Jews for Jesus and gentiles keeping kosher: What is Messianic Judaism and why do Jewish leaders condemn it?
By Siobhan Hegarty for The Religion and Ethics Report
Bob Mendelsohn has been wearing 'Jews for Jesus' slogan T-shirts since bell-bottoms were in fashion — the first time around.
As a Messianic Jew, he views Jesus as the messiah; not just for Christians, but for all people, including Jews.
It's a controversial belief, and one that gained international attention a fortnight ago when US Vice-President Mike Pence invited a Messianic Jewish leader onstage during a rally for the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting victims.
The Jewish Democratic Council of America condemned this decision, stating: "So-called Messianic Jews are not a part of the Jewish community, and espouse views considered deeply offensive."
Reasons for the rift
Jesus was Jewish, but it's Christians — not Jews — who view him as the messiah.
Hebrew scholars and philosophers argue Jesus is a 'false messiah' because he didn't fulfil messianic prophecies, such as building the Third Temple in Israel and ushering in an era of peace.
Messianic Judaism, which gained prominence in the 1960s and '70s, promoted a new narrative — one that Mr Mendelsohn, national director of Jews for Jesus Australia, wholeheartedly supports.
"The Jews for Jesus organisation began in 1973 with a handful of mostly ex-hippies in San Francisco who had come one-by-one to faith in Yeshua (Jesus), and who wanted to not only identify with him but with our Jewish culture," he explains.
"We didn't give up being Jewish any more than an Australian who moved to Paris would give up Vegemite — we're still who we are."
RN presenter and religious scholar Dr Rachael Kohn completed her doctorate on Messianic Judaism.
She says the religious tradition is somewhat of a "rebranding" of the 19th century Hebrew-Christian movement.
"It consisted of Jewish converts to Christianity, who were never made comfortable in churches due to anti-Semitism and founded their own congregations," she says of the earlier tradition.
But unlike Hebrew-Christianity, Messianic Judaism endorses Jewish rituals.
"[These include] observing the Sabbath on Friday night to Saturday night; celebrating the Passover, as Jesus had done; and other calendar and ritual observances, such as circumcision, praying with a talit or prayer shawl, and even keeping kosher," Dr Kohn points out.
It's not just Jews who are part of the contemporary Messianic movement.
Les Aren Gosling, a lecturer for the International Messianic Community of Faith, says "gentiles" — non-Jewish people — are also active participants.
"In all the Messianic congregations around the world there are perhaps more gentiles than there are Jews," he says.
"When people say, 'Oh you're a messianic believer?' You've got to qualify it and say, 'Well yes, I'm a Messianic gentile or a Messianic Jew'."
According to Dr Kohn, the presence of gentiles in Messianic Jewish communities isn't as strange as it sounds.
"Gentiles make up a significant proportion of the membership of Messianic Judaism for two basic reasons: the first and most common is that they have married a Jewish convert," she explains.
"The second and most interesting reason is that the adoption of Jewish practices of the kind Jesus might have engaged in draws the believer nearer to him, and away from the church tradition that was largely a product of the Roman emperor Constantine."
Shannon Eades fits into the latter category.
He lives in Port Macquarie on the New South Wales central coast, and is part of a community called the Ancient Foundation Bible Fellowship.
"We're not actually Jews, but we run along the same vein and believe in all of the things they believe in," Mr Eades explains.
"Another term is Hebrew roots — gentiles who are going back to the Hebrew roots of their faith."
Mr Eades came across the Messianic movement six years ago, after becoming disillusioned with the Christian church he was attending.
He says most members of the fellowship — which is entirely gentile-based — had similar experiences.
"They've come from various church backgrounds: from Pentecostal churches to the more traditional Catholic, Uniting, Anglican church backgrounds," he says.
"It's just all variety of people that have sensed that there's more to what they've been experiencing in their religious walk."
But his practice goes deeper than beliefs. He, and fellow community members, mark the Sabbath each Saturday and, where possible, keep a Kosher diet.
"We don't eat any fish that don't have fins and scales; we don't eat any pork products; and we don't eat any shellfish like prawns or lobster," Mr Eades says.
Alienation and threats
The fusing of Christian and Jewish beliefs is provocative for most Jews and Christians who have defined themselves by separate traditions for nearly two millennia.
According to Dr Kohn, it's the missionary aspect of the Messianic movement that causes the greatest concern to the Jewish community.
"After surviving the Holocaust, for Jews to be targeted by a proselytising group is deeply threatening," she says.
"The fact that we're so small, we're 16 million people worldwide, means that survival is key to our future."
Mr Mendelsohn says Jews for Jesus has faced hostility from some "extremist" parts of society.
