Yaron knew that he had discovered something special and couldn’t wait to tell his family and friends. “I have found the Messiah,” he exclaimed to mom and dad. “It’s Jesus!” Unprepared for their extreme and irritated response, Yaron retreated to his room in despair as his parents discussed where they had gone wrong raising their first-born son.
Like Yaron, many Messianic Jews found themselves separated from families, friends and synagogue. Keeping these ties proved all but impossible. “Sometimes we reacted just like a bunch of teenagers,” suggested one congregational leader. “Our parents didn’t understand us, so we cut our losses and went our own way.”
A generation later some Messianics now wonder what went wrong. Integrating Messianic beliefs and a New Testament culture into the Jewish fold has proven to be a very difficult task.
For many Messianic Jews in Israel cutting off all ties with Judaism seemed like the right thing to do. Synagogue life was already an unpleasant burden for the secular majority. Messianic faith allowed new freedoms from the strict legal requirements of Judaism. Messianics developed expressions of faith and discovered new forms of worship and prayer, though these remain foreign to the average Jewish Israeli.
Other factors also contributed to the assimilation of Messianic Jews from Judaism and Jewish culture. But is this something the Messianic community should be concerned with?
Foreign missionaries working alongside the Messianics in those early years had very little understanding or even appreciation of Jewish culture. Most could not speak Hebrew and few had any experience in Israeli family or synagogue life. Messianics were not always encouraged to integrate their faith with proper respect for family and Jewish culture and sometimes young believers were encouraged to make a clean break from culture and society. Some of the families are still hurting from the radical and insensitive ways Messianics tended to separate themselves from family and friends and joined what appeared to be a foreign, Christian religion.
For most of its history Christianity has had very little appreciation for her own Jewish roots. Many Christians in living in Israel were overly concerned with “Judiazing” and tended to oppose any involvement with the synagogue, the Jewish prayer book or Jewish learning. Young Messianics were often taught and believed that it was necessary to make a clean break with anything Jewish in order to follow Christ.
According to very conservative estimates as many as 80% of the Messianic Jewish men in Israel have intermarried with non-Jews. While most Jewish believers in Israel have not intermarried to avoid the burdens of a Jewish existence, nor have they intended to assimilate, mixed marriages present a unique challenge to the Messianic community, especially when the children of the Gentile wife are not considered Jewish.
Intermarriage amongst the Messianic believers is often an expression of the unique unity and reconciliation with Gentiles they find in Yeshua. However, little thought has been given to the effect this might have on the Jewish identity of the next generation. Can the Messianics survive the extraordinary high rate of intermarriage without losing their unique Jewish heritage, especially if their children are not Jewish? (Find more on this important subject in the upcoming edition of Israel Today)
Reconnecting with the Roots
One attempt to avoid assimilation among a small minority of Messianic Jews in Israel is to move out of the Messianic congregations and go back to the synagogue and traditional Judaism in order to integrate Messianic beliefs with Jewish life.
However, most Messianics would not consider going back to the synagogue. Significant numbers though are now incorporating traditional Jewish worship, prayers and teachings into their congregational life. More and more Messianic leaders are integrating traditional Jewish prayers and liturgy into their services. Many have begun reading from the “Parashat Hashavua” or weekly traditional Torah portions.
As Messianic leaders discover the beauty and spiritual richness of their Jewish heritage some of broken ties with family, synagogue and the Jewish people might be repaired. One highly respected Messianic leader sees this as a sign of maturity. “When we were young we tended to only look at the fruits or the flowers. As we mature we become more interested in the roots,” he said.