Strangers Choosing Jewish Life

mezuzahI am a non-Jew converting to Judaism.

The stages of my journey can be summed up as follows:

(1) A reluctant conversion to Jesus-faith in college throws my secure world of science and mathematics into turmoil.

(2) Instead of simply fitting in with my newfound Christian community, within two weeks of turning to faith in Jesus I am questioning why the church isn’t more Jewish.

(3) I travel to Israel less than nine months after my faith commitment, seeking answers and sources.

(4) I experience a form of Messianic Judaism that is neither robust nor particularly Jewish, but more Pentecostal.

(5) I experience philo-semitic Christianity and the movement of Christian missions to the Jews.

(6) At the time, I found something more serious and with more potential for insight in the Christian missions movement.

(7) I now learn to approach Judaism as an outsider, a critic, and yet an appreciator.

(8) I have a long phase of, “Wow, matzah ball soup and Friday night candles! Let’s win a Jew for Christ.”

(9) In a long and disappointing stint as missionary, I grow disillusioned.

(10) I begin to think that the religious Jews I meet are better off in many ways than the people we confuse at the Jewish mission by encouraging them to be Christians and to assimilate into church life (thus losing their Jewish identity or at least sacrificing their childrens’ Jewish identity).

(11) I begin to wonder why there can’t be something more holistic for Jewish followers of Yeshua.

(12) I begin appreciating Jewish life more as an insider.

(13) It seems dangerous at first, but darnit I really enjoy worshipping God from within Judaism.

(14) In near total ignorance of Jewish life and tradition, I start a small Messianic congregation.

(15) From friends in the UMJC and at Hashivenu, I begin to learn what it means to be a Jew and how the theology of the New Testament deals with Jewish and Gentile identity.

(16) I grow increasingly embarrassed by my lack of real Jewish experience and long for a knowledgeable Jewish leader to serve or take over our synagogue.

(17) Lacking a more experienced Jewish teacher, I take responsibility to learn the liturgy and traditions for myself (in my “spare” time).

(18) The rhythms of Jewish life become familiar to me, but I reach an identity crisis. I am a Gentile living as a Jew. I start thinking of wearing tzit-tzit. I do for a day or two and then guilt overwhelms me. I cannot pretend to be a Jew.

(19) I start a swing towards an Orthodox Jewish practice and annoy my congregation members with pressure to be more Orthodox. Fortunately, this period was very brief.

(20) I finally understand that conversion is a must for me and my family. I apply with the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council (ourrabbis.org). I take forever to write up my paperwork and make arrangements so that, still, as of this moment, my conversion is not complete.

(21) I finally understand that Judaism is a conversation and that the Orthodox approach is not the most legitimate one.

(22) I write a blog post about strangers (sojourners, gerim) like me choosing Jewish life. I am in the middle. My odyssey is not complete.

The Dangers of Strangers
My story is not at all a paradigm. Many other sojourners have entered Messianic Jewish life for a wide variety of reasons. Common paths include:

I don’t sense any spiritual power in the church life I have experienced, so in turning away from the church, I found Messianic Judaism as the true church.

I grew up in a Sabbath-keeping Christian sect and Messianic Judaism is a whole lot more balanced than what I grew up in.

I discovered Israel as the center of the Bible and got tired of Israel being ignored in church. I wanted to keep God’s calendar and his way of life, so here I am in Messianic Judaism.

I married a Jew and had no idea what I was getting into, but in Messianic Judaism we find a sort of solution.

I heard about Messianic Judaism and had never experienced that kind of ancient-rooted tradition blended with contemporary worship. I was hooked the first time I worshipped there.

There are probably more journey stories than the ones I have listed. I would love to hear from you. What is your story?

A Free Offer!!
First Fruits of Zion recently published Messiah Journal #101. It contains an article, “One Law and the Messianic Gentile” and a new name for FFOZ’s view of Gentile relation to Torah: divine invitation.

This issue of Messiah Journal has caused people to abandon FFOZ by the bucket-load.

One Law and Ephraimite groups and many individuals are angry. They feel entitled and FFOZ’s article questions that entitlement. It exposes the dangers of strangers in Jewish life who never come to realize that the Chosen People of God are still the Chosen People of God.

I ordered a carton full of extra copies to give out to families in my synagogue. The article comes very close to my own position (not quite, I am a little less inclined to invite non-Jews to take on Torah).

I have six copies left. The first six people to share their own story in a comment on this blog using 100 words or less about how or why they came into Messianic Judaism and to request a copy, I will contact them and send a Messiah Journal 101 for free. (I have your email if you comment on this blog, so I will contact you).

So, please share whether you want a free copy or not. What is your journey story into Messianic Judaism? Please keep it to 100 words or less.

To see more about FFOZ’s Messiah Journal or get the article for a small fee online, click here.

