Indeed My Heritage Is Beautiful To Me
I can’t give my name and I want to see Moishe Rosen immediately!” The receptionist at the Jews for Jesus Headquarters in downtown San Francisco was startled but remained outwardly composed. The stranger was well-dressed, clean-shaven with an air of dignity…and deep distress.
God’s timing was evident. Moishe was in town and though he doesn’t meet with people who won’t state their name and business, he sensed that this man should be the exception.
Around the corridor and down the steps the stranger came. Moishe welcomed the man, who, once the doors were shut behind them, revealed that his name was Joseph Teischman. He was a man with a secret to tell, a secret which had become a tremendous burden.
“I am a rabbi and I believe that Jesus is the Messiah.” Joseph announced. “I serve a Conservative synagogue in Reno and have not been able to tell my congregation about my faith. How can I possibly inform my congregation that their rabbi believes in Jesus? Should I resign? Should I begin preaching about my faith from the pulpit?
“Mr. Rosen, I haven’t stopped wrestling with this for almost two years and I don’t know how much longer I can take it. I don’t want anything from you or Jews for Jesus except for you to know that I am a believer. I had to tell another Jew that I believe in Jesus. I need your prayers.”
They spent the remainder of the afternoon discussing the rabbi’s personal pilgrimage to faith and his hopes and aspirations for serving the Lord in the future. Moishe asked Joseph if I might be taken into his confidence as well, and Joseph consented. The following week I arranged a quick trip to Reno to meet him personally.
Rabbi Teischman was refreshingly frank. We spent our first brief meeting studying his favorite book of the New Testament: Galatians. The rabbi described how he felt about being freed from the law through Yeshua. Jesus had driven away the doubts which used to gnaw at Joseph—doubts about his standing before God. The problem was no longer where he stood with God, but where he stood with the Jewish community.
Joseph felt torn. He desperately wanted to grow in his faith but knew that his walk with Yeshua might take him on a path utterly unacceptable to his family, friends, associates and fellow members of his chosen profession. The very real possibility of losing everything he had worked so hard to gain in the world depressed and frightened him.
Joseph was born and raised the son of an Orthodox rabbi in New York City. He followed in his father’s footsteps by also receiving smichah (ordination) as an Orthodox rabbi. But unlike his father, Joseph also earned a doctorate in the field of psychology. When he found himself unable to continue believing the teachings of Orthodox Judaism, he decided to leave and join the Conservative movement. His wife refused to leave the protective Orthodox community. She and their young children remained in Brooklyn, while Joseph went to California and eventually became the rabbi of the Conservative synagogue in Fresno.
Some time later, Rabbi Teischman moved to Reno to take the pulpit of the Conservative synagogue there. In that neon-lit town of gambling and instant weddings, Joseph became friends with a former pastor who began ministering to him.
With the help of one or two others, Joseph made a definite decision for Jesus. He began to study the New Testament and grow in his faith. Sometimes he would quietly slip into the back of a church to hear the sermon. But he kept his faith in Jesus a carefully guarded secret…until his trip to San Francisco. That was Joseph’s first move toward stepping out of the rabbinate and into a life of preaching the gospel.
It all seemed so incredible. I wondered if this rabbi really understood what it meant to confess Yeshua as Lord. He answered my straightforward questions with a smile. “Yes,” he affirmed, “I believe that Jesus is God come in the flesh, that he died for my sin and rose from the dead. And,” he added, “I consider myself a born-again Christian.”
I didn’t have to reassure him about his Jewish heritage. Every aspect of our conversation echoed our agreement with the Psalmist’s words, “Indeed my heritage is beautiful to me.” (Psalm 16:6) We both knew that Yeshua was the fulfillment of all we could ever hope for as Jews.
After months of visits and lengthy phone calls, Joseph began to consider confessing his faith at his synagogue. He knew this would mean the immediate termination of his career. What a gut-wrenching prospect for a man in his mid-50s! His numerous obligations included college tuition for his children, who were so very important to him.
