Whatever happened to Messianic Judaism — a modern, biblical, Jewish faith of Jews who believe in Yeshua as Messiah? A faith that is determinedly neither Rabbinic Judaism nor Christianity? A faith that is a vibrant, authentic reflection of the hope of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?
It seems to have disappeared.
A few who call themselves "MJ" have gone in the direction of Rabbinic Judaism. Most have gone in the other direction, collapsing back into Hebrew Christianity. Today it is rare to find MJs who see any essential difference between their own faith and Christianity. Those few who do are unlikely to be non-rabbinic. The core, the heart of MJ has vanished.
This is a great tragedy. The very raison d'etre of the movement has been lost. In the late 1970s, David Rausch studied the MJ movement and determined that a primary defining element was separation from Hebrew Christianity. Hebrew Christians also believed in Yeshua and also claimed some Jewish heritage. Yet there were vast differences in identity, Scriptural interpretation, lifestyle, and self-perception. Hebrew Christians were Christians of Jewish ethnic background who viewed themselves as Christians but also wanted to maintain some elements of familial Jewish culture. By contrast, Messianic Jews were both ethnically and religiously Jewish, viewed themselves as Jews, did not accept Christianity, believed in a Jewish Messiah, and sought to live in an explicitly Jewish and Torah-centered community.
Today that difference has all but disappeared, because bona fide MJ has all but disappeared. Those who would have been considered Hebrew Christians thirty years ago now call themselves Messianic Jews. So-called MJ congregations are often copies of Christian churches, with little bits of Jewish culture added in (the classic Hebrew Christian model). "MJ" leaders often refer to themselves as "rabbis" but nonetheless function within the framework of "Christian orthodoxy." Previously standard MJ views — e.g., "I'm a Jew, not a Christian" — are met with accusations of being "too Jewish" (sic!!).
What happened?? Why? And what can we do to change the situation?
Let us hope that true MJ is not yet dead, and may yet make a resurgence. Let us hope that a biblical, messianic, Jewish faith founded on the Tanakh will yet touch the heart of Am Yisrael!
One example of this is that Jews for Jesus is considered the largest Messianic organization in the world. J4J is as classic Hebrew Christianity as one can be. I agree, the terms have become conflated, and on top of that the practice as well.ReplyDelete
I think that I understand the idea presented, though I don't think I have encountered then a true MJ (accept you guys) .ReplyDelete
I personally would suggest to try and initiate a more accurate phrasing. Accurate, meaning Biblical. Is Messianic Biblical? ((or a higher challenge not for now: Is Jewish Biblical?)). The thing is, as I mentioned before on our talks: Messianic is a Hebrew translation of the Greek "Christianos" which with regard to psychological-cultural associations, means blatantly Christian. Plus the fact that I'm not sure at all if "Christianos" is truely Biblical, or a later bias injected into scripture (which should otherwise then be the generic term - "Chrestianos" - חסיד).
either way, it is a misunderstanding and a misrepresentation that I guess will not be avoided at least, of course, in Israel; when down right CHRISTIANs (with the full baggage of the word) speak Hebrew and call themselves Messianics (with the respect of rightfully translating the Greek term to Hebrew - the spoken relevant environment).
A great example of this is the Christian cemetery in Haifa. Where the entrance is titled: בית הקברות של הקהילות המשיחיות (!!) So the difference between Christian and Messianic blend to oblivion when the environment is of a Semitic language anyhow (That's why the Arabic word for Christian is Massihi!!).
In light of this, why not be begin a revised movement that the title is more clear to be Biblical and also less confusing due to Church History - That could be something like: Yeshua's Disciples\Followers (תלמידי/חסידי ישוע)?
When it is seen we strive to keep Torah in our circles, it would be so obvious we are Jews that we don't need to mention it (like we must do when we use the term Messianic). Like followers of Lubavitch don't need to mention that they are Jews!!
עוזיאל: Not only that, but for many years J4J campaigned & fought against Messianic Judaism! To a certain extent, they still do, although not so much or so explicitly. (Perhaps because MJ has become essentially Hebrew Christianity.)
