Who Is a Jew?

Beth El’s view of how Jewish Scripture addresses the issue of Jewish identity is this:
any tangible presence of Jewish blood-heritage or “conversion-based” heritage (a parent converted to Judaism) equals “a whole Jew” — meaning, that person is entitled to choose to self-identify as a Jew – and in many cases, is actually Biblically obligated to do so ("Jeremiah 21:18-25 , Matthew 5:29, Acts").

The most basic answer to the “Who Is A Jew” question divides into two parts, because Jewishness is a nationality, and Judaism is a religious faith — and the word “Jew” can mean an adherent to either or both.

So, a Jew in regard to nationality is anyone who can demonstrate any tangible presence of the blood of the Jewish nation in their family heritage, or valid “conversion” to Jewish identity inclusive of national affiliation by either mainstream or Messianic means. The State of Israel’s “Law Of Return” provides that automatic Israeli citizenship is the right of “a Jew, the child of a Jew, the grandchild of a Jew, or the spouse of a Jew.” This is because of the following rather simple chain of ideas, often overlooked:

If your great-great-grandparent was Jewish, then your great-grandparent was Jewish. And if your great-grandparent was Jewish, then your grandparent was Jewish. And if your grandparent was Jewish, then your parent was Jewish. And if your parent was Jewish … that’s right – you are a Jew. Not a “half-Jew.” Not a “quarter-Jew,” “eighth-Jew” … each of the above generations was a fully-defined Jew. (Acts 16:3) 
Insofar as Messianic Judaism is concerned, the House of God is a “house of prayer for all nations” as both Testaments affirm: so Jewish identity or conversion is not necessary if choosing a Messianic congregation as one’s spiritual community

  • Jewish identity is not necessary for any aspect of Two-Testament faith-community life, including rising into leadership.
  • A Jew, religiously, is anyone who chooses Judaism as his/her faith expression, and formally affiliates with it.
  • Non-Jews who feel some degree of calling to Jewish faith life as expressed in Messianic synagogues are welcome in Beth El of Manhattan — and we do our best to help such “People of Calling” across time come to as clear an understanding as possible of the manner and extent to which they are “called” — ranging from casual attendance all the way to lifelong affiliation as what the Scriptures call “gerim” (permanent residents within the Jewish nation).

We endeavor to foster in Jewish people a consciousness of the sacred stewardship of Jewish identity (Jer. 31:35-37). As the great Conservative Jewish writer A.J. Heschel put it: “For us as Jews there can be no fellowship with God without fellowship with Israel.”
Our synagogue’s Rabbi Bruce L, Cohen wrote a very compelling essay addressing many aspects of this topic . The essay is entitled “Messianic Jews Should Attend Messianic Synagogues” and is included in the collections of world-wide leadership essays, “Voices Of Messianic Judaism”  published by Lederer Publishers, Baltimore, USA  (©2001, ISBN 1-880226-93-6).

Copies of the book, which includes many other leader’s essays, can be purchased via these links: HARD COPY FORMAT  Lederer/Messianic Jewish Resources – and – in E-BOOK FORMAT, it can be acquired at this link.