We had offered to help the rabbi attend an evangelical seminary, for while he was well-educated he did need further training in living as a believer in Jesus. Joseph knew that he needed the education but remarked that it would be difficult to return to school as a student after so many years as a rabbi.
Rabbi Teischman truly loved the Lord but could not seem to win his desperate struggle to profess his faith publicly. One afternoon I asked how he managed to maintain his silence when people came to him for spiritual counseling. He gave an anguished stare and said it caused him great personal grief, knowing Jesus could help the person and feeling that he was unable to tell them so. Yet he still found ways to encourage some people in their pursuit of Yeshua.
I received an interesting call one morning from a Jewish woman who had attended Rabbi Teischman’s synagogue on Yom Kippur. She had received Jesus as her atonement the previous morning, and felt compelled to go to synagogue for the high holy day. After the service, she felt she should tell the rabbi about her decision. She was amazed when he seemed sympathetic to her new faith and gave her my phone number.
She called to tell me about her decision for Yeshua, and to ask if I thought this rabbi might be open to the gospel. I could not disclose all, but encouraged her to keep in touch with Rabbi Teischman and to pray for him.
One morning Joseph and I were enjoying breakfast with our Bibles open to the Book of Romans. We were discussing some of the possibilities Joseph would have for ministry once he finished a year at an evangelical seminary. The conversation seems so distant and sad to me now.
Joseph said that he would prefer being called to the Gentiles, like Paul. I pointed out that although Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles, he still continued preaching the gospel to Jewish people first, addressing non-Jews once he had fulfilled his obligation to his own.
Joseph became downcast. I didn’t realize the plug that I had pulled was carrying such heavy voltage! I could see the explanation in his eyes: not dislike for his people but anguish at the thought of how they would reject him. He was an honest and sensitive man. He was ready to endure the pain of the initial exclusion from his beloved Jewish community for the sake of the Savior…it’s just that he was afraid of what would happen when he reached back in! Joseph knew from that point on that he could not ignore the need of his own people to hear the gospel. He continued to struggle with this, and also began preparing himself to, at least, visit the seminary we had recommended to him.
There were a number of stipulations in our agreement for helping him with seminary. A chief concern was that he would begin preaching in churches and become intoxicated with the acceptance of the Christian community. That would ruin him for his ministry among our people. We asked him not to tell anybody that he was a rabbi, and to say “no” if asked to preach or teach for one year. Joseph was as winsome as he was brilliant and would have received numerous invitations even if no one knew he was a rabbi. Frankly, I never enjoyed studying the New Testament with anyone as much as I enjoyed studying with Joseph. I was surprised to hear how many wonderful rabbinic stories actually illustrate the teachings found in the Book of Romans. Joseph was a natural storyteller and he had an incisive theological mind.
He finally agreed to the stipulations and we made plans to travel to the seminary and visit with the dean. I had flights arranged, and the night before we were to leave he called and canceled. Joseph was honest enough to tell me the truth. He said, “Mitch, I just can’t do it!” And believe me, Joseph was not a weak-minded man. He was not easily intimidated. He just knew that once he stepped outside, he would be treated like an outsider and he simply could not face the risks in following Yeshua “outside the camp.” I’m glad that Joseph did not try to justify his actions. He admitted that he simply could not do what God was asking of him and asked me to pray that one day he would have the strength to do so.
One day the former minister who had helped Joseph find the Lord called our office. Rabbi Teischman’s sermon for the last Friday night Shabbat service had relied heavily on the New Testament. The rabbi was said to have been in great distress. That night, Rabbi Joseph Teischman went home and died of heart failure. He was only 57 years old.
There could have been several medical reasons for Joseph’s untimely death. He was not obese, but he was a heavy smoker and perhaps the cigarettes led to heart disease. His regular medical examinations indicated that his blood pressure was a bit high, but the doctors had not warned that a heart attack was imminent.
