Frequently Asked Questions
What is Messianic Judaism?
(Concise Definition) Messianic Judaism is a congregational movement of Jews and others committed to Yeshua the Messiah that embraces the covenantal responsibility of Jewish life and identity, rooted in Torah, expressed in tradition, and renewed and applied in the context of the New Covenant.
What do we mean by this?
- Messianic Judaism is a Judaism within the larger Jewish world.
- We acknowledge responsibility to live Covenant faithful lives, as expressed through the Torah.
- We respect and value our Jewish tradition.
- We seek to understand our Judaism in and through the teachings of the Living Torah, Yeshua the Messiah; and through the context of the New Covenant.
Due to the very visible presence of the organization Jews for Jesus, there is a common misconception that all Jewish believers in Yeshua are “Jews for Jesus.” However, this is not the case. Jews for Jesus is a specific organization that employs paid workers and volunteers to actively convert Jews to Christianity.
The difference is that Messianic Jews fundamentally believe that Jews are obligated to remain Jews, and live Jewish lives in obedience to our covenant relationship with God; through the redemption of Yeshua the Messiah. Another difference is that Messianic Jews are not seeking to convert Jews to Christianity or away from Judaism. As a Judaism, like other forms of Judaism, we desire to see Jews who have left their Jewishness return to Judaism and live covenant faithful lives. From a Messianic Jewish perspective, faith in a Jewish Messiah should lead one to a greater sense of Jewish identity, not away from it.
Practically speaking, a Jew is someone born of a Jewish parent(s), and therefore a member of the Jewish people (an ethnic group originating with the Israelites of the ancient Middle East); or a person who has formally converted to Judaism.
A Messianic Jew is a person of Jewish descent (born to either a Jewish mother and/or a Jewish father), who remains committed to the social and religious values of Judaism and the Jewish people, and willingly believes that Yeshua of Nazareth is the long awaited Jewish Messiah.
Another popular misconception is that any Jew who believes in Yeshua is therefore a "Messianic Jew." However, there are many types of Jews who believe in Yeshua - Jewish Christians, Hebrew-Christians, Jewish Catholics and Messianic Jews.
Specifically, a Messianic Jew is a person of Jewish heritage who remains committed to the social and religious values of Judaism and the Jewish people, and willingly believes that Yeshua of Nazareth is the long awaited Jewish Messiah. Messianic Jews understand themselves to be part of the larger "Body of Messiah," which includes Christian believers. However, a Messianic Jew sees their primary community of reference as Jewish. A Jew, then, who converts and assimilates into Christianity, and loses any affiliation with Jewish identity, is therefore not a "Messianic Jew" because they have chosen, whether intentionally or unintentionally, to make Christianity and the Christian world and culture their sole reference of identity; not Judaism and the wider Jewish community.
Many non-Jews have come to find meaning and spiritual fulfillment within Messianic Judaism. In fact, many non-Jews have become like the godfearers during the Second Temple period - living fully identifiable Jewish lives - and greatly contributing to the overall life and vitality of the modern Messianic Jewish movement. Messianic congregations value the participation and spiritual life provided by all its members, whether Jewish or not. However, the practice of Judaism does not equal the same as being "Jewish," per se. To be Jewish, one must be a member of the Jewish people, being born to Jewish parent(s); or having undergone a formal conversion to Judaism. Otherwise, committed non-Jews within a Messianic Synagogue become "Messianic" (or Messianic Gentiles), but not Messianic Jews.
Scholars Support Jewish Belief in a Divine Messiah
By Rabbi Joshua Brumbach
There is a popular assumption circulated by Jewish leaders and liberal scholars that Judaism has never believed in a divine Messiah. Some argue that Yeshua (the Hebrew name of the historical Jesus of Nazareth) never claimed to be the Messiah and that his earliest followers never considered him to be God.
Understanding the historical background and the role of messiah within Jewish thought, especially during the Second Temple period, is the key to combating this myth.
The concept of messiah in Jewish thought was far more complex before the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE) than after. Over time, the established Jewish leadership refrained from defining the messiah in exalted terms as this was seen as a cause of the Temple’s destruction and Israel’s dispersion.
During the Second Temple period, however, Jews interpreted and interacted with their scriptures differently than today. The Jewish world maintained varying strains of Judaisms – including radical apocalypticism, messianism and monasticism.
Pluralism influenced the way each group identified with and interpreted their world. There was disagreement over everything – the calendar, lineage of the priesthood, sacrifices, canon, even the primary location of where the ritual observances should take place. This debate extended into concepts and roles of the Messiah.
