FOR  DUMMIESTHE inspiration for this title comes partly from the “self-help” books for everything from computers to personal relationships and health with similar titles. Also, my sister got onto our website (WWW.PETAHTIKVAH.COM). She suggested that we should have something simple to help people get a better understanding of Messianic Judaism. Here it is!


What is Messianic

Judaism ?

According to Wikipedia, the Internet encyclopedia, “Messianic Judaism is a religious sect whose congregants comprise both Jews and Gentiles who believe that Jesus of Nazareth, whom they call Yeshua, is both their Savior and the resurrected Jewish Messiah. While Messianic Jews practice their faith in a way that they consider to be authentically Torah-observant and culturally Jewish, Jews, Jewish denominations, and most Christians do not consider Messianic Judaism to be a form of Judaism. Messianic Jews are not considered Jewish under the State of Israel’s Law of Return.”

     This is, for better or worse, a fairly accurate definition of Messianic Judaism. I do believe that the day is coming when Messianic Judaism will be accepted by the larger Jewish community, hopefully within a decade.



Most people assume that Messianic Judaism came out of Christianity, or that it is a “mixture” religion, in which Judaism and Christianity somehow got mixed together, and – voila! – out popped “Messianic Judaism.”

     In truth, Messianic Judaism actually predates Christianity by a few decades. Christianity evolved from the Messianic Judaism of the First Century. Christianity eventually began incorporating various holidays and traditions from the pagans to make Christianity more acceptable, so it is in truth, the “mixture” religion, as it mixed First Century Messianic Judaism with elements of paganism. We happen to believe that “Jesus” is both our Messiah and Savior of the world! However, the name that He had when He walked Planet Earth was “Yeshua.” During his lifetime, He never, ever heard the term “Jesus.” Jesus as it is pronounced today is a relatively recent invention. Even at the time in which the King James Bible came out in 1611, there was no “J” sound. In fact, “Jesus” wasn’t even spelled with a “J.” In the original 1611 KJV Bible, the spelling was “Iesus,” as there wasn’t even a J in the English language yet.[1] Yeshua’s birth-name might have been something like “Yehoshua.” However, the name that He would have normally been called would be “Yeshua,” [2] meaning “salvation.”

     It should be noted that Yeshua and his talmidim (disciples) were all Jews. Neither Yeshua nor his talmidim ever “converted” to another religion. They all remained loyal Jews. Yeshua didn’t come to earth to start up a new religion; He came to earth to be the prophesied Messiah of the old religion, which was, of course, Judaism.

     In Acts chapter 2 of the Newer Testament, we have the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples. This occurred on Shavuot, or “Pentecost,” as we know it in the Newer Testament, or the “Feast of Weeks” as it is known in Christianity. Christians often consider this outpouring of the Holy Spirit as the “Birthday of Christianity.” However, nobody “converted” to Christianity at this time. It would never have occurred to anybody that a new religion was being invented. If anything, the events of Acts chapter 2 would have been the “Birthday of Messianic Judaism.” Prior to this time, Yeshua’s talmidim were fearful and reluctant to share the good news of Yeshua, out of fear of both the Roman authorities as well as the Jewish leadership. The disciples received an empowering of the Spirit on this particular Feast of Shavuot. Curiously, Shavuot (“Pentecost”) is also the occasion on which the Eseret HaD’varim (“Ten Commandments”) were given on Mount Sinai, so this date is also considered the “Birthday of Judaism.”

     The very first people to be called Christians were those from among the Gentiles in Antioch who came to believe in Yeshua.[3] However, in those early years, even Christianity was considered a sect of Judaism. The Roman government instituted something called the fiscus judaicus (“Jewish tax”) on all Jews and those who lived like Jews. In the latter part of the First Century as well as well into the Second Century, Gentile Christians were also required to pay the fiscus judaicus. Christians were also persecuted as a sect of Judaism. Christianity was very much the “child” of Judaism. However, as the numbers of Gentile Christians grew, they sought to make a greater division between themselves and the Jews, to avoid additional persecution from the government. As time went on, Christianity became less and less Jewish. By the time of the Council of Nicea in 325, Christianity was both anti-Judaic and anti-Semitic. The Council of Nicea forbade the observance of the Shabbat. “Saturday” was now called the “Jewish Sabbath.” (Shabbat, of course, was the day sanctified as the final crowning jewel of Creation week, way back in Genesis 2:1-3, long before there were any Jews.)

