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Fair play for Messianic Jews

This is a guest post by the Rosh Pina Project, a new blog which takes an alternative look at Messianic Jews.

This week, the Jewish Chronicle reports on antisemitic incidents in Scotland targeting a Messianic Jewish congregation. The JC reports that youths have yelled “Kill the Jews!” and “Jews out” at those attending. The Community Security Trust is treating the incident as an anti-Semitic, and have explained this decision on the CST blog.

Messianic Jews are Jewish people who believe that Yeshua of Nazareth is the Jewish Messiah. Some will argue that all religious Jews are essentially ‘messianic’, as all Jews are awaiting the coming of Moshiach. Messianic Jews are different in the sense that we believe our Messiah has already come, and will return.

For the anti-Semite none of this matters. We’re Jooooooz. Indeed, Messianic Jews are most likely to face bigotry and violence in Britain from anti-Semitic yobs and hooligans, who are offended by the Messianic Jews’ use of Jewish symbols. In Israel, however, it’s a different story.

Although Israeli Messianic Jews do enjoy the freedoms of a liberal, democratic society, life is far from easy for them.

Have a look at this Israeli TV report on the lives of Messianic Jews:

There have plenty of incidents in the last couple of years where Messianic Jews have been targeted by extremists. These include a riot in a Messianic congregation in Beersheva, an arson attempt on a Messianic chess club in Aradthe burning of New Testaments in Or Yehuda, and other isolated incidents.

Bully boys have also turned against Messianic children. Israeli teenager Ami Ortiz was nearly murdered last year by a bomb disguised as a Purim package. A number of prominent Israeli rabbis opposed a Messianic Jewish girl taking part in a Bible quiz. Anti-Messianic Yad L’Achim activists recently forced an eleven-year old schoolgirl to provide details about her father (a Messianic pastor). Two weeks later, the pastor’s car was firebombed.

Meanwhile, Yad L’Achim activists boast about spying on Messianic Jews and pressuring their employers to sack them for alleged ‘missionary’ activity. This extremism has not gone unnoticed.

In April 2008, Roi Ben-Yehuda wrote on the Jewcy website:

It seems that the unholy alliance between state and the ultra-Orthodox establishment has created the absurd reality of inverse crypto-Judaism: Where in the medieval era Jews who had converted to Christianity kept their Judaism in secret, today many Messianics feel compelled to hide their beliefs from the rest of Israeli society. The price of disclosure may not be a visit to the Israeli equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition, yet social ostracism, harassment, bullying, and state-sanctioned discrimination is enough to keep many (though not all) living secret lives.

Quite – and visceral hatred of Messianic Jews has led to extremely dodgy political manouevres. Yad L’Achim activist Binyamin Klugger attended an “anti-cult” conference in China, designed to aid the Chinese authorities in combatting members of the Falun Gong practise. So while other rabbis such as David Saperstein use their faith to fight murderous intolerance, Klugger uses his faith to encourage it.

It’s fine for people to say what they like about Messianic Jews, but when theological disagreement turns to physical persecution, then all those with a genuine interest in liberalism and democracy should be concerned.

Yet even many of the vocal criticisms launched at Messianic Jews sound rather hollow.

Are some Messianic Jews missionaries? Do some Messianic Jews use slick marketing? So do some Orthodox Jews.

Do Messianic Jews receive financial and ideological support from rich or powerful churches? So do anti-Messianic Jews.

The language of anti-Semites is even turned against Messianic Jews. People who would usually never dream of making Nazi analogies, suddenly find the Nazi analogy appropriate for Messianic Jews. Just like radical Islamist clerics who accuse Jews of spreading debauchery throughout the world, Yad L’Achim have even accused Messianic Jews of setting up nightclubs, presumably to corrupt Israeli youth!

Messianic Jews face particularly strong hostility from a tiny minority of ex-Christian converts to Judaism, such as Binyamin Klugger and YY Rubenstein, who perhaps project their own identity issues and anxieties onto Messianic Jews, casting us as fake Jews.

Of course it’s fair enough to disagree with our theology, but isn’t it enough to leave it at that, rather than accuse Messianic Jews of being sneaky or deceptive? In normal conversation, if you disagree with someone, then you leave it at that. You don’t throw accusations of dishonesty or malice at them if you don’t have any reason to.

So why shouldn’t Messianic Jews be considered part of mainstream Jewish society? Why can’t Messianic Jews be considered Jews in every way, if we’re prepared to accept JuBus, and atheist Jews as truly Jewish?

Unless you can’t define what ‘Jewish’ means without using the word ‘not’ in the sentence, in which case it is time to re-think your definition of what it means to be Jewish.