Messianic Judaism today

“The Ascendance of “Messianic Judaism” in the Context of “Hebrew Christianity”  http://mcu.edu/papers/mess_jud.htm

A History of the 20th Century Movement in America of “Jewish Believers” in “Yeshua Ha Mashiach” (Jesus Christ) by William Greene, Ph.D.


The modern phenomenon of Jewish believers in Jesus Christ as their Messiah has a long history in the United States, and (as is the case with most modern Jewish history) has strong ties to a European heritage as well. Foundations for the twentieth century were laid, of course, in the nineteenth century and before; worldwide, estimates of Jewish conversions to Christianity approximated 250,000 during the 1800s, including such notables as British Prime Minister Disraeli, Old Testament commentary wri ters Franz Delitzsch and David Baron, and the first Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, Michael Solomon Alexander.1 However, in America, this phenomenon has taken on some unique characteristics, the most prominent of which has been the evolution of what was known as "Hebrew Christianity" into today’s "Messianic Judaism." While some still try to maintain the existence of a present-day dichotomy between the two, for the most part, the latter has come to encompass the former.

This has not always been so. For many, the terms Messianic Jew and Hebrew Christian describe "different streams or ways of being a Jewish believer in Yeshua" (Hebrew for Jesus).2 Historian David Rausch emphatically believes that

at one end of the spectrum is Hebrew Christianity with a completely assimilated and church-acculturated Jewish convert to Christianity and on the other end of the spectrum is Messianic Judaism with the Jewish Christian maintaining traditional practice and either attending a Messianic congregation and/or a regular synagogue. To make this even more complex, there are Jewish believers in Jesus at various points along this spectrum who are using both terms ("H ebrew Christian" and "Messianic Jew") to describe themselves!3

For many within the movement, though (as discussed below), both terms are used, though Hebrew Christianity is often applied to the movement before the 1960s and 1970s. One anthropologist, Juliene Lipson, defined a Hebrew Christian as "a Jew who has accepted Christ as the Messiah and his savior, but who nonetheless chooses to retain his identity as a Jew." These Jewish believers are encouraged to join Christian churches in order to "avoid separating themselves from Gentile Christians," while at the same time, they are encouraged to join fellowships with other Hebrew Christians "to retain their ethnic identity and culture." 4 Others use the term as equivalent to Messianic Judaism, having "more in common with Orthodox Judaism than with the other two major forms [Conservative and Reform]. In fact [says this writer], ther e is more common ground between Hebrew Christianity and Orthodox Judaism than between the latter and Reform Judaism."5 The origins of this movement today can be said to have coincided with the period of the "national reawakening" of the Jewish people at the turn of the century.6

The early Hebrew Christians were mainly "fundamentalists" (the term comes from The Fundamentals , a series of books released from 1910-1915 in twelve volumes, detailing the absolute veracity of the Bible), who held a pro-Jewish and pro-Zionist position.7 In the late 1800s and early 1900s, there were several attempts at starting Hebrew Christian congregations, including in New York City in 1895, Toronto in 1917, Chicago in 1931, and Los Angeles in the 1930s.8 John Zacker, a Russian Jew, formed the Hebrew Christian Synagogue of Philadelphia, recognized as "the first distinct Jewish Christian house of worship in the United States;" it opened on February 25, 1922. 9

On May 22, 1901, the Boston Conference of the Messianic Council met, organized by Mark Levy, an English Jew, to push his idea to form an alliance in America of Jewish believers. This conference planned another conference to organize a Hebrew Christian Alliance of America (HCAA), which took place on July 28-30, 190310 (Louis Meyer, the corresponding secretary of this organizing conference, helped edit The Fundamentals ).11

Inaction followed this conference until 1913, when Maurice Ruben, a European-born Jewish businessman, held a meeting in Pittsburg with others (including Sabbati Rohold, an Orthodox Jew born in Palestine) to plan a conference, which established the HCAA in 1915. Rohold was elected its first President.12

The "driving motive" of the early HCAA was deemed to be evangelism, which was seen to fall "squarely on the shoulders of Hebrew Christians."13 In 1917, the HCAA began publishing the HCA Quarterly with a Yiddish supplement. It called its first full-time worker, Dr. Emmanuel Greenbaum;14 while the position of "worker-evangelist " had to be dropped in 1923,15 by 1932 missionaries were added once again.16 In 1923, the HCAA had established a "Chair of Jewish Studies" at the Moody Bible Institute, held by Solomon Birnbaum 17 (a position held today by Dr. Louis Goldberg). 18

