Messianic Jews Try To Bridge 2 Worlds

They Keep Kosher But Believe In Jesus

August 06, 1991|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

A bearded man blows a ram's horn into a sunlit Annapolis street, andthe ancient greeting "Shabbat shalom" echoes through the room.

Men in prayer shawls sway and sing, sing and pray. Fringes poke from beneath their shirts. Yarmulkes cap their heads. Women clutch children's hands and repeat, "Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God is one . . ."

The families look traditionally Jewish. The sanctuary on Bay Ridge Avenue could be any synagogue, anywhere.

But there is one weighty difference between these Jews and the rest of the Jewish community:They believe Jesus was the Jewish messiah.

In the rituals of daily life, the 30 families in the Shulchan Adonai congregation qualify as faithful Jews. They bar and bat mitzvah their children and send them to Hebrew school; they keep kosher households.

Mezuzahs, small boxes containing portions of Scripture, adorn the doorways of their homes. They are scrupulous about feast-keeping and maintaining culturalidentity.

But in their theology, as Jews who have accepted Jesus as God, they have parted company with 2,000 years of tradition.

ToSteve Heiliczer, 43, a member of the Annapolis group, adding Messianic to Jewish means a fulfillment of his heritage, an embracing of allthat it means to be Jewish.

"A messianic Jew has returned to the biblical life of Judaism, celebrating everlasting atonement which wasbought by the blood of our eternal paschal lamb sacrifice, Yeshua," Heiliczer says.

Messianic Jews, as they call themselves, have worked through theological questions such as whether God could have a son, whether the rabbis of Christ's time could have made a mistake concerning his identity.

They are avid students of Hebrew Scripture, pointing to prophecies they believe Jesus fulfilled, and miracles he performed, as the basis of their belief in Yeshua, the Hebrew name for Jesus.

At the same time, they believe they should retain their Torah lifestyle, observing that God would not spend 2,000 years creatinga religion called Judaism only to drop it and start over.

Says David Rudolph, rabbi at Shulchan Adonai, "The New Testament emphasizes God's love and faithfulness to the Jewish people, and it authoritatively quotes the Hebrew Scriptures 1,604 times. As Paul, an observant Jew to the end of his life, wrote, 'They are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable.' "

Messianic Jews come from both nominally religious homes and the strictest Orthodox circles. At Shulchan Adonai, they come in all ages. Regardless of background, they say they are attracted by a personal relationship with God they could not find in traditional Judaism.

"At the synagogue, I felt that God was more of a theological idea, not a personto get to know," explains Rudolph. "Yeshua provided a relationship like Abraham had when he would just talk to God."

Messianic Jews pay for their belief in the Christian's Jesus. To Jews, the movement violates monotheism and is the rankest heresy. Messianic Jews become used to snubs and scorn, to families counting them as dead.

Rudolph was attending a Maryland synagogue with his family when the cantor happened to recognize him as a Messianic Jew. "I was simultaneously pushed, grabbed, pushed, yelled at and spit on at the same time. He called me a traitor to my people. He said I was like Hitler and the rest who tried to destroy the Jews," Rudolph recalls.

While many Christian churches embrace the Messianic Jews wholeheartedly, some Protestant churches also oppose the movement, arguing that Jews do not need Christ, that such a suggestion is insulting to the Jewish people.

Other Christian churches object on different grounds, saying that a continued observance of Jewish law is a religious regression. For example, when 19-year-old Dorine Heiliczer declines to eat pepperoni pizzaat a party because it violates her kosher lifestyle, her Christian college friends think she's a little weird.

"It's very difficult toexplain to my friends at (Evangel College in Missouri) because they don't see any Jewishness in Christianity. There's a lot of anti-Semitism without people realizing it," says Dorine, who grew up attending Hebrew day school and living as an observant Jew.

She says her faith is worth the rejection.

"It feels like the most right thing in my life. Being just Jewish I was ignorant of any personal relationship with God, but being a (Messianic) believer, God is my friend, someone I know."

Caught between two worlds -- or blessed by both, depending on who is talking -- Messianic Jews continue to grow in numbers,says Mark Powers, executive director of Jews for Judaism, a counter-missionary organization based in Baltimore.

Worldwide, Messianic Jews number more than 150,000, he says. Messianic Jews say they have been around since the time of Yeshua, pointing out that the first-century church was considered to be a sect of Judaism, and that all the original believers in Jesus were Jewish.

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