They are inspired by what they read in the Bible. From Abraham to Moses to David to Isaiah, the Jewish people are the center of God’s plans to make something beautiful in this world. Some people who are not Jewish themselves are drawn by this, drawn to the Jewish people and toward Jewish practices that bring the sacred into the ordinary. They want to be where the Jewish people are. They want to join in the observances that hallow time and things in order to bring the presence of the God of Israel into this world.
Many of them believe that Messianic Judaism is the leading edge of God’s work in the world and ask to be accepted alongside their Jewish friends in community worshipping together. They have no desire to compromise the Jewish nature of Messianic Judaism but want to support it and help it grow. And once they have adopted Jewish culture and lifestyle, the thought of returning to various Christian traditions has no appeal to them. They are here to stay.
In my opinion this is a beautiful thing, something to be admired and appreciated. Not everyone shares my enthusiasm. Some see dangers in allowing the participation of non-Jews in Messianic Judaism.
Jewish, intermarried, and non-Jewish families together. This is a reality now in Messianic Judaism. Exploring what it all means is part of what MJ Musings is all about. To be connected, receive extras, and to be part of what happens on MJ Musings sign up here for the weekly email list.
It is true that there are people who discover Torah, adopt it as their own, and at the same time reject the very meaning of Torah which is a covenant between the Jewish people and God. They find ways theologically to make Jewishness irrelevant. Some of them find a way to consider themselves practically Jewish. Some say they are “grafted in” and equate that in practical terms with being Israel. Some have a theology that God never meant his choice of a people to be limited to physical descendants, but assume that all believers are the chosen people. Others are convinced by a sort of revisionist history in which the lost tribes of Israel (so-called) are reappearing in our day as Torah-keeping believers in Yeshua. In these movements non-Jews are, by their belief and practice, erasing and replacing the Jewish people.
Messianic Gentiles do not subscribe to these theologies. They understand the promise in Torah. There is an earthly family, a solid and real people, who are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob about whom God says, “You will be to me a treasured possession among all peoples” (Exod 19:5). But the blessing is not limited to this people, it is for all the families of the earth through the chosen people (Gen 12:3). They feel no need to replace the Jewish people by means of any sort of theological sleight of hand. These believers identify with Israel in a supportive manner, not in order to supplant Israel.
In the most mature expressions of their faith, Messianic Gentiles learn ways to share in Torah with Jews without giving the impression they are displacing Jewish people. Many have learned not to wear the tallit, reserving it as a symbol for Jewish people who are obligated by all of the Torah commandments (which is the meaning according to Numbers 15). Many say alternate blessings, avoiding phrases such as “who has given us Torah,” and saying instead, “who has given Israel the Torah.” In a variety of ways they represent themselves as co-participants with the Jewish people in Jewish communities.
For Jewish onlookers observing Messianic Judaism there are misunderstandings about Messianic Gentiles. Who are these Gentiles saying our Shema and bowing before our Ark and Sefer Torah in synagogue services? If we visit your Messianic synagogues and find that half or more of the people are not born Jewish, how can you call yourself a Judaism? Can’t you keep yourselves a Jewish movement and find a way to discourage these people from attending?
My answer is, “Why would we want to do that?” They are blessing us with their love of Jewish things. They are blessing us by coming alongside us and supporting what God says must happen among the Jewish people to bring the days of Messiah. They are filling a role very much supported in the Hebrew Bible. They are the nations who coax Israel to see God.
“Behold, I will lift up my hands to the Gentiles and raise my signal to the peoples,” says God, “and they shall bring your sons in their arms and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders” (Isa 49:22).
It is a fact easily observable in our generation that relatively few among the Jewish people are drawn to God and Torah. The same trend of diminishing faith is observable in the general population of America. Practicing faith in a community is a shrinking phenomenon. Yet there exists a sub-group of faith-practicing believers who are challenging Jews to return to their own God and their own Judaism.
There is a small but powerful movement of Messianic Gentiles who understand God’s unfolding agenda. Shabbat is growing in popularity outside of the confines of the Jewish people. And in our Messianic Jewish congregations Jews are often practicing Shabbat alongside non-Jews. In many cases the non-Jews are the ones who drew them in. These Gentiles are not luring Israel away from Judaism but are bringing us nearer to God’s covenant. It is a fair observation in Messianic Judaism that committed non-Jews, zealous for Messiah and Torah, outnumber motivated Messianic Jews.
This lack of Jewish zeal for Torah and Messiah is not necessarily going to last. Thousands of Messianic Jews have a story in which they all but ignored Shabbat and Torah until they started following Yeshua. Many were seeking God and found him through Yeshua. In their newfound faith they came with Yeshua back to Torah.
Some of us hope against current trends for a new thing to happen among Jewish and intermarried families. People commonly recognize now the Jewishness of Jesus. The idea that Yeshua-believers can be Jewish is gaining acceptance in the broader Jewish community. Reality on the ground has to trump theoretical denials.
We are Messianic Jews and as we increasingly realize who we are — Jews following Messiah through Torah and tradition — and who we are not — Christians of Jewish heritage — we will be an example to the Jewish world of a powerful kind of Judaism. Perhaps the Jews and intermarrieds who will swell our numbers are already out there and one day Messianic Gentiles will see their hopes of a Jewish Messianic Judaism realized.
While we wait, we may look foolish to outsiders. If you don’t understand what makes a certain kind of person who they are, the thing to do is seek understanding. What you will find if you get to know us, Messianic Jews and Gentiles in community together, is a people yearning for more of God and the coming of Messiah. We take seriously what we pray, “Blessed are you . . . who will bring a Redeemer to their children’s children for the sake of his name in love” (from the first benediction of the Amidah).