Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Messianic Jews: A Third Way?

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Messianic Jews: A Third Way?

Article excerpt

At Beth Israel Hospital, on First Avenue and Seventeenth Street, just around the corner from where I live, there was in 1994 a round-the-clock vigil of crowds of Hasidic Jews keeping watch as their rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, slowly died. He was ninety-two years old and left no designated successor to head the Lubavitcher movement, which has enterprises around the world. Some of his followers believe he will rise from the dead and this will inaugurate the final messianic kingdom. The significance of such messianic expectations among Jews has been sharply debated in these pages by David Berger and David Singer (see FT, May 2003).

A different kind of Jewish messianism is today found among the twenty to thirty thousand Jews who have accepted Jesus as the Messiah but who, insisting that they are still Jews, indeed that they are more fully Jews by virtue of following the Jewish Messiah, have formed messianic synagogues. There are over three hundred such congregations, most of them affiliated with the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC), the International Association of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues (IAMCS), and the International Messianic Jewish Alliance (IMJA). Jews in the Holy Land who have become Catholic have been given their own bishop, and the renewal movement founded by Kiko Arguello and encouraged by Pope John Paul II, which is known as the Neocatechumenal Way, has established on the top of Mount Korazym, near the Sea of Galilee, "Domus Galilaeae," where on Saturdays Catholics, messianic Jews, and Orthodox Jews gather to praise the God of Israel.

Admittedly, it can get somewhat confusing. It is a confusion that the Church has from time to time tried to prevent by insisting that one is either a Jew or a Christian. Jesus-believing Jews who continued to practice Judaism were excommunicated at the second Council of Nicea (787), and there was, for instance, this seventh-century profession of faith for Jewish converts: "I do here and now renounce every right and observance of the Jewish religion, detesting all its most solemn ceremonies and tenets that in former days I kept and held. In future I will practice no rite or celebration connected with it, nor any custom of my past error, promising neither to seek it out nor to perform it." That was thirteen hundred years ago, and some insist it is still the only course of religious integrity. …

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