After writing a strongly worded repudiation of Israel’s nascent Sanhedrin decision not to permit rabbinical marriages between Messianic Jews in the country, I was somewhat surprised to get a near immediate response from a spokesman for the religious governing body.
Who knew the Sanhedrin cared what I thought?
I certainly didn’t.
The response made some good points, and I’d like to share with you some of them, along with my own comments to a gentleman named Benyamin Abrahamson, identifying himself as the webmaster of the Sandredrin.
Here the relevant passages of the Sanhedrin response to my column, interspersed with my reactions.
Sanhredin: I read your article “Israel’s Sanhedrin blows it again,” and I wish to draw your attention to a couple of mistakes. First off, the central statement – “Tuesday, the Sanhedrin ruled that a Jew who believes in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah is no longer considered a Jew for purposes of marriage in Israel. This makes it impossible for two Messianic Jews to get married inside the country” – is not correct.
The Sanhedrin’s statement is that Messianic Jews are Christians and not followers of Rabbinic Judaism. Because of this they cannot be married by a rabbi, but rather are free to be married as Christians in whatever form they wish. If they wished to be married in Israel, the government recognizes both Protestant and Catholic marriages, and there are registered priests who perform these ceremonies. If they are married outside Israel by some other recognized church, their marriage is valid by the Israeli government. This view is supported by the Israeli Rabbinate and the nascent Sanhedrin.
Farah: Thank you for your thoughtful message. I’d like to express my sensitivity to some of what you say. Is it not true that the effect of the Sanhedrin’s ruling as you describe is the same as my interpretation?
I wrote: “Tuesday, the Sanhedrin ruled that a Jew who believes in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah is no longer considered a Jew for purposes of marriage in Israel. This makes it impossible for two Messianic Jews to get married inside the country.”
You wrote: “The Sanhedrin’s statement is that Messianic Jews are Christians and not followers of Rabbinic Judaism. Because of this they cannot be married by a rabbi, but rather are free to be married as Christians in whatever form they wish. If they wished to be married in Israel, the government recognizes both Protestant and Catholic marriages, and there are registered priests who perform these ceremonies. If they are married outside Israel by some other recognized church, their marriage is valid by the Israeli government.”
Sandredrin: Secondly, inferring that the Israel Sanhedrin is the same one who condemned Jesus is a very serious claim and risks incitement against all Jews. There were many sects during the time of the Second Temple, and even among Pharisaic Judaism there were different groups. Rabbinic Judaism today is derived from the school of Hillel and before that Rabbi Gamaliel. Rabbinic Judaism claims no connection with the trial of Jesus, and it has been repeated pointed out that the trial and condemnation of Jesus would be have been illegal and a terrible miscarriage of justice by Torah law as understood by Rabbinic Judaism.
Israel respects Christianity as a religion. It is the only state in the Middle East where Christian communities are thriving. However, it is considered important to define who is a Christian and who is a follower of Judaism. A Christian has faith in Jesus as the Son of God and related teachings based on the New Testament. Someone who follows Judaism has different teachings. …
Rabbinic Judaism claims no connection with the trial of Jesus, and it has been repeated pointed out that the trial and condemnation of Jesus would be have been illegal and a terrible miscarriage of justice by Torah law as understood by Rabbinic Judaism.
Farah: If this is so, why would Rabbinic Judaism have any problem today with a Jew following Yeshua? While some Messianic Jews consider themselves “Christians” in the broadest sense (followers of Messiah), others do not. There are differences between Messianic Jews just as there are differences between Jews and Christians. For instance, I am a Christian, but I do not consider myself either Catholic or Protestant. I consider myself a Torah-observing follower of Yeshua-Jesus who affirmed the Torah, the prophets and the rest of the teachings of the Tanach. He took exception only to some rabbinic teachings.
Clearly, many Jews take exception to some rabbinic teachings, whether or not they believe in Jesus as Messiah. Then, again, some Jews follow or have followed other “messiahs.” Would they be excluded from marriage in Israel as Jews?
