Tag Archives: Madagascar

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.