A Quotation (In Place of an Article)

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.

Thoughts? Comments?


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18 Responses to A Quotation (In Place of an Article)

  1. Chris Smith says:

    “Many would say Lichtenstein

  2. Jeannie Smith says:

    I can’t help but be disturbed by Lichtenstein’s:

    1) Delay of several years to publicly announce his faith. We are told by Yeshua that if we deny Him to men, He will deny us in Heaven (Matthew 10:33). Even with Lichenstein’s continued Orthodox piety as “evidence” that he’s not “Christian” by fellow Jews, it’s hard for me to believe that he went all those years without being asked and denying his faith to SOMEONE. Also, Yeshua asks us to go into all the world and preach the gospel (Mark 16:15). Did Lichenstein fulfill this commandment in some other way and just avoid his fellow Jews? Or did he break this commandment for several years first?

    2) His decision not to be baptized, because his motivation was to retain his status as a Jew. Being baptized and baptizing others is something Yeshua himself asks us to do (Matthew 28:19). Did baptizing himself privately fulfill this commandment? I suppose we could open a whole new can of worms (or blogs) on that subject. My biggest problem is with his motivation for remaining unbaptized – to retain status (i.e., social status in others’ eyes) as a Jew. This action seems to oppose Paul’s actions and attitude in Phillipians 3:5,7,8…”Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, [of] the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee…But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things [but] loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have SUFFERED THE LOSS OF ALL THINGS, and do count them [but] dung, that I may win Christ,”. Paul took great joy in knowing that G-d Himself considered Paul a true Jew, circumcised of flesh and heart, in Yeshua, whether or not non-believing Jews recognized him as a Jew. Paul suffered the loss of all things, and I think he would have given up a Jewish burial had the wall between Jew and Christian been divided much as in Lichtenstein’s day.

  3. Chris and Jeannie:

    Yes, I knew that Lichtenstein’s life was provocative and so did Dr. Kinzer when he included the story in the book.

    Regardless of our approval or disapproval, the fact is simple: Lichtenstein lived in a world where accepting Jesus meant rejecting your Jewish identity. All his life, Lichtenstein learned Torah and that God had a calling for Jewish people. When he met Messiah, he may have made some controversial choices, but consider his options:
    (1) Turn his back on Torah and the calling of God for a Jew, or
    (2) Try to find some way to be a Jew and follow the Jewish Messiah in a day where no one else was doing it.

    He tried to do the second. He should not have had to make such a choice, but that is reality.

    Jeannie, you imply that he should have joined a church like all the other Jews who found Christ at the time. But didn’t he have two callings that needed to go together: to be faithful to God’s covenant and to follow Messiah? How would failing to do the first make him a better disciple? He sought to do both and there was a transitional period that we may deem less-than-ideal.


  4. Jonathan says:


    “Lichtenstein lived in a world where accepting Jesus meant rejecting your Jewish identity.”

    Let’s make something clear. If Lichtenstein rejected his Jewish identity, it would be out of choice. In fact, it would be the Jews of his day that refused to acknowledge his Jewish identity. There is a difference. Your statement is created a false dichotomy.

    As it was in the first century…so shall it be until Yeshua comes again.

    You further said, “Lichtenstein learned Torah and that God had a calling for Jewish people.” If this is true – and it is – then Yesuhua is strong enough to work out God’s plan for our people.

  5. Chad says:


    Even more so than today, an Orthodox Jew such as Lichtenstein faced the possibility of losing both income and a place to live, not to mention the possible threat of physical violence against him. Having personally discipled a new believer in Yeshua who not only came from an Orthodox Jewish background, but was still residing and working in an Orthodox community, I find that I am more understanding of the lengthy time between Lichtenstein’s salvation and his public proclamation of it. The new believer I discipled had to learn many things and become grounded before he was ready to publically announce his faith, and both he and I trusted that God would signal when the time was right. Lichtenstein would not have had the benefit of a (comparatively) large community of fellow Jewish believers to guide and disciple him; perhaps he spent those 9 years learning many things that you and I might take for granted?

