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September 5, 2015 | 21st Elul 5775

  1. I would add a fourth [statement in defining a Jewish position on Messianics]: The Jewish community does not consider persons of Jewish birth who accept Jesus as the Messiah as still being Jews. One cannot be a functioning Jew and a functioning Christian at the same time.
    (Rabbi) Steve

  2. Some years ago, my wife and I were awaiting the curtain to rise on the ballet in Mexico City, and our neighbor in the adjoining seat engaged us in conversation about accepting Jesus. When we demurred, citing our Judaism as our reason, he told us about his Jewish friend who had accepted Jesus, and now saw himself as "completed as a Jew." For once in my life, I found the rejoinder on the spot instead of on the way home, and replied, "You may consider him completed as a Jew, but we consider him finished as a Jew."

  3. Jews for Judaism can be accessed through their Web site

  4. [Re the statement:] "The Jewish community does not consider persons of Jewish birth who accept Jesus as the Messiah as still being Jews."

    In my judgment this assertion assumes much (i.e., that as rabbi, you speak for the majority of K?lal Yisrael) and implies much more (i.e., that belief can supersede Jewish status, in this case by birth, as understood by halachah). Are you suggesting that a person who accepts Jesus as the messiah, in a blind effort to complete his or her Judaism, can never return?...perhaps you could clarify exactly what you mean?


  5. Our rabbi...has told us repeatedly in various Adult Ed classes that a person who accepts Jesus Christ is no longer considered a Jew. I believe that is a position of the CCAR. Therefore Messianic Jews, including Jews for Jesus, are no longer Jews, even if they were born Jewish.

  6. Please be aware that these messianic Christians are an insidious group, preying on the vulnerable. You will find that they are usually funded, at least in part, by some ostensibly legitimate Christian denominations.

    By the way...I respect [Rabbi Steve?s] opinion! One cannot serve two masters!!

    I hope you fine these Web sites useful:

    #1 and #3 may be particularly useful.


  7. Perhaps we need to draw a distinction between practice and halachic status? A person who abandons Judaism in favor of Christianity (no matter how it's dressed up) is certainly no longer practicing Judaism and could be an apikorus, but my understanding is that he's still a Jew (albeit one who is behaving in a way contrary to Judaism). If he wants to return, he could--though obviously he would have to convince the community that he's sincere before anyone would believe that he's now practicing Judaism again.

    Other religions are based entirely on belief and behavior; Judaism is also based on peoplehood, which is harder to abandon.


  8. I stand with Rabbi [Steve] on this. The issue is not one of halachic status, nor whether the convert to Christianity can reclaim his/her Jewish status. It's what rights s/he has in the Jewish community while professing Christianity.

    There have been numerous well-publicized incidents where so-called "messianic Jews" used their Jewish roots as an entree into synagogues, Hadassah chapters, etc. and then used their being there as a platform for missionary activities. That's why we don't have to consider "messianics" as Jews.

    It's too bad there is no way to copyright words like Jews and Judaism, so we could litigate to prevent their blatant mis-use. (Actually, I feel the same about "Reform;" I object strenuously to those non-affiliated who use it to mean "I don't observe anything." But that's another thread for another day.


  9. A Chabad rabbi who is a friend of mine says that one's Judaism can never be taken away, no matter what one does with one's Judaism.

    This opinion makes me upset when I know of many Reform converts who are not considered Jews by the Orthodox, but those who become "Jews for Jesus" or otherwise abandon Judaism are still Jewish halachically. Many Reform converts embrace Judaism with such passion that this is unfair.


  10. While I am certain that Rabbi [Steve] is more than capable of speaking for himself, I felt that I needed to add my rabbinic two cents into this conversation. It is false to believe that [the rabbi] is over extending himself in his "assumptions." As a rabbi, he is empowered to speak for Klal Yisrael out of his understanding of our laws, traditions, customs, and beliefs. That is precisely what rabbis do. His ["s?michah"] (document of ordination) empowers him to do just that, for on it is written, "Yoreh, Yoreh, Yadin, Yadin" (He will surely teach, and he will surely judge [in matters of Jewish law]).

