If you’ve been following Israeli, or indeed Jewish, media recently, you’ll have noticed a spate of stories unmasking Messianic Jews who have been pretending to be Jews in order to infiltrate Orthodox Jewish communities.
One of the most confusing aspects of this story for Jews is that none of these pretenders has been known to actually convert anybody. So we wonder, what is the point? Why do they matter?
What are Messianic Jews anyway?
Let me tell you something about Messianic Jews, because there’s a lot of confusion around this term. And that’s how they like it.
Although they are called Messianic Jews, they are not Jewish. They are Christians, by definition, because they believe that Jesus was the son of God, the Messiah, and died for their sins. (Some of them happen to be Jewish, by birth, but their religion is definitely not Judaism.)
Messianic Jews are a specific sub-group of Christians who really think they are the only ones getting it right. They teach that Jesus was Jewish, and so the right way to serve him is to keep the Torah more or less as he did. They keep Shabbat. They keep kashrut. They dress in a tzanua way. At Shavuot, they held a tikkun leil Shavuot. Bizarre, right?
They view themselves as “completed Jews”, who have replaced us (the real Jews) because God rejected us. If they call themselves Jewish, they mean it, because to their way of thinking they are real Jews. They think they are establishing a new utopia where there’s no difference between Jew and Christian.
Imagine there’s no Jews, it isn’t hard to do
Messianic Jews want to get rid of the differences between Jews and non-Jews.
One of the main evangelical messianic goals is to blur the lines between Jew and Christian.
They want to remove the lines between faiths and to break down theological boundaries between us. This is why Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, z”l, was so opposed to the use of the term “Judeo-Christian” when referring to heritage or tradition, because we need to keep tight hold of our tradition and not allow it to slide into Christianity.
The goal is to create “One New Man” under Jesus. Michael Elk, also known as Elkohen, the secret missionary from French Hill whose unmasking sparked the entire saga, explained this himself in a video interview he gave to an evangelical TV station some years ago.
“When Jesus walked the earth he was Jewish, but then something happened called the resurrection and he became the first of a new humanity, which Paul says again “in the new humanity there is neither Jew nor Gentile,” Elk said.
This is why it’s a triumph for Elk, and for all Messianic Jews, that his wife is buried in the kohen section of Har Hamenuchot. It blurs the lines between Jew and non-Jew.
Rabbi Shlomo Shraga recently released a psak, endorsed and stamped by Harav HaRashi Yitzchak Yosef, in which he made it clear that the body of the missionary should be removed from the cemetery.
The part of Har Hamenuchot cemetery where the missionary is buried is designed somewhat like a multi-story carpark, with people “buried” in the walls in 3 rows (top, middle, and bottom). Her body is in the middle of the column, and since then, a different woman has been placed in the slot beneath her (the one above remains empty).
If that is not possible, however, he wrote that the body of the woman buried below her should be moved. In this way, with a space above and below the missionary’s grave, there will be a clear delineation between the grave of a Jew and a non-Jew. In contrast to Elk’s desire to rub away the differences between Jew and Christian, Rabbi Shraga and Rabbi Yosef are quite clear that Jew and non-Jew must not be buried together.
A lot of people are confused about who they can trust as a Jew, and who they can believe is not a Jew. Some people aren’t sure why it really matters if someone wants to be Jewish so much that they pretend to be Jews.
Even this uncertainty is a victory for Elk and his followers. Elk still insists that he is a Jew and a kohen of Moroccan descent, maybe because he believes his own lies, or maybe because he luxuriates in the confusion he causes. He and his wife brought their good friend, J, and his then-girlfriend, now-wife K, to Israel, claiming that J was Elk’s wife’s cousin.
K converted to Judaism in Israel through the Israeli rabbinate, although it’s unclear whether her conversion would still be considered valid. Like Elk, both of his friends also insist that they are really Jewish, and a lot of people are confused and bewildered, not knowing who to believe.
That bewilderment is a delight for Messianic Jews.
Make no mistake, Messianic Jews, like all missionary Christians, want nothing other than the total destruction of the Jews as a distinct nation. No, that’s not an exaggeration. They want us to lose everything that sets us apart from Christianity.
The goal of every missionary, no matter how sweet and nice they are, is no different to that of the Muslim Brotherhood, or the Bolsheviks, or the Islamic Caliphate, or of the Catholic church for centuries: to replace every other religion in the world with belief in their own religion. Okay, I grant you that they do not use violence to achieve their goal. Hooray.
We don’t seem to realize this threat because we spend so much of our time as a nation and a state combating people who want to physically destroy us, plus talking about spirituality and religion somehow isn’t “cool” any more. Missionary Christians take advantage of this blindness to infiltrate our communities and further their goal of removing the mechitzas (divisions) between themselves and Jews.
It’s time to make “havdalah”
Our communities are based on trust. When someone walks into a shul and asks to lead davening because they have to say kaddish, no one asks him to prove his Jewishness. When someone moves into your neighborhood, you don’t ask to see their parents’ ketubah before you take them a cake and invite them for a Shabbat meal.
Perhaps we need to be a little bit more suspicious. We need to be mavdil (make a distinction) between Israel and the nations, as we say in havdalah. We need our organizations and politicians to stop courting American evangelical money and support. They are in danger of forgetting that there is a difference between being a Zionist and being a Jew, which Evangelical Christian Zionists are happy to encourage, and of helping to blur the boundaries between Jew and gentile.
We don’t need to start casting sidelong glances at the new guy — or woman — in shul, or asking the new neighbor a hundred questions about where they came from and who their family is. But we do need to make clear divisions between Jews, and Messianic Jews.
Our own government bodies are still avoiding addressing the cases of the Elks and their friends, even though they have been given complete folders documenting that the three of the four individuals are not Jewish and have committed immigration fraud (the fourth, that of K, is a complex issue which the beit din will have to decide).
Jewish schools are still avoiding having to expel the Elk children, even though they know that they are non-Jews who are being taught to believe in Jesus.
Thanks to a ruling by the Supreme Court on a case a few years ago, the chevra kadisha can’t even remove the body of this confirmed non-Jew and missionary from a section reserved for kohanim in Har Hamenuchot, and place it in Jerusalem’s Messianic Jewish cemetery.
They are helping to blur the lines.
We need our gatekeepers to close the gates and stop allowing Messianic Jews to confuse us and merge with us. We need to be able to trust our gatekeepers to distinguish between Jew and Gentile, and we need them to care to do so. And we need to take it seriously when we learn that there’s a missionary hiding in our neighborhood. It’s time to make havdalah.