By Dan Cohn-Sherbok.
Voices of Messianic Judaism
Edited by Dan Cohn-Sherbok.
Review by Gerald H. Anderson.
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. Review...
My Affair With Christianity
by Lionel Blue
On Being a Jewish Christian
by Hugh Montefiore
Review by Richard Harvey
Where you have two Jews you often have three opinions, and these two books well represent the diversity of thought and strength of conviction that Jewish people hold on the subject of Christianity. One, a leading Rabbi and well-known broadcaster on "Thought for the Day," brings his popular and humourous style to bear as he confesses his dalliance with Christianity and other interests not normally admitted to by a Rabbi. The other, a former Anglican Bishop from a distinguished Anglo-Jewish family, wears his heart on his sleeve as he explores some of the blessings and problems of one who claims to be both fully Jewish and fully Christian. Review...
The following reviews first appeared in Baptist Times in the UK and are by Richard Harvey who has given us his permission to share with our LCJE family. Thanks, Richard. --Ed.
My Affair With Christianity
by Lionel Blue: Hodder and Stoughton, £15.99, 224 pages.
On Being a Jewish Christian
by Hugh Montefiore: Hodder and Stoughton, £7.99, 195 pages
Where you have two Jews you often have three opinions, and these two books well represent the diversity of thought and strength of conviction that Jewish people hold on the subject of Christianity. One, a leading Rabbi and well-known broadcaster on "Thought for the Day," brings his popular and humourous style to bear as he confesses his dalliance with Christianity and other interests not normally admitted to by a Rabbi. The other, a former Anglican Bishop from a distinguished Anglo-Jewish family, wears his heart on his sleeve as he explores some of the blessings and problems of one who claims to be both fully Jewish and fully Christian.
As a young man Lionel Blue found himself wandering in the "no-man's land" between Judaism and Christianity. As Jew with Marxist inclinations, and homosexual tendencies, he was already interested in Zen Buddhism and psycho-analysis. Looking for answers to questions he had barely began to formulate, he stumbled into a Quaker meeting in 1950. Too embarrassed to express what was really on his mind, he had, as he describes it, a "Christian experience." However, this did not lead to real faith or commitment, but became one of the many items in a portmanteau of beliefs and opinions that has made Lionel Blue one of the most colourful voices on the religious scene.
Hugh Montefiore similarly had a religious experience as a young man, seeing a vision of Jesus dressed in white and saying "Follow me." This led Montefiore into the Anglican ministry, first as a don in Cambridge, and then as a senior if controversial bishop. Thinking that he is "now too old to cause trouble" he has put pen to paper to try to unravel some of the theological and personal issues that arise from his decision. The book is a well-written exploration of two thousand years of Jewish-Christian relations, bringing an insightful and heartfelt plea to Christians to be more understanding of the Jewish people, and to Jewish people to consider afresh the message and person of Jesus.
Montefiore does not duck the difficult issues such as the eternal fate of those who perished in the Holocaust, the dilemma of the modern State of Israel, and the tension many Christians feel between dialogue and evangelism. Nor is he reticent in giving his own views, which, even though you may not agree with them, make an important contribution from an often neglected perspective, that of a Jewish Christian. Montefiore traces the roots of anti-Semitism to the New Testament itself. He sees the Johannine condemnation of "the Jews" not as an inner-Jewish debate, but as did his cousin, Claude Montefiore, the evidence of bitter hatred between Jews and Christians. Likewise he evaluates Paul's argument in Romans 9-11 as "dangerously flawed." In all this he adopts the liberal and critical agenda that discredits the New Testament by misreading its context. Montefiore seems out of touch with more recent scholarship such as Stephen Motyer's recent "Your Father the Devil?" (Paternoster 1997) which convincingly argues that this is a wrong reading of the material, despite the polemical purposes it was made to serve by later Church Fathers.
Lionel Blue's book does not cover the same ground, but rather dwells on the sights, sounds and impressions of a variety of personal encounters, mixed in with his own oblique and epigrammatic wisdom. Blue's understanding of Jesus is depressingly shallow, and for all the humour with which the story is told, one is left with the impression of deep sadness, that a man so confused should not come to know the reality of the love of Jesus in a way that could significantly change his life and bring true fulfilment and peace of mind. A succession of gay saunas, retreat houses, kosher kitchens and recording studios provide the backdrop for his musings. The result, part-Jewish, part-Buddhist, part-Existentialist, part-Blue, stops well short of baptism, but gives the reader ample room for the imagination. Having bared much of his soul in previous autobiographical writings, here the "seventh veil" is of Blue's life is removed. One wonders if it were better left on.
Montefiore also reveals his sense of personal identity, and the perceptive reader will find much to ponder on. He is particularly stimulating on the question of Messianic Congregations, and Messianic Judaism. The Bishop has mixed feelings about this more recent expression of what he himself has tried to live out, seeing both the strengths and weaknesses of the movement, and preferring to identify with it in Israel, but not in the UK. He prefers, as do many of the previous generation of Jewish believers in Jesus, to emphasise that he is a Christian who happens to be Jewish. The newer emphasis of Messianic Judaism, whilst not denying the primacy of faith in Christ and commitment to the universal church, tries to communicate this faith in terms more appropriate to the Jewish community, contextualising belief in Jesus as the Messiah within a Jewish perspective. Hence the term "Messianic Judaism", which raises the question of an integrated Jewish form of Christianity and Christian form of Judaism.
We live in post-modern times, we are told, yet the struggles each of us face to be loyal to our roles and publics are tellingly illustrated by Montefiore's feelings as an "outsider" in the Passover celebrations his relatives invite him to, and his ambivalence towards his people in Israel. His task is to recognise the hostilities and tensions between the two faiths, and act as a peace-maker and bridge-builder between the two communities. For him witness must be by deed rather than word, and he approves of the Archbishop of Canterbury's refusal to accept the patronage of the Church's Ministry among the Jewish People (CMJ), one of the most unfortunate beginnings to the Decade of Evangelism. His book receives the commendation of the Chairman of the Council of Christians and Jews, but Montefiore himself recognises the unfairness of the exclusion of Jewish Christians like himself from membership of CCJ and the dialogue proces.
So how do the two books compare, and which would be more useful on the bookshelf of a busy minister? In this case the quality far outweighs the width. Those looking for more insight into Lionel Blue's character will be drawn to his "affair", but this remains a fantasy relationship that falls far short of the real thing. Those interested in a far more rewarding commitment, with both the joys and hard work that arise, will opt for Montefiore. At half the price it covers twice as much ground, and anyone wanting to understand the issues involved in Jewish-Christian relations today will find it, like the Bishop himself, personal, informative and challenging.
Richard Harvey is teaches the Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies at All Nations Christian College
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.
-Gerald H. Anderson
Gerald H. Anderson is 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 published in the July 2002 issue of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research and is reprinted here by permission.