Kosher Leadership

Over the past few weeks while I have been recovering from my recent surgery, I took some time to visit various chat groups and blogs in the outer limits of the Messianic world. I spoke to people who called themselves “Rabbi,” but the education they had, was severely limited, they received “smichah; rabbinic ordination from groups I would not consider legitimate. When I dialogged with these individuals, some were Jewish but didn’t care about having any continuity with the Jewish community, which was not simply trying to work Yeshua into an otherwise Jewish life, but was a “do-it-yourself,” “make-it-up-as-you-go-along” religion. They had no desire to express their faith in continuity with Jewish life, and had no desire to be part of the wider Jewish community. Others among them who called themselves Rabbi, weren’t even Jewish. They said they didn’t need to be, as long as they believed in Yeshua. Something wasn’t kosher.

I couldn’t figure out what bothered me more; that they didn’t care about being part of the Jewish world, or that they would call themselves rabbis and misuse Jewish symbols to suit their own purposes. I don’t like them calling themselves rabbis because that puts my title on the same level as theirs. Of course, Orthodox rabbis probably feel the same way about Reform Rabbis using the rabbinic title.

The other thing that bothered me about them calling themselves rabbi, was that they had no real education to back their title. My colleagues and I studied for many years before we received Smicha, and had to become competent in Jewish studies, literature, and Holy Writings before we could have and use that title. In the way these other “rabbis” respond to and discuss issues, it became clear to me they had not studied. They said they had the “Holy Spirit.” I always felt that when I taught, when I said this is what God says, I wanted to be as sure as possible that this is what the Scriptures actually taught. Thats why I went to school.

When I brought up halakhic issues, they dismissed them by saying they weren’t subject to rabbinic rulings. Then why call yourself a Rabbi at all? What was I missing here? When I dialogged with these gentlemen, they didn’t engage in discussion. They spent most of their time fault-finding others. Benjamin Disraeli said, “How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct.” Anyone can be critical, but it doesn’t show what you know, it only tells people you reject others or their views.

They misquoted the New Covenant to back up their positions saying they didn’t need to observe anything rabbinic, and acted condescendingly toward me, as if I had a superior attitude. Is it arrogant to honestly identify that I am Jewish? Is it acting superior to expect legitimate education from someone who calls them self a rabbi? I would think not. But these people accuse me of acting superior because I don’t act like it doesn’t matter to be Jewish and now, we are all the same. I don’t buy that. Sorry if it offends people, but we are not the same. There is a difference between being made One and being made the same.

The damage these people do is serious. First, when they call themselves rabbis, I don’t want anyone to think their credentials are the same as mine. I worked and studied hard for many years. These people took a few online seminars, sent in a check, and poof! They are a rabbi. Not the same thing.

Second, when they call themselves rabbi, the church world doesn’t know and maybe doesn’t care that there is a difference. I don’t want them representing what I would call the Legitimate Messianic movement, giving the wrong impression of what and who we are.

Third, when they call themselves rabbi, if what they say gets heard in the Jewish world, it is embarrassing and takes away from our credibility, which may not be that much, but its more than that. More than once I have cringed when I heard a traditional rabbi quote something a so-called Messianic Rabbi said that was very wrong. All I could do was tell him that didn’t represent me. He was decent about it and said he knew I didn’t believe that way, but just wanted me to know. I pointed out something some right-wing Orthodox rabbi said, and let him know I knew it wasn’t his view either. We could do that because we have a friendship. What does it say to those who don’t have a friendship with us? The so-called messianic rabbis didn’t care. I guess that’s the crux of the matter. I care, as do my colleagues. A rabbi, Messianic or otherwise, is to be a shepherd of Israel. So called rabbis who don’t care how their actions affect the Jewish world, are not true shepherds. A shepherd has to care about the sheep. If they don’t give a damn about the people, a rabbi they are not.