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Christian, Gentiles, Judaism, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Strangers Choosing Jewish Life

  1. robyndevorah says:

    I’m sort of cheating a little bit. I wrote a post over a year ago about this very topic. Here’s the link: http://www.pocoyayo.com/2008/09/new-thing.html

  2. tp209 says:

    I studied Hebrew at a secular university, and it deepened my existing love for the “Old Testament” – the part of Scripture that most believers I knew read reluctantly or not at all. In reading, I developed a love for the nation of Israel and became convinced that God would keep His covenant with Israel; if not, how could I expect He would keep His promises to me? This gave me a desire to approach Israel and Torah humbly, wanting to experience more than I’d experienced in the church, while recognizing my separateness.

  3. dassismom says:

    I was studying Acts and I asked the Lord what was wrong with the church today. The response was “who are all these people you are reading about”; then “What do all these people have in common?” The answer was “They’re all Jewish.” The response, “That’s what you’re missing, the Jews are the key.” It was like a million light bulbs went off in my brain. I have not been the same since that day nine years ago. I am so blessed to be part of the Messianic Jewish Community (and very pro-Torah). :)

    (feel free to give the journal to the next person, I already have a copy)

  4. judahgabriel says:

    I like your story, Derek. I’m glad your intellectual mind is on the side of Israel and Messiah.

    Blessings.

  5. rightrudder says:

    Her Derek, send me a copy. I would like to see it.

  6. siseleanor says:

    I came to faith, spent my teens in the Salvation Army. I went to Bible college and lost faith. Going to synagogue I realised that Judaism is about practical and inner holiness. I was powerfully drawn to love and commit to the Jewish people. I converted orthodox in 1989. The community had one crucial issue which eventually brought me back to Yeshua. Initially I expected to assimilate. I experienced prejudice as a Jew in the church. I returned to Torah and mitzvoth as an MJ, this time with my eyes wide open, understanding that healthy orthodoxy is a conversation.

  7. siseleanor says:

    Many thanks,would love to see a copy. It’s good to read your story, Derek. I wish you every blessing on your journey.

  8. vadesigner says:

    We had moved, were not attending any other congregations because we had grown very disillusioned with mainstream “church”, and were home schooling. As we began to study in order to teach, God began to open our eyes to things like the Sabbath and the Feasts. He seemed to bring other publications our way to foster more of this.

    Equally, I have always admired those I knew who were Jewish but had no relationship with Yeshua. I’ve always had a sort of unreconciled curiosity. Ultimately, I had an identity crisis as a believer. I did not know who I was in Christ. I was “grafted in” – does that mean I’m now Jewish?! If not, then did Christ fulfill the Old Testament and all the Jews missed the boat, and I am somehow superior? (I think not!)

    I’ve been a believer for almost 25 years now, and have only recently found my true identity as a Gentile, saved by the grace of God through Yeshua, and welcomed in with open arms to a wonderful motley family. We are welcomed to take part in the feasts and the Sabbath, and do so as best as we can with our limited understanding.

    We are not part of a congregation per se, though becuase God now dwells in us, we are in fact the Church.

    This is our journey, and may I have a book please?

  9. Mishkan David says:

    Derek,

    I appreciate hearing your story. It sounds like I caught you as a very young Messianic when I phoned you back in 1990 while passing through your area. I will happily share my story, but I don’t think I can make 100 words or less.

    Perhaps I’ll just write my own autobiography, and post it on my blog. Thanks for the idea!

    Shalom,

    Mishkan David

  10. Dan Benzvi says:

    I wonder if Derek will let me for the sake of fairness and balance to post the link to Tim Hegg’s response to FFOZ”s article. I know many of you will find it quite interesting.

    Here is the link:

    http://www.torahresource.com/EnglishArticles/DivineInvitation_Response.pdf

    • Dan:

      For now I will let the link stand. But where is this idea of fairness coming from? Is it unfair if I express my opinion on my blog? No one pays me to write this blog. I work 20 hours a week preparing and writing this blog. Must I provide a platform for every person who wants to publicize their opinion? Does Tim Hegg invite me to post links to my articles on his websites? Of course not.

      In the interest of fairness, will you now email Tim and request equal access for me on his sites? Kidding, but you get the point.

