Without trying (as far as I know), last week the conservative Jewish magazine Commentary captured the reason for this blog’s existence. In an article arguing that Rick Santorum’s agreement to speak before a Messianic congregation will further alienate Jewish voters, Jonathan Tobin writes:
Messianics, like the better-known group that calls themselves Jews for Jesus, are ardent supporters of the Jewish state and wanted Santorum to speak at their event because of his pro-Israel views. But Christians who may be puzzled by any Jewish resentment about his appearance need to understand two things about this controversy. The first is that the only one thing upon which virtually all Jews — no matter where they stand on the religious or political spectrum — agree on is that belief in Jesus makes a person a Christian rather than a Jew.
Does belief in Jesus make a person a Christian rather than a Frenchman? Does lack of belief in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob make a person an atheist rather than a Jew?
…almost all Jews view Messianic campaigns to target them for conversion to Christianity — which are integral to the beliefs of these groups —as insidious efforts to undermine their survival as a community.
Apparently not even Santorum’s ardent support for Israel can make up for the crime of associating with the evil Messianics whose goal of eliminating the Jewish nation are really just like Hitler’s (okay, I might be going overboard here – or am I?). But is the JewBu movement (however you spell that) seen by Jews as equally insidious? What about Jewish Communist movements, which are (and always have been) predominantly anti-religious – do they undermine Jews as a community, according toCommentary’s assumed audience?
I’m going to guess that Tobin’s answer to all of these questions will be ‘no,’ and that like many others, he would have a tough time reconciling that with his idea about what “virtually all Jews” agree on. If you push it, he might say something about Christian anti-Semitism, but he’ll have a tough time explaining why Communist anti-Semitism or far-right anti-Semitism don’t make it impossible for Jews to be either Communists or far-rightists.
But there is one way, albeit a somewhat superficial one, in which these seemingly inconsistent views do make sense. A Jewish Buddhist or a Jewish Communist may still avoid eating pork, study Hebrew, and surround himself with Jewish paraphernalia; he or she may even take the trouble to mark the Sabbath and other holidays. If the JewBu or JewComm community is big enough, chances are that person might even marry Jewish, and feel good about it. On the Christian side, on the other hand, for 2000 years the Jews have seen Jewish identity and customs disappearing almost immediately after baptism – whether because the Church actively prohibited them, or because it provided enough customs of its own that both could not be maintained, or, finally, because the very reason baptism was sought had to do with disassociating from Jewish society. This, of course, is the reason why the Jewish Christian witness is so important (and why I wish more of it came from non-Messianic groups).
It also strikes me that the Jewish reaction to Messianics is similar to the Orthodox (particularly Russian) reaction to Eastern Catholics: denial and resentment. Jews hate and fear Messianics more than they dislike Christians, and Orthodox disdain Eastern Catholics more than they disagree with Catholicism. Theological disagreements, it seems to me, cannot fully explain the depth of this resentment. Both sentiments are based on a profound conviction that the renegade group is attempting to create compromise where no compromise ought to be possible, thus putting into question the assumptions on which the entire identity of the group – Jews or Orthodox – has been based for generations.
On a final note – perhaps I’m not giving Tobin enough credit. I’m hoping that he might provide a thoughtful response to similar questions that have been raised in the article’s combox – one of them citing Michael Medved‘s thoughtful writings on this point in the same magazine.