The first is that, in their zeal to identify, some Christians misuse Jewish symbols. For example, instead of following the centuries old custom of lighting two Sabbath candles on Friday night, they light three, to affirm their Trinitarian theology, while expecting to identify by lighting these candles. Christians are free to create any sort of image to help their faith, but when they invite a Jewish person to dinner, and light three Shabbat candles, that is misusing a Jewish symbol and is offensive.
The second, over-identifying with Jewish people, i.e. being more "Jewish" than most Jews, can backfire. Well-meaning Christians may learn how to speak Hebrew fluently, but since most American Jews don't, it can make them feel inadequate, at least initially. Unless a person knows you, and trusts your sincerity, it might breed suspicion. Of course, discernment is called for.
A gentile believer in my congregation has been wearing a kippah (a yarmulke or skull cap) ever since I've known him. I asked him if he might be over-identifying, risking offending Jewish people. His response was that he wore a kippah for the same reasons Jews do: to show reverence to God. I've never asked him about it again. He was not over-identifying. He was sincerely identifying.
Refusing to Adjust
A third challenge in the identification issue is refusing to adjust. The congregant who said we should make our congregation a place where Jewish people would feel comfortable was surprised when I pointed out that at our oneg (lunch after morning services), someone brought delicious corned beef, but no rye bread.
Whoever brought the corned beef (very Jewish) didn't know that you just "couldn't" eat a corned beef sandwich on any bread other than rye bread—along with good mustard (not mayonnaise). He didn't know that, but because he wants to identify with my people, he was willing to adjust. He'll enjoy his next corned beef sandwich, like the Jewish people who come to services. This is unlike someone who used to be in my congregation and just refused to adjust.
Several years ago, when I was explaining identification to my congregation, I mentioned the Miracle Whip/Hellmann's Real Mayonnaise controversy. For the most part, Jews do not use Miracle Whip, rather preferring Hellmann's Real Mayonnaise. It's not that Miracle Whip isn't tasty, it's just not one of those foods that Jews eat, and I'm not sure why. One woman got so incensed, that she left the congregation, never to return. I guess she just liked her Miracle Whip so much she refused to adjust, although she undoubtedly had other issues, too.
So, in terms of reaching out to Jewish people, Christians need to think about credibility, specifically identification, not misusing Jewish symbols, not over-identifying, and being willing to adjust. Knowing the heart of Paul, an observant rabbi, toward his people, identifying with his people will enable you to be the most effective messenger you can, and truly "provoke the Jews to jealousy" for the faith you have. You just need to step into Jewish space, which, by the way, is a wonderful place to be.
Rabbi Baruch Rubin is president of Messianic Jewish Communications (www.messianicjewish.net) and Rabbi of Emmanuel Messianic Jewish Congregation www.godwithus.org both of Clarksville, Maryland.
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