Why American Jews are tuning out on their faith
A recent Jerusalem Post article entitled, “The Faith Crisis of American Jewry” (9/12/18) caught my eye, citing the devastating rate of intermarriage, lack of synagogue attendance and even a considerable amount of those who have no belief in God.
Having been an Israeli citizen for the last 25 years, I turned to some American Jewish friends to find out why they, too, seem to have tuned out on their faith. Their responses are probably typical of many secular American Jews, and so here is what they had to say:
- I would have still been involved with the synagogue and more devoted to Judaism, but my husband and my kids gave me a hard time.
- My husband didn’t like the rabbi, so we changed synagogues, but it eventually closed.
- My husband was not really brought up very Jewish. His parents didn’t celebrate holidays or go to synagogue.
- My husband has had a strong influence on my children, making it impossible to be observant.
- I wasn’t educated as a Jew even though my mother was religious. I never had a Bat Mitzvah or studied Hebrew, so I couldn’t understand what was being said at the synagogue.
- The childhood Jewish melodies I knew changed throughout the years, and so when I finally attended synagogue as an adult, I was out of the loop and in unfamiliar territory.
- When my brother goes to temple, all he does is talk. He doesn’t pray.
- My husband and I know we’re Jews, we’re proud of it, keep kosher, make holiday meals, donate to Jewish charities, light memorial candles and that’s enough for us.
- The rabbi didn’t offer any support when my father was dying even though he came to the hospital daily to visit a rabbi in the next room.
- The cost of good seats was unaffordable.
- They wanted control from cradle to death – everything including yeshiva (instead of public school), membership on the Jewish youth sports’ teams, daily involvement and unreasonable financial support. We were not willing to make such a commitment.
- We felt services were boring, not relevant to our daily lives and lacking in spiritual inspiration.
- The only synagogue in our area was not one to our liking.
A common thread in all of the above reasons seems to be a lack of something genuine and fulfilling as well as a good dose of suspicion concerning the control factor. Let’s face it, aren’t those the things which cause most people to tune out?
All of us are seeking to live our lives as best as we can, balancing work, family, social activities and also desiring to be inspired along the way. That source of inspiration is often expected to come from those who point us back to our faith and why it helps us to be a better version of the fallen person we are. When that source is tainted by elements of control, excessive financial gain, social climbing or just plain indifference to our needs, we tune out. After all, there’s no spare time for a counterfeit that doesn’t satisfy.
American Jewry has lost its way from the early turn of the century when most of our grandparents arrived from European shtetls to the shores of what hoped to be a better life. Living clustered in urban neighborhoods which reflected their culture, language, lifestyle and faith was what kept Jews as a closely-knitted group which almost never sought intermarriage, leaving the fold or breaking ranks. Yet today’s American Jewry no longer live that way. With the exception of the very orthodox, most American Jews have totally assimilated, consider intermarriage as a completely viable option and are only loosely connected to a tiny smattering of Jewish tradition which may include circumcision, bar-mitzvah, a Passover Seder, lighting Chanukah candles, sitting shiva (a week of mourning) when a Jewish person dies and marrying under a chuppa (canopy). There just isn’t much beyond that.
Ziona Greenwald, writer of the Jerusalem Post Article states, “For multitudes of Jews to have not only eschewed their heritage but completely shucked off any shred of faith, any relationship, however fraught, with their Divine Creator, gives new meaning to the term “lost souls… The apparent drift toward godlessness among American Jewry should set off alarm bells for Jewish leaders and major organizations.”
I couldn’t agree more with Ziona Greenwald, but the real soul-searching must come from those who hope to entice American Jews to turn towards their faith, but, in this case, it seems to be a classic case of the blind leading the blind. A successful spiritual leader must possess a heart for his constituency – which means real empathy, feeling and genuine love and concern for each individual. The absence of those characteristics will be felt and internalized by the potential members, and the creation of something real and meaningful will be replaced by dry ritual, showy performance and forced commitment, none of which are attractive or appealing.
