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Messianic Judaism: A Critical Anthology Paperback – January 1, 2001
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"a truly boundary-crossing book...What is remarkable and praiseworthy about this book is first, that Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok is prepared to examine sympathetically a movement that many Jews believe to be beyond the pale and beneath contempt, a threat to the very identity and survival of Judaism. Secondly, that in a gentle way he takes up their claim to be authentically Jewish and deals with it seriously[...]let's hear more of this. And let's hear more of Dan Cohn-Sherbok."—Baptist Times
"Finally, someone in the Jewish world has the courage to say what needs to be said. Dan Cohn-Sherbok, with his usual lucidity and analytic skills, has demonstrated that Messianic Jews have the right to be included in the Jewish people. The path to his conclusion is filled with fascinating historical and confessional revelations."-Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine, The Birmingham Temple, Farmington Hills, Michigan
"I appreciate the objectivity of Professor Cohn-Sherbok and his attention to the historical details and theological nuances represented by the Messianic movement. His compilation of various Messianic liturgies and prayers will be most helpful to Messianic Jews and to those who wish to understand the movement. His advocacy of a pluralistic model for contemporary life and community can only lead to deeper and more respectful relationships between Jewish believers in Yeshua and others within the greater world-wide community. This is a must read for all Jewish believers in Yeshua, evangelical Christina leaders and all those whose hearts yearn for the peace of Jerusalem."-Mitch Glaser, Present, Chosen People Ministries
"It is both an unusual and a welcome development to find a constructive study of Messianic Jews from a leading Jewish academic rabbi."—Themelios 26.2
"The book is memorable for its clarity and directness. It is also fair - Cohn-Sherbok attends to the diversity of views and structures within Messianic Judaism. He quotes at length from histories, liturgies and creeds produced by various congregations. This makes accessible much material not readily available to the British readers and is likely to make Messianic Judaism a useful resource for undergraduates and seminarians. What comes through particularly well is the extent to which the ambiguity of Jewish believers' indentity is as much an internal problem as it is an internally imposed construct."—Journal of Belief and Values
"Dan Cohn-Sherbok, first Professor of Judaism at the University of Wales, is a well-known, encyclopaedic chronicler and commentator on the various Judaisms; and in this book he engages with the most controversial of all, often assembling material which would be very difficult to find conveniently elsewhere…fascinating reading."—Reform
"Cohn-Sherbok has done a commendable job of depicting the history and practice of Messianic Judaism in ancient and modern times in what wil no doubt prove to be a valuable and user-friendly resource for Messianic Jews and those interested in the movement. The author has also done a service to Messianic Jews. By taking the time and effort to dedicate a fair-handed book to the movement, Cohn-Sherbok has aided the Messianic Jewish movement in its quest for recognition, affirmation, and acceptance by the wider Jewish community."—Akiva Cohen, Mishkan
"He has written a most interesting assessment of Jewish believers in Jesus who are grappling with the challenges of remaining loyal to the claims of Yeshua (Jesus) while being committed to their Jewish ethnic and cultural traditions." —The Evangelical Times
"varied, richly textured, often colourful history....masterful and even-handed treatment of this complicated issue."—Leo Serroul, Toronto Journal of Theology, Fall 2002
About the Author
Rabbi Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok has a Ph.D. in theology from
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Cohn-Sherbok notes that "Despite the criticisms made by 'Jews for Judaism' and others, this new movement has captured the hearts and minds of thousands of pious individuals from the Jewish community, as well as Gentiles who have accepted Yeshua as their Lord and Saviour."
He begins with a survey of the "History and Beliefs of Messianic Judaism" (noting that "following the Six Day War, a major shift took place among Hebrew Christians. Increasingly, Jewish believers were anxious to form Messianic Jewish congregations where they worshipped Yeshua in a Jewish manner." But he then gives a detailed history of earlier movements (such as the "Hebrew Christian Alliance of America," the 19th and 20th century "missions to the Jews" movements, etc.) and the evolution of the movement "from Hebrew Christian Alliance to Messianic Judaism" in the 1960s. He provides a detailed survey of the practices and "Messianic Jewish observance" of MJs, including Sabbath, festivals, life cycle events, dietary laws, head coverings, etc.
The final section of the book is a thoughtful examination of the question of "The authenticity of Messianic Judaism," dealing not only with critics of the movement, but also with Israeli law (e.g., the Law of Return and the "Brother Daniel" case, and the Beresford case). The book concludes with a discussion of three "models of Messianic Judaism": Orthodox exclusivism, Non-Orthodox exclusivism, and the "Pluralist" model.
This book is by far the best and most objective overview of the Messianic movement I have found. For persons interested in such matters, it is "must reading."
There are several good points to this book. First, it has an excellent (if obtusely written) historical overview of Hebrew Christianity and Messianic Judaism. Second, it does go into great detail as to the why and what of Messianic Jewish belief, as well as ritual practice and observance. He also has a chapter specifically concerning dissenting opinions about Messianic Judaism.
Never the less, there are a few very serious problems. First, it is unclear who his intended audience is from his discussion of Messianic Liturgical practices. Is he writing for Christians or for Jews? Obviously, a Jew with any common knowledge of how a service was structured would find the information he presents in several places rudimentary. I am lead to believe that he cannot possibly be expecting to find Jewish audiences in this book because some Jews that I know (some, not all, and only the ones I know, not everybody) would rather spit on anything "Messianic" that look at it, let alone read or understand it, so he can't be writing for Jews, but for Christians. If that's the case, then he needs to make a better argument as to why Christians should accept Jewish expressions of Christianity, not why Messianics should be included in the Jewish community. He continually confuses the audience as to whom he is speaking. Secondly, his defense of Messianic Judaism as a legitimate expression of Jewishness is, at best, misplaced. It comes after his chapter on dissenting opinions from within the Jewish community. He offers no real defense of MJ except to say that they should be accepted because there are other non-Orthodox branches that aren't excluded and the plurality of Jews in the West can't put themselves into a definable box anyway. This is, of course, a silly argument. Of course MJ can be excluded form being a legitimate expression of Judaism because it, unlike any other branch, believes Jesus is the Messiah. Non-belief in the Messiahship of Jesus is a prerequisite to entrance into the Jewish community. By itself, this argument does not stand. It would have been better to cite some examples of historic opinions from Judaism that support might Trinitarian notions as well as historic and modern groups that hold Messianic convictions about an individual (read: the Lubavitcher Chassidim). That would have made his argument for inclusion much stronger. Finally, he does not allow Messianic Jews to answer their accusers, particularly the ones that "converted" back from Christianity/Messianic Judaism. I noticed that not one of those individuals remained Christians. Instead, always they went back to Judaism, and always in a pretty neat formula ("I wasn't very Jewish, I got mixed up in this horrible group (read: cult) but some kind Jewish soul showed me the light. Now I'm a real Jew, more Jewish than I was when I was one of 'those' people, and everything is just super because everything they ever told me was a lie." It sounds more than a little contrived, and it's defiantly propaganda.) Each of these is a serious omission that should have been included to lend credibility to his arguments.
Nevertheless, Rabbi Cohn-Sherbok should be commended for this book. It is bold, displays a high level of commitment to a level of objectivity. This is a touchy subject for all sides of the debate, and while it's not apparent which side of the debate the Rabbi is on, he is at least willing to look with fairness towards MJ, especially since it is often ignored/discredited without even cursory consideration of the shell game of an argument being used against them. If there is ever to be reasonable dialogue, then such attacks must cease and desist. Unfortunately, however, I don't think that any side is willing to put aside its agenda and reason together, but perhaps this book will at least change some of that.