A board member of Jews for Judaism contacted me a few weeks ago via my blog. He didn’t mention, of course, who he was or why he contacted me. He made it seem like he was Mr. General-Public with a question. He said his understanding of Christianity and Judaism is that they are distinct belief systems. What did I think?
Here is part of my response to him:
The New Testament — most of its authors, all of its ideology — is Jewish. The Yeshua movement was a Judaism following Yeshua in the beginning. In recent times, academics and some religious movements (including Messianic Judaism) are recovering this original sense of what it means to follow Yeshua. You can say we are wrong about who Yeshua is, but to deny that my statement here is correct would mean you have to take on the entire academic enterprise of Jesus research. Feel free to say that hundreds of published, peer-reviewed scholars are wrong, but I hope you won’t attempt that route.
He never responded. I am interested to hear what you, dear reader, think about this.
Of course we could discuss the fact that the label “Messianic Judaism” is used by a wide range of types of congregations. Searching the internet will reveal many whose way of doing things doesn’t look very Jewish at all. To understand, for example, why there are so many “Christian Messianic Jewish” groups please see my article explaining the recent origins of Messianic Judaism here. Yes, some Messianic Jewish congregations look very Baptist or Pentecostal or that blend popularly known as Bapti-costal.
And then there are many groups, especially on the internet, who use the label Messianic Jewish and are Torah observant but partially or completely reject Judaism. Yes, I know its weird. A friend of mine who is a leader in Messianic Judaism has, for years, been calling this unfortunate trend “silly self-defined Torah observance.” It is usually practiced by groups who have either no Jewish people or only a few involved. It is part of our modern DIY age, where anyone with an internet connection can become an “expert”.
I discuss the solution to this in another article, “Judaism That Is Messianic,” which you can find here. And I say this about the groups who are coopting our name: When it comes to people who don’t share our commitment to Judaism but who use the label “Messianic Judaism,” my answer is simple. We have to win. The name belongs to us. They can’t take it. And the way to keep them from taking it is to commit ourselves to its real meaning. The power of the genuine article, real Messianic Judaism, is such that I believe it will win anyway.
Is Messianic Judaism Jewish? You better believe it! And among the tens of thousands of people (I wish it was hundreds of thousands) who get it, our commitment needs to be for strengthening and supporting a Jewish Messianic Judaism. As I said in my “What is Messianic Judaism” article: The stream of Messianic Judaism represented on my blog draws from historic Judaism and Christianity, advocates Torah observance by Jewish people, distinguishes between Jewish and non-Jewish obligation in Torah, and seeks to promote both the ongoing peoplehood of Israel and the Messiahship of Yeshua.
For insight into the more Jewish side of Messianic Judaism, I encourage you to take a look at the website of the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council, which you can find here: http://OurRabbis.org
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