As far away as this “withering faith group,” as Ziona calls it, may have wandered, it is my fervent belief that there is a dormant seed inside of every Jew which longs to burst through the hard and fallow ground of their sleeping faith. The desire to really know God and feel intensely connected to Him, does not entirely dissipate. It is there, but it must be nurtured. It begins by someone taking a personal interest especially when times are tough. It grows as you remain committed to that individual, and it blossoms as they feel inspired and valued. God does this for us, and we need to do it for one another. Faith is so much more than a weekly trek to the local synagogue. It is truly a daily lifestyle with a daily commitment to be to one another what God calls us to be in order that others can see and feel His love and care extended to them. If we were to live that way, there is no doubt that it would attract not only every Jew, but every non-Jew as well.
I am reminded of Zechariah 8:23 which says, “In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” This is no portrait of a “withering faith group.” To the contrary, this is a compelling picture of the most attractive, appealing and vibrant Jewish faith which makes “trending” look minor. It is a must-have and a “like” to the extreme. According to the scriptures, this is the place where the Jewish faith will arrive. How will it get there? It starts with you and your own need for the real, the genuine and the sincere expression of God. Find it, live it and then spread it to others in real and tangible ways. I guarantee you – No one will tune out on that!!!
Cookie is the former managing director of Makor HaTikvah Messianic School in Jerusalem.
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Influence in our society vs passion for His return
I believe that we are to influence all areas of society with biblically based solutions, yet I am disturbed by those who embrace the “post-millennial” understanding in their teaching on The Last Days.* This understanding says that we can now go forward to conquer the whole world for Jesus without His actual return.
Wherever one “places” the great tribulation – whether in the past or in the future, like both classic Protestant and Catholic views – the real concern with this thinking is the loss of passion for the return of Yeshua. The New Covenant Scriptures exhort us to long for the return of Yeshua.
- Peter notes in Acts 3 that the Jewish people need to repent, “that He might send Yeshua the Messiah appointed for you.”
- In Philippians 3:20-21 we are told that, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from there we eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Yeshua the Messiah.”
- In Colossians 3:4 we are to hope that “When Messiah, who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.”
- In I Corinthians 16:22 we read the word Maranatha, “Come Lord.” This was a greeting among believers in the first century.
- In II Peter 3:12, we are encouraged to live in such a way that we are “looking for and hastening the coming Day of God.”
Now of course, we know there has been delay. Yet the Bible does not explicitly command us to, “Go forth and influence every sector of society and bring it into obedience to Biblical principles.” I do believe in such influence as an implication of the Good News of the Kingdom. I see that slavery would not have been eliminated in England and America if it were not for believers who acted.
However, the passion of the New Covenant Scriptures is our relationship with our returning Lord, not taking control of the so-called “seven mountains.” The passion for His return, like the passion of the bride for her bridegroom, should supersede other desires. We live in the light of His return. When I was a child, I thought as a child. I did not want the Lord to return until after I had experienced marriage and raising my own children. But now I know that whenever He comes, it will be the best for all of us. Let us by all means influence society in our journey, but let us embrace the passionate, New Testament sense of the soon return of Yeshua. We can do both.
*The so-called “Seven Mountains” teaching is one such understanding. The post-millennial view teaches that the great tribulation has already passed. This view was embraced by Charles Finney and Jonathan Blanchard (founder of Wheaton College). Wheaton’s motto, “For Christ and His Kingdom,” was originally, but not currently, understood in post-millennial terms. Many today have the view that the church will come to rule the nations without the return of Yeshua literally. They speak of a victorious Church, but they imply post-millennialism. This teaching is closely entwined with the widely discredited ideas of dominionism.
This article originally appeared on Tikkun International, August 28, 2018, and reposted with permission.
Dr. Daniel Juster, founder and director of Tikkun International, has been involved in the Messianic Jewish movement since 1972 and currently resides in Jerusalem, Israel, from where he serves and supports the Messianic movement worldwide. Dan was the founding president and general secretary of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations for 9 years, the senior pastor of Beth Messiah congregation for 22 years, and a co-founder of the Messiah Bible Institute in several nations. Dr. Juster serves on the board of Towards Jerusalem Council II, provides oversight to 15 congregations in the USA as well as overseeing emissaries in Israel and the Former Soviet Union. Daniel has authored about 20 books on topics ranging from theology, Israel and the Jewish people, eschatology, discipleship, and leadership.
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Can you hear the trumpets?
