Thursday, March 15, 2007

Meshichim and Nozrim

The Israeli believers in this news clip stress that they are lo nozrim – which I had to translate somewhat imprecisely as "not Christians." The concern might arise with some Bible believers, and indeed has, that they are trying to hide or mask their true identity in Yeshua. In biblical terms, are they denying of themselves the New Covenant concept christianous (also translated in English as "Christians” or in the singluar, “Christian,” found in Acts 11:26 and 1 Pet. 4:16)? The concern is understandable, and so I must clarify that they are not denying that. Why do I say that?

It might help to understand that in contemporary Hebrew translations of Acts 11:26 and 1 Pet. 4:16 (for example, in Delitzch (DHNT) and the Modern Hebrew New Testament (MHNT)), the greek word christianous is translated as meshichim, i.e. "Messianics." It is not translated nozrim. So from the Hebrew it could read like this, "and the disciples were first called Messianics in Antioch," and "if one suffers as a Messianic." And really, “Meshichi” gets closer to what Bible believers mean by "Christian" than nozrim does, even though the word “nozrim” is used more often in Israel. By using the better as opposed to the more easily recognized Hebrew term, the Israeli believers are embracing the biblical terminology and concepts, so as to boldly testify about Yeshua in an authentically biblical way.

I was surprised when I looked in my pocket Hebrew-English dictionary under the word "Gentile," where the second Hebrew word for it, just after "goy," is "nozri" (singular of nozrim, pronounce the 'z' like the 'z' in 'pizza'). In other words, to a modern Hebrew speaker, saying “nozri” can basically be another way of saying "Gentile." Now, we should drop any prejudices we might have about the word "Gentile"; the fact is that God loves the Gentiles (the nations) and has blessed them through the Jewish Messiah (Gen 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; Luke 2:32; Acts 11:18; 13:46; Rom. 11:13). Moreover, the Gentiles, together with the Jewish people, are essential to the body of Christ from a biblical perspective, as part of the commonwealth of Israel (Eph 2:11-22). But the point that this shows is that the word nozri stands for a foreign religion, which faith in Yeshua was never meant to be for a Jewish perspective (Luke 1:54-55, John 4:22). Indeed, one cannot even have the commonwealth of Israel (to be including the Gentiles), if you were to take Israel out of the picture. So the believers there choose to explicitly express that they are a part of the biblically Jewish, Israeli-born faith in the Messiah of Israel. (This is something that all believers, Jew and Gentile, should see as an imperative to express - Rom 1:16; 11:11).

The Hebrew phrase yehudim meshichim - Messianic Jews - has been around in the land as long as Israel, and even before the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. But the term was unknown to most Israelis until recently, only because Jewish believers in Jesus have been few in number there. Naturally, all these terminology issues (just like the symbolism of putting up the mezuza, and not a crucifix) fascinate the media in Israel, because it shows that this group simply cannot fit into a preconceived box. Thus, the media focused on that aspect of the interviews and footage.

So, to summarize:

--The term for believers in Yeshua found in Israeli Bibles is usually Meshichim.

--Believers usually reject the term Nozrim, because, while it may be the most common term for "Christian," it also evokes a non-Jewish religious institution that has nothing to do with the Messiah or people of Israel.

--Deriving from the biblical terminology, in general they call themselves Yehudim Meshichim, in parallel to Jewish believers worldwide who call themselves 'Messianic Jews'.

Now, I don't mean to imply that semantics is or should be a 'really big deal' for believers in Israel. However, it was a 'big deal' for the media there, because the different terms/symbols was intriguing in itself, and likewise it can be for Gentile believers outside Israel, because of the attachment to the label "Christian."

Thursday, March 01, 2007

R. Deri on Messianic Jews: "the spiritual danger that threatens us today more than ever"

I received the following from Howard Bass, a pastor in Beersheva, who wisely urges that the following be made known:

This case is not against Israel or against the Jewish people. It is not to be used in any way to foment or promote anti-Israel or anti-Jewish actions or reactions. It is already known through the Scriptures that Israel is presently opposed to the good news of God, so we are not out to make them an enemy. Nor is our legal action intended to be used by any other minority or religious groups in Israel to encourage or affirm anti-Israel/Jewish sentiment. For the sake of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, Israel and her people are beloved by God the Father for His honor and glory, and for the honor and glory of His Son.

I share Howard's concern and sentiment, and hope that nothing more needs to be said on that.

22 Feb 07, Sheva Magazine, translated from Hebrew

The Chief Rabbinic Council for Israel decided in its meeting last Monday (20 February) to establish a special committee for "War Against the Mission Throughout the Country."

The initiator of the matter, the Chief Rabbi of Beer Sheva and a member of the Council, the Rabbi Yehuda Deri, notes that he, [along with] Rabbi Simcha Ha-Cohen, the Chief Rabbi of Rehovot, and Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, the Chief Rabbi of Ra'anana and former Chairman of the Shas movement and Minister of the Interior, will work on the matter, within the framework of the Committee, by holding meetings with Members of Parliament (Knesset), acting to change the law regarding missionary work, cooperating with rabbis in the battle of this matter, and working with the police in enforcing the existing law, which forbids changing [of one's] religion. Rabbi Deri noted in the meeting of the Council that activities of the sect "the Messianic Jews," in Beer Sheva in particular and in the country generally, is "the spiritual danger that threatens us today more than ever", and presented different instances of activities of members of the sect throughout the country, in which he emphasized the fact that the Chief Rabbinate has not yet expressed its opinion on the matter. Among other things, the Rabbi told about the baptism of 15 Jews on one Sabbath (Saturday) about two months ago at [an Exhibition Hall] in Tel Aviv.

The Chief Rabbinic Council discussed the issue of the filing of another lawsuit in the Magistrate's Court in Beer Sheva against Rabbi Deri by persons of the sect, this time for [financial] compensation, for offenses against activities of "the Messianic Jews" during a mass demonstration led by the Rabbi about one year ago in which there was violence. Rabbi Deri reported at that time to Sheva [newspaper] that a few hotheads arrived at the demonstration site before him and engaged in violent acts, which were stopped immediately by him. The Rabbi is certain that the lawsuit is "a stepping up and an opening of a frontline war, which is intended only to frighten him and to restrict his steps in his uncompromising battle unprecedented in its scope against the sect's activities."

By the way, Rabbi Deri mentions with praise the success of his latest initiative to enforce the decision of the local rabbinate, according to which about 300 restaurants in the city that enjoy the supervision of the rabbinate will use only worm-free vegetables, except for cabbage. In his words, "Not one of the business owners had to give up his kosher license in the follow-up to apply the decision, which is an increase of ten degrees in the field of food acceptability. Other cities in the country can only be jealous of this outstanding precedent."