Defining Messianic Judaism: A Commentary on the UMJC Statement

Messianic Judaism is a movement of Jewish congregations and congregation-like groupings committed to Yeshua the Messiah that embrace the covenantal responsibility of Jewish life and identity rooted in Torah, expressed in tradition, renewed and applied in the context of the New Covenant.

In the Summer of 2002, at the annual conference of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations the delegates approved the above statement that was written by Dr. Mark Kinzer and Dr. Daniel Juster. In a bold step that came with controversy then and continues today (and maybe for years to come) the UMJC’s leadership decided that as we seek to build a Messianic Judaism for the future that most basic to this process is a self-definition. There are hundreds if not thousands of definitions of what Messianic Judaism is or should be and as one of the larger mainstream voices in the mix, the UMJC put forward the task for a statement to be written and tapped two of the tested and respected thinkers of our movement to write a basic statement on what Messianic Judaism is or more appropriately what it should be. With the various voices out there putting forward misguided and outright anti-Biblical “Messianic Judaism” or “Messianic Movements”, like the Ephraimites and others, it is of great need for there to be a reasoned voice to step forward and say “This is what a true mature Messianic Judaism is” and our task is to make the statement a reality.

My first take on the basic statement is that if you are truly seeking to live in Messianic Judaism how can one find problem with above. Yet there are those who critique it. I say if you can’t deal with a Messianic Judaism made up of Jews (and Judaism-respectful non-Jews) that is firmly grounded in Jewish space, reflecting a desire for Torah living and seeking to honor Yeshua within an identifiable Judaism then there is an option (actually tens of thousands) for you to live as a follower of Yeshua and this is your local Church. Messianic Judaism is a Judaism, if you can’t deal with living within Jewish space then Messianic Judaism may not be the place for you.

Now to a little commentary:

Messianic Judaism is a movement of Jewish congregations and congregation-like groupings

The Messianic Jewish congregation and congregation-like groupings make for the great distinctive that we offer as a movement. Messianic congregations are living breathing Jewish faith centers that are in the midst of the Jewish community wherein our righteous Messiah is glorified within Jewish space where the Torah is honored and the G-d of Israel is worshipped. In contrast to the “missions model” that involves standing on street corners with tracts, the messianic congregation allows for both the message of Yeshua to be made known to the not-yet-Messianic Jews and even more it is an ongoing Jewish community that is part and parcel of the lives of those who attend. It is the messianic congregation that is the key vehicle for making our Messiah credibly known in the Jewish world. For the congregation-like groupings, I think that these are vitally important to play a role in extending the Messianic Jewish presence throughout our world. I think that we need to supplement our mostly regional Messianic congregations with home groups and chavurot and seek to build these congregation-like groupings into future Messianic congregations.

committed to Yeshua the Messiah that embrace the covenantal responsibility of Jewish life and identity rooted in Torah

This phrase sets out the two vital parts of what being a Messianic Judaism is and that is to understand that our identity is tied to a union of a life living within Torah faithfulness with faith trust in Yeshua, our righteous Messiah. Without the Torah, we may be a Messianic movement of which the Church is a Messianic movement. Without a faith trust in Yeshua as our Messiah, we may be another Judaism and then we would just be an independent movement of Jews. But as we should be we are Messianic Judaism, a Judaism that embraces covenantal responsibility and commitment to Yeshua. To unite our Torah and our Messiah as who we are is the only way we can truly live out a true Messianic Judaism.

expressed in tradition

This may be the most controversial part of the basic statement, the affirmation of Jewish tradition’s role in who we are to be a Messianic Judaism. We must understand that there is not a vacuum of Jewish life from 70 CE to today. Messianic Judaism may have some connection to the Judaism of the early Yeshua believers in that we serve the same Messiah and also like them we are familiar with the teachings of their communities as expressed in the Brit Chadasha, but we are not in all reality a reviving of 1st century Messianic Judaism, we are building a Messianic Judaism within the context of Judaism as it has developed over the last two thousand years. This being said, we need to look at how Jewish people have done Judaism and are doing Judaism today as we build a Messianic Judaism for the future.

renewed and applied in the context of the New Covenant

As the basic statement concludes we come to the role that the Brit Chadasha (New Covenant/New Testament) plays in our movement. Along with the development of Jewish life over the last two thousand years we also have the reflections and guidance of the Brit Chadashah to guide us and to inform our creation of a mature Messianic Judaism. So then we have both the Rabbinical sages and the New Covenant writers to inform us in our living out our lives within a Yeshua honoring, Torah living life within Jewish space. We in essence can build with multiple sources something that is both old, renewed and new all at the same time.

