Poll: Terminology and MJ

In distinguishing a Messianic Judaism which has a lot to do with Jewish people and Judaism from the wide variety of groups who also use the label “Messianic” and “Messianic Jewish” and “Messianic Congregation” and so on, it is always a struggle to find better terminology.

So here is a question and I hope many will weigh in: how about the term Jewish Messianic Judaism? I don’t mean this should replace the term Messianic Judaism, but how is Jewish Messianic Judaism as an occasional qualifier?

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
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21 Responses to Poll: Terminology and MJ

  1. robyndevorah says:

    “Jewish Messianic Judaism” seems a little redundant. Could you give an example of the context in which you would use it?

  2. Robyn:

    You may be right. Anyway, I was thinking of something like, “Our movement is about a Jewish Messianic Judaism.”

    BTW, I don’t mean by that excluding non-Jews. I know it sounds like that is what I mean. Hmm, well, maybe this poll will start some interesting ideas and conversations.

    Derek

  3. I always thought that some Jewish terminology precludes any need to insert ‘Jewish’ before it. Words like “rabbi”, “synagogue”, and “Judaism” readily come to mind.

    “Jewish Messianic Judaism” sounds quite odd. I can see the reason why you think that it may be a good idea to sometimes use this term, yet at the same time doesn’t this by itself become a tacit acknowledgment on our part that OTHER, Gentile “Judaisms” can even be possible?

    May be it should be “Authentic” Messianic Judaism to separate it from all the impostors?

  4. Gene:

    Yeah, the problem with “authentic” is it sounds self-congratulating. But, then Jewish Messianic Judaism has its problems too.

    I’m still interested in hearing a lot more thoughts from people. Maybe people could also talk about what should really be Jewish about Messianic Judaism.

    Judah? I hope you weigh in.

    Derek

  5. Maybe we’ll do like the Orthodox and develop multiple streams … Chabad, Breslav, Satmar, Haredi, Modern, etc … all of which are embarrassed by or in disagreement with the others. What a sad state of affairs.

  6. mchuey says:

    Here is a novel idea: faith is a practice and not a label. Jewish Messianic Judaism, Messianic Judaism, Messianic whatever–ultimately what matters is what you do with what you believe, because in the end neither people nor God really care what you call yourself. Are you accomplishing God’s mission and call for your life?

    JKM

  7. Monique:

    You know, in Israel, some are avoiding the term Messianic because it just means Christian and in Hebrew the Notzrim and Yehudim Meshichim are practically the same.

    So some there are using the term Hasidei Yeshua (Followers [devotees] of Yeshua).

    Following your line of thinking, though, maybe we are Hashivenu Messianic Jews. Should Hashivenu, the forum and the movement, be our defining point?

    I’ve also considered Post-Missionary, but I don’t think Rabbi Kinzer was trying to establish a name and I’d rather not have “missionary” in our self-designation. Plus Post-Missionary confuses many as if the point is “Closed-Mouth Messianic Jews.”

    Derek

  8. JKM:

    Yeah, that’s kind of what we are doing now. Only, when mainstream Jews and Christians hear that we are Messianic or Messianic Jewish, they immediately think of that strange little group down the street they once encountered which had something very un-Jewish about it.

    Know what I mean? But I do hear you. And feel free to weigh in again.

    Derek

  9. mchuey says:

    When I look at the broad Messianic movement, I cannot help but think of the challenges faced during the period of the Radical Reformation. Ridiculous stuff like people thinking they can raise the dead from cemeteries, and then take an army and go overthrow the pope.

    I think some of these things are just not an instant–flip of a switch–fix. Time may be the only solution to some of the challenges, and patience is not exactly a great virtue for Americans.

    JKM

  10. yochanan says:

    I think that the important thing is to use the word Judaism, hence just “Messianic Judaism”. I think that there is already a natural self-designation by groups, those who are mostly non-Jews doing Jewish holydays and festivals are just “Messianic”, those who are made up primarily of Jewish Christians with some Jewish cultural aspects are “Messianic Jewish”, those like us who see our faith as a Judaism for Yeshua adopt “Messianic Judaism”. I think that it is natural for those groups who appreciate Jewish culture, yet do not ascribe to “the rabbis” avoid using “Judaism” and use “Jewish” instead.

  11. Yochanan:

    That is a good point. We can artfully craft our verbiage to use the noun more and the adjective less. “I am part of Messianic Judaism,” as a better way to say things than, “I am Messianic Jewish.”

