Q. The so-called “Jews-for-Jesus” group has resurfaced in Sydney with its campaign to persuade Jews that they can be Jewish and Christian at one and the same time. What approach should the Jewish community take towards such claims?
A. For centuries, Christian missionary activity was aimed at persuading Jews to move out of Judaism and embrace Christianity. This approach is still followed in some quarters, though it is an intrusion on the individual’s right to his own conscience and convictions, gravely offends inter-religious harmony and has never made headway among Jews.
“Jews-for-Jesus” and “Messianic” Jews employ different tactics. Their message is that if you become a Christian you do not need to leave the Jewish fold or abandon Jewish observance; you can remain a Jew but be Christian at the same time, with Christianity fulfilling or “completing” your Jewishness.
The number of Jews who succumb will always be small, but the movement is a concern because it is often militant and persistent, its ostentatious use of Jewish symbols needles most Jews, and some mainstream Christian groups provide resources to promote it.
Fortunately, not only the Jewish community but wiser elements in the Christian churches see that attempting an amalgam of Judaism and Christianity is neither Jewish nor Christian but a freakish miscegenation.
Yes, Jesus was a Jew and there is common ground between the two faiths, but they start from radically different premisses and reach radically different conclusions.
How can you uphold the Jewish axiom of the unity and incorporeality of God, together with the Christian concept of the Trinity; or the Jewish affirmation that the Messiah is yet to come, together with the Christian doctrine of the messiahship of Jesus who has come and will return?
How can you reconcile the Jewish idea of salvation through Torah with the Christian view that only through Jesus is one saved; or the Jewish belief that man is born without guilt, with the Christian principle of original sin?
To attempt to be both Jewish and Christian is spiritual schizophrenia.
This is not to say that a Jew cannot respect a Christian’s right to be Christian, but (borrowing Milton Steinberg’s phrase) as for himself, he is at peace in Judaism.
A word about the suggestion that, having accepted Christianity as his theology, a “Jew-for-Jesus” can still wear a tallit, pray from a siddur and observe the rituals of the Jewish festivals. Naturally there is comfort in keeping up familiar cultural usages. But these things are not just cultural usages. They are sanctified ways of symbolising the teachings of Judaism.
How can a “Jew-for-Jesus” be part of the Yom Kippur liturgy and ritual if he no longer shares the Jewish doctrine of atonement? How can he read christological theology into Yom Kippur and still call it Yom Kippur?
If a Jew has searched his soul and decided on Christianity, Judaism deeply regrets his decision but respects his right to make it. But if he is going to enter Christianity let him do so unambiguously. Let him be honest enough to say he has moved out of Judaism and not dream an impossible dream about having his cake and eating it.