According to Professor Kathryn Smith, of Azusa Pacific University, “It was extremely common (may I say extremely ‘Jewish’) during this time to write about an exalted agent of God with characteristics of the divine and still be a monotheist…Jews were comfortable with the notion of a single, exalted figure, who had all the characteristics of God and did all the things that God does, who was exalted above all others, present with God at creation, but…and this is the most important element…they in no sense thought this was betraying the classical confession, Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.”
This idea of a complex unity in relation to God allowed for openness in interpretation and understanding. Larry W. Hurtado of the University of Edinburgh says “all evidence indicates, however, that those Jewish [believers] who made such a step remained convinced that they were truly serving the God of the Old Testament.”
The idea that the Messiah would be more than a human figure goes back to the last centuries B.C.E. when Biblical passages were interpreted and attributed with messianic significance. We see commentaries, like the Aramaic Targums, that include sections from Daniel, Zechariah, Isaiah, and others. These authors absolutely believed in, and ascribed, an exalted status to the Messiah.
Scholars maintain that by the time of Yeshua, this concept was already firmly established. The Dead Sea Scrolls, one of the most important archaeological discoveries in regard to Biblical research, reflect this development. Those texts describe a highly exalted figure who would even suffer on behalf of the people. They also contain numerous allusions and similarities to phrases and concepts in the New Testament.
Yeshua understood himself to be God and this was clear to his disciples as well. Paul wrote in the early years after Yeshua: “It is through his Son that we have redemption, that is, our sins have been forgiven. He is the visible image of the invisible God. He is supreme over all creation, because in connection with him were created all things – in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…He existed before all things, and he holds everything together (Col. 1:14-17).”
The earliest followers of Yeshua made their claims because there existed fertile soil in Jewish circles at the time for an elevated divine Messiah. Although this understanding within Judaism was lost following the destruction of the Second Temple, Yeshua’s followers knew that belief in a divine Messiah was indeed Jewish.
*Reprinted with permission, The Messianic Times, Sept./Oct. 2006.
This was the great leap which was taken when we changed our self-designation from "Hebrew-Christian" or "Jewish-Christian" to "Messianic Jew." We were saying that we no longer saw ourselves as Christians-Presbyterians, Baptists, Episcopalians, Pentecostals, etc.-who happened to come from Jewish ethnic backgrounds. Instead, being "Jewish" is, for us, a fundamental religious category. We are those who by birth share in the covenant G-d made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and whose ancestors pledged themselves and their descendants to a particular way of life with G-d at Sinai. Having been born into the covenant, we have also come to recognize Messiah Yeshua as the One sent by G-d to bring the covenant to its appointed goal.
We expressed this reality by switching our worship day from Sunday to Saturday, by celebrating the biblical feasts, by adopting traditional Jewish religious terminology (such as "rabbi" and "synagogue") and traditional Jewish religious customs (such as wearing tallit and kippot, having Torah services, and reciting the Shema), by employing selected Hebrew prayers in our services, by singing in a minor key and dancing Israeli dances. All of this was positive and good, though for the most part, superficial. The surface structure is the easiest to change. Of more importance is the deep structure, and this level has proved more intransigent.
The deep structure of religious life consists of the rooted patterns of thought, speech, action and identification reflected in our daily lives as individuals, families, and congregations. How do we think and talk about G-d, about His involvement with the world and with Israel? What is the actual texture of our daily and weekly religious practice? How is our sense of connection with the Jewish people as a whole expressed?
Too often the deep structure of Messianic Jewish religious life is indistinguishable from that of popular evangelicalism and bears little or no resemblance to any form of Judaism, past or present. When the world is easily divided into the classes of "saved" and "unsaved," when our speech is peppered with casual references to "what G-d just did" and "what G-d just said," when our exclusive mode of prayer is conversational and begins "Father G-d" and ends "in the precious name of Yeshua," when our kids go to Christian schools because the public schools are filled with "satanic influences," when speculation about the end-times is more natural to us than reciting a berachah -- then we know that the deep structure of our religious life is Hebrew Christian and has been untouched by the drastic changes in the surface structure of our movement.
We believe that the radical innovation initiated in the 70's with the birth of "Messianic Judaism" -- founded on first century precedent but radically "new," nevertheless -- has not yet been brought to its logical conclusion. The deep structure must now be transformed.
When we say that Messianic Judaism is "a Judaism," we are also acknowledging the existence of other "Judaisms." We do not deny their existence, their legitimacy, or their value. We are not the sole valid expression of Judaism with all else a counterfeit. We recognize our kinship with other Judaisms and believe that we have much of profound importance to learn from them, as well as something vitally important to share with them.
