There Is No Such Thing as a “Messianic Jew”

November 20, 2018 | David Wolpe
About the author: David Wolpe is rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and the author of, among other books, Why be Jewish? and Why Faith Matters. He can be found on Twitter @RabbiWolpe.

Last month, at a rally in Michigan for then-congressional candidate Lena Epstein, a self-styled “messianic rabbi” (who was in fact defrocked fifteen years ago by the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations) delivered a benediction in honor of the victims of the Pittsburgh massacre, offending the sensibilities of many American Jews. David Wolpe explains why the terms “messianic Jew” and “Jew for Jesus” are deliberately misleading, and why the vast majority of Jews are justified in seeing them as outsiders:

According to the strict [talmudic] legal standard, a Jew, no matter what practice or belief he adopts, cannot leave Judaism. But as a communal, practical matter, of course one can. . . . [T]he clear bright line between Jews and Christians is, and has always been, belief in Jesus as divine. It was over precisely this question that early Christians separated from Jews. They were Christians because they accepted Jesus. In the first few centuries of Christianity that conviction split the new religion from its Jewish parent. If you ask why Christians persecuted Jews in the ancient, medieval, and modern period, that is the answer, because they accepted Jesus, and Jews refused to do so. . . .

After thousands of years of understanding this simple difference, in 1970, Moishe Rosen came to the strange realization that tweaking the message of Christianity was a successful strategy and “Jews for Jesus” or “messianic Jews” gained currency. It is a very attractive marketing scheme. You can stay Jewish! No need to abandon the faith of your ancestors. All you need do is make a small adjustment. Of course, that adjustment is precisely what has always divided you, but no matter. Of course, there are no Christians for Muhammad, but no matter. Be a Jew for Jesus, and when Jews object, just disparage their sensitivities.

A “Jew for Jesus” is an insult to Judaism and to Christianity. It takes the central tenet of a faith and pretends that you can hold it without being part of that faith. It is a strategy for conversion, . . . and a transparent one at that, . . . a marketing scheme dressed up as theology, a faith-based oxymoron that no one should believe. . . . [I]t is a disgrace and an offense to the countless Jews who remained faithful in the face of unimaginable suffering and gave their lives for refusing to accept Jesus as their savior.

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