     However, in the First Century, and for many centuries thereafter, the Messianic Jews continued to observe God’s commandments. In Acts 21, Rav Shaul (Paul) was sharing among the Messianic Jews in Jerusalem about all the mighty deeds that God was performing among the Gentiles. “And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said to him, ‘You see, brother, how many myriads (tens of thousands) of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the Law.” [4] In this, the Messianic Jews were following the rather radical comment by Rabbi Yeshua, who said,

“Think not that I have come to destroy the Law, or the Prophets: I have not come to destroy, but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass, not one jot or one tittle shall in anyway pass from the Law (Torah), till all be fulfilled. 19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”[5]


Messianic Judaism was presumed by many to have died out after the Council of Nicea. However, in the records of the Inquisition there are accounts of Jewish believers in Yeshua who were persecuted by the inquisitors well into the 1100s and 1200s of the Common Era. Needless to say, as persecution from the Roman church became stronger, Messianic Judaism had to go more or less “underground,” until eventually it disappeared for a few centuries.

Joseph Rabinowitz

     For centuries, there was no viable and identifiable “Messianic Judaism” until the latter years of the 1800s. One of the early pioneers of modern Messianic Judaism was Joseph Rabinowitz. Joseph Rabbinowitz was born into a Chassidic Jewish family in 1838 in Russia. He received a thorough Jewish education, studying both Talmud[6] and the Tanakh (Old Testament). Eventually, he became a lawyer, and eventually opened a school for Jewish children in which Torah, Talmud, and the Russian language were taught. This pleased both the Russian government as well as the Jewish community. Thereafter, Rabinowitz became a successful businessman and was even elected to a government post, which no Jew had held up until that time. Rabinowitz felt that as Jews became more enlightened that the persecution from the church and government would cease. However, the progressive and enlightened Jews of Odessa, Russia suffered a pogrom[7] in 1871, which was a great blow to the idealism of the 34-year-old Rabinowitz. Instead of enlightenment protecting the Jews, it seemed to enrage their “Christian” neighbors.

     Rabinowitz visited what was called Palestine in 1882, in hopes that perhaps Jews might move there and find peace. However, the miserable condition of the Jews, and the desolation of the land, were very discouraging. At the Kotel (“Wailing Wall”), he witnessed Arab children teasing and scoffing the Jews as they prayed, worshipped, and wept at this sacred location. His Jewish people were not even allowed to pray in peace in the Holy Land!

     Rabinowitz purchased a small New Testament as a guidebook while there, and read the passage in John 15: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Without me, you can do nothing.” From that point on, Rabinowitz believed in Yeshua as the Messiah. He returned to Russia, and spread his views among the Jewish population that had grown to love him throughout the years.

     In the 1890s, he established what could be considered a genuine Messianic synagogue of over 100 persons. However, in 1899, Rabinowitz fell ill. He died on 17 May 1899 with “a prayer and a Hebrew Psalm on his lips.” At the turn of the century, his synagogue stood empty.[8]

     There were others, such as Rabbi Lichtenstein of Hungary who became believers in Yeshua. He also built up a genuine Messianic Jewish synagogue. However, at that time, Messianic Judaism did not have a life of its own; it was dependant upon some very talented and Godly men. When these men died, the congregations soon disbanded.