  6. Jonathan says:

    Forgive me for the length of this; but in light of the discussion, the words of Yeshua….

    “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he that stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes….So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.
    What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.
    Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
    Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loses his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:21-23; 26-28; 37-39)

    I wonder along with Yeshua, “…when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

  7. Jonathan says:

    Sorry, the last paragraph of the Matthew quotation should read, “…anyone who LOVES his son or daughter…”

  8. Jonathan:

    Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m having trouble telling where you’re coming from, though.

    You said: “Let

  9. Jonathan says:

    I am saying is that there will be pressure on both sides -regardless. Just because there’s pressure, it doesn’t make compromise necessary. In answer to you statements:

    1) Why does pressure to eat a ham sandwich mean that he has to actually eat one? I never have, even at a church pot-luck.

    2) Why does baptism immediately equal denominational affiliation? In Lichtenstein’s day, there were Christian groups that baptized without automatically making you a “member” of the church. Anabaptists and Quakers immediately come to mind. In addition to these church groups, there were others who were independent of a denomination. Plus, who can “force” you to join? Even if a church puts you on the “rolls,” it doesn’t mean you have to participate. True Baptism is a spiritual event. Men have turned it into what it is today.

    3) And? Why is perception the litmus test our Jewish identity? If Gentiles can come to synagogue, then why can’t he? Many Messianic Jews, in fact, do this – especially when there isn’t a congregation nearby.

    All I am saying is that there will be pressure everywere we turn. But there will always be non-compromising options if we follow the LIVING G-d. These answers may seem overly simplistic to you, but bear in mind, I am just a simple guy 🙂 We can agree to disagree, agreeably!

  10. Rich says:

    Derek, you wrote: “We can gently oppose the efforts of Jewish mission agencies to ‘get Jews saved’ without reference to continuing Jewish identity.”

    What Jewish mission agency does that? Jewish identity is a prime concern for virtually any Jewish mission. Whether the “identity” plays out the way you would prefer is another matter, but it’s been a concern since Jewish missions started! (I include in that planting messianic congregations, personal lifestyle, public holiday and life cycle events, educating the church about the Jewishness of Jesus, etc. etc.) You’re opposing a straw man – unless by “continuing Jewish identity” you mean observing the 613 mitzvot – which is certainly not the understanding of most Jews who identify as Jews today.

  11. Rich:

    You asked what Jewish mission agency’s work to ‘get Jews saved’ without reference to continuing Jewish identity.

    My answer is two-fold:
    #1 I worked for a mission agency for 5 1/2 years and also saw how others worked. When a Jewish person became a believer, it was the mission’s policy to let a local church handle discipleship and mentoring whenever possible. On one occasion we left a Jewish person in a Church of Christ, a denomination that has the most extremely anti-Old Testament philosophy of any denomination I know (only New testament practices are valid to them).
    #2 Of course keeping the Torah (dietary law, circumcsion, and Sabbath) is part of Jewish identity. You and I both know the ins and outs of this debate and have discussed it in person. Let me just say one thing: it is preposterous for a Jewish Christian to ignore the Sabbath and dietary law and be considered a Jew only by ethnic descent or by eating bagels and keeping a modified form of holidays in the home. Okay, I will add one more thing. It is a fact that Jewish Christians in churches have a terrible track record of passing Jewish identity down to the generations. When a Jewish mission agency helps a Jew find Jesus, odds are great that the mission will not take Jewish identity seriously and that Jewish family will no longer be part of Israel in 1 generation.


  12. Keith says:

    Derek wrote:
    “it is preposterous for a Jewish Christian to ignore the Sabbath and dietary law and be considered a Jew only by ethnic descent or by eating bagels and keeping a modified form of holidays in the home.”

    My wife and I were just discussing this regarding a friend of ours who is Jewish and a pastor of a non-denominational church. He doesn’t really follow anything Jewish but will argue that he is a Jew.

    When we were talking, we were concluding that previous to my coming to faith I was a secular non-practicing Jew.. I don’t think I would say I wasn’t Jewish, but on the other hand I wasn’t keeping kashrut, Sabbath or any holidays/feasts.

