Sunday, November 20, 2005

The December/Kislev issue of Moment magazine has an opinion piece by Dennis Prager in which he explains his answers to the question of why so many American Jews are irreligious and/or anti-religious.

After describing two historical factors (incompatability with Orthodoxy's goal of separation from society, and a distrust of organized religion stemming from historical, organized, religious anti-Semitism) and one cultural factor (high attendance rates at anti-religious universities) he says:
Fourth, the only Jewish denomination consistently offering a real values alternative to the secular/Left vision is Orthodoxy...Most Jews therefore have few religious models with which to challenge secular/Left values.
Then his article continues...

His fourth point seems significant for Messianic Judaism. Its values are more conservative than Reform or Reconstructionist Judaism. This can make it simulatenously strange and helpful to American Jews who are searching for truth.

As an example, later in the magazine is an Ask The Rabbis piece with responses from different branches of Judaism to the question "Should Jewish children sing Christmas Carols?" The common Messianic Jewish response would match those of the Orthodox, Conservative, and Lubavitch answers: it wrongs Christianity to treat the clearly religious carols as if they are not religious, it wrongs America's pluralism to participate in a commercial effort to remove religion from Christmas, and it wrongs Judaism to claim that participating in an activity that is at its root Christian evangelism is an appropriate interfaith activity. Thus in any individual case it may be okay (because people and friendships matter, and caroling is not innately dangerous to an individual person) but in general it should not be encouraged.

Messianic Judaism would add that scripture already explains how Sukkot is the approrpiate time to celebrate Yeshua's birth. Doing so on December 25th is therefore not only a religious activity (it doesn't hurt to celebrate that someone, no matter what day is chosen) but an activity innately specific to Christian culture (the historical and cultural reasons for the choice of which day). Since Messianic Judaism hesitates to adopt Christian culture that is not scripturally based, it normally avoids Christmas.

As those values that Prager calls "secular/Left" are becoming more visibly unworkable (for example, just because an individual can participate in the activities of other faiths without harm to his or her religious identity does not mean entire religious cultures can cooperate in this way) perhaps Messianic Judaism will become both more "oddball" and more attractive for maintaining a distinctively Jewish yet non-Orthodox set of alternate values.