Messianic Judaism: Complicated, Challenging, and Confusing

Messianic Judaism, or Messianic Christianity (according to Orthodox Jews), is widely misunderstood and feared in both the Jewish and Christian communities. It’s time to clear the air.

Disclosure: YidBrik is an Orthodox Jewish project that seeks to build bridges between different variations of Judaism as well as improving Jewish-Christian relations. Despite this affiliation, YidBrik embraces a holistic perspective that goes beyond the typical limitations expressed by Orthodox Judaism.

What is Messianic Judaism?

Messianic Jews are Jews, halachic or otherwise, that believe Jesus is their messiah. They are mostly harmless in that they want to observe Jewish traditions with a revised theological concept. Messianic Christians (or Jewish Christians) are non-Jews that choose a more Jewish lifestyle to live with their Christian theology. These individuals are typically mostly harmless as well.

Both MJs and MCs typically attend the same synagogue together, which meets on Shabbat but does not keep the laws of Shabbat, Kashrus, or Tznius. Most MJs do not lay tefillin but will wear a headcovering at synagogue (kippah or hat) as well as the smaller style of a Tallis Gadol. Most MJs do not wear tzitzit in the form of a Tallit Katan but rather tie the strings around their belt or belt loops. MJs typically wear a blue thread to symbolize adherence to Written Torah and rejection of Oral Torah as well as “Rabbinic Judaism.” These are generalizations based on the experience I have had when I spent time in the Messianic movement myself.

Jews for Jesus

Then there’s another category altogether: Jews for Jesus. Jews for Jesus live a more Christian lifestyle (don’t keep kosher, don’t keep Shabbat, etc.) These individuals are far from harmless, in fact. Jews for Jesus is an organization that is dedicated to missionizing Jews to convert them to Christianity. This is why Jews for Judaism and Outreach Judaism are an important organizations that YidBrik promotes to help combat the attempts to remove Jews from their cultural inheritance.

Off the Derech?

The main challenge with organizations like Jews for Jesus as well as Messianic Jews is theological. Taking the lenient perspective espoused by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, z””l, Gentiles can subscribe to the Laws of Noah, especially monotheism, and be considered a Noachide that is part of the world to come. Rabbi Kaplan argues that Gentile Christians, and Messianic Christians by extension, are Noachides. Jews, however, are obligated to all of Torah law, both written and oral, as well as rabbinic input. Thus, a Jew cannot be a Messianic Jew as it would be considered a form of idolatry. It would not remove their Jewish identity, but it would remove their proper observance of Torah. After all, the Jewish and Christian definitions of the Messiah are quite different.

Concluding Remarks

Jews for Jesus is not an appropriate organization for Jewish individuals to be involved in and misunderstands their own Christian theology and soteriological superiority as permission to evangelize and lead a Jew away from their yiddishkeit. Efforts like this, unfortunately, paint a poor picture for those who do not know the difference between Messianic Jews, Jewish Christians, Jews for Jesus, and Christians in general. In reality, the differences are quite clear and that proper observance of Messianic Judaism, Jewish Christianity, and Christianity should not lead to evangelizing Jewish individuals at all. Then again, this is a proper observance, and where humans are involved, mistakes are often more abundant than perfection.

Should Christians and those affiliated with Jesus evangelize Jews? No.

Do they? Yes, and that is a problem to rectify in the written dissertation and this artifact component of the Doctor of Ministry program with lead mentor Dr. Leonard Sweet at Portland Seminary.

Messianic Jews, Jewish Christians, and Christians aren’t inherently dangerous – just misinformed to the point where they support and associate with organizations like Jews for Jesus that intentionally missionize Jews. This is why it’s complicated, challenging, and confusing.