Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Figuring Out Jewish Identity When Attacking Jews for Jesus

The Canonist is a Jewish blog which has a very interesting take on the Jewishness of Jewish believers. Bold highlights are mine.

The general argument is about religious deception, the idea being that these missionaries are spreading a fundamentally false notion that Judaism can cohere with a belief in Jesus, and that therefore these proselytizing efforts are more flawed than others. And that’s a very interesting thing, because, as readers here will find time and time again, the thing you can find the most Jews to agree on is that they don’t like Christianity.

Take, for instance, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, which is responding to the effort with its own advertising and its own proselytizers. It is representing 60 member groups that can’t agree on whether the Bible was written by God (and they don’t even all agree whether God exists) at Sinai or compiled by various powerful Jews over a 500-year span, whether homosexuality is to be embraced with marriage or condemned with death, whether the State of Israel is the beginning of the messianic period or the death knell for the Jewish people. And so on. But the faith question they feel equipped to answer is whether Jews can believe in Jesus. This creates a lot of interesting conflicts.

Most simply, a great many of those missionizing are considered Jews in virtually every respect that is traditionally known: they were born and raised Jewish, and the only element of Judaism they can be known to have violated is belief in Jesus as the messiah. Does the Jewish community now see these Jews as outcasts who are no longer Jewish? If it’s impossible for a Jew to believe in Jesus, it’d seem that the organized Jewish community in its entirety is willing to abandon these Jews to their fates, whatever they may be. That’s pretty fascinating. Perhaps one reason for this specific exclusion of these Jews is the understanding that sooner or later, they’ll be stepping up to the communal till.

Belief in Jesus as the messiah was never the main divider between Jews and non-Jewish Christians and wasn’t considered good enough reason to expel Jews in classical times [1, 2], so the choice of belief in Jesus as the messiah as the premier dividing line seems not only arbitrary, but false.

And on its most basic level, what’s driving the anti-missionary effort is the hope of keeping around Jews who just don’t believe in their nominal religion as stated. If they did, missionaries wouldn’t be successful with them. What’s the point in keeping people in something they don’t believe, and away from something they do?

While I might quibble with some minor points, this is exactly correct when it comes to the historical criteria for Jewish identity.

It comes down to: What is your authority? Are you consistent? Is your criteria arbitrary?

If God set apart the Jewish people, He gets to define who is and is not Jewish.


Blogger darren said...

"If God set apart the Jewish people, He gets to define who is and is not Jewish."

It really depends on what you mean by this statement. If you mean that in God's sovereignty, He has defined the Jewish people through what the Bible has clearly proclaimed via the direct lineage of the physical seed of Jacob, then indeed you are correct and this statement agrees with the Biblical text (the voice of the Almighty).

However, if you mean that God can choose another group of people who are not the seed of Jacob to replace their physical lineage, and are the "new Jews," then you are mistaken, since God has already made His declaration of Jewish identity. For us to make a counter-claim to this is to do exactly what the prophet warns us against, ourselves becoming the potter and God the clay, attempting to overturn His authority in the matter.

7/20/2006 08:52:00 AM  
Blogger geoffrobinson said...

I think it is pretty clear that Gentiles get to remain Gentiles and Jews get to remain Jews in the Messiah (Acts 15).

Paul does speak of Gentiles being grafted in to the Jewish tree of faith (Romans 11) and of Gentiles joining the commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians, I believe), but that doesn't mean we are Jewish.

But my main point is that we need to look to what God has said about that matter since he set Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob apart.

Thanks for your comment. God bless.

7/20/2006 11:27:00 AM  
Blogger A superfluous man said...

You guys would find Hyam Maccoby interesting reading, indeed. Although Jesus is obviously a failed messiah--I no longer think of him as a false one--he was coopted by the gentiles into something he emphatically was not: divine.

Also, what do you make of the Lord's day? It seems to me that if Jesus raised from the dead--again, I believe this possible and remain a Jew-by-choice--three days after his crucifixion, why isn't Monday the new holy day? I'll take the (Jewish) Sabbath. Shabbat shalom!

7/21/2006 04:26:00 PM  
Blogger geoffrobinson said...


You have a good logon name and I thank you for your thoughtful comments.

If Jesus accomplished everything he set out to accomplish (Isaiah 53, Jeremiah 31), I wouldn't consider him failed. Failed to meet expectations of some. But that's different than what he set out to accomplish.

I'll have to look that gentleman up. Thanks for the reference.

7/22/2006 12:06:00 AM  

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