Within the Messianic movement it is an accepted assertion that the Jewish people have a unique covenant relationship with G-d and a particular vocation in this world. The Pauline affirmation of the irrevocable nature of the promises, gifts, and calling of G-d is axiomatic throughout the movement. While opening up new possibilities for the Gentiles and placing them in a new relationship to Israel, the coming of Yeshua does not obliterate Israel's character as a people set apart with a special destiny.
Neither is the ongoing value of Torah a contentious issue within our ranks. It was the embracing of noteworthy elements of Torah observance, such as Shabbat, the festal calendar, and tzitzit, which distinguished our movement from its inception. Matthew 5:17, with its assurance that Yeshua came to fulfill and not abolish the Torah, is just as foundational for our movement as is Romans 11:29.
It is the connection between these two affirmations that causes some consternation among us. We believe that the specific observances of the Torah serve as signs of the distinctive character and calling of the Jewish people: "You must keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout the ages, that you may know that I HaShem have consecrated you" (Exodus 31:13). It is emphasized time and again throughout Jewish tradition that the Torah is G-d's special gift to the people of Israel: "Blessed are You ... who chose us from all nations and gave us Your Torah."
This is not to say that the Torah is irrelevant to Gentile Christians. Though it addresses a particular people and serves as its national constitution and customs, it also has universal implications. It points prophetically and typologically to the coming of Yeshua and the inclusion of the Gentiles in a covenant relationship with G-d. The specific ordinances of the Torah also reveal principles that apply beyond Israel's collective national life. Nevertheless, in all its particularity, the Torah is G-d's gift of love for one particular people, the people of Israel.
We believe that this truth requires emphasis within the Messianic Jewish movement. Though Messianic Jews never cease to attack "replacement theology" (usually known outside our movement as "supersessionalism"), we are in danger of failing prey to a more subtle form of the same error. If, in all its ordinances, the Torah addresses Gentiles as much as it does Jews, if it defines the life of the Church as much as it defines the life of the Jewish people, then what remains of Israel's unique character and calling? In the past Jews who entered the church were compelled to surrender Jewish observance and identity and, as a result, they were assimilated and they and their children lost any sense of being Jews. If, contrary to the Apostolic decree and the Pauline injunction, Gentiles in the church are now encouraged to live just like Messianic Jews, will not the same result occur? And what of the Jews who do not believe in Yeshua? What need is there for them? G-d now has a people who are truly keeping his Torah-the Church! We are left with a Messianic Jewish movement without any Jews, a movement that loves Jewish things but not Jewish people.
In our second core value, we express our love for the Jewish people, as rooted in the unique divine love for the Jewish people. We also make known our love for Torah as the divine gift to the Jewish people. Last, but not least, we affirm our conviction that this divine gift to Israel, the Torah, manifests this unique divine love for Israel and is not applicable in the same way to the Gentiles.
As long as theological statements have been codified, the Torah has been viewed against Grace. This phenomenon has colored the perception and understanding of many generations of people regarding Torah. People who have seen the world through the Christian worldview have, along with the many advantages, accepted a distorted view of Torah. To them, the Torah is bad, the Gospel is good. Gospel is life and freedom; Torah is seen as slavery and death. With this view as their starting point, it would have been impossible to avoid the inevitability of a negative view of the Law.
With the birth of the Messianic movement, Jewish believers began to have a new self-perception in which their Jewishness was something good and positive and not something to be "saved from." Yet the misperception of Torah persisted as that which was, at best, a "schoolmaster to lead one to Christ" and, at worst, "the temptress who seeks to seduce its victims from salvation by grace through the lure of a salvation of works righteousness."
The real problem with the Torah is not the Torah but the human misunderstanding of Scripture. The Torah was given by G-d at Mt. Sinai. Yeshua was more than a latter born Moshe. He is the Word who was in the Beginning, through whom the world was created. He is the G-d of Israel, the G-d who gave the Torah to the sons of Israel through the hand of Moshe. The commandments of the Torah are Yeshua's commandments, not an arbitrary set of rules or rituals. They are a revelation of the heart of G-d; they are a reflection of Yeshua's heart. They cannot be understood to be G-d's lesser commands. Yeshua's teachings do not permit such a view. Those who wish to be more like Him must follow the Torah's teachings because they are His very heart. This is the true meaning of the Torah as a schoolmaster to lead us to Messiah. The Torah is not a divine introduction service, arranging blind dates, after which its usefulness is completed. It is a schoolmaster, a teacher -- to guide and train us to become more like Him because this was how He lived and what was in His heart.