This is the puzzlement I have with this ruling – and I know others do.
Perhaps you can clarify.
While any individual or group of people has the right to make sweeping definitions as the Sanhedrin did, I think you can see that it is discriminatory in an odd way, since many Messianic Jews are more faithful to the Torah than secular Jews and because some other Jews today follow other messiahs.
I know many Messianic Jews in both the States and Israel, and I have never met any that identify as either Catholics or Protestants. Again, this is a problem for them.
I am, however, very sensitive to your statement that the Israeli Sanhedrin today is not the one that condemned Jesus. I think that point warrants correction on my part. As you may know, I am a fervent supporter of Israel and the Jewish people and see my own faith as a covenantal one that links me, and others like me, to the promises of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through the One I believe is the true Messiah.
Sanhedrin: [You quote Michael Brown saying:] “In the eyes of most Orthodox Jews, Messianic Jews are heretics and idolaters, unworthy of being part of the larger Jewish community, even though they would consider us still Jews. Many of them want to keep us out of Israel entirely, so refusing to grant two Messianic Jews an official rabbinic wedding is in keeping with their hostility toward us.”
If one accepts the principle that Christians should be Christians and Jews should be Jews, then it follows that Christians who are trying to pass as Jews are doing something deceitfully. One can be a Christian in Israel and keep Passover, Tabernacles, go to a Synagogue and keep Kosher. But if they want to be registered as a Jew and mingle with Jews while retaining Christian beliefs and often wishing to share this with their neighbors, this is seen as a deceitful form of missionizing.
It is not that Messianic Jews are “heretics and idolaters, unworthy of being part of the larger Jewish community” – the issue is they are Christians and should be open about that.
Farah: Is it not true that most Orthodox Jews also see secular Jews as heretics and idolaters, unworthy of being a part of the larger Jewish community? Yet, there seems to be no problem for them being married in their own traditions in Israel.
For myself, as a non-Jew, I would certainly not expect to receive the privilege of being married by a rabbi in Israel. But it is hard for me, and others like me, to understand the unique distinction being drawn to deny this privilege to Messianic Jews, given all the diversity among the Jewish traditions. I think someone who characterizes himself/herself as a “Messianic Jew” is hardly doing anything “deceitfully,” as you suggest.
I do not accept the principle that “Christians should be Christians and Jews should be Jews.” In fact, I see no basis for it in the Tanach. As you know, “strangers” followed Moses out of Egypt and became part of the whole congregation of the House of Israel. Likewise, Rahab did so after the Exodus. Ruth did so after the Exodus. It’s a great tradition in the Tanach, is it not? As long as one was willing to practice Torah as a way of life, they were accepted as part of the congregation of the House of Israel.
We understand your position about “missionizing,” but if Israel is going to bring together all Jews from all over the world, especially those who have been persecuted for their ethnicity and their faith, it would seem a more open-door policy toward sincere Messianic Jews, among all the many traditions and beliefs of Jews, would be humane and a show of universal tolerance.
Sanhredrin: The statement that Orthodox rabbis “would gladly perform a ceremony for two atheists” is also inciteful. Orthodox rabbis are never glad that people are atheists. But people come from the Jewish community, who are atheists, will be married in the hope that their connect with Jewish culture would bring them back to the Jewish faith.
If people came from another community, such as Christian or Muslim, who were atheists, the matter would be referred to their respective religious leaders.
You wrote: “So, we should protest this decision to the government while still recognizing that our calling to follow Jesus-Yeshua will bring us persecution and rejection.” I would counter that Christians who practice their faith sincerely and openly do not face persecution and rejection, but those who appear to be one thing but, in reality, are something else do cause problems for themselves and others.
Farah: Why is the same attitude not extended to Messianic Jews – especially, as in the specific case of the ruling, a couple that did not view themselves as “Christians”?
Lastly, I am not trying to cause more trouble between Jews and Christians. I am attempting with all my strength to build bridges and create more honest and open dialogue between us.