IN SHORT... Many people, Christians and some Jews as well, erroneously believe that just as one can be Black and Christian, just as one can be Oriental and Christian, one can also be Jewish and Christian. It is not true. The Jews are not a race. There is no genetic code passed from either mother or father to the child that makes that child a Jew. Even if all, or some, of the genetic code in a child could be proved to be of Jewish Origin, that would not make the child a Jew. Jewish law determines who is a Jew, and Jewish law is quite clear. If a person's mother is a Jew, and that person has not converted to another faith, then that person will be considered fully Jewish, so long as that person wishes to identify solely as a Jew. Although one cannot convert to become a member of a race, for example one cannot convert to become an Oriental or an African-American, one who converts to Judaism does, indeed, become fully a Jew. Similarly, if one converts from Judaism to another faith, one is no longer a Jew.
A FULL EXPLANATION... When the non-Jewish world makes the claim that one who was Jewish but converts to Christianity can retain the "Jewish Culture and Ethnicity," one must ask, "Which Jewish Culture? Which Jewish Ethnicity?" The culture and ethnicity of a Jew from Morocco has little in common with the ethnicity and culture of a Jew from Eastern Europe. Yet both are Jews because their faith, their Jewish theology, is the same.
And just as many people convert to Judaism, and thus become Jews, those Jews who convert to another faith are no longer Jews.
The Biblical basis for this is I Kings 18:21. Elijah the prophet asked Jews who were beginning to slip into the worship of the idol, Baal, "How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the God of the Jews is God, follow Him! but if Baal is God, then follow him!" Elijah told the Jews, one or the other, not both! You cannot believe in two opposite, mutually exclusive ideas simultaneously. Judaism and Christianity believe in opposite, mutually exclusive ideas, and you cannot be a Jew and a believer that Jesus was the Christ at the same time. (See question 3.)
A Rabbi in the later Middle Ages named the Hai Gaon, as quoted by Aderet in Responsa, VII #292, stated that a Jew who converted out of the faith was no longer a Jew. This was shared by numerous rabbis, which can be seen in the Responsa literature of Simon ben Zemah of Duran, Samuel de Medina, Judah Berab, Jacob Berab, Moses ben Elias Kapsali, and others in the Middle Ages.
Most recently this can also be seen in the Responsa of the Satmar Rov in his Divrei Torah, Yoreh Deah #59, paragraph 5, as well as in the Responsa of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Even Haezer Volume 4 Number 53.
The very famous rabbi, Moses ben Maimon, called Maimonides, also wrote that if a Jew converted to Christianity, he or she was no longer a Jew. See Maimonides, Hilchot Mamrim Perek 3, Halacha 1-3, as well as in Maimonides's Mishnah Torah, Avodat Kochavim 2:5.
Rabbi Moses Isserles demanded a formal conversion back to Judaism for those who converted out of Judaism but who then wanted to return to Judaism. He demanded ritual immersion (mikveh) and repentance before a court of three (beit din). You will see this also in other Responsa literature: Radbaz, Responsa III, 415; Moses Isserles to Yoreh Deah 268.12; and Hoffman, Melamed Leho-il II, 84.
It was only after the experience of the Marranos, Jews who were forced by the Church to convert to Catholicism but who secretly practiced Judaism, that the Rabbis stated that one who converted involuntarily out of Judaism did not have to convert back to Judaism. This assumes that because it was done out of force, the Jew in his heart never really left the Jewish religion. This also concerns only those who wish to return to Judaism. It says nothing about those who accept the theology of Christianity as their own and therefore remain Christian.
Nor is it true in the case of anyone else, anywhere else, converting to Christianity today. In the modern world, no one is given the three choices: leaving the country of their birth, death, or conversion to Christianity, as the Jews of Europe were given by Christians in the Middle Ages, and which gave reason to this leniency.
Modern Israel has a law called the Law of Return. This means that because Israel is the Jewish homeland, one who is Jewish can come to Israel, and immediately become an Israeli citizen, as one coming home.
