Modern Jewish movements… embrace a wide range of theological and ideological perspectives. There is simply no consensus among non-Orthodox Jews concerning the central tenets of the faith, neither is there any agreement about Jewish observance. Instead, the various branches of non-Orthodox Judaisms embrace a totally heterogeneous range of viewpoints. Nonetheless, these disparate branches of modern Judaism are united in their rejection of Messianic Judaism as an authentic expression of the Jewish faith. Even though the adherents of these branches of the tradition differ over the most fundamental features of the Jewish religion, even including belief in God, they have joined together in excluding Messianic Judaism from the range of legitimate interpretations of Jewish heritage.
For Messianic Jews, such a rejection is baffling. Why, they ask, should they be perceived as the sole inauthentic Jewish movement in contemporary society given that they believe in God, view Torah as divinely revealed, and remain loyal to Israel? In their view, such exclusion is due to prejudice and misunderstanding. If Conservative Jews deny the belief in Torah MiSinai, Reform Jews reject the authority of the Law, Reconstructionist Jews adopt a non-theistic interpretation of the faith, and Humanistic Jews cease to use the word 'God' in their liturgy, why should Messianic Jews alone be universally vilified?" As Carol Harris-Shapiro explained in Messianic Judaism (Boston, Beacon, 1998, pp. 169-70):
This exclusion rankles Messianic Jews, who seek to have not only their status but their legitimacy in the community affirmed… After all, the American Jewish community is rife with well-accepted ‘heretical’ Jews. Liberal Jews, who deny the Divine authorship of Torah and the authority of the Oral Law, wholly secular Jews, even Jews who follow Eastern beliefs are not systematically removed from Jewish life, but are in fact still welcomed into the community. Why, in the twentieth century, have the barriers fallen to include all Jews but themselves?
In this light, Jewish pluralists argue, Messianic Judaism should be seen merely as one among many expressions of the Jewish faith. Alongside Hasidism, Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism, Reconstructionist Judaism, and Humanist Judaism, Messianic Judaism offers a pathway through the Jewish heritage. Admittedly, unlike the other branches of Judaism, this movement is firmly rooted in the belief that Yeshua is the long-awaited redeemer of Israel. Yet such a belief is in principle no more radical than the Reconstructionist and Humanistic rejection of a supernatural deity. Indeed, as we have seen in many respects Messianic Jews are more theistically oriented and more Torah-observant even than their counterparts within the Conservative and Reform movements.
Jewish pluralists know that it will not be easy for the Jewish community to come face to face with itself and to recognize that Messianic Judaism is no more inauthentic than other forms of contemporary Jewish life. Messianic Judaism can evoke from the Jewish community a greater awareness of the need for acceptance and tolerance in the modern age. Rather than engaging in bitter and acrimonious criticism of one another’s religious viewpoints, the Jewish people need a new framework for harmonious living, one which will serve as a remedy for the bitter divisions that have split the community into warring factions since the Enlightenment. Including Messianic Judaism... is the only reasonable starting point for inter-community relations in the twenty-first century.
Rabbi Dan Cohn-Sherbok in Messianic Judiasm
Dan Cohn-Sherbok was born in Denver, Colorado, educated at Williams College, and ordained a Reform rabbi at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, in Cincinnati, Ohio. He received a Doctorate in Divinity from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and a Doctorate in Philosophy from Cambridge University. From 1975 he taught Jewish theology at the University of Kent at Canterbury. He is currently the first Professor of Judaism at the University of Wales. He is the author and editor of over 50 books including The Jewish Faith, Atlas of Jewish History, Modern Judaism, The Future of Judaism and Understanding the Holocaust.