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Believing Jesus is the messiah is not compatible with Judaism



“Are you a Jew who believes in Jesus as your messiah?”

 Recently I was speaking to a group of senior citizens, when one of them asked me if I was one of those Jews who believed in Jesus as my messiah. Have you ever been asked this? With groups like Jews for Jesus and Messianic Hebrews having a presence in many cities, many non-Jews are confused or misinformed about whether one can be Jewish and also believe in Jesus as messiah, or God, or Son of God.  

I thought I would address how one might respond to that question. Here is some of the information that I try to share with people to help them understand that a belief in Jesus as messiah is not compatible with Judaism.

• Anyone who believes in Jesus as God/Son of God/Messiah is, by definition, a Christian. Note that Christ means Messiah which means anointed (English). A Christian is one who professes a belief that Jesus is the anointed of God, picked to save the world.

• One cannot be Jewish and Christian at the same time. These two faiths diverged almost 2,000 years ago. While we share many common beliefs (such as that God wants humanity to work to make the world better), we also have crucial differences in belief.

• One key difference is in our understanding not only of who is the messiah but what is a messiah. Jews understand the messiah to be a person (not God) who will be picked by God to one day bring in a time of peace on earth. The messiah in Judaism is not someone involved in individual salvation. (Reform Judaism does not even believe in a messiah at all any more.)

• Another key difference that may be helpful for people to know is that Judaism does not believe in original sin. Traditional Christianity believes that Jesus died to take away the sin of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit. And many Christians believe (based on John 3:16) that without belief in Jesus and baptism one cannot go to heaven. We do not see people as living in a fallen state and needing to be saved.

• It is often helpful to point out that each religion has its own sacred texts and holidays. The New Testament is not (and has never been) part of Jewish sacred writings. Those people who do follow the New Testament are Christians (even if they also read and follow the Hebrew Bible/aka Old Testament). 

• You might ask them if one can be Christian and not believe in Jesus? Just as that suggestion is a non-sequitur to them, so is it a non-sequitur to us that one could believe in Jesus as God but still be Jewish (for the reasons given above).

I want to point out that none of this is an attempt to say that one faith is more correct than the other. This is simply meant to help people comprehend that all Jews (from Orthodox to Reform) agree that Jews for Jesus and Messianic Hebrews are not part of Judaism. They are misnomers. In fact, these groups intentionally try to mislead. They are often funded by evangelical Christians with the hope of successfully proselytizing to Jews. There are hundreds of these Messianic Hebrew groups, and they spend over $250 million a year proselytizing to Jews, according to Jews for Judaism. See www.jewsforjudaism.org  for more information.

Rabbi Debbie Stiel is rabbi of Temple Beth Sholom in Topeka, Kansas.