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Article on Messianic Judaism lacked clarity

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Michael Wodlinger describes Messianic Judaism as a bridge between traditional Judaism and the world of Christendom (Understanding Messianic Judaism, March 2). Unfortunately, his article provides very little clarity about this controversial movement.

Rather than being a force of spiritual reconciliation, the Messianic movement in general, and the organization Wodlinger serves, Chosen People Ministries, in particular, has been particularly irksome to the Jewish community.

Rejecting the legitimacy of traditional Judaism and believing that all Jews who don't embrace Jesus face an eternity in hell, more than 1,000 such Messianic missionary groups spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year targeting the Jewish community for conversion.

The Bible demands that we not tamper with boundary markers (Deuteronomy 19:14). But by blurring the distinctions between Judaism and Christianity, the so-called Messianic movement is guilty of just that.

What becomes evident when examining the core beliefs of Chosen People Ministries and others is that there is no difference between their doctrines and those of any Evangelical Protestant denomination in the world today. They don't become kosher by cloaking themselves in the trappings of Judaism or using the Hebrew name of Jesus.

Claiming that the original followers of Jesus happened to be Jews does not grant their movement automatic Jewish legitimacy. After all, the people who built the golden calf were Jews -- and there are numerous Jews today involved with Hinduism, Buddhism and atheism.

The Messianic tactical embrace of Jewish tradition mimics the very forms of practice taught by the sages of the Talmud whose authority they impugn and disparage.

While claiming to reject the "non-Biblical" innovations of the rabbis -- the Messianic movement co-opts their traditions. This includes celebrating Hanukkah, bar mitzvahs, wearing skullcaps and having weddings under a chupah, among numerous other rituals.

Furthermore, the evidence that Wodlinger marshals is shaky. For example, he asserts that Jesus' resurrection is a fact substantiated by sources other than the Christian scriptures. He implies that there are many such sources but only cites the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus.

Actually, there are no other potential sources, and the Testimonium Flavianum Wodlinger alludes to is regarded by virtually all scholars as either highly questionable or an outright forgery.

Wodlinger also asserts that Jewish scholar Daniel Boyarin revealed in his book, The Jewish Gospels, how he was led to realize that Jesus was the Jewish messiah. In point of fact, Boyarin never states in his book that he believes Jesus was or is the messiah.

It's time for Messianic missionary groups such as Chosen People Ministries to come clean. They don't occupy some middle ground between Judaism and Christianity. They are firmly planted within the world of Protestant Christianity. And their primary affinity with Judaism is their single-minded obsession to convert as many Jews as they can.

Rabbi Michael Skobac is the director of education and counselling with Jews for Judaism Canada in Toronto.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 13, 2013 J13

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