Messianic Judaism and Coffee

Americans love coffee. Or, at least we think we do. We like to think that we are coffee connoisseurs. Doppio this, macchiatto that … part of the reason that Starbucks has been so successful as a franchise is that it’s given us an excuse to roll these exotic European words off our tongues while ordering our morning cuppajoe.

But what most of us are drinking isn’t actually coffee. It’s mostly cream and sugar. Frothed, foamed, whipped, and sprinkled within an inch of itself.

You see, Americans don’t actually like coffee. Coffee is bitter. Acidic. It’s an acquired taste. What Americans really like is cream and sugar. And we like the concept of drinking coffee, even though we dislike the flavor. Starbucks has succeeded because it allows us to think we’re drinking coffee and show off the fact that we are drinking coffee … without actually requiring us to drink coffee.

This is the state of Messianic Judaism today. For the most part, we have built a very comfortable spiritual home for Jews and non-Jews who do a little bit here, mix in a little bit there, read a book or two … and soon declare that we are Jewish connoisseurs.

The “coffee” of our movement is Judaism. It is the real, live, messy, complicated, demanding task of living according to the Torah in a community of real, live, messy, complicated, demanding Jewish people.

So if the coffee of our movement is Judaism, then what is the cream and sugar? I’ll let you fill in the blank.

Continuity can only exist when we continue to live a Jewish life with and among our people. I am very concerned that the popular watered-down form of faith we call Messianic Judaism today will not exist in another generation or two. This does not mean I am completely without hope for the future. With HaShem’s help, we will indeed continue to be a representative presence for Yeshua within greater Israel. But that can only happen when Jews continue to live as Jews. Let me make clear that “living as Jews” does not necessarily mean “Orthodox.” There are many ways to be Jewish. But Jewish life must be committed to the foundation blocks which have held us together for over 3,000 years.

Messianic Judaism is like coffee. We can either be true connoisseurs with a deep value and knowledge of our history and tradition, or we can continue to drape our faith with a Tallis and call it “Jewish.” It is my deepest conviction that the only Messianic form of faith that can survive into the future is one that truly is a Messianic form of Judaism.

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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21 Responses to Messianic Judaism and Coffee

  1. Rivkah says:

    Perhaps taking part in and encouraging others in joining in mussar would be of value. A way to deeply connect the inside with the outside foam. **wink**

  2. Russ says:

    Hmm, great metaphor Reb Joshua. I've learned to drink my coffee black, but it's taken a few years. Is real Messianic Judaism an acquired taste too?

  3. Anonymous says:

    I agree that the concepts and practices of Mussar can strengthen our communities, relationships, and connection to Jewish life greatly.Good thought Rivka. The Riverton Mussar program sounds great, and is pioneering in messianic

  4. Anonymous says:

    as a born Jew and i reflect upon my path towards my current beliefs… i wonder which of the historical events it was that brought be closer to Jesus..was it the Crusades (no it can't be that as so many of my ancestors were murdered in the name of Jesus…) how about the Chelmnecki massacres in Eastern Europe in 1648 where the Christians wiped out whole Jewish towns…(no not that either) how about the Holocaust which was perpetrated by Christians and fueled by the anti-Semitism of Martin Luther and the Catholic Church (no not that either!) … come to think of it – you got to be a pretty screwed up (with a twisted nishama) Jew to want to buy into a movement that has brought so much murder, rape and pillage to your ancestors.But hey, it's before Yom Kippur so maybe you can do Tshuva.. except of course that the Rambam holds the Jewish view that one of the few people who can't do Tshuva are those who mislead others to sin.. as it wouldn't be fair for them to get off and others to be left in the mud. Sorry you either didn't have a proper Jewish education and experiences to know what every religious five year old kid here in Jerusalem knows- that Judaism lacks nothing!

  5. says:

    Hey, anonymous "born jew reflecting on your path":You didn't have the chutzpah to put your name with your comment?So why are people so quick to make the "you must not have a good Jewish education" excuse for why a brilliant young person like Rabbi Brumbach is Messianic?You really should get to know someone before you publicly criticize them (while hiding behind your anonymity). Shall we compare your Jewish education to that of Rabbi Brumbach? I don't think you thought about your quip. You just shot from the hip. But you made yourself look foolish.Derek Leman (not anonymous)

  6. says:

    Rabbi Joshua:Great analogy. I had to post a link to you today as your essay made my day. BTW, the only affordable think at Starbucks is coffee. If you get coffee and not espresso drinks, it's cheap. Being cheap, that's what I do.And just how do those Israeli cafes get the letters imprinted on their coffee like that? In case some of your readers don't know, it really is served that way in the Israeli cafes.Derek Leman

  7. rik says:

    Good post during this season. I do notice there are a number of mostly youner people who order at StarBucks and don't know for more about coffe. How its roasted? they say whats about that. Education is a good thing; for Jews and coffee drinkers. That said. If I bunk in a garage, that does'nt make me a car.(ya you Know where I'm going)We see from personal expiereance people whow were not raised in a Jewish home;and may or may not found Jewish ancestors, be enthrolled with a jewish idenity. For some reason they find that jewish beeni and or a scarf and buy a tallit, learn the Hebrew alphabet and read on basic leavel. Oh its hip to know a few yidish terms. Where did they get that model? I know, have had for relatives, gays who on occation may or may not wear a chipah to or during Shoul. I can assure you they are throughly Jewish; raised in a jewish home. And this is nothing to brag about, their Hebrew is a little rough. yhea, take it from me, their throughly Jews. So for what about the dress-up? where did the people who want to convert to being Jewish learn that?

