Without question, the predominantly Gentile body of Messiah has much to learn from the Messianic Jewish movement. It is said that “a text without a context is a pretext.” The Jewish foundations of the Messianic faith are the fundamental floor on which the Christian world stands. To sidestep the existence of this floor leads to instability, unrootedness, sapping of strength and of spiritual integrity. The ‘as-we-speak’ restoration of the remnant of Israel to the Messiah of Israel is not only a prophetic sign; it is an absolutely essential step toward ‘life from the dead’ for both the body of Messiah and for the whole world (see Romans 11:15).
But at the same time, not all is well in some eddies of the Messianic Jewish movement. Wounds of rejection have chiseled and sculpted aspects of our developing theology and practice. A few of these wounds have become infected, and the resulting bitter fruit has helped to skew some emphases in this promising and prophetic movement.
A deeper understanding of these dynamics can help intercessors as they labor in prayer and travail for Messianic Jewish healing and restoration. Let’s look at a few of these issues together.
“Even paranoid people can have real enemies”
Golda Meir was said to have directed this snappy response to US Secretary of State Kissinger’s snipe during the 1973 post-Yom Kippur War negotiations. Truth is, many Jewish people have a long historical memory, and history has deposited at our doorstep a long list of persecutors and genocidal tyrants. The terrible words of Deuteronomy 28:15-68 have echoed time and again throughout Jewish history.
One of the great scholars of Jewish History, Professor Salo W. Baron (Nathan L. Miller Professor of Jewish History, Literature and Institutions at Columbia University) asked students to be careful not to view Jewish history as consisting only of persecution and tears (the “lachrymose conception” of Jewish history; https://jewsandjudaism.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/baronghettoandemancipation.pdf).
Baron stated in the early 1940’s (when Hitler’s killing machines were operating at full throttle) that anti-Semitism was on the decline and that mass destruction of the Jewish people was an impossibility – on the grounds that technology favored migratory movements. Robert Liberles (David Berg and Family Chair in European History at Ben Gurion University, Beersheva) suggests that Baron’s view of history might have blurred his ability to accurately perceive Holocaust events (“A Conversation about Salo Baron between Robert Liberles and Steven J. Zipperstein,” Jewish Social Studies 1, no. 3 (1995): pp. 66–82).
It is important for us all to be realists about Jewish history. Though we have prospered in the lands of our Exile, most of these sojourns ended in persecutions, torture, murder and banishment. These cold truths can easily cast a paranoid shadow over even the stoutest of souls. But the words of the Psalmist bring courage to trembling hearts:
- “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting” (Psalm 126:5)
- “For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may last for the night, But in the morning – a joyous shout!” (Psalm 30:5)
“When father and mother reject me…”
The Jewish people have experienced rejection from the nations throughout our long history, from Pharaoh’s Nile to the Nazi killing fields.
Rejection of the Jewish people’s irrevocable gifts and calling
This came at the hands of Christianity (Replacement Theology) and later at the hands of Islamic theology (which could accurately be described as ‘Double Replacement Theology’ – a rejection of Israel’s national calling and divine gift of the Promised Land ).
Rejecting the Jewish people’s physical presence
Even the champion of Western secularism – the French Revolution – advocated rejecting the Jewish people’s physical presence in France, unless Israel cut off all links to her own Hebrew nation. The Comte de Clermont–Tonnerre gave his famous “Speech on Religious Minorities and Questionable Professions” on December 23, 1789, stating, “We must refuse everything to the Jews as a nation and accord everything to Jews as individuals…It is repugnant to have in the state…a nation within the nation” (The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History, Lynn Hunt [Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1996], pp. 86–88; http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/284/).
Rejection through pogrom, forced immigration and assimilation
In 1894 Russian Tsar Alexander III’s Minister Pobedonostsev stated the aim of the government with regard to the Jews was that “one third will perish, one third will emigrate, and one third will be completely assimilated into the surrounding population” (Russian: “Одна треть вымрет, одна выселится, одна треть бесследно растворится в окружающем населении”; https://eleven.co.il/jews-of-russia/government-society-jews/13248/).
Rejection through pogrom, forced immigration and assimilation was the Tsarist strategy (Simon Dubnow, History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, JPS, Philadelphia, Vol 3, p. 10).
A world history of rejecting the Jewish people
One Jewish historian of the Holocaust put it this way: “Christianity had said in effect: You have no right to live among us as Jews. The secular rulers who followed had proclaimed: You have no right to live among us. The German Nazis at last decreed: You have no right to live . . . The German Nazis, then, did not discard the past; they built upon it. They did not begin a development; they completed it” (Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews; [New York: Holmes & Meier], p. 9).
