Michael Harvey
Rabbi | Advocate | Educator

Messianics are not Jews, sorry.

As Jewish holidays approach, one does not need to search terribly far to see the many Messianic messages on social media regarding their celebration of Jewish holidays, with the added guest, Yeshua.  It is disturbing for the Jews around the world not only because it is Christian appropriation of Jewish holidays, but also takes those who wish to explore Judaism down the Christian path, through subterfuge.  Messianics are welcome to practice their Christian religion, but cannot, and should not, associate themselves as a Jewish denomination.  The reasons  for this are found in some easily understood and inconvenient truths.

Before proceeding, we must differentiate Messianics from “Jews for Jesus,” who are  “quasi-cultic, highly aggressive, even invasive” in their attempted recruitment of Jews to convert to this brand of Christian belief. While Jews for Jesus take an active approach to conversion to Christianity, Messianics take a far more sinister and passive approach, by listing their houses of worship as “synagogues,” their spiritual leaders as “rabbis,” and create almost indistinguishable synagogue layouts to appear Jewish. It is not until when the liturgy is read that Jesus’ name, in Hebrew Yeshua, appears and the attempted conversion through subterfuge is revealed.  It is for this, and many other reasons that Jews should be weary of Messianics and their institutions.

Let us begin with the fact that Jesus was simply one of many false messiahs in Judaism, with some appearing as late as the 20th century.  Jesus was, by far, the most famous of course as centuries later an entire new religion was founded which is now 40,000  denominations strong.   Jesus was rejected by Jews in the 1st century CE for the same reason Jesus is rejected by Jews today.

In Judaism, the Messiah is an entirely different character,  preceded by Elijah the Prophet, not human in any form,  and succeeded by the end of war, poverty, hunger, oppression, and hatred.   Jesus was, and is, considered a false messiah because he achieved none of those things (in fact, Christianity has caused many of them in the last two millennia).  And, there is nothing in Jewish scripture that speaks of a “spiritual apocalypse,” or a “second coming.”

Moreover, there has never been in the history of Biblical or rabbinic Judaism the idea that the Jewish God would or could impregnate a human woman, and that God’s “son” would be a God/Human hybrid, but also representing the anthropomorphic God as well.   These ideas ring more as pagan mythology,  popular in the 1st century CE in the Roman-occupied Judea.

As for history, Judaism and Christianity existed side-by-side as a hybrid entity, somewhat like the many denominations of Judaism in America today, until the 5th century CE, when the Church and Jewish rabbinical orthodoxy were established, thus drawing the fine line between the two religions.  Messianics attempt to relive those moments between the 2nd and 5th century CE when Judaism and early Christianity were more cohesive.  However, this “hybrid” identity, for all the reasons above, was abandoned by both Jews and Christians as it was a temporary and unsustainable undertaking.

When Messianics hope to “celebrate” the holidays as “Yeshua” did, they are ignoring the blatant historical facts that the holidays Jews celebrate today are in rabbinic form, created and shaped long after the death of Jesus and the destruction of the Temple. Jesus lived during the time of the 2nd Temple where cultic, agricultural and sacrificial rituals were paramount, unlike their modern rabbinic Jewish counterparts.  Jesus never had a Passover seder (it had not been invented until the 8th  century CE), Jesus never lit the Chanukkah Menorah (the story of the oil did not arrive until the 5th century  CE), and Jesus never celebrated Shavuot (Pentecost) in its form, as it was an agricultural festival in the 1st century.  To celebrate these holidays while inserting  Jesus into them is not only an appropriation of rabbinic Judaism but blatantly historically inaccurate.

When one converts from Judaism to any religion that subscribes to the idea of the Messiah, whether it be Jesus, Bar Khokhba, Shabbatai Zvi, Jacob Frank, or Menachem Mendel Schneerson, that person releases themselves from Jewish tradition and theology.  When embracing a false messiah, one’s Judaism is replaced by a new messianic religion that differs from Judaism, which holds as one of its main pillars that we still await the Messiah.  To bring Jesus into Judaism, removing the Churchianity, but keeping the Christianity (Christ is the Greek word for “annointed one), is simply a semantic tactic to not realize you have indeed converted to another religion.

Messianics may have roots in Judaism, as all Christians do, but they are not a denomination of Judaism.  I have no doubt they would be welcome into the arena of Christianity, as they relate far more to them than their Jewish counterparts.  Our traditions, liturgy, rituals, theology, philosophy are all strongly evident of the awaiting of the messiah or messianic age.  To change those elements to conform to include a messianic figure is just as strong as a departure from Judaism.

This is not, in any way, meant to show disrespect to the Messianics, as I know many and have even studied with many.  I am happy to sit with them, study with them, and engage in interfaith dialogue with them, but it is time they also acknowledge that it is “interfaith” dialogue, as they are no longer associated with the Jewish faith.

About the Author
Michael E. Harvey is a Reform Rabbi, ordained by the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in 2015. After leading multiple congregations across the United States, Mike proudly served as a hospital chaplain at IU Health during the height of COVID-19. Mike is passionate about social justice, interfaith cooperation, and bringing deep Jewish learning to the lay public. He has followed these passions in serving his communities, including founding and directing interfaith councils and sitting on multiple boards, locally and nationally. In 2022, Mike wrote and published his first book, Let’s Talk: A Rabbi Speaks to Christians, which became an Amazon Bestseller. Mike's current projects include finishing his second book, and completing his doctorate degree at Spertus Institute of Jewish Learning and Leadership. His new book "From the Gospels to the Gas Chambers: How Christian Scripture Inspires a Pattern of Genocide" is in production and is in need of a publisher.
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