So then we are now four years since the ratification of this statement.

Where are we in the process of making it a reality?

What have you done to make it a reality?

What are you going to do to make it a reality?

So now to our task, may we one day be living within a Messianic Judaism that will reflect this vision and this calling.

May G-d grant us the workers to make it happen and may each of us to do what is needed as we seek to build a mature Messianic Judaism.

(originally posted on towardblog on 12/26/04)
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16 thoughts on “Defining Messianic Judaism: A Commentary on the UMJC Statement

  1. Lest readers think that my previous comments on Rev Justers beliefs was isolated Lashan Hara, I refer them to his most recent writings on his website.

    http://www.tikkunministries.org/

    It is important for us to understand that he is clear about what he believes. It is we who are not clear about him.

    Here is a sample of what he said:

    WHY IS IT DIFFICULT TO MAINTAIN A YESHUA CENTERED EMPHASIS?

    The Messianic Jewish movement usually seeks to identify with those aspects of the Jewish heritage that are good. There is much that is biblical in the Jewish heritage. This heritage emerges from the Hebrew Scriptures, of course, and not the New Covenant Scriptures. One can so emphasize the Jewish heritage that the central emphases of the New Covenant are lost in our worship and preaching. In addition, Messianic Judaism has not yet developed a tradition of worship material with a depth of content that expresses New Covenant realities. We need such a tradition, expressed in a Jewish way.

    In addition, there is tremendous opposition in the Jewish religious community to our central New Covenant convictions. For the sake of compatibility with Judaism and to assuage the potential Jewish visitor, New Covenant emphases are sometimes downplayed (even unconsciously) because they are perceived to be a turn off to Jewish people who do not know the Messiah. This produces a service I would call “Yeshua-lite”. I believe this is a huge mistake.

    THE CENTRALITY OF YESHUA AND HIS DEATH AND RESURRECTION IN THE WRITINGS OF PAUL AND THE GOSPELS

    In Philippians 3:10, Paul reflects on his own history of zeal for Judaism and concludes: I want to know Messiah and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

    This became Paul’s central life focus. The centrality of Yeshua’s death and resurrection is the pervasive emphasis in the New Covenant Scriptures and the fullest revelation of God’s love, a suffering love that is beyond anything that we could have before conceived. All the Gospels emphasize the passion accounts more than any other aspect of the life and ministry of Yeshua. It is in our embrace of the crucified Lord that we find the forgiveness of sin and the transformation of the inner man. Pauline theology is quite clear that transforming power and victory over sin is only found in identification with our crucified Lord. This is an ongoing point of contact for our faith.

    Contrary to the view of some, a concentration on the power of the crucifixion is not morbid. Those who have deeply experienced the tragedies and sufferings that this life can bring know that only this focus in the power of the Spirit brings adequate comfort. However, without the resurrection, we would not know the meaning of the cross and its victory. We are resurrected to new life. Entrance into Kingdom life is through the cross and resurrection. We are crucified together with Him (Gal. 2:20) and raised together with Him into new life. (Romans 6:11)

    This reality is so awesome that the death and resurrection of Yeshua redefines the Passover-Exodus as a redemption paradigm. It does not, however, replace it; we still celebrate the Passover and our deliverance from Egypt but the center is Yeshua.

    POWER FOR EFFECTIVENESS

    Our power and effectiveness is dependent on Yeshua’s death and resurrection. In John 5, Yeshua explains that the Father is pleased that we honor the Son as we honor the Father. This is astonishing and so very important. Some streams of Christian piety have done a wonderful job of emphasizing this reality: The great liturgy of communion in the historic churches, the great hymnology of the Reformation, the Moravian movement’s emphasis on the crucified Yeshua as the basis for our love and devotion, and lastly the hymnology of Charles Wesley. These all show a depth and understanding that is wonderful for our reflection. The effectiveness of these movements is in part to be attributed to this emphasis.