From the beginning, the HCAA wished to be involved in the Zionist cause in Palestine. Though rejected by the Jewish Congress and the American Zionist Organization, they sent two workers to Palestine in 1920. In 1933, the International Hebrew Christian Association (IHCA) bought land to establish a colony near Gaza, but the contract was eventually broken, and they were not reimbursed until 1942.19 The IHCA had been formed in 1925 and headquartered in London. By 1935, it had affiliated alliances in approximately twenty countries (today, there are thirteen natonal Alliances affiliated with the IHCA). 20

In the 1920s, the HCAA took part in the fight against rising anti-Semitism, with records showing their strong denunciation of Henry Ford’s distribution of the forged Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion . 21 In the 1930s, the HCAA protested the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany, especially calling attention to the plight of the one and three-quarter million Christians of Jewish descent, who were "all treated as Jews while the Jews of Germany consider[ed] the m Christians." They therefore had trouble finding relief in either camp.22 The HCAA helped many of them to relocate, and continued to aid victims of the Holocaust after World War II (especially in Hungary, where a large mission was established).23

One outcome of the growing anti-Semitism, which even existed in churches in countries such as Germany, was a growing interest in establishing separate Hebrew Christian congragations, as a counteractive force.24 In 1934, the First Hebrew Christian Church was established under Presbyterians in Chicago. It had a Christian worship service with a Jewish "flavor," and was headed by David Bronstein (later, under the leadership of Daniel Juster in the 1970s, the name was changed to Adat Ha Tikveh and made more "messianic").25 This did not mean, however, that Hebrew Christians were moving in the direction of modern Messianic Judaism (the establishment of a totally separate identity for Jewish believers); in fact, back in 1917, the HCAA had taken a strong stand against such a m ovement, and had promised "that the Alliance stand on this issue would never change… ‘to be absolutely free from it, now and forever’ .’" 26 The HCAA was to remain a fellowship of Jewish believers, who nevertheless maintained their ties to Christian churches.

The HCAA continued to remain somewhat active in the next few decades after World War II. It ran "Haven of Grace," a home for elderly Jewish Christians, from 1953-1966.27 A zenith was reached with the "World Congress of Hebrew Christians," held in 1955 during the Jewish High Holy Days, and considered at the time to be "the largest gathering of Jewish believers in the history of the movement."28 Branches continued to be formed around the country (one formed in Miami in 1957);29 however, progress was slow (and often non-existent), to the extent that B.Z. Sobel in 1974 characterized the Hebrew Christian movement as possessing "an overwhelming bleakness, enervating ambivalence, and negativity."30

Things were beginning to change, though. The 1960s had arrived, and the younger generation was beginning to assert itself. Many wanted to explore more of their Jewish heritage and practices. Within the movement as a whole, as Rausch explains,

there had always been two attitudes toward Jewish practice. The mainstream of the movement believed that any return to Jewish practices would put one under the Law. This was interpreted as something Christians should never do — even Jewish ChristiansNevertheless, ( rightfully or wrongfully too) a smaller group within Hebrew Christianity asserted that the Jewish believer had a right to maintain his Jewish heritage and identity.31

In 1966, under the auspices of the HCAA, the Young Hebrew Christian Youth Organization (YHCYO) was begun; in 1967, it became the Young Hebrew Christian Alliance (YHCA). It held its first separate conference in 1970 at Messiah College in Pennsylvania (in 1975, the YHCA was renamed the Young Messianic Jewish Alliance of America [YMJA]), and began to surpass the parent organization in membership and enthusiasm.32 Many of today’s leaders of the Messianic Jewi sh movement have come from the YHCA, energized by the "Jesus movement" of the late 1960s and early 1970s.33 An obvious "generation gap" grew between the older "denominational" Hebrew Christians and these younger "Messianic Jews." The upcoming generation wanted to change the styles of worship and evangelism to a more Jewish context. It was also at this time that "Jews for Jesus" (discussed below) began.

