This opinion piece was written by Orthodox Rabbi Shlomo Riskin for The Jerusalem Post:
In Jewish-Evangelical Christian relations, a hot button issue is the Messianic movement.
Gentile Christians are often perplexed that Jews who believe Jesus
as divine and the savior cannot retain their Jewish identity within mainstream Jewish thought.
After all, Romans 1:16 states: “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God
for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”
Mainstream Jewish thought and law do not subscribe to the belief in Jesus or the sacredness of the Christian Testament. If a Jew believes in Jesus as divine and savior, he has taken himself out of Judaism and is in error. While I may understand the need to retain the Jewish identity while maintaining a belief in Jesus, in no way can one dilute the law to affirm the desire to be part of Judaism. Believing that God has come down to embody himself in the person of Jesus to atone and redeem the world is a Christian doctrine and what makes a person Christian. Judaism believes the Messiah has not yet come.
Orthodox Jews believe that Judaism consists of more than God speaking to Israel through the text of Scripture but also through the centuries of Jewish interpretation, application and living of that text. Just like mainstream Evangelical Christianity considers those who believe in Mormonism not to be Christian, so it is within our right to self-define who we are and say those who profess a belief in Jesus are not members of Judaism.
I am often astonished when Christian friends ask me about the persecution of the
Messianic community in Israel.
“Persecution” is not the language I’d use to describe the situation. One cannot compare the
persecution of Christians in radical Islamic nations or in China to the episodes experienced
by the Messianic community from mainstream Jewish Israeli society.
It is true the Messianic community has experienced discrimination. I do not endorse such
behavior nor do I wish to minimize the feelings of this community when facing these prejudices.
However, promoting an agenda that suggests that Israel is persecuting a segment of its
population is actually defeating the cause of many sincere gentile Christians who seek support
from greater Christianity in standing with Israel.
It is easy to say the Messianic community is a monolith and all wish to bring the Gospel to
every Jew. The truth is that many just want to practice their faith in private and have no active
agenda in missionizing other Jews.
However, there is a minority who use deceptive proselytizing practices to win Jewish converts.
This is spiritually offensive and says those who practice Judaism in its current state are not
living a salvific expression of the covenant.
Our Center has opened its doors to the gentile Church community to extend a hand of
friendship and willingness to dialogue on issues of faith. There will be times when we can
find common ground, and other times when we will agree to disagree. The religious
conversation between Orthodox Jews and Evangelical Christians is a new endeavor, and
there are forces that want to stop this sacred work by stating that any connection to Christians
adds fuel to the Messianic movement and puts Jewish souls at risk.
As pioneers, we are taking the brunt of criticism from Jewish and Christian circles. Our
intention is pure, and we understand that a partnership with the Christian world is a necessity
and a duty as a nation state. Both our faith communities are challenged by radical Islam on
one side and secular materialistic culture on the other. We need to talk with one another to
better support each other. The topic of the messianic movement, an important one to discuss,
should not deter us from what work needs to be done and the conversations that need to take
place. However, we must believe that the atmosphere under which these conversations take
place is one of respect and does not imply a compromise of our core faith doctrines.
Shlomo Riskin is chief rabbi of Efrat
and founder of The Center for Jewish –Christian Understanding and Cooperation.
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