God will reverse the rejection
The God of Jacob promises a total revolution in history regarding the rejection of the Jewish people:
- “For You are our Father, though Abraham does not know us” (Isaiah 63:16)
- “Whereas you have been forsaken and hated with no one passing through, I will make you an everlasting pride, a joy from generation to generation” (Isaiah 60:15)
- “O afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted… You will be far from oppression, for you will not fear, and from terror, for it will not come near you…If anyone fiercely assails you it will not be from Me. Whoever assails you will fall because of you… No weapon that is formed against you will prosper, and every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of YHVH, and their vindication is from Me, declares YHVH” (Isaiah 54:11, 14-15, 17)
- “For my father and my mother have rejected me, but YHVH will gather me up” (Psalm 27:10)
The rejection dynamic between Jacob and the God of Israel
God’s heart for Israel is stronger than any failure or disobedience on the Jewish people’s part:
- “Moreover, I will make My dwelling among you, and My soul will not reject you. I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people” (Leviticus 26:11-12)
- “Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am YHVH their God” (Leviticus 26:44)
- “You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called from its remotest parts, and said to you, ‘You are My servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you’” (Isaiah 41:9)
- And the word of YHVH came to Jeremiah, saying, “Have you not observed what this people have spoken, saying, ‘The two families which YHVH chose, He has rejected them’? Thus they despise My people, no longer are they as a nation in their sight. Thus says YHVH, ‘If My covenant for day and night stand not, and the fixed patterns of heaven and earth I have not established, then I would reject the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, not taking from his descendants rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them’” (Jeremiah 33:23-26)
- “I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew” (Romans 11:1-2)
Yet at the same time the Hebrew Scriptures tell us that throughout history a majority of Israel (including leaders, priests and commoners) have often rejected the oversight and authority of the God of Jacob, even rejecting the words of the prophets and of the Messiah Himself:
- “For the land will be abandoned by them, and will make up for its sabbaths while it is made desolate without them. They, meanwhile, will be making amends for their iniquity, because they rejected My ordinances and their soul abhorred My statutes” (Leviticus 26:43)
- YHVH said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7)
- But Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you; for you have rejected the word of YHVH, and YHVH has rejected you from being king over Israel” (1 Samuel 15:26)
- “YHVH rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until He had cast them out of His sight” (2 Kings 17:20)
- “Yet You have rejected us and brought us to dishonor, and do not go out with our armies” (Psalm 44:9)
- “Arouse Yourself, why do You sleep, YHVH? Awake, do not reject us forever” (Psalm 44:23)
- “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (Hosea 4:6)
- “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me” (Luke 10:16)
- “The Stone which the builders rejected Has become the Chief Corner Stone” (Psalm 118:22)
Even a people dealing with rejection can still reject their own
The majority of my Jewish people have unfortunately followed the guidelines set by Pharisaic leaders nearly 2,000 years ago regarding Messiah Yeshua. As a result Jews who today follow Messiah Yeshua are sometimes shunned or rejected by the broader Jewish community, though this dynamic is slowly changing in our day.
When Messianic Jews find themselves rejected and marginalized by the Orthodox Jewish community, or even by secular Jewish streams, it is often triply painful for us. Rejection by the nations, rejection by major religions, and now rejection by our own people.
- Often the pain of this extreme rejection contorts our visage and distorts our discernment. We try at a high cost to avoid rejection, rebuffing and denunciation. The side-effects of this blowback are strikingly evident in certain areas of the Messianic Jewish movement.
In search of the lost Jew
A strong prophetic instinct exists among Messianic Jews to identify with and cleave to our Jewish people (see Isaiah 65:8). We are often standing alone in a no man’s land, a spiritual DMZ, between the Jewish people and Gentile Christian followers of Jesus. We are the lightning rod, and we feel the sizzling surge of current flowing through us. Isaiah spoke of a slightly different situation (dealing with Gentiles who want to stick like glue to His Jewish people), but the sentiment remains the same for many Messianic Jews: “Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to YHVH say, ‘YHVH will surely separate me from His people.’ Nor let the eunuch say, ‘Behold, I am a dry tree”’ (Isaiah 56:3).
When we feel rejection from the larger Jewish community, some of us are at a loss what to do. How can we re-integrate? How can we live as Jews among Jews? What changes do we need to make in order to be really accepted by the broader Jewish community? What have we done wrong? How are we at fault?
Some of us look back to the vanished world of the shtetl and the ghetto. We remember ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and yearn for simpler and better days. Never mind that our parents and grandparents were thankful to leave their own tightly controlled rabbinically led communities for the greater freedom and opportunities presented in the Western world. Some in the Messianic community have taken to dressing how our great-grandparents and grandparents used to dress, praying the liturgy of the Synagogue siddur (prayer book), and defining themselves as the real remnant in Israel (as opposed to other Messianic Jews) because (they say) that they are the faithful ones who keep the Mosaic covenant and rabbinic traditions.
