Jewish Scholars and Messianic JudaismBy Gerald H. Anderson, Senior Contributing Editor of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, and Director Emeritus of the Overseas Ministries Study Center, New Haven, Connecticut. This review was prepared for the International Bulletin for publication in a forthcoming issue and is reprinted here by permission.
By Dan Cohn-Sherbok. London and New York: Cassell, 2000. Pp. xii, 234. Paperback. No price given.
Voices of Messianic Judaism
Edited by Dan Cohn-Sherbok. Baltimore, Maryland: Lederer Books/Messianic Jewish Publishers, 2001. Pp. xx, 236. Paperback. No price given.
Gradually some Jewish scholars are giving serious academic attention to Messianic Judaism. Perhaps this is because the Messianic Jewish movement is growing and gaining recognition-once again-as a significant religious community that cannot be ignored, despite opposition from the Jewish religious establishment.
These are two important volumes from Rabbi Dan Cohn-Sherbok, a well-known American scholar who is Professor of Judaism at the University of Wales in Lampeter. They are ground-breaking studies that deserve attention and appreciation by missiologists, for the author's willingness to treat this controversial movement in an open, fair, balanced, informed, even sympathetic, fashion.
In Messianic Judaism, Cohn-Sherbok seeks to provide "an objective account of this important development in modern Jewish life," first by tracing the development of Messianic Judaism from its origins in ancient times, then by assessing the movement's claim to represent an authentic interpretation of the Jewish faith, and finally by describing three alternative models of viewing the relationship between Messianic Judaism and the Jewish community (p. xii).
The first model is "Orthodox exclusivism." Orthodox Judaism rejects not only Messianic Judaism, but all non-Orthodox Jewish movements in the world, since it believes there is only one legitimate form of the faith: Orthodox Judaism.
The second model is "Non-Orthodox exclusivism." Despite their own rejection by the Orthodox, all other branches of modern Judaism "are united in their rejection of Messianic Judaism as an authentic expression of the Jewish faith" (p. 208).
Third is the "pluralist model." Here the author offers "a more tolerant view of the Messianic movement," but does not mention the names of any proponents of this model. Since modern Jewry is no longer united by belief and practice, "pluralists maintain that the exclusion of Messianic Judaism from the circle of legitimate expressions of the Jewish heritage is totally inconsistent" (p. 210). In many respects, he says, "Messianic Jews are more theistically oriented and more Torah-observant even than their counterparts within the Conservative and Reform movements" (p. 212). In this model, using the image of the seven-branched menorah he says, "Messianic Judaism should be seen merely as one among many expressions of the Jewish faith, [alongside] Hasidism, Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism, Reconstructionist Judaism, and Humanistic Judaism" (p. 212). Cohn-Sherbok concludes that the pluralist model, in which Messianic Judaism is included, "is the only reasonable starting point for inter-community relations [among Jews] in the twenty-first century" (p. 213).
In Voices of Messianic Judaism, Cohn-Sherbok brings together essays by thirty leading representatives and friends of the movement, including Barry Rubin, John Fischer, Stuart Dauermann, Joel Chernoff, Daniel Juster, Ruth Fleischer, Jim Sibley, Russell Resnik, Mitch Glaser, David Stern, Arnold Fruchtenbaum, and Arthur Glasser. In his Introduction, Cohn-Sherbok describes Messianic Judaism as an "important development in modern Judaism," and "a significant force on the Jewish scene," and he challenges the Jewish religious establishment to reflect seriously on this movement (pp. xii-xiii, xx).
The authors address a wide range of issues currently facing the Messianic Jewish community, such as Jewish liturgy, authority of Scripture, relations to Gentile churches, education of their children, intermarriage, the role of women, Gentile involvement, outreach to the Jewish community, and eschatology.
Arthur Glasser concludes his observations on the Messianic movement, saying, "God is doing a 'new thing' in Jewry in our day!" We can also say it is a new day when a Reform Jewish rabbi is instrumental in bringing together leading representatives of Messianic Judaism to publish such a remarkable volume.