Bush, Wolpe and Criticism of Messianic Jews

bush1Last week a media firestorm erupted over the decision of the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute (not to be confused with MJTI), to invite former President George W. Bush to speak at their annual fundraiser.

Although I actually agree with much of the criticism over the issue, I am also greatly disappointed that various individuals and publications have used the opportunity to vilify Messianic Jews and accuse us of being malicious, misleading or foolish for our beliefs.

Rabbi David Wolpe, who has been recognized as the leading pulpit rabbi in America, wrote in the Jewish Daily Forward:

  • ir“A Jew who accepts Jesus has cut himself off from the faith community of Jews.”
  • “The sudden rise of ‘Messianic Jews’ owes more to a clever way of misleading untutored Jews than to making theological sense.”
  • Furthermore, the subtitle to his article states simply, “’Messianic Jews’ Is Marketing Jingle – Not True Faith.” Ouch.

The easiest way to write someone off is to simply dismiss them as disingenuous and, well basically, stupid.

Rob Eshman, Publisher and Editor in Chief of the Jewish Journal, in Los Angeles, wrote in his recent editorial:

  • Eshman_Rob“One thing for certain does occur when Jews believe Jesus is divine: They stop being Jews. This is something all Jews agree on.”
  • “Not a single Jewish scholar, or text, or tradition, or belief, supports that claim, so in order to do away with Judaism, they [Messianic Jews] have to lie and engage in subterfuge and double-speak.”
  • “For Jews, there is no Father and Son; there is no Trinity: there is only Unity. One.”

Although this is not the first time we have been called idiots, at best, or Jewish self-haters, at worst, frankly, this trope is getting tired.

Personally, I am sick and tired of being bullied and pushed around by our wider Jewish community. So, I have decided to not keep quiet. It is time to rise-up. I feel compelled to respond to the broad-brushing, name-calling, and vitriol directed at Messianic Jews. Therefore, the reason I have not posted anything yet on our blog until now is because I have been busy, let’s just say, “working behind the scenes.”

The world is changing … and attitudes within the Jewish community are changing. The recent Pew survey helped demonstrate this. Therefore, I understand better than anyone the sensitivities within our Jewish community towards Messianic Judaism and faith in Yeshua.

However, for a community which prides itself on tolerance, understanding and dialogue, it is sad that when it comes to Messianic Jews, we’re still willing to settle for emotional vitriol rather than intelligent discourse.

Messianic Judaism is one of the fastest growing faith communities. In a world where non-Orthodox forms of Judaism are struggling to survive, I understand why we are so worrisome to so many. But we are not going away. And if the only remaining definer of Jewishness is ‘not believing in Jesus’ – as it is for far too many of our people today – than we have a bigger problem than whether or not Bush spoke at MJBI’s fundraising dinner.

About Rabbi Joshua

I'm a Rabbi, writer, thinker, mountain biker, father and husband ... not necessarily in that order. According to my wife, however, I'm just a big nerd. I have degrees in dead languages and ancient stuff. I have studied in various Jewish institutions, including an Orthodox yeshiva in Europe. I get in trouble for making friends with perfect strangers, and for standing on chairs to sing during Shabbos dinner. In addition to being the Senior Rabbi of Simchat Yisrael Messianic Synagogue in West Haven, CT, I write regularly for several publications and speak widely in congregations and conferences. My wife is a Southern-fried Jewish Beltway bandit and a smokin' hot human rights attorney... and please don’t take offense if I dump Tabasco sauce on your cooking.
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9 Responses to Bush, Wolpe and Criticism of Messianic Jews

  1. the rabbi says it clearly. traditional Jews cannot accept the divinity of Jesus. that to my way of thinking has always been the deepest and highest obstacle to belief in Jesus as Messiah. I think that Jews have a fear that if they accept Jesus as divine they would stop being Jews and become Christians and the Jewish people would cease to exist after a few generations and that is unthinkable.
    By the way I am Jewish disciple of Jesus for over 27 years.

  2. C. B. says:

    What’s to discuss? We have rejected Jesus for thousands of years, and we will continue to do so. Why? He just doesn’t qualify to be the messiah.

    We have the right to think that those poor, uneducated, and assimilated Jews who actually think Jesus is the messiah are out of their minds. Nebuch.

    • Rabbi Joshua says:


      Of course you have the right to think what you like, but the issue is much more complicated than what you dismiss it to be. Of course, it is easier to dismiss it than have to take it seriously. When it comes down to it, we can choose to agree or disagree over the details … but historically, it is indeed a Jewish discussion. Hence the great rise of scholarship on the Jewishness of Jesus, the New Testament, and even its theology. For example, consider Prof. Daniel Boyarin’s work, “The Jewish Gospels,” or the recent release of the Jewish Annotated New Testament by Oxford Press.

      The perspective is changing … it may not necessarily change towards acceptance of Yeshua as the Messiah, but at least in that the discussion is recognizably Jewish. Just in the same way I do not accept the claims of a segment within Chabad which considers the Lubavitcher Rebbe to be the Mashiach, but I recognize the discussion as still within the framework of Judaism.

  3. C. B. says:

    I have seriously studied the claims of Christianity and have found them to be ridiculous. Jesus, according to the genealogies in your own New Testament, didn’t come from the line that we know all kings of Israel come from. That disqualifies him straightaway. Secondly, he didn’t carry out any of the jobs that we know the messiah will do. He just doesn’t cut it. Nothing personal.