36 thoughts on “Kosher Leadership

    • The UMJC does not use the title rabbi for leaders who have not received UMJC credentials, meaning they have completed a prescribed course of study. There may be leaders in their own congregations whose members refer to them as rabbi who don’t have UMJC credentials, but each congregation is free to call its leader whatever they wish. While I do highly respect a number of non Jewish UMJC leaders, I don’t believe they should be called rabbi until they have first undergone a formal conversion.

      A question for you is… what do you mean by “real credentials?”

      • i am new to what is being taught by what people believe about being a
        rabbi. the thing that comes to my mind is. Yeshua said, call no one
        rabbi. so does anybody have a comment on that statement.

      • Neal,

        fIrst, it would be good if you stuck to the topic in the blog and not just ask general questions.

        In response to your question, I would ask you, Yeshua also said call no man father.. what do you call the man who helped conceive you? Yeshua wasn’t against titles. He was against us exalting people instead of God. You could also say, call no man pastor.. because one is your shepherd… Call no man Dr, because only God is the great physician. Yeshua wasn’t against titles when they describe what a person does. yet people use titles all the time. Its not about titles. It would be good for you to do some serious study. Thanks for asking.

        good luck and be well

      • i am sticking to the blog. everybody thinks they are following Yeshua. but they can not even do what Yeshua says. i take it as Yeshua says it.
        i will call no one rabbi. and i will call no one father. but my Father in heaven. i have seen the dead raised. the deaf ear opened the heart from being almost 95 percent clogged. to 100 percent opened. so what the bible says is what i try and do. and as the Father in heaven, through the holy spirit tells us to say and do. we should do. thank the Father in heaven for grace and mercy. i will keep praising and worshiping the Father in heaven.

      • Neal, stop being so self righteous. You said, “everybody thinks they are following Yeshua. but they can not even do what Yeshua says.” Who died and made you God? Who said it’s your right to Judge others????? You claim to “take it as Yeshua says it.” Well… Yeshua said, “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged.Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but don’t consider the beam that is in your own eye?”

        You say you go with what the Bible says, but you don’t seem to take the time to think about what it means. I don’t care that you have seen miracles, you didn’t do them. I’ve seen things you can’t even imagine, but I didn’t do them so I don’t act like it makes me superior. You seem satisfied with yourself and thats fine, but don’t ask me questions just to tell me why you don’t accept the answers. I don’t have time for your spiritual one-upmanship.

  1. By real credentials, I mean formal education. Do you believe that the “yeshiva” classes offered by the UMJC are enough to qualify someone to be a rabbi?

    And by formal conversion, do you mean to Judaism?

    • Have you taken the Yeshiva classes? do you know their content or requirements? The purpose of this post was not to pass judgment on the UMJC yeshiva. Why do you want to know?

      I agree with the process of conversion through the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council. I have written on this in earlier blogs if you want to find out more about it.

    • Golda,

      Just to maybe clarify, in the last several years the UMJC criteria has now been raised even more significantly above the former Yeshiva program. It is now above a graduate level education, and the requirements are now similar to the same education of a Reform, Reconstructionist, or Renewal rabbi – a graduate degree in Jewish Studies PLUS additional coursework in rabbinical studies, and the completion of a one year internship under a recognized UMJC rabbi (and many opt for additional studies in Israel). Furthermore, a handful of UMJC rabbis (and those particularly affiliated with MJTI and the MJRC) may even surpass many of their counterparts in the wider Jewish community in regard to education – holding multiple graduate degrees including doctorates.

