In a previous post about Jews and Gentiles, there was a discussion about Ger’im (converts). Without doubt, there are many gentiles in Messianic Jewish congregations, and while their presence is troublesome for some people because it raises a serious question about how can the Messianic Movement be a Jewish movement if it has a majority of non Jews in its ranks. The issue for me, is not that there are so many gentiles, but that there are so fewer Jews. On the other hand, it is also true that many of the non Jews who are part of Messianic congregations have been loyal members who have been only helpful and supportive of the congregations and their Jewish members. They have been supportive with their time and talents and finances to help build our congregations. They have been so helpful and good, I have wished them to be Jewish, but the reality is, they are not. Their children have grown up with our children. Some of their children married some of our children. They raised their children as Messianic Jews. Within our community that is fine. But when they connect in the larger Jewish world, they are not Jews. If their children wish to marry non Messianic Jews, it becomes an issue for the Jewish families, because no matter how good and kind and “on board” and “with the program” they have been, they are still not Jews.
A friend of mine had lunch with a Conservative Rabbi friend, and were discussing the Messianic community, and he shared about the situation of gentiles in our congregations. The Conservative rabbi asked why didn’t they just convert if they felt as they did about Jewish life and values. My friend said we didn’t have a way to do conversions in Messianic Judaism. The Conservative rabbi thought it was cruel to allow gentiles to be part of our congregations and not have a way for them to become part of our people. When a Conservative leader begins to consider Messianic Judaism a Judaism, the idea of conversion seems normal.
It was at this point that we started talking about doing conversions for people who had dedicated their lives to Messianic Judaism, even though there was no promise they would be Jewish. Conversion offers the opportunity for intermarried couples to have a fully Jewish home and family. It would legitimize the status of people who lived Jewish lives but were not born Jewish.
We wanted to avoid the wholesale conversions of large numbers of gentiles who thought it would be “cool” to be Jewish, and would think it put them a few notches above their gentile friends in the Kingdom of God like attitudes I’ve seen in the so-called Ephraimite movement.
We chose to interact with the traditional Halacha to come up with our halakhic standards, and asked people to embrace these standards for their own lives as a step toward conversion. Without a halakhic standard, what would we be converting people to?
We also saw a need for conversion to give a definite status and identity to people and their children who had a life commitment to who we are as Jews. Without conversion, gentiles in our congregations were calling themselves Messianic Jews. They were being called to the Torah, putting on Teflilin, and Talesim, and taking on Jewish names but were in reality, not Jewish. To me, their situation and actions was not unlike the status of Illegal aliens who snuck in over the border from Mexico. They learned English, got jobs, got benefits, and live in America, but they are not citizens of the United States. They adopted the lifestyle but had no legitimate status. Whatever they are, they are not American citizens. They could apply for a green card and go through the proper steps and become American citizens. In a similar way, that is what conversion is about.
The so-called “two house” movement is a product of not having a way into the Jewish world, but it is no more than a horrible caricature of Jewish culture and life. When you have people mimicking Hasidic dress and custom, and then take off their hats and the Peyos (side curls) come off with the hats, you get the feeling that you are watching a minstrel show. They may be dressed like the road company of Fiddler On The Roof, but its all dress up for them. If it was simply playing “dress up”, I would ignore it, but they call themselves Messianic, and they are not. They claim to be the “spiritual” house of Israel, but have no connection to the real house of Israel. In Genesis 15, Abraham was concerned with physical seed, not spiritual seed. God made his promises to Abraham and the generations of his physical seed. God joined himself to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To spiritualize the theft of that identity is being unfaithful to the biblical text.
I find this fantasy Jewish identity so objectionable because it is costly to be a Jew. Having to deal with anti-semitism is painful. Where were these people when Nazi Germany was murdering Jews throughout Europe? They want a cheap Jewish identity they can throw on like a tee shirt, and take off when it doesn’t suit them. A true convert doesn’t just embrace the Jewish religion, but also embraces the Jewish people, not just when its convenient, but when it isn’t.
People have argued that we don’t have the authority to do conversions in Messianic Judaism. They say the State of Israel will not recognize our conversions as legitimate. In my opinion, if the reason someone is looking to convert is so they can immigrate to Israel, they are converting for the wrong reason. It should be pointed out that Conservative and Reform conversions are not recognized by the State of Israel either, but that doesn’t stop people from converting under their auspices. In the past, some gentiles in Messianic congregations have gone to non-Messianic congregations for conversions and were told they had to renounce Yeshua if they wanted to convert.
Messianic Jewish conversions offer a potential ger the opportunity to convert without having to renounce Yeshua. Our conversions are overseen by our Messianic Jewish Rabbinic Council, and the process and procedures were modeled after the Orthodox standards. We chose to make our standards rigorous in order to dissuade any who were not serious, and who did not have the right attitude. A friend of mine underwent a Messianic conversion years ago. I asked him why he would want to convert if the state of Israel would not recognize his conversion. His reply was that when he prayed the prayers in the Siddur for the peace and well being for all of Israel, he wanted to be included. That made sense to me.