Seder shows melded beliefs

Blending: Members of Emmanuel Messianic Jewish Congregation in Columbia believe that Jesus, or Rabbi Yeshua, was the Messiah. Their worship, they say, preserves the essential Jewishness of the New Testament.

April 14, 2000|By Diane Reynolds | Diane Reynolds,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Rabbi Barry Rubin leads the Emmanuel Messianic Jewish Congregation's Columbia community Seder next week, Passover matzo will be eaten as the words of Jesus are read.

At Emmanuel, the deliverance from sin brought by Jesus is woven into the Seder, the traditional Jewish Passover dinner commemorating the deliverance of the Israelites from bondage to Egypt. Passover begins Wednesday at sundown and ends April 27.

Thus, the drinking of the third cup of Seder wine -- the cup of redemption -- will be used to remind worshipers that this cup also symbolizes the blood shed by Jesus when he was executed. According to Rubin, at his Last Seder (Last Supper) Jesus raised this cup when he spoke to his disciples, saying, "This is the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many."

Jesus, or Rabbi Yeshua, is considered by the Messianic Jews of Emmanuel to be the true Messiah prophesied about by Old Testament prophets. Rather than become Christian converts, these Messianic Jews have reinserted Rabbi Yeshua (Jesus), Rabbi Saul (Paul) and the New Covenant (New Testament) into a wholly Jewish tradition.

"We focus on Yeshua's message at the Last Seder," says Rubin. "By following Yeshua and his teachings, we can live a life that expresses the freedom from sin that he bought by dying. People are set free not from the law itself, but from the curse of the law."

The Emmanuel Messianic Jewish Congregation incorporates the teachings of the Messiah into the traditional conservative synagogue service. Non-Jews are "grafted in" to the Jewish heritage, which includes reverence toward the Torah, celebration of Jewish holidays and, more recently, bar and bat mitzvah training.

According to Rubin, "Messianic Jews restore the original and essential Jewishness of the New Testament. We follow the Torah as explained by Rabbi Yeshua -- our rabbi. Yeshua explained to us, `I have not come to abolish the Torah but to fulfill it.' "

This fulfillment -- or "right interpretation" -- of the Torah is best expressed through following, not abandoning, Jewish ways, Rubin says.

Columbia's Emmanuel Messianic Jewish Congregation, called the Emmanuel Neighborhood Center, was founded in East Baltimore in 1915 as a home for Jews and Christians. Over the years the congregation has followed the migration of the Jewish community away from the city, ending up in their current home in Howard County.

Originally envisioned as a place where Jews and Gentiles could meet on common ground, Emmanuel has become increasingly faithful to Jewish tradition. About half its membership is Jewish. Interfaith couples with Jewish and Christian spouses often find their way to the congregation, attracted by the possibility of harmonizing otherwise divergent religious faiths.

While most Jews and non-Jews in our culture believe that a person who has accepted Jesus as the Messiah is by definition a Christian, Rubin expresses a different point of view.

"Rabbi Yeshua was a Torah-observant Jew. Rabbi Saul was a Torah-observant Jew. Saul says the Judaic law was holy, just and good. Jesus never spoke a word against the Jewish people." While Rabbi Rubin agrees that "some people are afraid" of incorporating Jesus into the Jewish tradition, he says "there have always been many Judaisms.

"Jesus," says Rubin, "would have been more at home in a synagogue than a church."

Seder tickets

Emmanuel Messianic Jewish Congregation will hold its community Seder at 6: 30 p.m. Thursday at Ten Oaks Ballroom in Clarksville. The deadline for tickets, which cost $23 for adults and $11.50 for children ages 12 and younger, is today. Information: 410-521-9779. The congregation holds a weekly Shabbat service at 10 a.m. Saturdays at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, 9160 Rumsey Road, Unit B-4 in Columbia. All are welcome. Information: 410-531-2093.

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