The Real Thing

There is no denying that the Messianic community is a widely diverse group. There was a time, in my lifetime, that the term “Messianic,” referred specifically to Jewish Yeshua believers who worshiped in Messianic congregations. After the 1989 Israeli Supreme Court Beresford decision, the term Messianic became more widely used by Jewish Yeshua believers in churches, who used to be called “Hebrew-Christians,” as well as by gentiles who were worshiping in Messianic Jewish congregations. Later, gentiles started their own congregations even if they didn’t have any Jewish people in them, worshiping in a Messianic style, and dropped the modifier “Jewish” and referring to themselves as “Messianic,” using the symbols of Judaism but having no attachment to their traditional meaning.

This latest manifestation of the term Messianic took on an almost “dungeon and dragons” fantasy approach, where congregation members envisioned themselves as part of the allegedly lost tribes of Israel. The troubling aspect of this latter incarnation were people with no genetic connection to Jewish people, the biological descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, claiming to be part of various tribes of Ancient Israel; one woman announcing to me that she was a Levite Princess. After five minutes of uncontrollably laughing, I was deeply grieved by her trivializing my heritage. As I look at this latter group, I am reminded of a minstrel show complete with Velcro peyos, and tzitzis tied to their belt loops, rather than anything that is genuinely Jewish, “having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.” I am as offended by their caricature as an African-American would be of a minstrel show.

Recognizing these flagrant idiocies, I want to mention that not all gentiles in the Messianic world are like that. There are many who are fine, genuine people who respect the Jewish culture and heritage, and simply wish to be alongside us. They are a blessing and help make us stronger. Who could object to them? Not me!

Having said this, the biggest problem in our midst is not weird gentiles, because they stand out like sore thumbs and are actually not part of us at all. They have their own conferences, their own congregations, they just took our name which creates confusion. If it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t care. Similarly, the problem is not gentiles who are part of our congregations. They come to be with us, and love us, and seek to build us up. They too are not a problem.

The problem as I see it are the arrogant individuals who are in our midst, looking down their noses at our services because we aren’t Orthodox enough for them, or they don’t like the music, or they don’t like having gentiles in our congregations. These self-appointed purists won’t call our congregations “synagogues.” They may call them “places,” if they are being polite, and “churches,” if they aren’t being polite. They refer to traditional synagogues as “real” synagogues. It offends me that they are so contemptuous of our congregations because we aren’t Orthodox. Who ever said we need to be Orthodox anyway? The same people would be contemptuous of Conservative and Reform Judaism. I’m sorry, but the majority of the Jewish people in the world are not Orthodox, and Jewish Orthodoxy is not Biblical Judaism, but came about after the destruction of the Second Temple, around the same time Messianic Judaism came about.

I value the heritage and teachings of traditional Judaism, but not for one second do I imagine it to be any more legitimate than we are. If our goal was to be Orthodox, I would just go to an Orthodox Synagogue. I believe as a Messianic Rabbi, that we are to be lifting up Yeshua our Messiah, in a genuinely Jewish manner. This means our worship will look and sound more like a traditional synagogue than a church, but nonetheless, will have Yeshua as the center of our worship. This means much of what we do will look exactly like traditional Jewish services, because we are Jewish, and embrace our Jewish Messiah. It also means that some things we do will deviate from tradition, because we do recognize Yeshua and some of the tradition was formulated by the sages in reaction to Yeshua belief. If that is troubling to some, it’s just too bad. It’s a privilege to be able to worship in a Messianic Jewish congregation, even if it’s not everything you want it to be. I remember a time where there were only a handful of our congregations and everyone didn’t have the luxury of having one near them. If you are fortunate enough to be able to attend a Messianic Jewish congregation, then support it, help build it up, and and be flexible enough to be able to enjoy it.

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6 thoughts on “The Real Thing

  1. Dr. Schiffman,

    I hear you, understand your frustration.

    I must relate my experiences to you. My dad’s Jewish, my mom isn’t. I’ve spent pretty much my whole life in Messianic congregations across several US states. I’ve spent a lot of time with Jews and gentiles in the Messianic movement, both the formal Messianic Judaism and the broader independent Messianic congregations. Hopefully my anecdotal evidence carries some weight.