    Then there are also phrases we can use, like the one from our MJTI vision statement, “Jewish life renewed in Yeshua.” We can say that we are part of a movement working for Jewish life renewed in Yeshua.

    Good discussion. I do hope people will weigh in even if they disagree with the direction some of us are going in this conversation.

    Derek

  12. I do like the term Chasidei Yeshua, and have been hearing it with more frequency …

    What I find overwhelmingly present in Hashivenu-style and “Chasidei Yeshua” style congregations is an increased emphasis on text study and tradition. (All good!) But what tends to be missing in those same congregations is a degree of authentic Jewish culture and loads of Jewish families. (There are significant exceptions to this rule, of course.)

    Which begs the question, “are we a Judaism if our pews are not stuffed to the gills with Jews?”

    My goal in joining this movement was to find other Jews to follow Yeshua with. Where did they all go?

  13. “Which begs the question, “are we a Judaism if our pews are not stuffed to the gills with Jews?””

    Monique, I very much share your sentiment. I am beginning to think that we are NOT “Judaism” – we have come to be an overwhelmingly Gentile movement.

    With some small exceptions, there are so few Jews making up a typical MJ congregation, there’s no feeling of a Jewish community, no sense of national and ethnic unity or a shared Jewish culture. It’s simply impossible to will this into existence with the current makeup of our synagogues. Something gotta give…

    Stuart Dauermann has touched on this in his blog posting (at mjti.com) titled: “Messianic Jewish Congregations and Disappointed Gentile Friends”:

    mjti.com/index.php?option=com_myblog&show=Messianic-Jewish-Congregations-and-Disappointed-Gentile-Friends.html&Itemid=44

  14. Gene and I found common ground. Miracle of miracles! (Actually, I’m not too surprised.)

    I think in the interest of sparing people’s feelings (and for the sake of financial security), we’ve failed to lay out the very legitimate and primary purpose of an MJ synagogue – which is to provide JEWS a place to follow Yeshua together. (The missions people are actually much better on the demographic front. They simply don’t allow non-Jews to attend their outreach services.)

    A few leaders have figured out processes for establishing these expectations early on – Tikvat Israel in VA through a rigorous membership process, and Ruach Israel in Boston through visible delineations between Jews and non-Jews (wearing tallit, making aliyah, etc). And from what I’ve heard, these congregations are “packed to the gills” primarily with Jews and their non-Jewish spouses.

  15. PS: I don’t want to be perceived as endorsing the missions approach. We’re obviously obligated to be welcoming to the “guerim” in our midst … it’s very tricky to do that in the 21st century MJ context without sacrificing the needs of the kehilla.

  16. judahgabriel says:

    I hesitated to comment on this, figuring there would be some division created as a result. I am trying to avoid fruitless internet fights. This post will inevitably create arguments and hostility and division. I don’t even know why I’m posting it.

    Derek, Stuart Dauermann and others are asking, “How can we keep MJ congregations Jewish? We must provide Jews a place to keep their Jewish identity while believing in Yeshua. MJ is overwhelmingly gentile now, so what can we do to fix this?”

    I really understand and sympathize with this sentiment. MJ doesn’t feel like authentic Judaism if most of its members are just gentiles. “Come one, come all, see the attraction of the world’s only Judaism where its members are mostly non-Jews!”

    At the same time, I see the other side of this. This outlook creates a wall of division and hostility: essentially, we are asking gentiles to be cheerleaders, not partakers, in Messianic Judaism. We are saying, “There is little or no place for gentiles in Messianic Judaism.” So I simultaneously recognize both the need for Jewish expression of faith in Yeshua and the wall of hostility it inevitably builds between Jews and gentiles.

    Let me tell you a story. My family came from a very church-y background; my parents led praise & worship music for a huge, televised church in Illinois, one that, last I checked, still hosts its services on global Christian television.

    Before my father met his birth parents in the late 90s, my family was one of the gentile families visiting MJ synagogues, dabbling in MJ but living in Protestant Evangelical Christianity, transitioning ever more towards this Torah movement; it was as if God opened our eyes to Torah for the first time. With 80% of MJ congregation’s being gentile, I suspect we weren’t the only ones!

    During this time in MJ synagogues, we as gentiles were treated as second-class citizens.

    “Are you Jewish?”

    “No.”

    “Oh.” [walks away]

    We were allowed, reluctantly I think, to attend, but never to do music, have any kind of leadership position, speak in front of the congregation. Basically, sit in the back and be cheerleaders. Be seat-fillers and money-givers.