But there was a heart problem that the doctors did not know about. Rabbi Teischman was aching to proclaim that he had become a follower of Jesus. As his faith grew, his need to tell about it also grew. Yet he could not face losing his job, losing the respect of the Jewish community and the possibility that his children might decide to have nothing more to do with him. He was too much an insider to imagine that his decision for Christ would be tolerated. He was a man with a lot to lose, and he couldn’t bring himself to let go. The pressure was killing him.
The man who had prayed with Joseph was one of several who spoke at his funeral, which was attended by many rabbis and Jewish community leaders. Rabbi Teischman’s faith in Yeshua was alluded to at that time. It did not seem to surprise many. His friends had known that he had been repressing something. They just did not know what it was until his death.
As far as we’ve heard, Rabbi Teischman’s faith in Yeshua was chalked up to “personal problems,” and the lips of his corpse cannot declare otherwise. But his death was a profound lesson to those who knew that he really loved Yeshua. For whatever might be said about Joseph, it appears that he died of a broken heart…broken because he felt unable to do what he most desired: serve the Lord.
It can be distressing to realize we will never be accepted as Jews because we believe in Jesus. Frankly, our people regard us with a level of contempt usually reserved for Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
Whether or not we want to admit it, Jewish community leaders have traditionally treated Jewish believers in Jesus as adversaries. Most Jewish people assume the rabbis know more about it than they do, and do not question or contradict what they hear about us.
Many of us have dismissed the charges of Jewish leaders who accuse us with emotive terms such as “spiritual genocide” and self-hatred” as a natural misunderstanding due to the bloody history of Jewish-Christian relations. We long to believe that if our leaders really knew us they would see that we really do love our people, heave a sigh of relief and accept us with open arms. But this is only a pipe dream.
Have you ever heard the slogan, “How can people believe the message if they can’t believe the messenger?” It sounds spiritual, doesn’t it? But is it really “spiritual” to justify the unbelief of others on the basis that our inadequacies somehow enshroud the gospel? We should live our lives in obedience to Yeshua and maintain a pure story. We should not be so naive as to think that people must be able to accept us and approve of us before they can follow Yeshua.
Someone might well be attracted to Christ in us if we shine our light as we should. But it’s more likely that they’ll want to “punch our lights out!” Just remember that people were rejecting the message even when Yeshua himself was the messenger! Which one of us can hope to be more trustworthy than he?
When unbelievers say they cannot consider the message of Jesus because they can’t bring themselves to trust his followers, they may not realize it is an excuse. The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, the Bible says, and that doesn’t just mean people deceive one another—they deceive themselves!
The truth of the matter is that Jewish community leaders cannot believe us messengers because they are committed to not believing the message. Therefore they are committed to portraying us in ways which guarantee that we will never be accepted.
We will only be accepted when Yeshua is accepted. (Matthew 10:24-25) If we walk with him, we will be treated like him. The leaders of Yeshua’s day saw that allegiance to him would pose a challenge to the Jewish community as they had structured it. Some accepted him as God’s anointed. Most opted instead to hold on to Judaism as they saw it, a Judaism which they attributed to Moses but a Judaism which, in fact, they had created through their own interpretation. Jesus proclaimed that this was a man-made religion, and though based on the Bible it had become riddled with the traditions of men. (Matthew 15:7-9) No wonder the religious leaders of Yeshua’s day considered him a threat!
We are vilified by the leadership of the Jewish community because we have withstood a Judaism which has shut Yeshua out. We have been accused of preferring Jesus over Moses. Yet Moses called upon our forefathers to obey the LORD, not himself. He exhorted the Jewish people to have a relationship with the living God, not merely to follow the precepts delivered at Sinai. As Jews we are told by our leaders to submit to a religion which attempts to update and reinterpret that revelation. Yeshua called upon the Jewish people of his day and ours to enter into a relationship with the Holy One, not to accept a religious system which has evolved from distant origins at Sinai.