The Torah is not a lesser revelation of Yeshua, like an uncompleted puzzle. Simply attaching an addendum to a prayer or commandment does not make it any more complete than it was prior to the addendum. The mitzvah is already complete in that it reflects the heart of Yeshua. When a mitzvah is completed as it was intended when given, it reflects the heart of G-d. Our goal should not be to amend every prayer, commandment, and ritual with Messianic nomenclature. Rather, our goal should be to follow Torah, having faith and a desire to connect with G-d through the act of following. Surely, this was the life Yeshua lived and the life He desires His people to live. Every act of observance is an opportunity to connect with Him. He is the fullness of Torah. Our lives should be so full.
Like a boat that had drifted from its moorings, we were not cognizant of what was happening to us until a key event, conversation, or combination of factors jolted us awake to the realization that we were farther from our Jewish moorings than we had realized.
For most of us, experience in evangelical contexts taught us to look at Jews only as people to whom we ought to witness. For us, the subtext of every family gathering became "How can I bring the subject up?" and the objective in our relationships with Jewish family, friends and acquaintances became "How can I witness to them without their closing the door on the Gospel and on me?" As important as these issues are, we realize now how wrong it was for these evangelistic concerns to be the sole axis of measurement of relationship with other Jews, even our own family members. We became church-culture chameleons, adept at blending in, showing that even though we were Jews, "we weren't like the other Jews": we were real Christians, too. More often than we were prepared to admit, though, we felt ourselves uneasy strangers in a strange land of potluck suppers, hallelujahs, and obligatory right-wing politics. But we had been taught, "You can't go back to what you were. This sense of distance from the Jewish people, Jewish ways, and from family is the cost of discipleship, the cross you are called to gladly bear. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad." One day we discovered that we had become habituated to speaking of the Jewish community in third person. We awoke with a start.
Now we know we can go home again. In fact, we must go home again for, truly, there is no place like home. And home for Jews is Jewish life. No doubt, we will have to remodel that home a bit to properly accommodate Yeshua, our Messiah, but better to remodel our own home than to be a permanent guest at someone else's address.
We dare to believe that among the many mansions prepared for Yeshua's people, some have mezuzot on the doors. We dare to believe that by rediscovering and reclaiming our own identity as Jews, we will be better brothers and sisters to Gentiles who love our Messiah. In all aspects of life, we want to live in a Jewish neighborhood socially, culturally, conceptually so that we and our children and our children's children will not only call Yeshua Lord but also call the Jewish people "our people" and Jewish life "home."
Although weaned and wooed to believe that our New Covenant faith was based on the Bible and nothing but the Bible, "the only rule of faith and practice," we gradually discovered that living out our faith inevitably had a cultural component. The Bible cannot be understood apart from a community context, which helps one understand its deepest meanings. In this way, obedience might become incarnate in daily life. We realized that having our views shaped entirely by a non-Jewish context was leaving a foreign imprint on our hearts, minds and lives. We wondered if this was the best we could expect.
Many of us had been brought up ignorant of, or even hostile to, the varied voices of Jewish tradition. Some had parents who paid lip-service to the G-d of our fathers, while in reality served the lesser G-ds of assimilation, success, and the unquestioned ideals of a good marriage, a home of their own in a good neighborhood, a comfortable retirement, and a better lifestyle for their children. Although these ideals were not unworthy in themselves, they become a form of idolatry when they get treated as the ultimate good. This form of idolatry can never, in the end, satisfy a people formed by HaShem to show forth His praise. But, we had been taught by omission not to look to Jewish tradition to learn how to live "the good life" in the modern world.
Certainly, our evangelical contexts taught us to distrust the opinions of "the rabbis" whose views on life and faith were perceived as a deceptive and legalistic counterfeit of the more abundant life to be found in Yeshua. After all, we had the Holy Spirit! What could we possibly learn from the rabbis except dead religion? "The letter kills but the Spirit gives life." Eventually, we recognized the superficiality of our judgments. We began to reckon with the fact that the proclaimed polarity between Torah and Spirit distorts the testimony of Scripture. We came to appreciate that New Covenant benefits include the Holy Spirit writing the Torah on our hearts, therefore causing us to walk in the statutes and ordinances of G-d. We began to appreciate the unity of Torah and Spirit.
We also began to appreciate how our own spiritual lives stood to benefit from the fruit of thousands of years of Jewish struggle for understanding. Like Paul, we began to bear witness to the undying flame of Jewish zeal for G-d. We began to lean upon these structural pillars, which stabilize Jewish religious life, understanding that they could help strengthen us and the Messianic Jewish community as well.
And what are these three pillars? The first is Torah, instruction for the good life based on the study of the sacred texts. This practice is helping us become more deliberate and informed in discerning the shape of obedience as we encounter life in all its complexity and particularity. Here, too, we learn afresh of the saving acts of G-d, of His promises, and see a reflection of His face.