    There is no discussion in the Torah world about Jesus being the messiah. Lubavitch is within the framework of Judaism because they are Torah observant Jews in every way and they live according to halacha. It isn’t a sin to believe someone is the messiah (even if they aren’t), but it is silly. Messianic Jews, on the other hand, are not Torah observant and worship a man who died thousands of years ago. You don’t just think he is the messiah, you think he is divine. Big difference.

    • Rabbi Joshua says:


      Thank you for your response.

      Had you indeed “seriously” studied the claims of the NT, than you would be aware that during the Second Temple period discussions of genealogies was quite different than the standards we apply to them today. They were primarily used illustratively. Hence, even the historical variances within genealogies contained in rabbinic literature, like Pirkei Avot, etc.

      Furthermore, you can visit many of my other posts on this blog for discussions on Yeshua within the Jewish world – even the Torah world. Just two quick related links I’d like to point you to:

      1) Rabbis Who Thought For Themselves – http://www.messianicjudaism.me/yinon/2011/11/02/rabbis-who-thought-for-themselves/

      2) and; a section on What Your Rabbi Hasn’t Told You – http://www.messianicjudaism.me/yinon/tag/what-your-rabbi-hasnt-told-you/

      You also state, “Messianic Jews, on the other hand, are not Torah observant …” My dear friend, that is quite an assumption and broad-brush of all Messianic Jews. You may disagree over our claim to Mashiach, but your point here is moot. I could also use your argument, in reverse, ‘Since the majority of Jews are not Shomer Mitzvot, and the majority also reject Yeshua as the Messiah, therefore, they are wrong on both counts.’ Its a straw-man.

      Lastly, you claim, “You don’t just think he is the messiah, you think he is divine. Big difference.” It’s too bad you are either ignorant of our literature, or just unwilling to admit it, but our tradition is full of varying perspectives on the nature of Mashiach. And as you know, therefore, even if the majority opinion is one way, by noting opposing perspectives, it gives them a level of recognition. That’s what separates a machloket from other positions, where the minority positions are cited.

      I am not claiming our tradition states Yeshua was the Messiah, but that sources within our tradition recognize many different perspectives – from a suffering and dying Messiah (Mashiach ben Yosef) to the kingly Mashiach you, here, only refer to (Mashiach ben David). There have also been ideas within our tradition towards a divine Messiah, something even a segment of Meshichists within Chabad hold to (http://www.messianicjudaism.me/yinon/2010/01/07/thank-you-chabad/). If the Gemara states that it is possible for two mashiachs, than why not one messiah, who appears at two different times (an idea which is also not foreign to Jewish tradition)?

      Again, we can disagree over WHO the Messiah is, but it is intellectually absurd to simply dismiss the conversation entirely.

  4. C. B. says:

    Rabbis who thought for themselves. The phrase implies that only the Jews who converted to Christianity thought for themselves while the rest of the Jewish people blindly go along with the status quo.

    I am left with some questions after reading your article.

    Let’s see…Rabbi Israel Zolli abandoned his community during the Holocaust and became a Catholic. You call this a success story?

    Do any of these people have descendants who are today observant Jews?

    That being said, you can see many examples of people in the Tanakh who did have a Torah education, grew up in the homes of Torah scholars, and still somehow ended up being wicked and worshiping foreign deities. Take, for example, Esav. Menashe the evil king of Israel did the same. People who have a tremendous potential for greatness…when they do fall, they fall mightily.

    I can address the other parts of your response when I have a little more time.

    • Rabbi Joshua says:


      Your first point is well-taken. The title was a headline, an attention grabber, and was not intended to disrespect other critical thinkers within our community who may have not come to the same conclusion.

      As far as Israel Zolli, let’s make clear, he did not “abandon his community during the Holocaust,” but was rather responsible for helping save about 4,000 Roman Jews as the Nazis entered Rome in 1943. Posing as a structural engineer, he entered the Vatican and asked Pope Pius XII to protect Rome’s Jews. The pope acquiesced and agreed to make churches, monasteries, convents, and the Vatican itself sanctuaries.

      It was only following the war that Rav Zolli finally made a public confession of faith in 1945 and was forced out of his position. It is true he did end up joining the Catholic Church, but only after being excommunicated by the Jewish community in Rome.

  5. Moshe Gavreel says:

    This is an old article, personally I think any organization should want a former President of the United States to speak at their gathering.
    However I do want to make a comment about Messianic Judaism. I had a co-worker whose daughter had a college assignment to visit another religion. She chose Judaism. I told my friend that I would love to make arrangements for her to visit my Synagogue. Before I could however, a friend of this student invited her to go to his, which turned out to be a Messianic Temple. When I talked to her again this young person told me where she had gone. I was not angry, but when trying to explain that there is a difference between the two, she expressed the view that it did not matter. With all due respect, I believe it does matter, and this is an instance where a well meaning Christian in effect used Messianic Judaism to misrepresent what traditional Judaism really is. I can respect the sect of Messianic Jews, but I believe that Messianic Jews need to be more transparent up front about what their beliefs are. Meaning one can tell the difference between a Chabad Rabbi and a Reform Rabbi. Not to do so I believe is a form of misrepresentation. Thank you for this great article and forum.

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