Competing Trends In Messianic Judaism: The Debate Over Evangelicalism

Introduction: What Is Messianic Judaism?

Messianic Judaism is a congregational movement consisting of believers who affirm Yeshua haNatzrati to be their Messiah and Savior while maintaining Jewish observance in both theology and practice. It is centered mainly in the United States and, to a lesser extent, in Israel. Worldwide membership of around 100,000 people has been suggested, although the numbers are difficult to estimate. The growth of Messianic Judaism presents a challenge for Jewish and Christian communities alike. The Jewish community must provide a definition of who is to be considered Jewish and negotiate the term to include and exclude the pertinent groups, which often involves excluding Messianic Jews. In turn, evangelical Christians are pressed to examine how far their own boundaries should stretch to include increasingly diverse religious expressions. Furthermore, Messianic Jews themselves continue to redefine their own position against these two communities in their history, theol­ogy, and ritual practices. This article will examine Messianic Judaism; tracing religious identity formation and theological and ritual development as seen within the two main Messianic Jewish organizations.

Existing Scholarship

As the Messianic Jewish congregational movement itself is still quite young, dating back only to the late 1960s, there has not been exten­sive scholarship in the field. The studies with which I will be primarily concerned are those of Carol Harris-Shapiro, a Recon­structionist rabbi, and Shoshanah Feher, a Jewish sociologist, each of whom published ethnographic works on the Messianic Judaism in the late 1990s. Harris-Shapiro and Feher each closely analyze one congregation over a period of several years, applying their research from the individual congregations to Messianic Judaism as a whole. Harris-Shapiro bases her findings on congregation Beth Yeshua in Philadelphia, the congregation recognized by many to be in leader­ship of one of the main Messianic Jewish organizations, the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA). According to Harris-Shapiro, Beth Yeshua is in leadership of Messianic Judaism as a whole.1 She examines the paradoxical identity of Messianic Jews as those who have taken “two identities which have represented ‘the Other’ for one another and made them one.” 2 Her study is a critique of Messianic Judaism’s claims of having a pure identity, providing the true faith devoid of internal conflict or complication.3 The Messianic Jewish identity she describes centers around Jewish iden­tification and ritual forms incorporated in a complex fashion with an evangelical, charismatic Christian belief system. Yet the loyalty tends to fall on the side of Christian identity, even if this is not always consciously acknowledged: for her subjects, the picture of the “ideal Jew” is identical to that of the “ideal Christian.” 4

Not unlike Harris-Shapiro, Feher discusses Messianic Judaism in terms of a constant coding and recoding, both in infusing Jewish ritual and cultural norms with Christian symbolism, and to a less­er extent, infusing Christianity with Jewish symbolism. This recre­ation of Jewish ritual in Christian terms is for Feher the central ele­ment that binds the community of Messianic Jews.5 While Harris-Shapiro sees the complexities and contradictions created through these fusions as contributing to the weakness of Messianic Judaism, Feher considers its “consistent inconsistency” as a locus of strength, demonstrating flexibility so that different adherents can reinterpret each ritual and rite for a Messianic Jewish context.

I will foremost treat the claims of Feher and Harris-Shapiro concerning the nature of Messianic Judaism as being reflected in the melding of Jewish forms with Christian content. My argument is that while Feher and Harris-Shapiro characterize one segment in very insightful terms, it must be seen in balance with another strand of Messianic Judaism, which is reacting to the first and has quite different aims, resulting in unique theological and ritual characteristics.

Exploring New Ground

One of the central challenges Messianic Judaism faces is how to ori­ent itself against modern Evangelical Protestantism and main­stream American Judaism. As I will show, Messianic Judaism is his­torically rooted chiefly in the evangelical movements of the twenti­eth century, and therefore this study will trace Messianic Judaism’s relationship with these movements. Nevertheless, one cannot dis­cuss the one without the other: the further Messianic Jews move from evangelicalism, the more closely they identify with the Jewish community. The central question in determining the extent of iden­tification with evangelicalism will be whether the distinction between believer (in Yeshua) and non-believer is primary (as in evangelicalism), or the distinction between Jew and Gentile (as in Judaism). Feher and Harris-Shapiro have focused on congregations within the MJAA and the UMJC respectively, for their analyses of Messianic Judaism. This study, however, will examine the trends within the MJAA side by side with important trends of the other main organization, the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC). I will argue that central figures within the UMJC differ from their counterparts in the MJAA foremost in a greater distanc­ing from evangelicalism in favor of a greater identification with the Jewish community. While the MJAA is concerned with balancing between Messianic content and Jewish forms, central figures of the UMJC strive to create a form of Judaism that they regard, and hope the greater Jewish community will regard, as authentically Jewish. If a phrase could characterize the guiding principle of each side, the MJAA would say, “Follow the movement of the Spirit,” while the UMJC would say, “Be as authentic as possible.” While neither side would see these characterizations as mutually exclusive, these are the terms in which the Alliance and Union polemic is framed. This analysis not only highlights the interaction of each group with evangelicalism, but also explores how these two groups self-con-sciously and unconsciously react to one another.

Following an introduction to the term “evangelicalism,” Part I begins with a section that traces the history of the growth of the Messianic Jewish congregational movement from its evangelical roots to the emergence of the MJAA (and the related International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues [IAMCS]) and UMJC. Part I also sketches UMJC and MJAA official ties and breaks with evangelicalism according to stated doctrines, as well as some of the groups’ differences from one other. In Part II, I examine how the MJAA and UMJC’s relationships to evangelicalism and to one another is established within each organization’s historiography, that is, its attitudes towards Messianic Judaism’s own history and its relation to Jewish history in particular. Subsequently, in Part III, I discuss how ritual life within specific MJAA and UMJC congrega­tions may serve as a vehicle through which to analyze each group’s relationship with evangelicalism. Parts IV and V treat the develop­ing stances within each group toward two different potential “out-groups”-Gentiles in Messianic synagogues, and non-Messianic Jews, as well as the theology which is being formed especially with­in the UMJC regarding both groups. My conclusions will address the complexities and challenges of both the UMJC and MJAA as they look to the future and prepare a new generation of Messianic Jews for worship and outreach.

It is necessary first to provide a caveat regarding the methodol­ogy of this study. With the goal in mind of characterizing the broad outlines of the Messianic Judaism, I must make generalizations from specific examples. In the first case, related to MJAA, I follow other scholars in taking Congregation Beth Yeshua, Philadelphia, PA as a paradigmatic MJAA congregation (see the works by Harris-Shapiro, Robert Winer, and David Rausch). On the UMJC side, I draw principally on two congregational leaders: Mark Kinzer of Congregation Zera Avraham, Ann Arbor, MI (Executive Director of the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute, adjunct assistant pro­fessor of Jewish Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, and mem­ber of the UMJC theology committee), and Tony Eaton of Simchat Yisrael Messianic Jewish Synagogue, West Haven, Connecticut ([Former] UMJC Northeast Regional Director, and UMJC Treasurer). Kinzer was recently chosen to help compose a definition of Messianic Judaism, which was widely approved in the UMJC. For the purpose of this article, I often take these figures of the UMJC as representative of the whole organization. While not the only voices in the UMJC, they do exert considerable influence in their circles and leadership positions and can at least be understood as part of a strong current within the larger group.6 I also highlight the differ­ences between the two organizations while recognizing that there are still substantial similarities and a certain amount of overlap in membership. Both groups are in the first decades of their existence and are still in the process of defining themselves both in relation to their wider communities and to each other.

Defining Evangelicalism

At first glance, relating Messianic Judaism to a broad term like “evangelicalism” may seem to obscure more issues than it clarifies. Nevertheless, the origins of Messianic Judaism cannot be fit neatly into a denominational space within the expanse of the Christian church. The history of twentieth century Protestantism has evi­denced the decline of denominationalism, making room for broad­er, inter-denominational movements such as Fundamentalism and evangelicalism.7

Without delving into an extended history of evangelicalism, it is helpful to see the broad strokes of its development in order to bet­ter assess its relationship with Messianic Judaism. In the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, Christians who came to call themselves “Fundamen­talists” united against Modernism by setting up strict doctrinal stances that would seal believers “in” and unbelievers “out.” They held to an inspired, inerrant, authoritative Bible, to the centrality and the indispensability of Yeshua’s substitutionary death for salva­tion, the historicity of miracles, the literal reading of the Bible, and a premillenial eschatology in which Yeshua returns before a literal thousand year reign on earth.8 The rise of Fundamentalism coin­cided with new theological emphases on “Holiness” spirituality, Pentecostalism, and premillenial dispensationalism.9 The Holiness movement, drawing on a heritage of Wesleyanism, accentuated concern for the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Pentecostalism took this emphasis further, emphasizing the belief that the Holy Spirit could be experienced verbally, physically, spiri­tually in this “latter day.”10 Premillenial dispensationalism also became a popular theology, which will be explained further in my discussion of the history of Messianic Judaism. The coming togeth­er of dispensational influences with the focus on Holiness and Pentecostalism was vital for the development of American evangel­icalism. The three movements were never entirely aligned, yet together they shared a stress on the dangers of the world, the com­forts of separatist piety, the centrality of evangelism, and the expec­tation of the end. These emphases in turn, had a powerful effect on evangelicalism.11 Evangelicalism arose in part from Fundamen­talism, yet separated itself from the latter’s isolationist tendencies, affirming instead a new concern for theological reflection (which has since lessened as the movement has become more pluralistic) and societal engagement. Other strands of evangelicalism had never been aligned with Fundamentalism, but stayed within mainline denominations (e.g. Presbyterian, Baptist, and Lutheran).12

Within the broad spectrum of evangelicalism, Messianic Judaism specifically draws on Fundamentalist roots that in the 1960s came to mix with Neo-Pentecostalism. The locus of this mix was the Jesus People movement, through which many Messianic Jews became believers. The worship and theology of “the Jesus People” came to combine Fundamentalist theology with a “Spirit-­filled” or “charismatic” faith, involving the belief in the continua­tion of New Covenant spiritual gifts in the present day, such as speaking in tongues, miraculous healing, and prophecy. This charismatic spirituality grew out of traditional Pentecostalism, which makes the exercise of these gifts central to worship. It emerged in a new form in the 1960s as Neo-Pentecostalism, in which there is more flexibility regarding the role of these spiritual gifts. While traditional Pentecostalism formed its own denomina­tions, Neo-Pentecostalism spread across denominational lines into broader evangelical movements such as the Jesus movement. Within Neo-Pentecostalism (and, to a large degree, within evangel­icalism as a whole), emphasis is placed on the direct experience of the love and power of God, combined with a belief in the power of Satan and evil, active both in the world and in the lives of individ­ual believers engaged in spiritual warfare.13 As well, both Fundamentalism and Neo-Pentecostalism also share tendencies toward anti-intellectualism.

For our purposes, I will use James Davidson Hunter’s definition of evangelicalism, which states that at the doctrinal core, contempo­rary evangelicals can be identified by their adherence to the belief that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God (on essential matters of faith and life), the belief in the divinity of Yeshua, and the insistence on the efficacy of Yeshua’s life, death, and physical resurrection for the salvation of the human soul.14 For Hunter, evangelicals are also generally marked by an individualized and experiential orientation toward spiritual salvation and religiosity, and by the conviction of the necessity of actively attempting to proselytize all nonbelievers to the tenets of the evangelical belief system.15 One could make the case that this experiential orientation bears witness to evangelicalism’s Holiness and Pentecostal influences. As is argued by authors such as evangelical scholar David Rausch, Jewish scholar Yaakov Ariel, sociologist Devra Jaffe, as well as Shoshana Feher and Carol Harris-Shapiro, Messianic Judaism distinctly draws on such Fundamen-talist-Evangelical roots, a connection I shall briefly discuss.

History Of Messianic Judaisms Ties With Evangelicalism Theological And Historical Roots

In order to fully understand the place of different strands of Messianic Judaism in their theological and historical contexts, one must look to the theology of Jewish mission works of the nine­teenth and twentieth centuries and to the counter-cultural move­ments of the 1960s in America. Hebrew Christianity arose out of nineteenth century premillenial dispensationalism, and Messianic Judaism followed as its logical conclusion.

The theology of premillenial dispensationalism was formulated by John Nelson Darby in the 1830s in Great Britain and was popu­larized in the United States by C.J. Scofield in his Reference Bible, becoming an integral part of the Fundamentalist worldview.16 Dispensationalism orders history into distinct dispensations, or epochs, each of which contains a different kind of relationship between God and humanity. At the end of each epoch, humankind disappoints a loving God. According to the dispensational calendar, the time from Abraham to the year 70 C.E. constituted the time of the Jews.17 Yet after most of the Jews rejected Yeshua, and after the Temple was destroyed, God turned to the Gentiles to bring them into relationship with him. Once the “fullness of the Gentiles has come in,” God will usher in the Last Days, in which the biblical promises made to Israel will be literally fulfilled. The Jews will then begin to come back to Israel in unbelief, followed by the ascension of an anti-messiah to power, which will inaugurate the period of the Great Tribulation.18 At the beginning of the Great Tribulation, all believers will be “raptured”-taken to meet Yeshua in the air-while the rest of the world population, including the yet unbelieving Jews, will remain, and a period of intense anti-Semitism will occur. By this period, 144,000 Jews will have come to belief in Yeshua, and these will serve as evangelists to their brethren throughout the period of the Tribulation. This is followed by the culminating, decisive Middle Eastern battle between the forces of good and evil, resulting in Yeshua’s second coming, the coming of the remaining Jewish people to faith in Yeshua, and the peaceful Jewish rule from Jerusalem for one thousand years in the Messianic Age.19

Two things of great significance are to be noted in this eschato­logical vision. The first is that premillenial dispensationalism always emphasizes the role of the Jewish people in advancing the Messianic Age. There must be 144,000 Jews who have heard the Gospel before the Tribulation period begins, even if they don’t immediately accept the message, creating a clear impetus for evan­gelism of the Jewish people.20 In addition, the return of the Jews to Eretz-Yisrael, according to the biblical promises, is a prerequisite of the return of the Messiah.21 In this context, one can understand the resulting support for Zionism that grew out of the movement, for Zionism only serves to confirm the premillenial dispensationalist vision. The other element of great consequence is the insistence upon the divergent destinies of “the Church” and the Jewish people: Jews and Christians are assigned different roles and are subject to different promises from God. For instance, the distinction is often made between the earthly promises made to Jews in the Tanakh, which will be fulfilled on earth, and the heavenly character of the promises made to the Church, to be fulfilled in heaven.

Specific Jewish mission works sprang up in the nineteenth cen­tury in response to premillenial dispensationalism’s vision of the role of the Jews in the end time.22 Jewish believers became exemplars of the “saved” Jew who would take a leading spiritual role in the mil-lennium.23 One of the most successful organizations was the American Board of Missions to the Jews (now called Chosen People Ministries), founded at the end of the nineteenth century by Rabbi Leopold Cohn. Early mission works such as Cohn’s were all aimed at funneling Jewish believers into established Protestant churches, in line with the expectation of the conservative, premillenial Fundamentalism of the time. Nevertheless, from the standpoint of premillenial dispensationalism, it could also be important for Jewish believers to retain their Jewish identity so as effectively to witness to their brethren, in line with end time expectations. For how could saved Jews retain the promises of a physical Israel and a return to the land if salvation erased their Jewish identity? 24 As a result, discus­sion soon followed concerning the creation of a uniting body for Hebrew Christians, and in 1915, the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America was officially formed under the presidency of Sabbati Reinhold. The Alliance’s stated goals were to encourage and strengthen Hebrew Christians to deepen their faith, propagate the Gospel more widely by strengthening existing missions and foster­ing other like-minded agencies, and provide a reliable channel for evangelical churches to best serve the cause of Jewish evangelism.25 Against critics who worried that the Alliance would create divisions among believers, the HCAA stressed that it was neither a church nor a denomination. Furthermore, it had no intention of instigating Jewish believers to rebel against the established Christian church, for its main purpose was to evangelize. Other motivations also became apparent, however, as the Alliance spoke of the discrimina­tion and alienation felt by Jewish believers within churches, which created the desire for ways to unite Jewish believers.26 Thus the for­mation of the Alliance was not only a result of a positive initiative to reach more Jewish people by evangelism, but also a result of the neg­ative experience of Jews within churches, leading to the initial dis­tancing from the Christian church as a means of finding fellowship.

Not long after its creation, the HCAA confronted a central issue that would continue to divide members until the creation of Messianic Judaism decades later. In 1917, HCAA member Mark Levy put forth the proposal that HCAA members should be open to inte­grating Jewish elements into the Christian faith, choosing those aspects from the traditions they found spiritually significant, while continuing to affirm the Protestant distinctive of being saved only through the merits and mediation of Yeshua, not by one’s own works.27 The name “Messianic Judaism” was already associated with the belief that observing Jewish ceremonies and customs would demonstrate national continuity with the Jewish people and win them to the faith.28 Yet Levy’s resolution was defeated, and the HCAA prided itself in “closing the doors once and for all to all Judaizing propaganda” and “standing squarely on the evangelical platform.” 29 Nevertheless, the issue was far from being resolved and would continue to divide the HCAA until the breaking point of the MJAA’s emergence and beyond.

