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Messianic Judaism

Messianic Judaism comprises various Christian groups, numbering around 200 congregations in the United States, that have adopted the outward and cultural trappings of Judaism. For example,

  • They do not call their places of worship churches but instead call them, congregations, synagogues, or Beit Knesset.
  • They celebrate the Jewish holidays.
  • They display Menorahs and Stars of David rather than crosses.
  • They use Torah scrolls in their services.
  • Many wear kipot (Jewish head coverings) and prayer shawls.
  • They call their clergy rabbis rather priests or ministers.
  • They refer to Jesus and other Christian saints by their Hebrew names. Thus, Jesus is called Yeshua, John is called Yochanan, and Paul is called Sha'ul.
  • Instead of using the name "New Testament", they use the Hebrew translation Brit Hadasha.
  • Some groups try to observe the Jewish dietary laws (kashrut)

The theology of these groups as reflected in their statements of faith, however, is solidly within the ambit of Evangelical Protestant Christianity, (e.g. inerrancy of the New Testament, salvation by grace through faith alone, the divinity of Jesus Christ, and the Trinity), and many of these groups are in fact funded and supported by Evangelical churches. Some messianic Jewish groups are Evangelical para-church[?] organizations that are designed to outreach to the Jewish community with a goal of converting Jews to Christianity. One of the most conspicuous of these is Jews for Jesus.

Many members of messianic Judaism believe that they practicing both Judaism and Christianity, but Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist denominations of Judaism hold that these people are not practicing Judaism, but simply Christianity. See Comparing and contrasting Judaism and Christianity.

Some Christian groups disagree with "messianic Jewish" because they feel that these groups are guilty of false advertising. In 1977, the Board of Governors of the Long Island Council of Churches (New York) accused "Jews for Jesus" of "engaging in subterfuge and dishonesty," and of "mixing religious symbols in ways that distort their essential meaning." "Jews for Jesus" filed a suit in a State Supreme Court in Manhattan against a 600-member Council. The Rev. Jack Alford, the executive director of the Council, said the suit "proves the point we were making about their tactics." He added: "The mentality of 'Jews for Jesus' is the kind of mentality that has been spawn in some fascist and communist countries." Eventually, the lawsuit was rejected by court. (The New York Times, July 2, 1977)

The Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington (1997) has dealt with this issue. This inter-faith group was made up of Protestant Christian, Catholic Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders. They released a consensus statement on this issue saying:

We condemn proselytizing efforts which delegitimize the faith tradition of the person whose conversion is being sought. Such tactics go beyond the bounds of appropriate and ethically based religious outreach. Examples of such practices are those common among groups that have adopted the label of Hebrew Christianity, Messianic Judaism, or Jews for Jesus. These groups specifically target Jews for conversion to their version of Christianity, making claim that in accepting Jesus as the savior/messiah, a Jews 'fulfills' his/her faith. Furthermore, by celebrating Jewish festivals, worshipping on the Jewish Shabbat, appropriating Jewish symbols, rituals and prayers in their churches, and, sometimes, even calling their leaders 'Rabbi', the seek to win over, often by deception, many Jews who are sincerely looking for a path back to their ancestral heritage. Deceptive proselytizing is practiced on the most vulnerable of populations - residents of hospitals and old aged homes, confused youth, college students away from home. These proselytizing techniques are tantamount to coerced conversions and should be condemned." (Summer, 1997, Washington, D.C., Interfaith Connector" Vol. 8, No. 2)

The efforts to convert Jews to Christianity, and the receptiveness of some Jews to it in the past few decades, is a parallel phenomenon, although in an obviously different context, to the Baal teshuva movement that has witnessed a vigorous outreach effort by Jewish Orthodox institutions to reach out to Jews alienated from, or ignorant about, the Jewish faith.In fact the Orthodox are very conscious of the fact that they are competing with the Messianic movement for the same audience. Specific organizations ,such as Jews for Judaism[?] and Outreach Judaism[?], are devoted to getting Jews out of the Messianic churches with limited success. The fascination with Hinduism and Buddhism , and a willingness to join these movements by previously secular young Israelis and American Jews is also part of this over-all phenomenon. What all share in common here is the fact that a "market" exists for all these efforts, which in turn is indicative of a zeitgeist[?] that indicates a strong receptiveness to religious and spiritual notions, and a willingness to "buy into" an alternate religious experience and a radical new way of life leaving the secular Jewish establishment mystified by the succes of religion-based outreach and recruitment.

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See also: Judaism -- Christianity -- Judeo-Christian -- Comparing and contrasting Judaism and Christianity -- Baal teshuva



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