Understanding Judaism

by Reginald Kent Lisemby

(Editor's note: Judaism today is somewhat like Joseph's "coat of many colors" and it needs sorting out so that the church (at least the Gentile part of the church) can understand what the term means today. Brother Lisemby, who is executive director of Messianic Ministry to Israel, headquartered in Chattanooga, TN, has had a heart-burden for God's Chosen People since he first visited Israel more than 20 years ago. He said the organization has a two-fold purpose: outreach to Jewish people with the gospel, and teaching churches to lovingly lead Jews to Jesus, the Messiah.)

Biblical Judaism

In the days of the Apostle Paul, Judaism was set against the church. "For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it" (Gal. 1:13). Judaism was also riveted with ancestral traditions, "and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries, extremely jealous for my ancestral traditions" (v. 14).

However, the godly "ism" of Yehudah (Judah) was another. It revived with the Jews' return from Babylonian exile. We observe three Jews who define biblical Judaism:

Judaism is about tikun olam, or "fixing the world," a belief that man is responsible to maintain God's creation and has been given the task of completing it. Esther's ministry was not to make aliya ("to go up") to Israel, but to remain behind to assess the needs, to rebuild the reputation of God and His people, and to "fix" Persia by influencing society. She competed for "Miss Persia" and won.

Judaism is also about Zionism. The land of Israel is preeminent in the mind of God. A land was lost by Adam, guarded by the flaming sword of God, promised to Abraham and his progeny, and is to be regained by Israel in the last days (Ezek. 37). The land motif runs throughout the Scriptures and Yochanan (John) declares that man will return to Eden where we will eat of the Tree of Life (Rev. 22). The ministry of Nehemiah was to return to the land and to rebuild Jerusalem.

Judaism is also about emunah or "religious faith." Ezra's ministry was to rebuild the faith of the Jews returning to the land of Israel by returning them to the Holy Scriptures. Ezra is the father of the scribes who translated the Hebrew scriptures into the vernacular Aramaic.

Biblical Judaism had another major aspect, messianism ("faith in Messiah") the true kabbalah ("secret/mystery revelation"). With the return of the Jews from captivity, messianic fervor was high, and the prophets heralded the message that would be embraced by a small remnant for hundreds of years, even to the day of Yeshua (Jesus). Shim'on (Simeon), Hanna (Anna), Andrew, Kefa (Peter), and others were studying the Scriptures, waiting, anticipating, looking for the Messiah, the Hope of Israel. The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings led these to Yeshua. The sad commentary is that the tree of Judaism had sprouted many unfruitful branches, hodgepodges of tradition, oral commentary, misunderstood law and misinterpreted scripture. These dry wineskins could not hold the new covenantal wine which Yeshua promoted, and could not produce salvation as fruit.

Messianic Judaism

Messianic Judaism is the continuation of biblical Judaism, but with a new standard. True Messianic Judaism operates under the Law of Christ, not the Law of Moshe (Moses). The name "messianic" has in these days become a misnomer. Many "messianics" are no more than contemporary Judaizers who promote a "return of the remnant," a Judaism of Jews observing Torah, Jews still in relationship with the Law. This Messianic Judaism is an imposture, an assembly of immature believing Jews and "want-to-be-Jews" who blow shofar horns, dance, kiss the Torah, demand strict observance of Kashrut (kosher), and call themselves some significant Hebrew name.

True Messianic Judaism is a faith in Messiah-the same faith as Avraham (Abraham), Yitz'chak (Isaac), and Ya'akov (Jacob) who walked with God without Mosaic Law. It is the continuation of the faith of Adam, Havah (Eve), Sheth (Seth), Enosh (Enos), Lamekh (Lamech), and Noach (Noah) who believed the "seed plot" initiated in Genesis 3:15. Real Messianic Judaism is true kabbalah, a faith in the Messiah of Israel, Yeshua (Jesus)!

Rabbinic Judaism

As Yeshua had prophesied, Titus and his Roman legions ransacked Jerusalem (70 AD), erasing the Temple and causing the cessation of the sacrificial system which had been an intrinsic part of Jewish worship. Opposite the dead religion of unbelieving Israel was the dúnamis, (power) the "Israel of God." Jewish believers were evangelizing the pagan nations, teaching the Word of God, ministering the mikvah (baptism) writing new inspiration, heralding their life-changing testimonies of the Spirit of Yeshua at work, and greatly influencing society.

The only option for the unbelieving Jew was to either join this true Judaism, this one body of Jew and Gentile, or to reinvent Judaism according to a pattern of their own making. In 90 AD, at the Council of Yavne, the unbelieving Jewish leaders began a reconstruction of their religion. Later, around 500 AD, the Talmud was codified, and to the present day, rabbis have added their thoughts and opinions. A "Judaism" has developed that no longer requires a Temple, no longer necessitates a blood sacrifice, and, for some, no longer anticipates a personal messiah. This new faith has been and continues to be promoted by the rabbis as authentic Judaism. It is counterfeit, and continues to this day to be a significant enemy to the Jewish soul.