“Tzabarim” for Yeshua
“I thought I was the only Jew in all of Israel who believes in Yeshua!” This statement can often be heard from native Israelis describing their first days, weeks and sometimes months after experiencing the absolutely stunning discovery of the Messiahship of Yeshua, and committing their lives to him. And that is one of the major differences between them and us – Jews who today also believe in Jesus but who were born and raised in the “Galut” – the “Exile”. Although a Jesus-believing Jew tends to be viewed by the Jewish mainstream as completely ridiculous in the Diaspora, nonetheless such “odd” Jewish individuals can be met there much more often than in Israel. In fact, according to some unofficial statistics I once read, at some point in Moscow and Saint Petersburg – the two largest cities of my native Russia – one tenth (!) of Russian Orthodox priests were ethnic Jews. Of course, in Israel the situation is quite different. “A true Jew does not believe in Jesus” – while in the Diaspora, Jewish parents could only whisper this millennia-old mantra into the tender ears of their children for fear of offending the non-Jewish neighbors, here in the Land they are free to shout it at street corners if they want to. And the local Orthodoxy – that is, the Jewish one – can be safely counted on to fully back them in this, as the activity of anti-missionary organizations proves over and over again.
In spite of this spiritual climate, each year the Israeli Messianic community grows. And not simply owing to our dutiful and happy obedience to the first commandment “Be fruitful and multiply”, but also by virtue of God’s Spirit working in our midst and revealing Yeshua to those who had never before dared to consider him. But how many of us Israeli Messianic Jews are “tzabarim” – native Israelis? According to conservative estimates, native-born Israeli Messianic Jews make up around 15%-20% of all Messianic believers in Israel. Since most of those were born into believing families, the percentage of those who came to the faith in Yeshua with no support whatsoever from their own family is even smaller. It is this group of people, relatively small today, which has always been of particular interest to me. Their stories are special because both the immediate family and the culture – the two factors wielding the greatest influence on our formation as human beings – were anything but conducive to believing in Yeshua. How did they become his followers?
If you want to write something that will make really big waves in Israel, start by interviewing a former ultra-Orthodox Rabbi from Bnei Brak who is now a follower of Yeshua. Our goal was not to create big waves, however. We wanted to obtain testimonies of believers in Yeshua that would speak to the average Israeli, ‘the man on the street’… in Hebrew, of course. We thought of filming them, delving deep into their testimonies, and having them share about their families and backgrounds, about the hurdles they had to overcome along the way, while giving them the opportunity to reflect upon their faith.
In 2017, we began searching for people to interview. We used a number of filters in the process of sorting out the candidates. We wanted people who had been born and raised in Israel by non-Messianic parents, the first in their families to come to faith in Yeshua, mature in their faith, having a good standing in the Messianic community, able to tell their story in an engaging way, and – last but not least for my purposes – willing to make it public without fear of repercussions from family members, employers or authorities.
Now the interviews are in the final stage of editing, and will soon be uploaded to the Caspari website and YouTube channel. If you don’t understand Hebrew, please give us a bit more time to provide English subtitles. In any case, your prayers for the viewers will be greatly appreciated, especially for those who do not yet believe in Yeshua.
This article originally appeared on Caspari Center, December 3, 2018, and reposted with permission.
Alec serves as Israel Director of the Caspari Center since 2009. His primary responsibility is development and oversight of the center's ministry to local Messianic congregations.
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A search for Jewish Roots (Part 1)
A short while ago, a man of European origin visited the Caspari Center, seeking help. He had heard that we “promote Jewish roots” in our ministry, and had been (mis)informed that we might be able to help him discover whether he had Jewish ancestry. He told me his surname, deliberated over whether it might be a Jewish family name, and expressed an interest in genetic testing. I immediately clarified that this is not our area of expertise, nor is it what we refer to when talking about “Jewish roots”. This man and I proceeded to have a long talk about the policies regarding Aliyah (immigration to Israel). I don’t know if the man left us disappointed, but unfortunately, I was unable to support his dream.
