Is a J for J a Jew?

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 Jesus 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 some one who was born Jewish and later converted but was then taken into the concentration camps for being Jewish. 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 Jesus 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 Jesus as the Messiah, or who believes any of the other tenets particular to Christianity (or any other religion for that matter)?

Such a person is a Jewish apostate, which, as unfortunate as this is, means that 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 your discussion since, unfortunately, the Law of Return’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. So either way this law can’t be used as a gauge for whether one is actually Jewish according to halacha or not.

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. The way it “works” is as follows:

The non-halachic Law of Returns recognizes someone whose mother is not Jewish but whose father is, as being Jewish for the purpose of citizenship. But a separate, safeguard “conversion clause” excludes a “person who has been a Jew and has voluntarily changed his religion”. Accordingly, based on the non-halachic Law of Return, non-Jewish Messianics with Jewish fathers but non-Jewish mothers can claim citizenship as Jews. But if so, they should be barred by the exclusionary conversion clause as a result of their ascribing to a religion other than Judaism. Yet, they circumvent this exclusion on the basis that they had never been Jewish according to the halacha in the first place to bar them on account of adhering to “Messianic Judaism” i.e., Christianity.

So the absurdity is that according to Israeli law they claim to be Jewish through the father in order to gain citizenship, while simultaneously claiming according to Judaism to be not Jewish through the mother in order to avoid being barred as Jews who converted out of the faith!

In this way, according to a “brilliant and exemplary just” decision of the Israeli Supreme Court (April 16, 2008), Messiancs, who on the one hand are 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 of the opportunity to “inspire” Jews, not only internationally, but now also within Israel, with their proselytizing doctrines.

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