Daniel Rufeisen was born Jewish, of two Jewish parents. Because of the Nazi persecutions, his parents hid him with a couple who were Catholic. The couple raised him as a Catholic, and he became a Catholic priest. Father Daniel, aware of his parents' heritage, came to Israel and applied to become a citizen of Israel under the Law of Return. The Israeli Supreme Court denied his application, stating that since he converted, he was no longer a Jew. He had to wait the customary time for any other non-Jew to become a naturalized Israeli citizen, just as in the U.S., one has to wait six years in order to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.
It is important to note that the family who hid Father Daniel did not follow the wishes of Daniel's parents. They wanted to save their child as a Jew, but as a Jew he was lost.
More recently, Israeli made the same decision concerning a so-called Messianic "Jewish" couple. The Beresfords from South Africa tried to become citizens of Israel under the Law of Return. They were denied on the same basis as Father Daniel. Remember that all of the parents involved, the parents of Daniel Rufeisen, and the parents of both of the Beresfords, were Jews. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the man leading the fight against the Beresfords for the Israeli Department of Immigration was an Orthodox rabbi and member of the Orthodox Israeli political party known as Shas. As an Orthodox rabbi, he would have known Jewish law on this subject.
Furthermore, this is the attitude of many Orthodox rabbis today. Orthodox Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, writing for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, for the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, the Orthodox Youth Group, in his book The Real Messiah, on page 21 wrote:
This brings us back to our original question: What can a Jew lose by embracing Christianity?
The answer is: Everything.
Christianity negates the fundamentals of Jewish faith, and one who accepts it rejects the very essence of Judaism. Even if he continues to keep all of the rituals, it is the same as if he abandoned Judaism completely.
A Jew who accepts Christianity might call himself a `Jewish Christian,' but he is no longer a Jew. He can no longer even be counted as part of a Jewish Congregation.
As an act of leniency, however, few rabbis today ask the ex-Jew returning to Judaism to go through any ceremony of conversion. This might be a "stumbling block before the blind," before those who wish to return. So long as one remains a Christian, one is no longer a Jew. But if one wishes to return to Judaism, the return is made easy as an act of compassion. However, a return must be made, because the person left both Judaism and the Jewish People by converting to another faith.
Similarly, so long as one believes that Jesus was anything more than a human being who lived and died around 2,000 years ago, that person cannot convert TO Judaism, and become a Jew. The two faiths of Judaism and Christianity are simply mutually exclusive and incompatible.
The "Jews for Jesus" are not Jews. Originally founded by a very old organization known as The American Board Of Missions To The Jews, as their San Francisco office, they changed their name to "Jews" for Jesus, as the newest technique in missionizing the Jews to Christianity. Were you to compare the theology of the "Jews" for Jesus with the theology of the Southern Baptist Convention, you would see no difference. Compare the statements of faith of the Messianic "Jewish" Alliance of America (whose original name was the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America), with the statement of faith from the Southern Baptist Convention. Both the MJAA and the SBC have web sites.
Christian missionaries (and this includes the "Jews" for Jesus, the Messianic "Jews," and the "Hebrew" Christians) claim that this deceptive technique originates with Paul, in I Corinthians 9:20, where he says that it is okay to pretend to be anything, so long as it gets converts to Christianity. One can also see this in Phillipians 1:18. Furthermore, it is expanded in the idea of Indigenous Cultural Evangelism. This is the name to the missionary technique which says so long as you make the targets think that they can be both a Christian and whatever they were before their conversion, then missionizing will be easier. See Understanding Church Growth, by Donald A. McGavran, the chapter on The Sociological Foundation.
So, the "Jews for Jesus" are merely another Christian Missionary organization, which make converts to Christianity by dressing up the Christian theology in Jewish clothing.
This leads to other questions:
Q: Are the majority of Jews who are secular, many not believing in God at all, really Jews?
A: Yes, just as a U.S. citizen is still a citizen even if they never vote, even if they do not celebrate July 4th, or even have turkey on Thanksgiving, they are still U.S. citizens. But if they become a citizen of another country, especially another country who is hostile to America, they lose their U.S. citizenship. Similarly, if a person converts TO Judaism they become a Jew, and if one converts out of Judaism one is no longer a Jew.
