Response to Our Identity–In Crisis or In Christ?
In the last Mishpochah Message we offered a particular perspective on the 1989 Israeli Supreme Court decision and how it affects Jewish believers who want to make aliyah. We viewed this issue within the larger context of our identity as those called to be a story to our people and to the world. The response astounded us! Over 300 of you sent in your Count Me In” coupons, and they are still coming in daily. We also received the most letters we’ve ever had in response to one Forum article. Thanks to one and all for the coupons and for your lively letters, both pro and con. It was great to hear from so many of you. I wish we could print every letter, but we can’t afford to send you a 50-page Mishpochah Message! Still, we didn’t want to print only a few. So, in this special issue, we are printing as many letters as we can, in order that you, dear mishpochah, can speak not just to us, but to one another. Following the letters are some reflections from David Brickner.
In response to Brickner’s “Our Identity—In Crisis or In Christ?” Is it necessary to turn this matter into yet another introspective messianic identity complex? Couldn’t we just support three messianic Jewish families desiring to live in Israel?
After reading the article one gets the impression that the three families are somehow in the wrong. Isn’t Israel’s rejecting Yeshua and his followers the real wrong here?
Tel Aviv, Israel
After receiving your Mishpochah Message this morning, I was so moved and happy that I wanted to write and thank you personally. The article I found to be very realistic, and it answered a lot of my questions as a new believer.
When I first believed in Christ, I had many doubts as to whether I’d converted religions and turned my back on the Jewish people. This article was just another confirmation of the truth that it is wonderful for a Jew to believe in Jesus.
Thank you again, and I look forward to receiving many more letters in the future.
Shalom. Thanks for your thoughtful article on identity in the latest Mishpochah Message. It’s always good to hear from someone who is refusing to jump on the bandwagon. However (I bet you saw that coming!) I have to disagree with your apparent conclusion that Messianic Jews shouldn’t be overly concerned with our status under Israel’s Law of Return. I think you miss the heartbeat of most Messianic Jews concerning aliyah. You seem to reduce it to a desire to be accepted by other Jews, or to qualify for the special benefits available under the Law of Return, or to escape potential persecution.
You write, “If our goal is to be accepted by the Jewish community for the purpose of aliyah or any other reason, we are in danger.” It seems to me that the question of acceptance is only a small part of the aliyah issue. Messianic Jews want to make aliyah for the same spectrum of reasons as Jews in general, although always with the biblical reasons included. By focusing on acceptance, you minimize the dimension of biblical conviction which motivates many Messianic olim.
You also say that “we are not and cannot be considered people who need a refuge from the non-Jewish world.” However, the Law of Return was never intended to be restricted to Jews suffering persecution. It does have the practical effect of providing relief from persecution, or potential persecution, and it does carry some material advantages for approved olim. However, at heart, the Law of Return fulfills the ancient longing of our people, for the Land promised to us since the days of Abraham. Messianic Jews, whether persecuted or not, have a rightful place within this biblical longing, a place worth struggling for.
Of course, we cannot compromise our commitment to the gospel in order to win the battle for aliyah. However, it is a battle worth fighting for its own sake, and for the sake of story to our people. By not engaging, we would concede to the Orthodox claim that in accepting Yeshua we cease to be Jewish. Our concern is not to win their approval, (which will never happen) but to make our own statement of who and what we are, rather than allowing theirs to be imposed upon us. It seems to me that this is precisely what the use of a phrase like “Jews for Jesus” attempts to do. We don’t imagine that it will convince an unbeliever that we are still “really Jewish,” but it expresses our claim to be. Likewise, the term “Messianic Jew” and the whole Messianic congregational movement: we are insisting on our right to define our Jewishness in light of our own understanding of Scripture. Our spiritual well-being is certainly independent of anyone’s acceptance of our self-definition, yet it remains a vital statement, and an integral part of our story.
