My 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”
“…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.
Almost 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.
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.
And 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 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.
Being 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, 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.