I’ve had a crazy-busy week with appointments and extra studying for a class I’m taking at the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute from Dr. Mark Kinzer (mjti.org). So, while I am still reading Amy-Jill Levine’s The Misunderstood Jew, I keep have not had time to write a review and musings on her second chapter.
So I thought I would share a quote from a very good book, Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism by Mark Kinzer (are you reading this, Dr. Kinzer? A little brown-nosing at exam time can’t hurt, right?).
The following quote is a piece about the life of a great Messianic Jewish pioneer, Isak Lichtenstein:
…Isak Lichtenstein (1824-1909), a Hungarian rabbi who became a Yeshua-believer in 1883…but did not publicly announce his faith for several years. He resigned from his position as officiating rabbi in 1892. Like [Joseph] Rabinowitz, he was a controversial figure among missionaries and Hebrew Christians [Christians of Jewish descent in the days when Torah-observance was not conceived of as a valid part of Jewish faith in Jesus]. This was the case for three reasons. First, he refused to be baptized (though he reputedly baptized himself in the name of Yeshua in a Jewish ritual bath). He made this decision in order to retain his religious status as a Jew, with the rights and privileges it entailed in the Jewish world (e.g., burial in a Jewish cemetery). Second, Lichtenstein continued to live in a pious Orthodox manner. If the basic Torah observance of Rabinowitz provoked heated discussion, one can imagine the response to the traditional practice of Lichtenstein! Third, as a contemporary writer reported, Lichtenstein refused “to attach himself to any agency that brings converts into membership in denominational churches.” Lichtenstein himself lived as a Jew among Jews, and he would not ally himself with missionaries whose efforts resulted in fellow Jews taking a different course. (Kinzer, p.278).
1. Many would say Lichtenstein’s decision not to be baptized was a betrayal of Yeshua. I do not agree. I think it resulted from a faulty understanding (not by Lichtenstein alone, but by most Christians) that baptism signifies membership in a particular church or denomination. He wanted to be a Jew and not a Baptist-Methodist-Presbyterian-Episcopalian-or-whatever.
2. Lichtenstein’s stance as a Jew with faith in Jesus and membership neither in a synagogue or church was a stance of the greatest courage. It is extraordinarily difficult to stand alone against universal opposition and misunderstanding.
3. Lichtenstein was a pioneer, a man far ahead of his time. He saw that there was no future in Jewish faith without Jewish identity.
4. Taking a stance like Lichtenstein does not necessitate antagonism to the church. I do not know what view he held about the church, but it is possible to remain separate and have mutual respect.
5. Lichtenstein’s story is a narrative that challenges Messianic Jews today to consider Jewish identity’s proper place. If God continues to have a covenant relationship with Israel, if Jewish mission agencies (e.g., Jews for Jesus) and Christian denominations see little or no place for Jewish identity, then we can have respect while remaining separate. We can gently oppose the efforts of Jewish mission agencies to “get Jews saved” without reference to continuing Jewish identity.