Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Messianic Jews: Are they Jewish?

This is an oft asked question and one you repeated ad nauseum on forums like Yahoo! Answers.  The issue always seems to be: Are Jews that believe in Jesus still Jewish? Are so called “Jews for Jesus”, “messianic jews”, “Completed” Jews or one of the myriad other labels such groups use Jewish?  So, lets first investigate: who is a Jew?

From the Orthodox point of view it is very easily defined: If your mother was halachicly Jewish, you are Jewish. If you had an Orthodox conversion, you are Jewish.  That’s it.  The liberal movements vary from this (mostly in that they obviously accept conversions that are not acceptable to Orthodox) and Reform (and the other even more liberal movements) accept patrilineal descent though only combined with active participation in the Jewish community.

So, let us now assume that an individual who is actually Jewish by the Jewish definition joins one of the messianic movements (and please note, in the majority of these movements the number of people that are actually Jewish is only a small percentage of the total), what is his status?  Simply put, they are an apostate, they are outside of the Jewish community and are not considered part of the Jewish people.

But wait you cry- there is a concept in Judaism that once Jewish, either born or converted, you are always Jewish.  How can you deny this person their Jewishness?  Actually we, d on’t deny their Jewishness; note- above I said that they are outside of the Jewish community and people.  What practical ramifications does this have?

  • They cannot be a member of any Jewish communal organisation (including synagogues)
  • They are not counted towards the minyan (minimum number of people required for prayer)
  • They may not lead the congregation in prayer
  • They may not receive any honours in synagogue (such as being called to recite the blessings on the Torah, carry the Torah, wrap the Torah, open the ark, say communal blessings such as havdalah, lead the service etc)
  • They may not participate in any religious functions (such as weddings)
  • If they do not repent before they die, they may not be buried in a Jewish cemetary
  • If they do not repent before they die the Jewish laws of mourning do not apply to them and the Kaddish (prayer for the dead to help the soul of the deceased) is not said for them

So, what do we mean when we say that they do not loose their Jewishness?   It carries two connotations: one good, one bad.  On the good side: it means is that the path of repentance is always open to them. If they repent and return to Judaism, they are Jewish without the need for a conversion. There are some opinions that state they need to go to a mikveh, that is where it ends.  (Note: this is a modern ruling to be lenient based ont he fcat that the vats majority of Jews tricked into these movements are very uneducated in Judaism.  The Rema in Shulkhan Aruch requires them to appear before a Beis Din, formally renounce their other religion and then to go to Mikveh!).  On the bad side:  If they die before repenting they are judged by the heavenly court as appostate Jews.  This means that they are punished with Kares, their souls permanently cut off from G-d and the Jewish people.

In short, no Jew who believes in Jesus (or any other divine, prophetic or semi-divine figure outside of the beliefs of Judaism, or in any other religion at all for that matter) remains a member of the Jewish community or people. It is the one thing that all the movements within Judaism agree on, even when they often agree on very little else!

June 26, 2008 Posted by | Messianic, Random, Torah | , , | 14 Comments