    In this specific case, Rabbi [Steve] is right on the money. When a Jew by birth takes on the mantle of a belief in the messiahship or divinity of [Jesus], according to Jewish law that individual has crossed the line out of Judaism and is considered an "apikoris" (apostate).

    [Seth] goes on to ask, "Are you suggesting that a person who accepts Jesus as the messiah, in a blind effort to complete his or her Judaism, can never return?" That was nowhere stated in Rabbi [Steve?s] posting. However, in answer to that question, according to Jewish law, apostates can return to Judaism. All they need do is appear before a rabbi, denounce their apostasy, and declare their desire to rejoin the Jewish people and faith. As long as the rabbi is convinced that the individual in question has done this honestly and sincerely, then the rabbi is empowered to officially welcome them back into the Jewish fold.

    (Rabbi) Henry
    175 families

  11. In no way was my response to Rabbi [Steve?s] posting intended as an attack or even a criticism. Rather, it was a call for clarification. As such, while [he] never explicitly stated that a Jew who leaves for Christianity may never return, it was a potential (mis)reading of his missive.

    I fear that we have been sloppy in our language. Apikorsut, the rejection of normative Judaism, presupposes a great deal of Judaic knowledge. Therefore, a Jew, who may not know a great deal about Judaism, and who leaves for Christianity, is not properly dubbed an apikorus. I think it is fair to call that person a non-believing and non-practicing Jew, a Christian.

    It's also worth pointing out that Reform Judaism is considered apikorsut by other Jews who consider themselves more strictly observant of halachah. An apikorus, to be sure, is still a Jew. His or her Jewish status is not questioned, but rather, his or her acceptance as an active member of the community is denied.

    That halachah requires a Jew-turned-Christian to appear before a beit din and immersion in mikveh is synonymous with conversion. Thus, I am more strongly convinced that leaving Judaism for another religion, in this case Christianity, can be considered an absolvement of Jewish status. But that is not necessarily apikorsut.

    A distinction between a Jew who practices Christianity and a Jew who believes in Jesus is also in order. As I understand it, participation in Jewish life knows only Jewish status (by birth or by conversion) and shmirat mitzvot as its prerequisite. In other words, a Jew can think, feel, believe whatever he or she wants: importance is placed on actions, namely, observances. In that sense, a Jew who firmly rejects Christian dogma but practices Christianity would not be accepted as a Jew, and a Jew who, for whatever reason, accepts Jesus as the Christ, but actively engages in mitzvot would (have to) be accepted as a Jew.

    The extent to which this distinction is purely a theoretical matter, I cannot say.


  12. [Re: a Jew who, for whatever reason, accepts Jesus as the Christ but actively engages in mitzvot would (have to) be accepted as a Jew.]

    He would probably be accepted as a Jew by Christians. I see no reason why he would have to accepted as a Jew by Jews. Our profession that we believe in the coming of the Messiah is an indication that we do not believe he has been here yet. (And yes, I know that we Reform Jews look for a Messianic Age and not a personal messiah, but that's not really germane.)

    Something can be milchik or fleishik or pareve, to use another non-Reform metaphor, but it can't be milchik and fleishik at the same time.


  13. [Re: a distinction between a Jew who actively practices Christianity and a Jew who may agree with certain Christian beliefs, but observes Mosaic and rabbinic legislation (that is, practices Judaism).]

    This distinction is needed on an individual basis.

    This distinction does not apply to Messianic Jews, however. It is clear that Messianic Jews pose a grave threat to Jewish continuity and are in fact Christians, albeit a particular type of evangelical Christians. These are Christian groups who adopt Jewish rituals as a guise for their missionary goals. I intended, in my suggestion for a distinction, to point out, even if indirectly, that the black and white definition of Jewish status as had been articulated on this list serv, was problematic too. For in dismissing Jewish status as birthright or as a result of conversion, we dismiss a crucial aspect of halachah. Under normative rabbinic law, a Jew born to a Jewish mother is Jewish. And in Reform halachah, of course, the child of a single Jewish parent, raised as a Jew, is considered Jewish as well.

    That said, there is historic precedent in our tradition for rejecting evangelicism and messianism (that the messiah has come, and gone, and will return). In that light, we can reject groups such as Jews for Jesus.


