I joined an online Jewish group and knew I was taking risks just by being there. I thought I’d try and lay low and just see what useful things I could learn from listening to discussions – there’s plenty I don’t know about Jewish stuff even though I’m Jewish, plenty of richness and wisdom as well as just stuff that’s interesting to know. As well as lots of stuff I totally disagree with, but then that’s part of the Jewish experience – take two Jews, they say, and you get at least three opinions. We’re generally really cool with disagreeing about things, we tend to enjoy good lively debate, even when it comes to religious stuff.
Well, the plan to lay low didn’t quite work out… Long story short, someone said something to the effect that mentioning Jesus in a Jewish forum is irrelevant (reacting to something a Gentile Christian had posted) and yours truly felt the need to point out that there are Jewish people who believe in Jesus. Boom. Crash. Splat. Great mayhem ensued. Because, whilst we Jews are generally really cool about expressing different opinions, this is the one opinion that doesn’t get the same treatment. The generally held consensus is: Jews don’t do Jesus. You may be an atheist or a follower of the Great Spaghetti Monster and we’ll think you’re misguided but still have you round for Shabbat dinner. Just don’t dare mention Jesus, he’s out of the question. Jews don’t believe in Jesus. They just don’t. But I’m Jewish and I do, I’ll say, so how can you say Jews don’t? Maybe you mean you think Jews shouldn’t? But then they’ll tell me that if I believe in Jesus then I’m not Jewish any more, which allows them to maintain that Jews don’t. You see, it all hinges on how you define who is or isn’t Jewish – if you define Jewish as “born to a Jewish mother and doesn’t believe in Jesus” then you can carry on saying Jews don’t believe in Jesus.
You’re not Jewish any more, they tell me, you’ve converted to a different religion. But I follow the Jewish Messiah, who didn’t come to create a new religion, and he doesn’t expect me to leave my Jewishness behind – only my sinfulness, my selfishness, my anti-God attitudes. He calls me to a life of loving God and loving my neighbour. I have Jewish friends who believe in Jesus and keep lots of what you’d file under Jewish religious practice – I personally only keep a tiny bit of that, but that’s mainly because I didn’t grow up observing most of it and wouldn’t know where to start. There isn’t anything Jewish that I used to do and then stopped when I met Jesus – on the contrary, I took on some elements of Jewish tradition after Jesus woke me up to the fact that my Jewishness actually means something to God. Up to then, I pretty much ignored it – I’d grown up a secular Jew in Israel, my mother kept kosher but I rebelled against that as soon as I was independent enough to, and when I came to England I happily indulged in bacon. Being Jewish meant nothing to me – as far as I was concerned, it was just something on my birth certificate but I didn’t see it as significant in any way. Not until God started to wake me up to it.
So where was I going with this? The reactions in that group – the “Jews don’t believe in Jesus”, the “you’ve converted to a different religion”, and, most strongly, the “no proselytizing here!” (I wasn’t going to, for a couple of reasons which I’ll explain in a minute) – this could seem funny and even irrational, but it doesn’t to me, because I understand. I understand, because I’m Jewish. I grew up with the same burden, with the pain of our history, with the horrible stories of anti-Semitic persecution in the name of the church, and of forced “conversions” – I put these in quotation marks because I don’t believe there’s anything remotely real about a person reciting a prayer under threat of being killed if they don’t, I don’t believe you become a Christian by being sprinkled with water with a priest saying words over you, and, even leaving aside the threats and the lack of voluntary choice in those cases, even when someone takes on faith in Jesus out of their own free will (as I have), I absolutely do not believe in the concept of conversion from being Jewish to a different religion called Christianity. I am happy to call myself either a Messianic Jew, i.e. a Jewish follower of the Messiah, or a Jewish Christian, i.e. a Jewish follower of the Christ, which is simply the Greek term for Messiah – that’s all it means, that I have put my faith in Jesus, Yeshua, as the promised Messiah who came to save the whole of mankind, both Jews and Gentiles.
There have, sadly, been people who have taught Jews to turn their backs on their Jewishness when they came to faith in Jesus – I’ve heard of some appalling examples. But there’s nothing in the Bible to tell me that I should turn my back on my Jewishness as a result of my faith. There’s nothing to say that if I believe in Jesus I have to start eating pork. The only problem would be if I were to believe that my salvation depends on observing kosher laws or keeping Shabbat or whatever – but I know that my salvation comes from Yeshua’s atoning sacrifice on my behalf, and there’s nothing I need to do, nothing I could do, to earn it.
This has been a long rambling, but I still owe you that bit I promised about why I wasn’t going to do any proselytizing there. There are two reasons: one is that I do have manners, and as a guest in someone’s group I must respect my host. And as I said, I fully understand the Jewish sensitivity to this issue, with all that horrible history behind us. The second reason is that I don’t proselytize. I do engage in evangelism, but my dictionary says that “to proselytize” means “to convert from one religion, belief, or opinion to another”, and that’s totally not the same thing. Evangelism means telling people the good news about salvation through Jesus – I can tell you till I’m blue in the face but I can’t make you believe it’s true.
I grew up with the Jewish fear of those allegedly terrible people, the missionaries, who apparently try to convert Jews to that terrible, alien religion called Christianity. Because I grew up with it, I understand it, and I can’t just mock it – I know where it comes from, I know people actually did do those horrible things. But being a follower of Jesus now, I know that the people who did those horrible things were extremely misguided and were not following his commands. And I know that what we really are commanded by Jesus is to tell everyone about him, because everyone needs to know, because he is the only way to heaven and he wants everyone to know the way! But my own people – who are also his own people, and so very precious to him – my own people are scared of missionaries because of all that stuff that was done to us in the past. My heart goes out to them because it’s like I can see them drowning but whenever I try to point them to the lifeboat they yell “no, that’s not for us, we’re Jewish”.
A Jewish man named Saul, a long time ago, felt similarly, and wrote: “my grief is so great, the pain in my heart so constant, that I could wish myself actually under God’s curse and separated from the Messiah, if it would help my brothers, my own flesh and blood, the people of Israel!”
And so I will keep praying for my people, and telling them about Yeshua, our Messiah (except when I’m in someone’s house/online space where it would be inappropriate). But I won’t proselytize, because that’s not how it works – I can tell you about him, but it’s up to you to decide.