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Should the Liberal UMJC be Allowed to Speak for the Entire Messianic Community?
There are really two types of Judaism: Liberal and Traditional. And I believe that Messianic Judaism also has within it the Liberal and Traditional camps. First, let's start with non-Messianic Judaism. In non-Messianic Judaism, the Liberal movement is made up of Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist. How can I say that? Because all three groups believe that Rabbinic Halachah must be updated in one way or another to the modern world. The major practical differences can be seen in the realms of: (1) Shabbat observance; (2) Kashrut law; (3) Definition of a Jew; (4) Gender role differentiation (e.g. female rabbis? mechitzah? etc) (5) Taharat haMishpochah So we can take those for examples. In all those areas, the Orthodox follow the traditional halachah; the Liberal movement has no determinative halacha:
"It would not allow the halachah to be determinative--and therefore Reform Judaism could not be considered halachic..." Movements and Issues in American Judaism by Bernard Martin
Thus, the Liberal movement is very flexible when it comes to how one should observe the mitzvot (or not). NOW... Let's talk about the Messianic movement. From my experience in the UMJC and from having read all of their major documents, I believe that the UMJC falls within the Liberal movement. The leadership wing of the UMJC even alludes to this somewhat explicitly: "Therefore, like Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist branches of Judaism we recognize that the new circumstances of the modern world require adaptation in traditional practices." (MJRC Standards) In a recent email, Dan (and I hope he doesn't mind me using his words) explained the frustration he feels with the UMJC:
"The problem with all this is, and I am speaking from experience, the leaders of individual UMJC congregations are not educated enough to determine what Jewish halacha is. For example: They will scold a Gentile member of the congregation for wearing a tzitzit and a kipah, saying these are uniquely for Jews according to halach, but then, turn around and conduct a Bat Mitzvah ceremony for a girl that is not halachically Jewish (her mother is not Jewish).
It is obvious that leaders in the movement are preferring the “pick and choose” theology. There are numerous leaders whose mothers are not Jewish but never converted to Judaism. Conveniently opting for the Biblical model that Jewishness is determined by the father, and therefore they don’t need to convert. But how does it jive with Rabbinic Jewish halacha that they are so eager to push on the members?" Other authors seem to echo Dan's frustrations with the Liberal movement:
"Liberal halachah remains unclear" (Liberal Judaism and Halachah by Walter Jacob)
Dan also points out something that I have personally found to be quite frustrating:
"In their zeal to become a part of mainstream Judaism, Messianic Judaism UMJC and BE style are : 1) Trying to eliminate Gentiles from their midst. 2) Starting to deny the deity of Yeshua, 3) Pushing adherence to submit to Rabbinic authority. It is the third item on the list that I would like to address."
He even notes how Boaz Michael has jumped on the bandwagon:
"For years the leaders of MJ, first with subtlety, and now openly are forcing Rabbinic halacha in their teachings and congregations. It came to a head with the leader of FFOZ, Boaz Michael (who BTW is not Jewish), equating believers who do not adhere to Rabbinic authority as “Sons of Korach.”"
CONCLUSION The UMJC, as an extension of the Liberal movement, thinks that it carries some sort of over-arching authority, that it can speak for the entire Messianic movement. We need to give them a reality check. The traditional movement of Judaism may be small but this doesn't mean, for example, that the Reform movement gets to dictate that Reform Judaism is MORE AUTHENTIC. But that's precisely what groups like UMJC are doing! Rudolph's new book is a perfect example of this. Other examples are the UMJC paper that says One-Law is a threat to the Messianic community--AS IF THE UMJC REPRESENTS THE TOTALITY OF THE MESSIANIC COMMUNITY! But enough of my opinions. What are your thoughts? Agree, disagree?