"Most Australians are very happy to allow someone who has a different believe to have their belief," he says.
"But we've experienced some hostility. Our windows have been smashed at our bookshop in Bondi Junction; threats; paint thrown on our vehicles.
"It was certainly not by the mainstream of Jewish or Christian thought."
For Mr Gosling, who lives on the Gold Coast, alienation doesn't just come from extremists.
"If I go to a Sunday [Christian] service, just out of curiosity or whatever, I don't wear my yarmulke, I don't wear a skullcap, I don't wear a kippah," he says.
"It just brings unwanted attention to me, certainly in a hostile way.
"I once had a pastor and his wife ask me, very politely, to leave. You don't get the so-called Christian charity if you go in there — they see you as a threat."
Despite that confusion — and, at times, discrimination — associated with Messianic Judaism, Mr Gosling says his faith is entirely valid.
"You can be a Buddhist, you can be a Hindu, you can be a gangster like Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky ... and still be seen as Jewish and acknowledged as such," he points out.
"But if you believe in Yeshua as the messiah you are unceremoniously rejected and denounced and no longer considered a legitimate Jew.
"It's entirely fallacious."
POSTED abc.net.au SUN 18 NOV 2018, 7:00 AM AEDT
Jews for Jesus Slandered in the Jerusalem Post Online
Jews for Jesus missionaries are wrongly being charged with links to Arab terrorists according to a Jerusalem Post online report. Father Gabriel Naddof of Nazareth alleges that, by association, Jews for Jesus is in collusion with those who are anti-Zionist. He cites conversations with two Jews for Jesus staff members, both of whom have served as soldiers in the IDF and currently serve in the Israeli reserves.
Dan Sered, Israel director, was on an international platform with a staff member of one of these so-called terrorist sympathizers several years ago (in which they both spoke about reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians). Says Sered, “Does that make me suspect? This kind of inference is very dangerous and can lead to terrible misunderstandings. I wish the Jerusalem Post had called me before printing this.”
David Brickner, executive director of Jews for Jesus, responded by saying: “These are flat out lies. No representatives of Jews for Jesus were ever interviewed for this so called news story. It is simply not true and I ought to know.”
The Jerusalem Post did not seek any comments from Jews for Jesus before publishing this article.
Jews for Jesus denounces Vatican for no converting Jews policy
December 13, 2015 (JTA)
— The Jews for Jesus organization has denounced the Vatican for saying the Catholic Church must not try to convert Jews to Christianity.
David Brickner, executive director of Jews for Jesus, said in a statement issued Friday that his organization finds the position “… egregious, especially coming from an institution which seeks to represent a significant number of Christians in the world.”
The pronouncement against converting Jews came in a major document released Thursday by the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. It was issued to mark the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, a declaration promulgated in 1965 by the Second Vatican Council that opened the door to formal Catholic-Jewish dialogue.
Brickner accused the Vatican of pandering to Jewish leaders.
“How can the Vatican ignore the fact that the Great Commission of Jesus Christ mandates that his followers are to bring the gospel to all people? he asked. “Are they merely pandering to some leaders in the Jewish community who applaud being off the radar for evangelization by Catholics? If so, they need to be reminded that they first received that gospel message from the lips of Jews who were for Jesus.”
Jews for Jesus, which calls itself the “largest Jewish mission agency in the world,” has branches in 13 countries and 25 cities, according to the statement.
The new Vatican document, titled “The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable,” discussed at length how Christianity is rooted in Judaism. Because of this, it said, the Church is “obliged to view evangelization to Jews, who believe in the one God, in a different manner from that to people of other religions and world views.”
It added, “In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews.”
The Cronulla Riots
(A Press Release. Notice how many and who signed onto the release. Fascinating list of folks.)
Sunday 18 December 2005
We are citizens of Sydney and committed to the peace and freedom that we enjoy in our city. As leaders in a number of religious communities within the city, some have looked to us for spiritual guidance in the wake of the racial and cultural tensions that have erupted on our beaches. We believe that the overwhelming majority of Australians deplore violence, especially racial and religious violence. Most of us want to give each other a ‘fair go’, and our ethnic minorities are composed of mostly fair-minded Australians. We believe that Christmas is a time in our national calendar for giving and for peace with God and one another. We want our neighbours to know and experience this spirit of giving and peace. We believe that Jesus was a Middle Eastern man who was called the “Prince of Peace”. He wants all people to know the peace that He gives. Jesus Christ promises us a new identity that transcends our racial and religious backgrounds and enables us to share His love and compassion with others from every race. As a man of Middle Eastern appearance, Jesus could have easily suffered violence in these last few days in Sydney, even as His family fled violence at the time of His birth. As Christians we believe that the violence done to Him, especially on a Roman cross, was God’s plan to redeem all of us from the hate and the violence that can erupt in every human heart. The only hope for true peace was born in the Middle East. Christmas reminds us that it was a Middle Eastern man, Jesus the Messiah, who holds the key to resolving the strife that bedevils our world. May we all experience a very blessed and peace-filled Christmas.
