“Our tradition,” according to Rabbi Daniel Burg, 37, of downtown’s Beth Am Synagogue, “is not to interrogate people before we count them in the community. … We don’t exclude people based on their beliefs.”
It’s a peace-and-love mentality. And why not? Aren’t Jews supposed to be among the most loving people on earth?
“We, as Jews, totally accept that there are multiple ways to believe in God,” said Ruth Guggenheim, executive director of Jews for Judaism. “If we accept all of the different denominations, why not accept a belief in Yeshua?”
Yeshua is J.C. That’s right — Jesus, as lord and savior.
And the latter question is one that college students and young adults are grappling with across the country. Younger individuals, explained Guggenheim, are understandably more accepting of pluralism and alternative lifestyles and belief systems.
“They don’t understand the distinction between Hebrew Christians [often referred to as Messianic Jews] and Judaism,” said Guggenheim. “As long as it is wrapped in Jewish terminology, they have challenged us and said, ‘What’s wrong with it?’”
“I would say most of the younger generation is secular,” wrote Dr. Mitch Glaser, president of Chosen People Ministries in a recent email communication to his email list, which was obtained by the Baltimore Jewish Times. In his email, he talks about preparing to bring the Isaiah 53 campaign to Israel, to target young Israelis who are “becoming more and more spiritually minded. … It is time for young Israelis to hear the Gospel in a way they can understand, and we must make Jesus more accessible to them.”
He continued: “The Isaiah 53 campaign is distinctly Jewish; no one in Israel would ever think the prophet Isaiah is anything but Jewish! We are presenting the Jewish Messiah through a Jewish prophet who is well-known to Israelis.”
The plan is to hit Israel by the summer of 2014.
In 2010, Chosen People brought a similar campaign to New York. More than 4,000 individuals, according to Glaser, requested the book associated with the campaign. Six hundred of them were young Jewish seekers, all with whom the ministry followed up. In 2012, the campaign hit Los Angeles. Some 32,000 new visitors went to Isaiah53.com that spring.
“Missionaries continue to interact personally with the new Jewish contacts,” wrote Glaser.
“What I am seeing,” said Guggenheim, who has devoted her life to the cause of stopping missionaries of all types from preying on Jewish souls, “is that within the next 20 years, Messianic Judaism will be accepted as an alternative within Judaism, not a challenged belief system.”
“Once a Jew, always a Jew,” said Shami Golomb, 26, who works in sales in Columbia, S.C.
And that is what Messianic Jews would like you to believe.
Take Walter Lieber. He’s a well-meaning philanthropist now living in Miami. He sits on the board of the Tel Aviv Foundation and is a former board member of the University of Miami Hillel.
He’s also a Messianic Jew.
“The Messianic party line would be, ‘yes, we are just another branch of Judaism,’” Lieber told the JT.
Lieber rejects the idea that Messianic Jews and Jews for Jesus are synonymous. He says Jews for Jesus is trying to convert Jews to Christianity. In contrast, Messianic Judaism, he said, is about Jews staying Jewish — while simultaneously embracing Yeshua as Messiah.
“Jewish is as Jewish does,” said Lieber. “Most people understand today that someone can be Jewish and also believe in Yeshua. … Most people are more open today.”
From the outside, Messianic Jews look and act Jewish.
Yisrael Jerome Bethea and his wife, Rina, are local Orthodox Jews. But they came to Judaism later in the life after a spiritual journey that took them through the Hebrew Christian/Messianic Jewish movement. Bethea told the JT that he learned about the Jewish holidays of Sukkot, Shavuot and about keeping Shabbat from a Messianic Jew in South Carolina.
Bethea remembers the spirituality.
“There was something amazing about those Friday nights,” he said.
His Messianic Jewish synagogue worshipped on Saturdays. Members sang Hebrew songs and supported Israel.
“But they would add in Yashka’s [Jesus’] Hebrew name. It was used constantly,” he said.
Guggenheim said second- and third-generation Messianic Jews truly believe they are Jewish. They call the New Testament the “Brit HaChadasha,” they utilize Jewish terminology and rituals and have dropped practices such as Easter and some of the other more pagan aspects of the church.