It is possible that this man will ultimately discover that he has some Jewish blood. There are people who uncover things hidden from their families for generations, and come to the realization that they are descendants of Jews. Those who can prove their heritage to the satisfaction of the Ministry of the Interior might even be eligible for Aliyah. But vastly larger numbers of genuine Israel-loving believers chase after a secret, lost identity as members of the Chosen People, and they tend to find “evidence” of it in the most peculiar places. Reasoning in various ways, they find everything but legitimate proof. I often wonder: what are these people actually chasing after? Are they yearning for a feeling of belonging to a community? Are they searching for something more meaningful than what they already have as Christians? Deep down in their hearts, are they not convinced that they are truly chosen and loved by God?
Cultivating “Wannabe” Jews?
There is another group of Christians, which also causes me to scratch my head in perplexity, that doesn’t want to be termed “Christian”. Being “Christian” is not enough for these believers. To their minds, the Church has done nothing but mislead innocent people throughout the centuries. Simple faith in Jesus is not enough; the supposedly pagan background of Church teachings must be denounced, and the Jewish Law observed. This, despite the apostle Paul’s clear instructions to the Galatians (among other writings), where he specifically underlined the Gentiles’ freedom from observing the Jewish Law. The apostle also warned against Judaizing, when it is targeted at Gentiles. According to Messianic Jewish theologian David H. Stern, “Judaizing” Jewish followers of Jesus (encouraging them to live as Jews) cannot be heresy. But there are some Jews on the outskirts of the Messianic movement who teach this also to Gentiles as a kind of “Church revival”. Generally speaking in the Christian/Messianic faith, there is always a danger of letting our focus slide from Jesus to other less central issues, and this is especially true when Gentile believers get immersed into the religious and cultural world of Judaism.
For me, it was startling to realize how differently we can understand this matter of Jewish roots. Teaching Christians to value our Jewish roots is one of the main themes of our international courses here at the Caspari Center. But what do we mean by “Jewish Roots”? And how do we approach this topic in a balanced way?
Exploring the Context of the Bible
Our goal is to increase understanding of the bible and the Gospel message in the way the writers intended. The entire bible, including the New Testament, is a very Jewish book. Knowing the context and the circumstances of the writings can help the reader understand what the texts mean. There are instances where improper biblical interpretation has led to full-scale false spiritual doctrine. For example, have you heard teaching about “binding and loosing spirits in prayer”? This mistaken teaching can be found in certain charismatic circles in the Church. But what did Jesus really mean in Matthew 16:19 and 18:18, where he spoke about binding and loosing? “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18). The first-century rabbis were constantly asked to interpret biblical commandments. Rabbi Yeshua gave Peter and other disciples the authority to “bind” (forbid) and “loose” (permit), meaning they were authorized to interpret scriptural questions regarding spiritual and practical matters in the early Messianic community (Kaufmann Kohler, David H. Stern). Acts 15 includes a description of how the apostles exercised this authority in creating a new Messianic Jewish halacha (literally “way of walking”).
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to enter a time-machine and travel back to the days of Jesus and the disciples? When interpreting the bible, we will always question how to understand the words written almost 2000 years ago. Continuous academic research is needed to bridge the gap. And of course, the Church has its centuries-old hermeneutical traditions. After the first centuries, the ways of Judaism and Christianity parted, and the Church lost touch with her Jewish roots in many respects, or at least the awareness of them. The traditions and theologies in the Church often tend to be anti-Jewish. On the other hand, rabbinical Judaism developed its own biblical interpretations. Some of them are reactions to Christianity, and we cannot approve of them without reservations. Neither does rabbinical Judaism have direct access to the Second Temple period any more than does Christianity. But there is still much valuable heritage of bible interpretation to be gleaned from traditional rabbinical Judaism. By reading the New Testament, not only through Christian but also through rabbinical lenses, we can increase our understanding and shed light on the texts in a new way – or in a very old way.
Academic research and education is required. Being a qualified theologian still doesn’t guarantee that you really appreciate the Jewish roots of the faith. If we say we are connected to the Jewish roots, it should have some implications in our theology, too. What kind of implications? How do we understand the relationship between Christianity and Judaism? I don’t have all the answers as I myself am still engaged in a happy struggle with this same question! We will continue to examine this very topic in a couple of weeks.
