Intermarriage and Faith in Jesus: Is it Good For the Jews?

December 5, 2013

The recent Pew Research Center Survey of U.S. Jews provides ample grist for the mill of discussion about intermarriage and interfaith issues. We all know that we live in a changing world. But few of us have noticed how much it has already changed.

Take for example what the Pew Study reports about what today's Jews view to be compatible with Jewish identity. Here is a brief quote:

In general, Jews express fairly broad views of what is and isn’t compatible with being Jewish — majorities across all age and educational subgroups and in all major religious groupings say people can be Jewish if they work on the Sabbath, are strongly critical of Israel and even if they don’t believe in God.

The only clear no-no, though, is believing Jesus was the Messiah, which clear majorities of most subgroups say is incompatible with being Jewish; even so, about a third (34%) of Jews say a person can be Jewish even if he or she believes Jesus was the Messiah. (Our researchers didn’t include so-called “Messianic Jews,” as part of the main survey population; they were considered people of Jewish background or Jewish affinity.)

For people familiar with discussion on such matters, the first paragraph quoted says nothing especially new, although it would have come as a shock to our great grand parents.  However the second paragraph should astound you.  The polling demonstrated that belief in Jesus is still a hot button issue, with most Jews regarding this to be out of bounds even when atheism, criticism of Israel and sabbath breaking are regarded as in bounds. But the astounding factoid is this: that 34 percent of Jews view belief in Jesus as Messiah to be compatible with Jewish loyalties.

This is a new world.

Notice as well that the polling sample excluded Messianic Jews. This means that of non-Messianic Jews, one in three views belief in Jesus as Messiah to be compatible with Jewish loyalties.

To say the least, this is an attention-getter for those of us who believe that Yeshua rightly understood is good news for the Jews.

But this is also potentially good news for intermarried couples, because when rightly understood, Yeshua is the common ground upon which Jewish and Christian Gentile partners and their families can build a lives together of mutual respect, mutual growth, and mutual joy.

Jews have a right to protect themselves and their children from an unJewish Jesus, seen as the leader and icon of those who killed us, exiling us from their countries, and blamed us for the death of their God. Jews have a right to defend themselves and their children against Jesus and his followers who entice, cajole, deceive, or force Jews to forsake Jewish community and covenantal life for the lentil stew of alleged Christian privilege.

Unknown-1But rightly understood, Yeshua is good news for the Jews. He is the executor and guarantor of the fulfillment of all of God's promises to our people. His claims and context are entirely Jewish, being ratifications of Jewish life and promises, and not their abolition. And when rightly understood he is the transformative common ground upon which Jews and Christians can find a level of shalom--well being and wholeness--for which all of long been waiting.

On the other hand, intermarried partners and their families are always in an unstable situation as long as Jesus and Jewishness are seen to be "other" to each other. I see four or five alternatives in attitude that are available to intermarrieds and their families. I will report on that in our next blog.


2 comments on “Intermarriage and Faith in Jesus: Is it Good For the Jews?”

  1. It seems to me that the doctrine that Torah is only for the jews is one of the divisive factors in intermarriage. I know for our family it is. If the culture was more like you noted in your post on Boyarins book, (affiliations and practices determine your religion) these (from my perspective) very damaging walls might be torn down.

    Messianic Judaism could have taken a different view of this situation. But it looks to me like the UMjC has adopted the same opinion as other branches of Judaism, that Gentiles should only be practicing the Noachide laws. Please correct me if I'm wrong on any of this. (I know you said in a previous post that there is the opportunity for conversion, but that is a sticky situation, there are some problems with the guidelines even being possible, and only available in certain congregations.)

    And if Messianic congregations really do want to maintain Jewish culture and identity, they should make it possible for someone wanting to keep Torah, to keep it. Not just kashrut laws, but Shatnez, niddah, etc. There should be some opportunity to grow in all areas of observance. Why does this not seem to be a priority? It seems to me that if messianics really believed in the picture of Jesus as they have painted him (an observant Jew who was very engaged in teaching the how's of Torah observance) then messianic synagogues would look something closer to Chabad with their strong emphasis on teaching how to live. The ideas of how to live might be different but the passion and attention to teaching the unique ideas of Yeshua should be similar, IMo.

    1. The passion for how to live as Jews is reflected in the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council [MJRC] , a subgroup within the UMJC, of which I am a member along with quite a few other rabbis. WE do believe in an observant Messianic Judaism, and we are involved in supporting the work of the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute which also supports and promotes this priority. For the MJRC see http://www.ourrabbis,org, and for MJTI, see As for Gentiles observing Torah, we are not banning this practice so much as adhering to same canons of covenantal respect exemplified in other branches of Judaism, and in the New Testament as well. It is clear from the New Testament that Jewish life was for Jews and was not the apostolic expectation for Gentiles. One of a number of passages teaching this is found in Acts 21, where Peter is discussing with Paul that he must stamp out the false rumor going around Jerusalem that Paul is teaching Jews to abandon Torah, not circumcise their children, and leave off the customs delivered to Moses. It was because Paul taught GENTILES in the Diaspora that this was not God's requirement for them that the twisted rumor had formed. Peter goes on to say this, which makes the Apostolic practice clear,

      Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law. But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.” Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them.

      Yes, these are similar to the Laws of Noah. But it is not quite true that we forbid Gentiles to keep Torah. Gentile family members are more than free to sport their family members in Torah observance. However, there is a term for a Gentile who keeps Torah, and that is, a Jew. Such a person should accept the whole yoke of Torah and be communally received as one who has joined that covenantal commitment. This is where conversion comes in. Short of that, in our MJ context, we have people selectively keeping Torah, idiosyncratically keeping Torah, and redefining what Torah obedience should look like in terms strange to Jews and alien to Jewish precedent. This is not something we in the MJRC support, nor should we. I think you would agree when you consider this policy against these on the ground realities.

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