There is just one problem: “Whether you wear a tallit, keep Shabbat, observe all the holidays, do Torah study, once you believe in Jesus as your lord and savior, you are by definition Christian,” said Rabbi Benjamin Sharff of Har Sinai Congregation in Owings Mills.
Confused and Deceived
“It is blatantly misleading,” said Rabbi Jonathan Seidemann, spiritual leader of Kehilath B’nai Torah in Ranchleigh.
“One of the basic tenants of Judaism is that when God gave us the Torah, he told us that Moshe Rabbeinu is the chief of all prophets and no one will be as great as him or be able to contradict or limit the teachings God conveyed to us through Moshe at Sinai,” explained Rabbi Seidemann, referring to Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Faith [See “The Rambam’s 13 Principles Of Jewish Faith” on the right]. “Therefore, if you have someone who claims to be a prophet and his followers are claiming that certain main tenants are no longer applicable and no longer have to be followed, that is a violation of faith — of Judaism. It is a big deal.”
It’s confusing, he said. And it’s deceptive.
“I think, and I would hope, that the average Conservative or Reform Jew does not go around having a desire to convert Orthodox Jews, for example, to Reform or Conservative Judaism. As a testimony, look how much Reform and Conservative money goes to Orthodox institutions. We recognize that at heart we are all Jews and the fundamentals are the same,” Rabbi Seidemann explained. “The average Messianic Jew — he wants you to be a Messianic Jew. … [Messianic Jews] are trying to do whatever they can to mislead Jews.”
The rabbi continued: “It is just another variation of false Judaism.”
But now, according to Guggenheim, the number of Messianic Jews in America totals 350,000 in more than 400 congregations.
Guggenheim said Messianic Jewish tactics are working. She has consulted with dozens of colleges across the country that are grappling with Messianic Jewish students who want to be a part of organized Jewish life on campus; because of confidentiality, she could not reveal which ones. Most campus representatives won’t talk — and deny the controversy (or are unwilling to discuss it) — even when confronted outright.
“Messianic Jews have been a non-issue for us,” said Ellen Goldstein, vice president of marketing and communications for Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. “We don’t see this as a major issue.”
One student from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County confided in this reporter that the Hillel recently encountered the issue when a Messianic Jewish student started attending events. But the student refused to elaborate or give her name for publication.
Repeated contacts with UMBC Hillel Director Rabbi Jason Klein — email, Facebook and cell phone — resulted in a, “Sorry. It’s not a good time.”
Kim Leisey, associate vice president for student affairs at UMBC, confirmed there was an incident but could not discuss an individual student due to issues of confidentiality.
Leisey said, “UMBC is proud to be a community rich in diversity. … There are over 20 registered religious and spiritual groups on campus that work together as the UMBC Religious Council. Members of this group create dialogue among themselves in order to increase understanding and mutual support of their common mission to serve the university community.”
In addition, she told the JT, there is not currently a registered Messianic Jewish student organization at UMBC. However, as a member of the UMBC Religous Council, UMBC Hillel sponsors events and activities open to all students, “including students from diverse branches of Judaism.”
The Lieber case is public. Lieber said he was asked by the Hillel director himself to sit on the board. When he accepted the invitation, there was no push back from fellow board members or the students. Lieber said he was open about his beliefs, and people respected him for that. He was — and is — also a major Hillel donor.
However, Lieber told the JT that when Jewish leaders outside of Miami caught wind of his position, they pressured the Miami Hillel and warned then-campus rabbi, Rabbi Baruch Plotkin, that Lieber’s being on the board could affect fundraising. Lieber chose to resign on his own, but said, “I am still friends with everyone.”
At Virginia Commonwealth University, former Hillel Director Shoshanna Schechter-Shaffin said the local Messianic Jewish community spent two years pushing to be accepted into the Interfaith Campus Ministry Association, of which Hillel is a founding member.
“We respect people’s religious freedom, but my issue, and the issue I brought to the ICMA, is that this is deception,” said Schechter-Shaffin. “People can believe what they want, but what if there is an 18-year-old looking to join the community and looking on an activities calendar and sees Shabbat services and does not know what Messianic Jewish means — and most people don’t?”
Rabbi David Rudolph of Tikvat Israel Messianic Synagogue, however, was met with opposition pretty much only from professionals; Messianic Jewish leaders now go by “rabbi” instead of priest. Shaffin said the students didn’t want to put up a fight about the Messianic Jewish presence.