-David H. Stern, Messianic Judaism: A Modern Movement with an Ancient Past, 2007
-The Complete Jewish Study Bible – Insights for Jews and Christians, 2016
-Kaufmann Kohler in Jewish Encyclopedia, http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3307-binding-and-loosing
-David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, 1992
This article originally appeared on Caspari Center, December 3, 2018, and reposted with permission.
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New seminar for believing singles probes important topics
The Yad Hashmona congregation hosted a two-day conference, led by a pair of Messianic counselors, on singleness and relationships last weekend for its unmarried congregants.
“We felt that there was a need to hear balanced principles that would help young people build relationships founded on the Rock,” said Sheli Myers of Yad Hashmona, who hosted the conference.
Thirty two young people between the ages of 17 to 35 attended.
“I left this conference strengthened and more cognizant of relationships,” one attendee said after the conference.
“I think this seminar should be a requirement because it really builds up people our age,” said another participant. “This ministry should be available to all the Body of Messiah for anyone who is considering entering a relationship in the future.”
The conference was led by Sasha and Lilian Granovsky who have an MA in counseling from Israel College of the Bible and have trained with Larry and Laurie Russell’s ministry, Shepherd’s Heart. They are offering this workshop to the Body of Messiah in Israel.
“We have a new service to offer – a weekend program that was first presented to the singles of the Yad Hashmona congregation: What I can do and how, even before I’m in a relationship, how to build a relationship in a way that leaves no room for remorse no matter which direction the relationship goes,” Lilian said.
The conference included six lessons, each 45 minutes long, in which Sasha and Lilian Granovsky taught professional material based on scripture. At the end of each lesson there was time for questions and answers. Four topics were presented at the conference:
Topic 1: What is true love? 1 Corinthians 13
“Before we can love our partner, we need our relationship with God to be founded on the Rock,” Sasha taught. “After that – love for ourselves. How can we love others if we don’t know and love ourselves? How can we know who is right for us if we don’t know ourselves?”
Lilian: “Who are we? God’s unique creation.”
Sasha and Lilian presented the young people with 21 questions to get to know themselves better including: How is my relationship with each of my family members? What from my past has affected me destructively/constructively? What unhealthy habits do I have? Why? What situations cause me to be defensive? What are my passions? And more.
Topic 2: Dating and evaluating the relationship
Sasha and Lilian asked each of the young people to think about their relationships and ask themselves, “Is the relationship constructive? Does this relationship bring us closer to the Lord? Is the relationship useful?” As is written in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
In addition, they discussed whether love at first sight is truly possible. “For God so loved the world, that he gave…” John 3:16. The meaning of true love was explained to the young people: love as not just an emotion but as an act. God Himself first loved and then He gave. Divine love is loving and giving without expecting reciprocation. Love is a daily choice, commitment and controlling of one’s actions.
“We should not let emotions guide us – we must guide our emotions,” Lilian said.
Other topics discussed included: How do I know whether I’m in a destructive relationship? How do I know whether I have difficulty committing? Why do I repeatedly find myself in unhealthy relationships? Is it okay for a woman to initiate a relationship? How do I cope with insecurity in a relationship? Is it okay to date someone I’m not planning to marry? How do I deal with the pain of separation?
Topic 3: How can we guard ourselves physically?
Sasha and Lilian spoke about restraint and self-control as a critical principle before marriage. They spoke frankly about the dangers of not observing appropriate physical boundaries.
“Sometimes jumping into a physical relationship is compensation for something we haven’t been able to attain emotionally,” Lilian explained.
Topic 4: Lifestyles
Sasha and Lilian challenged the young people to think about how they imagine their lives in the future and what they expect of marriage. They presented various lifestyle options so that participants would be able to identify with whom they could live and with whom they couldn’t.
Many of the participants said they were encouraged, learned a lot and would want to pursue deeper study of this topic.
