They were from different worlds. Sharon* was raised in a Christian home in Iowa. Norman* was from a traditional Jewish home in western Tennessee. They’d been married for nearly a decade and though their cultures were very different, they both were devoted to the spiritual education of their firstborn son, Samuel. After Samuel’s eighth birthday, the couple discovered significant differences between their visions for his religious training.
Samuel was receiving religious instruction in Judaism and would soon begin bar mitzvah preparation. Sharon was committed to the family’s participation in Judaism and Jewish communal life. However, she came to realize that it was also important to her that Samuel learn about Jesus, whom she knew as the Jewish Messiah and Savior of the world.
Sharon participates in their synagogue life, though not a formal convert to Judaism. She asked their rabbi if he would include some instruction about Jesus the Messiah as part of the synagogue education program. His answer was emphatic. "Absolutely not!" Perplexed, Sharon contacted our Jews for Jesus office for some help or resources.
The call was routed to me, since I specialize in ministry for Jewish-Gentile couples.
I found out that Sharon and Norman were visiting his parents in California, less than a mile from the church where I would be speaking just two days later. We quickly arranged to meet at a convenient location.
When we met, I could tell that Norman was only seeing me for Sharon’s sake, and it was her concern that was driving the conversation. Sharon expressed her disappointment in the rabbi’s refusal to teach their son about Jesus. Could I help with that part of Samuel’s education? I suggested that she and Norman discuss that possibility privately so any participation on my part would be a joint decision. Norman seemed relieved, and clearly agreed with the suggestion.
However, Sharon had other questions that I could answer. She didn’t understand what she saw as a traditional Jewish resistance to Jesus and the gospel. Try as she would, Sharon couldn’t understand Norman’s sensitivities.
It was left to me to explain to Sharon the long history of terrible things done to Jewish people in the name of Jesus. I told her how Jews in America traditionally have not made a clear distinction between the terms "Gentile" and "Christian." Therefore, Hitler’s Germany was viewed as a "Christian" nation. Our people got the message that the gospel wasn’t good news for the Jews.
“I never knew that!” Sharon said, amazed by how this opened up her understanding of Jewish sensitivities. Meanwhile, Norman was visibly relaxing and warming up. He’d probably expected me to exert pressure, to "try to convert him." Instead, he found that I was able to help his wife understand his perspective on Jesus, even though my own perspective is that persecution in Jesus’s name does not change the truth of who He is or His great love for us.
Now to Sharon’s main concern. She wants their son to learn about the Messiah Jesus. As she saw it, this should not be a problem for Norman, who didn’t believe in a Messiah at all. Norman countered, "There are many supposed messiahs, so how can we know for sure which is the right one?" This was what his rabbi taught at their synagogue when he was growing up. I suggested that he might find a different idea in the Scriptures—if he was willing to look. I offered to send literature to shed some light on what the Bible teaches about the long expected Jewish Messiah. He and Sharon both were glad for any resources that are available through Jews for Jesus.
In general, Norman and Sharon have open lines of communication with one another. Their marriage means a lot to them. However, conversations about religion—especially belief in Jesus—are challenging because it’s easy for people to see their spouse’s opposing views as a threat. I find that increased understanding about cultural differences, and the facts contributing to those differences, often makes genuine exploration of sensitive subjects like the Messiahship of Jesus a whole lot easier for Jewish-Gentile couples.
*not their real names
We are excited that Tuvya is compiling much of his ministry experience and study-based insight into a practical guide for those interested in ministry to Jewish-Gentile couples. We’ll be sure to keep you posted! Meanwhile, you can find out more about Tuvya and also check out our website for Jewish-Gentile couples.