Our leaders have been redefining what it means to be a Jew in an attempt to ensure the survival of a cohesive Jewish community in a changing world. This is no easy task! For many, Judaism means “Do do your best, do respect other people and do work to make the world a better place. If there is a God, that’s all he would ask of you.” It’s a little vague, but it’s a list of do’s with which everyone can agree. The problem is, many non-Jews believe the same thing.
So there must be a sharper definition if we are to survive as Jewish people, separate and distinct from non-Jews. Thus, the “don’t” list, which is short and to the point: “Don’t believe in Jesus.” A Jewish believer, by his or her very existence, is saying that Jews should believe in Jesus! They’re blurring the distinction! That is why any Jewish believer with a clear story will always be viewed by fellow Jews as a threat, an outsider and an adversary.
The Adversarial Relationship
Some want us to believe that this adversarial relationship began with the Crusades and continued with the church’s cruelty to Jewish people throughout history.
This protective posturing allows the Jewish community to regard the gospel not as news which is either true or false but as a social disorder which Jews must guard against. Jesus’ followers are to be treated with contempt, not because of what we believe, but because of our supposed actions against our own people. The adversarial relationship created by community leaders provides enough anger and antipathy to “protect” most Jewish people from being confronted with the true issue: the need of every Jew and Gentile to believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins.
In reality, the division between Jesus’ Jewish followers and the rest of the Jewish community did not begin with the Crusades. Certain Jewish community leaders established that division hundreds of years before the great populace of European pagans accepted Christianity as their national faith—before a “Christian” majority even existed to persecute our people! The conflict can be traced through clues uncovered in the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John.
When Jesus healed the man who was blind from birth, that man was interrogated as though he had committed a crime. His parents were likewise interrogated. They carefully side-stepped the issue of who had healed their son, saying only that he had been blind from birth, but now could see. They refused to comment further, insisting that their son was of age and could answer for himself. The text tells us the parents knew that anyone who confessed Jesus as the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. To invite banishment from the synagogue in those days was tantamount to committing social suicide.
The Pharisees continued to question the formerly blind man until he confessed what they deemed to be proper grounds for putting him out of the synagogue: that Jesus received his power to heal from God. “You are his disciple but we are disciples of Moses,” they told the man. (John 9:28) This is an interesting but false distinction. Jesus never asked the Jewish people to choose between himself and Moses. He warned the leaders that it was Moses who would condemn their disbelief, for if they had truly believed Moses, they would have been prepared to believe in Jesus. (John 5:45-47)
Believers in Jesus were being excommunicated from the Jewish community long before “christianized” anti-Semitism reared its ugly head. The Jewish leadership of Jesus’ day felt as threatened by him then as they do now, and the solution has remained the same: keep Jews who believe in Jesus away from those who don’t. A false dichotomy between believing in Jesus and being Jewish was established in the beginning and exists to this day.
Our Response to the Adversarial Relationship
Don’t deny it. We should begin by realizing that we cannot undo someone else’s choice to regard us as an adversary. We can choose how we relate to others, but not how they relate to us. Only the very naive think they can believe in Yeshua and not be rejected.
Try to understand it. God has placed a strong survival instinct within our people. It is right for Jews to struggle to remain separate! However, when God-given instincts are left to the guidance of the human heart rather than to the Creator of those instincts, they become confused and often distorted. Thus the Jewish people are struggling to be a secular, yet separate people. We can’t fault the leaders of the Jewish community for trying to protect the survival of the Jewish community as best as they know how—and it’s unrealistic for us to expect them to know how when they don’t know the Lord.
The LORD is the key, not only to Jewish survival, but to Jewish identity. To attempt to survive or even identify ourselves without him is to depend on the world’s system of propaganda and politics. And that is precisely what our people have done. This is a sad state of affairs which should not excite our anger but our compassion and prayers.