The tension between remaining tied to the church, versus cre­ating an independent Jewish Christian identity, also influenced the development of Jewish Christian congregations. Problems arose for Jewish converts to the faith who had been evangelized by openly Jewish missionaries, yet who subsequently felt alienated by a for­eign church culture. Unable to adapt, they dropped out of their churches. In 1934, the Chicago Presbyterian Church established the First Hebrew Christian Church of Chicago, yet this congrega­tion, as well as other ones created in the period, maintained an essentially Protestant form of worship. The Jewish influence was seen mainly in specific symbols and terminology, such as the use of the menorah and the title “Yeshua Ha-Mashiach” for “Jesus the Messiah.” 30 There was still a central anxiety about “Judaizing” the faith, undermining unity between Jewish believers and Gentiles and threatening the reliance upon faith alone for salvation, central tenets of evangelicalism. Nevertheless, a pragmatism concerning the urgent necessity for evangelism ultimately came to win out. As Sir Leon Robinson, President of the then recently formed International Hebrew Christian Alliance, explained in 1934, “We have failed to realize that it is not our connection with a church or view of worship that matters, but the salvation of Jewry, and through that, the salvation of the world.” 31 Ironically, while this view may have been offensive to Fundamentalist Protestants of the time, ultimately it reflected the demands of their eschatology. Jewish missionaries needed to retain marks of their Jewishness in line with their distinctive destiny, and also needed to serve the urgent need of evangelism to thereby usher in the end time.

The conflicts over the questions of Jewish Christian identity, separation, and ritual observance came to a head in the midst of the counter-cultural movements of the 1960s.32 As mentioned above, one of the central influences on Jewish evangelism in this time was the “Jesus movement.” This movement consisted of a diverse col­lection of young people who often had recently become Christian, sometimes had just gotten off drugs, believed the Bible to be liter­ally true, and felt called by a fervent missionary impulse, often lead­ing them to radical street evangelism.33 The Jesus movement stressed the search for the true self, emphasizing personal experi­ence, expressiveness, spontaneity, and informality, which were marks both of the culture at large and the growing movement of “spirit-filled” Christianity.34

One of the groups emerging from the Jesus People was Jews for Jesus, the missionary movement pioneered by Moishe Rosen, known for its daring street campaigns and success in bringing young Jews to faith in Yeshua. It continued to channel new believers into estab­lished churches, yet members usually identified much more with the movement itself than with churches. Also influenced by the Jesus movement were the growing numbers of young members of the HCAA. During this time of growth, the sense among Jewish believers that God was bringing a Hebrew Christian revival was heightened by the impact of the Six Day War in 1967. Israel’s victo­ry and possession of key holy sites signaled to Jewish believers, and premillenial dispensationalists in general, that Scriptural prophecies to Jews concerning the Land were being fulfilled, confirming their theological convictions and spurring on their missionary zeal.

Towards The Creation Of The MJAA

The new atmosphere of the sixties convicted the Hebrew Christian Alliance of a need to cater to younger believers, a move that even­tually led to a further distancing not only from the Gentile church but also from many older believers in the Alliance. Manny Brotman, a Hebrew Christian who had graduated from a Fundamentalist seminary, was active in founding the “Young” Hebrew Christian branch of the Alliance (YHCA).35 Yet the growth of the HCAA and the establishment of the YHCA soon caused friction between the youth, influenced by the atmosphere of the 1960s that emphasized ethnic pride and Spirit-filled worship, and the older members of the HCAA. Uncomfortable with the hymns drawn from church settings, the members of the YHCA introduced a new type of charismatic worship set to contemporary music with more Jewish-centered content, a move that alienated many older members of the Alliance. Yet several adult leaders, including Joe and Debbie Finkelstein in Philadelphia, and Martin and Yohanna Chernoff in Cincinnati, sup­ported the young people in their desire for a more Jewish expres­sion of the faith. The Finkelstein’s home, eventually called “Fink’s Zoo,” was turned into a place for study and worship for many “Jesus people.” 36 A significant number of young Jews became believers through their efforts, and the Finkelsteins encouraged them to express their Jewishness within their new faith. The Chernoffs founded the earliest official Messianic Jewish congregation, Beth Messiah, in Cincinnati in 1970.37 Yohanna Chernoff described the decision concerning the congregation in terms of both premillenial dispensationalism and the emerging restorationist logic of the movement: “We have our own destiny in the Lord. We will no longer be assimilated into the church and pretend to be non-Jews. If Yeshua Himself, His followers and the early Jewish believers tena­ciously maintained their Jewish lifestyles, why was it right then, but wrong now?”38 The congregational movement spread quickly, with congregations sprouting up in Washington, where Manny Brotman organized Beth Messiah Synagogue, as well as other East and West coast cities.

These Messianic Jewish congregations reflected the ideological and theological changes taking place in the movement, causing a clear division between those who embraced a more Jewish form of the faith and those who were committed to traditional Hebrew Christianity that sought to remain tied to local churches. Motions put forth by the Youth Alliance members to change the name of the Alliance to the “Messianic Jewish Alliance of America” only exacer­bated this division. First defeated in 1973, the motion was passed due to the large youth presence at the Alliance conference in 1975, as well as the presidency of Martin Chernoff. As a result of the change, which was indicative of the shifting ideological tides of the Alliance, many older Alliance members left and criticism also abounded from outside Christian groups. Yet another division, between the MJAA and the UMJC, soon followed the division between Hebrew Christianity and Messianic Judaism.

The Birth Of The UMJC

Besides the name change, the 1975 Messiah Alliance Conference also saw a proposal to establish an official body of Messianic Jewish congregations. Martin Chernoff argued that it was too early for such a body to be formed, especially since its existence might increase the fears of those concerned that a new denomination was being created.39 Chernoff also felt that such an organization might hinder the free-flowing character of spiritual revival within the movement, although he did support the eventual establishment of a loose association of Messianic Jewish congregations. Nonetheless, a number of leaders within the movement disagreed with his deci­sion, and in 1979 the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations was founded, with Daniel Juster as its first President.40 The stated objec­tives of the new organization were and are:

  1. To provide whatever aid possible in the initiation, establishment, and growth of Messianic Jewish congregations worldwide
  2. To be a voice for Messianic Jewish congregations and Messianic Judaism worldwide
  3. To provide a forum for the discussion of issues relevant to Messianic Judaism and Messianic Jewish congregations
  4. To aid in the causes of our Jewish people worldwide, especially in Israel
  5. To support the training of Messianic leaders41


The UMJC seeks to fulfill these objectives in different ways, includ­ing the Planters Program which enlists and supports leaders plant­ing congregations, the UMJC Yeshiva which trains Messianic Jewish leaders, the publication of Kesher: A Journal of Messianic Judaism, as well as educational materials for children and adults, and region­al directors, retreats, and conferences.42 To be a member, a congre­gation must meet certain standards of doctrine and polity, agree to the UMJC’s By-Laws, have at least ten Messianic Jews in the con­gregation, and meet biweekly.43 In turn, the congregation is given a voice in the UMJC’s delegate-based government. In 1979, nineteen congregations committed themselves as charter members, and cur­rently there are over eighty such congregations.

Similarities Between The Umjc And Mjaa And Their Relation To Evangelicalism

Paralleling the development of the UMJC, the MJAA eventually formed the International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues (IAMCS) in 1986, an organization mirroring the tasks of the UMJC as the pastoral wing of the MJAA. To date, the organi­zation has approximately one hundred congregations in the United States and twenty to thirty in the rest of the world. Its goals and programs include strengthening and assisting the spiritual growth and welfare of Messianic Jewish congregations and leaders, provid­ing materials and educational resources, and training leaders through a program for rabbinic ordination.44 Both the UMJC and the MJAA (and the IAMCS as one of its branches) set out clear doc­trinal standards in their bylaws that reflect their commitment to core aspects of evangelical doctrine. Each includes a statement on the authoritative and infallible nature of the Scriptures, the three persons of the Godhead, the deity of Yeshua the Messiah, his aton­ing death through his shed blood, and resurrection. Each also emphasizes the importance of Ruach haKodesh. The UMJC Doctrinal Statement stresses the need for regeneration by the Holy Spirit for the salvation of sinful man and his indwelling for the liv­ing of a godly life.45 The MJAA Statement of Faith in turn speaks of the Spirit of Truth that guides believers into all truth, empowering, teaching, and indwelling them, and thereby enabling them to live a godly life.46 On these issues, the MJAA and UMJC’s doctrinal state­ments are indistinguishable from a general evangelical statement in line with J.D. Hunter’s definition of evangelical theology. The Alliance Statement of Faith then includes an extended section on the second coming of the Messiah, which ushers in Israel’s nation­al restoration, and a section on prophecy, stating, “A central part of Messianic Judaism is the belief in the physical and scriptural restoration of Israel, as taught in the Scriptures. The greatest mir­acle of our day has been the re-establishment or rebirth of the State of Israel according to prophecy.”47 These views are fully consistent with evangelicalism, particularly in its premillenial dispensational­ist form. The stress on prophecy and eschatological events will also be shown to be a characteristic separating the MJAA from the UMJC. Another distinguishing mark that will become evident is how much the Alliance remains consistent with this statement of faith in terms of its association with evangelicalism, versus trends within the UMJC that undermine the connection with evangelical beliefs.

Beyond official doctrinal statements linking the MJAA and UMJC to evangelicalism, their standards for the conduct of leaders also mirror those of evangelicalism. UMJC and MJAA leaders met formally in November 1995 to agree on the conditions upon which a congregational leader should step down from his position. The terms cited ensure that the leader uphold evangelical standards of conduct and doctrine. One of the conditions is the avoidance of immorality, such as adultery, homosexuality, or fornication.48 Also prohibited are false doctrines, such as denying the deity of the Messiah or the Triune nature of God, and specific areas of doctrinal slipping that may be more frequent in Messianic circles due to Jewish leanings.

The UMJC and MJAA share ways not only of aligning with, but also of opposing evangelicalism. For instance, both groups shift the distinction between the church and Israel (a characteristic of dis­pensationalism) from the future into the present. As explained ear­lier, dispensationalism insists that Jews have special promises to be fulfilled in a future earthly kingdom that Yeshua will inaugurate after the second coming. Nevertheless, dispensationalists believe that in the present age Jews and Gentiles who believe in Yeshua are all part of the church, and thus the distinction between the church and Israel is of no practical consequence in the current dispensa-tion.49 What was theoretical in traditional dispensationalism is brought into the present in Messianic Judaism: for both the UMJC and the MJAA, God has a separate plan, separate promises, and sep­arate covenant obligations for Jewish and Gentile believers in the present age.50 Another position gaining prevalence is the shift away from classic “pre-Tribulation” premillenialism, in which all believ­ers are “raptured” up to heaven before the Tribulation, leaving behind all non-believers, including Jews. Many leaders have become “mid-Tribulational” or “post-Tribulational.” in eschatology, meaning that believers live through part or all of the Tribulation period.51 According to David Rausch, this is indicative of a theolog­ical trend that stresses Messianic Jewish solidarity with the Jewish community throughout the intense persecution period and not just at the beginning of it.52

Messianic Jews also strongly refute the belief in some evangel­ical Christian circles of what they call “replacement theology” or “covenant theology,” in which the church takes the place of Israel as “spiritual Israel.” The physical promises made to Israel are con­verted to spiritual promises for all believers.53 Thus all who respond to the New Covenant by faith are spiritually the seed of Abraham, and it is the spiritual seed that receives the promises of God.54 As such, physical Israel loses its significance, making any present dis­tinctions between Jews and Gentiles superfluous, and thus chal­lenging the very existence of Messianic Judaism.

A view shared by the UMJC and MJAA that follows from their critique of dispensationalism and covenant theology is the insis­tence that many elements of Torah are still applicable to believers today. Many dispensationalists would consider the keeping of Torah a confusion of the present dispensation of the church with the time of the Great Tribulation where Jews again become prominent in God’s plan. Observance of Torah may be seen as a failure to distin­guish between the “dispensation of law” in the Tanakh and that of “grace” in the New Covenant in which “Old Testament law” is superceded by “Christ’s law.” Similarly, many adherents to covenant theology, although sympathetic to the idea that the Tanakh’s “moral law” is still in effect, would see continued Jewish observance as car­rying on the “ceremonial law,” which has been replaced by the New Covenant.55 Against these views, Messianic Jews assert the contin­ued validity of keeping elements of Torah to demonstrate that God’s promises and covenant with Israel are still in effect. As the UMJC Doctrinal Statement says: “As Jewish followers of Yeshua, we are called to maintain our Jewish biblical heritage and remain a part of our people Israel and the universal body of believers. This is part of our identity and a witness to the faithfulness of God.”56 The practice of Torah is a central issue within Messianic Jewish theology and has been debated widely, both between Messianic Jews and their evan­gelical counterparts as well as within their own circles. This topic will be addressed further in subsequent sections. At the present, it suffices to say that Messianic Jews are united against evangelicalism in regarding the keeping of Jewish practices as an important part of their identity.

Furthermore, Messianic Jews generally criticize Gentile church culture. They often make the claim that many Christian traditions have pagan roots, unlike the Jewish traditions Messianic Jews fol­low. The UMJC website states, “It is wrong and unscriptural to force Gentile church culture upon the Jewish people as a requirement for believing in their own Messiah. While it is right and proper for other cultures to be allowed to practice their culture after coming to faith in Yeshua, much of Jewish culture comes directly from the Scriptures, and has a firm Biblical foundation lacking in other cul­tures.” 57 Not only is it implied that Gentile culture is straying from the biblical example but also that evangelicalism could learn a more authentic biblical worship style from Messianic Judaism. Evangelicals also notice this trait in Messianic Judaism. In 1998, an article in Christianity Today covered Messianic Judaism, character­izing it in the following way: “What exactly is a Messianic Jew? The one constant is a desire to strip away centuries of Gentile accre-tions.”58 For some Messianic Jews, these accretions include the creeds of historic Christianity: while some reject them outright, many others accept their Christological formulations as biblical, even if distancing themselves from the anti-Semitic context in which they were formed. According to Mark Kinzer of the UMJC, there is much ambivalence in Messianic Judaism about church creeds, including outright hostility in some quarters.59 Furthermore, few Messianic Jewish sources deal with the issues of the relationship with the Gentile church and the corporate history, destiny and mission of the whole body of believers, but instead focus on the specific mission and destiny of Messianic Jews.60

Another element that reinforces the separation of Messianic Judaism from evangelicalism is the rejection of traditional Christian terminology. The term “Christian,” is a Greek term and seen as Gentile in orientation, thus rendering it inappropriate for Messianic Jews. According to the UMJC website and other Messianic Jewish sources, the term “Christian” was first used in Antioch to refer to Gentile believers (Acts 11:26) and was never used for Jewish believers. Similarly, the Greek terms “Jesus” and “Christ” are sub­stituted for with “Yeshua” and “Messiah,” which are also thought to be more accommodating for non-Messianic Jews who may have bad associations with the former terms because of the persecution by Christians inflicted on Jews throughout history.