      Derek

  11. harrisj0475 says:

    I haven’t converted to MJ as of yet so I don’t qualify, but I will share my story as of right now:

    To make a very long story very short all areas of my life crumbled to the ground and I had to start over. On one hand, I have a deep respect for the Christian church because they have helped me through so many things in my life. On the other hand, there are a lot of things that bother me about being there. It also seems like all the religions make fun of each other. I have been searching to be in a place where I can learn a lot more about Yeshua beyond the stories I have already heard in the Christian churches I have been to. If Yeshua could be found in a Messianic synagogue on the Sabbath, that is where I would want to be also. If Yeshua celebrated the holy holidays I have read about in the Bible, I want to also. If Yeshua spoke a different language then I do, I would want to learn as much as possible about how to speak that language also. To me it seems like Christianity is one level and Messianic Judaism is another. I do think that people in Messianic Judaism who have never been in Christianity could benefit from learning some things about that as well. In Christianity I like their various ministries that reach out to people. In Messianic Judaism I like learning about the Old Testament and celebrating the holy holidays.

    It’s also been hard to understand why God would place it upon me to want/need to be in MJ when I know people who I have considered to be great Christ-followers. I don’t understand why they are supposed to stay in the Christian church and why I am going to this new place in MJ. It just a “why me?” question I continue to ask.

  12. Dan Benzvi says:

    Well, Maybe Derek really changed. The old Derek surely would have deleted the link. I take off my hat, kol Hakavod.

  13. musicofrain says:

    And God said, let there be light…

    There I was minding my own business, which was writing curriculum for the book of Matthew. A question was nagging me. What is John the Baptizer doing? So began the quest for me.

    At the same time my M-I-L died. My husband could not face Christmas without her. Because of the direction Matthew was taking me, we looked into Chanukah, built a menorah and found the actual Messiah that the church kept trying to force into Christmas.

    The Spirit continues to guide us, illumine and fascinate with the consistency of His Word.

  14. mbell6285 says:

    “It exposes the dangers of strangers in Jewish life who never come to realize that the Chosen People of God are still the Chosen People of God.”

    Perhaps you want to reconsider this statement, because if you mean to say what it sounds like you are saying, then this is a terrible misrepresentation of both One Law and Ephraimite groups.

    First of all, as aberrant as I consider two-house theology to be, it is anything but replacement theology, since it in fact, retains the greatest distinction for Jews of any of these movements.

    Second of all, the One Law position by no means claims that God has rejected his chosen people! It simply includes the Gentiles who come to know God through Yeshua as part of those chosen people, a reality that I truly hope that every believer acknowledges, including yourself, whether or not you think that this implies an equal obligation to God’s commandments.

    You can’t possibly really think that we are talking about a rejection of God’s election of Israel, can you?

  15. mbell6285:

    Of course some with two-house theologies (such as J.K McKee at tnnonline) and One Law theologies have great respect for the Jewish people and their place in Biblical promise.

    But, yes, it is replacement theology when the distinction between Jew and non-Jew is erased. When people say, “In Messiah the non-Jew is as the Jew,” then the Chosen People is replaced by Yeshua-followers.

    And yes, many in these movements love Torah and have little place for the Jewish community and say the ugliest things about Judaism’s history and its present state. The rabbis are often thought of as evil or at the very least utterly deceived and worthless as teachers.

    I believe that God is working in Judaism even apart from explicit faith in Yeshua. I believe that the Holy Spirit does his work in the rabbis and in Israel. I believe Romans 11 ought to be reason enough for all who believe the New Testament to agree with me. I believe that Judaism, while no more inspired than Christianity, is a God-ordained institution, as is Christianity. Judaism and Christianity preserve the Bible, the people of Israel, the church, faith in God and Messiah. Without Christianity, the world would be so much further away from redemption. The same is true of Judaism. God has used Judaism to preserve the Jewish people from assimilation and to keep faith in some parts of his Torah and prophets if not all. Christianity can claim no better in terms of a track record of faithfulness.

    • robyndevorah says:

      Derek, your take on replacement theology confuses me. How is non-Jewish believers in Yeshua being *added to* Israel a *replacement of* Israel? I truly mean no disrespect. I have just never heard an explanation of replacement theology such as yours.

  16. robyndevorah:

    Gentiles joining Israel would not be replacement theology if those Gentiles came in with the understanding of who Israel is and what it means to join. This is why conversion overseen by a rabbinical council is vital.

    The idea that simply by believing in Yeshua a Gentile becomes part of Israel is replacement theology because: (1) it is not true, (2) there is no decision to join Israel when it is simply automatic, (3) some people who believe they enter Israel this way come with anti-Judaic ideas, (4) the people of Israel is diluted with people who don’t know what it means to belong to Israel, and so on.

    I feel there are three kinds of non-Jews in MJ who have a legitimate place: (1) philo-Semitic Christians who do not take on Torah but who wish to support Jewish renewal in Messiah, (2) sojourners who take on some or all of Torah and support Jewish renewal without full conversion, (3) those who wish to fully join Israel and take on the peoplehood as well as the Torah of Israel.

    I believe these are all conscious choices, not inherited statuses. When the become automatically inherited, the potential for replacement theology abounds.

    • Would you be willing to indulge me by defining the word “philo-Semite?” I know you, so I know you have good intentions here, but somehow I’m feeling leery.

