We had a very welcome message from the UMJC President Russ Resnik this past week.
In my review of Introduction to Messianic Judaism (IMJ), I questioned the claim by the authors of IMJ, that a Messianic Jew is a believer in Yeshua who also tries to keep the Torah. I was also unsure about Russ Resnik’s comments about Messianic Jews living on the margins, and so I raised the issue in my review, of what Russ meant exactly by Messianic Jews ‘embracing marginalisation.’
Here is Russ’ response:
Thank you for this review and the ensuing discussion. As one of the contributors to the book, and a spokesman for the UMJC, I’d like to clarify a couple of points before Shabbat, and perhaps get back for more later.
First, our definition of “Messianic Jew” certainly is not meant to narrow the category of “Jewish” in general. We might consider someone not to be a Messianic Jew according to our definition, but wouldn’t doubt their Jewishness at all. We’re simply seeking to restore the original sense of the term as applying to Jews who affirm Yeshua as Messiah *and* seek to live intentionally and concretely as Jews. The book does a good job of tracing this historical meaning of the term, showing that, in a way, the UMJC definition is a conservative move.
Second, regarding my treatment of marginalization, in another paper I distinguish between inherent marginalization, which is an inevitable condition of living for Yeshua within the Jewish world, and incidental marginalization, which we should try to overcome. So, Messianic Jews should be allowed to make aliyah as Jews, for example, and I would not embrace a permanent marginalization in this regard. Messianic Jews in Israel should fight to be free from harassment, threats of violence, economic discrimination, and so on, and should not accept such conditions as “inherent marginalization.” At the same time, we recognize that we serve a Messiah who is marginalized not just by his own Jewish people, but by all the powers of this age. That’s the inherent marginalization that we can affirm as a prophetic role.
Shabbat shalom and chag sameach.
Firstly, I would like to say of Russ that he showed excellent leadership of the UMJC, at a time when the Christ at the Checkpoint (CATC) organisers of an antisemitic Christian conference, were trying earnestly to convince the world that Messianic Jews were sympathetic to their cause.
Under Russ’ leadership, the UMJC released a statement distancing its movement from CATC, which Russ also read out on Youtube:
With Israeli Messianic leaders caught up in an impossible situation whereby to denounce CATC would damage their relationships with some Palestinian Christian leaders in the land, it was refreshing to see Russ step up to the plate and speak out for truth. We at RPP would like to affirm Russ in this, for his wisdom and determination. His actions were a credit to Torah values.
It is for this reason why it is very good to see his expanded comments about Messianic Jewish marginalisation. This comment is spot-on:
“Messianic Jews in Israel should fight to be free from harassment, threats of violence, economic discrimination, and so on”
However, I would take issue with his definition of a Messianic Jew. Russ wrote:
First, our definition of “Messianic Jew” certainly is not meant to narrow the category of “Jewish” in general. We might consider someone not to be a Messianic Jew according to our definition, but wouldn’t doubt their Jewishness at all. We’re simply seeking to restore the original sense of the term as applying to Jews who affirm Yeshua as Messiah *and* seek to live intentionally and concretely as Jews.
If Resnik is not seeking to narrow Jewish identity, then why seek to narrow Messianic Jewish identity, beyond belief in Yeshua the Messiah?
To a degree, all Jews are messianic Jews, in the sense that we all have expectations about the future, that there will be a messianic age. Even a communist Jew who looks forward to the Revolution, or an atheist Jew who looks forward to a society in which religion is not so prominent or readily-believed, is expressing messianism in some form. Messianism itself is essentially a Jewish ideology that the world has caught onto.
But there is a reason why we specifically are Messianic Jews, with a capital “M”. This is a conscious identification with Yeshua our Messiah, whose title is capitalised because we consider him to be divine – just as most believers use the title “Christ” for Yeshua, with a capital “C”.
Messianic refers to Messiah Yeshua, and therefore it is our right to define ourselves by aligning ourselves with Yeshua’s Jewish title of Messiah. To deny us this, is to say that we are undeserving of a Jewish faith identification, because we do not live up to other people’s behavioural expectations of how a Messianic Jew should act.
You can say there is a way that Messianic Jews should live, or you can say that Messianic Jews ought to follow Torah, in order to truly obey God. You can even try to persuade and convince other Messianic Jews of this position. But just because someone does not make any claims of Torah-obedience, it doesn’t mean they are not Messianic – Messianic is simply a word that implies our belonging to Messiah.
By calling ourselves Messianic Jews, we affirm and celebrate Yeshua as Messiah. Either Yeshua is truly Messiah, and those who declare him as such are Messia-nic Jews, or he’s not Messiah, and none of us are Messianic Jews.