Two prominent rabbis, one Conservative and one Orthodox, hold vastly different perspectives on the Messianic movement. Ironically, it’s the Orthodox rabbi who redeems it.
There can be no such thing as a Messianic Jew, claims Rabbi David Wolpe, a prominent leader in the Conservative Jewish movement in the United States and prolific author. Wolpe was named the most influential rabbi in America by Newsweek in 2012.
A few days ago, Wolpe published an essay on Facebook “Why There Is No Such Thing Aa A ‘Messianic Jew’”. In it, he argued that, “the clear bright line between Jews and Christians is, and has always been, belief in Jesus as Divine. It was over precisely this question that early Christians separated from Jews. They were Christians because they accepted Jesus. In the first few centuries of Christianity that conviction split the new religion from its Jewish parent.”
In his essay, Wolpe unequivocally rejected the possibility that a Jew can believe in the divinity of Jesus and remain a Jew.
“A ‘Jew for Jesus’ is an insult to Judaism and to Christianity. It takes the central tenet of a faith and pretends that you can hold it without being part of that faith. It is a strategy for conversion, not a revelation, and a transparent one at that. For Jews it is an abomination, no less.”
Wolpe continued, “That does not mean, of course, that individual messianic Jews cannot be nice, sincere or kind people as many are. But they are part of a fraudulent faith, a marketing scheme dressed up as theology, a faith-based oxymoron that no one should believe.”
In his conclusion, Wolpe stated plainly, “Belief in Jesus does not ‘fulfill’ Judaism. It negates it.”
A surprising counterpoint is presented in a video of a 45-minute talk given by Orthodox Rabbi Tovia Singer in Manila, Philippines last year. Singer is a well-known anti-missionary who has devoted his life to bringing Jews out of the Church.
Ironically, in this talk, Singer offered a perspective on the Messianic movement that appears to redeem it, at least in the eyes of the God of Israel.
Singer argued that, if you look at the Messianic movement from a historical perspective, the result has been something quite unexpected from what Moishe Rosen intended in 1970 when he founded Jews for Jesus.
“…instead of the Messianic movement converting Jews to Christianity, it took Christians and brought them in to this Messianic movement which presents itself as Jewish. In core, in substance, it isn’t. It is only rabbinic traditions that may appear Jewish superficially,” Singer explained.
“Now what happened to these Christians in a Messianic congregation? Well, for the first six months, the first year, the first two years, this is great! Jewish festivals. The whole deal.
“But after awhile, they get so interested in Judaism, they continue to study more. Now they’ll call a rabbi and say, ‘You know Rabbi, I’d love to study with you.’ They’ll go to a synagogue because it’s just not enough. It’s just superficial. ‘I want the meat!’ And they start studying Judaism even more.
“And what happened is the Messianic Movement, although it was used initially, as a conspiracy to convert the Jews, it became a method God used to bring in the non-Jews to the God of Israel.”
Singer’s startling point was this. “It was God’s way of calling people out of the Church and bringing them home. The Messianic movement became an instrument for non-Jews to come to the God of Israel,” he asserted.
Singer concluded his presentation with a distinction between the Messianic movement, which he explained is focused on Judaism, and the Hebrew Roots movement, which he said was created for Christians.
He appeared to give a stamp of approval to the Hebrew Roots movement when he said, “The Church really has jettisoned the core Hebraic Jewish roots of the Christian religion. And that has to be restored. The Hebrew Roots movement is really focused on gentiles from the get-go, to bring them to a more Jewish expression of Christianity.”