Behold, the messianic!

mdl2And now for something entirely different …

Jack Teitel has attracted a lot of media attention since the Sabbath. An American Jew who made aliyah in 2000, Teitel was arrested by Israeli police and charged with several acts of terror, including the murder of two Palestinians in 1997, the bombing of a leftist Israeli professor’s house and the Purim bombing of a teenage boy. Police said Teitel also took credit for killing two gay Jews in Tel Aviv in August — though he hadn’t actually been involved.

It sounds like no one told Teitel the Gush Emunim Underground was shut down a long time ago — in fact, before he would have become bar mitzvah, if he did.

But this post is neither about Teitel nor the past and present of Jewish terror organizations. (Every religious group has its extremists.) It’s about an off-hand reference from the The New York Times to the religious beliefs of one of the people Teitel allegedly targeted:

The Israeli boy who was badly injured a year and a half ago, Ami Ortiz, is still recovering from wounds caused by an explosive placed in a gift basket traditionally given out on the Jewish holiday of Purim. His mother, Leah Ortiz, also American and living in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, said in a statement that her “blood ran cold” when she heard about the arrest, especially the knowledge that the suspect lived only minutes away.

“We are horrified by the fact that there are elements of Israeli society, Jews who feel justified in taking the lives of other Jews because of their beliefs,” she added.

The Ortizes are part of a small and mistrusted community of messianic Jews in Israel, who consider themselves Jewish but believe in Jesus.

Mr. Teitel’s neighbors said they were amazed and found it hard to believe …

That’s it. Granted, this is a fairly short story, and it’s totally accurate to say that messianics are “a small and mistrusted community” in Israel. But should readers have to infer from that clause — “who consider themselves Jewish but believe in Jesus” — that Ami Ortiz was targeted for his beliefs? And if reporters don’t yet know why Teitel allegedly gave the gift bomb, can we at least learn a little more about messianic intergration into Israeli society?

In fact, the community there has only been around for about two-thirds of the life of the modern Jewish state, and has been growing in recent years. You may recall that last year a group of religious Zionist rabbis called for a boycott of the national Bible Quiz when a messianic made it into the quartet of finalists. Or, on a related note, that shortly after Orthodox Jews torched a pile of Bibles left behind by missionaries to a predominantly religious Israeli town. And long before that was the Christmas Eve 2005 incident.

Even in the United States, messianic Jews are treated as an oddity. Clearly there is something more there. David Klinghoffer, after publishing “Why the Jews Rejected Jesus,” discussed it in this 2005 op-ed for The Forward:


Certainly it is understandable that some Jews feel as they do about these Jewish Christians. For many, there is something stomach-churning about a Jew who embraces a faith with a centuries-long record of treating his own ancestors in cruel and humiliating ways.

And yet what is understandable, just like what is necessary, also isn’t necessarily fair. After all, we live in America with her unique philosemitic Evangelical Christian tradition. To imagine American Christianity, of which messianic Judaism forms a part, as if it were indistinguishable from medieval European Christianity is historically inaccurate.

No, I’m not trying to be judgmental about anyone’s beliefs. There is value, however, in shining light on an area — of interest to believers in Judaism as to believers in Jesus — that has been wrapped in murkiness and unreason. Let there be light.

As a Christian named Greenberg, I’ve never understood the messianic Jewish pull. Culturally, I connect with Jews, but theologically I don’t — and there is the split. Unfortunately, the NYT‘s limited reference to the Ortizes’ beliefs do nothing to help us understand more.

Instead, I recommend this 2007 article, also from The Forward, about messianism finding fertile ground in the Bible Belt.

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  • Yeze

    From the article you link to:
    Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, founder of a counter-missionary group called Jews for Judaism, said that in his experience, the messianic movement includes many Jews who are sincere, but leaders and Christian organizations that have a missionary agenda nonetheless support it.”

    Come on, Bentzion Kravitz is a Chabad rabbi! His religion is also messianic, and also falls outside the barriers of Judaism. Theologically Chabad are so similar to Christians, yet while Chabad Jews are more-or-less fully integrated into Jewish communities around the world (and in many countries form the backbone of Judaism), Christian Jews are roundly rejected.


  • Yeze

    I have a post about why Teitel terrorised Christians just to add to the mix!

  • Matt

    I don’t really see much to criticize in the NYT report. The story quotes the victim’s mother making the connection between their faith and the attack, which seems perfectly appropriate. Are you saying that the reporter should have questioned whether there really was a connection?

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    No, I think the NYT could have done more to explain why the attack my have been connected. More importantly, though, I wanted an extra paragraph on how messianics fit into Israeli society.

  • Dave

    Is it actually accurate to refer to messianics as part of the Christian community? The Christian view of Jesus may start with the belief that he fulfilled messianic prophesy, but it certainly doesn’t end there, and Jews who believe in Jesus as a messenger of God don’t need to go that distance.

  • Izzy

    Chabad-Lubavitch is only “messianic” in the meaning that all Jews wait for the Messiah. While there are some calls (from fringe elements within Judaism) for the ostracism of Chabad-Lubavitch, based on the wrongful actions of a few, Chabad-Lubavitch is part of the mainstream of Jewish life.

    So-called “messianic Jews”, like Yeze are Christians. They are not “Jews who believe in Jesus”.

    The basic concept that separates Jews from Christians is the disbelief/belief in Jesus as the Messiah. Thus, the phrase “Christian Jews” is an oxymoron.

  • EV

    Er, Izzy, is it Prof. David Berger, who extensively examined Rabbi Schneerson’s nearly divinized status as Moshiach within Chabad, that you are calling a “fringe element within Judaism”? And is it only just “a few” within Chabad who chant, “Yechi adoneinu moreinu v’rabbeinu melech hamoshiach l’olam vaed”?

    I’ll tell you, it was a little startling to me as a Catholic to walk into a Chabad shul here in LA and encounter several photos of the Rebbe displayed with great honor throughout the premises.