The Mjaa Versus The Umjc

Although the MJAA and UMJC are united in certain aspects of self-definition, the historic separation of the UMJC from the MJAA has also led to divergent approaches within the two groups. The MJAA’s response to the creation of the UMJC was rather negative: “Unfortunately, some of those involved in the Alliance could not wait and decided to form their own organization, the UMJC. Sadly, this has created much misunderstanding and division in the move­ment, as had been predicted by Martin Chernoff.”61 The division was apparent enough that when the MJAA was ready to form a congre­gational branch, it did not join the UMJC. Some scholars recognize this divergence: Shoshana Feher, for instance, describes the two as “competing denominations.”62 Others minimize their differences, as does a Christianity Today article, stating, “The MJAA and UMJC are close in Spirit, with relatively similar visions and virtually identical practice. The personal division in 1979 has since been addressed and healed.”63 In contrast, a leader at Beth Yeshua in Philadelphia, the central congregation of the MJAA, characterized the split in more stark terms, explaining that there were key leaders who, raised nominally Jewish, began to go “overboard” on Jewish prac­tices: laying tefillin, wearing tzitzit and conducting services entire­ly in Hebrew. These leaders, believing such developments appropri­ate, left to found their own congregational organization, the UMJC.64 Thus according to some in the MJAA, not only had the cre­ation of a separate organization been too hasty, but the people who split off were also leading Messianic Judaism into a form of legal­ism. Yet, as Harris-Shapiro chronicles, a statement of reconciliation was reached between the MJAA and UMJC in the early nineties. As a result, she claims, “no longer does the MJAA have to see itself as the ‘party of reason’ historically opposed to the ‘party of Jewish fanati­cism” that the UMJC represented in the past.”65

It is certainly the case that outright hostilities have lessened between the Alliance and the Union. Another step towards reconcil­iation was made in 1996, when a formal meeting took place between the two groups in which they agreed on a joint policy on establish­ing new congregations, resolving conflict, and receiving people who are under discipline, having been reprimanded by a church.66 The agreements were made chiefly to set up means for conflict resolu­tion in cases where the two groups come into competition, as when one organization plants a congregation in a city where the other already has one established. Thus cooperation together has been motivated more by a desire to avoid conflict than to foster greater ties between the two groups. The current General Secretary of the UMJC, Russell Resnik, described the communication between the two organizations as “cordial.”67

One clear difference between the two groups is the MJAA’s greater willingness to identify officially with evangelical move­ments. MJAA members and congregations, for instance, have affili­ated themselves with the popular Promise Keeper movement. Recent Promise Keepers rallies have begun with Messianic Jewish leaders, including David Chernoff, Beth Yeshua’s congregational leader, blowing the shofar.68 David Chernoff also appeared at the “Washington for Jesus” Rally in 1980, and members of Beth Yeshua worked for Pat Robertson’s election campaign.69 Beth Yeshua in par­ticular has clear ties with the larger charismatic community. In the late 1990s, at the time of the “Toronto Blessing,” a revival move­ment of intense charismatic signs and fervor, members of the com­munity traveled to Toronto to study the phenomenon. One of the catalysts of the movement, Randy Clark, was also co-sponsored by Beth Yeshua to lead revival meetings in the Philadelphia area.70 Beth Yeshua’s assistant rabbi even moved to Toronto to start a con­gregation at the source of the revival. Martin Chernoff was also said to have often quoted Charles Finney’s Revival Lectures, drawing on one of the forefathers of modern evangelicalism.71 Scholar David Rausch confirms these links to evangelicalism, asserting that in most cases, the Alliance’s theology is that of the Fundamentalist/ Evangelical movement: “The hundreds of tapes of conference speakers at the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America’s annual meet­ings would document this fact.”72

By contrast, the Union is more reluctant to link itself with evan­gelicalism. In my interviews with UMJC congregational leaders, each leader stressed how his congregation was seeking to “mature” away from evangelicalism, a topic I discuss in depth below. Tony Eaton told a story of how a respected non-Messianic author, Mark Nanos, who had a “refreshing Jewish approach to Paul” had been invited to speak to a group of Messianic Jews.73 Nanos, according to Eaton, told them frankly that they were “a bunch of evangelical Christians.” He advised them to “stop asking the Christian ques­tions” and start asking their own. According to Eaton, that has been his task ever since.74 Throughout this discussion, it will become evi­dent that the UMJC’s greater desire to disassociate from evangeli­calism underlies many of the distinctions between the two groups.
The UMJC’s plans for a seminary are indicative of another con­trast between the two groups.75 Speaking of the Alliance, Mark Kinzer and Tony Eaton explain that the UMJC is more disposed to theological reflection than the Alliance. Kinzer explains the Alliance’s distance from theologizing by noting its identity as an “end-times revivalist movement whose millenarianism doesn’t leave lots of space for scholarship. They probably think that they have more important things to do. They are also part of a revivalist tradition that is suspicious of scholarship, of what they would see as the danger of liberal influences.” 76 Eaton adds that there are few people concerned with scholarly pursuits in the Alliance.77 As dis­cussed earlier, anti-intellectualism has often characterized the Fundamentalist movement in its suspicions of Modernist scholar­ship. Similar attitudes were present within Neo-Pentecostalism as it merged with the evangelicalism of the 1960s. Generalizing from her experience with Beth Yeshua, Carol Harris-Shapiro writes, “As Messianic believers often repeat, it is heart knowledge that is important, not head knowledge.”78 Harris-Shapiro sees this anti-intellectualism as another way of tying Messianic Judaism to evan­gelicalism: “Anti-intellectualism, an American, popular evangelical and counter-cultural value seems far more persuasive than the value of intellectual achievement in Judaism.”79 Alliance members Joe Finkelstein (assistant rabbi of Beth Yeshua) and Rob Kirsch confirm this characterization. Kirsch emphasizes that he and other leaders “are mostly pragmatists. We go with what works, and worry about the theory later. We don’t do much theologizing-no one is going to care whether you’re Calvinist or Arminian. We don’t think in those terms. Those who are writing ‘Theology’ are somewhat out of the mainstream.”80 One of the ways in which the Union orients itself against this popular evangelical trend is by a dedication to producing a distinctly Messianic Jewish theology, evident in written works and teaching tools for the next generation. The substance of this theology will be discussed in subsequent sections.

The Alliance is not only more typically evangelical/charismatic than the Union in its attitude towards theology, but also in its self-presentation. In contrast to the Union, the Alliance presents its existence as inextricably linked to Jewish end time revival, harken­ing back to its evangelical, dispensational origins. As previously mentioned, the MJAA’s statement of faith includes sections on prophecy and the end time, absent in the UMJC document. A com­parison of two documents that introduce the IAMCS and the UMJC, a web page on the former and a pamphlet on the latter, highlights each group’s concerns in self-presentation. The IAMCS, the MJAA’s fellowship organization of Messianic Jewish congregations, describes itself in dramatic, charismatic terms: unlike “other organ­izations,” apparently alluding to the UMJC, the Alliance is “more than an organization” and “is in fact a Spiritual force, a dynamic divine power that has wrought miracles of grace in the hearts of countless Messianic believers…Men may start an organization, but God starts a movement.”81 The implication is all too clear: whereas the UMJC was started by men, the MJAA is a God-led “Spiritual force.” The theme of revival is repeated five times in this presenta­tion: once as quoted, once in describing the reason for the group’s creation, once in capital letters in a list of purposes of the group (“to work together with Messianic congregations and Messianic pastors to encourage G-d’s great ENDTIME JEWISH REVIVAL”), once in speaking of the Alliance’s understanding of Jewish revival since its inception in 1915, and finally in an appeal to join the Alliance, to be part of the vision the Alliance has for Jewish revival, and to labor together “until the Messiah Yeshua returns.”82

In contrast, the themes of the UMJC pamphlet seem to counter­balance those of the IAMCS. Although there is a brief mention of the growing numbers of believers after the Jewish victory in the 1967 war and the connection with prophetic fulfillment, the theme of prophe­cy is minimal compared with other concerns. The achievement of the UMJC is to have “brought stability, focus, and fruitfulness to the grass roots movement of Messianic Judaism for two decades.”83 In Weberian terms, the UMJC perceived the need to harness the spiritu­al energies of the young movement into a more manageable, bureau­cratized form. Whereas the MJAA prides itself in its resistance to becoming a “stable” movement, calling itself a “Spiritual force,” the UMJC defines itself according to its ability to become just that. Instead of the theme of revival, the UMJC document stresses the theme of credibility. In a short section of four paragraphs describing the benefits of UMJC membership, the word “credible” appears in three of the paragraphs. The biblical standards of doctrine and polity required of member congregations is seen to enhance their “credi­bility and impact,” and Union membership as a whole helps a con­gregation in “advancing a credible Messianic Judaism,” for “the UMJC has established a reputation for excellence in pursuing a dynamic and credible Messianic Judaism.”84 But what does “credible” mean? The UMJC is clear on what it does not mean. “Not charismatic churches with kippas,” explains Russell Resnik, the General Secretary of the UMJC.85 “Not evangelicalism with a little Judaism,” echoes Eaton.86 The dialectic between the Union’s “credible” form of Judaism versus the Alliance’s role as an end-time revivalist movement is worked out in many areas of belief and practice.

Messianic Jewish Historiography

Until now the Alliance and the Union have been examined both in official ties to evangelicalism and distinctions with and similarities to one another. The rest of this article will flesh out these distinc­tions within areas of concern for each group that are not as direct­ly discernible from official documents or histories of the move­ment. Within these next sections I rely mainly on Messianic Jewish literature and personal interviews with Messianic Jewish leaders to examine some key issues of Messianic Jewish identity and ritual.

First, I address Messianic Jewish historiography. History is a tricky subject for Messianic Jews, as there are two divergent and often conflicting histories against which they must orient them­selves, the Jewish and the Christian. Once again the question aris­es of identification with the Christian versus the Jewish communi­ty. The ways each group (the MJAA, as well as different strands with­in the UMJC), seek to resolve these tensions give great insight into how they relate to evangelicalism and to each other. While there is overlap in their approaches, I shall argue that the broad themes of the Alliance’s involvement with revivalism and prophecy, elements that link it directly with modern evangelicalism, versus the Union’s concern with an authentic, viable form of Judaism, are again dis­cernible in each group’s approach to history. While the MJAA relates to history in terms of a romanticized past and an intense prophet­ic, eschatological present and future, avoiding some of the com­plexities of their own history in the process, the Union engages in an interpretive process that attempts to streamline the complexities of its history for affinity with traditional Judaism.

The Mjaa View Of History

The website for congregation Beth Yeshua states, “Messianic Judaism is a spiritual renaissance, a revival, a return to the faith as the Messianic Jews had in the first century, unencumbered by the traditions of men. It is a return to a pure and simple faith based upon having a living, vibrant and personal relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through the Messiah Yeshua.”87 Two key words from this statement serve to encapsulate the Alliance’s views of history: return and revival. The return is to a time before the corruption and anti-Semitism of the church wiped out the line of faithful Messianic Jews through its assimilationist policies. It is a return to the golden age of true biblical faith as expressed in its original Jewish context. The revival refers to the re­emergence of Messianic Judaism in this latter day as promised in prophetic writings of the Scriptures as a signal of the end time. The revival is confirmed by events in many believers’ own lifetimes, specifically the re-founding of the State of Israel in 1948 and the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967. By contrast, Jewish and Christian history between the grand peaks of salvation history in the distant past and in the present is less filled with the presence of Holy Spirit than it is tainted with the vain “traditions of men.” As Harris-Shapiro rightly notes, this placement of historical authen­ticity before the break between Judaism and Christianity is an attempt to transcend the effect of being pulled into two conflicting histories.88 The Alliance thus draws its theological lineage directly back to the first century believers in Yeshua.

At the same time, the Alliance cannot escape historical contex­tualization, for the themes of return and revival link the Alliance with specific Christian historical movements.89 The Alliance mirrors the primitivist, revivalist tendencies of evangelicalism in its ties with charismatic theology. Charismatic Christians see their move­ment as a revival of biblical Christianity-their goal is to repeat the original pattern laid out especially after Pentecost, when the early Christians were filled with the Holy Spirit and experienced the gifts of tongues, healing, and prophecy. The Alliance’s historic primi­tivism, that is, their claim to return to the golden age that preced­ed all the corruptions of history, allows them to turn one of their greatest theological liabilities, their discontinuity with historic Christianity (and Judaism), into an asset.90 In a similar way, the his­toriography of the Alliance seeks to bridge the historical gap between Christianity and Judaism through a claim of the antiquity of the movement: Messianic Judaism is at once the Ur-form of Christianity and biblical “Ur-Judaism.” Innovations are not reject­ed, however, as new forms such as “Davidic dance” and worship songs stemming from the Jesus movement times are readily incor­porated into a service of mixed elements from past and present.91 On the one hand, it is seen as an ancient movement; on the other hand, it is innovative and daring.92 Further elements of this mix of old and new will be seen in the ritual life of MJAA congregations.

With the theme not only of return, but of revival, also comes an emphasis on prophecy: God is pouring out his Spirit especially on this time in history in which much of his promises are being fulfilled. The present is a gateway into the end time, and thus the present takes on an eschatological character. This aspect of the movement also links the Alliance to trends within church history. As Donald Dayton argues, “often more spirit-oriented movements in the history of the church have a particular fascination with prophetic and apocalyptic themes.” 93 The stress on prophetic revival also fits in well with the themes of premillenial dispensationalism out of which the Alliance developed. An end time Jewish revival is expected and believed to mark the beginning of the eschaton.

The Umjc and History

The UMJC has a more complex and diversified relationship with its roots in history. A variety of Messianic Jewish authors adhere to what I will term “modified restorationism,” with the MJAA’s view qualifying as “full restorationism.” Modified restorationists distin­guish themselves from evangelical-charismatic primitivism by a more positive relation to history, especially the history of Rabbinic Judaism. In this way, one of the implicit goals of the UMJC is achieved, which is a rapprochement with historic Judaism. At the same time, certain marks of this view of history still show ties to primitivism, for the later history is often justified by its ties with the golden age of the apostolic era. One example appears in Barney Kasdan’s God’s Appointed Customs: A Messianic Jewish Guide to the Biblical Lifecycle and Lifestyle. Kasdan, past President of the UMJC, is a congregational leader and the Western Regional Director of the UMJC. The back cover of the book explains that God’s appointed customs can be part of anyone’s life, Jew or Gentile. Such customs are especially relevant to believers in the Messiah, since Yeshua himself observed them.94 One example is the tradition of Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Quoting Luke 2, Kasdan explains, “the most detailed account of a Bar Mitzvah in the Bible is actually in the New Testament, at the Bar Mitzvah ceremony for Messiah Yeshua.” 95 The term “Bar-Mitzvah” to denote the ceremony when young Jews take on religious and legal obligations, however, first appears in the fif­teenth century, in Sefer Ziyyoni of Rabbi Menahem Ziyonni.96 Various references from the second and third centuries C.E. refer to the responsibility placed upon a Jewish youth at the age of thirteen to fulfill all the commandments, but this refers to legal obligations and not to a Torah-reading ceremony.97 There is no historical evi­dence that Yeshua or his contemporaries celebrated such a ceremo­ny. Yet this anachronism allows Kasdan to re-create Yeshua in the image of the perfectly observant rabbinic Jew. As a result, the dis­crepancies between Yeshua and the later rabbis are minimized, since Yeshua was already practicing their traditions. Having anchored rabbinic custom in the golden age of Yeshua’s life and practice, Kasdan can then more confidently assert that “much can be learned from the historical writings of the rabbis.”98 Avner Boskey attributes this anachronistic tendency among certain Messianic Jewish writers to an unqualified acceptance of modern Jewish consensus or folk history, though the folk history is in this case lacking historical foundation.99

John Fischer, one of the founders of the UMJC, also conforms to modified restorationism, albeit of a more sophisticated kind. In the article, “The Place of Rabbinic Tradition in a Messianic Jewish Lifestyle,” Fischer argues that Yeshua lived according to the tradi­tions of the rabbis and that much of his teaching was in line with theirs. Fischer is confident that many of the rabbinic traditions were “definitely” in place during the Second Temple period.100 Yet the extent to which rabbinic customs were already practiced in the Second Temple Period is disputed. The earliest rabbinic writings date to the Mishnah of the early third century, and although they record the sayings and customs of first-century rabbis, scholars are divided on how much one can use Mishnaic and Talmudic materi­als as reliable sources for the earlier centuries.101 As Samuel Sandmel comments, “The earliest rabbinic collections, which con­tain the oldest material, were written down two centuries after Jesus. The material in the collections includes some which undoubtedly antedates Jesus-but to separate the layers in the rab­binic literature is a task of great delicacy, and one which has yield­ed, for the few which have tried, no abundant agreement.”102 Another important consideration for these later materials is that the rabbis were writing at a time when the Natzratayim were a competing sect. Scholars often assume that the later rabbis were conscious of and reacting against Natzrati interpretations when codifying law and constructing a post-temple Judaism.103  Fischer vehemently disputes this interpretation, stating that “Much of the Talmud predates Yeshua, parallels his teaching, and was respected by Yeshua… . Therefore, most of the Talmud cannot be an attack on Yeshua and Messianic Judaism; it is too early.”104 Fischer’s concern is not only to harmonize the later rabbinical teachings with Yeshua’s teachings, but also to minimize the disputes between Yeshua and the rabbis’ predecessors, the Pharisees. Fischer goes so far as to say that “it would not be inappropriate to describe Yeshua as a Pharisee in good standing.”105 For in general, the Pharisees had a good understanding of the grace of God, a strong grasp of the Scriptures, a concern for piety and purity, and a right heart attitude towards God. The New Testament criticism is only directed at a few among the larger group.106 In this way, Fischer attributes to the Pharisees the qualities of a good Messianic Jew, making Yeshua the ideal proto-rabbi and Messianic Jew at once.

Fischer’s concluding remarks further grant insight into the UMJC’s distinctive attitude towards the past, aligning itself more with Jewish history than the MJAA. He exhorts the Messianic Jewish community:

We say we are proud of our Jewish heritage and want to preserve it, yet we continually castigate “the Rabbis” who form the basis of that heritage! Doing this is shooting ourselves in the foot. We need to grow up and take the many good things “the Rabbis” offer, rather than leave the very pre­sumptuous impression that we are the only good Jewish people.107

Fischer is very aware of the friction created by Messianic Judaism disassociating itself from Jewish history; he thus seeks to bridge the gap between the two groups. While there is still affinity with prim­itivist claims in the form of rooting rabbinic practice in the “gold­en” age of Yeshua, Fischer distances himself from the MJAA and its full restorationism by avoiding the claim that everything after Yeshua was corrupt and that Messianic Jews are representing the biblical faith that other groups have lost. Instead, he establishes continuity with the rabbis, who are also among the “good Jewish people.” Nevertheless, this relationship with Jewish history and the rabbis is only secured by downplaying the historical development of rabbinic Judaism, which quickly matured away from its common roots with the Natzratayim.