      Why does the word philo-semite make me so uncomfortable? Perhaps it’s because, as Israeli journalist Evan Goldstein once pointed out, “philo-Semites … seem to relate to Jews more as mythical figures from the Bible than as real living, breathing people.”

      He’s not the only one who feels this way. Jewish people in the modern Messianic movement often complain of being treated as artifacts on a shelf, present for the curiosity of visitors who seem to like the shiny pretty parts of Jewishness – chaggim, covenant, rich symbolism & ritual, a funky guttural language (Hebrew) – but fail to reckon with the messy parts – persecution, pogroms, exile, circumcision, tribalism, a deeply cynical language (Yiddish).

      I’ve heard way too many Gentiles who profess a “love for Israel” use the same mouth to complain about their latest interaction with a representative of our tribe. It’s as if the only good Jew is a Jew who pleasantly agrees with them, especially on matters of faith.

      I’m all for philo-Semitism, as long as it reflects a genuine love for the Jewish people of NOW … with all our flaws and baggage … rather than just the “Israel” of yesteryear. I think that requires some humility when 21st century Jewish people decide NOT to follow Yeshua for one reason or another. Because real love is unconditional.

  17. Mishkan David says:

    derek4messiah :
    robyndevorah:
    I believe these are all conscious choices, not inherited statuses. When the become automatically inherited, the potential for replacement theology abounds.

    Derek,

    I appreciate this explanation of your view. We agree significantly, including the above quotation. It seems that our fundamental assumptions are very similar in many ways. I just don’t happen to believe that conversion is the necessary solution to the issues you raise. In fact, such a view strikes me as being identical to the hypocritical position for which Sha’ul chastised Kefa.

    Have you considered the implications of Kefa’s separation from the Gentile believers vis-a-vis your current views on ethnic identity? I’d be curious to hear how you perceive the two situations, then and now.

    Todah rabbah.

  18. Pingback: Interesting article from Derek Leman, as always « My Own Generous Orthodoxy

  19. Monique:

    Real love is unconditional. I agree. So I hope that works both ways. I hope you can love Christians with an imperfect understanding of Klal Yisrael. I think you can, but it seemed your comment required a little pushback.

    Yes, there is an idealism about Jews and Israel that faces rapid disillusionment in some cases. It is the Israel of the Bible, the intangible concept that many philo-Semitic Christians fall in love with. In my case, as a young philo-Semitic Christian in Chicago, the path went smoothly. I discovered the warts of the Jewish families I met and it was not difficult to assimilate this new information and adjust my idealism.

    I can only say that with good teachers MJ congregations and churches adjust too. I am sure the problem you bring up is common. Those churches and Gentiles are in need of a good person to show them the way. It is why Jewish-Christian relations is so important.

  20. Derek, I welcome the pushback, and your point is well taken.

    But I also want to point out that an “imperfect understanding of Klal Yisrael” isn’t necessarily benign, and has had very negative ramifications for the Jewish people for centuries. As a result, let’s just say we’re still a little wary. You’re right that good teaching is the beginning of the solution. So is a humble assessment of our own best intentions (as Gentiles, as Jews, and as movement leadership).

    I didn’t mean to suggest that “all” sojourners fall into this category. I only meant to communicate how weary I feel about the insistence that one’s “love for Israel” should prompt the Jewish people to open our arms without first checking to ensure that the declarant’s deeds line up with his/her sentiments.

    In the Jewish mind, talk is cheap. It’s a person’s deeds that really attest to their character.

  21. esananaka says:

    Derek, I have been following your podcast for a little bit now. Very interesting and insightful. I have long felt that something was missing from my “Christian” experience and that there was a disconnect from what I was reading and studying in the bible and what I was experience. I started to Study the Tanak and the B’rit Hadasha from the Hebraic point of view and have had the bible come to life for me. My 5 trips to Israel have given me a deep love for the Jewish/Israeli people. I now consider myself “Yehudi Ruchani” and realize that there is a grafting in through our Messiah Yeshua. That is about as far as I have gotten in the whole thing. I know that there is a pre-eminent special Place for the nation of Israel as God’s Chosen people and that through Messiah Yeshua I am a child of the Promise. I am learning and understanding as I go with no real guidance as this makes me “Strange” at “church” and am deeply desiring to know more. am interested in reading that book if you have any left and are willing to put one out in the direction of this humble talmid of Yeshua. Thanks for your endeavors to reveal the Historic, Jewish Messiah that Yeshua was and is and is to come.

    May you rest in the Grace and Shalom of our Lord and Savior and May the sh’kinah of Yeshua continue to shine from you.
    Ze’ev

  22. robyndevorah says:

    I received the Messiah Journal in the mail a few days ago. Thanks!

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