When a Jew believes in Jesus, is he still Jewish?

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Growing up, my father had a CPA named Sidney Jacobsen. From his name, you’ll assume that he was Jewish. Sydney loved Zen Buddhism. He used to send out “Zen” tidbits in his monthly newsletter to his client.  You know it’s really interesting? Nobody ever questioned Sydney’s Judaism. Apparently it’s OK to be a Zen Buddhist Jew—what some affectionately call a JewBu.

Several years ago I became friends with an Israeli living in America. He was very successful in the high tech industry. He had served and the IDF. And he was an atheist. But when he came back to live in Israel nobody ever said, “you’re not Jewish, you are an atheist!” I guess it’s OK to be an atheist Jew.

However, over the past several weeks, here in Israel, those of us who are Jewish Israelis who believe that Jesus is the Messiah, have been told that we are no longer JewishAvi Bell calls it “patently dishonest” to claim to still be Jewish after you begin to believe in Jesus.

The issue could not be over the fact that we believe in someone others consider to be a false Messiah. How do I know that?

Still in the Grave after all these years

In 1994 the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a pope-like figure to the Chabad movement, died. For years there had been whispers that he would soon declare himself to be the Messiah. Some claim he did. Even today, there are pictures all over Israel of him that say, “Melech Hamachiah” or King Messiah. But suddenly he was dead. Tens of thousands of his followers claimed he would soon rise from the dead.

What was really interesting Was that they would quote Isaiah 53 , the very descriptive Old Testament prophecy that speaks about a Jewish man who suffers for the sins of the Jewish people, dies as a sacrifice and then rises from the dead. For years Messianic Jews were told this prophecy speaks of Israel, not the Messiah. (I have written here why that cannot be the case.) So suddenly, this ancient prophecy that the rabbis had said for centuries is not about the Messiah, was being quoted by the most devout Chabad-nicks in reference to their deceased rebbe.

That was 26 years ago. He never rose from the dead. And I’m not saying this to mock them. Many of them were very sincere in their belief. I do want to make the point, that no one ever said they were no longer Jewish.

So let me ask you this: why is it then that the 20,000 to 30,000 Israelis who believe that Jesus is the Messiah are being told they are no longer Jewish?

A Sad and Bloody History

Now, there is an answer. And it has to do with 1,900 years of Christian anti-Semitism. I have written extensively about this in the two novels I wrote, Identity Theft in The Jerusalem Secret. Countless numbers of Jewish people have died because of the Christian theology that the church is the new Israel and God has rejected The Jewish people. This understanding is called replacement theology. But this is not what the New Testament teaches.

The Crusaders invaded The Holy Land with crosses on their shields and they murdered Jews and Muslims in the name of Jesus. That certainly proves that they were horrible al Qaeda-like religious fanatics. But they were not following the commands of Jesus, who taught us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

During the Spanish Inquisition, tens of thousands of Jews had to flee to other countries or be forced to join the Catholic Church. Many Jews pretended to become Catholic, and if they were caught doing anything Jewish, they would have been arrested, some of them were even burned alive—all for the sin of returning to Judaism. But Jesus never said to make followers by force, but rather let your light shine, as people will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matt. 5:14-16)

But, what if…?

So if a Jewish person today picks up a copy of the New Testament without knowing any of the bloody history of Christian anti-Semitism. He reads a story about a Jewish man from the Galilee. He lives a Torah observant life. He comes down to Jerusalem for the feasts. He raises the dead, heals the sick and teaches with an authority that leave people mesmerized.

Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath he taught the people. [The Jewish people in the synagogue] were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority… All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!” (Luke 4:31-32, 36)

Now when Yeshua had finished these words, the crowds were astounded at His teaching, for He was teaching them as one having authority and not as their Torah scholars. (Matt. 7:28-29)

So this Jewish person begins to love the Jewish man and his teachings. He decides to follow him. Is he no longer a Jew? You tell him that.

He will respond, “Wait a minute—everyone in this book who follows Him is a Jew, He celebrates all the Jewish Holidays—even Hanukah—He spends time at the Temple speaking with rabbis, He goes to synagogue and reads the Torah and the prophets,  and he even says:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Torah or the Prophets! I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. Amen, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or serif shall ever pass away from the Torah until all things come to pass.” (Matthew 5:17-18) 

One of the very first modern Messianic Jews, Joseph Rabinowitz from Moldova, had a similar experience. On his way to pre-independent Israel in the late 1800s, he was given a New Testament. He only began to read it when he was on the Mount of olives. He suddenly had a revelation, Jesus is our elder brother. He returned to Moldova and started the first modern day messianic congregation that had hundreds of Jewish people coming every Sabbath.

You see that is our faith as messianic Jews. We do not trace our roots back to the Inquisition or the Crusades, but all the way back to the 1st century when this movement was considered by all, to be Jewish. While I do appreciate the tremendous indignation over the way so-called Christians, who did not follow in the footsteps of the Jewish man from the Galilee, treated Jewish people—I share in this outrage—this is no  reason to deny Israeli Jews the freedom to continue to be Jewish and to express their views, just like everyone else.

I mean, if I’m a Jewish person and can believe in Zen Buddhism or even be an atheist, why can’t I believe that Jesus, the Jews, is the Messiah?

This article originally appeared on Messiah’s Mandate, May 21, 2020, and reposted with permission.