Build a new community. When we accepted Yeshua as Messiah we became part of a new community. We followed Jesus into a whole new dimension of life, where faith, hope, and love abound. Our new life is characterized by joy, peace and forgiveness from sin. Through Yeshua’s sacrifice we have been ushered into the blessedness of the New Covenant.
This New Covenant is spiritually congruent with the other covenants God made with the Jewish people. But in the New Covenant Jews and Gentiles enter into a supernatural unity possible only through Jesus. This unity does not mean the absorption of our Jewish identity. We do not have to choose between believing in Yeshua and living as Jews…we just have to remember that Jesus should come first in the lives of all who follow him, whether Jew or Gentile.
God’s acquaintance is not made hurriedly. He does not bestow His gifts on the casual for hasty comer and goer. To be much alone with God is the secret of knowing Him and of influence with Him.
Bounds, Power Through Prayer, p. 47
If pressed to choose between Jesus and Jewishness, our response should be to declare the choice invalid. Indeed our heritage is beautiful to us and it includes the promise of the Messiah! But with all of the propaganda about Jews who believe in Jesus, don’t be surprised if the average fair-minded Jewish person misperceives that by accepting Christ, you have rejected your heritage.
We should not spend our energy trying to reverse this; we should work at building the new faith community. Few people today have not heard of some Jews who believe in Jesus. As we seek one another out we learn that though we be excluded from the mainstream Jewish community, we are included in a new community of Jews who believe in the Messiah. We need not attempt to invalidate the “mainstream” Jewish community as they have attempted to invalidate us. We know the survival of our community does not depend on fear or exclusion, but on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
Let’s work to build a strong Messianic movement, not because we want to compensate for being ousted from the mainstream Jewish community, but because we long to please God. By loving one another (1 John), we demonstrate our love for him. Love stretches across broad and diverse backgrounds and beliefs. Love is more than a “say so” promise; it is a “do so” practice, whereby we uphold and strengthen those Messianic Jews with whom we agree as well as those with whom we do not. Yeshua said that the world would know that we are his disciples by our love. What the larger Jewish community needs to see is not how Jewish we are, but how loving we are towards one another.
The power of love: When Jesus was rejected he responded with love. He forgave those who sought his destruction. It’s not an easy example to follow! Love is not driven by a need for acceptance, nor by the attractiveness of the beloved. It is a commitment to the good of the one we love. Sometimes there is pain involved.
Resentment or self-pity are the natural responses to rejection. When rejection is aimed at us in seemingly personal ways, we need to remind ourselves that regardless of what people say about us, their real problem is with Yeshua.
Some of us need to have much more love for our people but fear the vulnerability implicit in love. Yet Jewish believers must face misunderstanding with compassion, rejection with forgiveness and disappointment with hope that compels us to keep preaching Yeshua. For the monumental expression of love for our community is to bring Jesus to our people. Yes, we should do what we can to demonstrate our concern for Israel, Soviet Jewry and an abundance of other Jewish causes—but ultimately what every Jewish person needs, whether or not they are politically free and secure—is Yeshua. His power to free Jews and Gentiles transcends all earthly concerns.
We will be accused of being unloving because our attempts to proclaim his grace to our people will be regarded as hate by those who do not believe. (John 3:36) Yet our response must be to keep on loving…to continue to speak about the love of the Jewish Messiah for his people.
When people treat you as an adversary, you must decide how to respond. Jesus became just vulnerable enough to allow himself to be crucified. And if we would be like him we must open up and become far more vulnerable. This means loving even when we are hated; being a friend even when we are considered an enemy; speaking sincerely even when we are called liars…desiring acceptance from people, but accepting the fact that pleasing God takes precedence over all else.
The story of our transformed lives becomes apparent when we renounce our anger and seek to forgive. But the power of love—not just affection, but love—is from the Lord.
