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Messianic Judaism

Messianic Judaism

On Medium, writer Paul Spinrad writes about Messianic Judaism as a modern movement with historical connections to the early church, when there were people of Jewish background who followed Jesus without leaving behind the Jewish rites, rituals, or culture.

It’s an interesting long-form piece exploring a controversial topic; many Jewish leaders have dismissed Messianic Judaism not just as an affront to orthodox Judaism but as an attempt to destroy the faith. Spinrad quotes and paraphrases Rabbi David Wolpe in his article, a prominent critic of Messianic Judaism.

From the Medium:

“’Messianic Jew’ is a terrible misnomer that owes more to marketing savvy than any theological truth.” Because you cannot be a Jew if you’re a Christian, the project of converting Jews to Christianity is equivalent to destroying Judaism. Throughout history, the argument continues, countless foes have attempted to wipe out the Jewish people, by converting them through violence and torture, or just killing them outright. Messianic Judaism is an insidious new threat that seeks the same end through gentler means.

Spinrad notes that some Jewish theologians have found sincere, devout believers in Christ who simply wish to maintain their Jewish identity and heritage. Professor Daniel Boyarin of UC Berkeley, who is orthodox Jewish, is quoted speaking in favor of members he has met of the Messianic Judaism faith.

“The ones I’ve met have been sincere, very well-educated, and are working with the best of scholarship. They are not working out of ignorance or talking nonsense. I like to engage in respectful conversations with such people, and I learn from them too.”

While I enjoyed the in-depth look into a faith I’d never heard of, I was dismayed by some rough spots in the article; in one passage, Spinrad made a statement I thought clearly offensive:

Although Jews may see themselves as a center of attention, the Messianic Judaism movement isn’t all about them.

I thought this was interestingly myopic. Spinrad seems to admit here that he doesn’t see how a movement which seeks to re-interpret one of the central tenets of Judaism, in a faith which is practiced by many non-Jewish members, while claiming the title of ‘Judaism’, could legitimately upset Rabbis and other traditional Jewish leaders.

Despite the sloppy attempt at rebutting a legitimate argument, Spinrad has written an in-depth piece on a growing movement, and brought context to something I’d been unaware of. The movement itself seems potentially problematic in encouraging an exotization of Jewish ethnicity and culture; the large number of mainline, non-Jewish, American members suggests that cultural appropriation may be a problem within the movement.

Have you encountered this movement? Do you see it as appropriative? Do you think it represents a threat to Jewish culture and faith?


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Jon White

Rod, thanks for the recommendation. I admit that I have a keen curiosity about Judaism and it’s response to the question of how to be the people of God in the wake of the destruction of the Temple by the Romans which went in a different direction from the answers of the Jesus movement to the same question. Can’t wait to dig into this book.

Rod Gillis

Fascinating read. Came across it by accident. Peter Schäfer wrote a reveiw (New Republic) of a colleague’s book The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ By Daniel Boyarin
( Also a very good read I discovered). There is another book that has been around for awhile, somewhat strident and more in a literary vein but really interesting, Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine. The Author is Harold Bloom. Anyone interested in “Messianic Judaism” might benefit from reading it.

This is a fascinating area. Jewish scholars/writers have really added so much to the study of Jesus.

Rod Gillis

Just finished reading, Jesus the Jew: How Judaism and Christianity Shaped Each Other. The author, Peter Schäfer is Perelman Professor of Jewish Studies at Princeton. The book is a real challenge for folks like me who do not have an in-depth background in Talmud and Rabbinic literature; but its worth the challenge. I’ve set it aside for a re-read. Interesting to get Schäfer’s view on the binary nature of God question, the comparative study of Jesus and Metatron, and the differences in perspectives between the Palestinian Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud. Its available as an e-book.

Chaz Brooks

“….the large number of mainline, non-Jewish, American members suggests that cultural appropriation may be a problem within the movement.”

This is the primary problem with this movement. It isn’t what it claims to be. It’s mostly a collection of legalistic, American Evangelicals who think they are restoring the TRUE Christianity that winked out of existence when the evil Roman Catholics took over. But the truth of Christianity is not contained in the works of the Old Covenant, but in our faith in the free offer of salvation in the Jesus Christ.

Amanda in the South Bay

“But the truth of Christianity is not contained in the works of the Old Covenant, but in our faith in the free offer of salvation in the Jesus Christ.”

This is exactly what an authentic Judeo-Christianity would be against. I’ve got nothing against the idea of Messianic Judaism, though theologically its fundiegelical Protestantism with a veneer of Ashkenazi Judaism? Anyways, I’ve read enough Vermes, etc to realize that the orthodox of one era are the heretics of the next, and I’d welcome such a Judeo-Christian faith, without the Protestant foundation and scary pro-Israel advocacy.

Bruce Robison

Interesting that this topic surfaces today, with the appointed office reading from John 5. “If you believed Moses you would believe what I tell you, for it was about me that he wrote.”

Jon White

Serendipitously, I just saw something in my Facebook feed about a Reform Rabbi who gave a “Christmas Sermon.”

It’s not exactly the same thing as this article, but it did describe at least one Rabbi’s attempt to make sense of Jesus in his Judean context.

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