For the week ending 12 October 2013 / 8 Heshvan 5774

Is a J for J a Jew?

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Caren

Dear Rabbi,

I have a friend who is a Christian minister. At times, he will tell me about an article he has read regarding the so-called “Messianic Jews”. I have tried to get across to him that these so-called “Messianic Jews” are just another sect of Christianity, that the minute someone says J is G-d, that person has essentially disavowed their Judaism.

He argues that once someone has been born Jewish one is always Jewish. I concede the point only in the case where someone who was born Jewish, then converted, but was nevertheless arrested and taken into the concentration camps. Otherwise, the person is considered a Christian. Further, the person would not be able to make aliyah under the Law of Return.

Am I correct in my arguments? What else can I say to this gentleman who, otherwise, in his own way, does try to do good in the world?

Dear Caren,

This is a very interesting discussion, and in some points you are correct, in others, he.

You are right that, according to Jewish standards, what's referred to as "Messianic Judaism" is absolutely Christianity. Therefore, a Jew who ascribes to this denomination of Christianity has certainly disavowed Judaism.

On the other hand, your friend is right that a person who is Jewish according to the halacha, either by birth or conversion, will always be Jewish, and conversion out of Judaism does not make him "not Jewish" in the sense of being a non-Jew.

Of course, most Jews for J or Messianic Jews are not actually Jewish. Rather, they are Christians who, through various means, seek to lure Jews to Christianity. But what is the status of a person who is in fact Jewish but accepts J as the Messiah, or who believes any of the other tenets of Christianity (or any other religion for that matter)?

Such a person is a Jewish apostate, which, as unfortunate as this is, means, while alive, he can always do teshuva and be accepted back into the fold without conversion. However, as long as he does not do teshuva he is held accountable for all the obligations of Judaism while also being denied all of its privileges.

The point you make about the Israeli Law of Return is an interesting one. It's true that the State of Israel considers "Messianic Judaism" to be Christianity for the purposes of aliya such that an adherent of this group cannot claim citizenship on this basis alone. But this is irrelevant to our discussion since, unfortunately, this Law's definition of being Jewish is not according to the halacha, and many people with only a very distant and tenuous connection to being Jewish are accepted by the Law of Return.

In fact, ironically, the very non-Jewish nature of this Law has, in an absurd way, enabled certain adherents of "Messianic Judaism" to be accepted as Jewish citizens of the State of Israel. Since the Law grants Israeli citizenship even to those with a solely patrilineal connection to Judaism, excluding in the conversion clause only a "person who has been a Jew and has voluntarily changed his religion", non-Jewish Messianics with Jewish fathers but non-Jewish mothers have been able to thereby gain citizenship as Jews based on the non-halachic Law of Return while circumventing the otherwise exclusionary conversion clause on the basis that they had never been Jews according to the halacha to be barred on account of their adherence to "Messianic Judaism" i.e., Christianity.

According to this exemplary decision of the Israeli Supreme Court (April 16, 2008), Messianics, considered by Israeli Law to be adherents of Christianity, have been accepted as Jewish citizens of the State of Israel under the Law of Return, enjoying all the rights and privileges thereof, presumably grateful for the opportunity to inspire Jews, not only internationally, but now also within Israel, of their doctrines.

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