Chapter 3

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The Model for the Messianic Community
by
Ari Levitt*

Chapter 3.
Modern Messianic Judaism

David Chernoff, one of the most prominent leaders of modern Messianic Judaism, describes the movement as:

… a movement of Jewish people from all walks of life, who believe that Yeshua (Jesus in Hebrew) is the promised Jewish Messiah and Savior for Israel and the world. Messianic Jews have not stopped being Jewish. On the contrary, we have continued to remain strongly Jewish in our identity, lifestyle and belief that Yeshua is the Jewish Messiah and the fulfillment of true Biblical Judaism.[24]

Although David Chernoff’s father, Martin, a pioneer in the modern movement, believed that he had received the designation “Messianic Judaism” directly from the Lord[25], David Rausch[26] points out that the term “Messianic Judaism” was in fact used in the Evangelical magazine “Our Hope,” edited by Arno C. Gaebelein, as early as 1895[27]. Additionally, while the desire to preserve a Jewish identity was clearly present in the formation of the HCAA [Hebrew Christian Alliance of America], there were one or two pioneers with a vision for a corporate Jewish expression of faith in Yeshua in worship and life-style that would be the reviviscence of the pattern of the Jewish Church of the first century. Mark Levy proposed such a vision to the HCAA in 1917, but it was decisively rejected. The terminology of “Messianic Judaism” and “Messianic Jews” was in fact used at this time, both by Levy and by John Zacker, and it was “Messianic Judaism” that was explicitly disowned. (Please refer to this entire excellent article on the Internet.)[28]

Dating back to the 19th century, Jews who believed that Yeshua (“Jesus”) is the Messiah worshipped under the accepted designation of “Hebrew Christian.” The Hebrew Christian Alliance of America, formed in 1915, was renamed as the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America in 1975. According to the publication, Reform Judaism, about 10,000 Jews belonged to Hebrew Christian groups, including Messianic Judaism, in 1978, but by the mid-1990’s, their numbers swelled to nearly 200,000.

The term “Hebrew Christian” was disturbing to many because it suggested, to both “traditional” Jews and to Gentile Christians, that the so-called “Hebrew Christians” were ethnic Jews who had converted to the Christian religion. For the most part, however, those Jews who had received Yeshua as their Messiah viewed themselves as just that — Jews who had not “converted” to anything, but rather as Jews who had received Yeshua HaMashiach[29] as their Jewish Messiah and Savior, and who wished to retain their Jewish identity.

Part of the identity is in the terminology. Messianic Jews use original Hebrew terms in their faith. God the Father is Abba. Jesus Christ is Yeshua HaMashiach and the Holy Spirit is Ruach HaKodesh. There are hundreds of other different terms, including B’rit Hadasha for New Testament and Mikvah for baptism, that help form a body of belief unlike both Christianity and conventional Judaism. …

The struggle with identity is more than immaturity, though, as Kinzer wrote in the Winter 2000 issue of Kesher, A Journal of Messianic Judaism. “It reflects the complex, challenging, and disturbing questions raised by our very existence for two communities who, through almost two millennia, have defined themselves in opposition to one another. The precise nature of our relationship to these two communities and their histories and traditions defies simple formulas.”

Beth Messiah’s Rosenfarb [Rabbi Joseph Rosenfarb of Beth Messiah in Norfolk, VA] explains that his faith is a Judaism, not a “Hebraicized Christianity.” “It’s a Jewish movement, with Yeshua (Jesus) as the jewel,” he added.

Overcoming opposition from both sides is an uphill battle. “The Christian Church has the attitude that ‘you’re our poor lost brother,’” Rosenfarb said. But traditional Judaism sees Messianic Jews as a threat, “a Christian community, dragging Jews away from the Jewish community with a long-term goal of making Christians out of them.”[30]

For the purposes of our discussion, we need to understand that in its most inclusive and literal usage, the term “Messianic Jew” does not necessarily always indicate a Jewish person who believes that Yeshua is Israel’s Messiah. In the purest sense of the word, nearly all Jewish people — at least all who accept Rambam’s[31] Thirteen Principles of Faith[32], which is considered the minimum faith requirements for Judaism — could be considered “Messianic” at least in that they have an anticipation of Israel’s Messiah.

I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Moshiach, and though he may tarry, still I await him every day” (Principle 12 of Rambam’s 13 Principles of Faith). …

Belief in the eventual coming of the moshiach is a basic and fundamental part of traditional Judaism. It is part of Rambam’s 13 Principles of Faith, the minimum requirements of Jewish belief. In the Shemoneh Esrei prayer, recited three times daily, we pray for all of the elements of the coming of the moshiach: ingathering of the exiles; restoration of the religious courts of justice; an end of wickedness, sin and heresy; reward to the righteous; rebuilding of Jerusalem; restoration of the line of King David; and restoration of Temple service. …

[T]raditional Judaism maintains that the messianic idea has always been a part of Judaism. The moshiach is not mentioned explicitly in the Torah, because the Torah was written in terms that all people could understand, and the abstract concept of a distant, spiritual, future reward was beyond the comprehension of some people. However, the Torah contains several references to ‘the End of Days’ (acharit ha-yamim), which is the time of the moshiach; thus, the concept of moshiach was known in the most ancient times.[33]

That having been said, let us now move on to a little bit about what Judaism may have actually looked like toward the end of the Late Second Temple Period (200 BCE - 70 CE).

_______________

24. Chernoff, David. “What is Messianic Judaism.” [RETURN]

25. Chernoff, Yohanna. Born a Jew, Die a Jew. Hagerstown, MD: McDougal Publishing, 1996. [RETURN]

26. Rausch, David A. Messianic Judaism: Its History, Theology and Polity. New York and Toronto, The Edwin Mellen Press, 1982, pp. 35-38. [RETURN]

27. “The Messianic Jewish Congregational Movement.” The Christian Century 99/28 Sept. 15-22, 1982, p. 926. [RETURN]

28. Hocken, Peter. The Rise of “Messianic Judaism” Dallas, TX: Baruch HaShem Synagogue, 2003, www.baruchhashem.com/resources/riseofmj.html. [RETURN]

29. Mashiach (or Moshiach) is the Hebrew word from which we get Messiah, and means “anointed.” There were three classes of people in Hebrew society who were anointed to their offices: prophets, priests, and kings. With the Hebrew definite article ha, HaMashiach is “The Messiah,” or literally “The Anointed One,” because He holds all three offices simultaneously. The Greek equivalent for “The Anointed One” is Xristo" (Christos), from which comes the word “Christ.” [RETURN]

30. Clark, Michael. “Messianic Judaism: Living In Between.” Glenferrie, South VIC, Australia: Messianic Jewish Alliance of Australia, 2003. On the Internet at mjaa.org.au/pages/articles/Living_in_between.htm. [RETURN]

31. Maimonides's full name was Moses ben Maimon; in Hebrew he is known by the acronym of Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, Rambam. [RETURN]

32. See the entry “Principles of Faith” in the Glossary. [RETURN]

33. Rich, “Moshiach: The Messiah,” www.jewfaq.org/moshiach.htm. [RETURN]

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