A Jew is a member of the religion of Judaism, and a Jew is a member of a nation defined by the religion of Judaism. Let me explain:
First, understand that I am not talking about a nation meaning a country (like the STATE of Israel), which is defined by borders and passports. Rather, I am talking about a nation in the same sense we understand it in relationship to the Native American Indians. For them, we used to use the term "tribe," but the term "nation" is more accurate. For the Jews, the analogy to a nation is a perfect analogy, because that, indeed, is what God told Abra(ha)m God would make Abra(ha)m into, in Genesis 12:2, "And I will make of you a great NATION...." We are a nation, a nation defined by our religion.
For a person to become a citizen of a nation the process is called Naturalization. To become a citizen of the Jewish nation, the naturalization process is called conversion to the religion of Judaism. On the other hand, just because a "citizen" of this Jewish nation is totally non-practicing of the religion of Judaism, it does not mean that he or she is no longer a citizen, no longer a Jew, unless that person converts to another religion. This can be explained by taking a look at 4 analogies:
1. Andy is born in the U.S. of two U.S. citizens, but Andy moves to Australia. There he remains involved in every U.S. election, he knows every issue for his home city, his home county, his home state, and even on the federal level. He writes his congressional leaders, he has turkey on the fourth Thursday in November, and celebrates July Fourth with fireworks. Even though he lives in Australia, does Andy remain a U.S. citizen? Yes, he remains a U.S. citizen because he has done nothing to give up his citizenship. Similarly, there are those Jews who actively pursue being Jewish, who affiliate, celebrate the holidays and holy days, life cycle events, etc.
2. Bert is born in the U.S. of two U.S. citizens, but Bert moves to Belgium. There Bert cannot care less about anything of, or from, the U.S., so long as Bert has a job and his food and his TV, Bert is quite content. Bert cannot remember who is president, much less what any issues there might be, does not even realize that the fourth Thursday in November means anything, nor does Bert think that July fourth is significant. Even though Bert lives in Belgium and does NOTHING to actively be a U.S. citizen, to express the values of democracy, etc., does Bert remain a U.S. citizen? Yes, he remains a U.S. citizen because he has done nothing to lose his U.S. citizenship.Similarly, there are those Jews who do nothing Jewishly, who do not affiliate, but who remain, nevertheless, Jews, until such time as they convert to another religion.
3. Charlie is born in the U.S. of two U.S. citizens, but Charlie moves to China. There, Charlie does everything Charlie can do to overthrow the U.S. government. Charlie puts on sackcloth and ashes every July fourth, and ignores Thanksgiving. Charlie attempts to smuggle arms into the U.S. to overthrow it, and works to fight everything it stands for. Even though Charlie lives in China and works to destroy the U.S., does Charlie remain a U.S. Citizen? Yes, because working to overthrow the U.S. does not constitute grounds to lose one's citizenship. Those who oppose the U.S. in this way, merely go to jail. Similarly, there are those Jews whose actions could be, and are, detrimental and destructive to Judaism and to the Jewish People but again, they nevertheless remain Jews.
The ONLY time that Andy, Bert, or Charlie would ever lose their U.S. citizenship is if, and when, they accepted the citizenship of another country, an act that usually renounces their U.S. citizenship. Of course, the U.S. recognizes dual citizenship in some instances with certain countries, but Judaism and the Jewish nation do not recognize dual citizenship at all, and the act of accepting another faith removes that person from "citizenship" in the Jewish "nation." A Jew who has accepted the theology of another faith is no longer a Jew. (see Aryeh Kaplan, THE REAL MESSIAH, p.21, referencing Maimonides Mishneh Torah, Avodat Kochavim 2:5, as quoted above, and so stated by other rabbis in their Responsa as well).
