In recent years, Messianic Judaism in Israel has experienced extraordinary growth. Yevgeny, 25, has been approached by representatives of Messianic Jews many times.
“Maybe I don’t look Jewish enough, so they always try to talk to me in the bus or in the bookshop. At first I thought that this is just another variety of Jewish Orthodoxy, because of the way they look. They often put a yarmulka on their heads, grow long beards and adopt Jewish names, so naturally I thought that they were like the hassidim or the Chabadnikim, and frankly speaking, I don’t know much about either. But after they’d offered to send me a free Bible and started talking about baptizing, I realized that this was something totally different.”
Messianic Jews consider themselves strictly Jewish: they read the Torah and observe some of the Jewish holidays and traditions. They also believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah.
“We are not at all a new organization or sect, God forbid,” says Eliezer Uzichenko, who immigrated to Israel from Ukraine in 1998, and is one of the well-known figures in the community and a member of the Beit Avinu congregation in the center of the country.
“We exist since the first century CE and we refuse to be called Christians, because that’s not what we are.”
Uzichenko and his comrades have an answer for every question. He explains that baptism, for example, is not a Christian tradition but a Jewish one, having originated from the Jewish concept of ablution.
Messianic Jews also maintain that Israel is the Promised Land for Jews, and believe passionately that every Jew must live here.
“Yes, we believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, but it doesn’t make us less Jewish than any other Jew,” says Noam, another member of the community, and the first non-Russian speaker I contacted. “If Chabad Lubavitch are Jewish, then we are also Jewish. They believe that the Lubavitcher Rebbe is the Messiah, in spite of much evidence that he is not, and they did not stop being Jewish. That is also true for us.”
But apparently neither the Chief Rabbinate nor the High Court of Justice consider the Messianists to be Jews.
“It’s a known fact that there is a sect of people that were born as Jews and came to believe in Jesus Christ, who call themselves Messianic Jews. Apparently it’s important to them to stay attached to their Jewish heritage, but Judaism repelled them and they cannot be considered part of the Jewish community,” says Justice Zvi Berenson.
– Just like Chabad, The Jerusalem Post, Apr. 29, 2005
This post was last updated: Jul. 22, 2011