What Makes a Jew a Jew?

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.

More from the Holy Land

I have been a bit remorse in getting to this blog this week, and most likely will be so next week, too. I am sure you will forgive me, knowing that I am touring the holy Land and quite busy all day. We have been on a full schedule, and now as Shabbat comes to an end, we are going to take a nice “Shabbat Walk” hike to a natural spring. I spent the entire day just resting and talking with a friend who I rarely get to talk to, and it was great.

Floating in the Dead Sea as we talked was nice, too!

I have seen communities here in Israel, the kind the media calls “obstacles to peace” and am amazed at how much lying and misrepresentation there is in America about the truth of the relationship between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

Our guide, Yosi, is an Israeli who served and fought in the IDF, has written a book about his experiences, and is a very Godly man, with very practical ideas. His testimony about Jew and Arab relations, along with the confirmation we have received from people living in communities where they live on the border, literally, of the Syrian terrorists, is that Jews and Arabs have no problem with each other: it is the minority made up of of extremists and the satanically-influenced (that part is my own belief) lies of the media that make the world believe it is all the Jews’ fault.

I saw a man and his family walking to the community pool in flip-flops and bathing suits, and he had an M-16 over his shoulder. Every soldier I have seen in the streets, not on patrol but just walking somewhere, has a gun.

We in America have had no idea what life here is like except when we were going through a similar thing during the revolutionary days.

Yet, they stay. Despite potential for terrorist attack, or from any of the surrounding nations, despite hateful and lying media slurs and condemnation, despite the world coming against them, the people of Israel stay and will not leave. Why? Because this is their land. Not just Jerusalem, but the Golan Heights, the Jordan Valley, all of the land God promised, even those parts that are now Jordanian and Syrian. It is all theirs.

I am a Jew- it is my land, too. I don’t live here, but let me tell you this- if it was possible, I would. Why? The reason is simple: IT IS MY LAND! God gave this land to me and I am supposed to live on it; no one should ever take it away. And I would never let it go without a fight. Of course, I don’t live here, and probably never will, but I am still a part of this land.

I am here now, this very moment, and the land and I are together;  I will always have a part of my heart here, and the land will always be a part of me.

I am writing this sitting at a desk, and directly to my right is the large patio door leading to the balcony overseeing the Dead Sea, with the Jordan Rift mountains all around us.  It is magnificent! It is breathtaking. It is humbling.  The awesome power of God to create mountains that are so powerful, so absolutely desolate and yet, at the same time, so absolutely beautiful. Not to mention all the history they have witnessed.

This is the place to come if you really want to know what the Jewish world is like, and to get close to God. Talk to these Jews, who have gone through hardship and suffering, yet who still are friendly and happy to help you. Oh, yes- they seem to be impolite, they  yell and walk right through you, but it’s just because they are practical and have no time for “niceties” – they are too busy living.

We in America have it so soft and so easy that we end up spiritualizing everything because we are relaxing in our high-back chairs,, watching the game on our 62″ HD TV, and thinking about God on the commercial breaks.  We thank Him for His goodness and then go back to the game.

These people are survivors who are descendants of pioneers:- they are tough, they are determined, and they are not going to give you any “bull” or accept any from you. They talk from their heart, honestly, and expect the same back. That is why, to we soft and self-absorbed Americans, they seem harsh and unfriendly. They aren’t, please believe that- they are just not interested in “fluff.”

Their practical approach to God is simply that God wants us to be good to each other, help the needy and put doing good over doing what religion says is required. What I mean by that is that if you are passing by a man who is sickly and needs help as you go to the Temple, and you do not help him because by touching him and feeding him you would become unclean and could not then worship God, you have done wrong. God would prefer that you do not worship or sacrifice to him if it means not helping that man. Yeshua told us (and showed us) about this when He healed on the Shabbat, when He told the parable of the Good Samaritan, and when He (gently) chastised Martha for cleaning and cooking while Mary listened to Him talk.

Too often people are so spiritual that they spiritualize themselves right past God. They are so anxious to act “righteous” and be “holy” that they forget the best way to do that is to dress down and wash someone’s feet. That is the lesson Yeshua was trying to teach the Disciples when He washed their feet.

The bottom line is that it is what we do for each other every day that God wants to see. What we do for Him, specifically religious rites and ceremonies, are not as important to Him as what we do for each other. Whatever sacrifice you make to God needs to be one that smells nice to Him- loving concern for others smells nice, giving to the poor and needy smells nice, helping people get somewhere they need to go smells nice.  Not leaving a tip for the waiter but leaving a tract stinks like yesterday’s diapers. Saying you are going to do something for someone then copping out reeks of two week old eggs. Making a big deal about your tithe or your giving to a charity or your wonderful experiences with God when you haven’t really had any is a stench that will reach to heaven and back again.

Our guide Yosi said it so very well: If you could sing songs and dance for Jesus or give food to a hungry person, which would you do?”

Which do you think would please God more?