When you imply that we should seek our identity “in Christ” rather than “in Crisis,” I hope you are not saying that genuine Christian identity is disengaged from the world and its conflicts. Our identity should not be based on crisis, but neither should we avoid crisis. The question is whether this or that crisis is worth our participation. If we were to take on an other-worldly attitude toward the Land of Israel, we would abandon one of the biblical pillars of our Jewish identity.
You say, “It is our right, even our duty, to refuse to let go of our claim to Jewishness.” Then a sentence or two later, “It is unproductive at best for us to insist that the rest of the Jewish community accept our definitions of what is authentic. Even less productive are demands that we be afforded the same rights and privileges as those whom the Jewish community chooses to recognize as Jews.” I agree that our claim to Jewishness cannot depend on the acceptance of men. However, it also cannot be merely theoretical or semantic. Jewish identity is based on acting Jewish. If we claim to be truly Jewish, we need to express that in tangible ways. The fact that the mainstream Jewish community will oppose us in most of these expressions, including aliyah, shouldn’t stop us.
Therefore, when Messianic Jews who feel biblically committed to the Land of Israel are excluded on the basis of their faith, we should all rally around them, even if we don’t agree with all the particulars of their case. We need to stand together as a body, struggling on behalf of those who are being treated unjustly. If the injustice remains, we can accept it as part of our heritage in Messiah. But even in terms of witness to our people, and especially to Israelis, the struggle for aliyah is worthwhile. Who would be drawn to a faith so insipid as to give up on the struggle for a share of the Land promised in its own Scriptures?
Yours in Messiah,
Russell Resnik, Pastor
Adat Yeshua, Albuquerque, NM
The article on our identity was great! I believe that if we as Jewish believers feel led to move to Israel, that it is a story of our faith in the unseen God that we depend on Him alone for our needs.
We don’t need free ulpan, free insurance, etc. Our Father has everything we need. This faith can be a story to unsaved Jews. Even though we may not like the rules “of the game,” we as righteous God-fearing believers must learn to live by the rules.
I am one who may go to Israel in the future. Yet, if the state of Israel considers me to be a “goy” for my belief in Yeshua, so be it. My obedience to state and national authorities can be a story of godly obedience.
It took chutzpah for you to write that article—thanks!
Barrie M.Shreveport, LA
I am not sure you communicate the positive values of aliyah for a Jewish believer. The broad perspective—our emotional and spiritual connection to the land of our fathers, the center of the coming Messianic kingdom, needs to be emphasized. Even more germane is the possibility of God’s call to an individual Jewish believer to make aliyah. Yes, there is a lot of mishegas (aliyah fever, etc.) but the positive needs to be mentioned.
I would urge the same approach towards the issue of what constructive role “philo-Semites” can play in our movement.
Yours in Yeshua,
Chaim Urbach, Congregational Leader
Yeshuat Tsion, Denver, CO
I enjoyed David Brickner’s article on Our Identity. He expressed many of the things that I have felt. I have been a Christian for 20 years after having been raised in an Orthodox Jewish home.
Over the years, I have never quite understood some of my well-intentioned brethren that sought to identify with Jews by embracing the Law. I was so glad when I found out that Jesus died to set me free! I love God’s Law, but as one who tried to obey it, I was sure was glad to learn there was a way out of my failure.
I am a Jew and I know that it is not according to the standard of my parents or my rabbi—but rather according to the true standard that God has given. He has made me a person of faith—faith in HIS SON.
Please send me five more copies of this issue of Mishpochah Message—I have a few friends that I would like to give it to.
God bless you.
David Brickner reflects:
Maybe it was too ambitious to tackle such a controversial subject with one little article. Misunderstanding can arise from what wasn’t said as well as from what was! I omitted certain things which I see as a “given,” but I forgot that some of you would have no way of knowing that! I appreciate Chaim Urbach’s call for balance, so I’ll try to keep that in mind in expressing the following views.
Please know at the outset, I do understand the desire to make aliyah and I don’t think it is wrong for Jewish believers to desire to make a life in Israel. My parents, who are Jewish believers, made aliyah over four years ago. They are Israeli citizens and expect to be there for the rest of their natural lives. I am proud of my parents because I know the cost involved in the choices they have made. Most of all, I am proud of the way they are serving the Lord and living for Him there.