ליש: I think you may be right that it is time to abandon this term. The generally understood meaning is just too far off in practice. And you give some excellent examples of the "Christian" usage in Semitic languages. On the other hand, even in Hebrew משיחי ("Messianic") does have another meaning; for example, when speaking of הרעיון המשיחי ("the Messianic idea") or דמות משיחית ("a Messianic personality") in Jewish writings and history. These are also standard usages of משיחי, but derived directly from Hebrew משיח ("Messiah") rather than from Christian associations. That was the original goal with respect to יהדות משיחית ("Messianic Judaism") as well. But it seems not to have taken hold (just see the Wikipedia entry, for example).
I think it is worth considering new terms for a new movement. The labels you suggest are certainly possibilities. I'd also mention אוהבי ישוע ("lovers of Yeshua"), which one Israeli friend called us! Maybe there are other, better options as well. Essentially we are looking for a shorter way to say: יהודים שמאמינים בישוע כמשיח ("Jews who believe in Yeshua as Messiah"). So... ימי"מ? :-)
My preference would be to avoid specific labels. I don't think they are wrong, but are often misleading. Their intent is to be a short-hand way of expressing a more complex idea or identity. Unfortunately connotations can change, even drastically. It may be true that משיחי (Messianic) is a legitimate term for us, ליש pointed out one significant problem; their is a trend amongst Christians to use the term משיחי as opposed to נוצרי. I can undertand some reasons for this switch, but it definitely muddies the water.ReplyDelete
Take the label "Christian", for example. There a trends in Protestant circles to use this term less, in favor of a neutral label "believer", or to qualify it. Because of the existence of nominal Christians, those in name only, some feel the need to say "born-again Christian", "Spirit-filled Christian", "strong Christian" ,etc. Shouldn't the term Christian imply all these things? The reality is that it doesn't.
I think the label "believer" , even though I've been known to use it, is vague at best. Who isn't a believer? Everyone believes in something!
For a while I've felt uncomfortable with the term יהודי משיחי (Messianic Jew) in Israel. To me it sounds odd for me to add that I'm Jewish/ Shouldn't it be somewhat obvious since I'm in the Jewish State? I know there are non-Jews here, but the assumption should be that we are Jews, unless stated otherwise. So, I told a religious woman one time that I am "Messianic", and her first reaction was, "Are you a Chabadnik?" "Messianic" is also a generic term, even though it is largely associated with followers of Yeshua, and all religious Jews are "Messianic". We believe the Messiah has come and other believe he is yet to come.
I've been asked by several people who know I am a follower of Yeshua, "Why can you not be satisfied with simply being a Jew?". When a friend asked me this again recently (she's brought this up several times) I decided to respond by asking, "Who is simply a Jew?". There are secular Jews, religious Jews, New-Age Jews, and a dozen other categories. What I want to communicate to people is that I am a Jew, but like every other Jew (and every human being for that matter) I have a certain world-view/ belief system. I agree that my belief in God is the driving force in my life, but I don't see anyone else qualifying who they are every time they meet someone.
For me it is significant to be a simply as possible. I am a Jew. Period. If asked or given the opportunity I can explain further that I believe that Yeshua is the Messiah.
I really like your perspective, עוזיאל. And it is well argued! In practice, this is what I usually say as well. Some things should be simple. I am a human being; I am a Jew; I believe in the Tanakh; I believe in Yeshua.ReplyDelete
Just a couple other points that occurred to me:
1) I don't have Rausch's book here, so I can't be sure; but I think I remember him showing that the distinction between "Hebrew Christians" and "Messianic Jews" existed already in the 1920s!
2) It's possible that what I've called "true MJ" was only an idea, never fully actualized. But now even the idea seems to have vanished.
1. Who were these Messianic Jews in the 1920's?ReplyDelete
I've always been told that Modern Messianic Judaism began in the early 1970's.
2. The realization of an idea is sometimes a very difficult process, and I don't want to belittle this. One "weakness" of "Copernicus", which I've pointed out before, is that it is very theoretical. I know the author's intent was not to lay out practical implications, yet as I read it I said to myself, "Yes, I agree. So what do we do with this understanding?".
It disappoints me far greater that the ideas seem to be vanishing rather than that they have not been actualized. As long as we hold on to the ideas (i.e. truth) there is hope that they will be realized. If the ideas are gone what are we left with? Status quo?
