Can I Be Jewish and Believe in Jesus?

Introduction:

Do you want to destroy the family with this mishegoss?

Are you trying to help Hitler finish the job?

How can we ever face anyone in the community (or at the JCC or the synagogue or make a good match for your sister) again?

Have you gotten sucked into a cult?

You know you will no longer be Jewish if you…

Most of the discussion points and/or issues raised on this website have been theological and philosophical up to this point; however, this one is almost purely emotional and sociological. This one strikes at the very heart of what Jewish people have been told for almost 2,000 years – “You cannot be Jewish and believe in Jesus.” Right?

Now many organizations like Tzedakah Ministries could start at this point by bringing up a long list of Jewish people who have and do believe in Jesus as Messiah (and that is a perfectly fine and if you are interested here is a link to a fairly decent book) but that is not going to convince you that it is okay for YOU to do it. So … we are going to take a different approach if you are interested in taking this exploration/journey with us?

For as Moses Hess (who WAS NOT a Jewish believer in Jesus) but was instead a 19th century French-Jewish Socialist, and early Zionist, who was buddies with Marx and Engels for a time, once said:

The Jew, by virtue of his origin, will always belong to Judaism, even if he or his ancestors changed their faith.”

In other words, you are Jewish regardless of what you believe, who you are, or what you think.

 

Why Should I Give Up Being Jewish for Jesus?

Before we even get to the “BIG QUESTION,” can we begin with a couple of sub-questions that I personally find fascinating – (1) What Is a Jewish Society? and (2) Can the Jewish Society Be Clearly Defined Today?

I know you thought I was going to ask the “Who Is a Jew?” question but to me that question was rendered moot from the years 1933-1945 and I refuse to ask it. If you identify as Jewish through birth (mother or father; grandmother or grandfather; great-grandmother or great-grandfather, and I think you get my point) … you are Jewish. If you identify as Jewish because you converted because of marriage … you are Jewish. However, the sociological questions need to be answered because if we are (and we are!) going to ask you to consider the Jesus question, we both need to know what is truly being asked.

In the late 1800s, the great French-Jewish sociologist Emile Durkheim in his book Suicide identified a Jewish Society by the following definition – “a small society, compact and cohesive, with a very keen self-consciousness and sense of unity.” It could be argued that on many levels that this is still somewhat accurate but is there a better and more modern definition for the 21st century? Yes…

Modern American-Jewish Aaron J. Hahn Tapper of San Francisco University wrote in his 2016 work Judaisms what I would consider a better definition for the Jewish people today –

“Are Jews best described as a religion, culture, ethnicity, nation, race, political orientation, or something else? And are Jews the only community that can be understood as an example of all of these categories at the same time?”

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY

For as I as I was considering all the conceivable just religious labels that a Jewish person might wear today for a paper I presented a while ago, this is the short list I came up for my presentation (and I will add two that I realize now that I left off):

  • Ultra-Orthodox
  • Modern Orthodox
  • Open Orthodox
  • Traditional Orthodox
  • Conservadox
  • Conservative
  • Bridgers between Conservative/Reform
  • Reform (HUC-Cincinnati)
  • Reform (HUC-NYC)
  • The Reconstructing
  • Humanistic
  • Jewish Renewal Movement
  • Secular/Agnostic/Atheist
  • LEFT OFF – Jewish Buddhists
  • LEFT OFF – Jewish Mystics (often aka Kabbalists)

So, and with all these religious labels possible in Jewish Society, why would Rabbi David Novak have said, “One cannot accept Christian and still be part of the normative Jewish community; one cannot live by Torah and still be part of the Church.” (emphasis added by Explore Messiah…?)

My question then is simply and really two-fold: (1) what really is normative in today’s Judaism and (2) Christianity values the Torah as the Word of God so why would he think that it would be impossible to live by Torah and be apart of the Christian faith? I wonder if he really is defining Torah as Talmud? And if so … shouldn’t he have said so? For who except the most observant of Jewish people really “observe” Talmud? Did even the Conservative Rabbi Novak? What do you think?

But before we move onto the next section … here are some Jewish facts that you should consider:

  • Did you know that not only were all the first believers in Jesus Jewish (Peter, James, John, Paul, etc.) but also it was not until about 50 CE that non-Jewish people were even considered as Jesus followers and a Church Council without first requiring circumcision (Acts 15)?