A big meal is planned for tonight, and all over Israel kitchens are buzzing with activity and festive tables are being set up in most homes as families prepare to get together all across the country to celebrate Rosh Hashanah together, the “Jewish New Year,” on the first day of the seventh month of the biblical calendar. Yet, while our mailboxes are being filled with electronic holiday greeting cards and our calendars recognize the occasion, many Israelis don’t really know what they are celebrating at all during Rosh Hashanah on this first day of the month of Tishrei.
In fact, our Hebraic ancestors in biblical times not only DID NOT observe the date the way we do it today, but probably had no clear idea regarding any New Year’s celebration at all other than recognizing that the Passover month was the first month of the year as recorded in Exodus 12. The rest of the months were simply named second, third, fifth, seventh and so on, and the only biblical observance of a “New” anything was the “New Moon” cycle, announcing the start of a new lunar month to the population of ancient Israel.
Nowhere in the bible were our ancestors commanded to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. And while extra biblical traditions conceived and placed this holiday on the first day of the month of Tishrei, the seventh biblical month, this date was actually assigned by God much earlier, through Moses, for a different biblical feast all together: the “Feast of Trumpets.” The historical fact is that Rosh Hashanah’s traditions originated during our Babylonian exile and following centuries, when Israel was distant from the land and from God, yet this made-up modern holiday nearly replaced the biblical commandment regarding the observance of the fifth feast God commanded Israel to keep, Tabernacles, incorporating the blowing of the trumpets among the new, man-made traditions.
As all students of the Bible know, there are seven feasts God commanded Israel to observe: Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, Pentecost, Trumpets, Day of Atonement and Tabernacles, all pointing to (1) God’s plan of world redemption and (2) His Anointed Servant, our Messiah (Leviticus 23). Concerning the fifth feast, Trumpets, the book of Leviticus 23:24-25 says “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a Sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD.’”
Blowing of trumpets and keeping a Sabbath rest are the only instructions given us for this fifth feast of God, and the blowing was for a remembrance. A remembrance of what? Perhaps Trumpets is a call to remember the true state of our being, humanity’s great need of divine help and mercy, and set our hearts and minds in preparation toward the two upcoming and final feasts of God. As the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles soon arrive, carrying in their wings the prophetic weight of the divine plan and purpose, all God’s children must seek to comprehend their message and examine our hearts in light of their severity and eternal impact.
Many in the Messianic community today believe that the Day of Atonement (sixth feast) points toward Israel’s national repentance and redemption (Zechariah 12), and that the Feast of Tabernacles (seventh feast) speaks of Messiah’s reign on earth (Zechariah 14). These feasts arrive in fast succession following the blowing of the Trumpets, and the entire prophetic season lasts only 21 days from beginning to end, culminating in the fulfillment of all of God’s seven feasts; the unfolding of the mystery of Messiah; and the coming of His Kingdom to earth.
Thank God that He gave us the Feast of Trumpets to celebrate today, providing a needed reminder and a wake-up call urging all who have ears to hear to prepare and look expectantly for these promised world changing events.
WHERE DID ROSH HASHANAH COME FROM?
While Rosh Hashanah doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible, we need to recall that Jewish religious practices greatly changed during the Babylonian exile. By the time Ezra and Nehemiah led the exiles back to Judea to restore the national and spiritual life in the Promised Land, things changed a lot. Now the months of Israel were not named first, second, third, and so on; rather each month now boasted a Babylonian name, and the seventh month was called Tishrei, a derivative of the Akkadian word tishritu, meaning “beginning.” Not only that, but the Babylonians took their New Year’s celebrations very seriously with remarkable events and festivities going on for 12 consecutive days. It appears the Jewish exiles brought back with them not only pagan wives as recorded in Ezra chapter 10, but also pagan practices.
Nowhere in the Second Temple period literature is there any mention of “Rosh Hashanah,” and the holiday only appears in rabbinic writings starting from the third century AD. These writings deal with the holiday’s observance and many (extra biblical) details, with great attention given to the theme of entering the “Days of Awe,” the 10-day purging and cleansing period leading up to the Day of Atonement; a theme that is actually biblically sound.
The blowing of the silver trumpets mentioned in the scriptures was replaced with a blowing of the shofar, a horn, usually of a ram. Consolidating various blowing traditions from different Jewish communities, today we have the Tekiah (a long blow), the shevarim (three consecutive blows), and the teruah (nine fast blasts), all sounding at different times throughout the day, rounded up to 100 blows total.
