I introduced a rather troubling letter to Messianic Jews found on half-jewish.net in a post earlier this week. As promised, I am going to say more about a few of the issues in the letter. For starters, I want to consider the stance of half-jewish.net towards Messianic Jews in light of its stance toward the many other decisions and identities that adult children of intermarriage choose for themselves.
Half-Jewish.net on the surface suggests that the choice to be a Muslim is equally valid to the choice to be a Jew. Thus, adult children of intermarriage who choose any religious affiliation, including Christian, Buddhist, or no affiliation at all are welcomed in the community. For example, the home page expressly “welcomes adult children and other descendants of intermarriage from all religious, secular and cultural backgrounds.” Regarding adult children of intermarriage who choose to follow Christianity, half-jewish.net says:
We welcome with great warmth the Christian-identified adult children and other descendants of intermarriage who have found the Half-Jewish Network.
The welcome is made very broad indeed for adult children of intermarriage who decide to become Muslim, Hindu, or anything else:
You may be Muslim, you may be Hindu, you may be Buddhist, you may be Wiccan, you may belong to some faith we haven’t listed here, you may be self-defined as “belong to two faiths,” “secular,” “both,” “nothing,” or “undecided,” but we’re glad to see you!
The sole exception to the welcome, it seems, is for Messianic Jews. I should say that the official policy claims to be one of welcome for Messianic Jews:
We don’t have a problem with you personally. You are cordially welcomed to our organization.
Yet this official policy is undermined rather severely by the fact that of all the choices adult children of intermarriage might make, the only religious affiliation that is subjected to critique, and even denunciation, is Messianic Judaism.
Half-Jewish.net does not express any critique of Hinduism or even Islam as a valid choice for children of a Jewish mother or father. It is apparently a fine choice for children of intermarriage to choose Christianity and to leave behind the Jewish heritage of one parent. But the great error, according to half-jewish.net, is for a child of intermarriage to choose both Judaism and Christianity in a unified fashion by choosing Messianic Judaism.
And that choice is critiqued and denounced. The letter says of Messianic Judaism:
Messianic Jewish organizations are teaching are Christianity dressed up to look like Judaism . . . Deception is strictly forbidden by both Judaism and Christianity . . . Any Jew acknowledging Christ as their Saviour automatically becomes a meshumad, an apostate from Judaism . . . Messianic Jews do attract some descendants of intermarriage, by offering them a synthesis of Jewish and Christian beliefs, the Half-Jewish Network is very uncomfortable with that . . . We are not interested in harming either Judaism or Christianity by helping revive a modern version of the Ebionite heresy . . . We would be glad to talk with you about ways to stay connected to both of your two “halves,” that don’t involve joining organizations engaged in spiritual deception . . .
It’s not at all the warm, sympathetic welcome you get on half-jewish.net if, say, you are the child of a Jewish mother and Muslim father and you decide to take up Islam, including the firm denial in Islam that the Jewish people are God’s Chosen People. It is better to reject the Jewish people’s place in God’s plan completely by becoming a Muslim than to be a Jew who believes Jesus is the Messiah while remaining a Jew.
That is strange logic. It is so strange in fact, it makes one wonder. What is the real reason half-jewish.net is against Messianic Judaism as an option?
Maybe, just maybe, it’s because Messianic Judaism is just so attractive, such a compelling option for adult children of intermarriage. Messianic Judaism, a Judaism that believes in Jesus, is not what the editor(s) of half-jewish.net would choose for themselves. That is clear. But why single it out among the many options deemed acceptable, as the only “deceptive” choice?
Here is where I believe we see hints that half-jewish.net do not really believe that all choices are equally valid. In fact, it is apparent to me, as I will show below, that the editors of this site actually have a commitment to a liberal form of Judaism. They have a commitment to Judaism that is rather weak and which must be defended. That is, what makes the editors of half-jewish.net feel Jewish is anything but a robust commitment to Judaism.
Rather, their Judaism is based on a negative: not believing in Jesus. Why do I say this? I say it because the only option which seems to threaten the precarious balance of their seemingly tolerant system is the one which upholds Judaism and Jesus at the same time.
And Messianic Jews give the lie to that weak definition of Judaism. We Messianic Jews have a different definition of Judaism: following the commandments and traditions of the covenant people of Israel. We claim that faith in Jesus is compatible with following the commandments and traditions. We claim Judaism stands for something positive and not something negative.
Perhaps the strange logic of half-jewish.net owes itself to a sense of inadequacy. Perhaps the Judaism of the site’s editors is too weak to be defined by anything more than the rejection of a possible Messiah.
Luke 21:17, “and everyone will hate you because of me,” seems to have been said especially for the Messianic Jews.
The accusations in the letter are not leveled at those who believe in any number of messiahs (most recently, Menachem Mendel Schneerson), only those who proclaim Yeshua. Painful as it may be, it is surely a sign that you have gotten it right.
I don’t understand why half-jewish.net would differentiante between Christianity and Messianic Judaism. What is the difference between a Jew who is a Christian, and a Messianic Jew? Are there doctrinal differences?