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Christian Jew in the Temple

Christian Jew in the Temple

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Published by Zari WEiss
Reform Responsa
Reform Responsa

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: Zari WEiss on Feb 15, 2011
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08/16/2013

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Christian Jew in the Temple
5753.19
 She'elah
 
One of my congregants, whom I shall call Dave, professes dual religious loyalties. He was born of aJewish mother, who rejected Judaism and raised him in the Greek Orthodox Church. He is presently amember both of our local Foursquare Church (which he serves as a deacon) and of our Temple (which heserves as a director and chair of the Building and Grounds Committee, and he participates actively insocial action work and in the Bible study sessions). He is circumcised, wears
kippa
and
tzitit 
, as well as abeard, and dons
tefillin
for his morning devotions.He considers himself an authentic Jew, and as his am satisfied that there is no contradiction in hisreligious life and therefore find his activities at Temple acceptable and welcome.However, this satisfaction is not shared by either his pastor (with whom I am otherwise good friends) or bya number of members in my Temple, one of whom has also written to your Committee. My friend, thepastor, "deeply appreciates and admires Dave's dedication and enthusiasm" [in the church] but feels"some discomfort" about it, as do "dissenting voices in his congregation."My convictions in the matter can be stated as follows:1) we do not feel that we have the right to "deligitimize" anyone else's Jewishness if his/her expression of Jewishness is rational and sincere;2) we consider it a credit to our own generation that, for the first time in 1900 years, it is possible for aperson to be a "Christian Jew" without suffering total rejection or even life-threatening violence for practicing such a faith.The position I have taken has created considerable controversy in my congregation, which has, onoccasion, become passionate. While we serve a congregation affiliated with the UAHC, I have anOrthodox ordination. Rabbi Abraham I. Raich, Santa Maria, CA)
eshuvah
 
We will address your two above-noted points in order, for they do indeed touch on the main points atissue.1. Under traditional halachah, a claim can be made that Dave was born of a Jewish mother, regardless of whether she converted to Greek Orthodoxy before or after he was born. But he would have toacknowledge his exclusive return to Judaism in order to be accepted in the community. If he was born aJew but raised as a Christian he would not be considered an apostate; rather he would be like a
tinok,
ababe growing up among Gentiles
1
category that was applied to the Karaites.
2
Such a person returns tothe community through an affirmation ceremony.The approach is different under the patrilineal doctrine of the Reform movement, Dave would have toconvert even if his mother had never accepted another faith, for as one born into a mixed marriage he isonly presumptively Jewish.
3
Reform conversion ceremonies require renunciation of the convert's former faith.
4
 
 
2. There is no question that Dave has rediscovered his roots and has made an effort to live as a Jew inone segment of his existence and has adopted important practices of Judaism. By joining and activelyparticipating in your congregational activities and services he now identifies himself as a Jew. Though heso identifies himself, we are not constrained to follow suit.The Jewish people have established rules which categorize one person as Jewish and another as notJewish. As you yourself state, Dave belongs to that new phenomenon of bi-religious persons who callthemselves "Christian Jews." He confesses belief in Judaism and at the same time he is convinced of theauthenticity of Christian scriptures.Like the great majority of our people, Reform Jews have vigorously opposed the claim of "Christian Jews"or "Messianic Jews" to continued Jewish identity, and several of our responsa have spoken to this matter.Thus, in 1981 the Committee said:Could we...consider a "Messianic Jew" as still a Jew? He may define himself in this manner, but do we? A"Messianic Jew" is one who has designated himself as Jewish, but believes that Jesus of Nazareth is theMessiah and has come to fulfill the messianic promises. By making these assertions that individual hasclearly identified himself as a Christian...Unless the young man renounces his belief in Jesus of Nazarethand becomes a Jew rather than a "Messianic Jew," we must consider him a Christian...
5
 We do not question Dave's sincerity and will assume for the moment that he has no intention of invitingmembers of your congregation to share his dual beliefs. But their worry that he will do so is apparently,and understandably, very real, and it behooves us to respect their desire to safeguard their preciousreligion. Judaism was, and in today's Diaspora is, an embattled minority that struggles to maintain itspristine identity. Jewish congregations exist to safeguard and enhance and not to dilute it. This is thereason why a number of your members are so disturbed about his presence and activities. We appreciatetheir concern.The issue is exacerbated by the fact that Dave has been elected a director and in that capacity becomesa guiding force in your Temple. Furthermore, he participates in your Bible classes and possibly brings tothem more learning than many of your congregants. This in turn enhances his status as a "Christian Jew"and legitimizes his syncretistic position.You say that Dave is concerned about all of this and has offered to resign from the congregation. You donot say, however (nor has his pastor said) that he has offered to resign from the church. In a choicebetween the two he evidently considers Christianity the more important and, to use the language of "Christian Jews," the more fulfilling.There is a final point and not the least important. His presence has divided your congregation andthreatens it seriously. That in itself should give you and Dave every reason to make the decision whichseems to me to be the only one that can be taken: he should voluntarily remove himself from either thecongregation or the church. The choice is his, which means that you are not asked to "deligitimize" him,but you are asked to save the spiritual wholeness of your Temple.
Notes
 
1. BT. Shabbat 68b.2. Resp, Radbaz, II, 796; Resp. Mabit, III, 22. In the 19th and twentieth centuries certain halachicauthorities applied this category also to non-Orthodox Jews; see R. Ya'akov Ettlinger, Resp.Binyan Tziyon Hachadashot, # 23.3. See the discussion and sources cited in our responsum 5754.13; p.4. In the Rabbi's Manual (1988), p. 201, the second question asked of the prospective convert is:"Do you accept Judaism to the exclusion of all other religious faiths and practices?"

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