“Conversion” to
Messianic Judaism

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“Conversion” to Messianic Judaism

I was engaged recently in a conversation with two of my best friends in the world (they are not Jewish), during which they both espoused the opinion that when a Jewish person embraces the Jewish Messiah they de facto have “converted” to Christianity and have become “Christians.” I will endeavor in this post to briefly explain why this is incorrect.

First of all, the term “conversion” means to renounce one’s present or former religion and embrace the tenets of a new religion. Since the rebirth of the Messianic Jewish Restoration in 1967, the vast majority of Jewish people who have embraced the Jewish Messiah and accepted Him as the divine Son of God have renounced nothing of their Jewish faith except:

  • The contention of non-Messianic Judaism that “Jesus of Nazareth” was a fully-human teacher and certainly not the Messiah.
  • The belief that the Apostolic Writings (or so-called “Christian New Testament”) are of human-only origin.
  • The idea that “Oral Tradition” is of equal authority to the Tanakh (the Hebrew Scriptures, or so-called “Old Testament”).[1]

Second, I believe one can successfully argue that “Christianity” is an exclusively Gentile religion, separate and distinct from both Messianic and non-Messianic Judaism. The following are but a few of the false teachings of Christianity that make it separate and distinct from both Messianic and non-Messianic Judaism:

  • Because the Jewish people rejected Jesus at His first appearing, God has rejected Israel and the Jewish people.
  • Jesus came to abolish the error of Judaism and establish a new religion called Christianity.
  • The “Church” has become “the Bride of Christ” and has replaced Israel in God’s plans and covenants (this is known as supercessionism or “Replacement Theology.”
  • Salvation in Judaism is based on a system of “works” (obedience to Torah), whereas Christianity is based on faith only in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  • Jesus did away with the burdensome “Law of Moses” and “nailed it to His cross"; only nine of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the “New Testament,” making them relevant to Christianity; for a Jew to become a Christian, he/she must renounce not only the Torah, but nearly all Jewish tradition; some Christians go so far as to require Jewish converts to confirm their conversion by eating pork and/or shellfish as a testimony.
  • God’s seventh-day Sabbath has been exchanged for a first-day “Lord’s Day” (there are a few “sabbatarian” Christian denominations that observe God’s Sabbath).
  • The only obligation of a Christian is to believe that Jesus died for their sins; public confession of such belief is all that is necessary to “be saved” and go to heaven (some congregations and denominations add their own list of required “works,” including “baptism”).
  • Christians reject the seven “Appointed Times” (feasts and festivals) that God established for all of His people to meet with him corporately; instead they only celebrate Christmas and Easter (both of which are pagan and neither of which is taught in the Bible), and many (particularly charismatics) celebrate a Christian version of Shavuot (Pentecost), celebrating it as the “birthday of the Church,” not as the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Sinai.
  • In the “Last Days” or “End Times” God will either send or allow the Antichrist to execute judgment against Israel for seven years as punishment for their rejection of Messiah; the “Church” will be miraculously preserved from that judgment by being taken out of the world in the “Rapture.”

So it can be seen that for a Jewish person to “convert to Christianity,” much more is required than simply accepting Yeshua (Jesus’ real name) as the Messiah.

Why is this an important distinction?

Because the original Israeli “Law of Return” defined a Jew as a person whose mother is Jewish or who has converted to Judaism under an Orthodox conversion, and who has not converted to another religion. A 1970 amendment, however, stated that, “The rights of a Jew under this law and the rights of oleh (aliyah, or immigration) under the Nationality Law … are also vested in a child and a grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew, and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew.”

This means that under Israeli law, any person who “converts” to Christianity is no longer considered legally Jewish, as if recognizing the historical fact that Yeshua is the Jewish Messiah somehow changes the person’s DNA!

The Supreme Court of Israel ruled in 1989 that Messianic Judaism constituted “another religion,” and that Jewish people who had become Messianic were not eligible for Aliyah under the law.

On April 16, 2008, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled in a case brought by a number of people with Jewish fathers and grandfathers whose applications for citizenship had been rejected on the grounds that they were Messianic Jews. The argument was made by the applicants that because their mothers were not Jewish they had never been Jews according to halakhah, and were not therefore excluded by the conversion clause. They immigrate as the non-Jewish relative of a Jew, and not as a Jew. This argument was upheld in the ruling, and the government agreed to reprocess their applications.

Interestingly enough, under that same Law of Return, or Nationality Law, one does not have to reaffirm their Jewishness or practice any of the laws of Torah to be Jewish. In fact, one of the “accepted denominations” of Judaism is Humanistic Judaism, a Jewish movement that offers a non-theistic alternative in contemporary Jewish life. It defines Judaism as the cultural and historic (but not religious) experience of the Jewish people and encourages humanistic and secular Jews to celebrate their Jewish identity by participating in Jewish holidays and lifecycle events (such as weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs) with inspirational ceremonies that draw upon, but go beyond, traditional literature.

However, it is widely recognized that “Jewishness” is not just a matter of religion. There are many who are not religious at all — in fact, most of the citizens of Israel consider themselves secular, or non-religious. “Jewishness” is not a nationality; there are Jews living in virtually every non-Muslim nation on earth. “Jewishness” is not a race; there are Jews who are members of every race of mankind — White/Caucasian Jews, Mongoloid/Asian Jews, Negroid/Black Jews, and Australoid Jews. “Jewishness” is not even an ethnicity, as millions of non-Jews down through history have “converted” to the Jewish religion, and by so doing are considered to have been “adopted” into the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and are therefore considered as “Jewish” as are the natural-born sons of Jacob.

So it OK to totally reject both the Torah and the God of Israel and still be considered Jewish, but anyone who recognizes the historic fact of Yeshua’s Messiahship cannot possibly be Jewish.

Because the Israeli Supreme Court, as well as Judaism in general, consider Messianic Judaism to be “another religion,” it is of utmost importance that those of us within the Messianic Jewish Movement continue with all possible effort to be reconciled with, and be accepted into, world Judaism as that which we in actuality are — a “branch,” “sect,” or “denomination” of Judaism which accepts Yeshua of Nazareth as Israel’s Messiah.

It is therefore of utmost importance to the Messianic Restoration Movement that we maintain a clear distinction between Messianic Judaism and Gentile Christianity, and recognize the fact that accepting the Messiahship of Yeshua is clearly not the same as converting to Christianity.

This discussion continues here.

_______________

  1. The “Oral Tradition” contained in the Talmud is a 6,000+ page collection of commentary on the Tanakh (primarily the Torah) that is of great value in determining how the sages interpreted the Scriptures. It constitutes the “case law” of Jewish jurisprudence. Many “traditional” Jews who become Messianic continue to hold the “Oral Tradition” as authoritative. [RETURN]

Page last updated on Wednesday, 03 August 2016 11:18 AM
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Major content changes after May 3, 2015 are identified as "Revisions”)