Rabbi Shlomo Riskin's recently published article ("Dialogue: The Messianic Movement," Jerusalem Post, 8-27-2010) describing his assessment of Messianic Judaism demands a thoughtful response by someone who is part of this community.
Rabbi Riskin is well-respected in both Christian and Jewish circles. He is dynamic, intelligent, spiritual, and has great leadership abilities. We respect him as well for those qualities.
Furthermore, there are many issues in which we are in total agreement.
- He promotes dialogue between Christians and Jews.
- We should emphasize common ground in interfaith dialogue.
- Cooperation between Israel and the Church is a national duty.
- Pioneers of reconciliation face a barrage of criticism.
- We are under attack from Islamic Jihad and secular materialism.
We Messianic Jews are not asking anyone in either Orthodox Judaism or Christian Zionism to agree with us. We believe our position is correct, just as they do. We ask others to examine our beliefs with the same respect that we give to theirs.
Having said that, there are certain points in which we would disagree with Rabbi Riskin's statements.
While he says that he does not believe our community has been persecuted, we know otherwise. Our community is not persecuted by the State of Israel. However, it cannot be ignored that a fringe minority of Ultra-Orthodox Jews do execute pre-meditated attacks against us.
1. The Ortiz family whose son Amiel miraculously survived an attempt of murder upon his life.
2. Mrs. Conforti, whose bakery business in which she has worked from pre-dawn to post-dusk for years was deliberately destroyed.
3. The Beer Sheva Messianic congregation was ransacked by a mob (an attack recorded on film).
4. The smaller Messianic congregation in Arad has been physically attacked repeatedly.
5. Dozens of new immigrants have been denied citizenship simply because of their faith (all of whom are Jewish enough to have been slaughtered in the Holocaust, and have relatives who were).
6. Numerous Messianic Jews have been beaten, attacked, kidnapped, spit upon, cut off from families, and so on.
The list could go on, but this should be enough to make the point that one should not be "astonished" (in Rabbi Riskin's words) when asked about persecution against Messianic Jews. These attacks were perpetrated by extremist elements of the Ultra-Orthodox (who do not represent mainstream Judaism in our eyes). The ONLY reason these attacks took place was because the victims were Messianic Jews.
Rabbi Riskin compared us with the Mormon Church in America, which is not received by most of the Evangelical Christian community. The example, however, is not relevant for two reasons: First, Judaism is not solely a religion; it is also a people group. Secondly, Orthodox Judaism has religious monopoly in Israel, which Evangelicals do not have in the United States.
While many Evangelical Christians would not agree with the tenets of the Mormon faith, they would not deny their right to be Americans, nor their right to be part of the religious spectrum that exists in the United States. Mormons have full legal rights to conduct all religious and social duties, from birth to burial. Riskin has denied our God-given right to be Jews. We are denied legal rights to perform religious duties necessary within our community. Therefore, the comparison to the Mormons is not at all parallel.
We are also accused of "proselytizing" (a claim we deny by our very insistence to remain Jewish and live a Jewish lifestyle). Disseminating our beliefs is a basic right of freedom of expression, thought, religion, and the press. In fact, we do not disseminate our faith as many Ultra-Orthodox missionaries do, who approach cars in the middle of traffic, ask people to lay tefillin in shopping centers, and drive mission-mobiles around the city with loudspeakers in their "proselytizing" efforts.
Rabbi Riskin accused us of being "deceptive." Yet our beliefs are openly stated to anyone who asks. There is no hiding or pretending. It is virtually impossible to join our gatherings for more than a few moments and not understand who we are. Expressions of Jewish practice, from circumcision to Shabbat to Feasts of the Torah to Bar Mizvah to Chuppa, are an essential part of our faith. There are differing levels of expression of those customs within our communities. However, each person's religious expression is inherent to his or her faith. We have stood with integrity for those values despite criticism from both Christian and Rabbinic circles.
Finally, if our view of the Messiah is said to put us out of the realm of Judaism, then what about the Chabad movement which has invested millions of dollars in advertising campaigns to proclaim that their Rebbe is the Messiah? (Their "Meshichist" stream even believes that he was raised from the dead and answers prayers of his followers from heaven.) Are Lubavitchers not Jews? What about the Tel Aviv "Messiah?" What about those who proclaim that reciting the name of Nachman brings world redemption? What about professors of Tanakh in Israeli universities who do not believe in God? What about Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism, New Kabbalah and New Age? All of those above differ from Orthodox Judaism "mainstream." Are they also “out of the realm of Judaism?”
My point here is not to try to convince anyone to believe what we believe. We simply wish to stop the "de-legitimizing" of our community. We are Jewish by birth and Jewish by choice. We pay taxes, serve in the army, believe in the God of Israel, the Torah of Israel, and the Messiah of Israel.
Asher Intrater Congregational Leader – Ahavat Yeshua, Jerusalem
Love of Yeshua Messianic Congregation