    When my dad met his bio mother and father in the late 90s, he discovered some of their Jewish identity. (And it wasn’t until about 3 months ago did my dad find out the full extent of the family’s Jewish nature, his grandparents even enrolling their children in Hebrew school here in MN before the family converted to Catholicism during the Great Depression.)

    After we found our Jewish ancestory, it made a world of difference. As a teen at the time, I remember it well. We were treated as first-class citizens in MJ synagogues:

    Please, come speak to our congregation.

    Please, will you lead music?

    Please, be on our board of directors.

    It was as if we were blacks in the 1950s US who suddenly woke up one morning with white skin.

    Really. I know that’s an inflammatory thing to say, but it’s true, I experienced it.

    The Ephesians 2 “wall of hostility” is very much alive. Efforts to create a purely-Jewish Messianic Judaism invariably create this wall, intended or not. Don’t get me wrong; I understand the need to preserve Jewish culture and Jewish expression of faith, but surely this “Jews here, gentiles there” approach isn’t the right way to do this!

    So what do we do with this fact that MJ synagogues are 80%+ gentile?

    Look at Messianic Judaism bigger than “Jews following Yeshua”. While some look at it that way, and it indeed encompasseses that, as for me, I look at Messianic Judaism as God’s move to restore Israel. I include gentiles in the Commonwealth of Israel. I do not see gentiles in MJ synagogues as a hindrance to this goal, but as a part of God’s overall plan. Just as God is drawing Jews to Yeshua, who’s to say it isn’t God drawing the gentiles into Messianic congregations? Such a thing is hard to swallow for those in favor of a purely-Jewish Messianic Judaism, but maybe, just maybe, it is God at work.

  17. jonboze says:

    Judah has a good point, and one that I think may be unique to messianic congregations. In a traditionally Jewish synagogue, you have Jews, and you have gentiles that may come, but recognize themselves as being more visitors. Then you have the Gentiles that are undergoing a conversion process with the understanding that once it is “over”, they’ll be accepted as a part of the community.

    From what I’ve seen of messianic Judaism, there simply is no form of conversion accepted by everyone as legitimate. People are either expected to ignore the difference between Jew and gentile, or worse, create a permanent status of Gentile that could (somewhat ironically I think) be termed as “in but not of”.

  18. Judah (and Jonathan):

    Believe me, I am thinking often of these issues. I think you know, Judah, that I do not treat non-Jews in my synagogue any differently. We are egalitarian in many ways.

    I appreciate you telling your story, Judah. It is a good one and well-told.

    I am processing and planning sometime in the not-too-distant future to write some theology of non-Jews in the Jewish portion of Yeshua’s congregation. I think this is an issue in need of theological clarity and depth (but I will write about it anyway, haha).

    Derek

  19. rebyosh says:

    The difficult issue at hand in this discussion is, to a degree, everyone is right.

    But truth be told a “Judaism” without Jews is not Judaism. As such, how do we build a messianic/messianist form of Judaism, which is able to find a place for non-Jews within our midst, while at the same time not watering down our covenant identities and cultural markers as Jews?

    Many of us have ideas – and I know I would like to hear what Derek has on his mind! :)

  20. rebyosh (Joshua):

    I am still seasoning some thoughts. I want to write about this with more finality than I have before. On the Gentiles category hear you will find many old posts with varied ideas. It would not be hard to find me contradicting myself somewhat.

    There are a number of factors that weigh in my thinking about a theology of non-Jews in a Messianic synagogue:
    (1) Binary ecclesiology and its ramifications.
    (2) Prophetic inclusion of non-Jews.
    (3) Torah distinction of Jews affirmed by apostles.
    (4) Sociological issues including Jewish identity formation and the need for a home for intermarrieds and their children.
    (5) A need and willingness to speak prophetically into the voices of Jewish halakha on this matter.

    We should not be afraid to be more inclusive than mainstream Judaism (though Reform is very inclusive). Yet we must also respect Torah and Jewish identity issues.

    I’m sure what I come up with will not convince everyone. But I want it to at least convince me about the parts that I think we can define and be honest about the parts that there is no answer to.

    Derek

  21. rebyosh says:

    Derek-

    You echo many of my own thoughts as well. I agree that as we build an authentic Messianic Judaism, we will also be unique in some ways. In agreement with you, one way is in our inclusiveness. I whole-heartedly believe that there is a messianic mandate to include those among the nations. However, in addition, in line with your thoughts above, how do we do that and build the type of covenant faithful remnant of Israel (i.e. read “Jews”) we seek to be.

    I am looking forward to continued interactions with you on this very timley subject.

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