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Messianic Judaism is a generic term given to a syncretic religion that blends Jewish rites and rituals with the Christian belief that Jesus is the Messiah. While the theology is largely Christian, based on the acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah, which inherently brings with it a "fulfilled prophecy" eschatology and theology, it also embraces elements of Jewish practices. Mainstream Jews consider it a form of Christianity, not Judaism.
Critics of Messianic Judaism, including most of the world's more established Jewish communities, see Messianic Judaism as Christian, not Jewish. It is not related to the original messianic Judaism that originated with followers of Judas Maccabee two thousand years ago and was the mainstream of Judaism in the (alleged) time of Jesus.
The Messianic Jewish movement arose in the 1970s, though it has its origins in the Hebrew Christian movement that started in the late nineteenth century as a movement dedicated to missionary work and wanting to convert as many Jews as possible to Christianity. They decided that what drove Jews away from being converted was that Christianity did not seem Jewish enough. Shocking, right? You'd think that they were two different religions or something.
Messianic Judaism, by contrast, took on more aspects of Judaism, self-identifying as a Jewish community and using as little overt Christian symbolism as possible. Hence, Messianic Jews worship in "synagogues" rather than churches, services are on Saturday (the Jewish Sabbath) rather than Sunday, and during worship services the men will wear taleitot (prayer shawls). Almost as if it were just Christianity taking on the trappings of Judaism to pull a bait and switch...
Sometimes Messianic Jews follow Orthodox Jewish traditions, with the men and women separated, prayers in Hebrew, the Tanakh (and also, unlike Orthodox Jews, the New Testament) being read from, and a "rabbi" talking. However, a person familiar with Hebrew and mainstream Jewish practices attending a Messianic Jewish service would find much of the proceedings unfamiliar.
While the movement has not been as successful at converting Jews as it had hoped, it has been very successful at attracting Christians, which has created theological divisions within the movement.
Messianic Jews take their theology from both Christianity and traditional Judaism, though there is no doubt that the Christian influence is stronger.
As with most religions, there is a range of views about the theology. As many Messianic Jews were raised Jewish, their views might be closer to Judaism, while others who were raised Christian and "became" Jewish carry Christian views of much of the theology.
Conventional beliefs within Messianic Judaism include the following:
- There is one God (YHVH). The majority of Messianic Jews accept the Trinity, with it also being the stance of the official bodies. However, other Messianic Jews profess only a strict view of monotheism, rejecting Trinitarian doctrine, but this is not common.
- The Messiah has come; Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah (even if he wasn't qualified to be the Messiah).
- With a few exceptions, Messianic Jews believe that the Torah is still law and that it remains in effect. The Christian argument that Jesus fulfilled the law, thereby abrogating large parts of the Mosaic code, is not held by most Messianic Jews.
- The Children of Israel are and remain God's chosen people.
- The holy scriptures include the Torah, the Nevi'im , and the Ketuvim (the Tanakh), as well as the books of the New Testament, and Paul's writings about the changes to the Church. A minority of Messianic Jews do not follow Paul's writings, only the four books directly about Jesus.
- There is a view of the Second Coming and "end days".
- Belief in the devil opposing God.
- Belief in Hell as a place of eternal torment.
- Some Messianic Jews see sin in the way that is traditionally taught in Judaism, but include the concept of original sin as understood by most Christians
- Atonement, Repentance, and Yom Kippur are important to some Messianic Jews, however others say that it is unnecessary because of the sacrifice of Jesus.
- Faith and works are not separate issues as they are in Protestantism.
- Most Messianic Jews do not use traditional English Bibles for their Tanakh, but rather use their own translations.
- Messianic Jews mostly reject the laws and literature of Rabbinic Judaism, such as the Mishnah, Talmud, Midrashim, the Zohar, etc. Some other Jewish denominations take the same position, e.g. the Karaites.
- Messianic Jews observe Jewish customs, forms of worship, dietary restrictions, rites and festivals, and believe that Jesus and the the Apostles would have done the same. This conflicts with mainstream Christianity, and most biblical scholarship, which takes the view that the Apostles (Paul in particular) broke with Jewish customs and traditions in order to promote Christianity among gentiles.
Messianic Judaism and the Israeli Law of Return
Like most non-mainstream religions, Messianic Jews have had to defend their rights to religious freedom. However, some of the Christian converts have tried to use their new "Jewish" identity to claim the right to live in Israel. The state of Israel has consistently held that a Messianic Jew may not take advantage of the Law of Return as it is considered to be a form of Christianity and not Judaism. As such Jews that have converted to Messianic Judaism may not use the law of return, just as Jewish converts to any other religion than Judaism are barred.
Tensions between Messianic Jews and other Jewish communities are on the rise in Israel, occasionally resulting in incidents of violence. Like they say, know God, no peace. Or did we get it wrong?
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