Varieties of Jewish Yeshua Believers (Part One)

One of the signs that one has a nuanced view of a given group is familiarity with variation. For example, there are some people who think of all Orthodox Jews as Hasidic, and all Hasidic Jews as the same. Of course, both statements are entirely false, and anyone at all familiar with the Orthodox world knows it. Which is my point.

Similarly, there are those who betray their agendas or perhaps their ignorance by lumping all Jewish Yeshua believers into one category, as if we are all alike. Of course, this is not true either, and anyone who knows what he or she is talking about will know it.

Today, let’s look at some varieties of Jewish Yeshua believers.  In my next posting, we wll look at some more. At least that way, all of you reading this will then be equipped to demonstrate a more nuanced view of the phenomenon.

Contrastive Hebrew Christians

This is the attitude that has long prevailed in Jewish missions, but less so now than fifty years ago here in the U.S. Proponents of this view will make statements such as the following:  “The rabbis believe such and such, but we believe such and such.”  Always mainstream Judaism and the opinions of “the rabbis” are represented as being in some measure antithetical to belief in Yeshua.   And such proponents also have what to me is an irksome habit of using the term “the rabbis” in a pejorative sense, viewing the rabbinical establishment to be a sort of theological Mafia, or, as we use to say in the sixties, “the military-industrial complex.”

One American Jewish mission leader would say in person and said in print, “Judaism is a false religion.”  When he did so, he was confident that he was serving the cause of truth.  This is because he was living within the Hebrew Christian construct which sees always contrasts what believers in Yeshua believe with what “the rabbis” teach. To which I say “Feh!”

Parenthetically I would remind all of us that the Apostle Paul had no trouble saying of the mainstream Jewish community. “I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God.”  And although he states that this zeal is “not according to knowledge,” he strictly limits the area where he judged Jewish knowledge about God to be deficient. When speaking before Herod Agrippa, he has no problem characterizing the twelve tribes as those who “earnestly serve God night and day” [Acts 26:7].   Paul never would have said that Judaism is a false religion: but then, he wasn’t a Hebrew Christian who defined his faith always in contrast with the wider Jewish community.  Indeed, there are a number of incidents in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles where he takes pains to affirm his continuity with not only the Torah, but also the Oral Law and folkways of his people.  Of these examples, perhaps the most dramatic may be found in Acts 21:17-21.

Clearly then, the rhetoric of invariable contrast, though familiar to many of us, was not the invariable mode of the Apostle.

Assimilated Jewish Yeshua Believers

These are Jewish believers whose Jewishness is part of their genes, part of their past, but not a living part of their present.  Except for their surnames, tell tale styles of relating, and perhaps their appearance, there is nothing about such people which is especially Jewish.   They do not seek to deny or hide their Jewishness.   They have become well assimilated into their Christian contexts, may be treated either with honor, condescension, or humor, but existentially, they have Jewish roots but no Jewish growing edge.

Ex-Jews

These are Jewish believers whose Jewishness is part of their genes, part of their past, but who have consciously sought to distance themselves from their Jewishness.  Their children may not even know their parents were born Jews.  I have known two people who came from such families: where both parents were Jewish, and their children only discovered this by accident.

Confrontationists

These are those whose posture toward the wider Jewish community is controlled by conviction that true discipleship is most clearly expressed by those Jewish believers who are willing to go on the front lines and confront the Jewish people with the claims of Yeshua.

Years ago I was indoctrinated to believe that the Jewish community seeks to avoid Yeshua and that, as a missionary worker at that time, it was my duty to confront them with his claims.   I now reject this form of reasoning.  This is in part due to my experience with my own family where I have learned that what Jewish people want most to avoid is not Yeshua, but pathology, disruption of family structures, incursions by uninvited zealots, and erosion of their community.  My sister hardly spoke to me for decades and never about my faith when I worked with a Jewish mission.  However, when I became the Rabbi of a Messianic Synagogue, all of a sudden the unmentionable became discussable, even though I made clear the parallels in belief structure between the two positions, while making it clear that I was now in a world which cared more deeply about Jewish life.  Her husband who really did not speak to me for about twenty years, being the only son of a Jew who grew up one train stop from Auschwitz, got on the the phone go congratulate me when I called them to report that I had been voted in as rabbi of that congregation. And when he became was terminally ill with cancer and I managed to fly cross-country to be with the family twice before his death and then again at his funeral ten days following my most recent visit,  at that point all the barriers that had existed for decades dissolved.  Somehow living the kind of life they could understand and respect made my faith digestible and discussable.  All these years I’d thought they had been gagging on Yeshua: but I was wrong.

There are even those who gauge their success in outreach to the Jewish people by the extent to which the Jewish community gets upset.  I suggest this is a perverse definition of success and certainly a perverted attitude for Jewish Yeshua-believers to adopt toward other Jews: [“The more upset you become the more successful I know I have been.]”

Times of disagreement, and yes, even of confrontation are sure to come: but for confrontation to be our major posture toward the Jewish community is not only self-defeating: it is warped.

More tomorrow. Meanwhile, be careful out there . . . and nuanced, please.

 


About Stuart Dauermann

The blog of Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann, teacher, mentor, radio talk show host, denizen of Los Angeles, and a visionary with a long career in Messianic Jewish activism. You can hear Rabbi Dauermann as he hosts Shalom Talk, a weekly radio show, and even listen online at ShalomTalk.com. Rabbi Dauermann spends time traveling nationally and internationally, and throughout the year is in Israel as a Scholar in Residence at the MJTI Jerusalem Center. He has plenty to say about Jewish-Christian relations, the need for shalom in the world, and the agenda of Messiah, the Son of David.
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4 Responses to Varieties of Jewish Yeshua Believers (Part One)

  1. This is great, Rabbi. I am looking forward to next installment.

  2. kz says:

    Thank you for saying this! I am particularly appalled by the idea of gauging one’s success by the amount of disruption they cause in the broader Jewish community. It embarrasses and sickens me. I have seen congregations rally together – clapping and shouting with joy – in the fact someone has ‘stirred up’ the Jewish community. All they lack is a torch and pitchfork… Is there no end to this insanity?

  3. There is an end to this insanity, and you are part of that end. It is as people like you, and me, and others find the courage to stand up and say that this is a perverse way to go about relating to our fellow Jews that discussion can begin and change can perhaps happen. Part of the problem is when people preload the situation with an assumption that such a confrontational posture and joy over negative responses gained is the only true, biblical and faithful path. This preconditions people to see any protest against a confrontation for controntation’s sake approach as “unspiritual” or “unfaithful to our calling.” However, a helpful approach is to ask what damage relationally and attitudinally is done by cultivating this monolithic confrontational zeal, and this “themification” of the Jewish community, as I call it–this objectifying the Jewish community as a faceless “them.” Again, what damage is done by nurturing this attitude?

    Perhaps the greatest negative impact of such an approach is this: when people believe that Jewish community upset and outrage is a validation of their efforts, they will then gravitate toward approaches and projects which elicit this “validating” response. And that is horrific.

  4. M Hurley says:

    Here’s the pull quote right here:

    …What Jewish people want most to avoid is not Yeshua, but pathology…

    Absolutely!

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