Gathering in name of Yeshua

Religion: A Jewish group's belief in Jesus Christ as the messiah is criticized by other Jews who object to the melding of the two faiths.

May 24, 2002|By Donna W. Payne | Donna W. Payne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Certain prayers and readings for the Shabbat (Sabbath) services at Emmanuel Messianic Jewish Congregation in Ellicott City indicate that this congregation differs significantly from other county Jewish congregations. At Emmanuel, there are readings from the New Testament and prayers that close "in the name of Yeshua Ha Meshiach" (Jesus the Messiah).

The rabbi explained how he, like other Jews in his congregation, came to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. Rabbi Barry Rubin, who is also director of the Lederer Foundation, a Messianic Jewish publishing house, was born into a liberal Jewish family. During the Vietnam War era, he studied Eastern religions as "a way to bring peace" to the world. Those studies, he said, "made me aware that there was a spiritual dimension to life."

"I started reading the Bible, and when I came to the New Testament, I discovered it was a very Jewish document and I was shocked to find out that [Jesus and the Gospel writers] were all Jews and that they lived a Jewish lifestyle in a Jewish land. And I thought that, well, if ... they believe that Yeshua, which is the Hebrew name for Jesus, is the Messiah, maybe I ought to just check out what they have to say. And I became convinced that Yeshua was the Messiah."

Rubin, ordained by a Messianic Jewish group, was involved in various Messianic ministries from 1973 until 1981, when he became rabbi at Emmanuel. The congregation was formed in 1915 in East Baltimore as the Emmanuel Neighborhood Center. It moved to Howard County in 1993 under Rubin's direction.

The interracial congregation of 40 to 60 adults and about 20 children is roughly 50 percent Jewish, Rubin said. Some of the Jewish members have gentile spouses. Many of the Christians who attend are "exploring their Jewish roots," he said.

Rubin said that the group's "calling" is twofold: "to teach the non-Jews about God" and to "introduce Jewish people to Yeshua." It is this missionary stance that some in the Jewish community find objectionable.

"Their belief system is Christian pure and simple - there's nothing Jewish in it," said Mark Powers, national director of Jews for Judaism. "It has Jewish trappings, but it's Christian pure and simple. This is nothing more than another attempt to convert Jews to Christianity. It's dishonest to Judaism and Christianity because you cannot blend the two faith systems."

Neal Surasky, cantor at Emmanuel, disagrees: "God made me Jewish. No man, woman, child or anything that I do can take that away. ... My belief in Yeshua as the Messiah is a fulfillment of that. It gives me a role model of how to be the most Jewish that I can be, not how to be the most Christian."

"We practice the Torah," said Rubin, "We [keep kosher], ... we observe Shabbat, we celebrate all the holidays, we circumcise our sons. ... We participate as much as we can [in county Jewish events]. ... We send money to Israel."

Sonya Starr, rabbi of Columbia Jewish Congregation, said that "the Jewish community believes that anybody born Jewish is always a Jew regardless of what their belief values." But she emphasized that a gentile who practices a Jewish lifestyle but believes that Jesus is Messiah would not be considered Jewish.

Kerry Roberts of Ellicott City is such a person. He said he was "raised in the South in a fundamentalist Christian church" and attends Emmanuel with his Jewish wife. "I say I am a non-Jew who embraces a Jewish lifestyle."

Roberts said he grew up in a "mildly anti-Semitic" home and is glad to see changes in his family because of his involvement in the Messianic Jewish community. "We're starting to break down some of these walls of anti-Semitism ... within the gentile Christian church," he said.

At a recent service at Emmanuel, men wore prayer shawls and yarmulkes; traditional Jewish prayers were recited in Hebrew and English; and a Torah scroll wrapped in blue velvet and topped with a silver crown was carried in procession throughout the congregation. Later the worshippers sang, "The Torah is a tree of life to they who hold it fast," accompanied by klezmer-style musicians. At the end of the service, Rubin spoke, continuing a two-month series on the roots of anti-Semitism.

The Emmanuel congregation has purchased the property that was set aside (at 10 percent of market value) for an interfaith center in River Hill and has begun construction. Rubin said members hope to occupy the building by December and are "still in the talking stage" with other worship communities to share it. "We want to make it available and used by as many people who can use it," he said.

The congregation

Emmanuel Messianic Jewish Congregation

Denomination: Messianic Jewish

Leadership: Rabbi Barry Rubin

Size: 40 to 60 adults; about 20 children

Location: 4261 Montgomery Road, Ellicott City (in facility of Bethel Baptist Church)

Date founded: 1915 in East Baltimore

Phone: 410-531-2093

Web site: www.godwithus. org

Worship services: Shabbat service, 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, followed by lunch

Children's program: Shabbat school, 11 a.m. to noon Saturday; infant care during services; bar/bat mitzvah class, 1 p.m. Saturday; Israeli dance, Hebrew class or rabbis class for all ages

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