Additional traditions were added over the centuries as different rabbinical schools needed to place their own mark on the new holiday. Today we find Rosh Hashanah featuring fish head dishes (getting “ahead” during the new year); honey, sweet bread and fruit (hoping for a sweet year); pomegranates (based on the erroneous notion that it has 613 seeds as the number of the commandments in the Law); and Tashlikh, the practice of emptying one’s pockets into the sea, river or a well, symbolizing getting rid of one’s sins. Abundant superstitions!
SO WHAT SHOULD WE DO TODAY?
Enjoy Rosh Hashanah with your family and friends, but do not neglect the real, biblical, and Spirit breathed observance of the Feast of Trumpets. And let us remember the apostolic warning, saying, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Messiah. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power…“
“And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses… So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Messiah.” (Colossians 2:8-17).
The Lord Yeshua Himself rebuked the religious leaders of His day, confronting their practices of “making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down…” Matthew 7:13.
May God’s fifth feast of Trumpets strengthen and cleanse our hearts as we seek His face in preparation for the sixth and seventh feasts, Atonement and Tabernacles. They are right around the corner.
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Feast of Trumpets heralds Good News in Israel
Just as people commonly take stock and think about the course of their lives at the beginning of January, so Israelis take time to reflect each time the Feast of Trumpets comes around.
Jewish and Messianic communities around the world celebrate the Feast of Trumpets by eating sweet foods, typically apples dipped in honey which symbolize a sweet year, and by hearing the stirring noise of the shofar being blown. We have a holiday from work, and wish each other ‘Shana Tova’ (a good year), even though it’s not really the new year according to the Bible – it points to the ultimate, last trumpet of Yeshua’s return! But until that time, each year, we take the opportunity to stand back to take a look at how far we’ve come… and where we are headed.
We invite you to take a look back with us, but to see it all through the eyes of faith in the Messiah and in his word.
God has truly brought his people back to the land, and is continuing to gather them in. There are now more Jews in Israel than in any other country. Of the 14.7 million Jewish people in the world, 6.625 million are living in Israel, just about 75% of Israel’s total population of 8.9 million. The remaining quarter are Muslim and Christian Arabs (21%) and just under 5% are Druze, non-Arab Christians, and other minorities.
We are seeing great steps forward in reaching both the Jewish population and also the Arabic speaking populations with the gospel primarily through media, and many are responding! Our evangelistic videos have been viewed well over 10 million times (that’s more than there are Israelis!) and we are contacted on average every two hours by someone wanting to know more about Jesus. Many have come to faith in this way, both Jews and Arabs. God is truly opening hearts here in Israel in an amazing way.
According to a poll carried out by HaAretz1, “54 percent of Jewish Israelis believe in God, and another 21 percent accept the existence of an undefined superior power other than God”, which is very high compared to other developed and democratic countries. An interesting fact is that of those who do believe in God, a significant majority are young (18-24 years old) compared to only 22% coming from the older generation (65+). The Holocaust severely affected the relationship between the people of Israel and God, and perhaps this is part of the reason for the stark difference. Here at ONE FOR ISRAEL, we are seeing people from all different ages coming to faith in Yeshua, but we would also report that the majority are from the younger generation.
However, there is a huge difference between following religious Judaism with all the rabbinic laws, and following the God of Israel. The rift between the ardently religious and the cynical secularists is growing all the the time, but frustration with the religious powers has led many secular people to become more open to considering the claims of Jesus – the great taboo.
“44.3% of Israelis define themselves as secular, while 21.4% are traditional, 12.3% are traditional with religious leanings, 11.5% are religious and 10.2% are ultra-Orthodox”, reports the Times of Israel2. Today we believe that there are at least 30,000 Messianic believers in Israel, which is still a tiny minority, but it is a number that is increasing all the time. The number was about 24 in 1948, but has tripled almost every decade since.
Happy and healthy, but not very wealthy!
The Central Bureau of Statistics data shows that “89% of Israelis satisfied with their lives, more than half exercise regularly, and life expectancy still one of highest in the world”2.
