“Yiddishkeit” And the Hebrew Christian
“Yiddishkeit” about which we hear so much these days among the Jewish-Christians is an almost untranslatable and undefinable term of East European origin. The nearest word for it would be “Jewishness.” But “Yiddishkeit” is more than that, it is a special kind of Jewishness which consists of several ingredients: In Eastern Europe to be a “Yiddish” person one had to be born of Jewish parents, speak Yiddish, observe strictly the rules of Kosher, go to Shul, keep the Sabbath and Jewish holidays, attend a Jewish school, Cheder or Yeshiva, wear a long black coat and cap, take special pride in being a Jew and feel sorry for the poor, benighted people who did not have the good sense to be born Jews. I know this because I, myself, was born a proper Jew and was raised “Yiddish.”
This type of “Yiddishkeit” has all but vanished with the exception of a few last strongholds, in Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, perhaps in a small area in Paris, known as “Dos Pletzel”, and in Buenos Aires.
Today the vast majority of Jews do not speak Yiddish, or have never known it. They attend synagogue services only on rare occasions and care little or not at all about Jewish rites and traditions. Their common bond is a vague sense of belonging to the Jewish people, of sharing a common history and a common destiny. They developed a common, secular culture, centered around the State of Israel and the Hebrew language.
However, the “Yiddishkeit” of these Jews becomes very intense whenever the interests of the safety of Israel is in danger or the Jewish people anywhere in the world are harassed or attacked, as in Russia today. In their eyes anyone is a good Jew, whether he is Orthodox, Conservative, Liberal, Atheist, or even a Communist, so long as he has not officially become a Christian through baptism. Conversely, if a non-Jew officially converts to Judaism, he is accepted as a Jew, by virtue of the fact that he has denied Jesus.
The crime which excludes a Jew from the Jewish community is the profession of “Yeshua” that is of “Jesus” as Messiah and Savior. Such a person, no matter how deeply he may be attached to his people, or even if he is willing to observe Jewish traditions and customs, is no longer considered a Jew.
This is a situation in which we Hebrew-Christians find ourselves today. Regardless of how much we may assert our “Yiddishkeit”, in the eyes of the vast majority of our kinsmen, we are considered “meshumadim” and traitors.
Yet, with every fiber of his soul the Hebrew-Christian feels that he is emotionally, spiritually and physically a Jew, a real Jew, a completed Jew. He has a deep attachment to his people. Any injustice to his people he feels as a very personal affront, every hurt becomes his own hurt. Nevertheless, the Hebrew-Christian is invariably renounced by his people and put outside the camp. The only way he can be absolved for his “crime” is by a formal renunciation of Jesus, that is, by reconversion to Judaism.
We submit that this is far too high a price for any Hebrew-Christian to pay. If he did this, he would betray not only his Lord and Savior, but also himself and that which is his noblest possession.
What then is the Hebrew-Christian’s relationship to “Yiddishkeit”? Must he ape the synagogue rites which are frequently rooted in anti-Christian tradition? Must the Hebrew-Christian perpetuate “”Yiddish” which is fast disappearing from the Jewish scene and is being replaced by Hebrew? The “Yiddishkeit” of a Hebrew Christian has to be of a completely different nature. His Jewishness must be rooted in the Word of God, and faithful in spirit to the Old and the New Testaments. I am afraid that some Jewish believers in the Messiah Jesus of today, who are aliens from Israel’s true heritage, carry their “Yiddishkeit” on their backs or their sleeves. Their “Yiddishkeit” is sham and synthetic. They have developed a “Fiddler on the Roof” complex and run around shouting; “Traditio-on, Traditio-on.” But our salvation is not in “Yiddishkeit”, nor in tradition, but in our living Lord and Savior.
Here then are a few suggestions for a Hebrew-Christian “Yiddishkeit.” It will not be complete nor cover the whole spectrum. Much could be added to this and elaborated:
- First of all, a Hebrew-Christian must be a faithful follower of and believer in the Messiah Jesus. His supreme allegiance belongs to his Lord and Savior.
- A Hebrew-Christian must continue to love and befriend his fellow Jews and always seek to bear witness to them that by accepting Yeshua as his Messiah, he is following the faith of true Biblical and prophetic Judaism and has thus become a true and completed Jew.
- A Hebrew-Christian must not be talked in, or persuaded that by accepting Jesus as the Messiah, he has ceased to be a Jew. He may not be a rabbinical Jew, nor a Lubavitcher Chassid, nor a Jew in the eyes of some atheists, but he is nevertheless a Jew in the eyes of God. Hebrew-Christians are true Jews. The best kind of Jew.
- We must seek the best interests of our people and of the land of Israel with whom we are historically and emotionally knit together. But never at the price of denying Christ! The words, “pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee”, (Ps. 122:6) have a special meaning for us Jewish believers in Yeshua HaMashiach.
- In our relation to either Jew or Gentile, we should never be ashamed nor play down the fact that we are Jewish believers in Christ. Let us be grateful for this privilege and for our great and God-given heritage. Let us bear it not with pride, but with dignity.
- Seek to raise your family in the knowledge and love for their Jewish heritage, teaching your children some of the main features and historical events of the Jewish past. If possible, let us teach them Hebrew and learn it ourselves. Jewish, holidays and feasts should be explained or even suitably commemorated in a manner compatible with the spirit of our Lord.
- As Jewish believers in Christ, we are drawn together by bonds of physical and spiritual kinship. We should, therefore, seek to foster the fellowship of Hebrew-Christians among ourselves without, however separating ourselves or building up again a middle wall of partition between Judaism and Gentile believers.
Unfortunately some of the younger generation of Jewish believers by their bizarre behavior (barefooted with “yarmelkes” in the Church, and with outlandish signs on their backs) give offense to the Jews, the Gentiles, and to the Church (I Cor. 10:32). This ferment and upheaval is, of course, experienced throughout all mankind.
As Hebrew-Christians let us seek to be worthy ambassadors of our Messiah to our own Jewish kinsmen, and to Gentiles, but let us do it with dignity and humility. In witnessing for Christ let us not fall all over ourselves when we come across a Jewish person. Let us not ram the Gospel down their throats, but let our lives and our words be in harmony with each other and with our witness. This may be our greatest contribution to the cause of Christ and His Gospel among Jews and Gentiles.