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WHY MESSIANIC JUDAISM?
In order to understand what is happening among Jewish people today and how God is working in our world, our present situation needs to be seen against the backdrop of history. The last century saw two major world wars, energy and food shortages, environmental pollution, political corruption, increased crime, moral decay, international terrorism, and world tensions. These years have made the statement of Sir Winston Churchill seem more and more prophetic: "This generation may well live to see the end of civilization as we now know it."
From the Jewish perspective, beginning with 1967, the years have produced some alarming events and trends as well: several wars in the Middle East, the oil crisis, increased Arab terrorism, the threat against Israel's national existence, Zionism equated with racism in the United Nations, oppression and persecution of Jewish minorities around the world, and a rise of anti-Semitism, even in the U.S. The situation is as Dag Hammarskjold, former U.N. secretary-general, once put it: "I see no hope for a permanent world peace. We've tried hard and failed miserably. Without a spiritual renewal on a worldwide basis, we're doomed."
Yet, despite the discouraging outlook, we can trace God's hand at work in our world, and we can see it quite clearly in relation to the Jewish people. Many Jewish people have expressed a growing spiritual hunger, a searching for God. Dr. Velvel Greene, a Jewish scientist, reflected this tendency: "The Jewish nature and soul needs to know God; it must be told about God. Our souls are looking for God and are trying to know God, and no one has told them."
In addition, the drastic nature of our times has caused some Jewish people to hope for a supernatural solution. One rabbi expressed it this way: "History is rushing to a close. God must intervene as He did in the time of Moses. This is the time when Messiah will come. He might even come tomorrow."
Longings and hopes such as these have become intertwined with a desire for a more personal experience of God and a search for answers to the questions life poses. One rabbi described this phenomenon well, perhaps sarcastically, but appropriately:
We are living in an age where people want to touch, approach and feel God. Judaism has always been very abstract . . . (It) raises more questions than it answers. The Jesus movement has all the answers.
As a result, a growing number of Jews have accepted Yeshua as Messiah. This trend has alarmed many rabbis, some of whom have estimated that 2,000-3,000 Jewish people make this decision each year.
Still another aspect of the positive response is the growing Jewish interest in Jesus. Evidence of this appears in a number of ways. Israeli public schools have taught the Old Testament for years. Several years ago, the school system launched a program to teach the gospels and the life of Jesus to junior high students. Another example comes from academic circles. Important Jewish scholars such as David Flusser and Pinchas Lapide have spoken and written very positively about Jesus. For example: "We are proud of our Einsteins, Heinrich Heines and Sigmund Freuds; we ought to be much prouder of Jesus."
Yet, poles apart from this is another response. It views evangelism as a threat to Jewish survival, as an attempt to wipe out Judaism. . . .
Beyond this, many Jews perceive Christianity as permeated with anti-Jewish sentiment, which makes it virtually impossible for them to consider Christianity as a serious option.
Psychologically, Christianity is too intimately involved in Jewish minds with the guilt of the Holocaust for Jews to be able to speak or listen freely to it; and the silence of organized Christianity during the Six Day War only increased those emotional barriers.
Why is there such confusion about Christianity? History provides more answers.
The Reasons for the Antagonism
A number of occurrences emphasizing the "aloneness" and "distinctiveness" of the Jewish people triggered this response. These occurrences justified the Jews' right to consider themselves especially threatened and, therefore, worthy of all efforts to insure their survival.
Certain groups have responded antagonistically to Israel as a matter of course. Jewish people over the years fought side by side with many of these groups for the same causes. Since the Six Day War in 1967, many activists have shown increasingly anti-Israel, pro-Arab attitudes. They denounce Israel as imperialistic, militaristic, and racist. This conflicts with the Jewish people's love for Israel. So, many Jews have felt that their former friends have turned on them and left them alone in a time of crisis. Only Jews have shown any concern for Jewish problems.
Also, many ethnic groups in the United States have emphasized self-identity. Irish-American, Polish-American, and Italian-Americans have become labels of pride and distinction. This has helped to legitimize Jewish self-identity and active support of Jewish interests.
The "rediscovery" of the Holocaust probably contributed most to the Jewish people's self-awareness. For many, the Holocaust had become a fading memory. Jewish young people remained oblivious to the events that had brutally exterminated two-thirds of Europe's Jewish population. The whole horror of the Holocaust was revived when Arab leaders promised to push the Israelis into the sea. This raised the possibility of genocide once again. The world had stood by once before while the Nazis liquidated Jews. The world's response to the Middle East wars indicated that things had not changed much.
For two long weeks in May 1967, the worldwide Jewish community perceived the specter of a second Jewish Holocaust in a single generation. For two weeks, it listened to the same words emanating from Cairo and Damascus, which had once emanated from Berlin. For two weeks, it longed for Christian words of apprehension and concern. But, whereas some such words came from secular sources, from the churches there was little but silence. Once again, Jews were alone.
The two wars, as well as the oil crisis and repeated anti-Israel U.N. resolutions, not only demonstrated the isolation of the Jewish people, but other nations' (beside Arab nations') animosity toward them as well. The Yom Kippur War provided another excellent example. Very few nations expressed any alarm when the combined Arab armies attacked Israel on the most holy day of the Jewish year. They made no outcry when Arab armies overran Israeli defenses and threatened to crush Israel. Even the United States delayed its aid. The first sign of alarm occurred only when the battle's tide changed and the Israeli army began advancing toward Cairo and Damascus. Not until then did any nation attempt to stop the war. The world cared little for Jewish lives. However, they did show concern for the availability of Arab oil.