  2. Dr Schiffman:
    I am Ordained as a messianic Minister and have been studying intently since the 1980s in the areas of Jewish studies Israeli history , Halacha(more receently) Mishna , etc. because i was born Jewish i was asked if i wished to be titled Rabbi or Messianic Minister . with my Hebrew not being up to par at this point , and my talmudic understanding not where i would like it . i turned down the title Rabbi for just the sort of reason that you mentioned . I feel for me to call myself Rabbi i must be able to speak from knowlege with understanding and accuracy wether from the messianic perspective or traditional . I must be able to not stumble over the nuances that surface in an intellectual conversation on any given topic of Jewish life and life cycle events , i need t o be able to support my faith in Yeshua as well with a clear Jewish understanding of the Scriptures ,and not with an assimilated Grecco Roman understanding so prevelant in the church based messianic movenent. ( Not a reverend with a kippah or chruch with a tallit) integrity in understanding , along with the formal education and informal learning at the side of a Rabbi that is respected. I have been ministering for almost 18 years and studying all the time a tiny bit at a time . 11 years ago i came under the covering of our parent porganization, and with constant supervision in 2008 i recieved my ordination credentials after being evaluated by our beit din . And as i said I felt i was not ready to be Rabbi. Now what my congregation calls me is something i have been trying to adjust again out of the respect i have for the title. it is funny to me that the several friends i hae mad ewho are traditional rabbis asked me why i do not Call myself by the title . i answered honestly and was blessed by a kind word from several of these men of learning . several told me i was more Jewish than most members of their congregations . each of these men know i am a messianic minister and i am welcome in their services on the condition that i not prosceletize their families ( i can never spell that word ) assimilate maybe . A healthy respect is crucial if the Messianic branch of Judaism is tyo ever be deemed anything but a joke . and that will only happen if we in leadesrship stand together and communicate this need to our covering organizations.

    Thank you Dr schiffman for allowing my input on this topic long a concern of mine

  3. Dang it one last word on this title issue
    How can a man in leadership in the messianic movement call himself Rabbi , and then endorse services on the first day of the week as being ordained by Jeeezzus, How can he justify saying that the Torah has been Replaced by the church’s teachings of instant salvation ( what i call salvation by apology ) I do not mince words . the fact that many “Messianic Rabbis ” have not taken the time to pick up anything but some of the FFOZ literature ( good material BTW) and then read in the born again christian Theological basics of trinity, grace ( as in all forgiving once you apologivze) and deathbed salvation ( which has for me been a well questioned thing ) If you are a messianic Christian say so be what you are but do not sit here and degrade and bastardize the messianic Jewish body of messiah with messed up doctrine of man and pagan idolatry . Rabbi Dr. it is with great respect i thank you again

    Clayton (Roehclay) Young
    Kol Shalom Messianic Ministries
    York Pa.

  4. You have every right to be pissed at these fringe groups. They diminish us all. I’ve met a lot of people who make their home there, and each are an island unto itself. There’s no overseeing organization to make sure the leadership doesn’t take a shart turn to the left or right and veer everyone over the cliff. “All I need is the Scriptures and the Ruach, so I don’t need you to tell me anything,” is a comment I’ve heard on many occasions.

    However, being that there are far more Hebrew Roots groups than proper Messianic Synagogues, I wonder sometimes if WE are considered the fringe. After all, I’ve been criticized far more than I can count for submitting to the authority of the Rabbis

    I decided a long time ago that if a Messianic Congregation doesn’t call itself a synagogue or if it’s not run as a synagogue, I will not attend. I do not feel comfortable in churches or Hebrew Root congregations.

    • Slade, I think you are right, that WE seem to be the fringe. The wider Jewish community says we violate the commandments by worshipping multip[le gods. The wider Movement says we are too far into legalism, when we try to blend ourselves into the Jewish community.

      I went to a lot of trouble to get where I am, and I am ABSOLUTELY CONVINCED that we will never be a good witness to anybody, Jewish or otherwise. until we conduct our lives, including our synagogues, as Jews. We are Jewish, so why is it wrong to act like it?

      Real Jews have real Rabbis, hello? Real Jews snicker at self-appointed, pretend rabbis, and don’t take them seriously. I am very uncomfortable with so much of the Movement that acts like church with a few Jewish words and Christianized Jewish prayers, and thinking they are fooling anyone.

      Rabbi Schiffman, you have my complete support for your position on Rabbis.

