The Apostate and the Jewish Community
The concept of a multi-religions Jewish people is incongruous with the unparalleled historical continuity and social cohesion of the Jewish-religio-national community. In both a secular and religious sense, the Jewish people are a religiously based community, united with their brethren throughout the world by virtue of religion. This is so even for the avowed secular Jew who recognizes his fellow Jew on the basis of a religious affiliation that may be active or inactive. The national existence of the Jewish people has always had a religious significance and it owes its very survival to that fact. For a Jew to embrace a religion other than Judaism is equivalent to his renunciation of his Jewish nationality. The Jewish religion is the basic component of Jewish nationality; Judaism is the sole religion of the Jewish people. A Jew’s nationality is inextricably intertwined with his religious identification. Therefore, one cannot be a national Jew without having Judaism as his sole religion, whether or not it is practiced. Christian missionaries know this and often attempt to disguise their brand of apostasy from Judaism under varied titles such as “Jewish Christian,” “Hebrew Christian,” “Completed Jew,” and “Messianic Jew.”
Judaism does not and cannot include alien religious expressions which claim to be Jewish. If some Jews choose to follow other religions, that does not make those religions Jewish. An individual, possessing free will, may believe in anything he wishes, but one who declares his/her Jewishness must also find spiritual satisfaction, to the extent it is expressed, in Judaism.
Becoming a Christian–that is what belief in Jesus means–entails acceptance of Christian beliefs. Consequently, a person who proclaims Jesus to be his “Lord and Savior” cannot have any true commitment to that which is Jewish. This would include apostates who, in their desire to promote their alleged “Jewish” authenticity, include a certain amount of judaization in the overall religious practice of their adopted faith. Everything they do of a “Jewish nature” is seen through a Christian perspective and is done to enhance Christian goals. The born-Jewish Christian’s primary commitment is Christian not Jewish. They might identify with a self-serving “Jewishness” but even at that their primary commitment is Christian. They are in essence “an arm of the church to reach into the Jewish community” (Moishe Rosen, “On Our Distinctives,” Jews for Jesus Newsletter, 9:5737, 1977, p. 2; “Who is the Adversary?” Jews for Jesus Newsletter, 6:5749, 1989, p. 1).
Thus, the overall concern of the missionary-minded born-Jewish follower of Jesus is decidedly Christian, not Jewish. Their avowed purpose is the conversion of Jews to a belief in the tenets of Christianity. Herein lies an important distinction necessary to understand the depth of their apostasy. The fact is that unlike a Jew who professes no religious affiliation and has an inactive relationship with the Jewish people, so-called “Hebrew Christian”/”Messianic Jews” have actively abandoned the essence of Jewish peoplehood.
But what of the so-called “Hebrew Christian”/”Messianic Jewish” use of the Jewish Scriptures and Jewish cultural tradition, their profession of love for the Jewish people and the State of Israel, and their claim that they worship the God of Israel? Distortions involved in such usage aside, none of this is done through adherence to anything Jewish. It is done because their innovative interpretation of the New Testament allows for them to use their biological connection to the Jewish people as a means of spreading Christianity. Everything born-Jewish Christians do that is construed by them to be Jewish is actually done because they contend their “New Testament faith” allows it. It is not done as a true expression of solidarity or attachment to Jewish culture, tradition, or faith.
In the case of the missionary-minded born-Jewish Christian, we are confronted by an individual who steps outside of the boundaries of the national community and then attempts reentry with an alien religious agenda. This agenda seeks to subvert and change the intrinsic character of the Jewish people. The sought after mutation, despite claims to the contrary, is thoroughly Christian and is totally hostile, to Jewish existence.
The acceptance of such Christian doctrines as the Incarnation, Trinity, and divinity of Jesus with their innately idolatrous and polytheistic character is apostasy in the fullest sense. Therefore, born-Jewish Christians are idolaters in no uncertain terms. A claim to the contrary notwithstanding, the god of all forms of Christianity is simply not the God of the Jewish Scriptures. Specifically, the role Jesus plays in the respective denominations of Christianity is unacceptable. All said, whatever merit might attend Gentiles for accepting the principle, if not the substance, of monotheism it is not on the same level with what God has deemed necessary and proper for Jewish people. A Jew must meet, actively or inactively, the fundamental biblical stipulation: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3, Deuteronomy 5:7).
The claim made by so-called “Hebrew Christians”/”Messianic Jews” that they are not only Jewish but better Jews as a result of their accepting Christianity is a fantastic deception. In particular, one has to be wary because the claim is made that Christianity is “true biblical faith” or, alternately, “true biblical Judaism.” Hence, these individuals reason that only by accepting Jesus can a Jew truly practice “Judaism.” In the process of attempting to enhance Christian aims, born-Jewish Christians provide tendentious definitions of the fundamental questions, Who is a Jew? Who is Jewish? and What is Judaism? To this end they distort the sources of Jewish religio-historic heritage.
External forces that may treat the apostate as being part of the Jewish community are irrelevant for determining the status of born-Jewish Christians. Jewish communal identity is not decided by other people’s definition of the Jewish people. For example, the Nazi attitude toward converts to Christianity does not change the apostate’s status within the Jewish community. The Nazi definition of a Jew cannot be allowed to confuse the issue of who the Jewish community considers to be a Jew or a part of the Jewish people respectively. A Jew who has joined another religion, formally or informally, has automatically excluded himself/herself not only from the Jewish religion but also from the Jewish nation. In the case of converts to any form of Christianity, such individuals are Christians theologically, voluntary members of another religion.
It is not only converts to Christianity who place themselves outside the Jewish community. Apostate status is applicable to any born Jew who accepts another religious system. Remember that a willing convert to another religious system, whether formally or informally, forfeits his/her legal and social rights which express a Jew’s belonging to the Jewish people. This applies as well to a Jew who joins a dogmatic political movement such as Communism. If that person accepts both the political and religious system of Communism, and by this we mean that he/she accepts its atheistic teachings and denies the existence of God, the halacha would still recognize the biological link to the Jewish people. However, it also recognizes that as long as that person remains an apostate then he/she is not considered as part of the Jewish people. If the person accepted the political system of Communism but still practiced or held to Jewish religious beliefs either actively or passively then it would be no different than being a Democrat or Republican and being observant or non-observant.
It should be noted that often those who claim to be atheists are really agnostics. A person’s uncertainties do not of themselves disqualify him/her from the Jewish community.
Even if an apostate remains physically present within a Jewish environment, an essential bond has been broken. If, for example, an apostate lives in the State of Israel, obeys its laws, and serves in its armed forces, he does so as a citizen of a secular state. He might appear to be Jewish but he performs his national duties as a citizen, as is the case of a Druze. He is a citizen of the State of Israel civilly and politically, by virtue of residence there. This does not confer upon him the right of Jewish identity.
The halachic rule is that “An Israelite, even though he has sinned, is still an Israelite” (B.T. Sanhedrin 44a). But an apostate is a Jew only in the limited sense that the obligations of the Torah still apply to him, as they do to all biological Jews and converts to Judaism. The apostate has absolutely no communal status. A Jew who follows another religion is Jewish only insofar as he/she retains a spiritual obligation to repent and return to Judaism. However, as long as he/she owes a spiritual allegiance to a foreign religious philosophy he/she cannot be considered a member of the Jewish community.
© Gerald Sigal 1999