Instead of being dejected over how we have been “excommunicated” we can be filled with great joy that God can still pour his love out to the Jewish community through us. The power of the Holy Spirit to overcome natural resentment with a supernatural love is magnificent. To experience his energy flowing through you to care for others as the Lord himself cares is an adventure you will never regret! It makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time…you forget your fears. The joy of being joined with God in truly loving someone does not blot out the sorrow of rejection but transforms that sorrow into a shared experience with Yeshua. The power of love is tremendous, and it is a victory no one can take from you!
Witness as outsiders. It is impossible to witness from within the mainstream of the Jewish community; Jesus did not do it, the disciples did not do it and the Lord has not called us to do it. His call and our message is one that takes both Jews and Gentiles out of the mainstream of this world.
Jesus beckoned each one of us to join him outside the camp (Hebrews 13:12-13) and so it is from outside that we must witness. It is not our intention to improve modem Judaism, is it? We have been commissioned to preach a message that transforms, not to tack a postscript onto the religious status quo!
Jesus was not, as contemporary Jewish historian Joseph Klausner said, a reformer. The Jesus who said not to pour new wine into old wineskins lest they burst was not a reformer trying to improve Judaism from within. He was the revolutionary Savior from heaven, sent by his Father to ratify the New Covenant through his death and resurrection. His appeal was heeded by many Jewish people of his day who had the courage to step outside the traditions and religious norms of first-century Judaism to follow him.
Stepping outside of the Jewish religion is not the same as ceasing to be a Jew. If you believe it is, you have accepted the rabbis’ definition of what it means to be a Jew. Jesus never did! That is why the rabbis of his day accused him of being demon possessed. There are huge differences between Judaism and the biblical faith. Make no mistake…we witness from the outside and we appeal to people to come outside, to take up their cross and follow Yeshua.
But neither Jesus nor we who follow him have turned from being Jews. We have gone back to an earlier definition! To be a Jew requires faithfulness to God’s word revealed in the Scriptures and to the anointed one, Yeshua. If that means stepping outside the parameters of Judaism the way the religion is currently practiced, we will take that step. We did not choose to go outside…we were asked to leave.
Indeed our heritage is beautiful, but we must discern what that heritage truly is. Is it what the Bible says, or what the rabbis say?
If you feel rejected by the Jewish community, even by your own family, remember: Don’t deny it. Understand it. Help build the community of believers. Exercise the power of love. Witness as an outsider.
Don’t forget that the adversarial relationship has been a defense mechanism on the part of the Jewish community which did not begin with the Inquisition or the Crusades, but erupted from the very inception of the New Covenant as recorded in the New Testament. Jewish believers have been misunderstood, mistrusted and often mistreated from the start, as were most of the prophets who preceded us. That places us right in the midst of Jewish tradition, not outside of it! Isaiah, Jeremiah and the other prophets were treated in a similar way and, of course, so was Jesus.
This issue goes far beyond the Jewish community and it is important for us to realize that our people are not guilty of any special rejection. For both Jews and Gentiles who don’t yet know Jesus are part of a world system which is failing apart without the Lord. The fundamental conflict is not between Jews who believe in Jesus and Jews who don’t, but between God and the world system which is passing away.
I mourn for Rabbi Joseph Teischman—not because he died, for I know he has eternal life. But although I miss him, what saddens me even more is thinking of what he missed because he was never able to face the ramifications of his decision to follow Jesus. But Joseph certainly was a wonderful man, and I know you will love him when you meet him.
The Savior has no doubt washed away Joseph’s tears, and he’ll never again worry about being an outsider. For that I am grateful. But Joseph could have been, could have had so much more. He could have helped lead others into the kingdom. He could have recorded wisdom and insights which would have been a treasure to the entire messianic community. Most of all, he had the opportunity, as we all do, to be welcomed into his eternal destiny with the King’s most glorious greeting: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”