  5. Dr. Schiffman, over the past 12+ years, I’ve many times both met you in person, and encountered your comments in an online discussion. I will admit you can sometimes be acerbic, which people may find endearing or intimidating depending on whether they agree with your position. Nevertheless in my estimation, you do not act superior; you are superior in respect to learnedness, Jewish or otherwise, and you walk in reasonable confidence in your learning. When the ignorant meets the learned, and realizes his lack, he can either aspire to gain some learning, or he can defensively distort learnedness into haughtiness. As for me, I’m grateful that you share your learning 🙂 Sincerely, ~ecd

  6. David ,
    I fully agree that we need to operate as TRUE synagogues in the manner of the Jews we are . To turn away from what we are to satisfy some misundersstanding that the Church has that tells us we are wrong for learning from those considered sages in traditional Judaism is absurd . i had a new realization today when reviewing a post from a “Born again ” full gospel christian it was supposed to be Ephesians 6:1-4 speaking of honor thy mother and father . i read ephesians 6:14 “Gird thy loins with TRUTH . during the Torah service we speak of the Torah of truth repeatedly and as we continue putting on the full armor of G-d Rav Shaul instructs to take up the sword of the spirit which is the word of G-d. as i look at the passage in context maybe i am stupid but i see the “Pharasee among Pharasees saying be prepared to fight off the crap that is going to be put down our throats over time in the name of Yeshua and we need to be able to get clear of it through his word the Torah. i have to laugh , Yeshua made it clear what to keep in matthew 5 . rav shaul in ephesians reiterates what we need to hold to . and against what thr tricks of the evil one all along we have been told to watch out for the lies that will come…..

    The lies are simple everything in church teachings that says torah not needed is crap

    how simple we need to as leaders read the scriptures not from grecco -roman but from Jewish eyes ..

    i apologize for being off topic .

    Shalom U’vracha

  7. Erica i could not have said it better and i concur … Dr Rabbi, i felt that over 10 years ago at Roeh Yisrael, and i still agree today i am honored to consider you a mentor . may i in time be half the leader and teacher that you are .


  8. Maybe I’m the one who led us off topic.

    My intent was to offer support and agreement with what Rabbi had posted. I think one of the Movement’s bniggest problems today is the presence pf people calling themselves rabbis, who are in no way qualified to do so. Their presence in often self-appointed leadership opens the door to all the supposedly spiritual Christian influences we continue to tolerate. That sort of nonsense would be laughed right out of, say, a Conservative shul.

    I really don’t want to get into any contests with the MJAA, but I have lived in both camps and I can clearly see that they tolerate, and even Smicha, people who are simply not qualified to be rabbis. They even ordain “Messianic Pastors.”

    II think the MJRC is the first group who has had the good sense and the nerve to stand up, define us, and set out rules for our sect of Judaism. We need to give them our strong and continued support and encouragement. The Movement has very few real Rabbis, and we need to encourage more people to get the education and training to become Rabbis who can stand tall next to Rabbis from other parts of Judaism.

    This is what will bring credibility to Messianic Judaism and separate it from Jewish church.

  9. I hear you, Dr. Schiffman.

    I am in an odd position in that I sympathize with your view, but also the view of folks that don’t feel the whole of rabbinic halakha is incumbent on us.

    I mean, to be real for a moment, there’s no way I would keep separate plates for meat and dairy, for example. Why? Aside from the logistical problems of making this work in the real world, this ruling seems like one of those traditions that nullify the commandments. It nullifies a commandment by making it a heavy stringency.

    I don’t mean to disrespect Jewish tradition or treat Jewish religious rulings flippantly, it’s just that some of them fall in line with what Messiah called out as “traditions that nullify commandments by their heavy burdens.”

    I suspect some of the people you encountered share this view on some level, even if they weren’t able to articulate it.

    On the other hand, what you’re saying, Dr. Schiffman, is admittedly true — a person who took an online course and got a certification is not the same as your many years of scholarly study. If it’s any comfort, the difference between you and the online-cert-rabbis is stark and apparent, just through your writings alone.

