Something is happening! The situation between the Jewish community and those who follow Yeshua as the Jewish Messiah (Mashiach) has been a historical demonstration of 2000 years of religious and cultural inertia. But we live in times where old walls are crumbling and new perceptions are beginning to dominate. What has seemed the ‘only’ way for so long is now seen as narrow, restricted and unhelpful. The ‘something’ I refer to though may surprise. For those of us who have closely followed the growing awareness in Christians of the ‘Jewish background’ to the Scriptures, it has been a deep joy to see a similar (albeit as yet still academically driven) awakening in our Jewish communities around the world to the fact that Yeshua is one of us. I don’t normally recommend books, but a new book coming from a Reform Jewish background (see link below) by Rabbi Evan Moffic is worth the highlight. His statements (while not ‘new’) are nevertheless worth repeating because of the inclusive nature of the views expressed, and the implications of the internal logic of taking such views. He says ‘Jesus (Yeshua) wasn’t a Christian. Jesus lived and died as a Jew. Understanding the Jewishness of Jesus is the secret to knowing him better and understanding his message in the twenty-first century.’ (Brackets mine). He goes on to explain in a later interview about his book with Deborah Goldman (8/9/16) ‘Jewish life in the first century has great importance for Jews and Christians; both rabbinic Judaism and Christianity emerged out of the destruction of the Second Temple. We can learn both about our similarities and differences by exploring this pivotal time.’
There will be many who will welcome such an extended and open hand, myself included as a Messianic Jew. But it isn’t the JewishNESS of Yeshua that interests me. That last suffix causes all the problems. It is one thing to accept the JewishNESS of Yeshua, another entirely to accept he is Jewish. For some this will be splitting hairs, but the difference is real. Many talk about the JewishNESS of early Christianity as if this early hallmark and root can today be safely and hygienically dispensed with, an anachronism of history; Sure it is interesting and helpful as a hermeneutic tool, but beyond that irrelevant. Adding ‘ness’ to our categories gives us a safe distance to analyse, reduce the threat level and engage in conflict-free debate. But until the suffix is removed no real lasting change will happen. For Christians the Bible study is enhanced, for Jewish people a turbulent period in our history is explained. But both communities can continue to coexist.
Rabbi Moffic is wrong on one of his salient points: The emergent forms of faith that developed out of the late first and early second century in Israel were not rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. The two surviving forms of Judaism (for survivors they were) by mid second century were (early) Rabbinic Judaism and Messianic Judaism. This has become already a well documented and undisputed fact by many academics. Avoiding the implications of this by continuing to add ‘ness’ to any theological debate and discussion will only push back the internal logic of the current revival in Judaism going on. The emergence again of Messianic Judaism, after 2000 years of seclusion, is a sure sign that Judaism WILL be revived once more in our days.