Letter Regarding Jewish Identity
Yesterday I received the Mishpochah Message with your lead article Alarming Our Community.” I must say that what I read made me angry. I am not angry with you personally, but with what you wrote. Please allow me to explain.
Your analysis of what happened to Chuck Snow presents many important concerns. But there is another—in my opinion central—factor that you fail to mention, and probably to even consider. That factor is a grounding in Jewish learning and life. Lack of knowledge of Judaism causes people to make irrational, emotional, wrong choices. My problem is that you, along with most messianic believers and most evangelicals I know of, insist on perpetuating a dichotomy between faith in Yeshua and adherence to traditional Judaism.
Don’t tell our people to be afraid of being Jewish. Tell them to embrace our G-d given heritage, to learn and to do what Yeshua and his disciples did and taught. The early messianic community had this story, that they were held in favor by those outside as well as inside the fold.
Blessings from Jerusalem,
While questions of how to pursue Jewish learning and life are relevant, you rightly point out that we do not talk about being grounded in them. Jewish learning and life are general terms that mean different things to different Jews, believers and unbelievers alike. It’s difficult to conceive of being grounded in something so subjective. As believers, we can agree about who Yeshua is, the meaning of His life, death and resurrection and our need to trust Him and put Him at the center of our lives—so we talk about being grounded in Yeshua and in His word.
On the other hand, we don’t mean to trivialize the issue of understanding and expressing our Jewish identity in meaningful ways. Stephen’s article refers to Jewish learning and life in the statement, “Once the Bible begins to play a central role in our life, we tend to connect more with our heritage, our history and the importance of our peoplehood. Many of us consciously seek ways to involve ourselves more in Jewish pursuits as our Jewish identity takes on more importance.”
In past Mishpochah Messages we have offered suggestions regarding holiday observances, liturgy, opportunities to send children to camp where they will learn about Jesus as well as the fundamentals of Hebrew. Once we even suggested some people might want to join together to form a messianic Jewish burial society. Expect to see more of these types of things in upcoming editions of Havurah.
The statement, “you, along with most messianic believers and most evangelicals I know of, insist on perpetuating a dichotomy between faith in Yeshua and adherence to traditional Judaism” puts an interesting spin on the situation. I don’t believe we perpetuate a dichotomy, but we recognize what exists.
I’m not saying that we should accept the false dichotomy between being Jewish and believing in Jesus. We have always maintained that Jewish identity is not contingent on practicing traditional Judaism, and perhaps that’s where we have the disagreement. The very word “traditional” has to do with what is conventional, what people have handed down from generation to generation. If those who practice and teach and spend their lives dedicated to traditional Judaism reject the idea that Jesus is the Messiah, how can we say there is no dichotomy between our faith in Jesus and adherence to traditional Judaism? As long as we believe that Jesus is the only way of salvation, that dichotomy is there. It will not continue or disappear based on whether or not messianic Jews decide to observe Jewish laws and traditions.
When you say we need to be careful not to make our people afraid of being Jewish we agree one hundred percent. I hope nothing we said in the last article made anyone fearful of learning more about their Jewish identity. There are aspects of Judaism which can encourage us in worship and holiness before God—as well as remind us of our responsibilities to our family, our neighbors and even our enemies. We want to encourage people to enjoy exploring and being Jewish in open, forthright ways. The warning is to beware exploring in ways that require us to play down our faith in Jesus or allow us to put accountability to fellow believers in Him on the shelf.
When you encourage us to tell others to learn and do what Jesus and His disciples did and taught, I believe you refer to (then) traditional practices. But can those things be brought into this century and be considered traditional Judaism? Much of what Jesus did as a Jew was centered around the Temple. The destruction of the Temple radically changed Judaism, and (not coincidentally I think) Jesus’ life, death and resurrection radically changed what was required of those who would follow the God of Israel.
Finally, regarding the statement that the early messianic community was held in favor by those outside as well as inside the fold, I think it might be fair to insert “some of” in reference to those outside the fold. Some Jewish unbelievers today still hold Jewish believers they know and respect in favor. Yet if the majority of those in leadership withhold their favor because Yeshua’s lordship rocks the status quo (John 9:22), how should we respond?
I hope you don’t mind my answering in Stephen’s absence—I know he wanted to be sure that we published at least a portion of your letter.