I've noticed the "Who is a Jew" question popping up in relation to "Messianic" Jews lately, and it seems to be morphing into more of a "What is Judaism" question. As a people dispersed across the world for the last two millennia, constantly either assimilating into or being expelled from host cultures and nations, so much mixing of blood and ideas has occurred that it's very hard for the secular state of Israel to determine who is truly Jewish. It should be mentioned here that according to traditional Judaism, a Jew is anyone either born of a Jewish mother or who underwent conversion under which he or she accepted the 613 commandments, underwent circumcision (if he is a "he"), and immersed in a mikvah.
The secular state of Israel's definition is rooted in its mission as a haven for persecuted Jews. For Israel, a Jew is a person with one Jewish grandparent who has not opted to follow another religion.
Recent years have seen the invention of "Messianic Judaism," primarily in the United States. In the previous generation, these would have been "Jews for Jesus," i.e., Christians of Jewish descent, most of whom believe that Jesus was the Jewish Moshiach as prophesized in the writings of the Prophets. In recent years, a new brand of Jews for Jesus, "Messianic Judaism," has sprung up. In this religion, adherents set up "Synagogues," observe their Sabbath on Saturdays, and acknowledge Jewish holidays, although concepts like "Halachah," (Jewish law) are unknown. Some of the adherents are of Jewish descent and some are not.
The traditional Jewish perspective is that the Moshiach must complete three tasks to be considered authentic:
1. Ingather all the exiled Jews from around the world.
2. Rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.
3. Bring peace.
Because Jesus, as well as dozens of others throughout history claiming to be Moshiach, failed to do so, he obviously does not qualify and Jewish texts do not spend much ink refuting Christianity. It's assumed that anyone who was raised with even a rudimentary Jewish education would never go for such a thing. Indeed I have never met a "Messianic" Jew who could quote a single Gemarah.
Most Israelis, and many traditional or "Orthodox" Jews to whom I mention "Messianic Judaism," are genuinely confused. After all, don't all Jews believe in the imminent arrival of Moshiach? It's one of the thirteen basic principles of the Jewish faith. It is only when they begin to understand that, "Messianic Judaism," is just Christianity by subterfuge that they begin to feel offended. It would be as if one were to rebuild the holy temple in Jerusalem to exactly the dimensions and layout as defined in the Torah, and then place an idol to the Roman god Pan in the Holy of Holies.
The question then arises, what about a Messianic Jew who wants to make aliyah?
The Jerusalem Post's aliyah expert answered:
Q: We are Messianic Jews and would like to make Aliyah. How difficult would this be?
A: From the inquiries that I have received, I have come to the conclusion that there seems to be 2 different interpretations of the meaning of "Messianic Jews." One seems to be people born Jewish who have embraced Jesus as the Messiah and follow the . The other appears to be people, not of Jewish birth who support the Jewish religion and who believe in both testaments. If the questioner is the former then it would appear that s/he is entitled to make Aliyah in accordance with the Law of Return. If the latter is the case then the questioner does not qualify for Aliyah.
So by his interpretation, Messianic Judaism still passes the bar. But then this morning I read a story in Yediot Achronot:
Three Messianic Jews residing in Britain filed a petition with the High Court of Justice Wednesday in an effort to convince Interior Minister Eli Yishai to grant them citizenship…
..They claim they have appealed to the Interior Ministry a number of times but were rejected because they are Messianic Jews. They say the ministry sees members of their faith as missionaries and has denied their appeals for this reason.
The courts, which determine who is a Jew, are controlled by the liberal-secular ruling class, but the Interior Ministry is controlled by the Hareidi ("Ultra-Orthox") Shas party and the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party. Of course I too would oppose allowing them to make aliyah. I have respect for Christians who want to practice as they choose if they leave me alone, but to allow these people to spread their beliefs through deceit and subterfuge is too great a risk to the spiritual health of the state. Such are the conflicts in a state which defines itself as both secular and Jewish, but not all-the-way Jewish.