Other scholars on whom Messianic Jews, especially of the UMJC, draw (as evident on book tables in congregations) include Brad Young, author of Jesus the Jewish Theologian, and David Bivin and Roy Blizzard, authors of Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus. These authors make more subtle, but related argu­ments, asserting that Yeshua can be understood by studying the rabbis. Young maintains that “the realm of Jesus’ theology is dis­covered within his community of faith. The passport for entry into that intriguing world is an understanding of the rabbinic mind.”108 Again the distinction between the Second Temple period in which Yeshua lived and the post-Temple period in which Oral Torah was first codified is minimized. Bivin and Blizzard go further, claiming that Yeshua was thoroughly versed in the Written and Oral Torah, and that he followed rabbinic custom and taught in parables.109 All these arguments reinforce the idea that there is continuity between Yeshua and Jewish history and that Messianic Jews have a rightful place within this Jewish history-though that history is seen through a first century lens.

Another voice within the UMJC distances itself even further from restorationism by advocating a more active engagement with both Jewish and Christian history throughout the ages. Nevertheless, this position still carries elements of restorationism by streamlining the relationship between Natzratayim and Pharisees in the first century, which provides a basis for identifying with later Jewish tradition.110 Mark Kinzer is one of the central fig­ures advocating this position, arguing that Messianic Jews have no continuous interpretive tradition of their own, but “share in the heritage of two communities-Jewish and Christian-each of which possesses a rich and continuous tradition of biblical inter­pretation and lived faith.”111 The time since the writing of New Covenant period is not vilified, but seen as a source of knowledge. The Jewish and Christian traditions both bear truth and error; the Jewish community has a long history of engagement with the Hebrew Bible, and the “Messianic” community carried the Apostolic writings and interpretations thereof faithfully throughout the cen-turies.112 It is the task of Messianic Judaism to enter into dialogue with each tradition, yet especially with the Jewish tradition. Kinzer criticizes the restorationist approach that claims an unmediated relationship with the first century faith: “we are claiming a mean­ingful relationship with the entirety of the Jewish tradition, not just to a Jewish world which passed away with the destruction of the Jerusalem temple and which is now accessible only through the speculative reconstructions of scholars.”113 Equally unacceptable to Kinzer is the thought that “Judaism ceased to exist with the extinc­tion of the early Messianic Jewish communities, and only returned to the world with the emergence of the 1960s Jesus movement.”114 Michael Schiffman, UMJC Yeshiva lecturer, and Professor of Rabbinic Literature at the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute, echoes this criticism, stating that it would be incorrect to claim a direct connection between modern day Messianic Jewish congrega­tions and the early Messianic Jewish believers, for “Judaism and Jewish culture have changed.”115 The goal of Messianic Judaism is to have a voice within modern Judaism. In the words of former UMJC Northeast Director Tony Eaton, “it is not our goal to mirror first century practice, we are not denying two-thousand years of Jewish history.”116

In addition to setting itself apart from the MJAA’s restorationist view of history, the UMJC also distances itself from the former’s revivalist, end time focus. While the UMJC would agree that the events of 1948 and 1967 signal prophetic fulfillment, it is less inclined to draw eschatological conclusions these occurrences. As Mark Kinzer explains, “Most of the leaders of the UMJC do not tend to be preoccupied with end time speculation or enthusiasm. We do have a general sense of being in a new phase in history with the establishment of Israel-which has eschatological implications. But you don’t see the detailed eschatological scenarios in the Union as elsewhere. Many are agnostic about eschatology.”117 In the anthology Voices of Messianic Judaism, UMJC past president Richard Nichol, argues against the eschatological emphasis of many Messianic Jews (prevalent particularly in the MJAA). His chapter entitled “Are We Really at the End of the End Times? A Reappraisal” presents the case that Messianic Jews should be critical toward the evangelical theology that considers us to be living in the end time already. He exhorts Messianic Jews to embrace living in the tension between a good world the God of Israel has made, while looking for­ward to the eventual and assured fulfillment of God’s promises.118 He advocates a more “biblical/Jewish emphasis on the goodness of creation and thus, our role in the Created Order.”119

Tony Eaton explains the distinction from the MJAA as a shift in perspective in interpreting the signs of the times:

The MJAA definitely has a more charismatic, prophetic streak. In the UMJC, there’s the sense that Messiah’s coming may not be around the corner, therefore we need a trans-generational movement. In the 1970s, I didn’t think we’d make it to the turn of the century, that I wouldn’t reach my forties. Now we see that the world is not so different than it was, and it could be a long time until the Messiah’s coming. So we needed to build religious institutions. The Union shifted focus to building infrastructure, building a religious community with a cogent theology . . .120

While the MJAA, like many other prophecy-oriented, millenarian movements, responded to the delay of the end time with a contin­ued fervency of expectation, the UMJC responded differently. Once again the terminology of Weber is applicable, for Eaton’s words tes­tify to a shift from the fluid, revivalist roots of the movement to the UMJC’s “bureaucratization” in emphasizing the need to plan ahead and think about the next generation. Theology became an impor­tant concern as the children were to be taught in the specific Messianic Jewish faith.

Interest in theology also led members of the UMJC to form Hashivenu, an organization promoting spiritual maturity and Jewish authenticity in Messianic Judaism. Those involved include Mark Kinzer and Richard Nichol (on the Hashivenu board), Stuart Dauermann, Michael Schiffman and Paul Saal (co-founders), and Tony Eaton, who is a supporter of the group and sometimes attends Hashivenu meetings. Core principles of the organization include statements such as: “Messianic Judaism is a Judaism, and not a cos­metically altered ‘Jewish-style’ version of what is extant in the wider Christian community,” “The Jewish people are ‘us’ and not ‘them,'” and “The richness of rabbinic tradition is a valuable part of our her­itage as Jewish people.”121 We will discuss the specific theology of Hashivenu in sections to follow, but here, in the context of the UMJC’s historical understanding, it suffices to say that one of the clear goals of this group is to identify more fully with the Jewish community, both historically and in the present. Thus repudiation of historical restorationism and revivalism is one way that the UMJC and (often in overlap) Hashivenu, create more room to link themselves with the current Jewish community and thereby dis­tance themselves from evangelicalism.

Messianic Jewish RitualWhy Consider Ritual?

Another area in which MJAA and UMJC find ways to express their differing loyalties is in the realm of ritual. Since the Messianic Jewish congregation stands at the center of the Messianic Jewish faith, its practices are an effective gage of each organization’s atti­tudes toward evangelicalism. Ritual serves to create in-groups and out-groups: it divides people within a congregation from those out­side and also separates members of an individual congregation. What is the primary out-group created in representative MJAA and UMJC congregations? Is it the evangelical community or the Jewish community? The rituals of circumcision and water immersion are especially relevant for these questions, as each represents the pri­mary means of entering into a faith community, the first tradition­ally for the Jews, the second for Christians. In Messianic Judaism both are practiced, and the rituals create affinity with or distance from one or the other faith community. Bar/Bat Mitzvah can be seen as parallel to adult baptism or confirmation in that they also function as entrance rituals into the community, in this case when a child of the congregation comes of age. Teenagers are trained in certain beliefs and practices to prepare them for active participation in the congregation, and in the case of Jewish tradition, it is at this point that they come to be held accountable to the commandments of God. What does it mean within a Messianic Jewish congregation to be accountable to Torah? As Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a post-biblical tradition, it can also be examined as an indicator of UMJC and MJAA approaches toward Jewish tradition as a whole. Within this exami­nation of life cycle events, I focus particularly on the use of a ritual by one community to draw near to the other community. For instance, it is clear that the ritual of circumcision can be used to identify with Jews rather than evangelicals. But here I discuss how circumcision is used to create continuity with evangelicalism with­in a central MJAA congregation. Similarly, immersion is a ritual that ties an individual to the whole body of believers in the Messiah, that is, mainly the Christian church. Yet in the following section, I examine how a UMJC congregation finds ways to recreate this tra­ditionally Christian ritual into a form that is more compatible with traditional Judaism. Finally, I analyze the ritual of Bar/Bat Mitzvah in light of these two trends of creating continuity or discontinuity, relating the issues to differences in approach toward Jewish tradi­tion as a whole.

Beth Yeshuas Circumcision Ceremony: Finding The Spiritual In The Physical

Beth Yeshua, Philadelphia PA, (a leading MJAA congregation), is the only Messianic Jewish congregation in the nation with its own Messianic mohel. Rob Kirsch is an active member of the congrega­tion, performing circumcisions not only for Beth Yeshua but also for children in other Messianic Jewish congregations. Before Kirsch, there were usually two options for parents who wanted to have their children circumcised: either a non-Messianic mohel was called upon, in which case the faith of the parents would often have to be kept hidden for the mohel to agree, or the circumcision was performed in the hospital, and the rabbi would do a short ceremo­ny at home, separate from the circumcision itself.122 Neither solu­tion was ideal. For most congregations, however, including those of Mark Kinzer and Tony Eaton of the UMJC, these continue to be the only available options. While members and leaders of Beth Yeshua considered this lack a big issue at the time, Kinzer and Eaton express little concern about their congregations not having Messianic mohelim. Both see the traditional service as sufficient. Kinzer explains that his congregation does not have a distinctive Messianic Jewish approach to circumcision; for as in a traditional service, the child is being brought into the covenant of Israel.123 Kinzer and Eaton use a Conservative madrich, the rabbinical man­ual for life cycle events. “I don’t make up a Messianic circumcision, why should I?” echoes Eaton.124

A traditional Jewish circumcision takes place in the home with the mohel, rabbi, invited family and friends. The baby boy is passed from the godmother, the kvatterin, to the godfather, the kvatter, to the person who puts the baby on what is called the kiseh Eliyahu chair (“throne of Elijah”). There are various interpretations given for the presence of this chair, the usual explanation is that Eliyahu is the messenger of the covenant mentioned in the prophet Malachi. As such, he invisibly supervises every circumcision, every initiation into the covenant of Abraham; thus a seat must be pro­vided for him. It is also possible that at its inception, the custom symbolized the hope that the child himself would prove to be Eliyahu, so he is seated on the chair just in case.125 Another desig­nated person then hands the child to his father, who gives the baby to the sandek, the person who holds the baby during the circumci­sion. During the circumcision itself, the father recites a blessing concerning God’s commandment to bring Israel’s sons into the covenant with Abraham.126 Afterwards, more blessings are recited and the child is given a Hebrew name.

By contrast, Beth Yeshua’s circumcision ceremony has a dis­tinctly Messianic flavor, taking away elements of the traditional serv­ice and adding its own Messianic elements. The mohel Rob Kirsch and Beth Yeshua’s rabbis, David Chernoff and Joe Finkelstein, also take the freedom to adapt or shorten the ceremony as needed, as when the family does not know Hebrew or if the child is crying. A permanent adaptation involves the use of the kvatter and kvatterin, as well as the throne of Eliyahu. Leaders of Beth Yeshua de-mystify these rabbinic traditions and expose them as folkloric, deeming them inappropriate for a ceremony that seeks to go back to its bibli­cal, Messianic roots. Kirsch explains that the tradition of the kvatter and kvatterin originated in Polish Jewish tradition in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, and thus can be dismissed. Stronger words are reserved for the tradition of the throne of Eliyahu: “We’ve dumped the whole section with the presence of Elijah, because it’s a fairy tale. It comes from a Gaonic commentary, a midrash from the ninth or tenth century . . . It’s an irrelevant superstition that has no Scriptural basis.”127 I discuss the views of the MJAA versus the UMJC regarding Jewish tradition in a section to follow, but for the moment, Kirsch’s words are notable for their harshness towards rab­binic tradition. Clearly he sees no need to spare the rabbis-he has no nostalgia for their traditions when they lack biblical warrant. Instead, the circumcision service is marked primarily by readings of Scripture from the Tanakh and New Covenant. The rejection of rab­binic traditions customary to circumcision in the Jewish communi­ty is thus one way Beth Yeshua creates distance from the Jewish community and affinity with evangelicalism, which seeks to draw on the Scriptures as the sole source of authority.

Beth Yeshua’s circumcision ceremony also creates a bridge to evangelicalism through Messianic additions to the event. The serv­ice is structured such that there is a gradual progression in focus from the physical to the spiritual. The first Scriptures read come from Genesis 17, in which God instituted the covenant with Abraham and circumcision as the sign of this everlasting covenant. Next, there is a reading of Deuteronomy 30:6, in which God prom­ises to circumcise the heart, so that the people of Israel may love the Lord with all of their hearts and souls, as well as Deuteronomy 6:5 and 6:7, in which Israel is exhorted to teach their children God’s commandments.128 In the order of the service, Kirsch then announces that “this covenant and circumcision presages and reflects a better covenant and circumcision to come,” which is fol­lowed by a reading of Jeremiah 31:31-34, a classic text regarding the promise of the New Covenant to come when the Torah will be writ­ten on the hearts of the house of Israel and its sins will be forgiv­129 By this point in the service, even before any explicit reading from the New Covenant, the contrast is clear between the insuffi­ciencies of the physical as compared to the spiritual. The physical circumcision, although it is an eternal sign, ultimately points to a better spiritual reality. Kirsch then proclaims that “through the atoning work of Messiah Yeshua, we are permanently circumcised in our hearts,” and reads Colossians 2:11,13 which speaks of the spiritual circumcision of the Messiah: “In whom you are circum­cised with the circumcision performed without hands, putting off the body of the sins of the flesh through the circumcision of Messiah . . . And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumci­sion of your flesh, has He made alive together with Him, having for­given all of your transgressions.” These verses sharply contrast the physical, in which there is death in sin, with the spiritual circumci­sion of Messiah. The worthlessness of the physical without the spir­itual is stark-without the Messiah, there is death; with him, there is life and forgiveness of sins. Explaining the service, Kirsch adds,

The physical failed, so in the New Covenant, God established the circum­cision of the heart. It is not that the covenant itself failed, but that the people bound to it failed because they were unable to keep the law. The law was there partly to show their inability and need for a better covenant. This covenant is God’s free will offering through mercy-it doesn’t depend on our behavior. Once we accept it, the behavioral stuff occurs, but by grace.130

Kirsch’s statement reflects classic elements of evangelical thought, especially of Lutheran inspired evangelicalism. First there is the emphasis on salvation by grace, not by the keeping of Torah. Second, he implies that the purpose of Torah can be understood only in light of the New Covenant. The life and customs of Israel in Tanakh serve as illustrations for believers in the New Covenant, especially concerning their sin and inability to keep God’s Torah. So not only are all the Tanakh citations within the ceremony relevant primarily for their foreshadowing effect, but the insufficiency of the old versus the new is paramount. It follows that a non-Messianic circumcision ceremony would be just a shadow of a true circumci­sion, which Messianic Jews alone experience. Although both Rob Kirsch and Joe Finkelstein affirm that non-Messianic Jews are still entering the Abrahamic covenant by traditional circumcision, there is a clear break between Messianic Jews and other Jews who do not practice “completed” Judaism.

After the didactic elements of the circumcision ceremony, the rest of the service follows the structure of a traditional Jewish serv­ice, besides the omissions already noted. Nevertheless, there are certain Messianic additions in this part as well. After the circumci­sion has been performed and the father has recited the blessing stating that God has sanctified his people by his commandments and commanded them regarding circumcision, a blessing is said over the child. In a traditional Jewish service, the blessing after the circumcision (and for the naming of the child) asks God to make the child enter into the study of the Torah, the wedding canopy, and to good deeds. Kirsch says “the Holy Scriptures” instead of “Torah,” thus including the New Covenant, and adds “and faith in the Messiah” to the end. From the evangelical understanding of Torah, without the faith in the Messiah of the New Covenant, the doing of good deeds is impossible. Works can only please God in faith, thus belief in the Messiah is central. Another addition found in the nam­ing ceremony is the request of God that “his circumcision be not just of the flesh, but of the heart and spirit.” The insufficiency of the flesh is again contrasted with the fullness of the spiritual circumci­sion, possible only in the Messiah. In this way a ceremony Beth Yeshua has in common with traditional Judaism, which seeks to affirm God’s eternal promises to the Jewish people, becomes a vehi­cle for emphasizing the Jews’ need for the Messiah, a traditional evangelical concern.

Water Immersion: Establishing A Jewish Connection

Unlike circumcision, immersion is a specifically New Covenant command, making ties to Jewish tradition difficult. In traditional evangelicalism, baptism is what unites the Christian to Yeshua’s life, death, and resurrection, making him or her a member of the universal body of Messiah. While there is both an individual ele­ment and corporate element to the rite within evangelical theology, at least in the case of believer’s baptism versus infant baptism, the focus is often more on the individual and his profession of faith. What happens in a Messianic Jewish context when there may be ambivalence about identifying with the greater body or evangelical­ism? Is there an emphasis on the distinction between believer and non-believer or does Jewishness remain a central issue?

