I'm devoting this page to some of our exchanges - beginning with a question Sam put to me that I know other Christians also wonder about:
SAM: "My brother-in-law, who is an atheist, comes from a Jewish family, and I had an argument with him one day about whether a Christian could be a Jew. He insisted that they couldn’t. But he still considers himself to be a Jew even though he’s an atheist. I found it ironic that he thinks Christians, who believe in God, cannot be Jews, but atheists, who deny the existence of God, can. What do you think about that? Do you think an atheist can be a Jew?"
TABATHA: Ah, the old 'Jewish atheist' debate......!
It sounds so counter-intuitive, doesn't it? Yet in fact, there are Jewish atheists. Although they are not following the ideal path for any Jew, the bottom line is that they are not violating Torah, because they are not worshipping other gods. This is the most sacred tenet of Judaism, summed up in the Shema, the Jewish prayer: 'The Lord our G-d, the Lord is ONE.'
A person can be Jewish, and an atheist, because they are not violating this. Also, Judaism is more than the belief in one true G-d. It also comprises an entire system of rules for ensuring that all are treated ethically. Judaism values action above beliefs, thus a Jewish atheist who leads a moral and 'righteous' life, is still living in accordance with Jewish values.
That said, Orthodox Judaism does not look favourably at Jewish atheists and will probably be less charitable. But the key point remains: they are still Jewish and fully entitled to define themselves as such.
Now for the second part of your question: Can a Christian ever be a Jew?
Let's clarify the actual question:
Can a Christian *become* a Jew?
YES: Anyone is welcome to join the Jewish family by converting. Judaism is a tribal religion and when someone converts, the Jewish people effectively 'adopt' them. They are every bit as Jewish as those born into the faith. Indeed, the Talmud tells us that G-d has a special affection for those who convert to Judaism, or 'Jews by choice', as they have consciously chosen the religion.
Can a Christian remain a Christian and also be a Jew?
NO. This would be a theological contradiction. Let's look first at the actual definition of 'Jewish', as defined by Jewish religious law. A person is Jewish if they are:
- born to a Jewish mother
- they have converted to Judaism
These are the only two ways that anyone is 'Jewish'. Even if a person attends synagogue regularly, keeps kosher, and adheres to Torah, they are not Jewish unless they fall into one of the above two categories.
The only time a Jew ceases to be Jewish, is if they adopt another religion. Any other religion. At this point, they become an Apostate; they still have a Jewish heritage, and they are welcome to return to Judaism if they would like to, but they cannot still claim to be representing Judaism, and they cannot define their beliefs or their religion as 'Jewish'.
Thus, a Jew who converts to Christianity, is NOT a 'jewish christian', nor are they a 'jew for jesus'. They are an Apostate to other Jews, and they are a Christian, in terms of their religion.
So, no: a Christian cannot be a Jew AND still retain Christian beliefs and Christian rituals.
Apart from the fact that Jewish religious law does not allow for a Jew to simultaneously practise nor embrace any other faith, it would also be impossible to be both Jewish and Christian in terms of ideology. For how could any one person adhere to two sets of contradictory and mutually exclusive tenets?
Jews believe the maschiach has not yet arrived: Christians believe Jesus was their messiah and that he will return.Jews believe the maschiach will be a normal mortal: Christians believe Jesus was resurrected, was born to a 'virgin', and that he is the 'son of god'.
Jews hold the Torah as sacred; it cannot be added to nor superceded: Christians adhere to the 'new' testament, which they believe is divinely inspired.
Jews recognise an eternal covenant with G-d: Christians believe they have a 'new' covenant that at best 'equals' and at worst 'replaces' the Jewish one.
Jews do not believe in 'hell': Christians do believe in hell and *some* Christians believe that all NON Christians end up there.
These are just some of the core differences. It would be impossible for anyone to believe in the veracity of both sets, since they clearly contradict each other.
A person is Jewish or Christian: nobody can be Jewish AND Christian.