Martin Chernoff became the President of the HCAA (1971-1975), and led the group towards Messianic Judaism34 (his sons, Joel and David, also served as Presidents – 1979-1983 and 1983-1987, respectively).35 In June of 1973, a motion was made to change the name of the HCAA to the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA); however, a two-thirds majority vote was necessary to effect the name change, and only 62% was received at this time. Two years later, though, there was enough support, and in June of 1975, the name was officially changed to the MJAA. 36 The (mostly young) supporters of Messianic Judaism had won out; the name change was significant as more than just a "semantical expression;" as Rausch states, "it represented an evolution in the thought processes and religious and philosophical outlook toward a more fervent expression of Jewish identity."37

It is this "fervent expression of Jewish identity" that truly sets the Messianic Jew apart. By definition, he or she is "a person who was born Jewish or converted to Judaism, who is a ‘genuine believer’ in Yeshua [Jesus], and who acknowledges his Jewishness."38 As Paul Liberman asserts:
A tenet of Messianic Judaism asserts that when a Jew accepts a Jewish Messiah, born in a Jewish land, who was foretold by Jewish prophets in the Jewish Scriptures, such a Jew does not become a Gentile. In fact, he becomes a completed Jew — a Jew who believes Jesus is the Messiah.
39

In this context, there is then no conflict whatsoever between being "Messianic" and being "Jewish," since "believing in Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah, is one of the most Jewish things a Jew can do."40 The belief is held that this is Judaism in the "true" sense. In the words of Messianic Jewish theologian David Stern, "I am religious. Not Orthodox, not Conservative, not Reform, not Reconstructionist but Messianic."41

A key aspect of Messianic Judaism’s deviance from the former Hebrew Christianity is its emphasis on using original Hebrew terms in place of traditional (Gentile) Christian terms. Examples include Abba (God the Father), HaBen (God the Son), Yeshua HaMash iach (Jesus Christ), Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit), B’rit Hadasha (New Testament), Mikveh (baptism), Joachim (John), Miriam (Mary), Sa’aul (Paul), and Shilush (Trinity).42

The term "Messianic Judaism," though some have traced it even to the nineteenth century, was propounded in the 1950s by Dr. Lawrence Duff-Forbes, but was not widely accepted at the time.43 The revival of the concept really began in the late 1960s, and came to fruition in the early 1970s. The early twentieth century works of its proponents within Hebrew Christianity (such as Zacker, Levy and others) had little impact on its present-day com eback and growth, as their works were not even rediscovered until the 1980s, well after the entrenchment of today’s Messianic movement.44

The leading organization of this movement is still the MJAA (the former HCAA), being the largest of its kind in the world, and representing the estimated 100,000 Messianic Jews in the United States. It is part of the larger international alliance formed in 1925, and encompassing thirteen countries.45 The MJAA is headquarted in Philadelphia (having moved there in 1980 from the old HCAA headquarters in Chicago,46 which had been located there since 1942). 47 For some years, the MJAA followed the practices of the HCAA and established local branches in various cities. However, these branches gradually began to go out of existence as a new phenomenon grew: Messianic congregations and synagogues. 48

In 1975, there were only seven of these distinctively Jewish congregations; 49 a decade ago, there were only fifteen. Today, there are at least ten times that number across the country.50 Martin Chernoff founded the first successful present-day Messianic Jewish congregation in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1970; 51 other examples include Congregation B’nai Maccabim in Chicago, led by John Fischer,52 the Messianic Jewish Congregation in Minneapolis (headed by Norman Nelson, a Gentile),53 Ahavat Zion Synagogue in Encino, California,54 and the most influential congregation in the MJAA from 1978 onward, Congregation Beth Yeshua in Philadelphia (also led by Martin Chernoff).55 Even Miami has at least three: Beth Yeshua, Beth Messiah in Miami Beach, and Bet Hesed in Kendall.

