[This is the fifth of five blogs from Israel where I am currently traveling with rabbis and evangelical ministers from Nashville.]
Are Messianic Jews really Jews? This is one question that has come up that I find especially curious. While Jewish interest in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sufism is so commonplace as to have given rise to terms like Bu-Jus, Hin-Jews, and Jufis), a Jew who finds herself attracted to Jesus (who was after all a Jew) is somehow beyond the pale.
The issue isn’t theological. Buddhism and its absence of God, Hinduism and its plethora of Gods, and Islam and its final Book and Prophet, are each antithetical to Judaism. If we can have Jewish Buddhists, why can’t we have Jewish Christians?
Nor is the issue sociological: a Jew who becomes a Christian (or a Hindu for that matter) and then decides to return to Judaism, doesn’t have to convert back, he or she simply has to come home; making a strong case that a Jew is a Jew no matter what.
Nor is it historical: the first Christians were all Jews. Christianity was a Jewish movement. The New Testament is predominately a Jewish book. And Jesus was nothing if not Jewish. So if was good enough for Matthew, Mark, John, and Paul, why not today’s Jews?
The problem is psychological and has everything to do with the way we Jews have been treated by Christians over the past two thousand years. If we had been persecuted by Buddhists; had Hindus come out of their temples screaming for the death of the Jews; then Bu-Jus and Hin-Jews would also be anathema. So Jews are leery of anything Christian. We imagine they want to destroy us, convert us, set us up to die as the final proof that Jesus is Lord.
Of course most Christians today want nothing of the sort, but, perception trumps reality every time. So we Jews see Messianic Jews as an oxymoron, and do our best to prune them from the family tree, and write them out of Father’s will. They have given up their inheritance and gone after false gods. Good riddance.
Personally, I am happy when someone finds God (or the Absolute) as long as what they find makes them just, kind, and humble. A Jew who finds Jesus is just that: a Jew. If he is obnoxious about finding Jesus, my guess is that he was just as obnoxious before finding Jesus. Jesus won’t make you obnoxious, but he won’t stop you either.
Given all of this, the question for me then becomes, Who is a Jew? I offer this definition: A Jewish is a person who calls herself a Jew, makes rabbinic Judaism her primary source of spiritual exploration and celebration, wrestles with God, Torah, Mitzvot, and Israel, and who identifies with, joins with, supports, and defends her fellow Jews world-wide.
My definition is behavioral rather than genetic, and is stricter than blood, if not thicker. I am saying it is my final thought on the matter. I try not to have final thoughts. But it is what I am thinking today. So, does this definition include or exclude Messianic Jews? Honestly, I am not sure. I will have to give it more thought.