    Yet, in many Messianic Jewish services (and might I add much contemporary Christian worship too) there is little of this depth. Our contemporary worship is largely made up of choruses that mention little of what Yeshua did. We may sing, “I love you Yeshua”, but do not well tell the story of what He did and why we love Him. His suffering love is not the emphasis of much of today’s contemporary worship in general. I do believe that without this emphasis in our preaching and worship, we will see less transformation in our people, less devotion, and less of the presence and power of the Spirit. In addition, our outreach to our people will suffer. The power of God’s anointing is more important than not giving offense to our people. We make room for God’s anointing (individually and corporately) when we give top priority to Yeshua’s death and resurrection (Php 3:10).

    THE SOLUTION

    The solution is at hand. New Covenant Scriptures contain a number of liturgical or worship passages. For example, Philippians 2:6-11, Hebrews 1:5-13, Paul’s creedal confession in I Corinthians 15:3-5 and several passages in the book of Revelation. When the Sh’ma is sung (“Here O Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is One”) we need to recognize that this is a basic confession of faith. We cannot be new covenantal unless we also add our confession of what we believe about Yeshua. New Covenant material should be part of standardized liturgy for those who have such liturgy.

    The New Covenant can be the basis of writing many Messianic Jewish hymns concerning Yeshua, what He has done, and our victory in him. Passage after passage can be a basis for songwriting.

    We cannot be an authentic New Covenant movement unless our worship and teaching have this crucial note of focus on the crucified and risen Lord. I am sure that some of our readers in the larger Church world will also find that this truth has much relevance to them. May God so lead us to glory in the cross of the Messiah.

  2. http://www.tikkunministries.org/newsletters/dj-jun05.asp

    On rereading, I realized that I paraphrased him. I apologize to those who think that this makes a difference in terms of the topic under discussion. I maintain that what he wrote here was materially the same. And is consistant with what I have seen presented elsewhere.

    This is part of what he said:

    “there are two central lies. One is that the oral law of the rabbis was given by Moses. This gives the classical rabbis absolute authority equal to the Bible. This lie leads to the other lie, that Yeshua is not Messiah and Lord. ….Yet this lie has led to legalism and superstition.

    He also wrote: “here is my little summary of major religious systems in decreasing order of their erroneousness”

    He then went on to list Rabbiinic Judaism above replacement theology. The clear inference is that Rabbinic Judaism is “more erroneous” than replacement theology.

    I am open to other views if anyone thinks the point of interest.

    I would note in passing that these views are not unique to any individual and in fact I have heard what I regard as a canard about the rabbinic view of scripture many times in the movement. It is unhelpful to say the least.

  3. Menahem, you wrote that “Dan Juster… has publically written that Rabbinic Judaism is a ‘bigger lie’ than replacement theology” somewhere on his website. Could you give us the exact location of that quote (the URL)?

  4. Anonymous:

    So that we dont get too far afield. I was reflecting on your point:

    “The only clarification I can give is that the original post seems to identify “Jewish space” with the practice of Judaism. If a large percentage of Jews in the U.S. are not practicing Judaism, then how can they be said to be in a “Jewish space?”

    I think that if you read Jonathan’s original post he was talking about MJ congregations anyway, not the majority of Jews:

    “The Messianic Jewish congregation and congregation-like groupings make for the great distinctive that we offer as a movement. Messianic congregations are living breathing Jewish faith centers that are in the midst of the Jewish community wherein our righteous Messiah is glorified within Jewish space”

    His point was that MJ congregations should exist in what he calls Jewish space.

    My point in our above exchange is that any serious spiritual move among Jewish people must take place in “Jewish space”. Even unaffiliated Jews seem to instinctively recognize that a “return” to Hashem requires a return to and within Jewish values. Thus the success of Chabad in encouraging various levels of observance from the incremental to the flowering of extensive Torah observance.

    This is not something that I have observed happening within MJ. And I have been around for a while.

    I think Stuart and his colleagues may be representatives of a change in this direction.

