Hiding Our Faith

“A Jew at Home; A Man on the Streets.”

That line was used to describe Moses Mendelssohn at a lecture a few of us attended as part of a series called “Five Centuries of Modern Jewish Thought.”

A lot of people could be described that way: “A Messianic Jew at home, incognito on the streets” or “A Christian at home, perfectly blended into invisibility at the cafe.”

Mendelssohn (1729-1786, grandfather of the famous composer) was not a particularly sharp philosopher nor a great theologian, but he was very influential in the emancipation of the Jewish people, breaking into mainstream academic life in Europe at a time when Jews were shut out. It was once said of him by a famous playwright, “If all Jews were like Mendelssohn, Jews would not be so bad.” Yeah, he was kind of that pioneering figure gaining acceptance at the cost of mild compromise and a willingness to smile when patronized. He also came back with some sharp observations and intelligent discourse to make his generation think.

In Mendelssohn’s day, the state and church were bedfellows. Your religious status was a key to your status with government, with universities, and in business.

Mendelssohn represents the enlightenment coming of age amongst the Jews of Europe. It seems to me there is both good and bad in this, freedom and compromise.

The phenomenon of hiding our faith to fit in is not something I would have to encourage to see more if it. (So I was just being sarcastic with the title!)

Our nearness to God, our sense of connection to him, can be and for many has become a sort of part-time job. How do the words, ideas, values, and practices of the synagogue or church carry over into our public lives? Religion is a choice, an occupation for certain times and occasions. It would be an improvement if religion became a fraternity or sorority for some people as even friendships and relationships are not significantly shaped by faith.

The lecture stimulated me to think about this all in a more philosophical and sociological way.

While we benefit from freedom of religion, freedom from religious tyranny, and freedom from discrimination, we are harmed by the separation of faith into our private life.

Wouldn’t it be better to have it said of us, “Jew at home and everywhere he/she goes”?

P.S. Note Mendelssohn’s beard. You might think at first he doesn’t have one. He trimmed his beard to be thin and noticeable only up close. This represents his compromise: faithful to a Jewish ideal (men do not shave their beards) but hiding it as much as possible.


About Derek Leman

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

4 Responses to Hiding Our Faith

  1. wordmachine says:

    Please let me know if this is right or wrong…for some people it’s a process of letting family/friends know they are being called into Messianic Judaism. I imagine some people just tell everyone at once and others tell people privately, one at a time.

  2. wordmachine:

    I didn’t mean to cast any judgment at anyone for taking time to reveal things to family and close friends. There are many legitimate reasons to wait for a good time to let family know about such things. I apologize if I sounded judgmental. Life is complicated and one size doesn’t fit all.

  3. wordmachine says:

    No problem. I just wanted to make sure I was thinking right.

  4. wordmachine:

    Glad you’re not offended. Blessings.


    So, anyone else a thought about hiding faith. The rabbi at the Mendelssohn lecture mentioned he was part of a Black-Jewish dialogue group in college. The leader of the African-American group pointed out the difference between prejudice against Jews and blacks: a Jew can simply remove the yarkulke and other Jewish trappings and blend in.

    We read an excerpt by W.E. Dubois, the first Harvard PhD from the black community. He spoke about the oddity of dual identity (black and American) and how it was impossible to escape either one. For a Jewish person, the same: Jewish and American (or other nationality).

    My thought: for a Messianic Jew, even more complex: Jewish, related to Christianity, and American. It is a triple identity. Can people hold together such complex identities and the ways they overlap? I think we can.

    Anyone else, a thought on hiding faith versus embodying faith? I prefer embodying to “sharing.”

    Derek Leman

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