Twentieth Century

Messianic Judaism

     In the early 1960s, Rabbi Simcha Pearlmutter established a Messianic congregation in Miami, Florida. However, he made aliyah (moved to Israel) in 1964 with much of his congregation. Those who stayed behind did not keep the congregation going. However, Pearlmutter eventually established a Messianic synagogue in Ir Ovot, in the wilderness south of the Dead Sea, which continued until his death in December 1999. We had the privilege of going to visit with Rabbi Pearlmutter a few times, and even stay at his Messianic Jewish kibbutz. He was a dear friend. However, he died of pancreatic cancer in December 1999.

     For most of the 20th Century, the pattern for Jewish believers in Jesus was “Hebrew Christianity.” Jews came to believe in Jesus, and joined a church. They weren’t welcome in the synagogue anymore, and there weren’t any Messianic congregations. The first generation Jewish believer might have remained Jewish culturally and spiritually. However, the children almost invariably became like their peers, “normal” Christians, observing Sunday, eating Easter hams, and putting up Christmas trees.

     Jews started coming to recognize Yeshua as their Messiah in large numbers after the Six-Day War of 1967. However, it wasn’t until the early 1970s that a vibrant, living Messianic Judaism with a life of its own was established in the United States. It wasn’t dependent upon personalities, although there were some powerful men involved. By the 1970s, Messianic Judaism was a genuine movement. There were initially two large congregations: Beth Yeshua in Philadelphia under Rabbi Martin Chernoff, and Beth Messiah near Washington DC, under Rabbi Daniel Juster. There were a few much smaller congregations in other cities. Eventually, dozens of thriving Messianic Jewish congregations were established throughout the United States, Israel, and many other countries around the world. While not large in the sense of “mega-churches,” there are many that have hundreds of members and/or attendees.

     In 1975, the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America changed its name to the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America. Many old-school Hebrew Christians (including some very scholarly gentlemen) left after the name change. They recognized that the name change was also a change in direction, not merely simple cosmetic change in terminology.

     Messianic Judaism does not have a “pope” directing the movement. It is widely diverse in theology and practice. However, the common threads are a belief in Yeshua as Messiah, as well as a general respect for the mitzvot (commandments), although the actual degree of Torah-observance varies greatly from congregation to congregation. There is also a variety in the observance of liturgy. Some Messianic congregations are nearly like Orthodox Judaism, with a high degree of predominantly Hebrew liturgy, while others have much less traditional liturgy. Also, some Messianic Jewish congregations are very charismatic (“Pentecostal”), whereas other Messianic congregations are non-charismatic, and some are even anti-charismatic. Some Messianic congregations, particularly those in areas of dense Jewish populations such as in Israel, are predominantly Jewish in ethnic backgrounds. Most others may be majority Gentile in membership. There are also Messianic congregations in places such as India which may not have any Jews in attendance – Messianic Judaism without any ethnic Jews! However, many Messianic Gentiles have basically “converted” to Messianic Judaism, either officially or unofficially. That is one more difference: Many Messianic congregations do not recognize Gentile conversions to Messianic Judaism, whereas many others do.                                                 



[1] It should be pointed out that the so-called 1611 King James Bibles of today are not the same as the original King James Bibles of 1611. The current “1611 King James Bibles” are actually the 4th revision. Those who want to order a reprint of the original un-revised King James Bibles can order it from Thomas Nelson Publishers. It is even much more archaic in language and spelling than the so-called 1611 KJV Bibles sold today.

[2] Likewise, “Joshua” led the Israelites into the Promised Land after the death of Moses. He is called “Yehoshua” in Joshua 1:10. However, the term “Yeshua” was often used for those whose actual name was Yehoshua, as is found on ancient ossuaries (“bone-boxes”).

[3] Acts 11:20,21,26.

[4] Acts 21:20.

[5] Matthew 5:17-19.

[6] Rabbinic commentary of the “Older Testament.”

[7] Riot against the Jews.

[8] Messianic Judaism: Its History, Theology, and Polity; David A. Rausch, 1982, Edwin Mellen Press, NYC and Toronto, pp. 92-96.