At Beth Yeshua, immersion takes place once a year at the annu­al MJAA “Messiah” conference, where many MJAA congregations participate. After attending a class about immersion in which the Scriptural prophecies concerning the Messiah are reviewed, people are brought before the crowd to give a short “testimony” of how they each came to faith in Yeshua, a common element in evangeli­cal baptisms. Then the congregational leader prays for them and asks if they believe that “Yeshua” died for their sins and is their Lord and Savior. Hands are laid on those being immersed for prayer again, and they are immersed in the name of the Father, Son and Ruach Hakodesh.131 The setting of a large “revival” conference, the testimonies, and questions before immersion situate Beth Yeshua’s ceremony within the range of standard evangelical practices. By contrast, Tony Eaton and Mark Kinzer, both congregational leaders for congregations affiliated with the UMJC, have developed unique immersion ceremonies that recast it within a Jewish framework.

Tony Eaton of Simchat Yisrael Messianic Jewish Congregation, West Haven, CT, is currently adapting his immersion ceremony because he considers it too Christian. As it stands, the questions for immersion are similar to those of Beth Yeshua: “1. Is Yeshua the Messiah your Lord and redeemer? 2. Do you believe that He died for your sins? 3. Do you believe that He was buried and was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures? 4. Do you believe that He is coming again as He said?132 “I actually hate these questions,” he admits.133 During our discussion, Eaton erased the second from the list, characterizing it as too Christian and explaining that the first question made superfluous the second. According to Eaton, Christian baptism focuses too exclusively on the taking away of sin. He is satisfied with the third question, for even the rabbis say in the Talmud that all Israel has a place in the world to come except those who do not believe in the resurrection from the dead. Unlike Kirsch in his practice of circumcision, Eaton freely draws on Jewish tradi­tion to validate his understanding of theology and ritual. Eaton’s main concern with the questions is that they do not reflect the cen­tral meaning of water immersion: a believer’s identification with Yeshua as he recapitulates the life of Israel in himself. According to Eaton, the beginning of the first Gospel shows how Yeshua mirrors the experiences of Israel, from its exile from the Holy Land, to its return in crossing through the waters, to its temptation in the desert, and receiving of the Torah, in this case, Yeshua’s Torah in the Sermon on the Mount.134 Believers are immersed into the expe­riences of Messiah, including his life, death, and resurrection, but since Yeshua is reliving the experience of Israel, immersion also becomes “our experiencing again the life of Israel.”135 Through this equation of a=b and b=c, so a=c, a Messianic Jew undergoing immersion is thus made to identify not primarily with the univer­sal body of Messiah (predominantly the Gentile church), but with his or her own people, Israel.

At Simchat Yisrael, ” T’vilah (immersion service) begins with traditional Jewish prayers asking for God’s forgiveness, led first by the leader, called the ‘V’hu Rachum.’ ” 136 The congregation then responds with a Davidic corporate confession of sin, the “Vayomer David.” Unlike Beth Yeshua’s immersion service, the focus is more communal: the repentance of the whole congregation is required, not only that of the individuals receiving immersion. Just as the believer identifies with Israel through the Messiah, so here Israel, in the form of the other Messianic Jewish congregants, identifies with the believer in his or her repentance and faith. And while testi­monies of those being immersed are generally a part of the service, they are not central elements of the ceremony.137 The main Scriptural passage cited is that of Ezekiel 36:22-28, which speaks of God’s promise to gather Israel from among the nations and take Israel into its own land. Israel will be given the Spirit of God, a new heart of flesh to replace its heart of stone, and an ability to walk in God’s ordinances.138 While this passage is often interpreted as fore­shadowing the New Covenant and its blessings, there is no progres­sion of verses from the Tanakh to the New Covenant, as there is in Beth Yeshua’s circumcision ceremony. Emphasis is on God’s prom­ises for Israel, not for the whole body of believers in the New Covenant. Immersion is thus recast into a Jewish mold, rather than a primarily Christian one. For the immersion itself, God is thanked for having sanctified believers by faith in Yeshua their Messiah and “commanded us to be immersed.” It is here that the New Covenant is referred to indirectly. After emerging from the water, the person is greeted by the congregation saying the formula: “We testify to your proclamation of faith and together welcome you into the Body of Messiah, in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Ruach HaShem.”139 Rather than laying hands on the person and gently dunking him or her under the water as is customary in baptistic evangelical circles, Eaton has the person go into the water alone, which, he argues, more closely resembles first century practice.

Mark Kinzer of Zera Avraham, Ann Arbor, MI, also understands the theology and practice relevant to water immersion within a par­ticularly Jewish context. According to Kinzer, immersion is an act that identifies the believer with a past occurrence, Yeshua’s death and resurrection, but also with the future world to come, an escha­tological reality that has already been inaugurated in the present.140 Yet a Messianic Jewish immersion service also commits the believ­er to worship and study within a specifically Jewish context and is thus different from evangelical baptism.141 One way that Kinzer makes the specifically Jewish commitment of immersion visible is by placing it within the annual liturgy of Yom Kippur. Even more strongly than Eaton’s service, this sets immersion within a context of communal-rather than individual-repentance. After a prayer based on an appeal to God’s merciful character as revealed in Exodus 34, there is a long confessional prayer, “Ve-al Kulam,” ask­ing for God’s forgiveness and atonement, adapted from Conservative/Orthodox Jewish tradition. Kinzer explains that all English translations are adaptations, as the Hebrew is in alphabeti­cal order, which is difficult to translate, so he has made a specific list of sins appropriate for a Messianic Jewish context. The only sin in the list clearly identifiable as derived from the New Covenant is one that asks forgiveness for not seeking first God’s kingdom, as in Matthew 6:33.142

Three questions are asked of the person to be immersed, dis­tantly related to the evangelical examples previously cited: “1) Do you renounce all evil and seek a life of kedushah-of study, worship, and deeds of loving kindness? 2) Do you believe that Yeshua is the Messiah and Son of God? 3) Will you follow Yeshua and live as his disciple?143 What seems more characteristically Jewish is the order of the questions-the way one ought to live comes before the injunction to believe. For the immersion, Romans 6:3-11 is read, which presents a vivid picture of the believer’s union with Yeshua through being buried into his death by immersion in order to also be raised with him, no longer a slave to sin, having his body of sin destroyed. While the Romans passage could be used to set up a strong contrast between believer and non-believer, between one who is still “enslaved to sin” in “his body of sin” and one who has been raised with Messiah, alive to God, Kinzer speaks of circum­stances in which the contrast is less sharp. For instance, in the case of a Jewish person with a previous religious commitment, the divi­sion is less between believer versus non-believer than between Jew and Gentile: “The baptism/immersion of a Jewish person who has already lived a life of faith is not the same as the baptism/immersion of a pagan Gentile. They are not moving from paganism to God, but from an existing relationship with the God of Israel to a new form of that relationship, one that is an anticipatory realization of the world to come, which is an eschatological reality.”144 While tradi­tionally uniting believers in Messiah, immersion here serves to draw a stronger link between Jewish believers and non-Messianic Jewish counterparts than between Jewish and Gentile believers.

Placing the immersion ceremony within the context of Yom Kippur could, on the one hand, draw the Messianic Jewish commu­nity closer to the Jewish community, but on the other hand, further away. What if a contrast were made, for instance, between Jews who had full atonement in the Messiah and traditional Jews who did not? Yet Kinzer’s interpretation of the distinctions between Messianic Jews and non-Messianic Jews prevents such a step:

A Messianic observance of Yom Kippur includes the recognition of Yeshua as the High Priest who has fully realized and actualized what the texts of the Torah were speaking about concerning the atonement to be accom­plished on Yom Kippur . . . There is a full recognition of the reality of what the basis is for forgiveness and for atonement. In a traditional Yom Kippur service one sees the sense for the need for atonement and a calling on God and God’s mercy without realizing what the liturgy of Leviticus 16 was pointing to-the coming of Yeshua. Yet I believe that Yeshua is also pres­ent in traditional Yom Kippur services and that He is the High Priest of Israel and to the extent to which Jewish people are truly humbling them­selves before God and asking for forgiveness, He presents Israel’s prayers to God. The difference is between those who realize who the High Priest is and are fully conscious and aware of the spiritual reality that is going on, and those who are only very partially aware of the reality that they’re participating in.145

The contrast between Messianic Jews and other Jews is once again cast in shades of gray as opposed to black or white. Yeshua is the High Priest for both Messianic Jews and other devout Jews, and the only central difference lies in the awareness of that reality. In this way, identification with the Jewish community is maintained through a rite essentially foreign to Jewish tradition. Thus Eaton and Kinzer both find ways to re-contextualize the ritual of immer­sion, which generally grants union with the body of the Messiah, to maintain union with the Jewish community. In the process, certain evangelical distinctions are made less central, such as the difference between believer and non-believer-a topic we shall return to later. While this is the case with Kinzer and Eaton’s congregations, Beth Yeshua goes down the opposite path, emphasizing evangelical dis­tinctions within traditionally Jewish customs. Besides Beth Yeshua’s circumcision ceremony, the Jewish tradition of Bar/Bat Mitzvah is another case in which this phenomenon can be observed.

The Bar/Bat Mitzvah: Interpreting the Traditions

Bar/Bat Mitzvah, unlike circumcision or immersion, does not have a distinct ceremony of its own but is part of a normal Shabbat wor­ship service in both the Messianic and non-Messianic world. It is a rite of passage marking the first time a boy or girl assumes respon­sibility in the life of the congregation and becomes accountable to the commandments. In both Kinzer and Eaton’s congregations, the teenager recites the blessings, the Torah and Haftarah portions, and then gives a short speech or commentary on the Torah portion. Preparation for the event involves learning how to chant the par­ticular passages in Hebrew and writing the speech. At Simchat Yisrael, the teenager also reads the New Covenant portion and then often comments on that in the speech.146 While at Beth Yeshua, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah is also part of the normal Shabbat service, the interpretation of the event itself recasts the tradition into a more evangelical light, becoming very individualized and Messianic in focus. Debbie Finkelstein, wife of Assistant Rabbi Joe Finkelstein, stresses the goal of having the Bar/Bat Mitzvah be an important spiritual event in the teenager’s life: “It’s a wonderful tradition to apply. In it we seek to make the children aware of what it means be a follower of Messiah.”147 Mrs. Finkelstein leads the preparation class for girls, and always seeks to be sensitive to each girl’s dispo­sition and talents. Rather than a strict, prescribed service, there is freedom for the children to express their personalities through the service. “One girl did a song instead of a speech for the Bat Mitzvah, we’ve also had dance. We’re open to variations to make it relevant to the kids . . . We want to stimulate them to think, not just learn by rote when they don’t care. It’s not just a show, it has to be mean-ingful.”148 Besides making the service flexible to accommodate the girls, Finkelstein also uses the preparation time for spiritual disci­pleship. The classes she leads involve Bible studies and joint prayer time that focus on the theme of “becoming a godly woman in God’s sight.” The main stress, however, is on taking spiritual responsibil­ity for oneself, and especially one’s sins. At the age of accountabili­ty, one should be mentally and emotionally prepared to admit one’s sin: “I explain to them up front-if you don’t take responsibility, you can’t be saved. You need to acknowledge your sin to be saved- you need to acknowledge that to understand Messiah’s death.”149 On the other side of the spectrum, Eaton finds that the child’s belief is irrelevant to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah altogether: “I don’t care what they believe where the mitzvot are concerned, I care what they do.”150

Although not all in the UMJC would agree with Eaton in his perspective on Jewish tradition, the difference between Debbie Finkelstein’s approach and Eaton’s is indicative of the divergent overall stances toward tradition within MJAA and UMJC. Finkelstein, like many in the MJAA, exhibits a suspicion of tradition when it is merely based on “rote” ritual, without emphasis on the person’s heart attitude, which is the way they perceive most obser­vant Jews. Implicit in this view is an evangelical fear of legalism, a confidence in one’s ability to please God by observing Torah with­out the proper inner disposition or spiritual foundation. Although legalism is often strictly defined as the belief that observance of Torah is the basis of salvation, within evangelicalism it can be used in a broader sense. Legalism can also be understood as the attempt to please God on the basis of one’s works, rather than by faith in Messiah’s works, or the placing of inordinate emphasis on outward behavior versus the inward spirit. As Shoshana Feher remarks of the congregation she studied; “Messianic Jews are quick to point out that their ritual practice is quite different from that of tradi­tional Jews. They emphasize that their Messianic rendition is a mat­ter of tradition and choice, not of legalism . . . Believers state that because they are free from the necessity of keeping any command­ment, they are also free to keep parts of the law.”151

Both Beth Yeshua and other MJAA congregations, a well as the UMJC congregation that Shoshanah Feher studied, seeks to avoid legalism by keeping the issue of ritual observance one of complete individual choice. For instance, Rob Kirsch of Beth Yeshua explains his wearing of tzitzit as something “God had laid [sic] on my heart,” but did not compel him to insist others wear it, for “each person has the spirit and works things out on his own . . . It’s not my place to tell them how to ritually behave or act.”152 Another way Torah obser­vance is justified is by arguing that this is how Yeshua would have worshiped, recalling restorationist themes. A third way to avoid legalism and make the traditions more “kosher” for Messianic use is by overlaying them with Messianic meaning and thus making them more “spiritually full,” as seen in Beth Yeshua’s circumcision and Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremonies.

While the MJAA agrees that Jewish believers are to maintain their Jewishness, there is a more pronounced hesitation to speak of “musts” in regard to Jewish observance. This hesitation regarding tradition is also influenced by the MJAA’s more charismatic orien­tation. As a member of Sheher’s congregation explained, “Messianic Judaism holds that the ruach is more important for guiding behav­ior than the commandments of Torah.”153 This is characteristic of charismatic, Pentecostal traditions that give just as much authori­ty, if not more, to the immediate experience of the Spirit of God than the written word.154 In an article entitled “Messianic Jewish Revival and Liturgy,” MJAA General Secretary Joel Chernoff (Martin’s son and David’s brother), contrasts a spirit-led service with one that is too “liturgical,” that is, too dependent on Jewish traditional forms. The central concern for Chernoff is that “the paths we commit to in developing and organizing this [Messianic] revival not hinder the marvelous and supernatural flow from which the Messianic Jewish revival emanated.”155 Within charismatic expression, the internalized religious experience is central, and spontaneity in worship is often a sign of the Spirit’s moving within a person or congregation. While Chernoff appreciates the value of Jewish liturgical traditions, he also sees that they can “inadvertent­ly restrict the joyful nature and free flow of the Spirit.” A liturgical element is regarded as inappropriate for worship if it has a “damp­ening effect on the flow of the Spirit in our Shabbat service.”156 The closer alliance with evangelical thought thus makes the MJAA more suspicious of Jewish ritual observance.

The UMJC is generally more open to Jewish traditions. Overall, there is a wide variety of views within the UMJC, with divergent opinions on what Torah entails, how it applies to Messianic Jews, and how much to adopt rabbinic applications of Torah. Unfortunately, space does not allow for a full discussion of the com­plex issues. In general, however, the UMJC stresses the inherent duty of Messianic Jews to keep Jewish traditions (which ones are debatable) because they are a part of God’s special calling for Jews as a whole. Traditions, including circumcision, Shabbat, kashrut, or holiday observance, are matters of obedience to God, not personal preference or conscience. The maintenance of Jewish tradition and Torah observance, albeit in modified New Covenant form, defines Jewish identity. As the Hashivenu website states,

The specific observances of the Torah serve as signs of the distinctive character and calling of the Jewish people: “You must keep My Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout the ages, that you may know that I HaShem have consecrated you” (Exodus 31:13). As is empha­sized time and again throughout Jewish tradition, the Torah is God’s spe­cial gift to the people of Israel: “Blessed are You…who chose us from all nations and gave us Your Torah.157

Not only is Torah a gift to Israel; it is also a great responsibility. According to Eaton, “Every Jewish person is obligated to the mitzvot, whether he does them or not.”158 Kinzer echoes this senti­ment, stating that such observances as “Shabbat, circumcision and the dietary laws are incumbent upon the Jewish people-they are a sign of their commitment to the covenant.”159 In a recent discussion at the 2002 Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE) Conference on Messianic Jewish Identity, a UMJC-affiliated rabbi argued that Messianic Jews who do not keep kosher are in sin against God, denying their calling and identity. Kinzer and Eaton have voiced similar views. One of the implications of this stance is that observance of the traditions becomes a measure of spirituality and closeness with God, creating a spiritual hierarchy between those who are most observant relative to those who are less so.