Thus, a number of events have highlighted the Jewish people's isolation. Also, they reinforced the meaning and lessons of the Holocaust: any trust in Gentiles must be cautious and tentative, at best; there is no certainty that what happened in Nazi Germany will not be repeated. As a result, Jewish survival achieved a deep, new significance. Jews concluded that survival had become God's command for the Jewish people, and they must make every effort to ensure it. Jews insisted on being and remaining Jewish, and repeated a familiar statement more frequently: "I was born a Jew, and I'll die a Jew."
This attitude resulted in Jewish people strenuously opposing anything that even appeared to threaten their survival and identity.
What the victory (1967) did for us and perhaps for most American Jews, was to reinforce a thousand-fold a new determination to resist . . . To resist any who would in any way and to any degree and for any reason whatsoever attempt to do us any harm, any who would diminish us or destroy us, any who would challenge our right and our duty to look after ourselves and our families, any who would deny us the right to pursue our own interests or frustrate us in our duty to do so.
Correspondingly, concerned Jews intensified the attack on assimilation and the factors contributing to it. One writer described the new attitudes as "the commanding voice of Auschwitz," one of the most notorious of Hitler's death camps, a frequent symbol of the entire Holocaust.
Jews are forbidden to grant posthumous victories to Hitler. They are commanded to survive as Jews, lest the Jewish people perish. They are commanded to remember the victims of Auschwitz, lest their memory perish. They are forbidden to despair of man and his world, and to escape in either cynicism or otherworldliness, lest they cooperate in the delivering of the world over to the forces of Auschwitz. Finally, they are forbidden to despair of the God of Israel, lest Judaism perish. A secular Jew cannot make himself believe by a mere act of the will, nor can he be commanded to do so; yet, he can perform the commandment of Auschwitz, and a religious Jew who has stayed with his God may be forced into new, possibly revolutionary, relationships with Him.
One possibility, however, is wholly unthinkable. A Jew may not respond to Hitler's attempt to destroy Judaism by himself cooperating in its destruction. In ancient times, the unthinkable Jewish sin was idolatry. Today, it is to respond to Hitler by doing his work.
In the light of history, a Jewish person simply cannot consider as a viable option anything which even remotely contributes to Judaism's breakdown. . . .
The Role of Messianic Judaism
Beginning in the seventies, independently of one another and of any "outside" organization, congregations of Jewish and Gentile believers sprang up in Jewish communities across the United States. The convictions of these congregations are unique. They are convinced that they can believe in Jesus, be thoroughly biblical, and yet authentically Jewish. They affirm Jesus as Messiah, Savior, and Lord of the universe. They adhere to the entire Bible as the inspired Word of God and refuse to do anything contrary to its teachings. They feel a kinship and commitment to the entire body of the Messiah. Yet, they express their faith, lifestyle, and worship in Jewish forms and in Jewish ways.
Jewish believers--as well as Gentiles who desire to worship in a Jewish context--formed themselves into congregations in Jewish communities, where they express their faith in Jesus and affirm their Jewishness, while being thoroughly biblical. They speak of themselves as Messianic Jews, call Jesus by his given Hebrew name "Yeshua," and visibly demonstrate that a Jew can commit himself to following Yeshua as the Messiah and strengthen--not dilute--his Jewish identity. Messianic congregations or synagogues do not threaten Jewish survival; instead, they enhance it. As such, they are very much in step with the emphasis of the Jewish community on Jewish identity and survival.
While this Messianic Jewish expression is relatively new for our times, it reaches back over 1900 years. In the Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua (Jesus) said he came not to abolish the Law and prophets--the basis of the Jewish way of worship and life--but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17-19).
The term "abolish" means "to set aside or abrogate," while the term "fulfill"--in the Greek--means "to cram full, bring to full expression, confirm, show forth in its true meaning." And, the two terms, abolish and fulfill, are set in strong contrast to each other. The Apostles understood the intent of Yeshua's words, as their practices demonstrated. They continued to worship daily in the Temple (Acts 2:46; 3:1). They, including Paul, celebrated the Jewish holidays (Acts 20:5-6, 16; 27:9). They observed the customs and traditions (Acts 21:20-26). For example, Paul, speaking in his own defense, claimed that he had done nothing wrong against Jewish law, Temple practice, or religious tradition (Acts 25:8; 28:17). In fact, he urged the first century Messianic Jews to maintain their Jewish lifestyles (Acts 21:20-26; 1 Cor. 7:18).
Ancient historians provide further confirmation. Josephus records the martyrdom of James, Yeshua's brother, as well as his piety and faithfulness to the Jewish traditions. When James was killed at the instigation of the high priest, the Pharisees--out of respect for his piety and consistency as a Jew--complained to the Roman government so forcibly that Rome had the high priest deposed! Irenaeus, who stood in a direct line to the Apostles, wrote: "But they themselves . . . continued in the ancient observances . . . thus did the apostles . . . scrupulously act according to the dispensation of the Mosaic law."
The modern Messianic Jews attempt to imitate the way their ancient forebears lived, worshipped and communicated as part of the Jewish community. The results have been exciting.
Gentiles who have become part of the congregations--as well as those who visit--have been enthusiastic about discovering the roots of their faith. They have been enriched by seeing the significance of many biblical practices and by learning how Jewish practices beautifully picture the life and relationship with God that Yeshua provides. They have also learned how an understanding of Jewish backgrounds assists in better understanding both testaments of the Bible. And, those who have desired it have become fully integrated into these Messianic congregations.
A prominent rabbi's observation summarizes another consequence of Messianic Judaism: "In the past, Jews who have [become believers in Jesus] were largely on the periphery of Jewish life. A large percentage were cranks and crackpots. Now it is quite different in this very significant respect."