Should the Rabbis Have Authority Over Messianic Jews?

Messianics from an Orthodox Jewish background see things differently to those more associated with “The Church”

Rabbinic Authority Over Messianic Jews
Yaaco Cohen/FLASH90

There is an ongoing debate among Messianic Jews in Israel as to whether or not the rabbis and their rulings should have any authority over the lives of Jews who believe in Jesus. A well-known local Jewish believer from an influential Israeli ministry rejects the idea that the rabbis still have authority over Messianic Jews.

The following is a thoughtful response to that position by Shay Kedem Calabrese, an Israeli Jew and follower of Jesus with a background in Orthodox Judaism, translated with permission from a Hebrew-language Facebook post.

There is a well-known saying that “with history we cannot argue.”

As one who grew up in the world of rabbinic literature from the first century BCE to the modern era, I can assure you that there is one continuous line from the Jewish Spirit of the Second Temple to the present day, even with all the changes, transformations and dynamics that have shaped Judaism over the years.

Those who say that the rabbis (the term is inappropriate because a “Jew” is so much more than a “rabbi”) still have authority over our lives are right, no matter what I feel about these rabbis, the truth is that the rich heritage of Jewish literary works have preserved and shaped the diaspora Jews and enabled the Jewish communities around the world to grow out of their “closed” world by encouraging writing and creativity.

If it were not for those rabbis, we would not have a literary genre or philosophical foundation for a moral Jewish life.

The Jewish “bookcase” is wider than the “narrowness” which many think defines the rabbis and which stems from ignorance thrown at those Jews by those who are too comfortable putting themselves into the box and saying, “They murdered the Messiah.” This is simply not true, and again we who believe in Jesus must encourage openness and thoughtfulness, instead of promoting ignorance, rejection and hatred.

In Jewish literature, one can find Rabbinic Halachic rules for living, but Halachic literature is just one part of at least 10 others that I can enumerate. All of that is what has kept us as Jews and shaped our worldview, clinging to us with invisible glue as a people scattered across the four corners of the earth. We all have identical prayers (with minor changes). We all read the same Torah (with very minor changes), and anyone who blames the “rabbis” simply casts fault on history, and should rub his eyes and see that we are descendants of those bearded ones, sitting now securely in Zion on the buckets of tears of longing and love for the Land, which now belongs to us.

And, by the way, if you look carefully you may find that the first immigrants to the Land of Israel and the community of Jerusalem were actually observant of Torah and Mitzvot (Rabbinic Commandments). They chose to leave Poland and the Ashkenazi world and settle the Land of Israel back in the 18th century as pupils of the Gaon of Vilna (famous East European rabbi).

I did not see that it was Messianic groups who came to make the desert bloom and dry the swamps. And this, my friends, is the historical truth.

Here is another historical truth: Rabbi Akiva Schlesinger immigrated from Hungary and founded Petah Tikva, calling it after a verse in Hosea – “I gave her vineyard from there and a deep-rooted vineyard” – alongside Rabbi Yoel Moishe Solomon, both of whom ruled that “it is a good deed to settle the Land.” None of them thought that the new settlers should settle in a Yeshiva or religious study hall.

I can continue …. but you get the point.

As for rabbinic authority, here too my friends you demonstrate enormous ignorance, because you look only at the end of the pencil, at a modern used-up “rabbi” who’s dwarfed by comparison to the great rabbinic thinkers – and you say, “This is the rabbi.” Big mistake.

On the first Passover in Eretz Israel – the following lines were uttered at David Gutman’s home in Petah Tikva:

“This night is a night of remembrance for Israel for the miracles and wonders that our G-d has done to our forefathers as they leave Egypt, from slavery to freedom, from servitude to redemption, redemption of the spirit and redemption of the body. This night we must recite the Shehecheyanu blessing (He who revives us) with a double purpose: to revive the first agricultural settlement in our holy land, and to forge a path for others to follow us. Today we are the first birds who proclaim the light of dawn, and God is the light that gives us hope and gives us the Holy Way. In this place (Israel), the light of dawn came to us and soon the sun shone upon us, those who fear the Lord, the Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings. The exalted soul of Israel will return to the world and will once again be privileged to establish prophets and saints of the Most High for our redemption and for the redemption of the world.” 

These are Jews.

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