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Tactic: The use of racist doctrines to establish Jewishness.

July 1, 2010

One often sees “messianic jews” making the claim that since they were born Jewish, they remain Jewish regardless of what religion they follow. They claim that regardless of what they do, they cannot loose their Jewishness. In essence, they insist Jews are a race, and one cannot loose ones race through converting to a new religion. Of course, the vast majority of people in “messianic jewish” communities have zero connection to Judaism- the estimates of people that are actually halachicly Jewish within their communities ranges from between 1% at the bottom end, to 9% at the top end. As always, there are a few communities with a majority of former Jews in their ranks, and others where no members have any real connection to Judaism. But what about that 1-9% of members that used to be classified as Jews? are they members of a “Jewish race”?

You have to wonder where they get this idea of a Jewish race from. It is not from the Torah which has many stories of converts- from the time of Avraham where Eleizer his servant had converted, as had the hundreds of men and their families that served as Avraham’s battle with the five kings to the leaving of Egypt where the eruv rav (“mixed multitude”) left Egypt with the Jews, but they had disappeared by the time the Jews entered Israel 40 years later. Where did they go? They either left the nation during the travels in the desert or converted to Judaism and joined with the tribes of those they converted under. The Tanakh has examples as well, the most famous being the conversion of Ruth (and which is used as the Talmud, in masechta Yevamos, as the template to teach us what a valid conversion entails). We even see that Moshe married a convert- Miriam complains about his Black wife, for which Miriam is punished with tzora’as, but we see that Tziporah had obviously converted and had been taught by Moshe as when G-d came to kill Moshe for not circumcising his sons Tziporah knew what to do (Shemot (Exodus) Chapter 4 v24-27).

The status of converts and their descendants as being the equal of every Jew is probably exemplified by the first verse of Torah that a child learns and which is sung joyfully at his upshiernes (a custom many have of only cutting a boy’s hair for the first time at age 3) from Devarim (Deuteronomy) chapter 33:

4. The Torah that Moshe commanded us is a legacy for the congregation of Ya’akov. ד. תּוֹרָה צִוָּה לָנוּ מֹשֶׁה מוֹרָשָׁה קְהִלַּת יַעֲקֹב

Why does it talk about the “congregation of Ya’akov (Jacob aka Yisrael aka Israel)? Simple- it is an all inclusive term for all that believe in G-d, convert and born Jew alike. It is not Bnei Yisrael that some could argue would be only those descended from Ya’akov! Similarly, we read in Devarim (Deuteronomy) Chapter 6 the most fundamental declaration of the Jewish faith

4. Hear, O Yisrael: The Lord is our God; the Lord is one. ד. שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֶחָד:

Again, it is Yisrael, the nation, not Bnei Yisrael, just those descended from Ya’akov. It is all inclusive, the entire nation is addressed; we are all equally required to recognise the uniqueness, indivisibility and singularity that is G-d.

So where does this idea of a Jewish race originate? It is not an old one, it did not exist in the times of the Temples or even through most of history. In fact, we can trace its origins mainly to the 19th century, and the works of the early proponents of racial theories in which different groups of people had different values due to their “race”. It was developed from here by the Nazi’s, and had the inevitable consequence of the holocaust. Why do I state that it was inevitable? There is an excellent chapter in the book “Hitler’s willing executioner’s” by Daniel Goldenhagen in which he traces the development of anti-Semitism from its early roots where it was based on religion, fear of the unknown and politics to racial anti-Semitism. In his book, Daniel Goldenhagen makes the point that in the past genocide was not the aim of anti-Semitism, the aim was conversion- getting them to be the same, to convert to the religion, to accept the ruling authorities (who frequently claimed divine right to rule). A person was seen as a human being first- their Jewishness something they could change. Racial anti-Semitism altered this equation- one cannot change ones race, thus merely converting the Jews was no longer an option, and if they were an inferior race bringing the entire of humanity down, the inevitable solution had to be genocide. Note: I am NOT calling “messianic jews” Nazis, merely stating that their seeing Judaism as being racial originated with Nazis.

