This is the eternal question: is a Jew someone who was born of Jewish parents? Is a Jew someone who follows the traditions and practices of the Jewish religion? Is a Jew anyone from Israel? Is a Jew….well, you get the idea.
One of the websites I use for information I can depend on regarding Judaism is the (Orthodox) Judaism 101 website, and this is their definition of a Jew:
A Jew is any person whose mother was a Jew or any person who has gone through the formal process of conversion to Judaism. It is important to note that being a Jew has nothing to do with what you believe or what you do. A person born to non-Jewish parents who has not undergone the formal process of conversion but who believes everything that Orthodox Jews believe and observes every law and custom of Judaism is still a non-Jew, even in the eyes of the most liberal movements of Judaism, and a person born to a Jewish mother who is an atheist and never practices the Jewish religion is still a Jew, even in the eyes of the ultra-Orthodox. In this sense, Judaism is more like a nationality than like other religions, and being Jewish is like a citizenship
So, a Jew would be anyone born of Jewish parents, without any regard to what they believe. Supposedly.
Now for my real-life experience: I have been told, more than once, by Conservative, Reconstructionist and Orthodox Jews, that because I believe Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah, I am a Christian and no longer a Jew. Period!
My mother and father were Jewish, our family history is that my mothers Zaydeh (Grandfather) was a Cantor at some synagogue in Kiev (her father came over here just before the Pogroms made it to their town.) So, according to the Jewish 101 site (and most of what I have heard growing up Jewish, in my Reform synagogue) I am a Jew, and no matter what I believe or how I worship, my Jewish heritage cannot be taken away from me.
The really ironic part is that since I accepted Yeshua as my Messiah (disqualifying me as a Jew), I have been more “Jewish” than I ever was growing up! I worship the festivals of the Lord (Leviticus 23) and I celebrate Shabbat every Friday night and Saturday (although I am not as strict about the Talmudic regulations regarding travel and spending money); I also have been very active in my place of worship, whether it was a messianic synagogue or my current place, which is a Hebraic Roots church. I was on the Council at Temple Beth Emanuel in Philadelphia, acting as Rabbi for about 18 months while we were looking for a new Rabbi, and I am currently an officer on the Council for my church, the Zionist Revival Center (that is the name of our website: it is a dot ORG.) I have only worshiped in two places for the past 20 years- when I find a place that I feel is correct, I stay. I don’t play the field, as many Christians do.
I also have taken correspondence classes and have a Certificate of Messianic Studies (equivalent to an Associate degree); have written and published two books on God’s word and Prayer, and I teach, help lead liturgy and give the message when the Senior Pastor is unavailable.
I am not telling you all this to brag, but simply as a resume, so to speak, to demonstrate that I have been living a very, very Jewish lifestyle. In fact, for over 15 years Donna and I have hosted a Passover Seder for people who have never been to one, to introduce them to the Last Supper as it really happened.
Yet, despite all this, when I was talking with a woman who is an Israeli, an Orthodox Jew and a Director with a Christian based organization that supports Jews living in the heartland of Israel, when I asked if Israel might ever open it’s doors to Messianic Jews (we are not welcomed there), her answer was not what I was hoping for. I expected a compassionate, “I don’t think they are ready for that yet”, or a simple, “Probably not for a while”, or even a “I doubt it.” What I got was an immediate and definitive, “NO!” Not only that, but she went on to tell me that I was a Christian, not a Jew. I told her she cannot say that, but she asked if I believed Jesus is the son of God (an immediate disqualification for any Jew, because Judaism totally rejects the Trinity) and that if I believe in Jesus (another term for which Jews really have no idea what it means) then I am a Christian! Period!! End of job; bye-bye; don’t let the door hit your tuchas on the way out.
You see, for a Messianic Jew, it is like being between a rock and a hard place: Christians tell us we can’t be saved if we are still obedient to Torah (because that means we are legalistic), and Jews tell us we aren’t Jewish if we believe in Jesus (no matter what our birthright or how we worship.)
Why is this? The answer is simple: bigotry fostered through ignorance.
Christians are taught the Torah is for Jews, and to justify not having to obey Torah they have decided that obedience is legalism, which disqualifies someone from really having “the Spirit” and being Born Again- to most Christians, being Born Again means not having to worry about rules, and if you have decided that the Torah is God’s commandments for everyone, you aren’t really “saved.”
On the Jewish side of the fence, Jesus is a traitor to Judaism and anyone who follows Him is a traitor, also. The Gentiles worship Jesus as God and they worship the Holy Spirit, so they are not obedient to the Shema (one God). That is immediate disqualification for being Jewish. Another is bowing to idols (check out any Catholic church), and ignoring Torah (as stated above), so they don’t care who your parents were and what lifestyle you live: to Jews, believing in Jesus is the definitive definition of a Non-Jew.
I wonder if that means that everyone who rejects Jesus is a Jew? I mean, if accepting Jesus means I am not a Jew, no matter what, then rejecting Jesus should, at least, allow me to be considered a non-Gentile, which is pretty much not-every other religion, so I would then be, by default, a Jew, right?
Wrong. Jews are Jews by birthright. The way one worships God, if at all, is an indicator of how “good” a Jew that person is, but if you are born from Jewish parents, you are a Jew: now and always.
It will be a very unpleasant surprise when these bigoted people (on both sides) learn the truth at Judgment Day. Actually, having believed as they do for 2/3 of my life, I feel bad for them. They’ve been poisoned since the moment they were a child. We see the horrible way the Palestinians, ISIS and other Mideast terrorist organizations indoctrinate their children with hatred, and not only authorize, but encourage, murdering Jews, and they start this as early as when they are still in kindergarten. It’s disgusting to us.
Yet, we do the same thing between Christianity and Judaism: Jews teach their young that Christians worship Jesus (and they have good reason to say that, too) and hate Jews, and that Jesus was a Jew but that He created and converted to Christianity. Totally wrong, but what does a 5 year old know about it? And their parents, grandparents, friends, and Rabbi all tell them the same thing. And from the Gentile religions, it is the same thing for their kids; they teach Jews killed their Lord, Jews have Torah as their salvation and not Christ, and in some cases they teach God has rejected Jews and they aren’t the Chosen people anymore, but they Christians are.
Both of these teachings are lies from the pit of Sheol.
So what do we do about this? The only thing we can do: suffer through, persevere, try to preach and show the truth in how we live that all are one in Messiah, that the “Jesus” most Jews think they know is not the real Yeshua, and that the Torah is valid and necessary for all people, Jew and Gentile, because God has no religion and the commandments He gave the Jews are really for everyone.
The last thing to add is: good luck to us! We will need it.