Klinghoffer pats himself on the back for “daring” to suggest that Messianic Jews have something in common with theistic evolutionists, as both subscribe to “convenient delusions that give believers the comforting feeling that they don’t have to choose between logically exclusive alternatives.”
Again, there’s more than logic involved here. Messianic Jews may be trying to comfort themselves, which is fine, but can we agree that on the brain-washing spectrum, scrubbing one’s own is a lot better than being coerced into the tub?
What’s to like about Jewish-Christian syncretism? I can think of three reasons to regard such hybridization with a mild countenance, if not a friendly one.
First, there are what I call the Jews for Jesus “success stories.” Like me, for example. These folks might not be traditional Jews today were it not for Hebrew Christianity at one point acting as a catalyst in their spiritual growth. When I was a high school senior taking classes on the Los Angeles campus of the University of California, I bumped into a Jews for Jesus missionary, Sid, passing out pamphlets. He talked to me for an hour about Isaiah 53, which Christians believe foreshadows Jesus’ life and death.
A typically ignorant teenager from a secularized suburban Southern California Jewish background, I was stunned and scared at being totally unable to answer any of the challenges Sid posed. It set me on a path to learning more about Judaism and ultimately converting. (I was adopted by Jews but my birth parents were gentile, meaning that under Jewish law I was not Jewish either — not that I understood that at the time.)
Or like the mom of a baby whose bris I attended. My friend Robin Alberg has a Jewish-born Christian mother but never realized what that meant till she was 15 and a student at Northwest Christian High School in Spokane, Washington. At Passover, a Jews for Jesus missionary addressed the student body and passed out matza.
“I was mesmerized,” says Robin. “When it was over, I started doing research. I read [Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s] Jewish Literacy as a direct result of hearing this guy talk. For the next two years, every paper I wrote for every class was about Judaism.” She had learned enough to decide by age 17 that she wanted to be Orthodox.
There is also the guy who sits behind me at the Orthodox synagogue I attend. Born Catholic in Poland, Menachem Rochon immigrated to South Africa. He and his (Jewish-born) wife were both spiritually searching and found a Jews for Jesus group, among whom they spent three years in Johannesburg. Later he would become disenchanted and, after moving to Seattle to work for Microsoft, he formally converted to Judaism. Today, he credits Jews for Jesus as a necessary “way station” on his path to Torah observance.
Messianic Jewish groups have their “success stories,” too. Penina Taylor, a countermissionary speaker and counselor, was raised in a turbulent, secular Jewish home in Miami. Encouraged by a friend, she became a Christian in high school, proceeding to join Southern Baptist and Charismatic churches before discovering Messianic Judaism.
Like Rochon, she and her non-Jewish husband became disenchanted. Encouraged by a Chabad rabbi in Baltimore, they made the leap to Orthodox Judaism. Would she have ended up there if Messianic Judaism hadn’t existed? “For me, I don’t think so,” says Taylor. “It was the bridge between being a Christian and even being willing to consider traditional Judaism.”