The second pillar is avodah, the practice of liturgical prayer, which continues to surprise and delight us in its power to enrich our lives. In daily davvening we take our place with our people in the promises and purposes of G-d, reminded again and again of His irrevocable promises to the Patriarchs. We sing His praises with them at the shore of the Red Sea, celebrating our deliverance, sobered by the righteous judgment that overtook our foes, of which not one was left. We hear again and again, as if for the first time, His promise to gather our people from the four corners of the earth, for not one letter of His word will go unfulfilled. Is He not the Blessed One, who says and performs, who decrees and fulfills? We rediscovered daily the faith-transforming power of the Passages of Praise, the time-honored wisdom of the prayer agenda mapped out in the Amidah, and the stability and challenge encountered as we join our people at the foot of Sinai, listening again to the living word of the one who never stops saying to us, "Shema Yisrael." And we leave His presence reoriented and renewed, having again pledged allegiance to Him in the stirring words of the Alenu.
The pillar of gemilut hasadim, deeds of lovingkindness, supports and informs us as we learn to understand the meaning of "true religion," which one New Covenant writer defined as "visiting orphans and widows in their affliction and keeping oneself unspotted by the world." His is a vision totally consonant with this third pillar. The splendid and rich tradition of Jewish ethical writings and discussion of the fine print behind "doing justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with your G-d" never ceases to chasten us, providing teaching, rebuke, correction, and training in righteousness, that we might be fully equipped for every good work.
In all these ways and more, we have become informed and transformed by our own heritage. We rejoice at the privilege of drinking from our own wells, the wells from which our fathers, and from which Yeshua and the Apostles also drank and were sustained. Besides these wells we meet with Yeshua today, and here He speaks with us anew.
In the science fiction saga, Star Trek, there was a planet of people who had a cloaking device for their ships. They were able to fly around the universe while escaping the detection of any other starships. While their cloaking device was in operation, they were able to travel where and when they wanted without opposition from others, and it gave them an advantageous position from which to attack their enemies. In a similar way, people have misused religion as a cloaking device through which they could maneuver through life, escape detection for wrongs committed and even launch attacks on others.
Historically, this misuse of religion can be seen as far back as organized religion itself. All the prophets cried out against this abuse; Yeshua of Nazareth railed against it as well. The Church persecuted the Jewish people for almost two millennia in the name of religion.
Most thinking people would admit it is not fair to blame religion itself for these things. The problem is one of human nature. It is easy to cloak wrong intentions and problems under a cover of religious piety. Karl Marx thought the answer was to ban religion, but communism proved that politics could be just as effective a cloak as religion.
Religion can be affirmed as good and right. Ritual can be affirmed as a valid expression of faith and a means of connecting with G-d. Sadly, wherever the valid expression exists, the corruption of the ritual can also exist.
There are many Jewish people rediscovering their heritage as well as its beautiful practices. This rediscovery enables us to affirm identity as well as pass on our heritage to our children. Unfortunately, there are some who misuse ritual and form as a pretext to gain acceptance and authority. Some have taken to wearing the black hats and clothing of the Ultra-Orthodox. Others have sought to learn the rituals themselves as a means to grasp authority in the congregation. They have taken something that, in and of itself, is good, and have transformed it solely by their wrong intention into something malevolent.
Yeshua did not speak against ritual and tradition but against the wrong attitudes of those who taught and practiced them with improper motives. When people treat people poorly, whether for religious reasons or non-religious reasons, the value of their religious practice becomes nullified.
The parable of the sheep and the goats makes this clear. To the sheep it is said, "I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was naked and you clothed me." They answered, "L-rd, When did we ever see you in need?" And He said, "When you did so to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me." To the goats it was said, "I was hungry and you gave me nothing. I was thirsty and you let me thirst. I was naked and you did not clothe me." They answered, "L-rd, When did we ever see you in need?" and He said, "When you did not do so to the least of these my brethren, you didn't do it to me." The only difference between the sheep and the goats was what they did or did not do. Yaacov, the brother of Yeshua, said that pure and undefiled religion is to take care of the needs of widows and orphans. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Yeshua taught the issue is not WHO is our neighbor, but that we are to BE a neighbor, rendering assistance to anyone in need. When an individual becomes a neighbor, a person who seeks to reach out and meet the needs of others, it can be a deeply religious act.
Religious people easily become preoccupied with words, presuming to become the voice of G-d to those around them. But it is far more fulfilling to be the hands of G-d in the world, as Yeshua and the prophets taught. Yeshua stated "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve," and "He who wishes to be the greatest among you must become the servant of all."