  8. jonroush says:

    "Is real Messianic Judaism an acquired taste too?"Russ: GREAT question. straight to the point. serious implications. Joshua: the "Jewish connoisseurs" comment is right on point.

  9. Anonymous says:

    GREAT POST! I totally agree. It makes the soul grow weary being in a congregation that only offers cream when I so desire the real deal. I'll take my coffee black, thank you.

  10. jon's sister says:

    Wow! I love this analogy. And Russ, I think it IS an acquired taste. This was a great read at the end of the week.

  11. rik says:

    I could'nt resist the refill. With the real authority working the brew, I agree with the old monks; a little heavy cream makes good for everyone, done right you can still fully tast the coffe, espesialy esspresso. Yah Russ an acquired taste.

  12. Rabbi Joshua says:

    Rabbi Derek – Thanks for the support!Rabbi Russ – Yes, I do think it is an acquired taste. This has been the problem in the wider Jewish community when Jewish kids have their Bnai Mitzvah, and then leave the synagogue without ever looking back. Many of these kids think they already have Judaism figured out. Rather, Judaism is an intellectually and spiritually vibrant faith when given the chance. But because it must be acquired, most give up before the best part kicks-in.

  13. Rabbi Joshua says:

    Since this post has been so popular, I should put on the record that my wife and I wrote this one together. Thanks to all who have enjoyed the article and who have left feedback!

  14. Dan Benzvi says:

    rebjosh,Cannot say you are not honest. It takes guts to come out and tell it like it is. When it is allowed in MJ circles to have leaders without education the result is the mess that we have now. Could this be the reason so many jump from the suger and cream of MJ staraight into the real coffe of Orthodox Judaism? This trend is alarming…

  15. Rabbi Joshua says:

    Dan – Thanks for your comment. Although I agree with your point, I am uncomfortable with your comment regarding "real coffe of Orthodox Judaism." As a progressive Jew I affirm there is more than one way to be Jewish, and that one does not have to necessarily be "Orthodox" to be just as committed to Jewish life, Torah, and halachah.

  16. Carl Kinbar says:

    Franz Rosenzweig, a Jewish educator in the early 20th century, started the Lehrhaus, a Jewish adult education center, in Frankfort Germany. As far as I know, only one rabbi ever taught at the Lehrhaus It was lay-led and lay-taught. These assimilated Jews were aware that they were at the periphery of Judaism. Rosenzweig insisted that they begin from that peripheral position and move toward the center, even though it was not at all clear what the center is. In other words, he did not accept the Orthodoxy of his day as the center and simply move toward it. Orthodoxy was/is a modern movement, born in a severe 19th century reaction to Reform Judaism. When Reform became looser, Orthodoxy became tighter. For Rosenzweig, there was no way to return to the traditional Judaism that preceded both Reform and Orthodoxy. That Judaism had been shaped in exile, in ghettos, and in shtels. So he took the pragmatic and psychologically healthy road of self-acceptance + change. The center would be something that had not come to expression before.I think Rosenzweig was on to something. It's not so clear what the coffee really is. It's necessary to receive what has been handed down to us in one form or another (otherwise we're not a Judaism of any kind). But that’s not enough. And adopting behaviors does not, in itself, fill the heart. We have to innovate, both as Yeshua-lovers and as 21st century MJs. But that’s also not enough. It is imperative that we go back to the sources, to the formative texts of Talmud (which arose in exile) and midrash (which arose in the Land of Israel). I don't mean that there was a pure or perfect Judaism back then. But there are alternatives, roads not taken by later Judaisms, that can help us to shape a dynamic MJ in our own time. Of course, most MJs will not do any of the above. That’s discouraging. But our task is to do what we can, think forwardly, and take one step at a time. If we do that steadily, we will be in a very new place a decade from now, and even more so in two decades. It will be good to look back from those places and see how far we have come. For more on Rosenzweig and the Lehrhaus, see

  17. Rabbi Joshua says:

    Rabbi Carl,Nicely said! Thank you.And thanks for the link, as well!Have an easy and meaningful fast.

  18. Dan Benzvi says:

    rebjosh,I was speaking about the alarming trend whereby Gentiles who attend MJ congregation and see the half hearted attempt at Judaism, decide to go where THEY THINK the real coffee is, Orthodox Judaism.

  19. Dan Benzvi says:

    Carl,I think Acts 15:21 speaks exactly about what you are trying to convey.

  20. pixel8design says:

    Well lets just say I like my religion how I like my Starbucks. (ehem to the Starbucks comment, too–keep in mind they DO sell black Pike's Place roast. It's the consumer's choice to purchase that for $1.50 or a sugared/creamed frapp for $3.75–not Starbuck's. I'm disappointed this wasn't mentioned)Anyhow, I like my coffee how I like life and/or my beliefs. Hot, not lukewarm. No frills–just black. And it was an acquired taste…not something I just jumped into right away, just to fall out a few months later.

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