  14. Seth and I have been having an interesting correspondence off list. Since he has shared some of it on list (with my permission) I thought I'd share my further thoughts with the list.

    First, for deeper analyses of these questions see Rabbi Stuart Federow's essay at You might also check out this part of the Jews for Judaism Web site:

    In the last few posts the term "apikorus" has been used for a Jew who "abandons Judaism in favor of Christianity." A better term is probably "m'shumad". One who has accepted Jesus as messiah may well practice all the halachah except those parts that relate to belief. Indeed, I know one such a person; at least he makes that claim. Nevertheless he is no longer a Jew. One of the reasons we call him/her m'shumad is that he/she is really "destroyed" to the Jewish community. An apikorus who believes nothing is not a threat to the community. (I have close friends who are apikorsim. They are strong supporters of the local Jewish community.) The m'shumad is often a threat, because he/she wants to validate his/her opinion by missionary activity within the Jewish community.

    In the face of a movement which tells people that they can be Jewish and Christian at the same time, admitting that a m'shumad has residual Jewish status plays into the hands of the Messianics. It also confuses the plain vanilla Christians who have no experience with the complexities of the halachah on Jewish identity.

    Indeed, one may be a machmir (strict) in principle, but a meikal (lenient) in practice. It is of note, however, that in a thirty-nine-year career I have only once come across a convert to Christianity who wished to revert to Judaism. He was never active in trying to convert other Jews.

    He went through conversion to Judaism at his own request. The discussion about Jewish converts to Christianity may well be largely theoretical.

    The threat of the messianic movement is not theoretical in the American midwest. For this reason I believe it is more practical to side with those authorities who believe that acceptance of Jesus cancels one's Jewish status.

    (Rabbi) Steve

  15. Rabbi Tovia Singer has made it his career to bring back Jews from Messianic groups and to educate us about the deceit of these messianic groups. I have met him twice, and he is a wonderful, charismatic. Please visit his site:

  16. The discussion about the Messianic Jews fails to answer my concerns. What do you do about them? We had an invasion in our small community--fifty-three families--of several who appeared at services, dressed as Orthodox Jews, but apparently not knowing any Hebrew save the Kaddish. (Their lack of Yiddish also seemed odd.) However, one day one of them appeared at services by himself. He said he had walked since it was the Sabbath, but accepted a ride home from me and started talking about the Messiah. I thought he was Chabad and therefore was talking about the Rebbe, but then he started in about the "true" messiah. It was not until then that I, and the rest of our congregation, realized who had come to our town.

    Jews for Jesus and the Messianic community can be truly deceitful, I believe, in their search for converts.


  17. In all the discussion of whether a Jew for Jesus is still a Jew, it would appear that in this instance halachic law is open to several interpretations. It was quite an interesting and enlightening discussion, which, as one might expect, did not settle the issue.

    If a Jew for Jesus loses his status as a Jew, (m'shumad) rather than being a Jew whose thinking is not Jewish, (apikorus) does that not open the door to significant complications within Judaism?

    As one example, there is a God component in Judaism. Therefore, if one rejects the idea of a God, however you define it, then could it not be argued logically that Humanist Jews lose their status as Jews. Their beliefs are not in keeping with Judaism and it could be argued that they are destroyed to the Jewish community, and thus have no status as Jews. The same can be said of atheist Jews, who choose not to identify with or affiliate with Humanist Judaism. True, they do not believe a Messiah has arrived, but there is more to Jewish belief than awaiting the Messiah.

    And of course, the same argument can be used by some Jews against any branch of Judaism. If Reform Jews accept patrilineal descent, along with the rest of their interpretations of Jewish thinking, are they to be considered as destroyed to the Jewish community, rather than apikorus, and thus have no status as Jews?

    While I understand the statement, "In the face of a movement which tells people that they can be Jewish and Christian at the same time, admitting that a m'shumad has residual Jewish status plays into the hands of the Messianics," it does seem to clash head on with halachic law. Is it not true that Halachic law says that a Converso who can trace matrilineal descent all the way back to the Spanish Inquisition, can still be considered a Jew. Yet such a person's family may have been practicing Christianity all these generations. Is not a child born to a Jewish mother considered a Jew, in Halachic law, even if the child is brought up in non-Jewish beliefs. In a listing of famous Jews, you will still find those listed whose mothers were Jewish, but who are in no way connected with Judaism. Goldie Hawn springs to mind.


  18. FYI--
    [The CCAR Web site,, has responsa on this issue. Click on "Documents and Positions" and then "Responsa."]

  19. They may be deceitful, and they may violate our beliefs, but what they do is legal and permitted within American society. Our best defense against the messianic community is a vibrant and knowledgeable Jewish Community. If we gather as Jews to celebrate and to share Shabbat and the fabric of Jewish life, there will be little or no opening for them. Their most vulnerable targets are college students away from home, lonely and unsure of their traditions and beliefs. Our best response is strong vibrant Hillel (or other Jewish organizations) on college campuses. If we are the ones to seek out the lonely and disturbed and offer them a warm, family environment, they will come back to us. If the warmest, friendliest place they can find is Jews for Jesus, that is where they will go. In the greater community they make their greatest inroads among the unaffiliated and the disaffected. Maybe this needs to be on the Outreach board, but communal outreach reduces the number who are vulnerable to the deception. We have a messianic congregation in Rochester and they try, every so often, to send emissaries to our congregation. They come to Torah study, and they attend services until they find that the warm welcome we give is for Jews or those who are seeking to become Jews. They leave when they see the strength and commitment of the community they are seeking to invade. A healthy body has the strength to reject the invading virus.

  20. Apropos to this discussion about how do we deal with Messianics and Jews for Jesus, when they come into our community, I was wondering: Has any community chosen to take them head-on publicly? By this I mean go public in the newspapers, etc., as to why the Jewish community feels that they intentionally misrepresent and distort Judaism; why we do not consider them Jews--even if they consider themselves thus--and how the Jewish community has the right to determine who is and who isn't a Jew (just as the American community has the right to determine who is and who isn't an American citizen).

    If there are communities out there who have tried the public confrontation strategy, I would be interested in learning how it worked and how successful, or unsuccessful, they were.


  21. I think of 'Messianics' as ex-Jews. They can always repent and return, and I know several cases where that has happened. There is a big difference between believing in another God like Jesus or Krishna and not believing in any God just as there is a big difference between a marriage that has grown cold vs. adultery. The first commandment says no other Gods not you must believe in me.

  22. The "BYG" (Behold Your God) campaign made a noisy entrance in Cleveland, and the Cleveland Jewish community presented a united front. Federation brought in a national expert (whose name escapes me, but I will get it if anyone needs it) who gave a series of briefings for local professionals and any interested Jewish community members. He talked about the tactics the messianics use and how to talk to teenagers about them. He also showed a devastating video of people in kippot and tallitot dancing in the aisles with Torahs, praising Jesus. There were articles in local papers, especially the Jewish press, criticizing a Cleveland Heights church that had provided space for the campaign, and explaining why the Jewish community was offended by this behavior, etc.

    Did it work? Maybe. Although there were several immediate reports from people who were approached on campuses, I have heard nothing since the first week. Could be they decided Cleveland wasn't the low-hanging fruit they'd hoped for, and left. Or maybe they have switched to a less visible mode and are still here, recruiting our young people but steering clear of adults who would report their activities.

    There are certainly a few messianic churches in the area, but I don't know if anyone keeps track of them, so I have no information about their growth.


  23. ...My wife's parents received a copy [of a book entitled Let My People Go] a week or so ago. It's by Tom Hess and apparently has Messianic undertones. They told us there are quotes by rabbis on the cover that are complimentary. I have not seen the book.

    There are two things that puzzle/scare me:

    1. My in-laws have only briefly belonged to a congregation during their sixty-year marriage. They belong to no other Jewish groups and don't even subscribe to the local Jewish newspaper (we give them ours when we're finished with it). So, they are on no "Jewish" mailing lists. How did these Messianic-types find them? They have a Jewish surname and are listed in the telephone directory; maybe that's how. Or, more frighteningly, they have a mezuzah on their doorpost and perhaps a neighbor noticed and "reported" them.
    2. My father-in-law read the book quickly and now my mother-in-law is reading it. My wife had to explain to them what the book really intended to do, but I feel they just don't get it. The problem with the Messianics is that they prey on the unsuspecting elderly, which my in-laws are. These are precisely the people that the Messianics would be happy to escort to a baptism.

  24. ... both our family (synagogue members for many years) and my stepson (who doesn't even consider himself Jewish) received this book [Let My People Go by Tom Hess]. My guess is that they worked from a list of "Jewish" names, so that both...residences received this. I know for certain that my stepson's name was not culled from any synagogue or Jewish organizational list.

    1. A Christian is one who believes in the messiahship of Jesus.
    2. Messianic Jews believe in the messiahship of Jesus.
    3. Thus, messianic Jews are de facto Christians. They may enjoy Jewish ritual play-acting, and--if halachically born or converted--they remain a part of Klal Yisrael, the body of Israel: but their religion is by definition Christian, and thus they have become apostates. Jewish religion is only one part of Jewish identity; it's only recently in our history that Judaism has been solely defined as a religion.
    Anyway, that's my understanding based on a read of and

    Remember, though--the door to t?shuvah is always open to apostates, just as it is to the rest of us.


  25. The following is from American Reform Responsa 150. Marriage with a "Messianic Jew" (Vol. XCI, 1981, pp. 67-69). My reading from various sources seems to support the view that once you are born a Jew, you remain one, whether you like it or not, though if you stray from the path, you have a lot of t?shuvah to do before you can be welcomed back.

    "If we consider a "Messianic Jew" as an apostate Jew, what would his status be for us? Judaism has always considered those who left us as sinners, but still remaining as Jews. They could always return to Judaism through Teshuva and the exact response of Judaism depended very much on the conditions of the time. Hai Gaon (as quoted by Adret, Responsa VII, #292) felt that an apostate could not be considered as a Jew. Centuries later the rabbis of the Mediterranean Basin had to face the problems of the Marranos (Anusim). Their attitude differed greatly and may be summarized under five headings: (1) Apostates are Jews who sinned but, nevertheless, are considered Jewish (Isaac bar Sheshet; Simon ben Zemah of Duran, but on some occasions he did not grant this status; Solomon ben Simon Duran; Zemah ben Solomon). (2) The apostates are considered Jewish only in matters of matrimony (and so their offspring are Jewish), but not in any other area (Samuel de Medina). (3) Marranos (Anusim) are considered non-Jews in every respect, including matters of marriage; their children are not considered to be Jews (Judah Berab, Jacob Berab, Moses ben Elias Kapsali, etc.). (4) An apostate is worse than a Gentile (ben Veniste, Mercado ben Abraham). (5) Descendants of the Marranos who have been baptized are like Jewish children who have been taken captive by non-Jews and their children are Jewish (Samuel ben Abraham Aboab). All of these references and excerpts from the relevant literature may be found in H.J. Zimmels Die Marranen in der Rabbinischen Literatur, pp. 21ff. One extreme position was held by Solomon ben Simon Duran (Rashbash Responsa, #89) who felt that not only the apostate, but also the children would continue to be considered Jewish forever into the future as long as the maternal line was Jewish. He also felt that nothing needed to be done by any generation of such apostates when they returned to Judaism. No ritual bath nor any other act was considered necessary or desirable. In fact he emphasized that no attention be given to their previous state, for that might discourage their return. Rabbenu Gershom gave a similar view and urged the quiet acceptance of all who returned to Judaism (Machzor Vitry, pp. 96 and 97).
    The other extreme has been presented by Rashi (in his commentary to Kid. 68b and Lev. 24:10). He felt that any returning apostate, or the children of a Jewish mother who had apostacized, are potentially Jewish, but most undergo a process akin to conversion if they wish to become part of the Jewish community. That point of view was rejected by most later scholars, as for example Nahmanides (in his commentary to Leviticus 24:10; Shulchan Aruch Voreh De-a 268.10f; Ezekiel Landau, Responsa, #150, etc.). We, therefore, have two extremes in the Rabbinic literature; both, of course, represented reaction to particular historic conditions. Solomon ben Simon of Duran wished to make it easy for a large number of Marranos to return to Judaism; unfortunately, this did not occur. Even when it was possible for Jews to leave Spain, the majority chose to remain. Rashi's harsh attitude probably reflected the small number of apostates who were a thorn in the side of the French community. Normative Rabbinic Judaism chose a middle path and encouraged the apostate's return along with some studies, but without a formal conversion process. If an apostate did not wish to return to Judaism he would, nevertheless, be considered as part of the Jewish people (San. 44a). His or her marriage, if performed according to Jewish law as Marranos, and therefore as unwilling apostates, were valid (Yev. 30b; Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-ezer 44.9); divorce procedures for them are somewhat modified. Such an individual was not considered as reliable witness except in the case of an Aguna. Penalties may be imposed on his inheritance (Kid. 18a), although he does have the right to inherit (B.B. 108a 111a). Normal mourning rites should not be observed for such a person (M. San. 6.6; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De-a 345.5). It is clear, therefore, that an apostate stands outside the community in all but relatively few matters until he has repented."

