“I Know You Messianic Jews Don’t Like Religious Jews”

Is the Synagogue in Israel a dark and unsavory place to visit?

By David Lazarus |
illustration Photo: Yonatan Sindel Flash90

At a young age Sharona had become best friends with Chava, the daughter of a Messianic Jewish family in the suburbs of Tel Aviv. As is common in Israel, they grew up together in the same classroom from first grade until they graduated high school but grew distant after the army when they got married and raised their families, and one moved to the north of Israel, the other to the south.

After ten years of not hearing from her, Chava got a phone call from Sharona. “I just needed to tell you Chava,” she said, “that you had a huge influence on my life. I remember all those times I came to your home, the Shabbat Evening meals your mother made, the fun you always had with your family, and the Shabbats we went together to your Messianic congregation. I even downloaded the only app I have on my telephone just to follow you. You had a big influence on my life.”

Chava knew that Sharona had looked up to her when they were in school but had no idea just how much impact she had left on her young friend. “So, what’s new with you,” Chava asked. “Well, I am married, and we have five children. But I have to tell, and I know the Messianics don’t like Religious Jews, but I became Religious.”

Sharona couldn’t understand why her friend thought she didn’t like the Religious Jews. She does like them, but try as she might to convince her, Sharona felt certain that Messianic Jews do not like Religious Jews, and that’s a problem and why I share this little, true story.

Whenever I have tried to discuss this problem with Messianic Jews, more often than not the response has been “But they don’t like us either.” True, but that does not address the more pressing question of why Messianics do not respect the faith of Religious Jews or why the Church and the Synagogue, Jews and Christians, have become so alienated from each other. It is no secret that two thousand years of antisemitic Christian history has caused deep animosity towards Christians, and now towards Messianic Jews, who reflect a faith that is far more traditional Evangelical Christianity than Jewish.

Thankfully, much has been done over the past 50 years to repair the broken relationships between Christians and Jews, and many Christians are now beginning to understand the wealth of knowledge and understanding of the Hebrew Bible that the rabbis have preserved until this day and have come to love and respect them for it. This is also true for many in the American and European Messianic congregations as well. But the situation is different here in Israel.

Today the majority of Messianic Jews in Israel, estimates say more than 70 percent, are Russian immigrants with very little knowledge of their Jewish roots to begin with; and while there are exceptions, Messianic leaders in Israel for the most part do not teach them to love the rabbis, the Jewish traditions or traditional Judaism. See my brief Is the Future of Messianics in Israel Jewish?

Nor do Messianics in Israel make any serious efforts to study the faith of our fathers and traditional Judaism – leaving them with anecdotal cliches about the rabbis based on presuppositions reflecting the typical Christian antinomianism and Jewish Christian polemics. That is sad because there is so much that we can learn from each other.

Contributing to the deep divide between Messianic and Religious Jews is the perception that the Synagogue in Israel is a dark and unsavory place to visit. There are of course many aspects of Israeli Jewish synagogue life that need reform. However, there is also so much in the prayers and teachings reflecting a beauty of faith that any sincere Messianic Jew would love if only he or she would take the time to notice. But here too, most Messianic Jews in Israel have hardly ever attended a synagogue on the Sabbath and could not follow the service or understand the meaning of the prayers even if they had. Much of their disrespect shown towards Judaism stems from simple ignorance.

In the end, Sharona and Chava have come much closer simply by talking about the presuppositions they both have concerning each other’s faith communities. They have begun really listening and learning from one another and teaching their children to do the same which gives me hope for the future.

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