Many people are no doubt delighted at the launch of the splendid-looking new magazine Tablet, a new read on Jewish life. Tablet has posted a four-part series written by Mark Oppenheimer examining two heavyweights in the American Holocaust denial arena, Mark Weber and Bradley Smith (Read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV).
Having discussed Mark Weber’s character, Oppenheimer discusses Mark Weber as a historian in the final part of his series. Oppenheimer observes that “Weber thus has two problems that prevent him from being a real historian. Not only can he not put facts in their proper context, he doesn’t really want to. He dislikes Jews, and even if his dislike weren’t further complicated by his deforming need for simple answers, it’s absurd for someone who dislikes Jews to be a historian of the Jews. It’s in the nature of humanity that only someone who likes another person or group of people—likes with skepticism, of course, but still likes—can have the sympathetic imagination to really understand that person or group. At the very least, a good scholar has to seek out the company of his subjects—something that would be easy for Weber, whose Orange County is hardly Judenrein. Weber has a deep admiration for Jews—us powerful, cohesive, brilliant Jews—but it’s an admiration that could never survive actually knowing us.”
Oppenheimer’s claim clearly makes sense, and he presents it as a universal value. In that case it should be equally true that those writing about Messianic Jews, a religious minority group, should express sympathy with Messianic Jews. The plight of other religious minorities worldwide such as the Coptic Christians of Egypt and the Ba’hai of Iran have garnered attention from various parts of the international community, and journalists writing about their situations are able to be sympathetic with the suffering of these these religious groups, even if they themselves are not Christian nor Ba’hai. Likewise, it is only to be expected that Messianic Jews are given fair and sympathetic treatment in the press.
In another article at Tablet Magazine, Hadara Graubart claims that Messianic Jews are ‘different.’ Graubart writes that “there are thorny problems with Messianic Jews. First, there’s their euphemistic name. There are Jews who believe in a messiah that is not Jesus Christ, but MJs are talking about JC, and JC alone, making them, well, Christians. Second, they proselytize, which is not part of the Jewish tradition, and which, in the case of some of the publications put out by organizations like Jews for Jesus, they often mask as general engagement with Jewish life and culture, sometimes illegally using the likenesses of famous Jews not affiliated with their group. There’s something frankly cultish and sneaky about the condescension with which the Jews for Jesus website addresses the concerns of its readers, and about the way the enterprise as a whole tries to entice Jews into its ranks.”
There are numerous problems with Graubart’s assessment of Messianic Jews, not least her emotionally-loaded language (describing Messianic Jewish behaviour as ‘cultish’ and ‘sneaky’) and her attempt to blame all Messianic Jews, everywhere, with the action of some – a tactic routinely employed by antisemites who would hold Bernard Madoff’s actions as representative of all Jews, everywhere.
Indeed, Graubart’s overview of Messianic Jews is rooted in little more than her understanding of the missionary group Jews for Jesus. Graubart thus holds to a reductionist view of Messianic Jews, treating them all as one and the same. Yet the idea that all Messianic Jews are basing their identity and sense of community upon a deliberate ploy to deceive other Jews is, put simply, a conspiracy theory. This conspiracy theory suggests that Messianic Jews are merely using Jewish culture as a means to an end in order to win converts. Such a conspiracy theory is almost impossible to defend when taking into account the diversity of Messianic Jews in the diaspora, and ludicrous when you think of Israel’s Messianic Jews, who grow up speaking Hebrew, serve in the IDF, go to school with their fellow sabras and live and work in Israel.
Yet the most fascinating detail of Graubart’s analysis of Messianic Jews is her willingness to cite ‘tradition’ in order to exclude Messianic Jews. Graubart writes that Messianic attempts to proselytise go against Jewish tradition, which is to ignore the proselytising work of the likes of AISH and Chabad House upon the wider Jewish community. Graubart, who would presumably reject claims of ‘tradition’ in order to exclude gay Jews, here employs the same argument for Messianic Jews.
I would not suggest that Graubart nor Tablet Magazine have any personal vendettas against Messianic Jews, nor are necessarily motivated a desire to create hatred towards Messianic Jews. Yet the inability to empathise with Messianic Jewish concerns means that a sympathetic, truthful evaluation of those Jews both inside and outside the community who believe in Jesus as the Messiah will be out of reach. Tablet thus fails its own litmus test as outlined by Oppenheimer.
Posted by Yeze.