    • Judah,

      thanks for your kind words. I understand what you are saying. It has been the experience of many I have known who took on a more halachic lifestyle, that as they learned what they needed to do, it was fun and not a burden. If two sets of dishes are a big deal, they could use glass dishes and only one set is needed.. that includes Corelle. I never tell anyone they MUST do anything. I have my own problems. If they wish to be more observant, thats their business, and I’m willing to encourage them, but its their choice and I don’t pass judgment on them either way. To be honest, some of the “freedoms” that Christianity bestowed upon me were far more burdensome than the rabbinic prescriptions of observance. At the same time, this is not the main issue I was addressing.

      If someone has not studied and is a leader of a MJ congregation, it would be more honest of them to call themselves a Messianic Leader or Pastor. This would be especially good if they aren’t Jewish, but applies to any leader who doesn’t have the education.

      If it makes a difference to know this, I received my first Rabbinic Ordination from the UMJC in 1988. I did not use the title much, because I felt I did not know enough to use the title. I studied for an additional 12 years with a Hasidic rabbi, learning Talmud, Shulchan Oruch, Jewish prayer and liturgy, as well as Hasidic mysticism. It was only after my teacher said I had a right to be called rabbi that I used the term, but not out of pride or oneupmanship, but out of respect for my teachers who knew so much more than I do. People should not be so quick to seize titles, especially if they don’t have the study to back them up.

      • >> If someone has not studied and is a leader of a MJ congregation, it would be more honest of them to call themselves a Messianic Leader or Pastor. This would be especially good if they aren’t Jewish, but applies to any leader who doesn’t have the education.


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  11. Great discussion. I really agree with what is being said. It’s really refreshing. I have a lot of respect for you, Dr. Schiffman after reading this (particularly your last comment). I see too many people using this title merely because they’ve received it on a piece of paper from some kind of messianic credentialing organization. Yet, they know next to nothing of rabbinic texts and lines of thinking. If someone doesn’t have a firm grasp on at least the Torah, Mishnah and Talmud I really don’t see how they can justify calling themselves “rabbi,” particularly if they are not Jewish. As has been stated, this is what makes MJ a continual joke in the eyes of non messianic Judaism. I welcome this line of thinking and would like to see more who would dedicate their lives to such high endeavors.


  12. Shalom,

    I would like to applaud your comments. We live in the Atlanta Metro and see exactly the same reaction from other Messianic groups (your legalistic) and the greater Jewish Community.

    We have been blessed to be able to forge relationships in the traditional community, with the reaction being at first surprise, then complementary when the greater community understands we follow traditional Judaism (Conservative)while holding our belief that Yeshua is the K’vod of HaShem.

    In our area most Messianics are in fact Charismatic Christians following a “sprinkling (pun intended)” of Jewish symbols.

    Most “Synagogues” have no Mikvah, Don’t recite the Amidah (or any other parts of the standard liturgy) but are “Messianic Jewish”.

    We do not follow the MJRC primarily due to our adherence to the Shulkhan Aruch. Thus we instead adhere to a Conservative Messianic Judaism. Our Rabbis must be Yeshiva trained and be Jewish. We also practice conversion (based on Conservative Halacha).

    Is it time that a true form of Judaism that accepts Messiah has come defines and separates itself from the “Messianic” Label. Should we move towards defining our practice in terms the traditional community understands, namely Reformed, Conservative, and Orthodox based on the known definitions we have already?

    Again, I applaud your frank discussion and thank you for having the courage to say what many of us feel; It’s time to stand up for a authentic Judaism that follow Halacha and strives to live as part of the community.

    And yes, we have meat and dairy dishes (smile).

    • Shalom Gavri’el

      Its nice to meet you. The MJRC halachic standards adhere pretty closely to I. Klein’s standards of Jewish observance, which is the halacha of the conservative movement. We are not against people adhering to a more strict observance if they so choose.

      be well

      Dr. Michael Schiffman

    • Gavriel,

      Adding to Rabbi Schiffman’s comment, you may want to consult the MJRC website again, particularly under the “Sources” section to get an idea of the process used in arriving at the described guidelines. In addition to Scripture, the MJRC draws upon our tradition (including the Shulchan Aruch) as well as other halachic sources.