    Anecdote: The gentiles I know of in the Messianic movement have zero desire to hijack anything. They go by the term “Messianic”, because of what the term “Messiah” implies, not because they wish to replace or confuse. Please know that.

    These same gentile folks usually do not use the term Messianic Judaism, as they’re largely independent, not wishing to be associated with a formal religion or sect.

    These people do recognize Messianic synagogues as a synagogue and generally have good feelings towards Messianic Judaism.

    Let me talk in concrete terms, using my home congregation as an example. The small (25 people) Messianic congregation I attend and play music for is comprised mostly of non-Jews. We use the term “Messianic” for several reasons: first, the tern “Messiah” implies a kind of Israel-centered discipleship of the Master. (“Christ”, as silly as it may sound, implies a Greek-centered thinking and approach which often excludes Israel and the Torah.) For us, we honor the Torah, we believe the Jewish people have a huge role to play in God’s future plans, we love Israel, we identify as part of the commonwealth of Israel, no longer foreigners to God’s covenants, we view Hebrew as the holy tongue, sing Messianic and traditional Jewish music as part of our service. We’re followers of Israel’s Messiah, we’re Messianic.

    We do these things not to cause confusion or to pretend we’re all Jewish, but because we’re convinced of the rightness of this cause: that the faith of the God of Israel and Israel’s Messiah ought not do away with Israel. And, through Messiah, we are part of Israel. (Sorry, I know many of you are angered by this belief.) Different than Jews, to be certain, but connected by covenants, by adoption, by shared belief. Part of the commonwealth of Israel. Not a replacement, but a connected part.

    That’s my anecdotal evidence.

    I realize there are agitators and misled people in the independent Messianic movement, including the Two House sub-movement. It sounds like Dr. Schiffman has encountered some of these people. I guess there will always be people like that. Hopefully the rest of us can get along without painting the whole group by a few agitators.

    • Judah,

      I deeply appreciate you sharing from your own life experience. I understand what you are saying and value it. I have no gripes with the people and congregations you describe. I appreciate them as well. To be honest, I’d love to share our ministry with them, so they can stand with us to help elderly holocaust survivors in need. The people I was writing about are not those people.

      I was referring to two groups specifically: The two-house people, which you and the people in your account are not, and people who specifically look down their noses at Messianic Synagogues as if they are treyf. The latter group can be made up of Jews as well as Orthodox wannabe non-Jews. I think you will agree that the people in your anecdotal reference don’t fall into that category. I realize I may have, on first look, sounded like I was painting with a broad brush, but if you look closer, I was very specific. Perhaps I am being a gate keeper, but I assure you my intent is not to keep non-Jewish Yeshua followers from sharing in our blessings.

      • Oh, I’m including Two House people in all that. I think you’ve run into bad apples there, Dr. Schiffman, granted. But not all two house people are like those you encountered.

        I think what you’re describing for two-house people are those populist two house teachers that will say Christians/Messianics are all actually physical descendants of Israel. And those two house people that, as you described, are agitators and look down on Jewish people.

        I include Two House in all this because I believe there were two houses of Israel, and one of them has not returned and is largely absorbed into the nations. I’m Two House in that sense, for what it’s worth. That shouldn’t be a scary theology, but it is because of some agitators.

        Anyways. Thanks for this post.

      • Judah,

        my view is that the 12 tribes are scattered within the Jewish people, not within the nations. So what if you are two house. I like you anyway.

  2. Michael, you are right on and express the situation very well. We are battling a form of idolatry that I would call ‘Judaiolatry’. It has little to do with the Jewish people, but Judaism. Judaiolaters, invariably Gentiles, look down their noses even at Jewish believers. Thus in their minds they assume a higher position than us, as they know much better how we should conduct ourselves than we ourselves do. As a result, we have a kind of replacementism (to call it a theology would not be adequate) which is of course a fertile breeding ground for doctrines such as the two-house fantasy.

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