Long ago people tuned out the many self-proclaimed voices of G-d. It gave them headaches. People need to experience His love through kind actions. They need to feel His hands blessing them. The time is long past where religious pretext can cover up man's inhumanity to man. "Holier than thou" attitudes will prove unprofitable is unacceptable as we approach the next millennium. Actually, they never were acceptable from G-d's point of view. The ability to quote Bible verses or the practice of dressing in religious attire are not acceptable alternative standards of spirituality. All people are created in the image of G-d, therefore, how we treat them is a reflection of our respect and love for Him. True piety cannot exist apart from human decency. This is the heart of G-d; people need to feel it beating.
The heavens declare the glory of G-d;
the skies proclaim the work of His hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
The psalmist beheld the vastness of creation and stood in awe of the inscrutable nature of the Eternal Personality who ordered the universe. Though most religious thinkers would give intellectual assent to the abstruseness of both creation and Creator, the human need for certainty has forced most traditional religions to operate as closed systems, tightly bound by a set of immutable presuppositions and dogma. Though we recognize the importance of firm and clearly held convictions, we consider the cultivation of supple hearts and minds essential if the Messianic Jewish community is to move on to maturity.
With the blessings of the information age, new challenges have arisen. The sheer volume of new and continual discovery has been coupled with the nearly unlimited potential to disseminate and receive information and insight. The result is a new climate, which affects how we view Messianic Judaism, our role, our past, our future and the world about us. Our social, theological and philosophical paradigms have become subject to both new and old thought, which may have previously been ignored, if at all considered. Rather than retreat into the safe and sure fortresses of our immediate past, we must courageously, yet wisely, engage and interact with our dramatically changing world.
We affirm the titanic contributions and complementary relationship of the historical Church and the Synagogue to the ennoblement and advancement of the human enterprise. We therefore encourage the Messianic Jewish community to avail itself of the insights of both institutions while critically evaluating the usefulness of such insights as we pursue maturation. We also recognize the tremendous value offered by contemporary cross-disciplinary scholarship. Since truth may be found in surprising places, the over- worn categorization of liberal and conservative will not, in our opinion, serve the best interest of an emerging Messianic Judaism.
Shabbat is the weekly Sabbath, and is known as an "island in time." It is a day of rest in which we focus our attention on God and the completion of Creation.
Rosh HaShanah is the Jewish civil New Year and commemorates the themes of creation, recognizing God as our King, and the need for redemption. It is also known as the Feast of Trumpets.
Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, the most holy day on the Jewish calendar. It is a day set apart for reflection and repentance.
Sukkot is known as the Feast of Booths. It is an eight day commemoration of when the Jewish people wandered in the desert for forty years. During that time we did not have a permanent place to live and had to live in temporary shelters (sukkot). Every year during the festival of Sukkot we continue to dwell in temporary shelters (sukkot) to remind us of the temporary nature of our lives. At any time we could be forced to live again in "temporary shelters," and lose all of our possessions. Sukkot reminds us that everything we have in life is from God, and to be thankful for everything God provides.
Simchat Torah is a lively celebration that occurs at the end of Sukkot and brings to conclusion (and restarts) the yearly Torah reading cycle.
Hanukkah celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem after the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian-Greek army in the 2nd century B.C.E.
Tu B'Shvat is also known as the New Year for Trees, and celebrates our connection to our agrarian past and to our need to be environmentally conscious today.
Purim commemorates the annulment of the decree against the Jewish people in ancient Persia (Late 6th century B.C.E.).
Passover commemorates the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery and of the Exodus from ancient Egypt.
Yom Hashoah is the Holocaust Memorial Day in remembrance of the 6 million Jews and others killed by the German Nazi regime and their collaborators.
Yom HaAtzmaut is Israel's Independence Day and commemorates the Declaration of Independence of the modern State of Israel in 1948.
Shavuot is the Feast of Weeks, and is a celebration of spiritual renewal and of the giving of the Torah to Moses at Mount Sinai over 3000 years ago.
Tisha B'Av is a day of fasting and mourning the destruction of both the first and second Temples in Jerusalem and of the Jewish dispersion.
Messianic Judaism?....It’s a term that is being heard more and more these days. Succinctly defined, Messianic Judaism is a congregational movement of Jews and others committed to Yeshua (the Hebrew name for Jesus) the Messiah that embrace the covenantal responsibility of Jewish life and identity rooted in Torah, expressed in tradition, and renewed and applied in the context of the New Covenant.