SAM: "Who is the suffering servant of Isaiah 53? It says, “But he was wounded because of our sins, crushed because of our iniquities. He bore the chastisement that made us whole, and by his bruises we were healed. We all went astray like sheep, each going his own way; and the LORD visited upon him the guilt of all of us,” (Isaiah 53:5-6)
and “For he was cut off from the land of the living through the sin of my people, who deserved the punishment,” (v. 8) and “My righteous servant makes the many righteous. It is their punishment that he bears” (v. 11). The suffering servant obviously dies for the sins of Israel. But the suffering servant cannot be Israel itself because (1) he dies for Israel, and (2) “we” are all guilty of sin and worthy of punishment while the suffering servant “had done no injustice and had spoken no falsehood” (v. 9) and is a “righteous servant” (v. 11). If no human can ever die for the sins of others, then the suffering servant cannot be a human. Read the whole chapter. Start from Isaiah 52:13."
TABATHA: I am aware that many Christians interpret Isaiah 53 to be referring to Jesus. The problem is: there is no hint, let alone anything resembling 'proof', that the ‘servant of G-d’ referred to is either the Jewish messiah OR Jesus.
Indeed, one can refute the claim that it refers to Jesus very swiftly: the subject of Isaiah 53 was ill, was buried with the ‘wicked’, had offspring, and lived a long life.
Jesus does not fit any of these, let alone all of them.
For a more detailed refutation:
In genuine messianic prophecies there is always a clue that the text refers to the messiah. It will speak of a king, or a ruler, or about a descendent of King David. But there is nothing like this in Isaiah 53!
As for this ‘servant of god’ - where else in the Tanakh is the messiah EVER referred to in this way?
Answer: nowhere! Not in the entire Tanakh.
There are additional problems for the claims made by Christianity about this piece of text.
The prophet Isaiah is talking in the present/past tense; verse 3 and 4: “He is despised and rejected of men” “We hid as it were our faces from him, he was despised, and we esteemed him not” It goes on like this in the past tense up to verse ten.
This is not the way the prophets announce future events, by saying that they had already happened!
The King James Version says in verse 2: "For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant."
However; this is wrong. In the original text, it appears in the past tense. Compare the Revised Standard Version, it gives this verse *correctly* in the PAST tense.
When the prophet Isaiah switches to the future tense, he describes events that are not applicable to Jesus; verse 10: “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days.”
But Jesus was not married - how is he going to ‘see his seed’?
So who is Isaiah referring to?
Well, we know that the name of Jacob was changed to Israel, when he had struggled with the angel in Genesis.
Isaiah 41:8: “But thou , Israel art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend. Thou who I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thou from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee: Thou art my servant, I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away.”Isaiah 44:1-2; “Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant, and Israel who I have chosen. Thus said the Lord that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee; fear not O Jacob my servant, and thou Jesurun whom I have chosen.”Isaiah 44:21; “Remember these, O Jacob and Israel, for thou art my servant. I have formed thee, thou art my servant; O Israel thou shalt not be forgotten of meIsaiah 45:4; “For Jacob, my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name.”Isaiah 48:20; “The lord hath redeemed his servant Jacob.”Isaiah 49:3; “And said unto me: Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
The ‘servant’ that Isaiah refers to is the people of Israel.
There are some very interesting points about this piece of text at http://www.jewsforjudaism.com/, which points out:
'In verse five, rather than "he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities," the prefix "mem" means "from," not "for", i.e. the speakers of the verse hurt the servant, not that he was punished by G-d as a substitute for them. In verse 11, the Hebrew "yatsdeek" means "will make just" (by bringing the Torah), not "will justify (someone's sins by taking their punishment).'
If one reads Isaiah from Chapter 40 all the way to the end, chapter 66 it’s easy to see that Isaiah is referring to the people of Israel.
When many Christians claim that Isaiah is referring to Jesus, they are trying to put a Christian interpretation on a Jewish text. It doesn't work.
Jesus cannot be 'back engineered' into the Tanakh, because a quick read of either the original Hebrew OR of an accurate translation of that Hebrew, reveals that the Christian slant makes no sense.
Indeed, I would respectfuly argue that the only way anyone can 'find' Jesus in the Tanakh is if they begin with the premise that he is there. Logically, there is no reason why Jesus would be there. The Tanakh was written long, long before Jesus was even a glint in Joseph's eye. And as Jesus was one of many young Jewish men claiming to be the messiah, and as he did not fulfill any of the Jewish messianic prophecies, he has never played any role *in* Judaism.
So there is no rational reason to suggest he would appear in the Tanakh.