.
The very first point in Boaz’s definition of Messianic Judaism is peace. While he and Mr. Maoz may disagree, there is no animosity between them and Boaz acknowledges Mr. Maoz’s years of tireless and dedicated service to the cause of Messiah among the Jewish people.
When Boaz mentioned having little common ground theologically between him and Mr. Maoz, I couldn’t help but think of my many conversations with the Pastor of the church I used to attend, and how that lack of common ground finally resulted in me leaving the Church again. The Pastor is an intelligent, well-read, and well-educated man who is faithful to God and a dedicated shepherd to his congregation. He’s a good person in the faith, but alas, we have greatly divergent perspectives, just as do Mr. Maoz and Boaz Michael.
There are some churches and some Pastors who will benefit from the inclusion of a “Messianic” within their midst but I found that my church environment was not one of them. Ultimately, we all have to be the people God made us to be and follow the path He has put before us.
But there’s hope. As Boaz said, people are changing. Jews are recognizing Messiah without the Goyishe mask the Church placed on his face nearly twenty centuries ago, and they’re recognizing that there is no inconsistency between living a Jewish life and being a Jewish disciple of the Master. Gentiles, for our part, are also meeting the “Jewish Jesus” for the first time, and once we get over the shock, are learning to accept him as who he is and accept ourselves as who we are in him.
Who we are as Messianic Gentiles isn’t exactly how the Church defines a Christian, but it’s an exciting role which leads in new and unexpected directions. The Bible, studied from within a Messianic perspective, tells a radically different story about God’s redemptive plan for Israel and through Israel, God’s redemptive plan for the world.
I don’t know how it’s all going to work out yet. There are a lot of roadblocks in the way. We must not discount the power of God to make happen what He promised He would do, even if we haven’t a clue about what comes next.
Boaz finished up his letter by saying:
Things are indeed changing, and HaShem is at work restoring his people and preparing us for the kingdom. We are part of something much larger than ourselves; we are part of what God is doing today. I went home rejoicing over the opportunity to participate in the conversation at the Caspari Center, and I thanked God for opening the door.
If God can open the door that Boaz walked through, He can open doors for the rest of us. We must be patient. We must be ready.
As you read this, I am traveling. I won’t be near a computer to approve any comments until this evening at the soonest. I’ll return when I can. Thank you.