4. Now, we come to Danny. Danny is born in the U.S. of a father who is a U.S. citizen, but Danny's mother is Dutch. At the age of 18 (or is it 17?) Danny must choose between Dutch and U.S. citizenship. But Danny cannot choose Brazilian citizenship because he was not born there, and because he has no connection through his mother or through his father to Brazil. So, according to international law, and U.S. law, we can obtain the rights for citizenship to countries through either the mother or the father.
By Jewish Law, citizenship rights in the Jewish nation only come through the mother, while inheritance rights, which are related to lineage, come through the father. An example of the latter might be for inheriting property or for being a member of a specific tribe, like that of Benjamin, or Levi, which come through the father. Now, in the past couple of decades, only the Reform movement of Judaism has accepted the citizenship rights in the Jewish nation to also come through the father. However, this is true only if the child was raised with specific and exclusively Jewish ceremonies and affiliations (a fact usually not stated when referring to the Reform movement's position, but nevertheless true of the Reform movement's position).
The Jews are those who are followers of a religion and the Jews are members of a nation defined by that religion, even if they do not follow that religion. This is no different than citizens of the United States who do not exercise their right to vote. They may not do what one is supposed to do as a citizen, but they remain citizens.
One final note: as a Jew, one has been chosen by God to act as God's advertising agent in the world. God needs Jews to be a constant reminder to the rest of the world that God exists, and that God demands moral and ethical behavior from God's creation. Jews have a mission in the world. That mission, as defined by our covenant with God, is to be a light unto the nations, by our actions, and by our invitation to all others to join us in our mission by converting to Judaism and thereby becoming Jews. Those actions that make us a light to the nations are not merely ethical behavior on our part; they also serve to make us different, and "holy" means "different," through the observance of the commandments.
Q: If being Jewish is not belonging to a race but a religion then what do you say is the status of the large number of 'Israelis' who are accepted by the State of Israel as Jewish but who are into the 'New Age' - a religion which is indeed not Jewish?
A: Please understand that if one joins a completely Other faith, as messianic "Jews" have done by accepting Jesus as their personal savior and messiah, they are no longer Jews. They are Christians. One might also exclude the New Agers from the Jews as well, as well as the now ex-Jewish Buddhists, etc. To deny an element of a faith is not the same thing as joining another faith, getting baptized into it, etc. Those messianic "Jews" want to see themselves as still Jewish even though they now believe exactly the same as the members of the Southern Baptist, Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, and Assemblies of God churches. It is these churches and denominations that fund and establish and maintain messianic "synagogues."
This leads to two related issues.
First of all, if these groups are still Jewish, how come the people who fund them are not their "fellow" Jews? They do not receive their monies from any recognized national Jewish religious organization like the United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism, or the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (which is Reform). The Messianics do not receive their monies from donations from individual synagogues or temples. When these Messianic "synagogues" form, they usually start meeting in churches. They begin meeting there, not because the Liberal Christian church is being nice, which happens often for real Jewish congregations, rather the Fundamentalist church where they start meeting is sponsoring the Messianic "Synagogue." The Messianics also do not receive any monies from any national Jewish secular organizations either, like the Federations, the Anti-Defamation League, or the American Jewish Committee. As a matter of fact, these organizations have committees and sub-committees to fight the missionaries.
Another question is, If the messianics claim to remain Jews, what do these messianics say about their supposedly "fellow" Jews? Messianic "Jews" will say that the real Jews are going to Hell because they don't accept Jesus. This means that the messianic "Jews" condemn to hell the very group of which they still claim to be a part. Does this make sense? That means that as soon as they become a Christian, as soon as they accept Jesus as their personal savior, son of god, and messiah, they then condemn what is supposedly their own group. But no one else who claims to be Jewish, no one else who does, indeed, remain a Jew, condemns his or her own Jews to Hell for their lack of belief in Jesus. Many churches do, indeed, condemn the Jews to Hell for not accepting Jesus. Talk about trying to have one's cake and eat it too!? To the Jewish community, it is ridiculous to claim one can be a Jew and a Christian at the same time, and knowledgeable Jews are not fooled.
Copyright held by Rabbi Stuart Federow 2003
All rights reserved.