“This seminar opened my mind to a lot of things I had not previously thought about regarding relationships,” one participant said.
Several of the attendees also recommended that every young person in the Body of Messiah attend such a workshop so they can get to know themselves better before entering a relationship.
“From a content perspective, this seminar was amazing,” another participant said. “It brought up a lot of questions that are good to know the answers to before you enter a relationship.”
The Kehila News Staff is a team of Israeli believers in Yeshua.
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Yad Vashem and Israeli Ministry of Interior have contradicting definitions for the question who is a Jew
Margarita Kishnav (a pseudonym) arrived in Israel in 2016, to connect with her Jewish heritage and officially commemorate the memory of her Jewish grandfather, Hans-Walter Hirschberg, a German citizen who was a member of the resistance during World War II. He undermined the Nazi regime and courageously helped save many Jews. Margarita approached our law firm in order to assist her in the process of contacting Yad Vashem in order to perpetuate his memory and to arrange her status in Israel vis-a-vis the Ministry of the Interior as the granddaughter of Righteous Among the Nations.
Walter Hirschberg – his life and work
Walter was born as a Jew, but lived most of his life as a faithful Christian. Today we might refer to him as a Messianic Jew, but at the time his preferred term for his denomination was probably a Christian or Evangelical Jew. In those days, many young German Jews chose to convert, either due to honest belief or a desire to advance in an anti-Semitic society. When the Nazis came to power, many Jewish families chose to save their children by delivering them to Christian friends for hiding. Some of these children discovered their Jewish roots as adults, long after WWII was over, and made Aliyah to Israel.
Mr. Hirschberg succeeded to advance in German society – reaching a senior position in the Berlin municipal attorney’s office – but he never forgot his connection to Judaism. He used his connections at the prosecutor’s office to save Jews who would certainly have been sent to the extermination camps without his aid. He helped Jews to fake passports, alter documents, and even cross the border into neutral countries in Europe. Walter did not limit his actions solely to saving Jews – he was part of an international resistance movement that operated against both the Nazis in Germany and the Fascists in Italy. His political views and his moral outlook convinced him that action must be taken to both save the innocents and strike against the murderous criminals.
Mr. Hirschberg was captured by the Nazi regime because of his past support for leftist politics and his resistance activities, rather than his Jewish heritage. He was sent to the Theresienstadt extermination camp in 1944. The testimonies of the survivors present him as a man who did not lose his courage, composure, and sense of empathy even in the darkest hour. He led the Lutheran Church in the camp, providing spiritual support as well as physical assistance to his fellow inmates. He himself survived World War II, described his experience in the camps in his memoirs, and actively participated in bringing the Nazi criminals to justice for their crimes.
Legal status in Israel for descendants of Righteous Among the Nations
Grandchildren of Righteous Among the Nations have the legal right to receive temporary residency status in Israel on the basis of a permit from Yad Vashem. Margarita wanted to perpetuate the memory of her grandfather as a Righteous Among the Nations as a matter of principle, regardless of practical implications.
Our law office contacted Yad Vashem with documents and testimonies about Walter Hirschberg’s impressive story, showing conclusive evidence that Walter was a member of the resistance, a rescuer of Jews, and a victim of Nazi oppression. Testimonies collected by officers of the Red Army, who had liberated the camp, as well as evidence submitted by fellow survivors who owed him their lives, proved the veracity of the story without question.
However, all these documents were dismissed as irrelevant by the Holocaust Martyrs ‘and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority. Jews – even Jews who converted to Christianity and are no longer considered Jews by the State of Israel – cannot be Righteous Among the Nations. The title “Righteous Among the Nations” is reserved only for gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Meanwhile Margarita’s request for Aliyah was responded by Ministry of Interior officials, stating that according to the Law of Return and Supreme Court rulings in Israel, the descendants of a Jew who converted to Christianity are not entitled to make Aliyah.
The result was utterly absurd. On the one hand, Margarita is not entitled to immigrate to Israel because she is considered by the Ministry of Interior to be a granddaughter of a Christian. On the other hand, Yad Vashem does not recognize him as a Righteous Among the Nations because he is considered to be a Jew. We would be happy to appeal this decision, but Margarita was so disappointed she decided to leave Israel.