These perspectives have blossomed in various areas of both the Messianic and the Hebrew Roots movement. It is the rare individual who has not bumped into individuals or leaders who hold these beliefs.
Two kinds of Jews – or is it three?
The situation of Jews in Israel is somewhat different from Jews in the Exile/Diaspora. In America, for example, unless one lives in a nearly totally Jewish area like Boro Park or Skokie, one will rub shoulders with many non-Jews, and one’s Jewish identity and continuity cannot be something taken for granted. In Israel the tension of trying to hold onto and prove one’s Jewish identity is not an issue. In most cities and towns, everyone from the mailman to the milkman is Jewish. Secular Jewish identity is assumed, and 80% or more of Israeli Jews do not gravitate to an Orthodox lifestyle.
In the Diaspora, there are various choice available in the smorgasbord of Judaisms – Orthodox, Hasidic, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Humanist, Zionist in various stripes and colors, etc. So which one of these expressions is “the approved one”? Which philosophical expression of Judaism is the one that Messianic Jews “need to follow”?
- It seems that the answers we give to these questions will reflect a lot about the ‘idealized image’ of religious Jewish expression we each hold to or were shaped by.
Glue for the Jew
Messianic Jews who care about their people’s continuity, and who burn for the Messianic remnant to be solidly rooted within the Jewish community, do not want to ‘crossover’ and become Gentile in lifestyle. We don’t want to move spiritually to the ‘other side of the tracks.’ What will bind us to our people as a recognizably Jewish remnant among the sons and daughters of Jacob? What will be the glue that will cause us to inseparably adhere to our own people?
Will a selective adherence to Rabbinic Judaism on our part bind us to the 80% of the Jewish people (both in Israel and in the Diaspora) – the same ones who give Orthodox Judaism a wide birth? Will the pronunciation of prayers in broken Hebrew or the repetition of medieval liturgy without sufficient understanding be the key that unlocks the hearts of the (mostly secular) Jewish people? Will we persuade Orthodox Jews in this way that we are ‘the real thing’ and ‘the true remnant’? Will our belief in Yeshua as Messiah and Immanuel (‘God with us’) now be accepted by the Jewish community because we externally look like Orthodox Jews?
Don’t ignore the obvious, child
Being able to freely choose the expression of one’s Jewish identity is a rather new phenomenon. Only with the advent of the Greek-speaking Hellenistic world (in Maccabean days circa 150 BC) did any such options appear for the Jewish people. Indeed, that very question and the religious blowback resulting was one of the main struggles in the Hanukkah revolt.
Messianic Jews will continue to hammer out their own culture and religious expressions on the anvil of Jewish life, in both Israel and the Diaspora. One of the most basic questions that we need to ask ourselves is, what is our Jewishness based on and on what authority can we fashion our national identity? Are we to turn back to the Mosaic covenant and traditional lifestyle expressions as the basis of our Jewish identity? Do the Scriptures have any guidelines for us here?
Four quick bullet-points:
In the original Messianic communities of the Book of Acts, all Jews and all Messianic Jews followed the Mosaic covenant.
- And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Torah” (Acts 21:20)
- After three days Paul called together those who were the leading men of the Jews, and when they came together, he began saying to them, “Brethren, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers” (Acts 28:17)
Peter and Paul understood that keeping of the Torah (Mosaic covenant) was not enough to be justified or saved before God:
- “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today.I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons” (Acts 22:3-4)
- “Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Torah but through faith in Messiah Yeshua, even we have believed in Messiah Yeshua, so that we may be justified by faith in Messiah and not by the works of the Torah; since by the works of the Torah no flesh will be justified” (Galatians 2:16)
- “But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” (Galatians 2:14)
- “Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10)
Paul taught that Jewish believers are no longer under the tutelage of the Mosaic Torah:
- “What I am saying is this: the Torah, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.For if the inheritance is based on Torah, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise… But before faith came, we were kept in custody under Torah, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Torah has become our tutor (Greek, παιδαγωγὸς / paidagogos – a custodian who brings a child from his safe home to the school and then home again) to lead us to Messiah, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Galatians 3:17, 23-25)
The New Covenant is described as a distinctly new covenant (and not a renewed Mosaic covenant)
- “Behold, days are coming, declares YHVH, when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them, declares YHVH” (Jeremiah 31:31-32)
How should we then pray?
- Pray that any wounds of rejection in our Messianic Jewish family will be healed
- Pray that a divine restoration of healthy Jewish identity will blossom among Messianic Jews
- Pray that those Messianic leaders who need it, would receive a revelation of these realities and respond in obedience
- Pray for Gentile believers everywhere to receive biblical and Spirit-breathed revelation about these matters
- Pray for the raising up of Ezekiel’s army speedily and in our day
Your prayers and support hold up our arms and are the very practical enablement of God to us in the work He has called us to do.
In Messiah Yeshua,
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