    I agree with those in the Messianic movement who place great importance upon bringing up your children with a Jewish identity.

    I suppose in the ongoing discussion (UMJC/J4J and others) regarding Messianic Jewish identity this question has or will come up? Can Messianic Judaism say certain Jewish followers of Messiah are not Messianic Jews because they are not as observant when a large percentage of Jewish people do not practice any type of Judaism yet are still considered Jewish (at least ethnically). Perhaps all this has been answered somewhere, I am a little behind in research into this and
    I hope at some point to read Mark Kinzer’s book.

    Thanks for the great blog, we are enjoying it.

    G-d bless,

  13. Shalom Bayit says:

    Derek Gene and Others

    We talked about a thread that discused the fate of Jews in MJ. Here is one.

    One only has to look at this mans story and reference the comments made to see that the picture of an inevietable march to progress and better things ala Mark Kinzer and others is not at all self evident

    In a modern MJ congregation this man would be immediately marked as one that Dan Juster calls a “super Jewish Jew” or whatever. He would be marginalized and eventually ostracized.Its a sad story and it is one of the weaknesses of an otherwise fine thesis that Mark Kinzer did not honestly explore this aspect of MJ history.

    One wonders where all the Litchensteins who Dan Juster describes so dismissivey in “Growing to Maturity” have gone.

  14. Shalom Bayit:

    You said: “In a modern MJ congregation this man would be immediately marked as one that Dan Juster calls a

  15. Shalom Bayit says:


    Lichtenstein would be received with honor in a Messianic Jewish synagogue like Rabbi Kinzer

  16. Shalom Bayit says:


    Lets talk about reality:

    Who wields more influence in MJ? Hasheyvenu/RC/ types or people in the mold of Dan Juster/Jonathan Bernis, /David and Joel Chernoff, /Michael Wolfe, /Sid Roth, /Keith (Asher) Intrader/ Robert Cohen /Judah Hungerman etc? Don’t you think that these folks are making adequate preparation for their succession? What makes you think that they are going to turn their religious empires over to some upstarts? And I ask you, how would Litchenstein be received in any congregation that these folks were running?

    You know the answer.

    From my observations these sorts of folks ( and possibly the Church organizations behind them) play the tunes that everyone seems to feel the need to dance to. I dont know why the RC feels the need to do so but apparantly they do.

    I had a friend who was an orthodox rabbi who had impeccable scholarly credentials, who sat in small group classes under Adan Steinsaltz and others and who easily could have and would have been a phenomenal Rosh Yeshiva for an MJ school. Do you really want to know how HE was received when he went to a Messiah conference? It wasnt that long ago. I dont think you will want to know what his response was but he made a good faith effort and he is now lost to MJ. Do you think him hearing Jonathan Bernis teach from the pulpit that MJ’s should not be too friendly with Rabbis might possibly have influenced him?

    What should be the collective response of those who think as you do to such statements? Why dont they respond if as you say they agree with me? I think that the types of people I mention are doing a lot more harm than a bunch of religious fringe groups who want to peddle several houses or 12 laws or who want to talk endlessly about Gadites and Ephraemites. Or for that matter the “mission groups” like JFJ who for some reason appear to be fair game within the circle of likeminded folks. As I have said before, I think at least JFJ are intellectually consistant which is more than I can say for the UMJC and MJAA.

    So my beef with the people who you say I should ally myself with is not with what they say that they stand for. It is that I just dont see anyone collectively putting up the fence and saying “no mas”.

    And from what my friends and contacts have said to me, they dont think it their function to do so. I disagree in the strongest terms and I think I have made a compelling case why. I am still waiting ( in a friendly way ) for you to address what I have said on this subject.

    If I am wrong, please show me where I am in error. I would love to know that someone did this without my knowledge. If they did, news is not filtering to our locale.

  17. Shalom Bayit says:


    expressing eternal pessimism about it?<<<,

    Is scepticism the same thing as “eternal pessimism”?

    Trust has to be earned.

  18. Shalom Bayit says:


    You asked me for an answer. I did my best to answer you.

    I am still respectfully awaiting your response.

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