Bob Mendelsohn, National Director Jews for Jesus
David Thomas, Pastor, Beachside Vineyard Christian Church Cronulla
The Rev Peter Hastie, Minister, Ashfield Presbyterian Church Editor, Australian Presbyterian
Dr Peter Barnes, Lecturer in Church History Presbyterian Theological Centre
The Rev Nello Barbieri, Minister of Riverwood Presbyterian Church Australian born Italian
Rev Rob Silberman, Senior minister, Eastgardens Maroubra Anglican Parish
The Rev David Ritchie, Minister, St Matthews Anglican Church, Manly
Scott Xu, Pastor, Living Stone Evangelical Free Church, West Pennant Hills
Stephen Tuck, Youth Pastor, Maroubra Baptist Church
Rev Neil Dawson, Senior pastor, Thornleigh Community Baptist Church
Darren R Middleton, Minister, Caringbah Presbyterian Church
Rev Mike Wilson, Cross Cultural Ministry Co-ordinator, Presbyterian Church of NSW
Rev Craig Tucker, Minister, Drummoyne Presbyterian Church
The Rev Ezra Tseng, Minister, Chinese Presbyterian Church Sydney
Rev Richard Quadrio, Minister, Macquarie Chapel, Eastwood
The Rev Richard Humphrey, Senior Minister, St Andrew's Anglican Church, Cronulla
The Rt Rev Bruce Christian, Former Moderator General Presbyterian Church of Australia
Pastor Nabil Zakhary, Pastor, Toongabbie Arabic Evangelical Church
Rev Andy Arthurs, Senior pastor, Forest Alliance Church, Frenchs Forest
The Rev Ian Millican, Senior Minister, St Mark's Anglican Church, Berowra
Scott MorrisonSenior Pastor, Georges River Community Baptist Church, Peakhurst
Rev Neville Otto, Pastor, St Mark's Lutheran Church, Epping
Allan Blyth, Minister, Chatswood Church of Christ
Geoff Leader, Minister, St Aidan's Anglican Church Longueville
Ian Powell Pastor, St Barnabas, Broadway
The Rev Dr John Davies, Principal, Presbyterian Theological Centre, Sydney
Rev David Cohen, National Director, CNEC/Partners International, Croydon Park
Rev Moses Hahn, Minister, Abbotsford Presbyterian Church
Rev Johnnie Li, Minister, St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church Maroubra.
Rev John Irvin, Assistant Director, Ministry and Mission, Presbyterian Church, NSW
Rev Thomas Schmid Senior Pastor, Cronulla Baptist Church
Pastor Brian Houston Senior Pastor, Hillsong Church, Waterloo and Baulkham Hills National President, Assemblies of God in Australia
Pastor John McMartin Senior Pastor, Christian Life Centre, Liverpool
The Rev Andrew Clausen Senior Minister, St Andrews Presbyterian Church Sutherland
The Rev David Milne Minister, Liverpool South Anglican Church Casula
Rev Martin Lau Senior Pastor, Sydney Chinese Alliance Church Chair, Alliance College of Australia
The Rev David Balzer Minister, Western Blacktown Presbyterian Church Lecturer in New Testament, Presbyterian Theological Centre, Sydney
Rev Rob Feeney Pastor, Gracepoint Christian Church, Randwick
Pastor Peter Watson Church in the Market Place (Uniting), Bondi Junction
Kevin Murray Minister, Hurstville Presbyterian Church
Rev Peter Moore Lecturer in Systematic Theology, Presbyterian Theological Centre, Sydney
Rev Tom Henderson-Brooks Senior Minister, Bondi Anglican Churches
Rev Dr Paul Logan Minister,St Peter's Presbyterian Church North Sydney Clerk of the NSW Presbyterian General Assembly
Rev Ewen Brown Minister, Bexley Presbyterian Church
Reverend the Hon. Frederick John NILE, ED LTh MLC Member of Parliament
From outside Sydney, but signing on, nonetheless, ...
Rev. Dr Keith Henderson Pastor, Baptist Church, Port Macquarie
John Smulo , Helensburgh Baptist Church
The Rev Peter Robinson Rector, St Stephens Anglican Church, Bomaderry
Rev. Graham Castle, Minister, Church of the Good Shepherd, Kangaroo Valley