A Rabbinical … What?

Earlier this week I had the privilege of attending the annual meetings for the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council (MJRC), held this year in Hartford, CT.

The MJRC consists of a group of ordained Rabbis and associates who endeavor to promote a life of covenant faithfulness to G-d among Jewish followers of Messiah Yeshua by providing realistic and practical guidelines for Messianic Jewish observance. Although this was my first year attending, I was honored to be voted-in as an Associate Member (next year I should be able to become a Full Member).

Our core mission is to define, clarify, and foster normative standards of faith and halachic practice for our membership and for those in the Messianic Jewish community who look to the MJRC for leadership.

The MJRC also exists to serve the professional and personal needs of our membership by ensuring high standards of professional competence, ethical behavior, and halachic conduct; and by facilitating the professional placement of members into the growing number of congregations seeking new leaders.

Why a Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council?

There are some out there who feel we do not need such a council. So why bother?

We bother because Messianic Judaism is a growing movement in the world. As we slowly mature, we find ourselves facing a number of different needs and decisions. And like any other movement within Judaism, questions constantly arise in relation to Jewish practice, theology, and practical matters. As such, our growing Movement needs a Rabbinical Council to help develop standards for our wider community.

What we are NOT doing is telling people what to do. While the MJRC commends these standards for the consideration of the entire Messianic Jewish movement, it recognizes the limits of its own authority. The decisions of the MJRC are binding only on the members of the MJRC. Nevertheless, we hope that others in the Messianic Jewish world will benefit from the work being done.

And that is actually what is happening!

Many congregations now consult these standards as they develop their own practice, and many individuals from around the world seek the advice of the MJRC as they wrestle with their own personal observance. The MJRC website receives numerous hits a day, and the standards of observance currently posted on the website are only the beginning of continued work that is happening on matters of practice and halachah relevant to a Yeshua centered Jewish life.

The MJRC currently does not seek to necessarily establish “halachah” in its strictest sense, but rather proposes basic standards of observance. The currently established standards cover two different categories – a “basic practice” and an “expanded practice”

“Basic practice” refers to standards of observance that members of the MJRC are themselves committed to follow in their own lives. They will also seek to order communal events of their congregations in accordance with these standards, and will employ them in instructing those preparing for conversion. While members of the MJRC commend these standards of basic practice to all members of their congregations, they are not imposed as requirements for congregational membership.

The second term is “expanded practice.” This refers to a more demanding level of observance, beyond basic practice, that includes a fuller expression of traditional forms of Jewish life. An expanded practice is one that is explicitly commended by the MJRC, but is not required of its Rabbis or those converted under their auspices. The practices so listed do not exhaust the range of worthy expressions of Torah observance that a Messianic Jew might adopt, but provide concrete examples of the shape such observance could take.

It is an honor to now be a part of the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council and serve with such a broad range of worthy colleagues as we seek to bring further maturity to the future of our Movement. With HaShem’s help, the inspiration of the Ruach, and clear commitment to our Messiah, we hope to continue to serve our Movement in this important way.

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 A Rabbinical … What?

  1. jonroush says:

    congrats, bro!!this is exciting!

  2. Rabbi Joshua says:

    Thanks Bro! Yea … it is pretty exciting.

  3. James says:

    I'm still trying to understand how it's even possible to be a "Messianic Rabbi" in the classical and modern sense of the term Rabbi.

  4. Rabbi Joshua says:

    James,Thanks for your comment. Can you be a little more specific?One becomes a rabbi by receiving s'mikha from another rabbi or group of rabbis. Conferment of s'mikha MUST be passed down from those who also possess s'mikha from a recognized body (and cannot be self-administered).The s'mikha administered today by the UMJC (for example) meets these criteria in both academic requirements AND in the chain of succession of conferment.Of course, we are also always working on increasing requirements and expectations of what it means to be a "Messianic Rabbi." In fact (stay tuned) the MJRC will be releasing a document clearly defining the term "Messianic Rabbi."