“The younger generation at VCU — they’re very accepting,” said Shaffin. “Young Jews don’t know and don’t understand why people freak out and why they have such a visceral reaction. For them, we should accept everyone and try new things. That makes this more dangerous, because [young Jews] don’t see what the problem is. On a campus, you can’t discriminate against them. The campus can’t throw them off.”
This reporter threw the question out to her Facebook community of more than 700 “friends” as to whether or not Jews who believe in Jesus should be allowed to attend Hillel events, informing them that their answers could be published. The results were mixed.
Zach Cardin, a graduate of Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, said “no.”
“Through a cultural and historical perspective, they are a different religion. Millions of Jews throughout history have died because they did not believe in Jesus. Jews believe in one God,” he said.
“That’s a sticky, sticky question,” wrote Dani Klein of Yeah That’s Kosher. “I don’t believe anyone [should be] barred from attending Hillel events lest they break some sort of rules.”
Emily Katz Boling, a graduate of the Shoshana S. Cardin School and a student at UMBC, felt similarly. She said, “If the school is a public institution, it cannot turn away students from religious events. And I think that it would be inappropriate to do so, even if it were at the discretion of the Hillel. It’s unfair to assume that all the Messianic Jews are missionaries and that allowing them to Hillel events threatens the institution of Hillel itself.”
Shaffin said the school sided with voices like those of Boling and Klein. This past spring, the Tikvat Israel community was able to establish a formal student group.
“The real battle starts in the fall, when they are at the student activity fairs and things like that,” she said.
Shaffin also noted that the fear is less about proselytizing at events than it is about what happens after hours. Currently, Shaffin oversees the young leadership division at the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond. She told the JT that “we had to nicely tell some of the Messianic members that they weren’t welcome at young leadership programs. They would come and be friendly and nice and sweet, but then they would invite people to their homes for Shabbat dinner and services. The Jewish young professionals would not know what was going on. It was a real problem.”
There may be some legal precedent to exclude Messianic Jews from Jewish programs. In Hsu v. Roslyn School District (New York), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit interpreted the Equal Access Act’s protection of speech to encompass the leadership policy of a religious club.
The club’s policy, which required office-holders to be professing Christians, violated a school non-discrimination policy applicable to all clubs, but the court determined that the EAA required Roslyn High School to make an exception for the religious club. The court noted that allowing the club to maintain this requirement for leadership ensures that the club can preserve the religious content of its speech.
The court held that “exemptions from neutrally applicable rules that impede one or another club from expressing the beliefs that it was formed to express may be required if a school is to provide equal access.”
It was unclear if there is uniformity to this law.
A Red Line
In the end, it’s nothing shy of murky waters. Most rabbis — including those interviewed for this article — stumble when they try to respond.
“I think there are certain boundaries that every tradition is entitled to make,” said Rabbi Sharff.
“In Judaism, one of those boundaries is belief in another God.”
In 1985, the “Journal of Reform Judaism” published a response to the question of whether or not Jews that believe in Jesus can be accepted by the movement. Walter Jacob, then-chairman of the Central Conference of American Rabbis Responsa Committee, wrote, “Anyone who claims that Jesus is his/her Savior is no longer a Jew and is an apostate.”
But boundaries are meant to be pushed. And the Jewish community is pushing them all the time, also according to Rabbi Sharff.
“We are becoming more open to letting women participate. Homosexuality in Jewish tradition — we are letting people be who they are and still participate in Jewish life,” said Sharff. “Some boundaries are really being pushed.”
So why that line and not another?
“Because that is the line we have drawn,” he said.
What would stop Jews from crossing that line in a generation or two?
That’s a question that Rabbi Burg called, “intriguing and unsettling.”
Patrilineal descent, for example, was once a red line. Now, it is accepted by the Reform Movement.
Said Rabbi Burg, “That’s conflating two different issues. The notion of who is a Jew is something that has always been fluid. … The question here is not whether one is or is not a Jew, but whether one is practicing an authentic form of Judaism.”
Who defines what’s authentic?
“Jewish law has evolved over time,” said Rabbi Burg. “You look at what it is Jews are doing and how people practice. … One could make a case within Judaism for certain reinterpretations of even ancient, deeply held practices. But that doesn’t mean one can declare pork kosher.”