  13. yeah, what we’re talking about is a shift towards an authentic Yeshua believing Judaism. And while some may see things like this as small things…well, I disagree. The term “rabbi” should and does carry weight, responsibility, expectation and respect. It’s a title that is given….NOT taken.

  14. A few years back, I was attending an MJAA “synagogue,” and we had a seminar for the leadership.

    A “rabbi” from Atlanta visited and was the featured speaker. (Gavri’el probably knows who I mean.) He asked each of us to tell what we thought was the purpose of our shul. There was the usual stuff about worshipping Yeshua/Jesus and making him known throughout both Jewish and Gentile communities, but I made a different statement. I said our job was to work our way into the greater Jewish community and become accepted as a Judaism, following which we might have earned the right to be heard.

    The “rabbi” came down on me with all 4 feet. He said that was utterly preposterous, and that it was stupid and ridiculous to even think we could do that.

    That, folks, was the leadership of a major “messianic” shul in Atlanta. I submit that he needs to get a life, spiritually, and learn about his own heritage, before he should accept any position of leadership, much less the title of rabbi.

  15. It is a sad commentary on life. In my line of work I come in contact with many “doctors”. Many chiropractors call themselves “doctor” (I’m not against chiropractic arts) when they did not spend near the education or financing it takes to be a real medical doctor. I guess pride even in small doses is still pride. I am proud in my status as a bookkeeper. I’ve been told my level of bookkeeping/years of experience could be CPA level, but alas, I’m not a CPA. I did not do the continued study beyond a bachelors degree nor did I take the exam, so I do not feel qualified to be called an accountant. But even in others’ failings I will try to apply Col 3:13 and “bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances…”.

    • It is sad indeed, and thank you for reminding us that this is a human failing not limited to the religious sphere. My father lost his hearing at a young age. He made his living delivering newspapers in the New York area. He always referred to his job as Newspaper Delivery. He didn’t care what people thought, as he made a decent living. On one occasion, my parents were at a party where one of my father’s co-workers was also present. My mom overheard the other man’s wife referring to her husband as a “Distribution Engineer.” They laughed all the way home. Pride and arrogance is not in the using of legitimate titles, but in the taking on of unearned titles. Any kind of professional role that didn’t take years of study and Formal education to get, is a sham. We can bear with each other and forgive grievances, but if I need medical treatment, I want to make sure the Doctor I go to is not a quack. The same if I want my taxes done, or if I want religious guidance. There is a reason we do need professionals. Quackery can result in devastating consequences.

  16. K. Sanford, perhaps you don’t understand what the title, “doctor,” means. It means the individual has earned for himself the educational degree of Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D., in a particular field of study. It is the highest level of formal education attainable in a particular field. The Chiropractor holds the Ph.D. degree in Chiropractic. Anyone who holds a Ph.D. in any field is formally addressed and referred to as “Doctor.”

    The Doctor of Medicine who is licensed to practice Medicine, and the Dioctor of Medicine who is not so licensed for whatever legitimate reason, are both addressed as “Doctor.” Rabbi Schiffman is properly addressed as “Doctor.”

    I think what has you confused is the popular usage when referring to a practitioner of Medicine. That’s all it is: popular usage. Dr. Schiffman may be addressed as, “Doctor,” but he may NOT call himseld an MD, or Doctor of Medicine. MD is allowed only to those licensed to practice Medicine. You will never see a Chiropractor use MD as a title. He can, however, call himself “Doctor.”

  17. I meant no disrespect to Dr Schiffman. He is a scholar among scholars. I was not so much referring to all uses of the term doctor. I was only trying to make an analogy drawing from a medical field about not all things being equal with a title. Thank you for clarifiying for me the difference between a medical practitioner and a doctorate of chiropractic. I do see that chiropractors spend many years in school to earn their title.

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