Are We Kosher?

My friend and colleague, Rabbi Dr. Michael Schiffman, has raised an important discussion on his blog concerning the use of the title “rabbi” within the Messianic Jewish Movement, and whether or not those who use the title are ‘kosher.’

This is important because far too many people within the broader Messianic movement use the title “rabbi” without any formal education, rabbinical studies, or recognition. When this is done it is an embarrassment to our movement, weakens our credibility, and makes the job of my colleagues and I that much harder. After all, it is actually fraud if someone claims to be a lawyer when they are not. Or claims to be a doctor, when they did not complete the requisite study.

When someone assumes a title they did not earn (or can back-up) they weaken the meaning of the title. For centuries a rabbi has been defined as a scholar of Jewish law and practice. Historically, rabbis were consulted as experts on matters of halachah and its application. It is only in the last two hundred years or so that rabbis have been expected to take on more of a pastoral role, and assume a position of being the “professional Jew.” However, as the roles of rabbis have evolved over the last two hundred years, what has not changed is the expectation of the rabbi as a scholar.

The issue is not whether someone can be an effective leader without being an ordained rabbi. The issue has to do with the use of the title rabbi which has a clear and specific meaning. If one does not agree with the meaning, they do not have to use (nor should they) the title.

One becomes a rabbi by receiving s’micha from another rabbi or group of rabbis after the completion of a formal level of study. Furthermore, conferment of s’micha MUST be passed down from those who already possess s’micha from a recognized body or individual (and cannot be self-administered). Today, most rabbis are graduates of a rabbinical seminary; which is often a 5 year graduate level education. Within the Orthodox and Jewish Renewal communities, s’micha from an individual rabbi is still widely practiced after completing a particular level of study.

I am proud to be a part of a small group of Messianic rabbis who are rabbis in every sense of the word – and have worked very hard to get to this point. We officiate at life cycle events, decide on halachic matters, study and teach Jewish history and texts – yet remain rooted in Mashiach. My colleagues and I have had to immerse ourselves in Jewish life. We have had to complete graduate level educations in Jewish Studies, have a thorough understanding of Jewish history, Hebrew, prayer, Jewish texts, and halachah; and have studied in yeshivot and other Jewish institutions. Many of us even hold credentials within the wider Jewish community.

The s’micha administered today by the UMJC (for example) meets these criteria in both academic requirements AND in the chain of succession of conferment. Because we readily recognize the need of learned and well-prepared leaders, we are also always working hard on regularly increasing requirements and expectations of what it means to be a Messianic Rabbi.

In fact (stay tuned) as the MJRC is currently working on, and will soon be releasing, a formal document clearly defining the term “Messianic Rabbi” from our perspective.

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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11 Responses to Are We Kosher?

  1. Gene Shlomovich says:

    "Many of us even hold credentials within the wider Jewish community."I think this will be the key in the long run. Not that Jewish believers will be accepted if we just do this and then everything will be well (no illusions here), but because we need to keep ourselves connected to the greater Jewish world and not become as insulated as many MJs are today. We should get out of the fringes and into the core even if we get occasionally or frequently rejected [or worse] for our faith in Messiah by those among our people who do not know us aside from stereotypes.

  2. Rabbi Joshua says:


  3. jonroush says:

    great post, yosh.

  4. Rabbi Joshua says:

    jonroush,Thanks, bro!

  5. Seth says:

    While I do not disagree with you that the title of rabbi should not be thrown around willy-nilly, I think it is important to also acknowledge that congregational leadership from a New Testament perspective does not require rabbinic ordination. Leadership is a gift bestowed upon an individual by the Spirit of God. And while rabbinic ordination may be very useful to a Messianic Jewish community, it is not essential for the existence of a congregation. Every congregation, Jewish or Gentile, absolutely needs gifted eldership and pastors. (More Messianics need to realize that a rabbi isn't just a Jewish pastor!)

  6. Rabbi Joshua says:

    Seth,We absolutely need leaders at all levels. And, as you mentioned, not all of them need to be "rabbis." And that is totally fine.My point is just that if one is going to use the title 'rabbi' they need to have the credentials to support it.

  7. rik says:

    I am saddened that in the context of this blog there are a number of posts with life issue topics going with out comment. Yet when disucussing titles,(a topic conerning ownership &/or recogniction) there seems to be a need to respond. Clearly, as in any Torah related discussion I personaly hold to post Nicene seperation of old, and new testement often misleading. When referring to the continuum of Torah, being clearfied by Mashiach and the confirmed Emissaries, those scriptures are quite clear about leaderships first modeling a servant mindfulness and behavior. Followed by a recognition of leadership qualities and a consistant uprightness characteristic with Holocot. The Ruach-HaKo.desh did have the last word if you will, by wittness of one's neshama to the confirmed Emissary athorities (Apostles). Rabbi Shaul made it clear to Timothy(1Tim.3:1-7)after being reconized as discussed above, one should not be a novice. 8-13 helps us understand in a period of mentoring the standard is lived out. I/E a tutorial process. Rebb Josh seems to be saying here a person who is, preoccupied with life issues, and in sevanthood to Mashiach is being called to the Jewish Community. That person Must fulfill a, life issue, of the greater Jewish Community that is found in the identity of their Rabbis. Rabbi is not a title, or onley even an office; as Rebb Josh is doing good job identifying.As Rabbi Shual(Paul) pointed out,1Tim.5:17-19 give proper recognition to leaders. However this school of go pioneer a congregation, learn as you go, do it yourself approch is a product of the contemporary evangelical primarily Charismatic Christian Church. (While growing up in a largly Jewish neighborhood and a family with mixed Christian gentile/Jewish marraiges my early background is a Charismatic Christian Bible College. With as a Worship leader and some missions.)As good a purpose as go where you feel called serves to the Gosple, it is not relevant to the vision of the Messianic movement with in the Jewish Community context. And in my oppinion, not assumming the oppinion of the leadership of UMJC, if this is who you are, maybe you should consider if your a much needed Jewish Roots christian bible study. Or a Christian Church with a focus on studying G-ds Word in its' original and complete context. Which I know is pleasing to our Lord and real sevrice in Messiah. In Aggapi,Are you a good Christian Bible study with Gefilte Fish on its' breath. Pray about it ?

  8. ___ says:

    Rabbi Joshua,I was just curious where the smicha originates in UMJC? Who was the first legitimate Rabbi in the UMJC and where did he receive his smicha? p.s. Good post!

  9. Aree says:

    Rabbi Joshua,I was just curious where the smicha originates in UMJC? Who was the first legitimate Rabbi in the UMJC and where did he receive his smicha? p.s. Good post!p.s.s. sorry for the repost, i forgot to identify myself!

  10. Rabbi Joshua says:

    Aree,Thanks for your question. Those originally with s'micha had Orthodox s'michas – both dating back to the early part of this century (and late 1800's) as well as those who have more recently received s'micha.

  11. Pingback: Announcing … Another Rabbi! | Yinon Blog

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