Messianic Jews are making the news in Israel this week. Perhaps not in the mainstream media, but Hebrew-language social media has been abuzz after a photo was circulated showing a new IDF recruit being sworn-in on a Hebrew Bible containing the New Testament.
We reported on this earlier in the week when the photo was first posted to a popular Telegram channel. Since then, it has been picked up by a number of other Israeli social media groups and influencers, including a well-known rapper and social media influencer who goes by the name of “The Shadow.”
Initially there was some confusion. Most people, including The Shadow, assumed the new recruit in question must be an Arabic-speaking Christian, of which there are many who serve in the IDF and often request to be sworn-in on the New Testament. The Israeli army is happy to accommodate that request, just as it does for Muslim recruits who ask for a Koran.
“I saw that many were concerned by this photo of a soldier being sworn-in on a New Testament,” wrote The Shadow. “In the IDF there are Christians. This is not strange or unusual. Everyone swears according to what they believe, even as they swear to defend the Land and People of Israel with their lives. Arameans and Christians swear on the New Testament, Muslims on the Koran and Jews on the Tanakh. Don’t disparage them! The IDF is a melting pot and this is a touching photo!”
But closer examination reveals that the Bible being held by the new recruit was produced (or provided) by Natzor, a Messianic Jewish pre-army preparatory program.
It should also be noted that the Bible provided by the IDF when Christians request a New Testament was until recently an English-language version, and contained only the New Testament without the Tanakh (so-called “Old” Testament). This was confirmed by the Aramaic Christian Soldiers Recruitment Forum, which in its own Facebook reaction lauded the fact that a fellow believer in Yeshua (be he Arab, Aramean or Jewish) had taken the initiative to be sworn-in on a Bible containing both the Tanakh and New Testament in Hebrew.
“We have worked hard to convince the IDF to provide a Hebrew-language New Testament for Christians. And we stressed that it must include the Tanakh. For us the two are inseparable,” wrote the Aramean soldiers. In a separate post they added that “a Christian who doesn’t know that Yeshua the Messiah was a Jew who read the Tanakh, wore a tallit, prayed in the synagogue and was circumcised, he is not a real Christian!”
The Shadow’s viral Facebook post received a lot of attention. Many expressed outrage that the Israeli army would permit one of its soldiers to be sworn-in on a “Christian” holy book, or that it had tacitly approved the bundling of the holy Tanakh together with a book of “heresy.” Many others were supportive, though without understanding that this soldier is himself likely Jewish.
Among the 1,500 comments on The Shadow’s post were some by Messianic Jews seeking to clarify the matter.
“Every Messianic and Christian believes also in the Tanakh. And there are many Messianic Jews serving in the IDF, and they aren’t exactly ‘Christians,’” wrote one, adding that “to be a Jew is both a religion and a nationality. You don’t stop being a Jew by believing in the New Testament.”
The Shadow himself in a comment reacting to one outraged follower stressed that “the New Testament is an addition to the Tanakh. They [Christians and Messianic Jews] believe in both.”
“I salute every soldier in the IDF who believes in Yeshua,” added another commenter, to which someone replied, “And there are many! And many are Jews. Yeshua never stopped being Jewish!”
Even some non-Messianic Jews got in on the action. One person explained that “these are Messianic Jews, a stream of Christianity. I knew a guy during my IDF service who belonged to this movement and he was super patriotic.”