By Ben Volman
It is a widely-held misconception that a Jewish person who follows Yeshua as Messiah is no longer Jewish. This view has been mistakenly repeated both by Christians and Jews.
But if well-known atheists such as Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud are still considered Jews, how could a dedicated Jewish follower of a Jewish rabbi lose his or her Jewish identity? Some will answer that Messianic Jews are apostates who have left their religion, traitors who joined a Gentile faith that despises and degrades Judaism. However, neither passion nor mocking makes an argument true.
In fact, under religious tradition, a Jew is someone who is born to a Jewish mother. (Broader interpretations of Jewish identity now accept that Jewish heritage may also come through a Jewish father.) That person does not cease to be Jewish, no matter what their personal religious choices or disposition.
Another major reason for the misconception that Jewish followers of Jesus are no longer Jewish is a decision by the Israeli Supreme Court in the early 1960s. In 1958, Brother Daniel Rufeison came to Israel. Born Jewish, Rufeison was hiding in a nunnery during the Holocaust and later became a Catholic priest. Upon entering Israel, he claimed his rights under the Law of Return, which normally grants immediate citizenship to Jews.
The original court ruling denied his claim – never claiming to make a religious or final ruling on Jewish identity, but simply citing the prerogative of the State of Israel not to accept Jewish followers of Yeshua. However, under a 2008 Supreme Court ruling, that previous decision can no longer be applied to Messianic Jews who can attribute Jewish identity to a father, if not to themselves – so this is no longer a restriction on immigration.
In previous eras, Jewish followers of Yeshua were compelled to assimilate into Christian cultures to practice their faith. This is no longer needed, although one may choose to do so. The worldwide Messianic Jewish movement promotes and supports Jewish culture, holidays, traditions and faithfulness to Jewish identity among its adherents.
A common experience of Jewish people who come to faith in Messiah is that they have never have felt as Jewish as they do after the decision to follow Yeshua. That step of faith brings a rebirth of Jewish identity, not its end.