Shalom all. Well, hasn’t this been an interesting thread. I appreciate all of you who have taken the time to weigh in. Tirzah has an interesting story: married to an anti-missionary who was formerly a Messianic Jew. It seems that the experience has given her a negative view of Judaism and, I must say, of Messianic Judaism. Menachem is a Messianic Jew who loves Yeshua, but finds the Orthodox synagogue a more serious place to worship God. ***Menachem, you are the person I met and spent time with at the New England conference, right?***
Tirzah, whose position I understand because of her life experience, has said some rather harsh things about Judaism and completely opposes my decision to pursue conversion through a Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council. Menachem, whose position I also understand, having seen a lot of meshugas that is called Messianic Judaism, also thinks I should not pursue conversion through Messianic Judaism, but through one of the traditional branches.
In this post, I’d like to take some of Menachem’s responses and discuss them. I invite you to chime in (hopefully no personal attacks). Perhaps in the very near future, I can post a biblical defense of conversion with attendant practical issues considered.
First, Tirzah said:
Modern Rabbinic Judaism HATES Yeshua.
Let’s start with this one. Its a slur and totally without any foundation. I hear it and read it often in conversation with MJ “leaders” Let’s be honest. There is no Christian leader out there who would dare to say this publically thank G-d any more.
My thoughts: I appreciate Menachem’s viewpoint here. My own experience is skewed. I have not been in the traditional Jewish community sufficiently to get into conversation about Yeshua in a neutral setting. My experiences in conversation about Yeshua with religious Jews have often been with anti-missionaries, like Torzah’s husband. I am aware, however, that the Talmud’s very late teaching that Yeshua was a bastard child of a Roman soldier and a Jewish woman, is not commonly held by the Jews I have talked with. In fact, I am aware of a rather positive view of Yeshua in the Jewish community, as long as we’re not talking about whether or not he is Messiah. Now, this may be mostly liberal Jews, but there are also Orthodox Jews who in writing have positive things to say about Yeshua: Michael Wyschogrod and Pinchas Lapide.
The truth is that Rabbinic Judaism is not “G-d” centered. It is “Jew” centered.
Again, this is a very serious and untrue charge. It has not been my experience. In point of fact I have experienced and observed more G-d centeredness in rabbinic Judaism than in MJ. There is clearly an unhealthy emphasis througout MJ and Christianity on a variety of practices which an observant Jew would find not G-d centered.
My thoughts: If the Jewish people don’t talk about issues surround the Jewish people, who will? Sorry, Tirzah, but I agree with Menachem here. Rabbinic Judaism is very God-centered. Many Christians would be surprised to hear the teaching or read the writings of Judaism. I can hardly think of someone more God-centered than Abraham Joshua Heschel, for example.
Rabbinic Judaism also teachs that G-d is basically unknowable in any sort intimate way that believers in Yeshua know can be true.
This is the view of Maimonides. It is influential but hardly all of Rabbinic Judaism.
My thoughts: Tirzah, Judaism has many opinions about God and many approaches. Yes, there is a stream of teaching that human language and conceptualization cannnot know the infinite God. You should know this is found in liberal Christianity also. But so much of Judaism is about knowing God intimately. I think this may be an emphasis at your synagogue. Your synagogue is Conservative and it can sometimes be quite liberal. As a great example of the converse, may I suggest the writings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov?
Modern Rabbinic Judaism as a whole also embraces so much that is extra-biblical and that often takes precidence over the clear teaching of Torah.
Hmmm. Precisely my observations about much of MJ. Especially the Charismatic “apostolic stream” variety.
My thoughts: Yes, Tirzah, there is quite a bit that is extrabiblical in Judaism. But here are two things to consider: (1) the same is true in Christendom and (2) God definitely expects and even requires extrabiblical tradition. Regarding my first point, even the most bland, tradition-less Protestant denominations have traditions that create taboos and practices that are extra-biblical. Try drinking a glass of wine just like Jesus did in front of a Baptist clergyman and you’ll have an interesting conversation. As for extra-biblical practices, I could mention many things, such as certain communion customs, hymnals, and Sunday morning 11 a.m. as the holy hour that must be observed, and so forth. As for my second point, God never gave specifics on how to keep many commandments. If you’ve ever lit candles before sundown on Friday night, guess what, you’ve practiced something extra-biblical.
Finally, Menachem said:
I have to go but my point is that these views represent the “establishment” in MJ. Is this what you want to convert to Derek?
My response: Conversion is an unfortunate word in both its Christian and Jewish usage. As you well know, converting Jews in church history has been a bad business indeed. Likewise, converting Gentiles to Judaism gives a false impression. The impression is that Jewish identity is reducible to a religion or sect. As we well know, Menachem, Jewish identity is about belonging to a family, not about a particular sect. I wish we could use the expression “Joining Israel,” or something like it.
I am not converting to a sect. I am recognizing the validity of joining Israel, the authority of the rabbinical council within Messianic Judaism, and the sanctity of ceremony as one undertakes a divine calling. That is, I believe that joining Israel is possible, it should be attended by a council of judges within Israel who have set standards, and that such a commitment should, like marriage, be done before witnesses.
I think you and I would agree that there is much silliness in various parts of the Messianic Jewish movement. I hope I will not contribute in any way to it. I simply feel my destiny is with Israel and for me, Jewish people are “us”, not “them”.