As we have seen in the section on Messianic Jewish historiogra­phy and now in the case of ritual, the UMJC more actively engages rabbinic traditions. Rabbinic sources and liturgical manuals are used more frequently as models for worship services and holy days. Many times, the rabbinical sources are left in their original form, without Messianic adaptation. Criticizing these adaptations, more characteristic of the MJAA, the Hashivenu website comments,

The Torah is not a lesser revelation of Yeshua, like an uncompleted puz­zle. Simply attaching an addendum to a prayer or commandment does not make it any more complete than it did before it had the addendum. The Mitzvah is already complete in that it reflects the heart of Yeshua. When a mitzvah is completed as it was intended when given, it reflects the heart of G-d. Our goal should not be to amend every prayer, command­ment, and ritual with Messianic nomenclature. Rather, our goal should be to seek to follow the Torah, having faith and a desire to connect with G-d through the act itself. Surely this was the life Yeshua lived, and the life He desires His people to live.160

In this view, the commandments in themselves are pleasing to God. The supreme example of a Torah-keeper was Yeshua himself, and therefore the laws he observed are to be observed by his follow­ers. Rather than seeing the life of the Spirit opposed to practicing many of the traditions and liturgy, Hashivenu maintains that they are compatible. Again, this stance assumes that Yeshua practiced a form of Judaism reflected in later rabbinic sources, a claim we have seen to be controversial. Once again, the historical development of Rabbinic Judaism away from its common roots with early Messianic Jews is downplayed. Opposing the MJAA view, the website states:

Certainly, our evangelical contexts taught us to distrust the opinion of ‘the rabbis’ whose views on life and faith could only be rightly understood as deceptive and legalistic, counterfeit of the more abundant life to be found in Yeshua. After all, we had the Holy Spirit! What could we possibly learn from the rabbis except dead religion? ‘The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.’ Eventually we recognized the superficiality of our judg­ments… . We also began to appreciate how our own spiritual lives stood to benefit from the fruit of thousands of years of Jewish struggle to rightly understand the pillars supporting the Jewish vision of religious life.161

This passage seems to specifically contradict Joel Chernoff’s words cited above. Not only is the observance of tradition a matter of obedience to God, and the consideration of the rabbi’s contribu­tions an act of wisdom, but the maintenance of Jewish tradition in a way that is familiar to the Jewish world promotes the establish­ment of Messianic Judaism as a credible, authentic form of Judaism. According to Stuart Dauermann, rabbi of Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills, CA (UMJC-affiliated) and founder of Hashivenu, “nothing is more likely to add a sense of authenticity to Messianic services than the use of traditional liturgy.”162 There is also a hope that this authenticity will build bridges to the wider Jewish world. As Dauermann stresses, “If communications are ever to improve, we must maintain every possible shred of commonality with the wider Jewish community.”163 One can see themes promot­ed by the MJAA of “following the Spirit” and staying loyal to certain evangelical principles set against the UMJC’s concern for Jewish authenticity and Jewish tradition.

Dealing with the Foreigner in our Midst: Reactions to Gentiles

Just as there are rituals that provide Messiac Judaism with links to both Christian and Jewish communities, there are also groups of people within or outside of Messianic Judaism in relation to which Messianic Jews define themselves. Potential “out-groups” of Messianic Judaism include both Gentiles and non-Messianic Jews.

In the case of Gentiles, the situation is complicated by the presence of Gentiles within the movement. The “Gentile question” is one that strongly affects Messianic Judaism, since many congregations have a membership of at least 40-60% Gentiles. Many Gentiles involved are married to Messianic Jews, but many others are drawn to these congregations for other reasons. In a sense, these Gentiles serve as a reminder that Messianic Jews are still linked to the Gentile church and evangelicalism, for the Gentiles have come from churches, and not the Jewish community.164 How do Messianic Jews respond to this link? As Harris-Shapiro comments, “Nothing is as problematic as the large number of Messianic Gentiles in the movement.”165

MJAA Response: Seeking Spiritual Unity While Keeping Physical Distinctions

From the birth of the movement in the late 60s, as Messianic Jewish congregations defined themselves in distinction from Hebrew Christianity, they had to defend themselves against the accusation that they were “putting up a wall of partition” between Jews and Gentiles. They justified the separatist tendency of Messianic Judaism by affirming the spiritual equality and unity of Jews and Gentiles before God and by welcoming Gentiles into Messianic cir­cles. Especially in the MJAA, the argument was also made that Messianic Jewish congregations recreate authentic first century worship and practice; a claim that further attracted Gentiles who wanted to be more “biblical” and more connected to the Jewish roots of their faith. Currently in the MJAA, to be a full member with voting privileges one has to be Jewish, though Gentiles can become associate members. Gentiles are in part encouraged to join Messianic Judaism, as the MJAA website states, “It is extremely important for both the people and nation of Israel to see that there are tens, even hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish believers in Yeshua who stand with the Messianic Jewish movement and who strongly support and love the nation of Israel.”166

Despite these affirmations on the part of the MJAA, tensions still abound. Congregations are faced with internal division from having a membership that includes Jews, who take part in the des­tiny and specific promises to the Jewish people, and Gentiles, who do not. As discussed previously, the origins of this division between Gentiles and Jews are rooted in a premillenial dispensationalist the­ology. Feher and Shapiro describe the dynamic that ensues within MJAA and UMJC congregations as one of internal hierarchy. The official stance is that Gentiles and Jews are spiritually equal but dis­tinct, and that Jews should be proud of being Jews, and Gentiles proud of being Gentiles. Nevertheless, the Jewish identity is clearly valorized, causing many Gentiles to strive for greater Jewishness through Jewish observance and search for Jewish roots.167 Since conversion for Gentiles is deemed unbiblical within the MJAA, these are the main options for Gentiles seeking a more Jewish identity. As Harris-Shapiro comments on Beth Yeshua, “In order to fit into con­gregational life, Messianic Gentiles need to take on practices for­eign to them and in essence recreate themselves as cultural Jews, all the time recognizing that according to official congregational and movement ideology, they can never become real Jews.”168

Just as there were tensions for Jews entering Gentile church culture, so here the reverse is true for Gentiles entering a Messianic Jewish setting. Attempts to ease the tension within the MJAA include making parallel ceremonies for Gentiles. Beth Yeshua, for instance, has a “Brit Ger” ceremony that corresponds to a circum­cision ceremony, which acknowledges the child to be a “Ger” or for­eigner, joining himself to Israel without becoming Jewish him-self.169 As Joe Finkelstein explains, Beth Yeshua also has a “Bar Emunah” (Son of Faith) ceremony instead of a Bar Mitzvah, which is essentially the same, except that no mention is made of the child’s Jewishness.170 What helps increase a sense of unity between Jews and Gentiles within these rituals is the stress on the impor­tance of being a “spiritual” Jew more than a “physical” Jew, as seen in Beth Yeshua’s case. Since the rituals are adapted from their tra­ditional Jewish form to stress their unique Messianic nature, Gentiles are able to share in the focus on the Messiah.

Umjc Response: Seeking Uniformity

UMJC congregations, while also often creating parallel ceremonies for Gentiles, are pioneering a different approach toward the “Gentile question.” They attempt to resolve the issue by requiring Gentiles to become observant of Torah, or once a Messianic conver­sion process is initiated, to convert formally. Kinzer describes this shift as a change of Messianic Judaism’s purpose:

More leaders are concluding that Messianic Jewish congregations should be primarily Jewish. In the past, Messianic congregations have generally defined themselves as a place where Jews and Gentiles worship together, witnessing to the unity of Jews and Gentiles. Many in the UMJC are see­ing this as a defective definition. Congregations may have Gentiles, but they are not part of the definition of the congregation, which is to be a Jewish space. The congregation is not an adequate witness to the unity of Jews and Gentiles because the Gentiles there are called to live as Jews- the unity would only be demonstrated if Gentiles were to live as Gentiles. . . . The simple reality is that many Messianic Jewish leaders realize the kinds of congregations being built are unable to adequately express the Jewish life. They are not seen as authentically Jewish.171

Kinzer here criticizes the standard common in MJAA congrega­tions and present in some UMJC congregations. As with other issues, the UMJC’s distinguishing mark is its concern for Jewish authentic­ity. Kinzer, as well as other members of Hashivenu, are currently working on creating a uniform standard for conversion via Messianic Judaism. While their support of conversion is still the minority posi­tion, Russell Resnik comments that it is a “growing minority.”172

Tony Eaton is a vocal supporter of Messianic Jewish conver­sions. Similar to Kinzer and other voices in the UMJC, he believes that Messianic Judaism should parallel other strands of Judaism as closely as possible. One way to be more authentically Jewish is by adopting a conversion process, similar to other forms of Judaism. In his article, “A Case for Jewish Leadership,” Eaton argues for the absolute necessity of this step:

Can we ever expect acceptance from the wider Jewish community if we insist on bypassing the way that people have for centuries been received into the community? . . . The challenge for our movement as we enter the new millennium is to develop and institute a conversion process for our non-Jewish members. Without this process, we will find it difficult-per-haps impossible-to justify ourselves as a Judaism to the wider Jewish community, the wider world, and perhaps in time, even to ourselves.173

John Fischer, one of the founders of the UMJC, also supports the cause, dedicating an article, “The Legitimacy of Conversion,” to the refutation of the arguments given by the majority position in the UMJC against conversion. The two main points of controversy are whether the Scriptures validate such a process, which Fischer affirms, and how such a process would affect Messianic Judaism’s status in the Jewish community, which Fischer sees optimistically. According to Fischer, conversion has a “legitimate biblical prece­dence,” and it is “a Jewish thing to do.”174 What all supporters affirm is that conversion would not be mandatory for Gentiles, but mere­ly permissible. Nevertheless, many advocate a stricter process of admittance of membership for Gentiles in Messianic Jewish con­gregations in either case. Again, the Messianic Jewish community should mirror the Jewish world, in this case the Orthodox commu­nity, which approaches converts skeptically, trying to dissuade them. Only if they pass these ‘tests,’ and according to Eaton a mem­bership class and a waiting and screening period of at least six months, would they be allowed into membership or conversion. “We want Gentiles to understand that it’s a Jewish community they’re entering,” stresses Eaton.175

Besides advocating conversion, voices of the UMJC also find another way of achieving the goal of greater Jewish uniformity within congregations. One of the core biblical passages evoked in discussions about Gentiles is Acts 15, the account of the Jerusalem Council, in which it was decided that Gentiles did not have to become Jews (that is, convert) to enter the faith. They are only required to observe four abstentions: food polluted by idols, eating the meat of strangled animals, eating blood, and sexual immorality. This passage can be used in different ways: on the one hand, to undermine Gentile observance beyond these laws, and on the other, to support it. In an article entitled “Modern-Day Godfearers: A Biblical Model for Gentile Participation in Messianic Congregations,” Patrice Fischer argues that the Acts 15 passage is speaking of Gentiles who were in the special category of ‘Godfearers,’ those who worshiped in synagogues and adopted Jewish beliefs and lifestyles, including Shabbat and kashrut obser­vance, but stopped just short of becoming full converts.176 They were not forced to convert, but could remain Godfearers-yet this step still entailed a high level of observance. She concludes that “Gentiles who maintain Torah practices like biblical Godfearing Gentiles can be welcomed into full membership and leadership within Messianic Jewish congregations today. They may wish to for­mally convert to Judaism, but it is not necessary for full acceptance into God’s family in general, or the Messianic synagogue in partic-ular.”177 Yet even if conversion is not necessary, Fischer makes clear that Gentiles should be part of Messianic synagogues not as evan­gelical Christians, but as “quasi” Jews. Thus a growing and influen­tial group within the UMJC seeks to relieve the central tension of having mixed congregations while striving for Jewish authenticity.

Despite differences with the MJAA approach, one can see that both MJAA and UMJC affirm Gentiles more when they are conform­ing to Jewish patterns. Jeffrey Wasserman describes this Messianic Jewish phenomenon as a “concealing of Christian connections in an effort to make their faith in Yeshua appear to be completely Jewish. Even the involvement of Gentiles in American Messianic congrega­tions is given a ‘spin’ that paints them as modern-day proselytes to Judaism.”178 While Wasserman’s words may be unduly polemical, the treatment of Gentiles in Messianic Judaism, especially in the UMJC, does point to another way that distance from evangelicalism is established.

Facing Our Brethren: Reactions To Non-Messianic Jews

Mjaa Maintenance Of The “Saved Versus unsaved” Distinction

Characterizing Beth Yeshua, and Messianic Judaism as a whole, Carol Harris Shapiro notes:

While a few respondents contrasted Messianic Judaism with traditional or “regular” Judaism, none explicitly opposed Messianic Judaism to Gentile Christianity. More common was the preservation of the saved/unsaved dichotomy: “‘They are all those who don’t know the Lord.”‘ This inability to separate Messianic Judaism from Gentile Christianity is all the more notable because of the fundamental Jewish distinction between Jew and non-Jew, a distinction which Messianic Judaism retains to a strong degree.179

Harris-Shapiro thus sees Messianic Judaism as identifying itself with evangelicalism over Judaism; the distinction between “saved versus unsaved” is more central than “Jew versus non-Jew.” In another section, she explains that the key themes of Beth Yeshua include an imminent revival, the importance of prayer life, and the need to share with unsaved Jews.180 From our examination of the MJAA, and Beth Yeshua in particular, this is not surprising. The MJAA grew out of the mixture of premillenial dispensationalism inherited from Fundamentalism and the charismatic faith of the Jesus movement. In many ways, it has not departed far from its roots. Not only does the MJAA foster more explicit ties to the church and evangelicalism, but it also has a charismatic/evangelical understanding of history that focuses on prophecy, restorationism, and revivalism. Furthermore, MJAA-affiliated congregations main­tain strong ties to evangelicalism within Jewish ritual observance, mixing Jewish forms with “spiritual” interpretations that give pri­macy to Messianic meaning, while keeping emphasis on the move­ment of the Spirit, the freedom of the conscience, and the avoid­ance of legalism.

Concerning the issue of Gentile participation, the MJAA takes the standard evangelical approach that shuns Gentile conversion to Judaism, though the practical outworking of this principle in the form of the superior status of Jews in congregations often under­mines the evangelical principle of Gentile/Jewish equality. And as Harris-Shapiro details, the community identifies more with believ­ers than with non-believing Jews. A Beth Yeshua congregant explains, “One central thing, one irreducible thing that marks us as Messianic Jews is that we hear God, we’re in a personal relationship with him.”181 Non-Messianic Jews, by contrast, are not in a person­al relationship with God. Joe and Debbie Finkelstein explain the difference between Messianic Jews and their non-Messianic coun­terparts: “Once you come to know the Messiah, there’s more mean­ing in everything.”182 More specifically, as a Messianic Jew, “when you’re talking about God you know who He is, and you’re saying prayers to someone who is real.”183 The implication is that a Messianic Jew is the only Jew who will be heard by God. While some respect traditional Jews, or affectionately see them as misguided, others see them as a spiritual threat, being deceptive and Satanically influenced.184 Liberal rabbis are often dismissed as hope­less causes: David Chernoff commented, “In the end of days, rabbis will come to the Lord, but I’m not looking for it.”185 While there is certainly not only a push away from, but also pull towards the Jewish community, including a desire for acceptance by non­Messianic Jews, the belief that non-Messianic Jews need to become believers for salvation takes primacy over all else.

Umjc Challenge The “SavedVersus “Unsaved” Dichotomy

Harris-Shapiro paints a full picture of a representative MJAA con­gregation, yet we have seen that the UMJC differs from the MJAA on many of these issues. While the UMJC acknowledges certain ties to evangelicalism historically and theologically, a conscious and increasing disassociation from it is taking place. Within the UMJC, restorationism takes on a different form or is minimized altogeth­er, as is the intense focus on eschatology. The UMJC seeks to enter into dialogue with Jewish traditions over the ages, valuing rabbinic contributions and often adopting their rituals and liturgy to a greater extent and sometimes without specific Messianic adaptation or justification.186 Torah and Jewish tradition are kept not so much to point to Messianic content within it, but because they are inher­ently valuable as God’s mitzvot and as tokens of Jewish heritage. Furthermore, large parts of Torah are considered to be a continued obligation for Messianic Jews and not merely a matter of personal conscience. All of these distinguishing marks of the UMJC are seen to build bridges with the Jewish community by creating a maxi­mally “authentic” and “credible” form of Judaism.

