Book Review: Messianic Judaism

Messianic Judaism:  A Rabbi’s Journey Through Religious Change In America, by Carol Harris-Shaprio

Given that this book is written by a woman who calls herself a rabbi, it would appear as if the most striking aspect of this book is the author’s apparent ignorance of the fact that she is on the same ground of being not really authentically what she claims to be as she posits for Messianic Jews who she finds unsettling in their identity and in the challenge this presents for both Christians and Jews.  While I do not consider myself a Messianic Jew, as someone who was circumcised on the eighth day and has always kept various signpost biblical laws such as the Sabbath and kashrut principles, I do not rest on ground that is necessarily very far from those the author talks about.  As a believer in Yeshua (otherwise known as Jesus Christ) and someone who takes the biblical context of Christianity seriously, certainly this book is one that I can relate to and the alien and uncertain place that Messianic Judaism has with regards to both Christianity and Judaism is something I well understand and have a high degree of empathy towards, even if the author finds herself in an unpleasant position of trying to justify the exclusion of people who are better Jews than she is.

This book is about 200 pages long or so and it begins with a rather lengthy and somewhat cringeworthy introduction in which the author gives her personal reasons for wanting to study Messianic Jews and the struggle she faced in being allowed to do so as a mainstream reform Jew of no particularly great piety or orthopraxy (1).  The author then seeks to define what messianic Judaism is (2) through discussing its approach and its characteristic combination of conservative and eclectic observance of biblical laws as well as the charismatic approach of evangelical Christianity.  After that the author looks at the complexity of the Messianic Jewish self and how it is viewed with considerable alarm and loathing by those who consider themselves to be authentic, if not particularly obedient, Jews (3).  This leads to a discussion of community within Messianic Judaism as well as the tortured relationship between Messianic Jews and the Jewish community (4).  Afterwards the author talks about various matters of history, prophecy, and memory as they relate to the contrast between Messianic and mainstream Judaism (5) as well as a not entirely unsympathetic discussion of the practices, rituals, and life cycles of Messianic Judaism (6), many of which, like circumcision, are quite within the normative Jewish tradition.  Finally, the author looks at how Messianic Jews view themselves as both saved and chosen (7), after which there are notes, a bibliography, acknowledgements, and an index.

It is clear from this book that the author has spent a great deal of time around messianic Jews and finds them to be both fascinating and a bit troublesome in terms of the way that their identity presents challenges to a Judaism that has always defined itself as being hostile to the Christian minority and views Messianic Jews as a danger far greater than faithless secular Jews or Jewish Buddhists, despite the fact that such people approximate to an often high degree the actual faith of the early New Testament church, which has always challenged the corrupt institutions and human traditions of this world.  The fact that Messianic Jews provide such an intense challenge while desiring to be accepted by both Jews and Christians demonstrates the difficulty that a Hellenistic Chrisitanity and a corrupt Orthodox Judaism have in tolerating biblical truth that cuts off their supposed authority at the roots.  Sadly, it would appear as if to be a Messianic Jew in this evil age is to make oneself an enemy of those one would wish to convert and whose respect and approval one would seek.  And the author, almost in spite of herself, has at least some sympathy for this problematic struggle that leaves Messianic Jews unable to view hostile and abusive mainstream Judaism in the guise of the privileged victim in the post-Holocaust world that Jews worldwide see themselves as, instead of as persecutors of followers of God and of the Messiah.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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