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Avoiding Spiritual Deception

Today's spiritual consumer encounters a tremendous range of choices and opportunities. A walk down the "Judaism" aisle also reveals a plethora of styles and approaches. Not all options, however, are necessarily wholesome. Therefore, the old watchword, caveat emptor, let the buyer beware, is sound guidance.

Interfaith families face unique challenges when it comes to making spiritual choices. Unscrupulous missionary organizations, capitalizing on a possible impulse to blend, offer the illusory promise that Jewish-Christian families can "have it all." In fact, some of these organizations specifically design their evangelical outreach to target interfaith couples and families.

For millenia, Christian missionaries have sought Jewish converts. The choices were always quite clear, and for most Jews, the desire to remain Jewish has prevailed. In the middle of the 20th century, evangelical missionaries finally hit upon a way of circumventing this clarity by blurring the distinctions between Judaism and Christianity.

The so-called "Messianic Jewish" movement created a hybrid culture that diminishes the guilt normally experienced by Jewish people who convert to Christianity. Attending a traditional church service where the minister leads hymns worshipping Jesus would not feel "Jewish." A Messianic "synagogue" where the "rabbi," attired in a skullcap and prayer shawl, leads "Shabbat" services and Jesus is euphemistically referred to by the Hebrew "Yeshuah" feels much more comfortable.

The Messianic movement insists that since the original followers of Jesus were Jews, they are not engaging in a deception. They maintain that Jews who embrace Jesus don't cut themselves off from their heritage--on the contrary, they become completed or fulfilled Jews. However, it is misleading to suggest that Christianity is a legitimate Jewish option simply because Jesus' first disciples were Jews. After all, those who built and worshipped the Golden Calf were also Jews. Furthermore, the beliefs and practices of these original followers ultimately morphed when the movement was taken over in the 2nd century by non-Jews who were never part of the original movement. They developed ideas about the nature of God and how to relate to Him and the concept of Messiah and sin that veered dramatically from Judaism. They finally canonized a different set of scriptures and became a completely different religion.

The United States may have been a British colony at one time. However, it would make no sense to tell people living in England today that they can be more British by becoming American citizens. Ultimately, England and the United States had a parting of the ways. So, too, Judaism and Christianity once split into two different religions with very different belief systems. It is absurd to suggest that one can become more Jewish by embracing Christianity.

Unfortunately, you may sometimes need more than just a score card to tell the players apart. Messianic congregations often list themselves in the Synagogue section of the phonebook with congregational names like Beth Shalom or Tikvat Yisrael. They may offer Hebrew classes, Israeli folk dancing groups and Bar/Bat Mitzvah classes, as well as free High Holiday services. Unless you ask some carefully probing questions, you may feel you've found a welcoming and friendly Jewish congregation. It may be a good idea to double check with your local Jewish Federation or to call Jews for Judaism.

Some interfaith couples may actually be attracted to a congregation that seems to be both synagogue and church, where both Jews and non-Jews gather for friendly fellowship and enthusiastic prayer. It is vital to understand that this is no compromise. Such congregations are no different from any evangelical Christian church in terms of belief and theology. They merely camouflage their Christianity in a Jewish guise and are practicing no form of Judaism. It's important to be clear about what such groups are and what they're not.

Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.
Rabbi Michael Skobac

Rabbi Michael Skobac is the Director of Counseling and Education of the Toronto branch of Jews for Judaism, an international organization working to address today's spiritual challenges to Jewish continuity by promoting an appreciation of the profound wisdom and spirituality of Judaism. Rabbi Skobac can be reached at (905) 761-0040 or by email at emes@bellnet.ca.

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