Messianic Judaism is more than just another “flavor” within the larger Jewish world, it is a renewal movement that seeks to impart greater relevance and spirituality back into Jewish experience. Because we believe Yeshua is the Jewish Messiah, we believe in maintaining a Jewish lifestyle. We celebrate Jewish holidays, and observe many of the traditional Jewish customs that are consistent with the Scriptures.
For much of history it has been assumed that Jewishness and Yeshua are mutually exclusive. Of course, it’s fine for any non-Jew to believe in Him---but a Jew? However, when one stops to study the actual history of this movement, it becomes clear that this assumption was not always the case.
After all, the first Messianic movement did not originate in Rome or Athens, but started in the land of Israel in the midst of the Jewish people. We now know that historians and scholars place Yeshua, his earliest followers, and the New Testament writings clearly within the pluralistic Judaisms of the first-century. Most scholars agree that Yeshua lived a lifestyle consistent with first century Judaism. He worshipped on the Shabbat (Luke 4:16 ff.), celebrated all the Jewish holidays such as Passover and Chanukah (Matthew 26:17 ff.; John 10:22 ff.) and even wore the traditional “tzitzit” – ritual fringes (Matthew 9:20). Likewise, the name “Yeshua” also testifies to His Jewish identity, since it is the Hebrew word for “Salvation.”
Some people today can accept that Yeshua was a typical Jewish teacher of that period, but they feel that His early followers somehow changed it into a non-Jewish religion. However, the “Brit Chadashah” (New Covenant) paints a different picture. It describes this movement as containing tens of thousands of Jews who believed, yet remained “zealous for the Torah;” that is, not converts to a Gentile religion but Torah-observant Jews who believed in Yeshua as the long awaited Jewish Messiah (Acts 21:20). These men and women were a large and influential portion of the Jewish pluralistic society of that day. James, the leader of the early Messianic community is even written about in Jewish literature as having been one of the most holy and righteous men of his day. There is a Jewish tradition from the period that says the destruction of the Temple was due to the murder of this godly man, James. For them the times of the Messianic age had started, and the Messiah had come to bring the promise renewed covenant -- the Brit Chadasha. As it is written:
“Behold, the days are coming, says the L-rd, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their ancestors in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt…but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the L-rd; I will put my Torah in their innermost parts, and write it on their hearts; I will be their G-d, and they shall be my people, and they shall no longer teach every person, saying, know the L-rd: for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the L-rd, for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
The earliest Jewish followers of Yeshua saw the perfect fulfillment of what Jeremiah and the Prophets had foretold. It never occurred to them that by believing in Yeshua they were no longer Jews. Rather, they had come into the fullness of the Promised Covenant. They were “Messianic Jews” in the true sense of the word! This community of Messianic Jews continued to fit into the framework of Judaism at the time, with many priests, Pharisees, Essenes, etc. becoming believers in Yeshua. This was a Jewish revival movement that would survive beyond the destruction of the Temple and influence significantly the reconstruction of Judaism by the Pharisaic movement in the years to come. History records the vitality of this movement in various parts of the world until well into the fourth and fifth centuries.
A rather strange thing happened in the proceeding centuries however. The Scripture speaks of this Messianic faith being taken to non-Jewish nations as well. All peoples were invited by G-d to follow the Jewish Messiah. And many responded. Unfortunately, many either forgot the Jewishness of their faith, or consciously turned from it and removed any remembrance of it. Hence, today it sounds shocking to many people that Jews can believe in Yeshua, and remain faithful to Judaism. But many of these misunderstandings have been changing in recent years...
Starting in the late 1960’s and continuing until today, there has been a dramatic move of G-d’s Spirit throughout the world. As G-d is restoring the Jewish people physically back to the land of Israel, so too, G-d is moving spiritually in the hearts and souls of many Jewish people. Thousands have been coming to believe in Yeshua and forming their own congregations where they can worship the Messiah in the fulfillment of Jewish identity. These “Messianic Congregations” are characterized by a number of distinctive elements including worship on the Shabbat, celebrating Jewish holidays, joyful Messianic worship and dance, inspired liturgy, and other customs.
We should also note that many non-Jews have found special fulfillment in the Messianic congregation as well, since they are grafted into “the rich root of the olive tree” of this Jewish, biblical faith. (Romans 11:17 ff.) The Hebrew Bible foretold long ago that one day all people from around the world would worship the G-d of Israel alongside the Jewish people (Is. 56:3-8, Is. 66:18-23, Zech. 2:14-16 (10-12), Eph. 2:11-22, Eph 3:6, etc.) Messianic Judaism has also become the perfect alternative for intermarried couples looking for a spiritual and open community.
