UNION LEADERS RESPOND TO FALSE ACCUSATION IN THE TIMES OF ISRAEL
A recent blog on the Times of Israel website entitled “The Devious Way That Messianic Jews Are Trying to Destroy Judaism” was filled with misrepresentations and unfounded accusations against the Messianic Jewish community. UMJC President Dr. John Fischer and Rabbinic Counsel Russ Resnik responded with the
following blog, which Times of Israel declined to post.
As Jewish followers of Yeshua haMashiach (Jesus the Messiah), we welcome dialogue and even debate with the wider Jewish community. We recognize that, for some, relating to us would not be for the purpose of debating, but of marginalizing and excluding us. Nevertheless, we insist on the right to define ourselves, our beliefs and practices, and our sense of relationship with the Jewish people.
In a recent Times of Israel blog post, Amanda Bradley writes, “Let me tell you something about Messianic Jews, because there’s a lot of confusion around this term. And that’s how they like it” (https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-devious-way-that-messianic-jews-are-trying-to-destroy-judaism/, 6/10/21). As leaders in the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, we would like to share a definition of Messianic Judaism that our organization passed sixteen years ago to help clear up the “confusion around this term”:
The Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) envisions Messianic Judaism as a movement of Jewish congregations and groups committed to Yeshua the Messiah that embrace the covenantal responsibility of Jewish life and identity rooted in Torah, expressed in tradition, and renewed and applied in the context of the New Covenant. Messianic Jewish groups may also include those from non-Jewish backgrounds who have a confirmed call to participate fully in the life and destiny of the Jewish people. We are committed to embodying this definition in our constituent congregations and in our shared institutions.
In light of this UMJC statement and our ongoing practice of Jewish tradition, it’s hard to see the basis for Bradley’s claims that “Messianic Jews want to get rid of the differences between Jews and non-Jews,” or her slanderous allegation: “Make no mistake, Messianic Jews, like all missionary Christians, want nothing other than the total destruction of the Jews as a distinct nation. No, that’s not an exaggeration. They want us to lose everything that sets us apart from Christianity.”
Despite such hyperbole, the question of how we can believe in Yeshua and still claim to be Jewish is a legitimate one, and it lies at the heart of our identity as Messianic Jews. For Messianic Jews, our transformative encounter with God through Yeshua is undeniable. We recognize the historical tension between such an encounter and our equally profound sense of loyalty to the Jewish people and our way of life. This tension shouldn’t, however, be treated simplistically either by us or our detractors.
Many of us in the Messianic Jewish community recognize the importance of the boundaries that have defined the Jewish community for centuries, and their role in preserving us as a people to this day. At the same time, we believe some of these boundaries arose in a tragic context and that the time has come to reevaluate them. Yes, Judaism and Christianity have become two distinct belief systems, but they share a common foundation in the Hebrew Bible (which Christians call the Old Testament), that is the instruction of Moses, the prophets, and the holy writings. Both religions worship the God of Israel revealed in these scriptures, and both share a prophetic hope for redemption.
The great dividing line is the Messiahship of Yeshua. He himself was, of course, Jewish (we’d actually say he is Jewish), and was executed by Rome as the king of the Jews. His earliest followers were all Jewish and lived entirely within the Jewish community, especially in the land of Israel, for centuries. Our claim that Jesus is the Messiah promised to Israel in the Jewish Scriptures leads to our claim that we remain Jewish as we seek to follow him. Furthermore, our loyalty to Jewish tradition and practice is consistent with our reading of the Tanakh and further supports our claim to Jewish identity.
Scholars agree that both historical Christianity and historical Judaism arose out of the matrix of the Second-Temple Jewish community. The early Jesus movement began within that community, and what is called “the parting of the ways” between the movement and wider Judaism only began after the fall of the temple in 70 CE or even later. Many scholars contend that this parting of the ways was not a sudden, one-time event, but a gradual process over several centuries. Our vision is not to return to the distant past, which included a Yeshua community that was undeniably Jewish, but to welcome a prophetic healing of the rift between the two historic communities today. By remaining loyal to Israel as a people and to Yeshua as the Messiah of Israel, we hope to foster this healing while also remaining faithful to the covenants God made with the Jewish people.
The UMJC statement and the practice of many Messianic Jews demonstrate that we value the things that set us apart from Christianity, even as we honor the same Messiah as the Christians. Messianic Jews uphold the difference between Jew and gentile, even within the community of those who acknowledge Jesus as Messiah, by following the distinctive way of life given to our people in the Torah and our venerable tradition. And we believe the New Testament strongly affirms Yeshua-believing Jews to remain as Jews and non-Jews to remain as they are. Messianic Jews believe that the division between Jews and non-Jews has been removed only in the specific sense that all now have access to redemption through Messiah, but not in any sense that obliterates our ethnic identities.
Messianic Jews are a diverse group, and Bradley uses the classic ploy of portraying us as monolithic to create a stereotype that she can easily discredit. She seeks to invalidate an entire diverse community by the questionable behavior of some of its members, who are not in positions of leadership or influence within that community. We as a community also denounce deceptive tactics of evangelism, although we do believe in honest and sometimes zeal-filled sharing of what we see as truth—a redemption of humanity through the Jewish messiah. We trust the readers of the Times of Israel to fairly assess us in terms of who we actually are and by our definitions that seek to honor the Jewish community.
Dr. John Fischer, President
Russell Resnik, Rabbinic Counsel
Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations