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Generation J

Generation J by Lisa Schiffman. Harper San Francisco, (1999) US $18.00

I hadn't a clue about what it meant to be a Jew. I was lost, a Jew without a path." And so begins 35-year-old Lisa Schiffman's search. It's a search for identity, for meaning, for answers. Generation J is an attempt to sort through the confusion of being part of a generation that is willing neither to make a full return to Judaism nor to abandon its Jewish persona completely. Of being in a generation whose parents either followed religious traditions by rote or rejected them altogether. Of being a third-generation American Jew who's uncomfortable with and suspicious of any kind of organized religion, particularly her own.

In an autobiography that reads like anthropological field notes [she is a social anthropologist by training], Schiffman presents a hodgepodge of stories offering the reader snapshots of Jewish life and thought. She begins with a very vulnerable and personal narrative about interfaith marriage. Schiffman was committed to having a Jew officiate at the wedding when she married her fiance, Michael, a lapsed Unitarian. Several rabbis turned them down because they wouldn't agree to have a "Jewish home." Finally, a cantor who moonlights as both an opera singer and an actor performed their wedding ceremony.

Schiffman writes that she's still seeking validation for her marriage from the Jewish community. She interviews a Reform rabbi from New York who performs weddings for gay couples but refuses to marry a mixed faith couple. Told by the rabbi that her husband would have to embrace a Jewish life and the Jewish community (that he'd have to set a seder table, take their kids to Hebrew school, stand by her side while she lights Shabbat candles), she's incredulous. Schiffman knows that she is Jewish, but she has never done those things.

Questions form the backbone of this book. What does it mean to have a Jewish home? Is Judaism a religion, a culture or a race? I know I'm Jewish, but how do I know that? What does it mean to look "too Jewish?" Or not Jewish enough? Is it possible to be Jewish alone and separate from the Jewish community?

In each narrative, Schiffman asks good questions but admits to a lack of adequate answers. There is no doubt that it was for very personal reasons that she wrote this book. Schiffman is a searcher and she wants to find spiritual answers. Her questions are an attempt to sort through the confusion of the religious netherworld of American secular Judaism.

In Schiffman's definition of Judaism, we are a "dark and hairy people" who practice a "strange, argumentative, incomprehensible religion." Yet she's still inexplicably drawn to a world she hasn't experienced -- blessings over the Torah, fasting on Yom Kippur, payos and long skirts. For her, being Jewish is about being conflicted, about never being certain who you are and where you're going and what that means. It's about having an identity crisis.

This book chronicles more than the author's own exploration into the meaning of Judaism. It offers a picture into the spiritual quandary of secular Jews today within the larger Christian culture. Schiffman grew up in the largely non-Jewish town of Levittown, New York. She described the place of her birth as "home to one of the largest crosses in the Western hemisphere." She recalls a childhood incident when "Christian friends invited me to church." After standing and sitting more times than she can count, Schiffman partakes of the Catholic communion wafer and waits for a "Christlike feeling to arise" in her. It doesn't. She ponders why and then goes on.

Perhaps the most important question is the one that Schiffman failed to ask in 166 pages: Can you really find your Jewish identity apart from God?

She muses, "If Christianity's message was Follow your heart, Judaism's was Follow the directions."

"Jews, however," she says, "never follow directions without asking why.In spite of our mandate to follow the directions, millions of Jews 'the unaffiliated, secular, atheist indifferent or simply confused' are lost."

Like many in this post-assimilation generation, she looks everywhere for answers, for a solution to that lostness, with one exception -- God, the only real source for answers.

In a recent interview, Schiffman was asked, if she could add a postscript to the book, what it would be. Her answer was, "You can create your own path through religion. And if there is another book, that would be the beginning of the next one, something like, 'P.S., I'm still doing it, piecing the route together.'"1

Perhaps she should look to another book 'the Bible' it has already pieced that route together for Lisa and the rest of us.

1Danielle Svetcov, Generation J (San Francisco Examiner Magazine, 12/12/99) p. 32

Jesus in Jewish Art

It has become fashionable among the modern day Jewish historians to present that controversial Jew, Jesus, in a favorable light. Yet, depictions of Jesus in Jewish art and literature remain rare.

To be sure, Jewish literature has portrayed the encounter between Jews and Christians, between the world of the Jew and the foreign world of the gentiles. While this treatment of the theme usually deals with the temptations of assimilation, it rarely comes to grips wiith the person of Jesus and his meaning for the modern Jew.

In recent years, however, two renowned Jewish artists--one a painter, the other a writer--have ventured to explore the significance of Jesus for the Jewish people. While some say there has been a shift in the Jewish community's attitudes toward Jesus, the portrayal of Jesus by French painter Marc Chagall and Yiddish writer Sholem Asch forcefully brings home the need for modern Jews, as individuals, to consider Jesus (Y'shua) for themselves.

Let us then explore the world of these two 20th century artists.

Marc Chagall is perhaps best known to American Jews for his stained glass windows depicting the twelve tribes of Israel. For some, the name Chagall conjures up images of upside-down green horses or multi-hued, Picasso-like scenes of shtetl life. An overview of this master's work must take into account the diversity of themes he had handled: his own town of Vitebsk, Russia; the sufferings of the Jewish people; and an assortment of biblical motifs. In this article, however, we will concentrate on those paintings which focus on Y'shua.

Chagall's Y'shua" paintings fall into two categories. First there are the scenes of the Crucifixion. It took much courage for Chagall to deal with this theme which, in the minds of so many Jews, is associated with persecution. In these canvases, we notice from the settings that Y'shua is being portrayed as an observant Jew. But more than that, the crucified Y'shua serves as a symbol of martyred Jews everywhere, and in particular those who were victims of the Holocaust. In these paintings, there is no hint of him being anything other than the symbol par excellence of Jewish suffering.

Franz Meyer, the definitive biographer of Chagall, gives us a description of the painting White Crucifixion (see below). He calls this work "the first in a long series." Meyer writes:

Although Christ is the central figure, this is by no means a Christian picture... Round his loins Christ wears a loin cloth with two black stripes resembling the Jewish tallith, and at his feet burns the seven-branched candlestick... But, most important of all, this Christ's relation to the world differs entirely from that in all Christian representations of the Crucifixion. There... all suffering is concentrated in Christ, transferred to him in order that he may overcome it by his sacrifice. Here instead, though all the suffering of the world is mirrored in the Crucifixion, suffering remains man's fasting fate and is not abolished by Christ's death.1

The White Crucifixion by Marc Chagall

The White Crucifixion by Marc Chagall, 1938, Oil on canvas, Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

This same type of Jewish yet non-Messianic Jesus is seen in Yellow Crucifixion. Here Chagall shows us "the crucified Christ, who is explicitly characterized as a Jew by the phylacteries on his head and the prayer straps on his arms...2

In a second category of "Y'shua paintings," Chagall does add a Messianic import. Sidney Alexander contrasts this with the martyrdom imagery of earlier works:

In works of the past quarter of a century...the Crucifixion can hardly be said to stand explicitly for the martyrdom of the Jews... That Chagall considers Jesus one of the great Jewish prophets (as he has declared on many occasions, and as his son David testified to me) is perfectly coherent with history and a certain kind of liberal Jewish faith. But when he places a Crucifixion in the background of his Jacob's Ladder or Creation of Man, at Nice, he is inviting the spectator to read his iconography as Christian fulfillment of Jewish foreshadowing.3

Alexander goes on to say that Chagall only intended to "provide 'universal' symbols."4

Marc Chagall at age 75

Indeed, as far as anyone knows, Marc Chagall is not a believer in Y'shua as the Messiah. However, as one schooled in Western religious art, it is to be expected that Chagall is keenly aware of the Christian understanding of Tenach themes as foreshadowing the life of Jesus. Indeed, he seems to be sympathetic to the continuity between what is commonly called the Old and the New Testaments. Such continuity is dramatically present in paintings such as The Sacrifice of Isaac, where Y'shua, carrying the Cross, is placed in the background of the Akedah. Moreover, the red color covering Abraham streams down from the Crucifixion scene in the top right hand corner of the picture, richly suggestive of blood. In both Old and New Testaments blood is God's provision for atonement for sin. Thus not only is the Akedah joined together with the Crucifixion, but the suggestion of Jesus' death being an atonement is present as well. When one considers that the Sacrifice painting is part of a series called Biblical Messages, it becomes apparent that Chagall understood the association of the images. And, as is true in works of great art, such paintings go beyond themselves. They raise the question of the meaning of this continuity between the Testaments for Jewish people today.

This same Isaac-Christ image is employed elsewhere. So writes Ziva Amishai-Maisels concerning the tapestry Exodus, which currently hangs in the Knesset in Jerusalem:

This combination was an acceptable one within a Christian context, in which Isaac was a prefiguration of Christ and the Sacrifice a prophecy of the Crucifixion. It was not a combination which would have been acceptable in the Knesset, and Chagall was counseled against it. But the artist's personal belief in Christ as the perfect symbol of the suffering Jew could not easily be silenced.... Christ does not appear, but Isaac is placed on the altar with his arms spread wide in the shape of a cross...quite different from Isaac's previous position in similar scenes.5

But again, in such paintings Jesus must be seen as more than merely a symbol of the suffering Jew. Chagall is aware of the connection which exists between Isaac and Christ in Christian thought.(See Akedah) Such connections are apparent in the tapestry Isaiah's Prophecy in which Chagall portrays not the crucified Christ, but rather the baby Jesus:

In [certain] works he had juxtaposed the Old Testament themes, which formed his main subjects, to related episodes from the New Testament in an attempt to blend the two Testaments together by suggesting continuity between them. This had been the reason he had added Christ carrying the Cross to representations of the Sacrifice of Isaac, which in Christian's theology prefigures the Crucifixion. This is also the reason he portrayed the Madonna and Child [in the Isaiah tapestry] in the corner of the prophecy Christians relate to the birth of Jesus.6

But far from a Madonna and Child being rendered in any traditional Protestant or Catholic way, above the figure "is a man suggestive of a mohel. The addition of such a figure tends to stress the Jewish nature of the child born to the Jesus had been circumcised."7

Chagall's work has not always produced positive responses. S.L. Shneiderman, writing in Midstream magazine in 1977, was especially upset that Chagall had accepted work for stained glass windows in several cathedrals in France, utilizing some of these very motifs:

Despite some misgivings, Jews came to accept even his Christ motifs symbolic of Jewish martyrdom through the ages... However, the Jesus motifs Chagall introduced into the cathedrals show no association at all with Jewish martyrology. They are mere illustrations, as it were, of the story told in the Gospels.8

Shneiderman quotes French writer Raissa Maritain that "with a sure instinct he showed in each of his Christ paintings the indestructible link between the Old Testament and the New. The Old Testament was the harbinger of the New, and the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old." Disapprovingly, Shneiderman goes on to say that "Chagall never expressed disagreement with...Mme. Maritain's interpretation; [it was] included two decades later in the catalogue of the largest retrospective exhibition of his work."9

Shneiderman then gives an anecdote of a conversation which took place between the Yiddish poet Abraham Sutzkever and Chagall, which was published in the Tel Aviv Yiddish periodical Di Goldene Keit (No. 79-80, 1973):

Later I learned in Paris that Chagall had also asked the Chief Rabbi of France for advice [re: doing a work for a church in Venice]. The Chief Rabbi...had told Chagall, very simply: "It all depends on whether or not you believe in it."10

Unfortunately, Shneiderman is not too pleased at the prospect that Chagall just might believe it after all. And whether in fact Chagall does or not is beyond our consideration at this time. But in the kaleidoscope of his large assortment of "Y'shua paintings," his art raises the question for us, Do we believe it? And if not, why not? The traditional answer that "Jews just don't believe in Jesus" cannot be offered so glibly--not after contemplating the work of Chagall, thought by many to be the greatest Jewish artist of the 20th century.

If Chagall sttands almost alone in the field of modern Jewish painters who have explored the Y'shua theme, Sholem Asch finds himself in a large company of 20th century Yiddish and Hebrew authors. This would include poet Uri Avi Greenberg, and writers Avidgdor Hameiri, Aharon Abraham Kabak, and Nobel Prize winner Samuel Joseph Agnon. However, in the United States, Asch is the best known. There has certainly been more controversy surrounding his trilogy of "Christian" novels, The Nazarene (1939), The Apostle (1943), and Mary (1949), than for the writings of any of the other authors mentioned. Heated debates have surrounded these works, yet they form but a small percentage of Asch's total output, most of which has to do with more traditionally Jewish themes.

The novels deal in turn with Jesus (called by his Hebrew name "Yeshua" or "Y'shua"), Paul and Mary (again, given her original name of "Miriam"). According to Ben Siegel, who has authored the only available English language biography of Asch, the controversy which erupted over the publication of The Nazarene was not due so much to the subject matter as to the timing, coming as it did in the year 1939. But in light of what Asch himself has written of his beliefs, he may well have seen the publication of a Jewish book about Jesus as a way to bridge the divisions between Jews and Christians at a time when such a bridge was needed. The popularity of The Nazarene was indisputable. Now out of print, "two million Americans may have read [it] in the two years following publication."11 Asch himself offers an explanation for writing The Nazarene:

I couldn't help writing on Jesus. Since I first met him he has held my mind and heart. I grew up, you know, on the border of Poland and Russia, which was not exactly the finest place in the world for a Jew to sit down and write a life of Jesus Christ. Yet even through these years the hope of doing just that fascinated me. For Jesus Christ is to me the outstanding personality of all time, all history, both as Son of God and as Son of Man. Everything he ever said or did has value for us today and that is something you can say of no other man, dead or alive. There is no easy middle ground to stroll upon. You either accept Jesus or reject him. You can analyze Mohammed and... Buddha, but don't try it with him. You either accept or you reject.12

Sholem Asch (1880-1957)

This remark, it should be understood, came from the mouth of someone who did not embrace the tenets of Christianity for himself. Nevertheless, his portrayal of Jesus was entirely sympathetic to the Jewish background of the Gospel message. Here is a typical passage from The Nazarene, based on a scene in the Gospel of Luke in which Y'shua is called to the bima in the Capernum synagogue read the Sabbath portion. In the interest of space, we have condensed the passage, which is actually several pages long:

Then came the unforgettable moment of our first meeting with the Rabbi of Nazareth.

The presence of the Nazarene in Jerusalem was by this time widely known, and the miracle which he had wrought by the pool was the subject of much discussion and much division of opinion, especially among the scholars; for he had cured the sick man on a Sabbath. As the news of his presence among us spread, the whispering changed to a loud murmur of curiosity. Wrapped in his tallit, as during the reading, he ascended the pulpit... His lips moved, but it was in silent prayer. Then he approached the officer who held the scroll of the Torah. He lifted it up, and seated himself on the "Chair of Messiah" which is built into the pulpit, and which is occupied by the head of the court at trials. And with the scroll of the Torah in his lap he began to preach... [He] did not do as other Rabbis did, that is, stand before the congregation while he preached. But he sat down in the seat of judgment, holding the Torah in his lap, as if he were a king...

[We] began to perceive that there sat before us a Rabbi who, was wholly different. Indeed, he was not a Rabbi, he was a thousand times higher than a Rabbi. Who could measure him? Were we, perhaps, in the presence of the highest Jewish hope? For now we heard words which had not been spoken even by Moses on Sinai. Who was this that sat before us, with the scroll of the Torah on his lap? Our hearts began to melt in terror, and our knees trembled. We looked at each other with terrified eyes. We knew not whether God was not about to lift us to the gates of heaven, and fling them open, that we might behold the shining of that power for which our hearts had so long hungered. Or were we about to be thrown into the abyss?

He began to speak of himself as if he were the carrier of the highest of all authority. He spoke of our eternal expectancy to help, he bade us stand momently with loins girt, awake at our posts. "Let your candles always be lit. It may come with the lightning of heaven, at every instant."

"Israel, are you not God's most beloved inheritance? The field which brings forth the first growth? The vine whose first fruits are brought upon the Table of the Holy House? Who, then, has sown your furrows with stones, so that the plow breaks against them and is dulled?"

Impatience seized the worshippers. They cried: "Tell us who you are!"

Sacrifice of Isaac by Marc Chagall

Sacrifice of Isaac by Marc Chagall ?by A.D.A.G.P. Paris, 1975. Used by permission

Indeed, Siegel remarks that for Asch, "Christianity was the culmination of Jewish thought, with its rituals and concepts rooted in Jewish ideas and practices."13 This viewpoint once again found expression in The Apostle, and later on in Mary. By authoring the three novels, Asch brought upon himself vilest vituperation and greatest praise. Probably the harshest criticism came from Herman (Chaim) Lieberman in The Christianity of Sholem Asch: An Appraisal from the Jewish Viewpoint published in 1953. So negative was Lieberman that he caused even those who did not care for the three novels, such as Samuel Sandmel, to come to Asch's defense. Others responded more in the vein of Yiddish critic Samuel Niger, who called The Nazarene "Asch's highest achievement."14

In reviewing all the furor, it is illuminating to consider what Asch has written of his own faith. In a 1941 volume entitled What I Believe, Asch speaks out clearly on his view of the Messiahship of Jesus:

The first coming of the Messiah was not for us but for the gentiles. Such, I believe, must be the conclusion of those who shake off the memory of the tortures which have been inflicted on us and estimate the significance of the moral contribution which Christianity brought to the world. They must feel this with Gamaliel, when he said at the trial of Simon: "If the work is the work of man, it will fall; but if it is the work of God ye cannot destroy it, lest ye find yourselves at war with God. " If the thing is of God then, I believe that it was not created with human power, but with the power of authority; and if the authority is not for us, the Jews, it is certainly for the nations of the world who have thereby been brought nearer to their Father in heaven.

And seeing him in this light, we bow our heads before him as we do before every one of our Prophets.

And for the second coming, that is to say, for the coming of the Messiah, we wait together with the rest of the tormented world.15

Interestingly, Asch's quotation of Gamaliel is taken from the New Testament book, The Acts of the Apostles. And the reason that he gives why the Jewish people cannot accept the authority of Y'shua is that "the Jews were [already] bound to the authority which had been given to Moses on Sinai."16

These two Jewish artists, Chagall and Asch, may challenge us with their respective brush and pen to consider the question, Is Y'shua the promised Messiah? And if so, what are we to do about it?


  1. Franz Meyer, Marc Chagall: Life and Word (N.Y.: Abrams). pp. 414-415. 2. Meyer, p. 446.
  2. Meyer, p. 446.
  3. Sidney Alexander, Marc Chagall: A Biography (N Y Putnam, 1978).
  4. Alexander.
  5. Ziva Amishai-Maisels, Tapestries and Mosaics of Marc Chagall at the Knesset (N.Y.: Tudor), p. 47.
  6. Amishai-Maisels, p. 79.
  7. Amishai-Maisels, p. 81.
  8. S. L. Shneiderman, "Chagall -- Torn?". Midstream. June-July. 1977. p. 49.
  9. Shneiderman, p. 53. 10.
  10. Schneiderman, p. 62.
  11. Ben Siegel. The Controversial Sholem Asch: An Introduction to His Fiction (Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1976), p. 143.
  12. Siegel, p. 148, quoting an interview with Asch by Frank S Mead in The Christian Herald in 1944
  13. Siegel. p. 162.
  14. Siegel, p. 150.
  15. Sholem Asch, What I Believe, tr. Maurice Samuel (N.Y.: Putnam, 1941), p. 115.
  16. Asch, p. 110.

What Rosenberg Can Learn From Rodriguez

A Satmar Orthodox Jewish man once told me, “Messianic Jews aren’t Jewish!” He went on to add, “Reformed, Conservative, Hassidic and most ‘Orthodox’ Jews aren’t really Jewish either. . . .”

Jewish identity was a simple matter for him. Real Jews follow the teachings of the Satmar rebbe. But for most Jewish people, including Jewish believers in Jesus, it’s not so simple.

The subject of Jewish identity has been hashed and rehashed with the age old questions: “What makes us Jewish?” “What should we do to preserve our Jewishness?” “How do we balance Jewishness and ‘Jesusness’?” “Is it important that my spouse be Jewish?” “Does it even matter?”

So is there any hope of a fresh perspective?

Maybe you’ve already figured it out. Other communities of Jesus-followers are asking the same questions. Asian Christians, Latino Christians, African Christians and others also struggle with issues of faith and ethnicity1—but it’s easy to stay plugged into our own iPods playing our own music, when there’s a whole other world out there!

I know that when it comes to Jewish believers, our identity has a distinct theological dimension that can be viewed through any number of lenses. In this article I’m exploring the broader dimensions of ethnicity that include how people groups see themselves as distinct from others—and the effect of our faith on those distinctions.

It’s healthy to consider how other groups handle issues of identity. After all, if God’s plan was to include the Gentiles in His redemptive work (see Genesis 12:1-3), it shouldn’t surprise us that we can learn from the multicultural community of believers in Y’shua.

Let’s take a quick tour of what brothers and sisters from other backgrounds say about concerns that may resonate with some of our own.

On Pedigree, Assimilation and Intermarriage

Orlando Crespo directs La Fe, the Latino Fellowship of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He’s also the author of Being Latino in Christ, in which he tells of his experience at a Latino Christian conference. Crespo’s words parallel the thinking of some who may wonder “how Jewish” they really are:

All of them [the attendees] felt they were not Latino enough. . . . But none of us could explain what the cutoff point was for being Latino. Some believed that their poor Spanish excluded them. . . . The biracial folks were the most adamant in their discomfort. As “half breeds,” they were convinced they literally were not Hispanic enough. . . .2

Now meet Steve Kang, an Asian American and associate professor of educational ministries at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. In the book Growing Healthy Asian American Churches, he writes that many Asian American pastors, while in seminary, unintentionally “put away their rich cultural heritages and practices in favor of the dominant tradition in American evangelicalism.”3 Assimilation, it turns out, is a reality for Gentile Christians too.

Let’s move on to Peter Cha and Susan Cho Van Riesen, Korean Americans who discuss intermarriage from the perspective of honoring one’s parents. In Asian culture, to marry without parental permission and blessing would be a great dishonor. Generally this means marrying another Asian. Even in many liberal Jewish homes, the sentiment towards intermarriage is similar to that expressed by a Chinese father: “One billion Chinese and she can’t choose one!”4

It can be refreshing and instructive to hear how others grapple with some of the same issues we do. Take intermarriage as an example. “Communication is a big reason many parents hope their children do not marry outside of the culture,” say two Asian-American authors.

The challenge involves not only actual language barriers but also the more subtle, nonverbal ways of communicating. One friend’s mother wondered why her daughter’s boyfriend laughed and smiled so much around her. Her assumption was that he didn’t want to treat her as a serious and honorable person, when he was actually just trying to be friendly.5

For those considering a crosscultural relationship, they offer four practical suggestions: (1) “Value and honor each other’s family traditions and cultures as much as you can.” (2) “Spend quality time with each other’s parents and family.” (3) “Be aware that one of your cultures may get much more airtime in your relationship.” (4) “Know that there are some things that your partner may not be able to understand or connect with very fully in your journey of faith and cultural self-understanding.6

On Anti-Semitism, Racism and “Anti-Gentilism”

How do brothers and sisters from other backgrounds deal with prejudice, stereotyping and race hate? Orlando Crespo, a Puerto Rican American, describes the forced sterilization of Puerto Ricans in the 20th century and reflects:

Puerto Rico’s history is my history because I have chosen to identify fully with the Puerto Rican experience. To do so means I must embrace all of the sadness and the pain of our history. It also means I am willing to speak out against the injustices that have been perpetrated against my people.7

On the one hand, it is important to identify with the pain of our own people. On the other hand, we also need to learn how our faith requires us to respond to that pain. From an African- American perspective, Spencer Perkins is concerned that:

Because blacks have suffered unjustly at the hands of whites, our brand of Christianity has allowed us to hang on to this particular category of unforgiveness. Sure, we say that we are willing to forgive, and we do. But that special dispensation is reserved for whites who prove that they are ‘worthy.’8

Should we have similar concerns? Do some in our Messianic mishpochah believe that anti-Semitism excuses us from listening to the “Gentile church”? Do we harbor animosity towards Germans because of the Holocaust? Have we inherited stereotypes from our parents or grandparents concerning other people groups? Again, it can be beneficial to listen and learn from those who have trod a similar path. Two Asian-American authors suggest: (1) “Go on a short-term overseas or U.S. urban crosscultural mission.” (2) “Consider joining or visiting a church of a different ethnicity.” (3) “Seek further biblical teaching on justice.” (4) “Pursue intentionally developing one deep friendship with someone from a different race or ethnicity.” (5) “Pray for God’s work of racial reconciliation in this world, in this country and in the church.”9

On Conflicting Values

Helen Lee, cofounder of the Best Christian Workplaces Institute, identifies four areas in which Asian-rooted values may not align with a biblical value system: Confucian-based perspectives; false humility; face-saving, shame-based approaches; and inability to resolve conflict.10

Perhaps we should also be asking if our culture has formally or informally passed on values that do not align with the Bible. According to Helen Lee, Asians may have problems putting themselves forth for positions of leadership; do we as Jews have the opposite problem, always needing to be “the big macher”?

Paul Tokunaga, a third generation Japanese American, is Asian Ministry Coordinator at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He describes the influence of Confucianism among Korean, Chinese, and Japanese Christians as both affirming of and simultaneously conflicting with New Covenant values and faith. In his words:

Like Confucianism, the Bible calls us to honor our parents. . . . Like Confucianism, we are called by God to put the desires of others above our own. . . . But there are aspects of Confucian thought that clash with Christian faith. . . . Confucius’s rules were highly male-oriented. The mother’s side of the family had little importance. . . . [But] Jesus was certainly more egalitarian and gave more prominence and recognition to women. Although Jesus gave honor to family, he always gave greater honor and favor to the “new family,” his body.11

For many American Jews, it’s considered a “Jewish value” to be “liberal-minded” on social and political issues. Yet that liberalism can lead to support for positions that most believers find counter to the Bible, such as abortion-on-demand.

But while the Bible may call on us to interpret some of these issues differently than our unbelieving Jewish family and friends, we can still underscore the areas where our faith affirms the values of our Jewish culture. As we share Jesus’ concern for the poor, the orphans, widows and others who are vulnerable, we can advocate in ways that affirm both our faith and our culture.

Hearing how non-Jewish brothers and sisters grapple with questions of identity can be instructive. One common thread among all these conversations is the need to seek what Scripture has to say, allowing it to address and challenge us on issues of community, character and identity. This is a journey, not a one-time event. But it’s a journey that we can share with others as we see how they have put Scripture into practice.

Orlando Crespo has used something called the Latino Heritage Exercise designed to get small groups thinking and talking about issues of ethnicity and faith.12 I recommend his book Being Latino in Christ, along with Following Jesus Without Dishonoring Your Parents for an Asian perspective (see footnotes for the full information).

So yes, ken and s?. Rosenberg can learn from Rodr?guez, and Wong can benefit from Weinstein. There’s no need to “go it alone” in our journey as Jesus-believing Jews.


  1. Ethnicity includes aspects of identity such as the food and language of a particular culture, but it also includes beliefs and values.
  2. Orlando Crespo, Being Latino in Christ (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003) p. 55.
  3. Peter Cha, Steve Kang & Helen Lee, Growing Healthy Asian American Churches (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006) p. 49.
  4. Jeanette Yep, Peter Cha, Susan Cho Van Riesen, et al., Following Jesus Without Dishonoring Your Parents (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) p. 98.
  5. Ibid., pp. 99-100.
  6. Ibid., pp. 100-101.
  7. Being Latino, pp. 20-21.
  8. Spencer Perkins, “Playing the Grace Card.” July 13, 1998, at
  9. Following Jesus, p. 127.
  10. Growing Healthy Asian American Churches, p. 61.
  11. Following Jesus, pp. 21-22.
  12. Being Latino, pp. 125-136.
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Virtual Disciples

It was a communication breakdown. MySpace, Facebook, Friendster, Photobucket, Skype, AIM, personal websites, e-mails—unavailable. All we could do was relate to . . . each other.

Mere miles would not have hindered access to family and friends—but between our schedule, a computer shortage and the expense of overseas phone calls, the usual flow of electronic communication slowed to a trickle. Sometimes, not even that. At first, frustration crept in as people found their usual connections curtailed. Nevertheless, 15 Jewish believers (all but me college age) found ourselves eating, studying, praying, worshiping, living and growing together for nearly three months, first in Israel, then India. We’d gone for discipleship, Jewish studies and outreach. In the process, we became a community.*


E-communication definitely has benefits. The technology is amazing. How else could you find people interested in Kazakhstan, Johannine Theology and wine tasting? It’s easy to invite others into your online world to share thoughts, pictures, music and friends. Electronic photo albums, favorite songs—even “wallpapers”—enable us to express ourselves and our taste continually, and connect with those of like interests. In “Second Life,” the 3-D cyber network, people create completely new identities, including name, gender, looks, career—everything.

The Internet also makes it easy for seekers to inquire about the Bible or Jesus privately, from almost anywhere in the world, and without fear of reproach. We should be all over the Internet looking for creative ways to serve God and minister to people.

Our choice is not whether technology will affect our faith communities, but how. And, as far-reaching as this technology may be, it has limits. Will we take advantage of the techno routes when and where possible, and look for other avenues to take us where technology cannot go? Or will we trust technology to help us do “virtually” everything?

Discipleship, for example, is an age-old concept. In the first century, small societies of talmidim (disciples) sprang up around certain sages. Pupils lived together, spent time talking about all aspects of life, and especially how they might apply the teachings of their particular teacher. Those disciples committed themselves to their rabbis much the same way as Y’shua’s followers committed themselves to Him.

Being and making disciples for Y’shua is not optional for those of us who believe and want to obey Him. But are the ancient models still relevant in light of all that technology can do?

As we think about Jewish believers in Y’shua today, there may be many approaches to discipleship, but any successful approach requires . . . (drum roll) . . . community. If discipleship is tree-planting, community is the soil in which those trees grow. And the depth of community in electronic communities is limited. You get to maintain your contacts with a maximum of personal control and convenience and a minimum of cost and continuity—none of which is particularly conducive to true community. Here’s why.



We customize our online communities to tell as much or as little about ourselves as we care to. We present ourselves as we choose and perceive others as they choose. The amazing level to which people can customize their virtual lives reflects the value we place on personal choice and individual control. But too often we control what is seen, while what is unseen (our hearts) remains undisciplined and out of control. Community is the classroom in which we learn to control our impulses and reactions to situations and circumstances beyond our control.

In real life and real community, personal choices are militated by the needs and goals of the group, unforeseen circumstances, and most of all, God’s will. Jesus set us a high water mark:

“Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

Convenient versus Costly Commitment

In virtual communities, we connect with people conveniently: when and where we choose, with whom we choose and for the duration we choose. Convenience relates to control as it allows us to determine how much or little we will exert ourselves, i.e. what cost we are willing to pay. Convenient commitment is not real commitment, and without commitment, there is no community and no discipleship.

Members of true communities don’t connect or disconnect with the click of a mouse. We don’t usually get to handpick who’s in our community any more than we handpick our parents or our children. A variety of people come together and are expected to “stick it out,” whether or not it’s convenient. It is not convenience, but the annoying inability to have things just as we please that brings out the best and worst in people, and allows them to see one another as they truly are. Jesus never offered any bargains on the cost of discipleship. He often required people to leave their possessions, their professions, even their parents. He said,

“Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).


The Internet cannot adequately meet our needs in the area of discipleship because it cannot provide a living example of godly character. No doubt young believers can benefit from regular interaction with more mature believers online, but a life of faith is ultimately grasped through experiencing it lived out.

Relationships require continuity in order for a disciple to know how theory is put into praxis. Lifestyle must be seen over time to be believed and emulated.

Jesus demonstrated how to pray, how to dialogue with antagonists, how to deal with death, how to demonstrate God’s love to others and a myriad of other necessary skills. He spent years with His disciples. When He said,

“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12),

He could point to His track record—the disciples had experienced His love for them in various ways,

through various circumstances. He’d fed them, scolded them, comforted them . . . and washed their feet.

The Massah Experience

Following Jesus and telling people about Him are sometimes seen in juxtaposition, when really neither is complete without the other—and community is so important for both. I’m not saying that Massah, the Israel/India trip I referred to earlier, is the only or even the best way to approach these things. Messianic congregations are an obvious context for combining discipleship and outreach in a community context. I would love to hear examples of how some of you are accomplishing this, and maybe we can inspire and help each other. Meanwhile I wanted to offer a snapshot of our “low-tech” experiment.

Massah was one of the longer “short-term” opportunities that Jews for Jesus has offered. We’re still evaluating and figuring it out, but I think it’s a program with a future. A committed group of Jewish believers chose to spend their summer learning to follow Y’shua more closely and sharing His love with others away from the comforts of home. Careers were put on hold, studies postponed, income sacrificed; family commitments temporarily set aside. Each team member sacrificed something to serve God with this group.

We spent so much time together that our lives opened up to one another in meaningful ways. Deep discussions led to prayer. People were challenged to examine and address their issues in light of Jesus’ example and the examples of fellow believers.

Our example wasn’t lost on the unbelievers we met. In India for example, marijuana grew freely wherever we went, and Israelis smoked it everywhere. They frequently commented on how we didn’t smoke. At first they were puzzled, but most came to recognize our commitment to God and to living in purity (which is difficult in the absence of sobriety) as something they could commend.

Much of our effort this past summer had to do with becoming a team. On more than one occasion we discussed how

various group members would naturally have gravitated to and become friends with one another, while others would never have hung out together at all. We faced struggles and breakthroughs and became a community of followers. The struggles tested us in areas of weakness, and brought to light things that God was dealing with in our lives. Ultimately, we stood united in our love for Y’shua and in sharing that love with others.

Talk Back

There’s no doubt that online social networks provide new and creative ways for us to interact with one another. But a group of committed believers is not nearly as powerful through online networks as it is when people unite in person to do something for God.

Being and making disciples of Y’shua is hands on work and it requires commitment. It demands a personal example that reflects the fruits of the Spirit, and a passion to serve God. It requires a relational community where a believer can observe, interact, try, fail and try again. True community isn’t always convenient, and it may not reflect all our personal preferences. It isn’t always fun nor does it always fit into our schedules—but it’s essential for us both as individuals and as a community of believers.

What do you think? Post your opinion on the web. For now, you can write a comment on this article at

In the future, we hope to do more with Havurah online and use the Internet to help share ideas. Why not take advantage of the technology?

* This was our Massah (“Journey”) program—see details and photos at

Articles tagged

The Jewish Roots Movement: Flowers and Thorns

As Jewish believers, we often encourage Gentile Christians to learn about the Jewish roots of their faith. Many benefit from the insights they gain from these connections. However, a growing segment of believers are demonstrating an excessive interest in their Jewish roots, which can be harmful to their spiritual health.

The Hebraic Roots or Jewish Roots movement refers to various organizations with a common emphasis on recovering the original" Jewishness of Christianity. This recovery comes through studying the Bible in its Jewish context, observing the Torah, keeping the Sabbath and festivals, avoiding the "paganism" of Christianity, affirming the existence of original Hebrew language gospels and, in some cases, denigrating the Greek text of the New Testament. Writers such as Roy Blizzard, David Bivin, Brad Young and Robert Lindsay have given much impetus to this movement.

A proliferation of teachers, ministries and institutions associated with the Jewish/Hebraic roots movement has a growing presence on the Internet. Consequently, many believers are intrigued. In trying to understand the movement, we find a certain fuzziness that makes it difficult to characterize it by any one set of doctrines. Some organizations associated with the movement offer statements of faith that are evangelical in their understanding of salvation. Others are way off the mark.

Pastor Ken Garrison, Director of the Tsemach Institute for Biblical Studies, wrote a book titled Hebraic Roots, which states that the Church, in straying from its Hebraic heritage, has fallen into error. Further, he claims that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity must be rejected as unscriptural. Roy Blizzard, more widely known than Garrison, comes close to rejecting the inerrancy of Scripture and seems to hold to an aberrant, if not heretical, view of the Trinity, according to the Christian Research Institute.1

If you enter messianic chatrooms you may well encounter people who describe the Trinity as a Gentile invention of the Nicene Council. This is a gross misunderstanding—if not gross ignorance—of church history. Since Father, Son and Holy Spirit are each described as God in Scripture, it also undermines God's Word to dismiss the doctrine of the Trinity as a man-made invention. Both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures provide the foundation for understanding God's triune nature. The Jewish writers of the New Testament expressed truth about the deity of Messiah based upon their grasp of the Jewish Bible and their experience with Y'shua.

Dwight Pryor, a leading voice for evangelicals in the Jewish Roots movement, warns that some believers are forsaking Jesus and Christianity because of their growing fondness for Judaism and its teachings. They are crossing a line from appreciation to adulation of their Jewish roots. It almost seems as though these lapsing Christians believe that a special insight into their roots somehow elevates their status—as though there is an inherent superiority in being Jewish.

These people have forgotten that God loves every nation, and that all cultures have unique contributions to make to the Body of Messiah. Gentiles who say, "We are no longer Gentiles, regardless of our background" are confused and on the road to spiritual trouble. Adherents of the so-called "Two House Theory" constitute one group that has fallen into this kind of error.

Hebraic Roots teachers call upon believers to study Hebrew and learn about Jewish culture, which most of us can appreciate. More often than not, however, they call Gentiles to a Torah-observant and/or festival observant lifestyle as a means of drawing closer to Jesus and being conformed to His image. The implication is, if you really want to please God, if you really want to be holy, here are the rules. Even though most do not believe these observances are necessary for one's salvation, there is often an implication that this is the higher way. Scripture warns against such things.

When believers forsake apostolic teaching, when they downgrade the Greek New Testament text, when they elevate the roots of their faith above the faith itself, they are in danger.

Many don't realize that it is impossible to return to the precise practices of the early church, when Jewish believers served as the chief leaders. Much of the Jewish Roots movement is actually based upon later Jewish/rabbinic tradition. More importantly, the question of whether Gentiles need to adopt a Jewish lifestyle and return to Jewish roots was settled by the Jerusalem Council described in Acts 15. The remarkable news of the gospel is that, in Y'shua, Jews and Gentiles have direct access to God. Rural Christians in China won't be drawn closer to God through studying Hebrew and waving Israeli flags in worship. They need what we all need: more time in prayer and meditation on the Word of God.

As Jewish believers, we certainly need to understand our roots. It would be a shame to forsake our birthright. Not only that, but counter-missionaries often try to undermine our beliefs by assigning them false origins, so we need to know the real origins of our faith. I'd be rich if I had a dollar for every time I've been told that Christianity was invented by Gentiles who didn't know the Jewish Bible. Of course, that accusation belies the accuser's own ignorance of the Jewish roots of our faith.

It's also important for Gentiles to understand the Jewish roots of their faith so they can better relate (and hopefully witness) to their Jewish friends, as well as oppose anti-Semitism when they see it.

Believers who wish to learn more about the Jewish roots of Christianity do well. Learning about the Jewish roots of Christianity can transform a black and white understanding of Scripture into "living color." A deeper understanding of first century Judaism can also help people better understand Y'shua and His contemporaries. There are many good books and tapes available on the subject. But Jewish and Gentile believers need to focus on applying the words and actions of Y'shua to their cultural context today. Maybe we can help serve as a reality check for those brothers and sisters who begin to reject sound teaching and slip into an unhealthy glorification of Jewish roots.

Should opportunities present themselves, let's reflect God's desire for Jews and Gentiles to be reconciled through faith in Messiah. Let's carefully remind our brothers and sisters that God is glorified when we accept one another with our different backgrounds and distinct heritages. We need to communicate to our Gentile brothers and sisters that there is no superiority in being born Jewish or Gentile, and that in Y'shua all of us can be thankful for the various identities God gave us.

Like the inexperienced gardener who may confuse the flowers with the weeds, so the enthusiastic, but callow, believer may be unable to distinguish between those Jewish Roots teachings which enrich or impoverish our faith. That's the danger. There are thorns in the garden. We should pay attention to Paul's inspired advice to Timothy: "Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1 Timothy 4:16).

Senior staff member Rich Robinson has written extensively on the Hebraic Roots movement.

  1. Christian Research Institute International, Public Statement 3.017, June, 1992.

From Generation to Generation: A Jewish Family Finds Their Way Home

My name is Steven Peter Wertheim. I was born August 3, 1951 in the Bronx, New York—but our family actually lived in the upper west side of Manhattan, where it seemed like everyone was either Jewish or Catholic. Regular fights broke out between us neighborhood kids. As things heated up, invariably one of them" would call "one of us" "Christ killer." I had no idea what "Christ killer" meant, but I knew it meant a fight was imminent.

I asked my parents why those kids were so mean to us. They explained that many Christians hated Jews simply because we were Jews, and reminded me of history, especially the Holocaust.

During Kristallnacht my grandfather's business was stolen from him along with everything he owned. Then the Nazis took him away and my dad, his sisters and their mother thought they would never see him again.1

Mom and Dad frequently told me about the cruelty they suffered from "the Christians." As a child, I knew that I had to defend myself for being Jewish. The Hanukkah story always meant a lot to us, because we knew what it was like to have to fight. It was very satisfying to celebrate our people's victory over those who had tried to assimilate or exterminate us.

When I was eight years old I started going to Hebrew school three times a week and attending synagogue in preparation for my bar mitzvah. If you had asked me, "Do you believe in God?" I probably would have said yes. But I never thought much about what he might expect of me, or vice versa.

My bar mitzvah service was held in a synagogue in Queens, as we had recently moved there from Manhattan. My mother had labored for many months to make sure everything was perfect. I felt embarrassed by all the attention, though I appreciated all the effort and expense.

After my bar mitzvah, my life seemed to take a radical turn. For one thing, having "become a man" made me responsible in new ways. I took on a series of part-time jobs when I was 14. I liked having my own money, but there wasn't a lot of time for playing or doing "kid" things.

I missed my friends from Manhattan and, as a teenager, I did not find it easy to make new friends. My self-esteem plummeted and what little belief I'd had in God disintegrated as I saw no evidence that he cared.

My relationship with my family grew intolerable. There was constant fighting—a lot of yelling alternated with angry silences. Much of that was probably due to normal generation gap issues, but in addition, we were so close that friction was inevitable. Whereas many families have problems with a lack of communication, I felt like we had more than enough. Everything was a family decision; I was brought into every conversation and expected to participate as an adult.

In retrospect, I'm sure my parents were expressing respect for my adulthood, but in fact I still was, and wanted to be, a kid. My brother, who was seven years younger than I, was even more a kid than I was, and with that age difference came a huge gap in our experience and interests. Yet my parents seemed to expect me to be Rob's closest companion, an expectation I was not prepared to fulfill.

My parents' experiences in Germany affected our family dynamic. Many Holocaust survivors were robbed of their childhood, and have a limited idea of what it should be. Plus, knowing so many people who died or lost family members caused those who were more fortunate to be extremely focused on their loved ones. I didn't appreciate what might be behind the tight grip my family had on me. I just knew that I wanted some distance from all that closeness. I couldn't wait to be out of school so I could move away.

I was accepted into a school in New Hampshire. After a year, I transferred to C.W. Post College, which is part of Long Island University. I earned my college degree in History and Education. However, I hated being in debt, and decided that paying off my student loan was more important than pursuing my profession.

I worked in the post office alongside my father to pay off that student loan. And then I only wanted one thing: to escape from New York City. My grandfather, a gentle and generous man, laid out a good sum of money enabling me to buy my first car—an orange Volkswagen Beetle—during the summer of 1974.

That September I packed my bags, and my father and I drove west to Southern California—as far away as I could get. We arrived there a week or so later and checked into a motel, where we stayed for about a week while I went job and apartment hunting.

I quickly got a job as a bank teller. My next task was to find a place to live. My father and I happened upon a building with an apartment for rent on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood. I looked at the studio and wasn't overly impressed. The managers, Lily and Burt, were a friendly, middle-aged British couple. Lily and my father established an immediate rapport. Dad confided that he was nervous about my being so far away. Lily assured him that she would "keep an eye out" for me. He obviously enjoyed her and after we left, encouraged me to take the place. I wasn't too keen on this particular apartment, but I gave in.

I took Dad to the airport the next day, knowing that it would be some time before I saw him or any other family member again.

Within a few weeks, Lily and Burt invited me to their apartment. They also invited a couple about my age who had just moved to Los Angeles. The husband was Jewish and originally from New York. Lily and Burt thought we might have some things in common.

I'm an inquisitive person and when I meet new people I normally ask lots of questions. But when I met Baruch and Marcia Goldstein, for some reason I refrained from asking these nice people what they did for a living.

A few weeks later Baruch called and invited me to their home for dinner. When we sat down to eat, Baruch said he hoped I wouldn't mind, but it was their tradition to pray at mealtimes. I didn't care if they prayed, but at the close of their prayer I heard three words that shook me up: "IN JESUS' NAME."

Afterwards, I asked them to explain that prayer. They told me that they were Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. In fact, Baruch and Marcia were working with Jews for Jesus. I blurted out, "You can't be Jewish and believe in Jesus!" We had a heated discussion at the dinner table. Still, I thought I should be somewhat tolerant for just one evening. They mentioned that they were beginning a Bible study on Friday nights. I turned down the invitation.

But the truth was, if it weren't for their belief in Jesus, I would like to have been friends with these people. After a while I asked myself, what was the worst that could happen if I went to one of their Bible studies? So one evening in October of 1974 I accepted the invitation. I met a half a dozen or so other people, mostly university students or recent graduates. Some were clean-shaven and conservatively dressed while others were more of the "hippie" genre.

On my way home I couldn't help thinking that these were nice people, although misguided. I started attending regularly. I found my belief in God resurfacing as I heard these people describe what he had done in their lives. I began to look forward to the Bible study.

I let my parents know I was studying the Bible with a Jewish group. They were quite astonished since I had previously made it clear that I had given up on God and all things religious. Nevertheless, they were pleased that my new friends were Jewish and that I had become interested in God. I didn't tell them that these people believed in Jesus. How could I explain it to them when I didn't quite understand it myself?

About three months into the Bible studies, a conflict began growing inside me. Things these Jews for Jesus believed were starting to make sense. Being able to discuss the Bible with others who saw its value and who cared about God—and who were Jewish—meant a lot to me. No one had pressured me about my beliefs, yet I found the Bible to be very convincing.

And that scared me.

All I could think was that my parents would never understand if I came to believe that Jesus was Messiah. I remembered every detail of all the things that, as far as my parents were concerned, had been done to us by "the Christians." I felt I could not afford to think any further about Jesus.

So, in January of 1975, I started absenting myself from the people I had become close to. But after a few weeks, I found it difficult to stay away from the Bible studies. It wasn't just the quality of the people, but what they believed that drew me into a relationship, not only with them but with a God I had never really known before. I began to feel that perhaps I couldn't afford to NOT think any further about Jesus.

I returned to the Bible studies. I remember one Friday night—March 7—I told a friend, "I feel like God is standing at my door, knocking as though he wants to come in and be with me. It seems like all I need to do is let him in, but I don't know if I'm ready."

By this time I had gotten into the habit of praying. I asked God to help me be certain if Jesus was true, and to give me the courage to live according to what was right and real, even if it had painful consequences.

After a restless night I was still experiencing tremendous turmoil. I got in the car with no particular plan and found myself near the beach. It was a rare overcast day in March.

I parked and walked around for awhile. Water, sand, sky…all seemed grey, and it fit my mood. When I left the beach I drove to Baruch and Marcia's house.

I told Baruch I was torn. I knew that Jesus was the Messiah but I wasn't prepared for what would happen if I believed in Him. I couldn't give up my family. At the same time I said that I didn't know what I needed to do in order to follow through on this new belief. He responded that if I really believed Jesus was the Messiah, it would be good if I would confirm that before God through prayer.

I prayed with Baruch, asking God to forgive my sins on the basis of Jesus' atoning death. And I asked God to help me to follow Y'shua (Jesus) and live a life that would please God. Afterwards, I felt a peace that I had not experienced before. But before long the uppermost thought in my mind was that I had to tell my parents.

It was nearly Passover and my brother Rob, sixteen at the time, came to visit me and accompanied me to a seder at Baruch and Marcia's home. We got to the third cup of wine after dinner, along with the Afikomen. Baruch told how Jesus had taken this cup and the matzo that traditionally point to the Passover Lamb, and used them to point to his body and blood. Baruch explained that those who believe that Jesus' sacrifice was an atonement for sin now use the bread and cup to remember what he did for us.

On the drive back to my apartment, Rob asked me if I believed in Jesus as the Messiah. I told him that I did, but that I had not yet told our parents. And I asked him to not tell them either. I explained that I wanted to do that myself.

The next time I spoke with my parents, I felt a strain in our conversation. I asked my parents if Rob had "told them." My mother asked, "Told us what?" I said, "About my believing in Jesus," My mother said that she didn't know what I was talking about. What I perceived as a strain was simply my own feelings of guilt for not telling them what I believed. We didn't talk much more at the time. But that didn't mean the subject was closed.

Two weeks later we had an hour-long fight over the phone. The accusation that I was no longer Jewish alternated with cries of, "Where did we go wrong?" I later found out that following the phone call, my parents wrote me a letter, which basically said that they wanted nothing more to do with me and that they preferred that I not contact them until I came to my senses and stopped the narishkeit of believing in Jesus. Even though they never sent the letter the relationship was stressed at best.

That summer, Baruch and Marcia Goldstein were going to be in New York and they offered to meet my parents. I mentioned this to Mom and Dad, and at first the offer was refused. Later they reluctantly acquiesced. My father told me prior to their coming that he wanted to "throw Baruch off the terrace."

The evening came and the four of them actually had a pleasant evening together. My family even called to let me know how much they enjoyed the Goldsteins' visit.

Within a few weeks my parents and Rob came to visit me in California. We were together for three weeks. It became quite evident to my family that I took my belief in Jesus seriously. They allowed me to tell them what I believed and why I believed it.

During our last week together, my family joined me at the Bible study. After everyone else had left, we sat having coffee with Baruch and Marcia. My father suddenly turned to my mother and said, "Laura, what would you do if I believed in Jesus?" After a moment of contemplation my mother responded, "I'd probably leave you." The discussion didn't last much longer, and neither did our visit. My parents and Rob returned to New York.

By this time, unknown to the family, Rob had come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. However, he didn't feel he could voice his decision without risking being thrown out of my parents' home.

In 1975 Jews for Jesus opened its branch office in New York City. In September my family was invited to Bible studies in Manhattan. My father was eager to go and my brother went with him. My mother was not interested but went because of my father.

Eventually, Dad told Mom that he believed in Jesus. Mom did not leave him, but tensions began to heat up. Now that my father believed, Rob no longer feared the consequences of his own faith and confessed that he, too, believed in Jesus.

Up until this point my mother had endured the Bible studies and the "Jesus talk." Now that the whole family had "turned," she let us all know that she didn't want to hear anything more about Jesus.

One Tuesday night my father planned to meet my mother after work, to take her to dinner before Bible study. My mother informed him that she would make her own way home. She went to the subway only to find that the trains were indefinitely delayed. She went back upstairs to take alternate means of transportation home and found that it would be impossible to get home in a reasonable amount of time. She then called my dad, had him pick her up and they proceeded with the original plan for the evening.

That night my mother saw a film about Corrie ten Boom, a Christian who hid Jews during the Holocaust, and it deeply touched her. She realized that her reasons for holding out from what the rest of the family believed didn't have so much to do with who Jesus was as who she thought Christians were. The film helped her to see that people who truly love Jesus also love the Jewish people. Within a couple of weeks, my mother embraced Jesus as Messiah.

Who would have believed that our entire family would be reunited as Jews who all believe in Jesus? Or that I would one day meet and marry another Jewish believer in Jesus?

One day a friend of mine was sent an audition tape from a young woman on the East Coast who was applying to Jews for Jesus. He played the tape for me and I thought, "That's the best voice I've heard since Joni Mitchell. I've got to meet this girl…"

We're Glad You Asked...

Question: I have heard some people accuse Jewish believers in Christ of neo-Galatianism" because you talk about celebrating the Jewish holidays. What, exactly, is neo-Galatianism, and how would you answer such a charge? And why do you Jewish believers continue to celebrate Jewish holidays anyhow?

Answer: In Paul's letter to the Galatian Christians he told them that they were foolish because they sought to follow the Law as a path to becoming more spiritual. He taught that those who tried to follow the Law would be cursed if they didn't continue to do all things written in the book of the law (Galatians 3:10). In short, there is no such thing as following just a little of the Law. Paul taught that it was a matter of "all or nothing at all," and if anyone violated the Law in a single point it was as though he had completely shattered it.

Many Jewish believers in Jesus celebrate scriptural holidays and enjoy certain other Jewish traditions, even enriching them with the added knowledge and symbolism of our Messiah Y'shua. For example, besides enjoying the Jewish holidays, many of us celebrate our young people's passage into maturity with messianic bar or bat mitzvot (see the article on page 7 of this Newsletter). In doing these things we are not rejecting God's grace in Christ, nor are we trying to gain merit by observing the Law. Our purpose is to preserve and transmit our cultural heritage to our children.

Those who would fault Jewish believers for expressing their heritage in this way would do well to study Galatians, chapter 2. There once again the Apostle Paul provided enlightenment about celebrating certain holidays or eating or abstaining from certain foods. Paul said that some people are vegetarians, and some eat all things. Elsewhere, in Romans 14:3, he said, "Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him." Then Paul went on to explain that one person esteems one day above another and another esteems every day alike, but each must be fully convinced in his own mind.

Under the New Covenant, we all have a Holy Spirit-governed liberty and a God-sensitized conscience, whereby one believer might choose to accept more or less of a burden to follow certain holidays or customs than another. Those observances are purely subjective and voluntary, and never to be considered ways of gaining merit with God. The Holy Spirit gives us the liberty to maintain our heritage and culture so long as the traditions and observances do not obscure the gospel and we realize that the only way of salvation is through grace, by faith in the atoning work of Y'shua.

Letter to the Editor of ISSUES, and The Editor's Response

Good morning:

I am amused by your blatant attempt to make it appear that Jews believe in Jesus Christ. If you and your members were not seeking an authoritarian source upon whom you can depend emotionally--the childish attempt to return to your mother's womb where you don't have to think for yourselves--realize that the reason Jews do not accept Jesus is that there is no real evidence that he ever existed1.

Certainly the Jews would have been the first to acknowledge any person with all the good" characteristics Jesus Christ is alleged to have had (ignoring the hostile and cruel aspects of the person described in the Gospels.) You'd see the Gospels for what they are--hearsay accounts written at various times in history by people who did not know this individual.2

Even your knowledge of the Hebrews is lacking because the god of Abraham was the "family tribal deity" and that (sic) at various times in biblical history, the "god" was a different one until finally the concept of monotheism was borrowed from either Zoroastrianism or the Egyptian Sun God. It was not original with the Hebrews.3

Perhaps what is most important is that you are all wasting your lives seeking an authoritarian source to tell you what to do, how to live, to remove the uncertainties of life. Jews do not depend upon the supernatural but have a responsibility to meet life without such a dependency.4

Other than one paragraph added to the work of the Jewish historian, Josephus, after his death, there is no reference to Jesus by writers contemporary with the period attributed to his existence5; no artifacts, friezes, works of art, or other items to substantiate that Jesus ever lived although such material exists confirming the thousands of other gods from as far back as Sumerian times.

You are just being used--exploited6--probably to give power and money to whoever founded your organization. Stop being such dumbbells, such sickies. Get psychiatric help. As a Jew, you insult the ethnic values to which I subscribe.

Jane Kathryn Conrad

I dare you to publish this letter. I don't think you ever bring opposing viewpoints.7

  1. See quotes from independent sources: "...there is no real evidence that he ever existed."
  2. Refer to article by Ruth Rosen: Certainly! But then again, no...
  3. Rich Robinson treats this in detail in his monotheism article: Monotheism of the Ancient Hebrews: Evolved, Invented, Stolen or Revealed?
  4. See editor's personal perspective below.
  5. Again see "...there is no real evidence that he ever existed."
  6. Again, see editor's personal perspective below.
  7. See second paragraph of editor's response below.

Dear Ms. Conrad,

As you can see, we've published your letter in its entirety. Not only that, but we decided to devote this entire issue to addressing points you raised! I realize this isn't exactly an "equal time" situation. After all, we were able to consider your letter at leisure and a few of us pooled ideas to come up with the following reply. But since you invited us to print your letter, I hope you won't mind our taking the liberty to answer.

I should probably add for the benefit of our other readers, we did not feel obligated to print your letter because you "dared" us. (Lest everyone think we can do likewise with their responses...we simply don't have the space!) The fact is, many others have written in with questions and comments similar to yours. By responding to you publicly, we hope to address a number of people who are interested in the same issues. We welcome additional questions or comments from such readers.

I cannot speak for others, but I feel constrained to respond to one of your statements, "you are all wasting your lives seeking an authoritarian source to tell you what to do, how to live, to remove the uncertainties of life." Of course, no one likes to be told that they are wasting their life. Our time here is precious and to most of us, it seems too short. To think of a person wasting what little there is seems...pitiable. But I was far from seeking someone to tell me how to live my life, and my motives were not exactly as you describe them.

