I realize that is somewhat of a shocking statement to be found in a Messianic newsletter. Especially since it’s true. What?! True?! Well, partially true. How can it be partially true? Because for some Jews, not believing in Yeshua is the fundamental basis of being a Jew. It is a chasm that cannot be bridged. You then might ask, what about those Jews that do believe? In that case, the very act of believing in Him immediately removes them from being Jewish in the perspective of those who do not believe. Therefore, the truthfulness of this statement, that Jews do not believe in Yeshua is safeguarded.
The basis of this is the development of Judaism and Christianity as competing religious systems. The two have been established in opposition to each other. In other words, if the followers of Yeshua claimed that evidence could be found in the Bible and in the history and traditions of our people that he was the Messiah, the Pharisaic/rabbinical Jewish response to that was minimizing, obscuring and outright expunging anything that would fall into the category. Conversely true was the attitude of the emerging (Gentile) church world, which sought to purge any Jewishness from the beliefs and practices of its followers, thus securely separating Yeshua from His Hebrew context. At the Council of Nicea in 325 CE, Constantine was injecting a poison in the bloodstream of believing communities for centuries to come when he said, “Let us then have nothing in common with the most hostile rabble of the Jews.”
The Pharisaic party is the Jewish group that emerged religiously victorious after the Jewish revolt in 70 CE. Therefore they were in a position to lay the foundations that would forever keep them separate from any influence coming out of the Messianic community. Even things that might have at one time been part of their theology and doctrine were eliminated in order to preserve Israel’s existence without Yeshua. However this process did not happen overnight. It took years. But today, the Jewish communities that are most strident in their beliefs do not accept this historical evolution. Instead they believe that their faith is one unbroken line from Mount Sinai to today, based primarily on what is known as the “oral Torah,” that which is written in the Talmud and the commentaries of the rabbis.
Of course not everyone embraces this concept. There are many scholars who will honestly deal with our Jewish history. Jacob Neusner, author and editor of hundreds of scholarly Jewish books, writes in the introduction of E.R. Goodenough’s Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period (abridged edition): “At the period between the first and sixth centuries, the manifestations of the Jewish religion were varied and complex, far more varied, indeed, than the extant Talmudic literature would have led us to believe. Besides, the groups known from this literature, we have evidence that ‘there were widespread groups of loyal Jews, who built synagogues and buried their dead in a manner strikingly different from that which the men represented by extant literature would have probably approved, and in a manner motivated by myths older than those held by these men.'” Messianic Jews would be included in those groups, loyal Jews following Yeshua. Neusner indicates that even a cautious examination of Goodenough’s research clearly demonstrates that the Pharisaic party did not have total hegemony for at least several hundred years after the destruction of the Temple. Pharisaic/rabbinical Judaism today claims to be and to have, all that has been promised to Israel, to the exclusion of everyone else.
Gabriele Boccaccini (professor of 2nd Temple Judaism at the University of Michigan), in his book Middle Judaism, points out that there were many competing Judaisms in the first century, and it is incorrect to speak of Messianic Judaism (what is often called early Christianity) as anything other than a Judaism.
The forces of Pharisaic/rabbinical Judaism still seek to maintain a fence around Judaism by its foundation of an oral Torah and a falsified history. Anachronisms abound. I saw an illustrated Hasidic calendar, where one month’s illustration featured Lot, and his two daughters fleeing from Sodom. The artist portrayed Lot dressed in a black caftan, a shtreimel on his head, and with a long beard and side locks. His daughters were also dressed in the plain, very modest garb of modern Orthodox women. Though just a picture, it reveals much about the underlying mentality.
This premeditated separation theology is supposed to keep Judaism pure and unadulterated by Gentile influences. Therefore, much is made of the need to hold strongly to what is perceived as being Jewish and in repudiating anything that would be seen as being different. I know a worship leader in a Messianic congregation, who was approached after the service by a young man who told him that the music “wasn’t Jewish enough,” whatever that was supposed to mean. Even though most of the songs were in Hebrew, taken from the Psalms, and sung and played by Jewish musicians, probably because the style was similar to a modern charismatic congregation, the young man said it was not Jewish. Yet in his book, The Jewish Mind, Rafael Patai, this brilliant Jewish historian and sociologist tells us, “There can be little doubt that (the Baal Shem Tov – founder of Hasidic Judaism in the 18th century) was attracted to the ways of the peasants, their songs, their dances, their folk beliefs … Many Hasidic rabbis, following the example of the Baal Shem Tov, would later adopt the songs of Gentile folk and impute a sacred and secret meaning to their simple lyrics. With dancing the situation was much the same. We have seen the dancing was an essential expression of Gentile sectarian religious devotion … the idea that dancing was a sacred, God-pleasing act was virtually a new notion which was adopted by the Hasidim from their Gentile sectarian neighbors.”
We see the same type of obscuring in relation to Isaac as a type of Yeshua. Shalom Spiegel, professor of medieval Hebrew literature at the Jewish theological seminary in New York, in his book, “The Last Trial,” explains that the concept of the atoning death and third Day resurrection of the Messiah was not an idea that was foreign to Jewish thought. He claims its ultimate origins came forth from paganism, but nevertheless admits that it was part of Jewish thought that the rabbis and sages felt they needed to minimize or eradicate altogether in the face of the challenge presented to them by the followers of Yeshua.
He writes, “The story of the akeda (binding of Isaac) and the vision of the servant of the Lord, smitten of God and afflicted, crushed by sins, not his own and by whose stripes others are healed. From these two channels the Christian idea of atonement drew its nourishment. Its founders and teachers drew quite consciously on the reservoir of Jewish thought and expression … it is certain that the very notion (the theme of third day resurrection) goes back essentially to times long before Christianity and before Judaism no less … and when Christianity placed at the center of its religion belief in the atoning power of the blood of its Messiah in Israel, a need was increasingly felt to blur more and more the remnants of similar ancient beliefs from pagan times, leaving behind therefore only faint traces in our sources.”
Many Jewish writers point to common pagan concepts as being the source of many Messianic beliefs, seeking to delegitimize them. However, the presence of similar views in multiple societies only serves to reinforce their truthfulness. The biblical account of the flood is not watered down (pun intended) but affirmed by many ancient flood stories all around the world. Regardless of how distorted their details have become over the centuries and across the miles, the underlying truth is still true.
One last example is the plurality of the nature of God. While modern day Judaism stridently proclaims an absolute singular monotheism and repudiates the Messianic plurality as a recycle of pagan trinities, it was not always so. In his book, Border Lines, Daniel Boyarin, professor of Talmudic culture at the near eastern studies department of the University of California writes these amazing words, “Thus, one of the most characteristic differences between Judaism and Christianity as we know them is the belief in or denial of complexity within the Godhead, but in these early centuries there were non-Christian Jews who believed in God’s Word (Logos), Wisdom, or even Son as a ‘second God,’ while there were believers in Jesus who insisted that the three persons of the Trinity were only names for different manifestations of one person. As I shall read the texts, Logos theology (and thence trinitarianism) emerges as a difference between Judaism and Christianity only through the activities of heresiologists on both sides of the divide.”
So in conclusion, Jews can and do believe in Yeshua without becoming something else and without embracing ideas that are un-Jewish. An honest appraisal of our history allows for a much broader understanding of what it means to be a loyal son or daughter of Israel. The Pharisaic/rabbinical establishment will not determine that for us. Yeshua is the Jewish Messiah.