Also, please understand that I do not agree with the decision made by the Israeli Supreme Court forbidding us citizenship according to the Law of Return, and depriving us of the benefits given to other Jews. The point was, fair or unfair, the government of Israel has the right to make and interpret its own laws.
It is not necessarily wrong to protest unfair laws and false perceptions. If only our rallying cry and call to unity could be the urgent need of our people for the gospel and our unashamed commitment to meeting that need, perhaps then there would be less concern about effort expended on other agendas. The problem is that other agendas can easily take over what ought to be our first priority, not only in Israel but in any part of the world. It is much easier for us to work at being accepted as Jews than to work at having fellow Jews accept Jesus.
Many of our mishpochah in various places have decided that their faith can remain a private matter when everything we read in Scripture tells us not to be ashamed of our Lord but to declare Him openly. Some would like to think that we are just like other Jewish people only we happen to believe in Jesus. But all believers in Jesus, whether Jewish or Gentile, are new creations. We are going to relate differently to our families, our culture, our professions, etc. We need to make a public stand for the Lord.
From an earthly perspective, we are misfits and outsiders in any country. Until people are willing to make a place in their hearts for Jesus, most aren’t going to make much of a place for us. Scripture shows a clear pattern of alienation that affects all honest believers in Yeshua. We can expect to endure rejection until His triumphant return. This pattern was summarized for Jewish believers in the first century: “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people by His own blood, suffered outside the city. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come” (Hebrews 13:12-14). After 20 centuries have passed, this verse rings as true as ever.
The temptation to fit in and be accepted by people—Jews or Gentiles—who are wrong about Jesus is natural. The desire to bear the reproach of Messiah with honor is supernatural, and can be ours through the power of the Holy Spirit.
My message to the mishpochah was (and is) that while our Messiah tarries, proclamation is our God-given priority. That is not to suggest that everyone become a full-time evangelist or use a particular method. Once again—our Jesusness must always be more important than our Jewishness. That doesn’t mean that our Jewishness is unimportant!! It just means that who we are isn’t the message: who Jesus is—what He did and how the whole world needs Him—must always be preeminent. This proclamation should take precedence, whether among the nations or in the Promised Land.
Now, are some people “called to a city” here in this life? Chaim Urbach asks that we address the issue of aliyah. Some people feel led of the Lord to go to Nigeria or New Guinea or Jerusalem. We need to be careful about identifying that leading as “a call.” This is not to say that a person cannot be called to a particular place. But consider that the calling of God is a specific biblical term that indicates a divine decree (see Romans 8:28-30). Remember that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). It’s a theological term which carries tremendous weight. There is no turning back when God calls.
I understand what people mean when they talk about being “called” and there are times when a person’s lifetime commitment demonstrates that indeed, they were following God’s call. But more often, people use the term “God’s call” to refer to feeling led to go here or there. Often they see God presenting an opportunity. Without trivializing such opportunities, we need to be careful not to use the phrase “called of God” too often or too lightly.
As certain as God’s calling, a time is coming when all of Israel will be gathered, when the Lord will say to the north, “Give up!” and to the south, “Hold not back!” Some speak of the immigration of Russian Jews to Israel as a fulfillment of that promise in Scripture. It might be just that—but it is too soon to know or declare it. If we declare not, we deceive not—particularly ourselves! We should observe events and see what opportunities there are to be met with regard to our witness. But once we say, “This is that which was spoken of the prophet…” then our expectations might lead us to that which is not biblically sound.
The following advertisement recently appeared in a well-known Christian publication: “Why just read about messianic prophecy? Help make it happen.” The ad went on to request funds from Christians to help Russian Jews travel by boat to Israel. How is this different from the Lubavitch campaign to make the Messiah come through our own good deeds? It’s wonderful to help Russian Jews make aliyah, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t do that. But let’s not think that God needs our help to make His promises happen. That was the sin of Sarah when she offered Hagar to Abraham.