This concern for authentic Jewish expression also affects the UMJC’s attitude toward Gentiles in Messianic Judaism, who are encouraged to adapt to their Jewish environment, whether by becoming “Godfearers,” or perhaps in the near future, actual converts via Messianic Judaism. Taking into consideration these characteristics of the UMJC, a more positive attitude toward non-Messianic Jews compared to the MJAA would not be unexpected. But is it a strong enough tie that the “Jew” versus “Gentile” dichotomy overshadows the evangelical “saved” versus “unsaved” dichotomy? My contention is that there are definite indications of this trend within the UMJC, both from evidence already considered and from other signals by Eaton, Kinzer, and the Hashivenu group, which includes key UMJC leaders. In identifying so closely with the Jewish community, the UMJC is also more likely to grant recognition and acceptance back to the broader Jewish community in key ways.187

One of the primary signs that the UMJC identifies more with the Jewish community than Christian evangelicalism occurs in the self-designation of the movement by its leaders. One albeit controversial expression is seen in Mark Kinzer’s pamphlet, The Nature of Messianic Judaism: Judaism as Genus, Messianic as Species, endorsed on the back cover by UMJC leaders Paul Saal and Richard Nichol. Kinzer argues that Messianic Judaism, by its name and intention, is most foundationally a species of Judaism, not Christianity. For Kinzer, aligning with Judaism entails acknowledg­ing that other forms of Judaism are also valid.188 The name of Messianic Judaism is particularly important for Kinzer because,

We could have chosen a polemical, value-charged adjective for our com­pound name. We could have opted for “Fulfilled Judaism” (with its appar­ent implication that other forms of Judaism have potentiality but no actu­ality) or “Completed Judaism” (with its apparent implication that other forms of Judaism are homes under construction and not yet fit to live in). We could have called our movement “Biblical Judaism,” implying that all other forms of Judaism are “unbiblical” and thus invalid.189

Yet none of these names was chosen, and one of the important reasons Kinzer gives is the fact that: “in many ways other forms of Judaism are more “biblical” than we are . . . . Thus, as soon as onelooks beyond the strictly Christological significance of the claim to represent the true “Biblical Judaism,” this claim appears less and less compelling.”190 The implication of looking “beyond” the Christological significance involves stepping beyond the claims of traditional evangelicalism, in which the Christological claims of Scripture are too central to ever be passed over. Hashivenu’s core principles also speak to this identification with Judaism: “Messianic Judaism is a Judaism, and not a cosmetically altered ‘Jewish-style’ version of what is extant in the wider Christian community.”191 The web-page echoes Kinzer: “We are not the sole valid expression of Judaism, with all else a counterfeit.”192 For Eaton, one way of under­standing the value of the Jewish people is as a “holy priesthood,” a divine and irrevocable calling. The prayers of devout Jews intercede for the world, and God hears their prayers, for “without the prayers of the Jewish people, the world would fall apart.”193 “I am utterly convinced that the prayers of all those who love God and are faith­ful to Him are heard, whether or not they acknowledge exactly the same thing. I’m not talking about people who worship Allah, or Eastern gods, but the God of the Jewish people is the same God that the Christians worship.”194 Once again the contrast is evident with the MJAA response, which for its part does not grant non-Messianic Jews access to God without the Messiah.

Thus, one of the consequences of identifying with Judaism more than Christianity has been a shift away from the evangelical theological distinction between the “saved” and the “unsaved.” Hashivenu, which includes many of the UMJC’s leading voices, seems to be directly addressing the MJAA when criticizing the kind of Messianic Judaism that is still evangelical at its core:

Too often the deep structure of Messianic Jewish religious life is indistin­guishable from that of popular evangelicalism, and bears little or no resemblance to any form of Judaism, past or present. When the world is easily divided up into the classes of “saved” and “unsaved,” when our speech is peppered with casual references to “what God just did” and “what God just said,” when our exclusive mode of prayer is conversational and begins “Father God” and ends “in the precious name of Yeshua,” when our kids are going to Christian schools because the public schools are filled with “Satanic influences,” when speculation about the end-times is more natural to us than reciting a berachah-then we know that the deep struc­ture of our religious life is Hebrew Christian, and has been untouched by the drastic changes in the surface structure of our movement.195

Although this passage brings up many issues, including the pre­viously discussed “end time;” I will focus my examination on the distinction between “saved” and “unsaved,” a distinction that Hashivenu resists but that is at the heart of evangelicalism. We have already seen how in the matter of immersion within the Yom Kippur service Mark Kinzer has interpreted the difference between Messianic and non-Messianic Jews as one between those who know the fullness of their calling and those who do not. The difference is that Messianic Jews recognize Yeshua as their means of atonement, while non-Messianic Jews do not.196 Eaton confirms this interpreta­tion, affirming it is possible for a Jew to be saved without knowledge of the Messiah in his or her lifetime. He illustrates the point with the following scenario: “The day is going to come in the judgment when all these devout Jews are going to come before the Messiah, and when they approach him they’re going to look at him and say, ‘Didn’t I know you?’ and he’ll say, ‘Yeah, you did, you just didn’t know my name.'”197 The common metaphor of Jewish blindness towards the Messiah, prevalent also in the MJAA, is stripped of its weight since Jews will one day come to see and be accepted by the one whom they have been worshiping all along.

Another way the “saved” versus “unsaved” dichotomy is under­mined is by arguing that the categories are not Jewish to begin with. Eaton finds that:

“The Talmud says all Israel has a place in the world to come. Why? Because God made a covenant with our ancestors. So it doesn’t become an obsession for the Jewish people to worry about post-mortem bliss. For some reason, it’s an obsession particularly with evangelical Christians… . The focus on redemption and salvation in the Christian world is wrong- God’s role is primarily as a consummator, bringing creation to comple­tion. Redemption is there, but it’s not the focus.”198

According to Eaton, Jews are more “present oriented” than “future oriented.” So what is the kind of relationship non-Messianic Jews can have with God in the present? Kinzer argues against a pop­ular MJAA interpretation: “Because of the validity of the Abrahamic covenant, I believe it’s still as possible for a Jew who doesn’t know Yeshua to have a living relationship with God, just as a Christian. But of course Yeshua is still the Messiah and any Jew who knows him is in a better place and has more access to God than before.”199 Thus Yeshua does not provide the only access to God. The status of belonging to the Abrahamic covenant as a Jew can suffice even for a present relationship with God. It is not that one either has access to God or not, but that one can relate to God to a greater or lesser degree. In this way the believer versus non-believer dichotomy is turned into a gradation. Eaton explains a similar concept of grada­tion, criticizing evangelicalism for its rigid theology:

Modern evangelicalism fixes on one aspect of things, it says if you say these four spiritual laws-that’s your get out of jail free card. It says if you accept a certain concept of truth, this makes the difference for your eter­nal destiny. Not that I don’t believe there’s a certain amount of truth to that. Let me explain it this way. Among devout Jewish people, there’s a concept called devakut, God consciousness, maybe Paul would say ‘walk­ing in the Spirit.’ This is the highest achievement of a devout Jew. I don’t think true devakut can be achieved without Messiah Yeshua, but you can get close, I suppose. But you can’t get where you could have gotten.200

Significantly, Eaton links Paul’s language of “walking in the Spirit” and “devakut,” thereby equating Messianic spirituality with a type of rabbinic spirituality. Thus one can see the “saved” versus “unsaved” dichotomy undermined in three ways: by insisting that Jews will eventually know Yeshua anyway; by claiming that the focus on salvation is a Christian, not Jewish one; and by conceding that Jews can have a relationship with God, albeit a lesser one, even in the present. Measured by James David Hunter’s definition of evangelicals, who believe in the necessity and efficacy of Messiah’s life, death, and physical resurrection for the salvation of the human soul, some key leaders within the UMJC would not be among them. The effort to establish bonds with the Jewish community has thus taken such precedence for them that a key link to the evangelical community is severed, and even (one could argue) to a large part of the Messianic Jewish community, represented by the MJAA.201

Conclusion: Some Challenges Ahead

Having discussed the main connections and differences between MJAA and the UMJC, it becomes clear that on a spectrum, the MJAA is aligned more with the evangelical Christian community, and the UMJC with the Jewish community. What are some of the challenges for each group as it faces the future and seeks to reach Jewish people?

One of the central issues for the MJAA is whether there will be a shift away from an emphasis on charismatic revivalism and towards democratization, characteristic of the UMJC. As the MJAA has been dominated by leaders such as the Chernoffs, who operate with a significant amount of power in a largely “top-heavy,” hierar­chical structure; much is dependent on the next generation of lead­ers. If they are committed to maintaining their charismatic, evan­gelical roots, much could stay the same. Yet as Rob Kirsch suggests, “We came straight out of Hebrew Christian thought and have been shifting and changing. Thirteen years ago we were less separated from the church. We’re still growing up as a movement, searching for our identity.”202 It could be that as the first generation of Messianic Jews ages, the desire to pass on the faith to the next gen­eration in a systematic way may make theology a greater concern. Were regard for theology to increase, MJAA members and leaders, in the interest of Messianic Jewish solidarity, might well turn to the wide and growing body of Messianic Jewish works written by UMJC-affiliated authors rather than evangelical works. In such a case, MJAA would likely become more akin to UMJC. Other observers, however, expect the rift between the two to widen. In a chapter on Messianic Jewish trends in the 1990s in his book, Return of the Remnant, Michael Schiffman observes, “While there is a genuine shift towards a more traditional Jewish service and practice by some congregations (UMJC congregations, I would conjecture), there is another shift away from Jewish tradition towards a more Christian charismatic service (the Alliance congregations).”203 According to Schiffman, each side claims the most Jewish authenticity, the first by its links to Jewish tradition, the second because of the presence of the Holy Spirit.204

As mentioned above, it is likely that the MJAA leadership will determine its direction, and since the most influential leaders are still young, it may be that the differences examined in this article will hold for some time. One of the central challenges that exist for the MJAA (besides determining the direction of the movement) is the issue of Gentile participation-until now, the fundamental ten­sion between asserting spiritual equality while maintaining distinc­tiveness has not prevented the establishment of spiritual hierar­chies of Jews over Gentiles. Other challenges are of the same kind broad evangelicalism faces, such as the embracing of consumer cul­ture and a psychologized worldview, with possible negative effects on congregational life and theology.205

In the case of the UMJC, a shift towards the MJAA is unlikely, considering that its history and the trajectory of its leaders have involved a continual distancing from evangelicalism in favor of a greater identification with the Jewish community.206 A bigger ques­tion concerning the UMJC is whether this distancing from evangel­icalism will achieve the desired goal of influencing the wider Jewish community. Already, their approach toward reaching other Jews is fundamentally different from that of the MJAA, whose ties to evan­gelicalism, including its “saved” versus “unsaved” dichotomy, cre­ate a strong impetus for Jewish evangelism. By contrast, leaders within the UMJC are beginning not only to disassociate from the dichotomy, but also from the primacy and means of evangelism as traditionally understood. Both Kinzer and Eaton reject the term “evangelism.” As Kinzer explains, “I never use the term evangelism because of its connotations (Billy Graham rallies, people passing out tracts, etc.). We are called to give witness to the Messiah, but this is expressed within our corporate existence in congrega­tions . . . .We seek to fulfill our role by living as part of the Jewish people…”We don’t come as Christians bringing good news to damned souls who need to be delivered from religious bondage.”207 The purpose of Messianic Jewish congregations, according to both Kinzer and Eaton, is not primarily outreach, but the establishment of an authentic Jewish community. Yet Kinzer’s conviction, as that of others in the UMJC, is that the more closely they resemble their Jewish neighbors, the more likely a non-Messianic Jew would con­sider joining the a Messianic synagogue. The purpose of the Jewishness of the services is not primarily to contextualize the gospel for Jews, but to express an authentic form of Judaism, and this is what will ultimately draw Jewish people.

A remaining question is whether the desired effect of drawing Jewish people will occur through the UMJC’s means. Even if Messianic Judaism does gain a measure of acceptance as a form of Judaism because of its close ties to Jewish tradition, will this cause Jewish people to join?208 As it stands, Messianic Jewish congrega­tions have had little effect on Jewish evangelism.209 Furthermore, if many Jewish congregations exist now that are struggling for mem­bers because of the large-scale secularization within the Jewish population, how will another group make an impression that main­ly stresses its similarity to the others? More fundamentally, does the feature that originally tied them to evangelicalism, the belief in Yeshua as the Messiah, become just an extra ad-on in their efforts to emphasize continuity with the Jewish community? If so, how can this extra be shown to be worthwhile? Having underscored the “Judaism” in “Messianic Judaism,” how much of the “Messianic” part can be downplayed for it to still be a defining element? Furthermore, can this belief sustain its place over time if rabbinic theology, which often de-emphasizes the need for a Messiah, focus­ing on a halakhic over a redemptive interpretation of Scripture, remains a main source for Messianic Jewish theology? How much can one disassociate from evangelicalism without losing the basis for evangelism? One of the central challenges of the UMJC involves balancing how much to strive for identification with the Jewish community versus how much to distinguish itself from it. If the association between the two becomes too close, its own existence becomes relativized. While an emotional issue, the occurrence of “conversions” from Messianic Judaism to mainstream Judaism is relevant here. A possibly unavoidable side effect of identifying close­ly with the Jewish community is a slippery slope from the one to the other. How can the UMJC deal with this problem? To what extent is it even a problem when the main dichotomy is Jew versus Gentile, not believer versus non-believer? Should the UMJC continue in its trend of disassociating from evangelicalism, these questions will need to be addressed not only for self-understanding, but also for the growth and/or survival of the Messianic Judaism.

As we have seen, Messianic Judaism interacts in complex ways with each of its parent communities. To understand this complexi­ty, one cannot focus solely on the trends within one strand of the movement, as many scholars have done. Instead, one must consid­er the MJAA alongside the UMJC. While there is overlap in the his­tories and official theologies of the two groups, their differences predominate. Furthermore, their differing perspectives strongly shape their understandings of history, ritual practice, and the makeup of in-groups and out-groups. I have argued that the study of each of these areas reveals the locus of contrast between the two groups: the diverging degrees of loyalty to their parent communi­ties. The MJAA identifies with evangelicalism over the Jewish com­munity, anchoring authenticity in a primitivist, revivalist theology characteristic of evangelicalism. It also upholds the central evan­gelical distinction between the “saved” and the “unsaved,” which is evident in both its spiritualizing of Jewish ritual practice and its views of the wider Jewish community. The UMJC, by contrast, iden­tifies with the Jewish community over evangelicalism, rooting authenticity in its continuity with Jewish history, ritual, and to a certain extent, Jewish theology. In the process, the UMJC calls into question the evangelical dichotomy between the “saved” and the “unsaved” and replaces it with a new, distinctly Messianic Jewish theology. The development and success of each group’s approach will only be seen with time. Certainly, two new faith groups have emerged, equipped with distinct beliefs and practices to challenge Jews, Christians, and even other Messianic Jews alike.


Bibliography and Sources Cited



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†         This definition has since been updated. The definition of Messianic Judaism ratified by the UMJC Delegates at the August, 2002 national conference is available at:


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  1. Harris-Shapiro, Carol. Messianic Judaism: A Rabbi’s Journey through Religious Change in America. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999). p. 30.
  2. Harris-Shapiro p. 1.
  3. Harris-Shapiro p. 14.
  4. Harris-Shapiro p. 57.
  5. Feher, Shoshana. Passing Over Easter: Constructing the Boundaries of Messianic Judaism. (Walnut Creek: Altamira Press, 1998). p. 20.
  6. Another strong voice in the UMJC is Daniel Juster, who founded a congregational organization, Tikkun, outside of the UMJC. He distances himself theologically from the MJAA, but more along the terms of Christian theological categories, unlike Kinzer and Eaton. He and his followers thus deserve a separate analysis regarding their relation to evangelicalism, which is beyond the scope of this article.
  7. For a discussion of the decline of denominationalism, see Robert Wuthnow’s The Restructuring of American Religion. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988).
  8. Wells, David. No Place for Truth or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993). p. 128.
  9. Noll, Mark. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994). p. 115.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Noll p. 120.
  12. Wells p. 133.
  13. Harris-Shapiro, Carol. “Syncretism or Struggle: The Case of Messianic Judaism.” (Dissertation, Temple University, 1992). p. 86.
  14. Quoted. in Harris-Shapiro’s Messianic Judaism, p. 190. See Hunter, J.D. American evangelicalism. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1983). p. 7.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ariel, Yaakov. Evangelizing the Chosen People: Missions to the Jews in America, 1880-2000. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000). p. 10.
  17. Jaffe, Devra. “Straddling the Boundary: Messianic Judaism and the Construction of Culture.” (Dissertation. Rice University, 2000). p. 6.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Jaffe p. 7.
  20. Ariel p. 18.
  21. Ariel p. 11.
  22. Non-dispensational Jewish missions, such as those of the Presbyterian Church, also became prevalent at this time in line with a general rise in missions.
  23. Jaffe p. 7.
  24. Harris-Shapiro, “Syncretism” p. 29.
  25. Cohn-Sherbok, Dan. Messianic Judaism. (London: Cassell, 2000). p. 28.
  26. Ibid, p. 32.
  27. Cohn-Sherbok, p. 34.
  28. Rausch, David. Messianic Judaism: Its History, Theology, and Polity. (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1982). p. 34.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Winer, Robert I. The Calling: The History of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America. (Wynewood: Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, 1990). 23.
  31. Winer 63.
  32. The 1960s brought a shift in the American cultural mood: the baby boomer generation was coming of age and rebelling against its bureaucratic, bourgeois parent generation. Especially among American Jews of this parent generation, there had been an attempt to assimilate to mainstream culture, to become part of the great “melting pot” of American society (Harris-Shapiro, “Syncretism” 93). In the 1960s, however, this trend reversed for younger Jews, as well as for other ethnic groups, who developed a renewed pride in their roots and desire for constructing a cultural identity that would give them a heightened sense of self-definition, and communal experience. This ethnic identity involved a great deal of flexibility: each individual decided which elements of the Jewish tradition to incorporate into his or her lifestyle. In addition, this ethnicity did not involve a distinct theology. As Carol Harris-Shapiro explains, “Ethnicity enabled Jews to belong to a people without belonging to a God (Harris-Shapiro, “Syncretism” 95).” One could see how in this open environment, ethnically-based evangelism to Jews could have its appeal-the message was that one could maintain one’s Jewishness, yet believe in Yeshua for the essential spiritual substance.
  33. Lipson, Julienne. Jews for Jesus: An Anthropological Study. (New York: AMS Press, 1990). p. 2.
  34. Harris-Shapiro, “Syncretism” p. 89.
  35. Cohn-Sherbok, p. 64.
  36. Ibid.
  37. Ibid, p. 67.
  38. Ibid, p. 59. For a discussion of the Alliance’s restorationism, see Part II.
  39. Cohn-Sherbok, p. 74.
  40. Ibid.
  41. “What is the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations?” 8 March 2002 .
  42. About the UMJC. Pamphlet. Albuquerque, NM.
  43. Rausch, p. 193.
  44. Cohn-Sherbok, p. 75.
  45. “Doctrinal Statement.” 11 October 2001.
  46. “Statement of Faith of the MJAA and the IAMCS.” 11 October 2001 .
  47. Ibid.
  48. UMJC. UMJC Policy and Procedures Manual. Document received from Russ Resnik. 12 March 2002. p. 54.
  49. Klett, Fred. “Jewish Ministry in My Lifetime: Personal Reflections 1975-2000.” Unpublished lecture. P. 8.
  50. Ibid. For the MJAA, there may be more continuity with evangelicalism on this point than the UMJC.The stress in the MJAA that this is the end time eases the transition from present to future: they maintain that we are already in the last of days, which makes a new relation between Jews and Gentiles more expected. As will be discussed later, the UMJC is less inclined to make definitive statements about the nature of the end time and its relation to the present day.
  51. Rausch, p. 131.
  52. Ibid.
  53. I am here concerned with presenting a general Messianic Jewish understanding of this theology, not a precise presentation of the theology itself. The characterization of covenant theology sometimes becomes caricatured, as the picture of the church’s relation to Israel is more complex in this view than often supposed. A well-accepted view within covenant theological circles is that the physical promises are not spiritually fulfilled, but will be literally fulfilled on the whole earth for all believers in the new heavens and the new earth. So Jewish believers would have the physical promises of a land fulfilled, though such promises would not be exclusive to them but shared with other believers. The physical promises to the Jewish people would not be taken away, but rather expanded in scope. For a discussion on end time views from a covenant theological perspective, see Cornelis Venema’s Promise of the Future. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2000.
  54. Juster, Dan. “Covenant and Dispensation: Toward a Messianic Jewish Perspective.” Mishkan 2 (1985): p. 29.
  55. Juster, p. 30.
  56. “Doctrinal Statement.” Paragraph #8.
  57. “What is Messianic Judaism?” 9 March 2002.† (See note at end of article.)
  58. Thomas, Gary. “The Return of the Jewish Church.” Christianity Today 42.10 (1998): p. 64.
  59. Kinzer, Mark. Personal Interview. 14 February 2002. Kinzer notes that there is less hostility in the UMJC towards creeds than “in other quarters,” implying the MJAA. One of the reasons for this difference could be the MJAA’s closer affiliation with the type of evangelicalism or more specifically, Fundamentalism, which is suspicious of formal “theology” or “any creed but Christ.”
  60. Wasserman, Jeffrey. Messianic Congregations: Who Sold this Business to the Gentiles? (Lanham: University Press of America, 2000). P. 101.
  61. Quoted. in Winer, p. 64. For further information see “The History of the Formation of a Congregational Organization.” The Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, March 1987.
  62. Feher, p. 46.
  63. Thomas, p. 66.
  64. Harris-Shapiro, p. 28.
  65. Harris-Shapiro, p. 162.
  66. UMJC. UMJC Policy and Procedures Manual. P. 56.
  67. Resnik, Russ. Personal Interview. 12 March 2002.
  68. Thomas, p. 65.
  69. Harris-Shapiro, p. 40.
  70. Kirsch, Rob. Personal Interview. 31 January 2002.
  71. Winer, p. 46.
  72. Rausch, p. 144.
  73. Eaton, Tony. Personal Interview. 12 February 2002.
  74. Eaton interview.
  75. While not as directly connected to the groups’ relation to evangelicalism, another area that demonstrates the groups’ divergent philosophies is their organizational structure. Resnik stressed the importance of the UMJC being a delegate-run organization, in which authority lies with members of the member congregations who are delegates for their congregations (Resnik interview). There is an appointed Executive Board, but the system is set up to provide ample checks and balances. On the other hand, the Alliance is made up of individual members, with the IAMCS as the congregational branch. The MJAA Executive Board elects the Steering Committee for the IAMCS, and all the individual members of the MJAA can vote to nominate the Steering Committee members, but the final decision is in the hands of the Executive Board. A Messianic Jewish spiritual leader who has been involved with both the MJAA and the UMJC, and who prefers to remain anonymous, distinguished the two structures by contrasting the shared leadership through delegates in the UMJC with the top-down structure of the MJAA. “In the MJAA, the Chernoffs basically run the show, which is typical of a charismatic top-down structure” he states. On the other side, criticism by the Alliance towards the UMJC structure is implicit in the web page introducing the IAMCS: “The IAMCS is not designed to be a denominational structure, but rather to be an instrument in promoting Messianic revival (“About the IAMCS.” 19 February 2002 ).”
  76. Kinzer interview.
  77. Eaton interview.
  78. Harris-Shapiro, p. 59.
  79. Harris-Shapiro, p. 59.
  80. Kirsch interview.
  81. “About the IAMCS.” 19 February 2002 .
  82. Ibid.
  83. About the UMJC.
  84. Ibid.
  85. Resnik interview.
  86. Eaton interview.
  87. “The Real Issue.” 18 March 2002 .
  88. Harris-Shapiro, p. 115.
  89. Judaism has less of a tradition of primitivism.
  90. Wacker, Grant. “Playing for Keeps: the Primitivist Impulse in Early Pentecostalism.” The American Quest for the Primitive Church. Ed. Richard T. Hughes. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988. p. 207).
  91. This is where Harris-Shapiro’s concept of “symbolic ethnicity” is relevant.
  92. Ariel, p. 222.
  93. Dayton, Donald. The Theological Roots of Pentecostalism. (Grand Rapids: Francis Asbury Press, 1987). p. 143.
  94. Kasdan, Barney. God’s Appointed Customs: A Messianic Jewish Guide to the Biblical Lifecycle and Lifestyle. (Baltimore: Lederer/Messianic Jewish Publishers, 1996).
  95. Kasdan, p.38.
  96. Boskey, Avner. “The Messianic Use of Rabbinic Literature.” Mishkan 8 (1988). P. 39.
  97. Ibid.
  98. Kasdan, p. 38.
  99. Ibid.
  100. Fischer, John. “The Place of Rabbinic Tradition in a Messianic Jewish Lifestyle.” The Enduring Paradox: Exploratory Essays in Messianic Judaism. Ed. John Fischer. (Baltimore: Lederer/Messianic Jewish Publishers, 2000). p. 148.
  101. Scholars that advocate using extreme caution in the dating of rabbinical materials include Samuel Sandmel, E.P. Sanders, Peter Schaeffer, and Stuart Miller.
  102. Qtd. in Boskey 35. For further information see Sandmel, Samuel. A Jewish Understanding of the New Testament. Cincinnati: (Hebrew Union College Press, 1957). pp. 199-201.
  103. As Boskey perceptively notes, “The decisive importance of R. Johanan b. Zakkai’s reconstruction of Judaism in the post-70 A.D. period must also inform our study or rabbinic literature, as well as the effects of the Bar-Kokhba revolt (132-135 A.D.) upon the Messianic hope of rabbinic Judaism. The two periods are significant turning points both for Judaism and Messianic-Rabbinic relationships; their importance as milestones on the changing road of Judaism can all too easily be overlooked, especially with regard to central issues such as that of atonement (Boskey, p. 60).”
  104. Fischer, p. 165.
  105. Ibid, p. 151.
  106. Ibid.
  107. Fischer, p. 167.
  108. Young, Brad H. Jesus the Jewish Theologian. (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1995). p. 270.
  109. Boskey 38. See Bivin, David and Roy B. Blizzard. Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus. (Arcadia: Makor Foundation, 1983). p. 76.
  110. See Kinzer, Mark. The Nature of Messianic Judaism, Judaism as Genus, Messianic as Species. West Hartford: Hashivenu Archives. 22-24. Kinzer argues that “Judaism’s ‘No’ to Yeshua in its formative period was neither as universal or foundational to its identity as was Christianity’s ‘No’ to Israel (Nature 22).” He further asserts that the split between the Natzratayim and other Jews was not as a result of Yeshua, but that “the issue turned on Jewish fidelity to Torah (Nature, p. 23).” While it is beyond the scope of this article to critically engage with Kinzer’s arguments, his claims are certainly controversial.
  111. Kinzer, Mark. “Scripture and Tradition.” Voices of Messianic Judaism. Ed. Dan Cohn-Sherbok. (Baltimore: Lederer/Messianic Jewish Publishers, 2001). p. 33.
  112. Kinzer, “Scripture” p. 35.
  113. Kinzer, Nature, p. 4.
  114. Ibid, p. 6.
  115. Schiffman, Michael. Return of the Remnant: The Rebirth of Messianic Judaism. (Baltimore: Lederer/Messianic Jewish Publishers, 1992). p. 47.
  116. Eaton interview.
  117. Kinzer interview.
  118. Nichol, Richard. “Are We Really at the End of the End Times? A Reappraisal.” Voices, p. 209.
  119. Ibid, p. 203.
  120. Eaton interview.
  121. “Core Principles of Hashivenu.” 16 March 2002 .
  122. Kirsch interview.
  123. Kinzer interview.
  124. Eaton interview.
  125. Daube, David. The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism. (London: The Athlone Press, 1956). p. 21.
  126. Kasdan, p. 13.
  127. Kirsch interview.
  128. Kirsch, Rob. “Service of B’rit Milah.” Unpublished materials obtained from author. 31 January 2002.
  129. Ibid. This verse is also quoted in the New Testament. See Hebrews 8:8-10, for instance.
  130. Kirsch interview.
  131. Finkelstein, Joe. Personal Interview. 2 February 2002.
  132. Eaton, Tony. “Questions for Immersion.” Unpublished materials received from author. 12 February 2002.
  133. Eaton interview.
  134. Daniel Juster also stresses these parallels in the second chapter of Jewish Roots. (Shippensburg: Destiny Image Publishers Inc., 1995).
  135. Eaton interview.
  136. Eaton, Tony. “T’vilah Service.” Unpublished materials received from author. 12 February 2002.
  137. Eaton interview.
  138. Eaton, “T’vilah Service.”
  139. Eaton, “T’vilah Service.”
  140. Kinzer, Mark. Personal Interview. 26 February 2002. Henceforth “Kinzer interview 26 Feb.”
  141. Ibid.
  142. Kinzer, Mark. “Congregation Zera Avraham: Order of Service for the Rite of Tevilah.” Unpublished materials received from author. 25 February 2002.
  143. Ibid.
  144. Kinzer interview 26 Feb.
  145. Ibid.
  146. Eaton interview.
  147. Finkelstein, Debbie. Personal Interview. 2 February 2002.
  148. Ibid.
  149. Ibid.
  150. Eaton interview.
  151. Feher, p. 113.
  152. Kirsch interview.
  153. Feher, p. 100.
  154. Harvey, Cox. Fire from Heaven.(New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1995). p. 72.
  155. Chernoff, Joel. “Messianic Jewish Revival and Liturgy.” Voices, p. 11.
  156. Ibid, pp. 15-16.
  157. “Core Principle 2: God’s relationship with Israel is expressed in the Torah.” 19 March 2002 .
  158. Eaton interview.
  159. Kinzer interview.
  160. “Core Principle 3: Yeshua is the fullness of Torah.” 19 March 2002 .
  161. “Core Principle 5: The Richness of the Rabbinic Tradition.” 19 March 2002
  162. Dauermann, Stuart. “The Importance of Jewish Liturgy.” Voices, p. 3.
  163. Dauermann, p. 4.
  164. To counteract this link, many Gentiles become more observant in Jewish practices than their Jewish counterparts in the movement, making for a confusing dynamic.
  165. Harris-Shapiro, p. 15.
  166. “Membership FAQ.” 20 March 2002 .
  167. Feher, Shoshana. “Challenges to Messianic Judaism.” Voices, p. 222.
  168. Harris-Shapiro, p. 71.
  169. Kirsch interview.
  170. Finkelstein, Joe interview.
  171. Kinzer interview.
  172. Resnik interview.
  173. Eaton, Tony. “A Case for Jewish Leadership.” Voices, p. 121.
  174. Fischer, John. “The Legitimacy of Conversion.” Voices, p. 147.
  175. Eaton interview.
  176. Fischer, Patrice. “Modern-Day Godfearers: A Biblical Model for Gentile Participation in Messianic Congregations.” The Enduring Paradox, p.171.
  177. Fischer, Patrice p. 180.
  178. Wasserman, p. 156.
  179. Harris-Shapiro, p. 88.
  180. Harris-Shapiro, p. 139. The emphasis is mine.
  181. Harris-Shapiro, “Syncretism”p. 143.
  182. Finkelstein, Joe interview.
  183. Finkelstein, Debbie interview.
  184. Harris-Shapiro p. 100.
  185. Harris-Shapiro, p. 101.
  186. It is noteworthy that Daniel Juster is a leader within the UMJC who has changed his views toward rabbinic Judaism, becoming more critically distant from it over time and more reluctant to draw on rabbinic sources for Messianic worship and theology. In the Preface of Jewish Roots, he writes “[. . .] Rabbinic Judaism is the child of the first century Pharisees who added the prayer of condemnation against Jewish believers and Jesus to the synagogue liturgy. This all took place long before the Church became paganized and rejected its Jewish roots. Hence, as Jewish followers of Jesus, we must be very careful in copying the synagogue as a source of identification.”
  187. Klett, Fred. “The Centrality of Messiah and the Theological Direction of the Messianic Movement.” Proc. of LCJE-NA Conference, 2002, Orlando. .
  188. Kinzer, Nature, p. 5-6.
  189. Kinzer, Nature, p. 6-7.
  190. Kinzer, Nature, p. 10-11.
  191. “Core Principle 1: Messianic Judaism is a Judaism, and not a cosmetically altered ‘Jewish-style’ version of what is extant in the wider Christian community.”  .
  192. Ibid.
  193. Eaton interview.
  194. Eaton interview.
  195. “Core Principle 1: Messianic Judaism is a Judaism.”
  196. Kinzer interview 26 Feb.
  197. Eaton interview.
  198. Ibid.
  199. Kinzer interview.
  200. Eaton interview.
  201. On the other side, one could argue that the UMJC is actually following the trajectory of modern evangelical trends insofar as evangelicalism is getting more relativistic. Salvation is often recast into the terms of American therapeutic, self-help culture so that it is a way of “filling” an empty life, increasing self-esteem and happiness. As David Wells writes in No Place for Truth or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? : “Theology reconfigured in this model is typically therapeutic: it suggests that Christian faith is mostly about offering wholeness (certainly in spirit and perhaps in body), it suggests that relationships are as important as truth in realizing this wholeness, and it is centered on personal happiness quite as much as righteousness (Wells, 290). In these terms, the language of gradations of salvation makes sense, for salvation is not understood as a matter of heaven or hell, but as a matter of gaining self-fulfillment or self-realization. For further discussions of this trend also see Iain Murray’s Evangelicalism Divided (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2000).
  202. Kirsch interview.
  203. Schiffman 172.
  204. Ibid.
  205. For further discussions of this topic, see Harris Shapiro’s “Syncretism or Struggle” and Messianic Judaism.
  206. Again, the case of Dan Juster must be considered separately.
  207. Ibid.
  208. At this point there is a rejection of Messianic Jews of all stripes by the majority of the Jewish community.
  209. According to a recent survey, 98% of Jewish members of Messianic congregations surveyed were brought to faith by Gentile Christians. Wasserman, p. 106.


Gabriela Reason is a Messianic Jew from Switzerland. In 2002 she graduated from Yale University Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A. in Religious Studies, focusing on Jewish-Christian relations. She is currently working on a Master of Religion with an emphasis on Biblical Studies at Westminster Theological Seminary. The arti­cle has been adapted from her senior thesis at Yale.