Michael Medved Goes to Bat for Jews for Jesus? Sort Of
Michael Medved, the Orthodox Jewish radio talk show host and movie critic, recently stated that, for the majority of American Jews, “the core of their Jewish identity isn’t solidarity with Israel; it’s rejection of Christianity.”
Medved’s remarks were part of his reflections in Commentary magazine on the new book by Norman Podhoretz, Why are Jews Liberals? Medved’s answer to that question: “Jews, like all Americans, vote not so much in favor of politicians they admire as they vote against causes and factions they loathe and fear.” He concludes that Jews are afraid of the GOP as the “Christian party” and therefore reject Republicans and conservatism.
Apart from any political considerations, Medved’s comments are provocative. He imagines a dialogue between Woody Allen and a Hasid. He states that they would have absolutely nothing in common except for one thing—their dismissal of New Testament claims that Jesus is the Messiah. Medved continues:
“Anyone who doubts that rejection of Jesus has replaced acceptance of Torah (or commitment to Israel) as the eekur sach—the essential element—of American Jewish identity should pause to consider an uncomfortable question. What is the one political or religious position that makes a Jew utterly unwelcome in the organized community? We accept atheist Jews, Buddhist Jews, pro-Palestinian Jews, Communist Jews, homosexual Jews, and even sanction Hindu-Jewish meditation societies. ‘Jews for Jesus,’ however, or ‘Messianic Jews’ face resistance and exclusion everywhere.”
Medved articulates a bias that most Jewish leaders are uncomfortable pointing out. After all, what makes a person a Jew? Is it adherence to Judaism as prescribed by the rabbis? Which rabbis? There are some rabbis who don’t even believe in God!
Is being Jewish strictly a cultural phenomenon—eating bagels and lox, watching Seinfeld reruns, being a social activist? Or is it based on faith? It’s difficult to separate our culture from our faith, since so many of our celebrations, holidays and customs are closely linked to Judaism.
There’s no doubt that our Jewishness, even for the non-religious, is deeply ingrained. I recently read of a Jewish atheist who recites the Sh’ma every day because he considers it a sort of Pledge of Allegiance for the Jewish people!
Biblically speaking, a Jew is someone who is part of the people descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. One can no more stop being a Jew than a leopard can change its spots. (By the way, the leopard thing is from the Bible; see Jeremiah 13:23.)
But there are many in the Jewish community who claim that we Jews who believe in Jesus have done the impossible—we have changed our spots! As Medved notes, “For many Americans, the last remaining scrap of Jewish distinctiveness involves our denial of New Testament claims [about Jesus], so any support for those claims becomes a threat to the very essence of our Jewish identity.”
Why are we threatened by the hero of the New Testament, Jesus, a Jew? Are we really afraid that we will no longer be Jews if we consider the claims of this radical rabbi? Or are we afraid of ostracism and rejection by the Jewish community? If you fear believing in Jesus will somehow make you less of a Jew, consider the words of this young woman:
“As I started studying the Scriptures, God began to work on my heart. I was sitting in a class and we were studying the Abrahamic Covenant, and I realized that day that I was Jewish, and that nothing would ever change that, that God had made me Jewish for a reason—he doesn’t do anything randomly. I also realized that my being Jewish left me with a responsibility not to ignore my heritage and not to ignore my people. I think that’s when I started to understand that the decision I had made to follow Jesus was a Jewish decision.”
As Medved concedes, “It is far more acceptable in the Jewish community today to denounce Israel (or the United States), to deny the existence of God, or to deride the validity of Torah than it is to affirm Jesus as Lord and Savior.” Are you willing to consider the claims of Jesus in the New Testament on their own merit? If you have the courage to do so, then “two thumbs up” for you!
Matt Sieger is the editor of ISSUES: A Messianic Jewish Perspective. ISSUES is our publication for Jewish people who are willing to consider the question, Who is Jesus? Matt also writes blogs, articles, and reviews for our publications and has edited the book, Stories of Jews for Jesus.