Bergen Record: Jews For Jesus Open for Business in Wayne NJ

To understand why Jews cannot believe in Jesus one needs to understand and respect the integrity of both Judaism and Christianity.

A good place to start along this path is Jacob Neusner's book, A Rabbi Talks With Jesus.
Wayne synagogue holds different set of beliefs
Jonathan Cahn looks like a typical rabbi as he stands at a pulpit, chanting in Hebrew.

But the prominent Star of David behind him serves notice that his congregation is anything but typical.

The six-pointed symbol of Jewish tradition has been changed so that a lamb is at its center, symbolizing Jesus Christ. And banners proclaiming “Yeshua is Messiah” abound. Yeshua is Hebrew for “Jesus.”

Cahn and his congregation, the Beth Israel Worship Center, have set off alarm bells among some Jews in Wayne — the congregation’s new home after years in Garfield.

Known as Messianic Jews, members of Beth Israel recite Hebrew, celebrate Jewish holidays and support Israel.

But they also believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the savior of the world and the redeemer of the Jewish people.

And they think other Jews should join them.

“Lord, we pray for the day when your people welcome you as Messiah,” Cahn preached on a recent Sunday.

That day may never come. Mainstream Jews worship the one God of the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible, and regard Jesus as falling outside Judaism. And many Jewish organizations frown on the Messianic movement, saying it is inherently dishonest.

“They are calling themselves Jewish when they are actually Christian,” said Rabbi Stephen Wylen of Temple Beth Tikvah, a Reform synagogue. “We take it personally, because they use our name.”

He’s not alone. A Jewish community center in Wayne recently enlisted the help of an outside group — Jews for Judaism — to educate young Jews on the Messianic movement and ward off what they fear will be aggressive conversion efforts.

“What’s at stake is the boundaries of Judaism,” said Yishai Freedman, teen coordinator for Jews for Judaism “We can have diversity within Judaism but (belief in Jesus) isn’t Judaism and we need to say very clearly that this is where we draw the line.”

Cahn said he understands the sensitivities of Jews but nonetheless disputed the notion that Jews can’t believe in Jesus. He noted that Jesus was Jewish and that his earliest followers were Jewish.

“The fact is, faith in Jesus started as something completely Jewish,” Cahn said. “Because it was successful, unfortunately, it lost a lot of its Jewishness.”

While the number of Messianic Jews are small – roughly a few hundred congregations nationwide – the movement has had several key successes recently. In Israel, a high court ruling last month will make it easier for some Messianic Jews to become citizens of Israel.

In the United States, the movement has attracted an influx of evangelical Christians. At Beth Israel, for example, more than half the members are of non-Jewish origin.

Annette Iasso, of Lincoln Park, was attending a Pentecostal church 10 years ago when she checked out a service at Beth Israel and was hooked. Now she reads the Old Testament story of Exodus — for Jews a story of liberation — as an allegory for the coming of Christ.

“I was totally amazed when I heard the Hebrew,” said Iasso, who grew up Roman Catholic in Lyndhurst and Nutley. “I felt like I was hearing the voice of God.”

The Messianic movement traces its roots to the early 1970s, when the hippie Jesus movement began attracting young people to Christianity.

“It was part of a whole generation not just buying into their parents’ denomination but exploring a non-traditional means of spiritual satisfaction,” said Susan Perlman of Jews for Jesus, the most well-known Messianic Jewish group. “Some looked to drugs. Some looked to Eastern religion. And some looked to Jesus.”

Despite its countercultural roots, Messianic Jewish congregations don’t necessarily practice the liberal politics associated with the American Jewish community. Some Beth Israel members sound like conservative evangelicals, opposing abortion rights and calling homosexuality a sin.

“When God said something is wrong, it’s wrong,” Iasso said.

And its worship, similar to contemporary evangelical services, is a carefully choreographed experience that includes rock music, computer-controlled displays and enthusiastic worshippers who raise their palms upward to show their reverence.

Cahn told members recently that they are “pioneers,” preparing for the last days when Christ will return. “Jewish people are together with non-Jewish people in messiah . . . that’s the ultimate last thing before he comes again,” he said.

Wylen, the Wayne rabbi who is critical of the Messianic movement, said Jews can respond by providing their children with authentic Jewish spirituality.

“If we actually practice our Judaism and study our Judaism, then they will have no ingress to our children,” Wylen said. “If we feel nervous or afraid of them, it’s because they take away the opportunity to be secular and non-observant while still calling ourselves Jewish.”


Anonymous said...

"To understand why Jews cannot believe in Jesus one needs to understand and respect the integrity of both Judaism and Christianity."


John D. Enright said...

I read Prof. Neusner's book A Rabbi Talks with Jesus several years ago. I found it to be thoughtful and respectful of Jesus, even though the Rabbi explains in detail why Judaism, as a living and breathing institution, cannot accept him as the Messiah.

Here's what Pope Benedict XVI, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, said about it: "By far the most important book for the Jewish-Christian dialogue in the last decade."

Rabbi Neusner notes that Jesus isn't simply a reform-minded Rabbi seeking to modify ancient Jewish customs; rather, "Jesus' claim to authority is at issue." Neusner recognizes that Jesus claims to be "Lord of the Sabbath" and this provokes Neusner.

Pope Benedict agrees that this is the $64,000.00 question: "The issue that is really at the heart of the debate, is thus finally laid bare. Jesus understands himself as the Torah - as the word of God in person." He means, of course, that if Jesus is God, then obviously he has the right to say what the old law really means. So the ultimate question is clear - accepting or rejecting his claim to divinity.

The whole point of this comment is really simple. Either the "Messianic Jews" (I really don't like that term; I think it somewhat disparages Jews and I use it reluctantly because I don't know what else to call them) have to decide which side of the clearly marked line they stand on. Either they accept Jesus as the Messiah, in which case they should probably be Catholics, or they don't. I don't see how they can "have their cake and eat it too."