  • Did you know that followers of Jesus considered as a predominantly Jewish sect until about the early 2nd century and the Bar Kokhba Rebellion? It was not an either/or proposition until the rabbis made it so.

  • Did you know that the latest Pew Research Survey (2013) shows that 38% of Jewish people believe that one can be Jewish and still believe in Jesus?

Incidentally, and for comparison’s sake, we should examine what Maimonides said about the issue versus what Jesus might have said:

Maimonides

Jesus

“When a man accepts all of these principles, fully believing in them, he enters into the community of Israel and we are bound to love him, to show mercy to him, and to fulfill with respect all of the duties of God imposed regarding love and brother-hood… But if he rejects one of these principles, he leaves the community and denies [the Torah], and he is called a heretic and apostate, and we are obligated to hate him and destroy him.” Introduction to Pereq Heleq

Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. – Matthew 10:28-30

Which one appears to be the more preferred Jewish way of living that you would like to follow? Just asking?

Aren’t Jewish Values as good if not even better than christian values?

Whew… this is a tough question for Christians to answer at times because the answer is more than occasionally yes if you just base your answer on the “eye test.”

Many Christians are not as friendly to the environment as we should be. Many Christians do not understand the English definition of “Tikkun Olam” (repair the world) much less the Hebrew concept of the phrase. Many Christians fail at the Torah and Jesus admonition of “love your neighbor as yourself.” Tzedakah Ministries and Explore Messiah…? admits it freely, unreservedly and sadly.

 

For … We are who believers in Jesus should and can do better but not because we have to do better but because we get to do better.

I know that is a rather strange concept to express but give Explore Messiah…? a few sentences to explain ourselves with two quick examples.

FIRST – The Pirkei Avot (Sayings of the Fathers) states: “Ben Azzai would say: ‘Run to pursue a minor mitzvah, and flee from a transgression. For a mitzvah brings another mitzvah, and a transgression brings another transgression. For the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah, and the reward of transgression is transgression.’” (4:2)

On the surface, this is a nice saying from Ben Azzai but if you consider it below the surface it is nothing but the illustration of a hamster in a cage on

his wheel running a never-ending race. You complete a mitzvah (good deed) and your reward is the need to do another mitzvah and another one and another one. It is the like the song that never ends because your good deeds are never good enough.

The Apostle Paul explains the life of a truly devoted believer in Jesus in another way: For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto [to do] good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

In the life of a believer in Jesus, we receive what we understand as salvation/atonement by no work of our own but by grace through faith because it is God’s gift to us. Ultimately, we have no bragging rights but because of our gratitude for what was done for us … we will and should do good works for Him. It is not required of us but it is our opportunity to express our appreciation and our thankfulness.

Now … do many who call themselves Christians fail at this appreciative act? Absolutely! However, that is a failure on our part  and not a reflection of how we should behave. Which brings us to the SECOND POINT…

SECOND – We can find written in the Bava Qamma 2:6: “A man is always responsible, whether his act is intentional or inadvertent, whether he is awake or asleep.” I personally find this statement interesting in the light of an anecdote about whether Christianity is nothing but “Judaism Light.”

I (Amy Downey) was listening to a live presentation between a Disciples of Christ minister and a Jewish rabbi. They were discussing what redemption entails and the Disciples of Christ minister did an excellent job of explaining atonement. The rabbi, in my opinion, condescendingly explained that while Christians let someone else do the job for them that Jewish people secured their own atonement through their own righteous deeds.

During the Q/A, I raised my hand and asked the rabbi to explain how his explanation was possible in light of Isaiah 64:5 in the Jewish Publication Society version – “And we are all become as one that is unclean, and all our righteousnesses are as a polluted garment; and we all do fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” Aside from the fact that the rabbi was unaware of this verse, he was stuck for an answer to the fact that our absolute best is garbage, menstrual rags, that is blown away as the wind before God.

One of his friends in the audience attempted to come to the rabbi’s rescue and proceeded to compare belief in Jesus as nothing more than “Judaism Light.” Interesting question the guy raised – is belief in Jesus nothing more than “kosher bacon” or is it something more as I pointed out to him?

I asked the rabbi’s friend if he had ever read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) which is the instruction book for believers in Jesus. Jesus basically laid out for His followers how they (we) are supposed to live if we believe in Him and if you compare it closely – it looks remarkably like the Torah’s commandments – no killing, no adultery, no stealing and beyond.One of his friends in the audience attempted to come to the rabbi’s rescue and proceeded to compare belief in Jesus as nothing more than “Judaism Light.” Interesting question the guy raised – is belief in Jesus nothing more than “kosher bacon” or is it something more as I pointed out to him?