  5. James says:

    Thanks for your kind and clear response.I've encountered many people over the years in the Messianic community who have called themselves "Rabbis" but who have little or no formal training. The title seems to have been adopted by at least some people because they are in a position of leadership in their congregations.It seems the term and position of Rabbi has been devalued by this practice in the Messianic world. Certainly few if any of these congregational leaders couldn't walk into a room of orthodox, conservative, and reform Jewish Rabbis and consider themselves a peer, relative to their education (or lack thereof).Is there indeed a Messianic Yeshiva that is capable of conferring an education and set of experiences onto a person that would result in that person receiving a s'mikha as a Rabbi in the full meaning of the term? What would the qualifications be for even applying to such a Yeshiva?I'm not trying to be troublesome or offensive, but I really want to know.Thank you.

  6. Rabbi Joshua says:

    James,This is the exact problem we are trying to address – the issue of "self-proclaimed" rabbis who are not Jewish, cannot read Hebrew, and do not know their right hand from their left.However, as far as a Rabbinical program able to meet the rigourous qualifications – the answer is YES! Graduates of the MJTI RO'I program (Rabbinical Ordination Institute) will possess a similar education to those rabbis graduating from the Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, and Conservative seminaries. The program is a 5-7 year program which includes graduate studies and intensives in a yeshiva-type atmosphere, with options to study at the campus in Jerusalem. As such, MJTI graduated rabbis will have similar education – a Masters degree in Jewish Studies PLUS additional years of intensive studies specifically for rabbinical students, including serving one year as a rabbinic intern under a recognized rabbi.

  7. James says:

    Thanks for the information. You also answered at least one question regarding qualifications for admission: the candidate must be Jewish.Since Messianic Congregations are by and large unregulated (anyone can put on a kippah and a tallit, gather a following, and create a "Messianic Congregation/Synagogue/Church"), I can only imagine that widespread adoption of Rabbis educated as you outline will be rather slow. Also, a 5 to 7 year education plus additional studies plus interning will mean most Messianic Rabbis won't be in a position to lead a congregation independently until about 10 years after initially entering the program.I appreciate the detailed response. You wouldn't believe how difficult it is to trying and find such information using Google.One other question. Have any Messianic Rabbis, such as yourself, been involved in interfaith (if that's the correct term) meetings or studies with Christian and traditional (non-Messanic) Jewish clergy?Thanks again.

  8. Rabbi Joshua says:

    James,Just to clarify, the whole process will be 5-7 years depending on the individual (above a Bachelors degree).And yes, there are a number of leaders very involved in interfaith dialogue. In fact, many of us have had great interaction with leading thinkers within both the wider Jewish and Christian communities. A number of individual leaders are having very interesting dialogues, and there are also serious group dialogues. One example is Toward Jerusalem Council II. Another example, MJTI will soon be launching an inerfaith dialogue center in Los Angeles which will bring together leading Jewish and Christian thinkers and scholars.Shabbat Shalom!

  9. Anonymous says:

    Yes, congrats Josh!And the exchange between James and Rabbi Joshua was the paradigm for way a MJRC at this time. Over the past 70 years of contemporary movements in american Christianity something similar to a trade-school became the model for preparation for "being in the ministry." The, Bible School, is a readers digest version of preparation for a life of service in the Clergy. This honerd tradion in later movements hamperd the numbers needed. And the critecs of academic institusions said G-d dos'nt call the equiped He equipts the Called. Reb Paul talked specificaly about Torah was my teacher before Grace. To Timothy,never turn leadership over to a novice. The Talmidim, as dose the elders have a historic place for a reason. This trade-school mentality spilled over to the Messianic comunity via-modern Church movments. That is not consistatant with the mind or heart within the jewish community that values and recognizes acidemic discipline and expiereance. G-d (dose) "equip the Called" and has always had a wonderful plan for doing so. I don't know if rabbi Joshua planed it this way but his following aricle dovetails how G-d places the workings of our faith in a stucture He authored. Beyond the making of a rabbi: the role of the elders in the community go back to the time of the Judges. thanks MJRC.

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