Target: Interfaith Couples and Families

Jews_For_Jesus_logo

by Rabbi Wendy Spears

I had the opportunity a few days ago to be in conversation with Jews for Jesus without them knowing that I am a rabbi. I chanced upon a Christian ministries training workshop where Jews For Jesus had a vendor booth. They gave me literature which outlines the most effective ways to share the message of Jesus with Jews. The salient point they make is that Jews don’t need to give up their identity as Jews in order to embrace Jesus as Messiah.

To my way of thinking, as well as to every minister, priest, and Christian lay person I know, embracing Jesus as Messiah is the identifier that makes a person Christian. This seems straight forward and easy to understand. To take the position that a person can believe in Jesus as Messiah and not be Christian is disingenuous at best. I imagine that faithful Christians are proud to be so and might take the position that it is disrespectful to them and their faith to say that they aren’t Christian.

Many Jews say that they are not religious, but view their Jewish identity as cultural. They say, too, that they are spiritual but not religious. This doesn’t mean that their Jewishness is unimportant to them. Most Jews are proud of their identity as Jews. Jews For Jesus knows all of this very well. They also know that most Jews have a very limited knowledge of scripture and theology. Their strategy to bring Jews to faith in Jesus is to present Jewish scripture and theology through a Christian lens.

Christians have used Jewish scripture to prove Jesus’ messiah-ship throughout their history. This is the Christian worldview and is relevant to Christian practice, prayer, and belief. It is not, however, a Jewish world view. It is difficult for Jews who are uneducated in Judaism to refute a scriptural argument by a Christian missionary group like Jews For Jesus. I don’t recommend that most Jews try to do this, anyway.

My biggest concern regarding Jews For Jesus isn’t their general missionary activity. It is, rather, their increased efforts to reach out to interfaith couples and families. As the Union for Reform Judaism (I am a Reform rabbi) has severely curtailed its directed outreach efforts to interfaith couples and families, other organizations like Jews For Jesus have stepped into the breach to offer a warm and welcoming community. Individual rabbis and congregations have maintained their outreach but without further official resources, they are at a disadvantage. There are a number of interfaith couples and families that claim that they want to be ‘both.’ They want to honor the traditions of both families and raise their children to be familiar with and respectful of both traditions. Jews For Jesus offers just this solution to potentially painful discussions in interfaith families about the need to choose a family religion and practice.

It is not enough to encourage interfaith couples and families to make some Jewish choices. This has a desperate tone to it, as if doing some Jewish activities alongside Christian activities is a good way to live a Jewish life. Christianity isn’t an authentic Jewish path. It is a religious path distinct from and different than Judaism. As a rabbi, I need to present the beauty, wisdom, and spirituality of Judaism as the authentic way of life and faith that it is. Jews don’t need Christianity to ‘complete’ us. We do need to be familiar with our core stories and the values and actions that those core stories come to teach us. Our scriptures are the first place to find those core stories, as well as the place to explore our relationship with the Divine. For most of us, our life circumstances are radically different than those of the characters in our core Jewish stories. The relationships expressed in those stories, as well as the search for God’s presence in our lives, continue to be relevant today.

I believe it is dishonest and destructive to interfaith couples and families to pretend that ‘being both’ will lead them to live a Jewish life. It won’t. In my work with them, I will continue to be an advocate for authentic Judaism.

Rabbi Wendy Spears is a community rabbi in Los Angeles. Find her at http://www.rabbiwendy.com.

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5 thoughts on “Target: Interfaith Couples and Families

  1. A valuable and meaningful blog post. I agree completely. I am Catholic. As always I am absolutely impressed with your eloquence ♡

    • Rabbi Wendy, I’m a Messianic Jew and my husband is also a Messianic Jew. By the way, the term “Christian” is a translation for “follower of Messiah” or “Messianic,” so there is no hiding or confusion here. We were raised within Jewish communities and the institutions of Judaism. We continue to be happily open about our “authentic” Jewish ethnicity and love for the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus). Rabbi Wendy, in your blog you voiced opinions that are often distorted about Jews who love Jesus. Unfortunately, there’s nothing new about American rabbis talking about us instead of with us. I imagine that as a female Reform rabbi you are put off by those who are condescending and question your “authenticity” too. You might have gained more by identifying yourself as a rabbi when you visited the Jews for Jesus booth at the Christian Ministries Training Association (CMTA) convention. My husband and I would be happy to speak with you person-to-person. Are you willing to meet discreetly with Jews who are deeply spiritual, but who don’t think like you? We can disagree about how to love the one true God and be respectful at the same time. We might even learn something from one another through a dialogue. My husband is a cross-cultural specialist working with Jewish-Gentile couples (see http://www.JewishGentileCouples.com).

  2. Wonderful piece. As a born Jewish but not raised in any religion woman, I only began my own Jewish journey three and a half years ago: Im almost 60, recently widowed(my husband was Scots Presbyterian, not a churchgoer, but with his own private beliefs – he was absolutely thrilled for me when I began to practice the religion I was born into; a sweet, kind, man, and I miss him, and “us” dreadfully….it’s just coming up to the first year since he “beamed up to heaven”(Im not find of ‘passed away’) after many years of health decline….I was his carer for eight years. We were married 34 years, and he was my soulmate, my bashert; I had a very troubled and difficult background, and he was the one person who truly understood and supported me. The pain of grief is incredible.

    Apologies….I did not intend to say all that, but it’s where I am right now. I have a Lot of health problems myself, including a stroke, and agoraphobia, and live in Scotland, with no nearby Jewish community, so I have made my own way through the support of a wonderful Rabbi, and friends, and online communities and streaming. This way would definitely not be for everyone, but it helps me, and Im very thankful for it.

    My mother was burned to death in a house fire just a few weeks after I had the experience which started my practising my religion – it is a huge source of comfort, and help. That kind of traumatic event is something I’ll never get over(and someone had the cheek to tell me I should not say “I’ll never get over it”….that made me very angry. I would not wish what happened on anyone: but it’s one of those things which has to be experienced to understand), but am trying to accept and adapt, and along with the loss of my husband, it’s never easy. Some days are easier than others. My cats, Spock and a Data, keep me going. I have a Shabbat blessing for them….no children, so I say a blessing for them.” Ritualwell ” is an online source of many such things)

    As I said, apologies for sharing so “off topic”…..my point is that I really appreciate your post: and for me, the Jews for Jesus people bring out the same reaction as when I have other religions knocking on my door and trying to ‘convert’ me(if anything, I actually think it’s worse)….I really dislike it. I try to be polite, but I’ve found that just saying “Im Jewish” tends to shut them up and send them on their way without further ado….though, I doubt that would work with Jews for Jesus, somehow…..

    Thank you, and thank you for listening to my ramblings.
    Shalom from Scotland
    Alex

  3. Pingback: Being Both vs. Jews For Jesus | On Being Both

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