Immigration to Israel should be open for Jews of all creeds and denominations
The Nazi attempt to annihilate the entire Jewish people did not discriminate between Jews. The Nazis sought to eliminate Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, Orthodox and Reform Jews, atheist and Christian Jews. The State of Israel and Yad Vashem include among the 6 million Jews who were victims of the Holocaust those who would not have been allowed to immigrate to Israel and become citizens by the Ministry of Interior these days.
Anyone who is familiar with the history of the question “who is a Jew”, may be reminded of “Brother Daniel”. Shmuel Rufeisen was also born as a Jew, was given to a Christian family at a tender age, and grew up to become a Catholic priest who risked his life to save Jews during World War II. In the well-known High Court of Justice case, from 1962, it was decided by a majority verdict that he had no right to make Aliyah to Israel.
Eventually, Brother Daniel received the right to live in Israel as a permanent resident, rather than the right to immigrate to Israel and acquire citizenship under the Law of Return. It is possible that Margarita would have been given some status had we taken the case to court. But that would change things for an individual appellant, rather than cause a reconsideration of the absurd and infuriatingly Kafkaesque standards as a whole. There is no doubt that the State of Israel is required to do a sincere soul-searching regarding the way it decides to define and limit Judaism, even for heroes from previous generations.
Advocate Joshua Pex is a partner at Cohen, Decker, Pex & Brosh law firm in Jerusalem. He specializes in immigration to Israel.
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Health update on Pastor Santoro
As I reported in the last update, the results of the MRI which I took in October was very positive. At my most recent doctor’s appointment this past week, the oncologist said that this was the best MRI I have had in a year! There was no evidence of the cancer! The doctor always assures me that it will certainly come back but we praise God that it is gone today and by his all powerful grace and all of our prayers, it will never come back. Amen!
As a result of all that my brain has endured and continues to go through- the two surgeries and treatments including this current one that I take every three weeks, there has been damage, especially in the memory area. We are believing that healing includes not only the eradication of the cancer but a restoration of all that has been lost. God is able to give back what the locusts have eaten! Please stand with us in agreement for total restoration of every damaged part.
We are forever grateful for each day that He has given us and we look forward to many more in which to serve him and bring forth his Kingdom in this nation.
The Amazing Good Works of God
It was August, 2015 that I originally became aware that something was not right in my brain. The scripture declares that our God works all things together for the good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. In those days, as Satan endeavored to destroy me, God worked to bring a wonderful new reality filled with good fruit into my being.
For the first time, I had to deal with the reality that my life on this earth might be finished shortly and that the time to go home could be coming upon me. As I spent time pondering these two realities, I came to see that either would be an incredible blessing. To live in and with Messiah, either in this world or in heaven were both wonderful. Although I was able to accept leaving, I also knew that my heart was to stay and so I chose life. By God’s grace, as I did this, I came into a new place in God. Both Jackie and I began a journey of faith, growing in the knowledge of his heart of love and in his goodness, which manifests in his desire to heal us and our part in cooperating with him on this path.
I came to know that His life and power within me can destroy the work of the enemy. The doctors still say that the cancer will kill me soon but we stand in our God and proclaim a mighty NO! I will not die but live and declare the works of the Lord.
I share all this to say to you that those of us who love God are locked into battles with the devil. I want to encourage you today that no matter what you are fighting, God is with you and there is only victory as we trust in him. We all face challenges but the overcoming power that is ours in Yeshua is far greater. Turn to him. Trust in him and He will make a way for you. Trust in His infinite power and love. We may lose a battle but ultimate victory has been given to all of us who believe. In Yeshua, we win! Apply this reality in your life. You will not be disappointed!
This article originally appeared in Zion’s Glory Update, December 2, 2018, and reposted with permission.
Eddie and his wife, Jackie, are senior leaders of Ahavat Yeshua Messianic Congregation in Jerusalem and also serve in positions of senior leadership in Revive Israel.