However, Jesus took them a step further because he said that if you had hate in your heart for someone – you were guilty of murder. Jesus said that if you had lust in your heart, you were guilty of adultery. Jesus said that if you gave to the Temple but let your parents suffer, you were guilty of stealing. Ultimately, Jesus took the Torah and made it impossible to follow … unless you surrendered yourself to Him.

But here is where it gets interesting because Jesus said that He did not come to abolish the Torah to fulfill it all … and He did (Matthew 5:17-20). We cannot do it but He did it all for us. We simply have to give our hearts to Him (remember that Matthew 11:28-30 passage) and He takes care of the rest. Believing in Jesus is the most Jewish act we can do because Jesus wants us to take Jewish values and live them not because we have to do so but because we want to do so.

He wants us to not hate because it is murder. He wants us to not lust because at its core it is adultery. He wants us to take care of our family because that is the greatest value of them all. He also wants us to live out a life of love, empathy, compassion to the world to emulate His example.

So while many who profess to be believers in Jesus are lousy examples, true believers in Jesus know we must and should do better – not because we have to but because we want to do better. Perhaps this is why Jesus said near the close of the Sermon on the Mount the following:

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. You shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that brings not forth good fruit is cut down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them. Not everyone that says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in your name have cast out devils? and in your name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity. (Matthew 7:15-23)

Do You Know What It Will Cost Me If I Believe in Jesus? What Is in It for Me?

Here are a few of the quotations that relate to the question at hand…

“You can take a Jew out of a shtetl, but you cannot take a shtetl out of a Jew.” – Sholom Aleichem

“The Jewish community is all about love and family, which is the most important thing in my life, too.” – Gregg Sulkin

“What one Christian does is his own responsibility, what one Jew does is thrown back at all Jews.” – Anne Frank

“[Community] is the mutual voice of Jewish responsibility that most closely resembles being members of an extended family with all the joys, anxieties, frustrations, idiosyncrasies, and responsibilities that membership in a family brings.” – Erica Brown and Misha Galperin (The Case for Jewish Peoplehood)

“A person who separates himself from the congregation of Israel and does not fulfill mitzvot together with them, does not take part in their hardships, or join in their [communal] fasts, but rather goes on his own individual path as if he is from another nation and not [Israel], does not have a portion in the world to come.” – Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Teshuvah 3:11

Do those quotes not reflect the greatest fear that most Jewish people have about “coming out” or coming to faith in Messiah Jesus?

Historical guilt

Familial guilt

Community guilt

Holocaust guilt

Religious guilt

There are a lot of jokes regarding “Jewish Guilt” but the reality is … Jewish Guilt is a very real thing. I have seen and overheard the hushed conversations taking place when a Jewish person “becomes one of them.” I have had a friend tell me to my face that she cannot afford the stigma of becoming a Christian because of what it might cost her “in the community.” I have another friend who wants to make the step of belief but the fear of disappointing her deceased and abusive father holds her back. The baggage and guilt are real … I have seen, heard and experienced it for myself.

So …what is in it for you? Why should you believe in Jesus? Why should you go against the words of Chabad Rabbi Menachem Schneerson – “Every Jew – wherever he or she may find themselves, even a solitary Jew in the most remote corner of the earth – must remember that they are part of the whole Jewish people and representatives of the entire Jewish people – the one people ever since the Torah was given at Mt. Sinai until the end of time.”

I can give you all the spiritual reasons – Heaven, eternity with God, answers to all the spiritual questions you have searching for while you have been on this journey of exploring Messiah and discovering Jesus in the process, etc., etc. And those are all absolutely true. Go and look through all the other six questions on this website and you will see how the truth has been defended and validated.

However, I am going to be real with you. This is the toughest issue of them all because it requires you to take this journey without a net and with blinders on. This is the ultimate adventure of one’s life – XGames or whatever they call it now has nothing on this decision.

You will make your greatest ally but also your greatest enemy. You will never be spiritually alone but perhaps you will be personally alone. This is why CAFÉ Kehillah is here to answer your questions and to prepare you for the journey. This is why we are seeking to equip you so that your decision is not made casually because you have because this exploration and you should know where you are going when it is over.

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