It was 1971 when I heard and believed that Y'shua (Jesus) was the promised Messiah. I was working as a copywriter in an ad agency in New York. I liked my work; it was challenging, creative and I was successful at it. I also liked my leisure time. I had a spacious apartment, a rarity for most Manhattan dwellers, and it was often filled with a very interesting assortment of friends. I was busy with a number of satisfying pursuits: an amateur theater group, the local block association and, of course, a smorgasbord of events to choose from around town.

I'm giving you this background information, Ms. Conrad, because I want you to understand that I was quite content to direct my life without a cosmic commander telling me what to do. But when I saw the reality of God in the lives of some people, it wasn't the sort of thing I felt I should ignore. I felt curious, and yes, responsible, to look into it. Had I desired to avoid uncertainties, it would have been easier to continue along the path I had chosen for myself.

Once I accepted that I was the creation and God the Creator, it seemed very natural to accept the fact that my Creator had a plan for my life. That being the case, I thought it appropriate to consider his plan. I found the Bible to be a reliable source. (I realize that is one of the fundamental differences between us.) The plan I found there was as follows:

God not only created people, but he also cares about us and wants us to have a relationship with him. When we fall short of his standards, it causes a schism between us. Since he is righteous, he cannot accept unrighteousness. Yet, he is also loving and gracious, and wants to forgive us and bring us back into a relationship with him. The sacrificial system described in Leviticus gives us an idea of how one not deserving of punishment (an animal, in this case) was provided as a substitute in atoning for Israel's sins. But the prophets spoke of a Messiah, God's anointed, who would be the ultimate deliverer. Unlike the animals which were sacrificed as mere symbols, the Messiah would triumph over death. And that is exactly what I believe Y'shua did.

God didn't impose standards on me. He didn't insist that I worship him or even acknowledge him. I chose to love him because he showed such remarkable love for me. Y'shua is proof of that. You think in terms of a negative authoritarian source...I'm thinking in terms of the Author of Life.

As far as being sick and in need of psychiatric help, what can I say? I suppose you intend to offend, but I don't want to take offense. I can still remember what I thought about followers of Jesus before I believed. But I will say this: whether or not you consider Y'shua is your choice. You don't need to draw conclusions about people you don't know in order to justify not believing in him.

Last of all, have I been "used-exploited to give power and money to whoever founded [my] organization"? I think that probably belongs in the same category with the suggestion for psychiatric help. But I'll just say that, if being used and exploited means making a decent living, at doing work that I thoroughly enjoy, for a cause that I fully believe in, then, I wish everyone could be exploited like me!

Ms. Conrad, we've tried to treat your letter in a good-natured way in the following pages. Thank you for giving us some interesting issues to ponder with you and the rest of our readers.


Susan Perlman, Editor

Articles tagged

I'm basically a good person and I'm very happy with my own religion, so why should I believe in Jesus?

To tell you the truth, if everyone were good in God's sight, nobody would need Jesus and we wouldn't be spending our efforts making web sites like this one.

The psalmist long ago said that there is no one that does good, not even one."1 Oh, to be sure, most of us aren't murderers or thieves or anything like that. We like to think of ourselves as respectable, with no need for major changes in our lives. Yet the picture the Scriptures present is that even the best of us is desperately sinful, deeply alienated from God, from each other and even from ourselves.

The problem of mankind, according to the Bible, is precisely that we are "happy with our own religion," "happy with what we believe." Usually what we believe is not what the Scriptures teach. We're happy to think that we're good, that surely God will overlook our "little" mistakes and shortcomings and that He isn't really serious about our sins. We're happy to place our own wills and desires at the center of our private universe, rather than making the will and the desires of our Creator primary.

But God is serious about our sin. As Jews we tend to think that sin is exclusively a matter of committing individual acts. But sin is much more than that. The Scriptures show us that sin is a condition of human existence which does not pertain to a particular act, but rather to an attitude, one of arrogance and rebellion. The best of men, like Abraham, Moses and King David, all committed acts of sin. The prophet Isaiah said, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way."2 This righteous prophet indicated that it is only human for each man, himself included, to seek self-fulfillment rather than to seek to fulfill the precepts of God. King David said that his sin was a condition from birth.3 Sin is universal--that's why the Day of Atonement is universally observed among Jewish people as the most solemn of all holidays. And that's why God provided a way of forgiveness, beginning with the Old Testament animal sacrifices and culminating in the death of the Messiah. Our responsibility is to respond in faith and to place our trust in Jesus as our atonement. We must return to a view of life centered in God's way of looking at things, rather than in our own preferences.

We really are sinful in the depths of our being, and all the education, affluence and technology in the world hasn't changed that; it's only enabled us to express our rebellion in a more sophisticated fashion. Jesus really did come in history, really did die and really did rise from the dead. All the objections in the world and all the ignoring of the evidence won't make that reality go away. Perhaps your attitude is that of the skeptic who said, "I won't believe--and don't confuse me with the facts!" But God really does hold us responsible for facing the facts about ourselves, and accepting His offer of forgiveness through Jesus.

In a word, you should believe in Jesus, not because it will make you happy, but because it's true.

  1. Psalm 14:3
  2. Isaiah 53:6
  3. Psalm 51:5

The Holocaust

People often describe the Holocaust as the climax of 2,000 years of Christian mistreatment of Jews. Some invoke the Shoah as the ultimate reason for Jews not to believe in Jesus.

Jewish believer Moishe Rosen challenges that view: The phrase '2,000 years of history leading up to the Holocaust' is more than a reference to past prejudice and persecution. It is an indictment against Christianity that misrepresents Christ's message and intent. Anyone who gives credence to such an accusation bestows upon Hitler the power to change theology."1

Neither Jesus nor Christian ideals produced the Holocaust. Those murders were generated by the same perversion of human nature that the holy Scriptures depict, beginning in the Book of Genesis. Cain turned on his own brother and became the first murderer. And while the Jewish people have been singled out more often for genocide than any other people, we are by no means the only group of people to be methodically murdered. Consider the "ethnic cleansing," the systematic rape and murder of the Bosnian people perpetrated in the 1990s. No, genocide neither began nor ended with Hitler and the Jewish people.

Some see the Holocaust not merely as an indictment against Christianity but against God. Many who suffered through the concentration camps either blame God or refuse to believe that he exists.

Such people find themselves in a quandary, ever restless until they know in what or in whom they can place their faith. Will they dismiss God on the grounds that the Holocaust proves him cruel, incapable or non-existent and instead put their faith in humanity? If God is not to be trusted because he permits humans to be cruel, does it make more sense to trust humans when it is human beings-not God-who have proved to be inescapably, or at least repeatedly, corrupt?

Often those who say they don't believe in God because of the terrible acts that have been committed actually try to punish God for what they see as his failure to prevent suffering. What can a person do to show his or her displeasure with God, other than refuse to acknowledge his existence? Yet it is we, not God, who suffer when we deny that he exists and that he cares.

Deep down, most of us realize that we need to have faith in someone or something more worthy of trust than ourselves. If God is "dead," then so, too, is humanity. If we had only each other or ourselves to depend upon, we would soon be reduced to cynical misanthropes.

How much better it is to have faith in the God of the Scriptures, who will see that ultimate justice prevails. Evil people who acted out their own hatred--not God, not Jesus--are to blame for the atrocities of the Holocaust.

Could it be that those who blame God or Jesus or Christianity simply can't bear the awful reality that since history began, human beings from all walks of life have demonstrated the potential to commit any horror imaginable?

Could it be that each person is capable of hatred and that we don't want to face that truth about ourselves?

Jesus called upon all he met, from every walk of life, to face their flawed nature and corrupt inclinations and repent of pride, prejudice and every other evil that can bear the fruit of violence.

It is horrendous that of all names, his has been used to accomplish the exact opposite of everything he instructed. How can we allow this obvious perversion to color our response to his teachings and his claims?

Could it be that blaming Jesus for the evils of the centuries is less painful than admitting the dark shadows that exist in every human heart?

There is no way we can undo the tragedy of the Holocaust. We have no control over what has already happened. We do, however, have the ability to prevent Hitler from continuing to reach us from beyond the grave.

Why should he have the power to prevent us from investigating who Y'shua is? He will only have that power if we give it to him.

  1. Moishe Rosen, "Am Yisrael Chai," Issues 9:4 (1993), p. 2.

This article originally appeared in The Y'shua Challenge booklet.

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