A couple of weeks ago I asked for comments or longer pieces of writing on the question of how Christian Jews and their descendants of mixed Jewish-Gentile heritage can preserve a sense of Jewish identity. I’ve received a couple of responses, but more are welcome – please write to me at groomsfamilyblog at gmail dot com.
Why is it important to preserve Jewish identity? One way to see the continued existence of the Jewish people is as a symptom that there is (still) something wrong with the world. Were it not for anti-Semitism, it is likely that Jews as a people would have ceased to exist long ago. On a purely practical level, if anti-Semitic legislation in various countries had not for most of the history of the Exile confined Jews to ghettos, stripped them of civil rights, denied them opportunities for education and advancement in society at large, and prohibited intermarriage without conversion, the Jews would have assimilated. We know that in societies where such restrictions and anti-Jewish animus don’t exist, such as today’s United States or early 20th century Germany, the rate of Jewish intermarriage and cultural assimilation is sky-high.
At the same time, that the Jews are still here is due to the fact that most of them did not accept Christ. Despite the fact that Jewish Christian communities have never been immune from anti-Semitism, it seems most probable that the early Jewish churches had by this time completely assimilated. So the perseverance of the Jews is a symptom, on one hand, of anti-Semitism, a disease upon the body of the Church, and on the other hand, of their own unbelief in Christ as God, a perversion of their own faith. Is this why we are famous for self-deprecating humor?
Yet if Jews would not exist were not the world so bad, this is not an accident (as the word ‘symptom’ may imply). When God first chose the Jewish people for Himself, chances are the world was not much better than it is today. Modern anti-Semitic Christians and unbelieving Jews replace straight-up pagans, who also did not have much to show for themselves, morally speaking – what with child sacrifice and constantly enslaving one other. The Jews were to be “a light to the Gentiles” – a reminder of God’s glory and power, and the honor due him, in the midst of shameless nations.
For as long as the world resists God, the Jew – “willingly or unwillingly, consciously or unconsciously,” and regardless of his own individual righteousness – is a light, a lamppost, a reminder that all is not well and that there is still need for prayer and fasting. The Jewish people are a beacon – not of their own holiness, but of the holiness of God and of the disobedience of man. Their election is not in itself a reward (though certainly God’s love for His people is one), but a humbling duty.
This seems to me the core of Jewish identity, deeper than blood, Yiddishkeit, and perhaps even religion, whether Jewish or Christian. To carry out our witness with dignity, joyfully rather than against our will, to the glory of God – this is the task we must pass on to our children.