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I Think I Can Continue to be Jewish While Believing in Jesus
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© Rabbi Jack Moline

Q: I was just reading opinions on Messianic Jews that several rabbis have posted. One person asked why a Jew is still considered Jewish if they embrace all sorts of other religions, but not Christianity. I didn't see that they got an answer. You all also say that most Messianic congregations are comprised of gentiles. Obviously it is you who are mistaken here. I attend a Messianic congregation, Sar Shalom (Prince of Peace) Fellowship and out of 150 members, there are maybe a dozen people there who are not Jewish. All of Jesus's followers were Jewish as were ALL the early believers. What I believe does not change the permanence of my color of skin, NOR does it change the fact that I was born Jewish, believe in the Jewish Messiah, and CONTINUE to be Jewish!

A: The question of whether Jews accept Jesus as the Messiah was settled almost two thousand years ago. We do not. People who do accept Jesus are called Christians, and though they may have been born Jews, they do not practice Judaism.

You correctly note that the original Christians were Jews. However, the beliefs they held were rejected overwhelmingly by the Jewish community of their day, and so they turned their attention to attracting non-Jews into a relationship with God through Jesus. By the third century, the followers of Jesus had rejected Judaism and Jewish influence as thoroughly as Jews had rejected Jesus and Christian claims.

I mention that mutual rejection because of an important fallacy in so-called Messianic Jewish churches. The Judaism you claim to practice is not the Judaism which Jesus practiced, nor his early followers. They offered Temple sacrifices and tithed to the priests, immersed in elaborate purification rituals and avoided contact with unsanctified foods. They most certainly did not marry outside of Judaism.

The prayer book Jews use today developed in Babylonia and Europe. The lovely hymns of Friday night emerged hundreds of years later. The Gemara, the Codes, the Responsa, the Biblical commentators who shaped contemporary Judaism did not come into being until long after the Church had severed all relationships with Judaism. If Jesus showed up today, he would not recognize services in your place nor in mine. Whether he would recognize the religion which honors him is someone else's question to answer.

The nature of the division between the two traditions is clear. Christianity has come to proclaim the centrality of faith. Judaism proclaims the centrality of works. If you stopped believing in Jesus, you would no longer be a Christian; if you stopped practicing Judaism you would continue to be a Christian. And even if I were to behave exactly as you do, if I did not believe in Jesus, I would never be a Christian. Your birthright makes you a Jew, but by electing to practice in Jesus's name, you step outside of Judaism. In contrast, for example, someone who practices Buddhist meditation may continue to practice Judaism and participate in God's covenant with the Jews, for the two sets of practices do not conflict.

Of course, you won't accept my understanding any more than I will accept yours, but this much you cannot overcome: Jews get to say what Judaism is, and Jews continue to say that someone who believes in Jesus is not practicing Judaism. Believe what you want -- it is, after all, a free country -- and feel confident in your relationship with God. But please don't presume the authority to tell those of who have guarded our tradition that we don't know the difference between what is and what is not a part of it.

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