Why Messianic Judaism Isn't Anti-Semitism
While Americans are collectively grieving over last weekend’s horrific mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, a related controversy involving Vice President Mike Pence is sparking headlines and national condemnation in the media.
Monday night, at a political rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., Pence invited Rabbi Loren Jacobs to offer a prayer for the 11 worshipers who were gunned down by a Jew-hating madman. Jacobs began his prayer by saying, “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, God and father of my Lord and Savior Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah, and my God and father, too.” Continuing, Jacobs asked, “Lord, please work so that instead of division in our nation there is unity and peace.”
Unfortunately, instead of unity and peace, Jacobs’ prayer ignited a firestorm in the Jewish community since he is not a traditional rabbi but a “Messianic rabbi” – one who believes that Jesus of Nazareth is the Jewish Messiah.
It is unclear whether the vice president initially knew that about Rabbi Jacobs. If so, inviting him to the stage was tone-deaf considering the raw emotion of this national Jewish tragedy. Either way, Pence’s actions have cast a negative light on Messianic Judaism, and for this writer — a Jew who also believes that Jesus is the Messiah — it is all very personal.
Although I found much of the media coverage about Messianic Jews riddled with mischaracterizations, exaggerations, and inaccuracies, I resigned myself to letting the storm pass. However, late Tuesday night I read an article in The Hill that embedded a tweet from Steven I. Weiss asserting flatly, "‘Messianic Judaism’ is antisemitism.”
Such incendiary descriptions are nothing new. In over four decades since I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I have experienced various degrees of hostility and insults from my own Jewish family and fellow Jews.
Although every Messianic Jew can attest to similar treatment, we all have unique and fascinating conversion stories. Here are some highlights from mine — shared in the hope that traditional Jews who have read this far will open their hearts and minds and reject the absurd and offensive claim that “Messianic Judaism is anti-Semitism.”
First, let’s begin with some Bible-based facts. Jesus was born and raised a Jew. He preached from the Jewish Bible (Old Testament) and worshiped in the temple. After his crucifixion, he was prepared for burial according to Jewish customs. The major theological differences between Judaism and Messianic Judaism (along with all Christian sects) are the beliefs that Jesus was the promised Christ -- that He was resurrected from the dead, is Messiah, Lord, and Savior, and will return someday.
How did I come to believe this? Born and raised Jewish in the Boston suburb of Needham with the last name of Kahn, my parents were culturally Jewish, but religious practice was virtually non-existent in my home.
Growing up I knew only two basic religious facts: I was Jewish, and Jews did not believe in Jesus. I was without faith, but during my sophomore year in college at Ohio State University, Jesus came to me. He pulled me to Him as if He had inserted a ring through my nose. Doubt and resistance were never options nor contemplated. Without ever seeing or hearing Him speak, I instinctively knew that this powerful force was Jesus. I had no choice but to follow Him even though I knew absolutely nothing about Him.
Over the years I have often been asked about my conversion. After describing the “ring through the nose,” I always add, “I had faith before I had knowledge.” Even after 43 years as a Jewish Christian, my quest for Biblical knowledge continues, but I call myself a “completed Jew.” This term is popular among Jewish believers and stems from the notion that the Old Testament prophesies and teachings are “completed” or fulfilled by Jesus and the New Testament.
With my background established, here is why I believe that it is highly offensive for Messianic Jews to be called anti-Semitic -- defined as producing hostility, prejudice, and discrimination against Jews.
First, such acts and behaviors toward Jews are evil, sinful and contrary to Jesus’ teachings in Mark (12:29-31) when he quotes from Torah’s book of Leviticus (19:17-18) and declares, "Thou shalt love your neighbor as yourself" is the second greatest commandment. Therefore, Jews who follow Jesus would not knowingly engage in behavior toward traditional Jews that is anti-Semitic -- by definition.
Second, Jews believing that Jesus Christ was who He said He was, i.e., the Messiah, does not make us “anti-Jewish.” On the contrary, besides being “completed” in our faith as previously discussed, believing that Jesus is the Messiah makes us proud and privileged to be Jewish disciples of the greatest Jew who ever walked the planet. We also benefit knowing that His Spirit dwells within us. Messianic Jews can’t possibly be anti-Jewish since we follow a Jew who positively impacted and changed the course of human history, and still changes lives every day.
Meanwhile, Jewish believers in Christ, as do all Christians, fully acknowledge that over the centuries mankind has committed evil acts while evoking the name of Jesus -- acts that Jesus Himself would never approve of and from which He must be disassociated.
Finally, some loving advice to my Jewish brothers and sisters: learn about the Jewishness of Jesus. Read about His life and teachings in the New Testament without fear of “conversion.” Familiarize yourself with numerous, fascinating Old Testament Messianic prophesies that foretold His birth, life, and death centuries before He was born.
In addition, specifically educate yourself about why the great majority of Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah as opposed to the standard “Jews don’t believe in Jesus,” period.
Throughout my life, I have met many Jews who were unaware that Jesus was Jewish or who thought that He was an enemy of the Jews. Such ignorance only fosters hate and division, resulting in more Jews who believe that “Messianic Judaism is anti-Semitism.”
Most important, learn why “Jesus is love,” because the world could sure use more of that right now.