Many of our Jewish people have simply given up on any belief in a Messiah. Some have accepted many other substitutes in Eastern mysticism, New Age groups, cults, etc. But Messianic Jews believe that there is indeed a Messiah promised to Israel and that it is possible to recognize Him. It is through the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures) that we can read the description of Messiah. It’s simply a matter of studying to see what they actually say. If Yeshua of Nazareth does not fit the description, then we should not follow Him. But what if He does....
Read for yourself and decide!
Messiah to be born in Bethlehem
Micah 5:1 (Hebrew) --- cf. Matthew 2:1-6
Messiah to perform testifying miracles
Isaiah 35:5-6, Isaiah 61:1-3 --- cf. Matthew 11:4-5, Luke 4:16-21
Messiah to die before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.
Daniel 9:24-27 --- cf. Matthew 24:1-2
Messiah to be executed by crucifixion
Zechariah 12:10-11, Psalm 22:17 (Hebrew) Ps. 22:16 (English) --- cf. Matthew 27:35, John 19:18, 34-37
Messiah to be raised from the dead
Isaiah 53:9-10, Psalm 16:10 --- cf. Matthew 28:5-8, John 20:8-9, Acts 2:23-36
Messiah’s death to atone for sin
Isaiah 53:7-12 --- Mark 10:45, John 1:29, John 3:16-17, Acts 8:30-35
Messiah to be the Son of God
Psalm 2:7, Proverbs 30:4 ---
cf. Matthew 3:17, Luke 1:32
Messiah to set up His earthly Kingdom in the latter days
Isaiah 11 --- cf. Acts 1:6-8
Messianic dance is praise and worship dance that combines Israeli folk and contemporary worship music to choreographed dance. G-d is restoring the established ways of worship in dance that have been a part of Israel since the earliest days of its faith expression. Historians have found that dance was a significant component of the Temple worship in the time of Yeshua (Jesus' Hebrew name). Dance has not only been a meaningful demonstration of corporate praise and worship, but dance has always been the Jewish depiction of celebration, Jewish life-cycles, religious holidays, and triumph in warfare within the Jewish faith community.
People always ask if dance is a Scriptural form of worship. In Exodus 15:20, Miriam and the other women respond to G-d's triumph over the Egyptians in an expression of dance. We can note harvest dances in the book of Judges (21:21), as well as the demonstration of the joy of Jephthah's daughter at his return (11:34). 2 Samuel 6:14 describes how David led the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem when he "danced before the L-RD with all his might." 1 Samuel depicts the children of Israel praising David their king by dancing and singing songs of his exploits (21:11). Jeremiah 31:13 shows us that G-d's redemption causes His people to dance before Him. In verse four of this chapter, dance is seen as a response to G-d's love for His people. As I said earlier, historians have found that dance was an integral part of worship and celebration during the Second Temple period, in the time of Yeshua. All these illustrations of dance throughout Israel's history as recorded in Scripture, give us a very potent basis for dance as praise and worship in the faith-life of G-d's people.
As Jews, we are continually searching for spiritual meaning within our lives. We have rediscovered, as Messianic Jews, that our Jewish roots are not lifeless traditonal rituals, observances, and life-cycles, such as weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, but is to be a true expression of worship and praise. Messianic dance is one way to integrate worship within the Jewishness of our faith. In a sense, each time we come together as a commuity, our corporate worship exhibits an expression of joy and faith so that our community can be a testimony to the living G-d of Israel. You may not have come from a Jewish synagogue that affirmed a worship expression in dance, but this is a part of your heritage -- so reclaim it!
After the early Messianic Jewish believers became so few in number compared to the non-Jewish believers of that community, much of the celebrations, ceremonies, praise, and worship of the Church began to develop on a course that was far removed from its original Jewish roots. Dance, in various forms, continued to be a part of the believers' expression of faith. There was the development of dance forms around the eucharist, baptism, ordination of priests, processional for entering and leaving the sanctuary, holiday dances, etc. For more information about the history and theology of dance, you can send away for the book, Dancing For Joy. Later in history, around the seventeenth century, the Church began to move away from dance as an expression of faith, preferring the more sedate expressions of worship. But, today, G-d is restoring the joy and celebration of faith to the Church! G-d desires that we get together in corporate worship, rejoicing as a redeemed people, manifesting our faith to the world.
Even if you do not believe in the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and you do not believe that Yeshua is the Messiah, who paid the redemption price for our sins, we invite you to enjoy the spirit of praise and worship deep within your soul. Our prayer is that you will sense along with us that G-d is vey real, and that He wants to take the burdens from your heart to fill you with His peace and love. If you feel that G-d has made this opportunity for you to search for Him, please talk with us about what you are feeling in your heart.