  26. I too, received a copy of the book, Let My People Go, and have wondered about the origin of the mailing list. Obviously the group sending it has money to spend and is on a "crusade" to get this tract into Jewish hands. I do not know how many thousands of copies have been sent out but it is worth questioning.

  27. Does anyone remember the landmark case of the "Who is a Jew?" controversy in regards to the Law of Return with Brother Daniel? I studied it years ago and just found it on the Web. Thought this was an interesting stick to throw on the fire...

    "... over the years questions arose about exactly who is a Jew. Perhaps the most celebrated and notorious case was that of Brother Daniel. Brother Daniel, born a Polish Jew named Daniel Rufeisen, came to Israel as a Carmelite monk and requested citizenship under the Law of Return. A landmark decision by Israel's Supreme Court determined that a Jew who had of his own free will adopted another faith was not eligible to enter Israel under the Law of Return. By this ruling the law of the land contradicted Jewish law, since according to rabbinic halachah, a Jew remains a Jew even if he is converted to another faith.
    Yet, despite this exclusion of converts, the Law of Return has allowed thousands of non-Jews to enter and find homes in Israel. Of the five hundred thousand plus immigrants from the former Soviet Union since 1989, anywhere from eight to thirty percent are estimated to be non-Jews. Now, the reports that hundreds of Moslems have been allowed to enter Israel under the Law of Return has renewed the debate over the law. This seeming gross distortion of a law meant to ensure a Jewish homeland for a Jewish people stems from the inability to adequately define who is a Jew."
    (from Juy 16, 1995 Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs: "The Law of Return Considered" by Daniel Clayman.)

    No one ever said that being Jewish is easy. Let alone the fact that Israel has had so many problems defining the type of state they are or want to be, the Jewish community in general can barely define who we are as a people (a cultural or religious community). And though the halachic interpretation of a Jewish mother helps to define the Jewish identity of a child, the Reform decision (of which I agree)that a Jewish father is also able to define the Jewishness of the child just adds fuel to the confusion. And that is just the tip of the iceberg in the discussion of who is a Jew. It is never easy being Jewish but it is never boring either. Rabbi Permutter, of blessed memory, who was the rabbi of KAM Isaiah Israel in Chicago once said that "a Jew is a person in the extreme". I have never forgotten that and feel that sometimes our community lives with that tag line on a daily basis.


  28. Rabbi Lane Steinger, Regional Director of the Midwest Council, answered my query [about] this particular organization--known as Tikvat Israel, Tikvat Yisrael and/or Adat Hatikvah Yisrael. It is affiliated with the International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues..He also suggested that these three statements, repeated when necessary, can be a safe response to general questions (the wording is mine):
    1. We are all blessed to have freedom of religion in the United States.
    2. Messianics are Christians and that is a wonderful thing to be. You should live by your faith and let others live by theirs. (Note: Implicit in their philosophy is that Judaism has no meaning unless Jews accept Jesus?and that's Christianity. Their statement of faith can be found on
    3. Jews who do not want to be Christians should be accepted as Jews.
    I find these three statements concise and to the point. Although these do not address the issue of subterfuge and deception directly, I like their clear, factual nature. I hope this helps those of you who are also tackling this issue.

    85 Family Members


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