So almost 90% are happy with their lives, but the economic situation for many Israelis is not easy. “37% said they weren’t happy with their financial situation, and 31% said they were struggling to cover their monthly expenses.” The tense Middle East situation and challenging economic realities have not brought the nation down though. Technological breakthroughs and educational advancement are signs of a generally optimistic and successful society, despite the many challenges.
The vast majority of Israelis (84%) reported to be in good health, and the average life expectancy in Israel is 84.6 years for women and 80.7 for men, which is among the highest in the world. Along with that, Israel’s high fertility rate (average 3.11 children per woman), along with steady streams of new Jewish immigrants making “Aliyah” each year, means that the population is expected to reach 10 million in the next six years.
Pray with us that as the nation grows and develops, so body of Messiah will continue to prosper and grow, and that God’s kingdom would advance in all areas and aspects of our society.
Prepare the way of the Lord!
 Haaretz Poll: For Rosh Hashanah, a Picture of Israel’s Muddled Jewish Soul, Chemi Shalev, Sep 9th 2018
 The Times of Israel: Ahead of Jewish new year, Israel’s population at 8.9 million, largely content, Michael Bachner, Sep 4th 2018
This article originally appeared on One For Israel and is reposted with permission.
ONE FOR ISRAEL strives to be the leading organization in sharing the Gospel of Yeshua the Messiah with Israeli Jews and Arabs in the Hebrew language. Our staff is comprised of both Jewish and Arab Israelis, with the shared belief that true peace in the Middle East can only come into existence under Yeshua.
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A message from the cassette tape archives
Connie and I got inspired this summer to clean out and reorganize our storage shed. Amidst boxes and dust and unused scraps of wire, pipe and lumber (saved “just in case”), we found a substantial collection of cassette tapes. Few of us still have cassette tape players anymore. As we went through the tapes one by one, we realized that we would NEVER be using them again.
Aside from the nostalgia evoked—especially looking at the collected classics of Derek Prince, Bob Mumford, Billy Graham and Michael Brown—there remained, deep inside the cardboard cartons, the praise music we “grew up on.” Carefully stacked were Integrity Music tapes, Andre Crouch, Israel’s Hope, Lamb and many others that we now have downloaded to our newer electronic music devices.
While pitching a trash can full of these former treasures into the dumpster, I found myself thinking about what really lasts in life. Cassette tapes certainly have not. Other forms of music, voice and film storage continue to change with each new information technology breakthrough. Already fading are CDs and DVDs technologies that only a few years back, still felt “revolutionary.”
What else will become passé?
That which today impresses us as innovative, groundbreaking, new and exciting—will tomorrow be obsolete and worn out. This wakes me up. It compels me to adjust my world view and my decisions about acquiring more stuff. There was a play whose title I remember: “You Can’t Take it with You.” The play was a comedy, but Job’s life certainly was not. Job stated it succinctly long before Broadway. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return…” (Job 1:21 NKJV).
The tragic passing, yet heroic fight for life, of our friend who grew up in Jerusalem, Esther Ridings Moore, at the tender age of 29, underscores this issue of mortality. Not incidentally, Esther made her life count. Writing and performing worship songs with Israeli teenagers, teaching and inspiring youth and adults alike, she invested her days in glorifying God and drawing people closer to Him through Yeshua. This forces me to ask a blunt question. What am I doing with my days?
“So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil”(Ephesians 5:15,16).
These two exhortations speak directly to the issue of life being finite. It’s almost a cliché, but nonetheless true, that I really don’t know how much time I’m being allotted for this stage of my life’s journey. I want to invest my days in that which pleases the Lord, in that which helps others know Him more deeply. I want to see eyes opened to the awesome mercy of God through Yeshua haMashiach. And I want to walk in His light, bringing hope, healing, and deliverance to those He places in my path.
No matter where you are in life or how much you’ve already accomplished in the Lord, may you be renewed to exceed every previous limitation.
Cassette tapes have become irrelevant.
But the love of God demonstrated through you, will never become irrelevant.
This article originally appeared in Oasis newsletter, September 2018, and reposted with permission.
Eitan is the Founder and Executive Director of Tents of Mercy Network of Messianic Congregations is Northern Israel. He's a published author, having written "What About Us?", which answers the question about Gentile participation in the restoration of Israel.