So, if the “messianic jews” do not utilise the Nazi’s justification, what do they use? Here we see how they abuse Jewish sources to try and support their claim. They take a comment in the Talmud masechta Sanhedrin out of context- in reference to a passage in Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah)- the sages state that even when Israel sins, it remains Israel and does not loose its covenant with G-d. Their simplistic understanding of the text, and ignoring context and the rest of the law on this matter, leads them into a serious error here. How so? Yes- they remain Jewish- and if they do not repent they are PUNISHED! We see this clearly- the Jews were punished for their sinning by the Temple being destroyed, so an individual who sins and does not repent is punished. The last chapter of masechta Sanhedrin, Chapter 11 called chapter Chelek, starts with a Mishnah listing those who are punished with kares (in other words, are seperated from the community in this world and fro G-d in the world to come, the worst possible punishment). This list includes a Jew who takes on any foreign beliefs as part of his serving G-d! It includes those who read the books of other religions to serve G-d, it includes those who deliberately misuse a knowledge of Torah to lead others into sin. In other words, there are multiple reasons why a member of “messianic judaism” would suffer from kares. The Rishonim (the Rabbis in the generation after the Talmud was sealed until the time the Shuklkhan Aruch was written) vary in how strictly we separate the people from the community. All place them outside of the community and unable to participate in the community in any manner whatsoever- but the ease with which they are allowed to rejoin the community is debated. Some allow them to return with a simple declaration and public acceptance of Judaism, some require mikvah and a declaration before a Beis Din (court) of at least three judges. The Rema in Shulkhan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 268:12) and the Rambam in Hilchos Avodas Kochavim rule the person completely separated from Judaism and thus needing a full conversion including mikvah and Beis Din before the person can return. In the modern era we generally rule according to HaRav Moshe Feinstein that in the modern era the vast majority of converts come from backgrounds devoid of proper Jewish education and thus we treat them as a “captured child” i.e. a child that was captured by non-Jews and grew up with no knowledge of Torah and is thus deemed innocent of transgressions of the law. Some still require mikveh and declaration before a Beis Din (though not a full conversion), but most just allow the person to repent and return to Judaism.

So, here is the crux of the matter- a Jew who converts to ANY other religion ceases to be a part of the Jewish community, ceases to be seen as Jewish and ceases to have any meaningfull connection to Judaism and the Torah. What does the verse in Yirmiyahu and the Talmud in masechta Sanhedrin teach? That the person retains a connection to the fact that they were Jewish- and are thus always JUDGED and PUNISHED as a Jew! Even if their new religion is 100% compliant with the seven laws of Bnei Noach and a non-Jew would be considered a ger tzedek, a former Jew in the other religion would be punished with Kares and not considered Jewish while alive! So, when “messianic jews” try to claim ‘once a Jew, always a Jew’, they neglect to mention the full extent of this law- and that they remain Jews only for the purposes of judgement and punishment!

Note: the expanded version of this post can be seen at Musings of an Orthodox Jew

From → Tactic

5 Comments
  1. turtle permalink

    Nicely said.

    Maybe for Ya’akov, you clarify that you’re referencing Jacob using the Hebrew name?

    Goldenhagen in “Hitler’s Willing Executioners” isn’t coming up with that notion of racism by himself. It’s a well known concept in academic circles that pre-modern era Jewish “evilness” was considered changable by converting to Christianity.

    It’s the literal difference in academic circles in definition between earlier AntiJudaism & modern AntiSemitism.

    Another book with details of how the shift happened is “The Popes Against the Jews” by Kratzer (an Italian history expert who was let into the Vatican secret vaults by the Pope to research his book.)

    It was only with the advent of evolution that the notion of Jews as a race was generated by those hating Jews…at the same time the notions of Blacks as inferior genetically was being “studied” at top universities in the world.

    • I reference Goldenhagen since is is the book on the bookshelf LOL Yes, others have mentioned the concept, but since I don’t know them I cannot reference them, so purely for the purposes of a reference I use Goldenhagen.

      And point taken about Ya’akov, I will edit to make it clearer.

  2. Dovid permalink

    You are too kind to the messianic jews. You state they don’t get their notions from the Nazis. Is there really that much difference between messianic jews and Nazis? Nazis wanted to destroy all of us through murdering our bodies. Nazis sought the genocide of the Jewish “race”. Messianic jews are no different. They seek genocide through destroying the Jewish “race”. The only difference between the messianic jews and the Nazi’s is the fact that the Nazis sought to destroy our bodies in this world, the messianic jews seek to destroy our souls both in this world and the next

    • I debated with myself whether I should let this comment through. It reflects some of the harsher views of the “messianic jews” in the greater Jewish community- but I decided to let it through as though it is harsh, it does reflect the views of some. Personally, I don’t equate the “messianic jewish” desire to convert Jews to the Nazi desire to destroy Jews. Yes, from the standpoint of Judaism their wanting to convert us is worse than the Nazis physical destruction as it results in punishment in this world, and kares in the world to come- however, the motivation is completely different. the Nazi’s sought our destruction and eradication. The “messianic jews” seek our conversion out of a desire to “save” us. They do not realise the spiritual damage and harm they cause to Jews through their actions since Christianity states that we have to be converted for our own good! One cannot equate a desire to destroy something to a desire to save something!

  3. school grants permalink

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