2. Research Results:
Marks and Dilemmas of
a Programmatic Change
The marks and dilemmas of the programmatic change of the movement, from Hebrew Christian to Messianic Jewish, and that structure the movement, did not fall out of thin air. The distinction and tension between ecclesiastic and synagogal expression were there before. Already Weiner observed for example
a group of Baptists in Haifa who ... didn't want to call themselves Christians, but preferred the name Messianists. They insisted that they were still Jews, though they believed in Jesus as the Messiah, and some of them still wanted to keep Jewish [religious, ed.] laws like circumcision and the observance of kosher food” (Weiner 1961: 79).
This worried the then Baptist minister from Nazareth. He saw therein „the formation of a Jewish church within the church” (Weiner 1961: 79), paralleling the „rift which had developed in the first century of Christian history” (idem). Since the copyrights of Weiner's book range from 1954 to 1963, his observation can date from the beginning of the fifties. He does not explicate the inspiration and ritual practices of these „Messianists”. Weiner's observation of the tension between the views and practices of his „Messianists” and the Baptists compares with my distinction between ecclesiastical and synagogal. The distinction between charismatic and non-charismatic were yet considered neither by Weiner (1961) nor by Sobel (1974). 13After Weiner, Zaretsky observed the field in 1972 and 1973 (Zaretsky 1974: 395). Yad La'Ahim, which means „Help to Our Brothers”, is a militant nonprofit organization whose ideology is „clear: it represents Orthodox Judaism, and anything incompatible with that should be eliminated from the State of Israel” (Beit-Hallahmi 1991: 210). Since the fifties they struggled against old and new „groups, of which Messianic Jews were only some, which culminated in the passing of an anti-missionary law by the Knesset in 1977” (idem). Their publications may be interesting and revealing, but apparently do not exhibit scholarly intent. Beit-Hallahmi, who explicates on this „helping hand” in relation to new religions in Israel between 1970 and 1990, mentions Messianic Jews only sideways (Beit-Hallahmi 1991: 210, 216). It may be time for a fresh look on them through the eyes of an outsider.)
Of the four types of the fourfold typology, the non-charismatic ecclesiastical type, ℵ (aleph), appears historically as the oldest. It appears also as culturally and social-structurally the most varied of the four types. Christians will easily perceive both ecclesiastical types, ℵ (aleph) and ℶ (beth), because they resemble various Protestant churches. Jews will easily perceive the synagogal types, ℷ (gimel) and ℸ (daleth), because they can be very similar to Orthodox synagogues. Regarding the ancient Jewish origins of Christianity, the synagogal types could, in a certain sense, be regarded as still much older. 14Jesus was used to worship on Sabbaths in a synagogue (Luke 4:16) and perfectly accustomed to its traditions (Luke 4:17). Though it may seem only all too obvious, I often find Christians taken off guard when they become aware of the fact that Jesus was a pious Jew all of his life. He never ever attended a gentile Christian church. They did not even exist yet in his time. The same is true of his disciples, who used to worship in the second temple in Jerusalem (Acts 2:46, 3:1, 5:42) until it got destroyed in 70 A. D. Paul, right after his supernatural encounter with Jesus (Acts 9:5, 9:20), and then on his mission journeys around the Mediterranean, ever set out to evangelize in the local synagogue (Acts 13:5.14.42). If none was available, he looked for a Jewish worship place at a river (Acts 16:13), where there was at least running water, which was necessary for the ritual ablutions, immersions. Only in the face of official opposition did Paul leave the synagogue and turned to non-Jews (Acts 13: 46). Therein some have perceived the first hints towards a gentile Christian church. - I regard New Testament texts trustworthy for straight forward quotation, since they resemble one of the best preserved and researched text collections of the ancient times (Bruce 1976, Goppelt 1978). Jewish authors can refer to it on their own (Buber 1994, Ben-Chorin 1994), but also together with Christian authors (Lapide and Weizsäcker 1980).) Regarding them, the question could be one of cultural and social-structural continuity, and in how far they really resemble the expression of the Jewish believers in the first decades after Jesus. Disregarding the nineteen-hundred years ever since appears hard (8/97).
The four types of Messianic Jewish congregations allow a few generalisations, with all the limitations that generalisation and typology involve. Some individuals and groups of the movement might confirm my decision to identify them with a particular type. Others might question it. Again others may have switched position since I met them. However they may judge on details, I hope they can regard my overall descriptive attempt as fair. As common denominators for all four types appeared their decisive commitment to
- the authority of Scripture, i. e. Old and New Testament, and
- the denial of the binding authority of the rabbinical Halakha, as an at least in part unbiblical Jewish way of life.
Besides these and other similarities, the types show considerable differences, rooted in culture, in personal and collective history, and in different hermeneutics (19/96).