Over ninety percent of the Messianic congregations in the United States are "charismatic" in their theological orientation (believing in the gifts [charisms] of the Holy Spirit: tongues, healing, etc.),56 with one-third having been created by the charismatic Assemblies of God denomination.57 The meeting halls themselves often look similar to other synagogues, with the Israeli flag and the American flag at the front on either side, a Star of David, a menorah, and (in some cases) a Torah scroll behind a curtain. 58 Interestingly enough, these congregations are not "overtly evangelistic." They see their purpose as being for fellowship and worship "in a fashion more conducive to the Jewish heritage" than would be the case in a traditional Gentile Christian setting. 59

There are four umbrella organizations available for these congregations: the International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues (IAMCS, a charismatic outgrowth of the MJAA), the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC, an independent charismatic group formed while the MJAA was hesitant in forming the IAMCS), the (non-charismatic) Fellowship of Messianic Congregations, and a smaller grouping within the Assemblies of God denomination.60

The UMJC, currently based in Denver,61 was formed in June of 1979 by thirty-three congregational leaders from the U.S. and Canada. It was not designed to be a hierarchical control mechanism, but instead "as a loose confederation to aid in fellowship and education." Beginning with only nine c harter members, the number had risen to twenty-five by 1982.62 In 1986, the IAMCS was formed by the MJAA, and is much more structured than the UMJC, granting only associate membership until a minimum number of congregants is reached and other standards are adhered to. 63

Several Messianic yeshivas have been founded,64 including Betzel Shaddai in Chicago, started by John Fischer (who also founded B’rit Shalom in 1978, which functions as an educational service agency to Messianic congregations). 65 In addition, there is the MJAA’s Institute for Messianic Rabbinic Training (IMRT). Formed in 1989, the IMRT is designed to lead candidates to ordination, and offers Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Messianic Rabbinics.66 Many of its courses are offered at the Annual Conferences of the MJAA, held at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, which attracts approximately 2000 attendees.67 Over the years, conference participants have come to the Annual Conference from many countries, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, and most of the United States.68

If the Messianic congregations are not "overtly evangelistic," there is a Jewish Christian organization that is: Jews for Jesus (JFJ). Founded in California by Moishe Rosen, the name (which is often misapplied to Jewish Christians in general, much to the chagrin of many of them) originated with a San Francisco Hillel rabbi who used the term in a campus newspaper article to describe the "Jewish Jesus People" he saw . Liking the "ring" of it, "Moishe enthusiastically appropriated the phrase for his group as both name and slogan."69

His "group" had started as a mission of the North Carolina-based American Board of Missions to the Jews (ABMJ),70 who sent Rosen (an ordained Baptist minister) to California in the early 1970s. He was so successful that they brought him back to New York to train other Jewish evangelists, but eventually he returned to San Francisco, populating JFJ mostly with born-again hippies (Jewish and Gentile).71 In August 1973, the ABMJ terminated Rosen’s position as he became less denomination-oriented and more Jewish-oriented (messianic); the other eleven members of the mission also resigned from the Board in order to stay with JFJ. Their primary focus at this point had to be on raising financial support, since ABMJ funds had been cut off. This support came mostly from churches, so JFJ toned down their youth culture image, presented more and more of a Jewish image, and developed a "Hebrew Christian" ethnic identity.72 Today, JFJ is supported by churches, a number of Bible schools, and individual Christian donations (they take money only from those who agree with their beliefs; other donations are returned). In 1987, their annual budget was approximately $7 million, with ownership of $4.5 million in property and equipment.73 Today, their budget runs $10.2 million, with a full-time staff of 150 employees running branch offices in nine cities across the United States. There are also branch offices in Toronto, London, Paris, Buenos Aires, and Johannesburg. 74

JFJ’s tactics are headstrong (sometimes confrontational) and evangelistic in nature; they are most famous for their "campaigns," during which they go out on the streets of major cities such as New York and distribute millions of "broadsides" (folded-over humorous tracts presenting the gospel in a Jewish manner). They also work in airports; in 1987, they won a unanimous Supreme Court decision protecting their First Amendment rights to distribute literature in government-run airports (the case was argued for JFJ by Jay Sekulow, who now heads the American Center for Law and Justice [ACLJ] in Virginia Beach, Virginia).75

