At some point, every Jewish person who seriously considers Jesus asks this question. Most people are brought up to believe that Christianity is irreconcilable with being Jewish, so “placing your faith in Jesus” feels like a repudiation of one’s Jewish identity. However, nothing could be farther from the truth.
For Jewish people, believing in Jesus isn’t simply an individual decision; we bear the weight of Jewish history on our shoulders. The generations who have gone before us sacrificed so much for our ultimate survival and shaped the way we think about our Jewish identity. Who are we to turn our backs on them?
Being Jewish matters
The phrase “Jewish identity” has become a buzzword in the Jewish community the past few decades as pluralistic society increases, along with assimilation. Understandably, this makes many Jewish leaders and cultural stakeholders nervous, so forming a strong Jewish identity has become a priority. But what does it mean? How Jewish do you have to be to have a Jewish identity?
There isn’t a standardized Jewish identity to which all Jews subscribe.
The bottom line is that there isn’t one way to be Jewish, because different Jewish people choose to express their individual Jewish identity differently. There isn’t a standardized Jewish identity to which all Jews subscribe. But, as Jewish studies professor Adam Kirsch writes in Tablet magazine, “The simple fact that we still ask what Jewishness means is itself a sign that it continues to matter.”1
Being Jewish matters. Your identity as a Jew is incredibly valuable, and it’s not something that can be taken away from you or that you can lose—even if you wanted to. You are Jewish no matter which parent was Jewish, no matter if you keep kosher, go to synagogue, eat shrimp and bacon, vote Democrat or Republican, or even if you choose identify differently.
So, of course you’re still Jewish. Yes, even if you follow Jesus.
Attitudes toward belief in Jesus are changing in the Jewish community. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center study, 34 percent of Jewish Americans say a person can be Jewish if he or she believes Jesus was the Messiah.2 As more and more Jewish people embrace Jesus and then continue to live Jewish lives and raise Jewish families, the myth that one cannot be both Jewish and Christian is further dispelled.
Jewish identity is complicated for everyone, including Jewish believers in Jesus. However, if it is important to you, you will be able to find many ways that authentically express your Jewish identity as a believer in Jesus. For many Jewish people, faith in Jesus has inspired a renewed love for Jewish traditions, rituals, and holidays. Many say their Jewish identity has only been strengthened!
That’s because if Jesus really is the Messiah, then Jewish life is compatible with following him. Placing your faith in Jesus doesn’t just mean assenting to a specific religious belief; it means allowing him to shape your Jewish identity.
God made you Jewish on purpose. What if faith in Jesus enables you to more fully discover the God of the Jewish people—the One who has the final say on what being Jewish means?
1. Adam Kirsch, “What is a Jew?” https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/8224/what-is-a-jew.
2. S. Stencel, A Portrait of Jewish Americans: Findings from a Pew Research Center Survey of U.S. Jews (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, 2013), 58.