    Menachem

  5. I’m not sure that it’s fair to compare Chabad’s success at what they do with what any “mission group” is doing. Chabad seeks to get an unaffiliated and usually non-practicing Jew to begin practicing Judaism and affiliate with a synagogue. < <<<<<

    Exactly. The so called unafilliated Jews live in “Jewish space” and respond to the Chabad message. They dont respond as well to Missionary activity. If these Jews are not interested in being affiliated why would this be?

    As for apples and oranges, are we not talking about lifestyle change and commitment to a belief system? Why is one more successful than the other?

    Menachem

  6. < << Chabad understands this quite well BTW. Which is why they are successful with unaffiliated Jews.

    Far more so than any of the mission groups have been. Why is that? >>>

    I’m not sure that it’s fair to compare Chabad’s success at what they do with what any “mission group” is doing. Chabad seeks to get an unaffiliated and usually non-practicing Jew to begin practicing Judaism and affiliate with a synagogue. Since the goal of most “mission groups” is to lead that same unaffiliate and non-practicing Jew to faith in Y’shua, it’s just hard for me to agree that there is a basis of comparison. In my opinion, it’s apples and oranges.

  7. The only clarification I can give is that the original post seems to identify “Jewish space” with the practice of Judaism. If a large percentage of Jews in the U.S. are not practicing Judaism, then how can they be said to be in a “Jewish space?” < <<<

    Assuming your data is correct, I think you are incorrect on how the implication which the “unaffiliated” Jews you speak of draw from it. ( I think this applies to many such Jews in Israel as well)

    Have you ever heard the joke about “the synagogue that I don’t belong to”?

    IMO anyone who has and who understands this joke lives in Jewish space.

    Chabad understands this quite well BTW. Which is why they are successful with unaffiliated Jews.

    Far more so than any of the mission groups have been. Why is that?

    Be Well

    Menachem

  8. >>>>> With 70% of American Jewry unaffiliated (at least according to the more recent Jewish Population Surveys), there’s a strong indication that a majority of Jews in the U.S. are not in fact practicing Judaism of any kind. What “Jewish space” are they inhabiting< <<<<

    Could you clarify what you are trying to say? What is the implication if the answer is “an extremely poor one”?

    Thank you

    Menachem < <<<<

    The only clarification I can give is that the original post seems to identify “Jewish space” with the practice of Judaism. If a large percentage of Jews in the U.S. are not practicing Judaism, then how can they be said to be in a “Jewish space?”

  9. expressed in tradition, renewed and applied in the context of the New Covenant>>>>

    I dont mean to belabor the point. However I personally think that this is a fruitful area for thinking about what we really believe or at least what we mean by the what we say we believe.

    What does the above mean to us? I submit that it is different in important ways from what it means others such as Rev Juster.

    What? How? Who? How is tradition renewed and applied? Who decides? ( As in many religious discussions the “who questions” underly the “what and how” questions.

    This is a crucial point. We all need to question it. To what extent did the rejection of Yeshua “contaminate” the rest of Judaism ( and by extension the Jewish people). Was it root and branch? ( as the people you identify with the Mission movement might maintain). Or as I believe (Stuart Mark Kinzer and others say it more eloquently and precisely) was Hashem ( and by extension Yeshua) working through the Jewish people for the last 2000 years in the outworking of our tradition. Or was the tradition “tainted” but capable of “rescue” by the “apostolic stream”? ( I believe this is Justers view as I read him)

    I think you will agree that these are three separate and distinct beliefs? I think it possible to dialogue with people who we disagree with without rancor and Lashan Hara. However we can only do that if the points of disagreement are clearly delineated. We dont do anyone a favor by pretending to agree in areas in which we disagree strongly.

    Menachem

  10. expressed in tradition, renewed and applied in the context of the New Covenant< <<<<<

    I hope you dont mind my belaboring the point but I think this is potentially a very fruitful discussion for us all to define what we mean.

    This is IMO an ambiguous statement because of course what one means about how tradition is “renewed and applied in the context of the New Covenant.

    As in at most times throughout the history of religion these “what” statments often overlay a hidden “who statement”. Who defines how tradition is to be “renewed and applied?” Rev Juster would say “The apostolic community”. I disagree.

