A small crowd had gathered around two people: a Jew for Jesus and a Jew who didn’t believe in Jesus. The second man decided to turn off the conversation like a faucet. He said, “Judaism teaches that the Messiah will not be a person; it will be a time of worldwide peace."
One bystander interrupted, "You must be a Reform Jew. Real Judaism teaches that the Messiah will be a man who comes on the clouds of heaven!"
Another said, "Ideas of the Messiah had their origins in desperate times when we needed hope for deliverance."
The first bystander replied incredulously, "Do you mean to say that the Messiah is no more than a notion born out of desperation? Is that what your rabbi teaches?" The man responded with great bearing and dignity: "I am the rabbi."
Some might imagine that the phrase "Judaism teaches" always introduces a universally shared consensus opinion. But in fact, the body of rabbinic literature contains all kinds of teachings, many of which contradict one another.
Some acknowledge the diverse opinions, but make it appear as if there is unanimity on at least one important matter: the messiahship of Jesus. It is as though the very existence of Judaism depends on conformity in this matter. In order to be authentically Jewish, it is said, one must not embrace Jesus as Messiah and Lord as Christians do.
We hear that the idea of a substitutionary atonement—one person dying for the sins of many—is not what Judaism teaches. The notion that the Messiah should come back from the dead is regarded as preposterous.
But there are many reasons to seriously question a supposedly monolithic picture of what "Judaism teaches."
Here is just one example. One could hardly find a sect of Judaism more committed to what it understands to be traditional Judaism than the Brooklyn-based Lubavitch sect. Lubavitcher are so strict that they will not accept kashrut (kosher) standards set by other rabbis, but insist on glatt kosher (an extra measure of kosher observance). They are peerless in their level of commitment to and observance of what they understand to be Jewish law.
The followers of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson (who died on June 12, 1994, at age 92), were the ones who chanted, "We want Moshiach now." That chorus began as early as 1981. At first they only whispered that their rabbi was Moshiach. Then they openly declared it. Finally, they published huge newspaper ads and rented billboards to tell everyone that their rabbi was the promised Messiah who would bring worldwide redemption. When he suffered a stroke that rendered him unable to speak, some of his followers applied to him the suffering servant text of Isaiah 53.
We are generally told "Judaism teaches" that the suffering servant passage applies to Israel, and not to the Messiah. Yet any number of rabbis besides the Lubavitch Hasidim, particularly the earlier sages, have said it does apply to the Messiah.
Decades after Menachem Schneerson’s death, a significant number of the Lubavitch sect still believe he is going to be resurrected and complete the work of redemption.
For the person who puts up roadblocks to the gospel by telling you “Judaism teaches,” it’s not too difficult to find exceptions, or to point out a variety of things that “Judaism teaches” that your friend neither believes nor adheres to. Apart from views about Jesus, many if not most Jewish individuals do not conform to what might be described as what “Judaism teaches.”
It is not so much the teachings of Judaism as the real possibility of being rejected by the Jewish community that keeps many from considering the gospel. Does that help you know how to pray for your Jewish friends? Does it help you know how to speak the truth in love?
This article was adapted from a much more detailed teaching by Moishe Rosen, originally published in ISSUES, which is written for Jewish seekers.
We cannot afford to mail ISSUES to our Christian friends, but all past editions are available for you to peruse online and you can also request Issues by email here.
You might find them helpful in addressing specific issues with your Jewish friends. We’d be happy to offer your Jewish friend a free subscription.
This month’s “So What” column relates to the article about giving practical advice about how to respond when people throw out conversation stoppers.