I believe there is a great returning of the Jewish people to the land of Israel yet to come. God will accomplish this supernaturally with or without our help. That is not to discourage anyone from going now! But let’s be careful about attributing the weight of God’s call at a point in time when it has not yet been revealed.
If you feel led of God to go to Israel or anywhere else, ask yourself, “Will I be better able to serve and proclaim Yeshua there than where I am now?” If we move toward the greatest opportunities to serve the Lord and tell others about Him, we’ll move in the right direction. I know many Israelis who are living as bold and vibrant witnesses for Yeshua in the Land. I also know many who were strong witnesses in the country of their birth, but their testimonies withered when they made aliyah. Making aliyah certainly need not compromise a believer. But it does take more than the usual amount of determination (which is already plenty!) to maintain a straightforward story there. Even the strongest believers in the Land need our continual love and prayers to withstand tremendous pressures.
Regarding those whom Chaim Urbach calls “philo-Semites” and their role in our movement, we need such people to love us and stand with us. We also need to know how to return their love of those Gentiles who love our people.
There is an important difference between loving and romanticizing the Jewish people. Many Christians are enamored with Israel as the land of Bible stories, or with Israel, the land of future prophetic fulfillment, and that’s fine. But the test of real love for the Jewish people, (or any people), is a desire to see them come to faith in Messiah. Love leads to a commitment to stand with us and encourage us as we proclaim the gospel. It culminates in individual Christians looking for opportunities to speak to their neighbors and their business associates about Jesus.
Many of the Gentile believers who have come alongside us have been a stabilizing factor. Those who have known the Lord for many years are often a theological anchor in places where some of the messianic mishpochah are young in the Lord or somehow not yet mature enough to understand basic tenets of the faith. Just as the first-century Jewish believer, Paul, was available to help the newborn Gentile believers set aside some of their “shtick,” today there are a number of us who have benefited by patient Gentile Christians who guard us from various shtick which can threaten sound doctrine.
What of those Gentiles who long to be Jewish? A God-given love for the Jewish people never causes Gentiles to feel inadequate or in any way inferior because they aren’t Jewish. Those who feel disappointed that they are not Jews, or who try to discover that they might actually be Jews, need our loving reminder that God does not find them second best, we do not find them second best, and it is wrong for them to imagine that they are somehow second best. His Word never said Gentiles ought to be as Jews. Whereas there is something special about the Jewish people, there is also something special about every person who is in Messiah.
We should praise God for those Gentiles who love our people and want to identify with the Jewish roots of their faith. But let’s be careful not to create an atmosphere that would encourage Gentiles to adopt a pretense of being Jews. That is not the way to show our love and appreciation to those who have loved and appreciated us.
Gentile Christians who truly love our people without trying to do some kind of reverse assimilation are a great story to our Messiah who was to be a light to the Gentiles. If they hide or play down the fact that they are Gentiles, they give up a unique opportunity to demonstrate that loving Jesus does not lead to hating Jews. The mutual acceptance that is demonstrated within the greater mishpochah, the body of Messiah as Jews and Gentiles, in the long run, will win more Jewish people to Messiah than all the efforts put forth to insist that we are Jewish. “By this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
Always, we can work on loving one another more, and that is also true for our own little mishpochah of Jewish believers in Yeshua. When we look at one another, sure, we have a few differences and disagreements. When we look at the Lord, our disagreements seem slight because the One whose love we share is so big and so beautiful. Mostly what I see is how wonderful it is to be family in Messiah. I hope that’s what you see, too.
Executive Director, Missionary
David Brickner is executive director of Jews for Jesus. David oversees the world-wide ministry from its headquarters in San Francisco. David received his Master’s degree in Missiology with a concentration in Jewish Evangelism and Judaic Studies from the Fuller School of World Mission. He has authored several books, and has been interviewed on national television shows such as Larry King Live. David’s daughter, Ilana is a recent graduate of Biola. His son, Isaac is on the missionary staff of Jews for Jesus. Isaac and his wife, Shaina, have one daughter, Nora, which makes David part of the grandparent club, a membership he is very proud of. See more here.