    I have problems with this. And this is not a theoretical concern. In point of fact this “apostolic stream” has changed key aspects of Judaism to make them almost unrecognizable. These include the Shema, the Sabbath blessings, The Amidah, The passover seder, Yom Kippur, Havdalah,etc. Even the simple “Hamotzi lechem Min Haaretz” has been changed to make it more “Yeshua centered”. (Arent Christians satisfied to give thanks for food without feeling compelled to mention “bread from heaven?” )

    We have fundamental differences with Rev Juster. Do we believe that the rabbi’s failure to acknowledge Yeshua somehow taints their interpretation of the whole panoply of Jewish life so as to render it in need ot wholesale renovation by Christians? If so, in my opinion why bother with Judaism at all? This is nothing but replacement theology in another guise.

    If on the other hand we acknoweldge ( Stuart and Mark Kinzer and others put it much better than I can) that “G-d has been at work with the Jewish people for these 2000 years” and that perhaps hidden within the seeds of Jewish life as it has actually developed and not as others wish it were expressed we can see the tree of Messianic Redemptive hope which finds its expression in Yeshua.

    I really dont mean to be negative or to sound demeaning towards any individual. It is just that I do not believe that these people are at this time capable of understanding or accepting what we believe. We are better off being honest about this, respectfully agreeing to disagree, and developing our own institutions so that perhaps if
    G-d finds us worthy we merit being able to influence others by our lifestyle as Messianized Jews.

  11. thanks for commenting, you add a great deal to discussion on the blog.< <<<<

    Thanks for the kind comments

    if he did make this statement about rabbinic judaism, i assure you i condemn this statement< <<<<<

    Yochanan. It was publically published on his website.I am sure that He makes no bones about having written it. The point is that this is what he truly believes and preaches. This is not what we believe. It doesnt need to be condemned. It does need to be defined as outside the pale of any form of Judaism.

    if this is his sentiment, i don’t think that it is right to dismiss the UMJC’s statement on Messianic Judaism, to which i hope you can see as an important statement< <<<

    I dont dismiss the statement. I do think that it is unlikely to have much practical import as long as we ignore what it means to the people who made it.

    a rejection of the statement because of mr. juster’s involvement would be akin to those in the missions world that completely reject rabbinic writings because of the rabbis lack of trust in the Messiahship of Yeshua.< <<<<<

    Not entirely. I see your point. In general I dislike ad hominem arguments. However the situation is not analogous. Rev Juster is a Christian missionary making a statement about what you would call “a Judaism”. Yet, his position on Judaism, tradition and Torah ( not on Yeshua alone) is such that noone in the Jewish world could consider it normative. His roots are in the Reformed Church, his sympathies are with Weslyan spirituality and the Charismatic renewal. Not Judaism.

    The correct analogy would be accepting rabbinic writings about Yeshua. We don’t argue for this.Instead we accept their writings about “Judaism” in general precisely insofar as they are not addressing the issue of Yeshua.

    It is about “babies and bathwater”. Or as I put it, we dont decide we can drive 85 in a 35 MPH zone because we believe Roe V Wade to be an injustice. In this instance the juristiction of Judaism is with Jews, Jewish scholars and Jewish leaders. Not with Rev Juster and his “apostolic stream”. ( Whose pronouncements BTW he gives the kind of weight he claims the rabbis give to Oral Torah) This is precisely where we disagree. And why I think that his signature on this statement is problematic.

    was a brilliant move to craft a statement of what Messianic Judaism can become, without having just one side represented< <<<<
    It was “politically correct” as to whether it was brilliant dependsu upon whether the goal is achieved.

    this statement would never be considered in the MJAA or among the mission groups,< <<<<<<

    My point is that Rev Juster is a missionary. And that there is very little difference between him and the groups you describe other than his willingness to put his signature on a statetement like this.

    so it is significant that the UMJC took this step< <<<<

    I disagree. It is significant that Mark Kinzer wrote what he wrote. When you examine what Rev Juster means ( from his public pronouncements and his policies) about what he signed it was not significant at all.