Rabbi Burg said Jews and Christians clearly differentiated their belief systems 2,000 years ago.
“I just don’t see any reason why we would revisit that situation,” he said.
Unless the next generation does.
The only way to avoid the crossing of the line? Said Shaffin: education.
“There needs to be more education about why it is a problem and why it is deceptive,” she said.
Said Rabbi Sharff: “The best thing we can do is have the conversation.”
The Rambam’s 13 Principles Of Jewish Faith
1. I believe with perfect faith that God is the Creator and Ruler of all things. He alone has made, does make and will make all things.
2. I believe with perfect faith that God is One. There is no unity that is in any way like His. He alone is our God. He was, He is, and He will be.
3. I believe with perfect faith that God does not have a body; physical concepts do not apply to Him. There is nothing whatsoever that resembles Him at all.
4. I believe with perfect faith that God is first and last.
5. I believe with perfect faith that it is only proper to pray to God. One may not pray to anyone or anything else.
6. I believe with perfect faith that all the words of the prophets are true.
7. I believe with perfect faith that the prophecy of Moses is absolutely true. He was the chief of all prophets, both before and after Him.
8. I believe with perfect faith that the entire Torah that we now have is that which was given to Moses.
9. I believe with perfect faith that this Torah will not be changed and that there will never be another given
10. I believe with perfect faith that God knows all of man’s deeds and thoughts. It is thus written (Psalm 33:15), “He has molded every heart together; He understands what each one does.”
11. I believe with perfect faith that God rewards those who keep His commandments and punishes those who transgress Him.
12. I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah. How long it takes, I will await His coming every day.
13. I believe with perfect faith that the dead will be brought back to life when God wills it to happen.
Can Jesus be the jewish messiah?
According to Jewish Tradition: The mashiach will be a great political leader descended from King David (Jeremiah 23:5). The mashiach is often referred to as “mashiach ben David” (mashiach, son of David). He will be well-versed in Jewish law and observant of its commandments (Isaiah 11:2-5). He will be a charismatic leader, inspiring others to follow his example. He will be a great military leader, who will win battles for Israel. He will be a great judge, who makes righteous decisions (Jeremiah 33:15). But above all, he will be a human being, not a god, demi-god or other supernatural being.
The mashiach will bring about the political and spiritual redemption of the Jewish people by bringing us back to Israel and restoring Jerusalem (Isaiah 11:11-12; Jeremiah 23:8; 30:3; Hosea 3:4-5). He will establish a government in Israel that will be the center of all world government, both for Jews and gentiles (Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:10; 42:1). He will rebuild the Temple and re-establish its worship (Jeremiah 33:18). He will restore the religious court system of Israel and establish Jewish law as the law of the land (Jeremiah 33:15).
It has been said that in every generation, a person is born with the potential to be the mashiach. If the time is right for the messianic age within that person’s lifetime, then that person will be the mashiach. But if that person dies before he completes the mission of the mashiach, then that person is not the mashiach.
Assuming that Jesus existed, and assuming that the Christian scriptures are accurate in describing him, he simply did not fulfill the mission of the mashiach as it is described in the biblical passages cited above. Jesus did not do any of the things that the scriptures said the messiah would do.
Source: “Judaism 101” by Jewfaq.org
Major Multimillion-Dollar Messianic Jewish Campaigns You Should Know About:
• Chosen People Ministries/Isaiah 53 Campaign (chosenpeople.com)
• Sid Roth/It’s Supernatural & Messianic Vision (sidroth.org)
• Tom Cantor/Friendship With God (friendshipwithgod.org/tom-cantor.html)
Which, What, Who?
Can you tell the difference between these three statements of faith?
A. There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom and goodness; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there are three persons of one substance, power and eternity — the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
B. There is one God, who has revealed Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Every divine action in the world is accomplished by the Father working through the Son and in the power of the Spirit. This God has revealed Himself in creation and in the history of Israel as transmitted in Scripture (Genesis 1:1; I Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 4:4-6).
C. There is one and only one living and true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being, the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver and Ruler of the universe. God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections. God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures. … The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence or being.
A. Methodist; B. Messianic Jewish; C. Baptist
Maayan Jaffe is JT managing editor — [email protected]