Jewish Christians, whether labeled Hebrew Christians or Messianic Jews, have encountered much opposition over the years, from both Jews and Christians. Most Hebrew Christians themselves were at first opposed to their following Jewish customs and laws.76 Reaction to the growth of Messianic Judaism has been strong from some Jewish missionary groups, as well. The Chicago-based American Messianic Fellowship (AMF), established by the Christian Zionist W.E. Blackstone in 1887, called the movement "utterly unscriptural," stating its belief that "while still a Jew by birth, in spiritual condition the believing Jew is now a Christian and totally removed from the religion of Judaism."77 In 1975, the Fellowship of Christian Testimonies to the Jews (FCTJ) officially opposed Messianic Judaism as a "fourth branch of Judaism, and as distinct from mainline Christianity."78 Across the spectrum of Christianity, some evangelicals opposed the "Jewishness" of Messianic Judaism, while some mainline Protestants opposed the tactics of "Jews for Jesus"-style evangelism.79

Of course, Jews have opposed the movement as well. At the beginning of this century, the majority of Jews did not accept Jewish believers as being sincere; a common belief was that anyone who became a believer "must either be deranged or have converted for material gain."80 When the HCAA asked to become involved in the Zionist cause in Palestine, they were rejected by the Jewish Congress and the American Zionist Organization. 81 The American Jewish Committee has for years attempted to alert Jews to the "dangers" of Messianic Judaism; 82 and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) has established a Committee on Cults and Missionaries, which provides educational materials "for use by member congregations in the battle against the deceptive techniques of … various Hebrew-Christian groups."83 Other groups, such as Jews for Judaism and the Jewish Defense League (JDL), have (sometimes violently) opposed and protested against Messianic Judaism and Messianic congregations.84

Is the Messianic Jew an "absurd Jew?" As Rausch puts it, "The Christian has told the Messianic Jew that ‘Judaizing’ is a very grave sin. Jews have told the Messianic Jew that the idolatry of ‘Jesus’ is a very grave sin."85 The movement would seem to be stuck between the two. However, their strength, as shown previously, has grown exponentially. Where they were dismissed a few years ago, they are today taken seriously (whether in a positive light or not). In fact, in a large number of cases, by the 1980s, many of the organizations which had been "anti-Messianic" were now mostly supporting "the concept of Messianic congregations and distinctly Jewish forms of worship and religious practice."86 And many in the movement now reject outright the attempt to divide Hebrew Christians and Messianic Jews as distinct and separate categories.87 In an article on the movement in Reform Judaism , Sheri Gordon writes:

There are more than 450 groups that hope to convert Jews in the United States, Israel, and Canada. Of those, approximately 150 are Hebrew Christian organizations, such as Jews for Jesus, that practice a hybrid of Judaism and Christianity. In 1978, approximately 10,000 Jews belonged to a Hebrew Christian group; today the ranks have multiplied to 160,000 members … Missionizing to Jews also extends to television shows such as "Zola Levitt" in Dallas and the "Jewish Voice Broadcast" in Phoenix and radio programs such as "Messianic Vision" in New Jersey. 88

If present trends continue, the Messianic movement in the United States will likely achieve more success in the coming years. However, while its acceptance may grow among Gentile Christians, there is little likelihood that the same acceptance will be granted by the American Jewish community. Thus, Messianic Jews will probably remain on the outside of this community, looking in. “……

 


Having a religion will not help you if God himself is against you.

Jer 52:1 ZEDEKIAH WAS twenty-one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Hamutal daughter of Jeremiah [not the prophet] of Libnah.  Jer 52:2 And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that Jehoiakim had done. Jer 52:10 And the king of Babylon slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes; he slew also all the princes of Judah at Riblah. Jer 52:11 Then he put out the eyes of Zedekiah; and the king of Babylon bound him with shackles and carried him to Babylon and put him in prison [mill] till the day of his death. Jer 52:12 Now in the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month, which was the nineteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, there came to Jerusalem Nebuzaradan captain of the guard, who stood {and} served before the king of Babylon.  Jer 52:13 And he burned the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he consumed with fire.

Lam 1:5 Her adversaries have become the head; her enemies prosper. For the Lord has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions; her young children have gone into captivity before the enemy.

Now the city of Jeruslamen sadly has twice been destroyed by Pagans and by fire in History..

It should be understood by all that all Jews still need to be saved from their sins, Hell itself by accepting Jesus Christ as their Personal lord, Savior, and any of their Jewish cultural roots will not save them.

(Mat 23:37 KJV)  O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

(Mat 23:38 KJV)  Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.

(Mat 23:39 KJV)  For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

http://anyonecare.wordpress.com/2008/04/29/israel/

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