    It is precisely because this document can mean many things to many people that it is problematic to me.

    Torah and Tradition in a congregation in “submission” to Rev Juster is hardly what you and I think of it as. On the contrary these terms are so changed as to lose their context and their integrity. After all Benny Hinn is now selling Tallit which appear to have once been kosher as “Prayer Shawls” with “New Covenant” scriptures embroidered on the side. And on September 15 he is going to “blow the shofar”. ( I have no problem with this BTW. I think it more intellectually honest than what Rev Juster’s congregations do)

    the future of Messianic Judaism is up to individuals and not to umbrella organizations< <<<<<<<

    I respectfully disagree. This is not a Jewish POV. The future of all Judaisms are defined by both individuals AND communities. ( A point which Rev Juster himself teaches publically and often and which I agree with him about)

    where groups like the UMJC are supportive of the cause they should be applauded< <<<<<<<

    I applaud the intent. I am skeptical of the significance of the document.

    it is sad that you do not have a Messianic community to belong to, i am hopeful that the day will come that there will be maturing Messianic congregations available to those who desire them. i will do what i can to make that a reality< <<<<

    I thank you for trying. I believe that we are in essential agreement. My main disagreement is over tactics not essentials. I simply believe that we need to demarcate what we believe and form vital institutions that can promote those beliefs. There is no point in kidding ourselves about who is and who is not in agreement with us. That is the only way I believe we will ever see the day when Messianic Jews l ike myself can find a minyan of believers to daven with without having to go to a convention.

    Be well

    Menachem

  12. menachem,

    thanks for commenting, you add a great deal to discussion on the blog.

    as i stated before, i do not know mr. juster or am familiar with the statement that you reference. if he did make this statement about rabbinic judaism, i assure you i condemn this statement.

    if this is his sentiment, i don’t think that it is right to dismiss the UMJC’s statement on Messianic Judaism, to which i hope you can see as an important statement.

    a rejection of the statement because of mr. juster’s involvement would be akin to those in the missions world that completely reject rabbinic writings because of the rabbis lack of trust in the Messiahship of Yeshua.

    the choice of mr. juster, more to the Church side of the UMJC and Rabbi Kinzer, a representative of the Judaism side of the UMJC, was a brilliant move to craft a statement of what Messianic Judaism can become, without having just one side represented. this statement would never be considered in the MJAA or among the mission groups, so it is significant that the UMJC took this step.

    the future of Messianic Judaism is up to individuals and not to umbrella organizations, where groups like the UMJC are supportive of the cause they should be applauded.

    it is sad that you do not have a Messianic community to belong to, i am hopeful that the day will come that there will be maturing Messianic congregations available to those who desire them. i will do what i can to make that a reality.

    shalom,
    yochanan

  13. there’s a strong indication that a majority of Jews in the U.S. are not in fact practicing Judaism of any kind.< <<<<

    Thou shalt not run after a multitude to perform evil.

    BTW that goes for within the Messianic Community as well. Regardless of what the “leadership” says.

    Exodus 23:2

  14. With 70% of American Jewry unaffiliated (at least according to the more recent Jewish Population Surveys), there’s a strong indication that a majority of Jews in the U.S. are not in fact practicing Judaism of any kind. What “Jewish space” are they inhabiting< <<<<

    Could you clarify what you are trying to say? What is the implication if the answer is “an extremely poor one”?

    Thank you

    Menachem

  15. With 70% of American Jewry unaffiliated (at least according to the more recent Jewish Population Surveys), there’s a strong indication that a majority of Jews in the U.S. are not in fact practicing Judaism of any kind. What “Jewish space” are they inhabiting?

  16. Jonathan:

    With all due respect I disagree. Dan Juster is part of the problem not the solution. He has publically written that Rabbinic Judaism is a “bigger lie” than replacement theology. How can you build anything in what you call “Jewish space” based upon such a premise?

    I understand the needs of non Jews who have an attraction to Torah to find acceptance in Jewish circles. What about those of us who are Jewish? What should we do?

    I would really appreciate it if you would print this for comment as I really would like to see what others suggest we do. I currently do not have a community home where I feel I can in good conscience affiliate myself.

    Menachem

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