I've written a new post in response to your question no. 1. It's on the blog's front page & entitled, "Messianic Judaism vs. Hebrew Christianity in 1917." (It was too long to include here.)ReplyDelete
Here is something 'funny': Google Translate (which, granted, is in constant development), currently translates קבוצה משיחית as "Messianic group" but הקבוצה המשיחית as "Christian group"!ReplyDelete
Unfortunately I think that what is described above as "true MJ" does not exist (or barely exists) within the visible "movement." Moreover, the public representatives of "MJ" now speak of "mainstream Messianic Judaism," "legitimate forms of Messianic Judaism," and the like. While this may be an understandable attempt to separate themselves from some other groups with whom they disagree and who also use the term "Messianic," the language used is problematic in at least two ways. 1) It shows that the goal of these representatives is to create yet another religion -- exactly what the world does not need, IMHO. 2) Perhaps more importantly, and more shockingly, it reveals a stunning failure to reflect on how they themselves are seen by the "mainstream" and "legitimate" forms of Judaism and Christianity. Excluded themselves, they now simply set up exactly the same system in order to exclude others! If only people would strive for truth instead of appearance and acceptability...ReplyDelete
Tragically, in most Hebrew contexts today the word משיחי ("Messianic") means simply "Christian." Many churches in Israel call themselves משיחית. The organization claiming to represent סטודנטים משיחיים ("Messianic students") in Israel has as its stated vision just this: "To see active and influential Christian student groups on every university and college in Israel, influencing church and society." It's hard to imagine something more antithetical to the original purposes of the "Messianic movement," which was specifically intended to promote _Jewishness_, in contrast to Christianity and the church! But now, at least in Hebrew, the term משיחי has been so divorced of Jewish associations and so linked to Christian ones that it is no longer usable by someone who wishes to identify as a Jew and not a Christian. That is very sad and unspeakably frustrating. For what is more Jewish than משיח (Messiah)?! So why does משיחי ("Messianic") now express something opposed to Jewishness?!ReplyDelete
In the confrontation between "missionaries" and "anti-missionaries," both sides are right (as well as wrong). And that is what both sides utterly fail to recognize -- and what "MJ" was originally supposed to correct. The linguistic "tragedy" I've been alluding to above is that now "Messianic" (with rare exceptions) means simply "Christian missionary," instead of "a Jew who understands, appreciates, and is part of Jewish history, faith, and culture, including an appropriate Jewish acceptance of Yeshua the Messiah." And the difference is not merely one of internal vs. external definition, which would be troubling enough! But in Israel most so-called "MJs" themselves don't even see any difference at all between their own views/identity and Christianity, even if they occasionally do use some words that remain from the original purposes of the Messianic Jewish movement.ReplyDelete
I wanted to add this thought after watching the following videos of brief debates about the activity of "Jews for Jesus" in Israel:
Sered vs. Feuerstein
Sered vs. Asor
Speaking of presumed "missionaries" and "anti-missionaries": Last week in Jerusalem a 70-year-old ultra-orthodox Jewish woman was brutally beaten with a metal rod, handcuffed, and left bleeding in her own apartment by Jewish thugs who apparently thought she was a (Christian) missionary. See the news article:ReplyDelete
'Modesty Patrol lynched me'
Elderly Jerusalem woman brutalized by thugs who evidently thought she was a missionary; police source: Assailants wanted to send a message
Yaron Doron / 02.29.12, 14:52 / Israel Jewish Scene
עוזיאל pointed out recently that people now identify their religion on Facebook as: "משיחי - Christian." Or even just in English as: "Messianic Jew - Christian." It is astounding and tragic. Of course, as mentioned in the post, there are a few who still use a more, let's say, "original" definition of "Messianic Jew." But they are very few compared to the mass who equate "Messianic" and "Christian." This is crazy! It's the opposite of what Messianic Judaism was supposed to be. As another example, not long ago I heard the great Christian writer C.S. Lewis called a "סופר משיחי" ("Messianic author"). It's true that he had a Jewish wife; but does that make him not a Christian? Obviously most people (both inside and outside the MJ movement) see no difference between "Messianic" and "Christian." So I go back to my original question: Whatever happened to the idea of actual Messianic Judaism?!? How did it disappear so quickly??ReplyDelete
Perhaps it was all a fairy tale?ReplyDelete