Much has been said on this blog and elsewhere about the confusing landscape of Messianic Judaism in its many forms. A wide variety of groups use the title Messianic Judaism. Some are quite weird, even disturbing. The majority are somewhere between clueless and decent. A few actually get it, that Messianic means promoting Yeshua-faith and Judaism means, well, Judaism. And we know Judaism is the Judaism of scripture and tradition, the Bible and the rabbis. No other definition will do.
So, with that in mind, I offer a guide to Jews who are seeking a Jewish home where Yeshua can be their Rebbe and where Jewish identity is respected. The following are my opinions. Feel free to write in and disagree.
1. If you do not live in a city with a decent Jewish population and you are a Jew, what were you thinking? If you live in a small town with no traditional synagogues and you see an advertisement for a Messianic Jewish congregation, beware! You simply have to live in a Jewish place. So pack your bags and forget about that little congregation in Booger Holler, Georgia. It just won’t work out.
2. If the “rabbi” of the congregation does not know Hebrew, try not to let the door hit you on the tukhes as you leave. A friend of mine recently attended such a congregation where the rabbi called the Holy Spirit the “roo-akh ka-kakesh.” Ouch, get outta there!
3. Does the congregation use the Siddur in a meaningful way? If you are from a religious background, you may desire a service like the schul you attended as a child. That mostly does not exist in Messianic Judaism. But hopefully you will find a place that understands the core prayers of the Siddur and incorporates them in worship, practice, and theology. Much more could and should be said about this. But as long as the service is somewhere north of the level of tradition in a Reform synagogue, you should be okay.
4. Does the rabbi know Judaism? What are the rabbi’s credentials? Is his education from a reputable organization? Ask about it. Check out the educational institution in question. If it seems like an unaccredited diploma mill, it probably is. Aside from credentials, does the rabbi know the difference between a rabbi and a rebbe and a rebbetzin? I know someone who was ejected from a congregation and forever banned when he made the leader look bad by asking just that question!
5. Watch out the for the top three Messianic Judaism look-alikes:
a. The Two-House or Ephraimite congregation. These Gentiles think that they are the lost tribes of Israel. Their evidence? They are drawn to Jewish things, thus they must be Israel! Don’t let their memory stick in your mind after you bolt for safety.
b. The Yah-Shuah people, also called the Sacred Name movement. They insist on calling HaShem by his name and they have some odd ideas about how to pronounce his name. Worse yet, even in the case of Yeshua, whose name is well-documented in the sources, they insist on calling him Yah-Shuah instead. If you know anything about Hebrew names, you know they are using a suffix as a prefix. These people can be scary.
c. The Hebrew Roots congregation. Of all the look-alikes, these folks are the least harmful. They are of the opinion that all of Yeshua’s followers (i.e., all the Christians) should adopt a Torah and rabbinic lifestyle. Their knowledge of Judaism is generally quite extensive and their practice is quite authentic. My feeling is that eventually these folks will convert and become Messianic Jews, but in the meantime they suffer from identity confusion and a negative opinion towards ordinary Christians and churches. I wouldn’t advise staying if you are Jewish. Even some Messianic congregations belonging to reputable organizations suffer from the Hebrew Roots confusion.
6. Watch out for Charismatic mayhem. In case you, as a Jew, have not yet been exposed to Charismatic Christianity, you should know that this is a broad term. Under this heading you will find everything from a mild overemphasis on miracles to absolute mania. I was just at a congregation where the leader declared the entire property a sick-free zone. This is a typical Charismatic move. There is such a hunger for miracles, the people profess faith in them while completely ignoring reality. You may hear people speaking in nonsense, repetitive syllables who believe they are praying in another language. You may see people fall backward on the floor as if fainting is spiritual. You may find leaders who call themselves apostles or prophets (beware!). So, as a Jew, you may wonder, what does Charismatic Christianity have to do with Messianic Judaism. I wish I could say nothing, but the truth is that many Messianic leaders came from such a background. I would not say you should have nothing to do with such a congregation. If it does very well on points 1-4, consider staying anyway. But look out for a leader who says he is a prophet or apostle.
7. I wish that qualifications 1-6 were not even necessary to mention. But having established whether the place is actually Jewish or not, then you get down to things you really should be looking for:
a. Are they able to teach you the Torah and tradition of Judaism? Will you learn something?
b. Are the people a loving community or a loose collection of factions tolerating one another just to hold a congregation together?
c. After you’ve been there a while, do people invite you over for Shabbat dinner or similar events? Do you feel included?
d. How in love with Yeshua are these people? Are they afraid to mention Yeshua too much? Do they seem to take Yeshua’s teachings about love, justice, serving the poor, and being disciples of the Master seriously?
This guide is far from perfect. But I hope it will help some of you. I know so many Jewish people who have been turned off in the past by so-called Messianic congregations. I know so many Jews who are in churches, where Yeshua is proclaimed, but where their Jewish identity is rotting on the vine. A Baptist or Episcopal church is not a place where you can raise your children Jewish. You need to find a solution. I write also for those Jews who are open to Yeshua but wouldn’t have a clue where to find a Jewish expression of his message. Finally, I write for a few who have abandoned Messianic congregations for the traditional synagogues. The outlook in Messianic Judaism is getting better. You just might find that a congregation exists in your area that fits these guidelines.