There are a seemingly significant number of Christians who are claiming to be Jewish. Some of these are the deceptive and lying groups that are founded and funded by various Churches, like ‘Jews for Jesus’, whose purpose is to convert unwary Jews to Christianity, but others claim to be ‘Messianic Jews’ who do not seek to convert anyone, and who want to practice Jewish rituals while still being Christians. What is the Jewish view on these people’s actions and status?
The questioner seems to believe that these are sincere Christians who merely want to conform to Jewish practices while believing in Christianity.
I have a rude awakening for you:
‘Messianic Jews,’ so-called, come in a Baskin-Robbins assortment of flavors. There are, to be sure, deceptive or furtive Christians among those claiming the ‘messianic Jew’ label. But there are plenty of people who use that term and do not follow Jesus at all, but rather one (or many) of the myriad ‘false messiahs’ (some historians prefer the less biased term ‘failed messiah’) who have presented themselves or been put forward as the messiah.
The term ‘messiah’ comes from the Hebrew ‘mashiach,’ meaning ‘anointed’ (someone over whose head oil has been poured). In Biblical times, this referred to the initiation ceremony for functioning in various leadership capacities. In the Torah, the term is used exclusively for the high priest who had been chosen from among his brothers and had been anointed to serve as the ritual leader of the Israelites.
In later Biblical books, the term comes to be used almost exclusively for kings of Israel and Judah, and eventually for a descendant of the line of King David who will be the sole legitimate heir to the throne. Later,when there was no longer a monarchy ruling the country, the term came to signify a certain nostalgia for Jewish sovereignty and, with it,the end of foreign oppression of the Jewish people.Jewish thought and law later codified the definition of who could legitimately carry the term. Returning sovereignty to the Jewish people, the end of war and oppression, the perfection of human and even animal relationships eventuallyload the term with such great expectations that no mere mortal would be able to fulfill them.
During historic periods of oppression and disappointment,messianic fervor has become most prominent. During Judean oppression by the Roman Empire, some Jews believed that Jesus of Nazarethwould demonstrate his worthiness as the anointed king.When that movement did not bring about the end of war and oppression, most of Jesus’ Jewish followers abandoned his messianic candidacy.A century later,Simon bar Kochba led another Jewish rebellion against Roman authority. It, too, was crushed. The pattern continues throughout Jewish history, leaving behind names of attempts and failures: Sabbetai Zvi (Izmir, Turkey, 1662), Jacob Frank (1760, following the Chmielnicki massacres) and even Menachem Mendel Schneerson (20th century), the leader of the Chabad (or Lubavitch) Chassidic sect. Each of these and many more could claim hundreds of thousands of followers who were willing to give their all for the one who had come to redeem the world from oppression. Each movement was set back – but not totally derailed! – by the conversion or death of its leader.
Sadly, the world remains unredeemed. But there are many people who are defined halachically (by Jewish law) as Jews, who continue to “believe” that their candidate was the actual and final messiah. Although evidence of failure of these various messianic candidates is present for all to see, great faith can at times trump logic, even in the most well-meaning individuals. Jews (actual Jews) who believe that the messiah has, in fact, come and begun the process of redemption. Meanwhile, the actual Jewish religion of this (currently un-redeemed) world continues, without the messianic fervor that history has proven to be misplaced. As long as the 'messianic Jews' don't target actual Jews for conversion or fundraising, they remain merely anachronistic. When they recruit among the general Jewish population, however, they are no longer a quaint throwback, but they can siphon resources (financial and otherwise) from the mainstream of Judaism that does not accept their skewed view of history. It is then that they become a danger.
This question must be considered historically, theologically, and contextually.A close readingof Acts of the Apostlesand Paul’s letter to the Galatians indicate that there were diverseChristianities in the 1st Century, CE including Marcionites, who believed that Jesus was all god,the Ebionites, who believed that Jesus was all human, and the proto-Orthodox Church that believed that Jesus was both human and divine.The Second Century saw the advent of Gnostic Christianity, which believed that Jesus had secret teachings that were needed for salvation.
The Ebionites, or evyonim, were likely observant Jews who maintained the [Jewishly] un-Orthodox position that Jesus was the anticipated Jewish Messiah.These people were likely the target of Paul’s attack in Galatians on the Judaism of those who insisted that according to the religion of Jesus, no one can come to Jesus except through Judaism.Mark’s Gospel reports that Jesusinsisted that he undergo baptism in order to fulfill all righteousness,to accept the conventions of 1st Century Judaism.
By accepting Jesus as “the” Messiah ofIsrael, each of these early Christian groups broke with the consensus Judaism of that age.When Peter converted the Gentile Cornelius, he as well as Paul saw the unchangingword of the Old Covenant compact to be changed by what they took tobe their own inspired religious intuition.
Theologically, all surviving Churches, with the exception of Unitarianism, accept the the divinity of Jesus. bHullin 40a maintains that praying,even to angels, let alone Jesus, is rank idolatry.If these Messianic Jews pray to Jesus as a god, they are idolaters who donot count in the minyan, or prayer quorum.Christianity wants to spread its “good news.”The claim that they do not [overtly] wish to make converts is therefore dubious.Other than the Halakhic Sabbath, Gentiles may practice Jewish rites.We should guide them to realize that the One God does not create people to be sinners and then to condemn them if they do not buy into this or that salvific Christology; God has better things to do than to debate dogmas of human definition and formulation, or to condemn to perdition those who in good conscience identify with what others take to be bad theology.
The above being said, Jewry contextually believes that Christianity is an error and not evil, a mistake but not a menace. The Oral Torah requires that we study other religions “to understand and to teach.” [bAvoda Zara 43b]We need reciprocalrespect in order to exploit the teachable moment that increases understanding.
Christianity is not Judaism in any form whatsoever. So called “Messianic Jews” are either intellectually deluded or just as dishonest as Jews for Jesus. For a full description of why this is true, go to http://whatjewsbelieve.org .
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