Beliefs and Practices of Messianic Jews

Learn What Sets Apart Messianic Jews From Traditional Judaism

Messianic Jews Beliefs
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Judaism and Christianity share a considerable amount of mutual tradition and teaching but differ in their beliefs about Jesus Christ. Both are Messianic faiths, in that they believe in the promise of a Messiah who will be sent by God to save humankind.

Christians regard Jesus as their Messiah, and this belief is the foundation of their entire faith. For most Jews, however, Jesus is viewed as a historical figure in the tradition of teachers and prophets, but they do not believe he is the Chosen One, the Messiah sent to redeem mankind. Some Jews may even regard Jesus with enmity, seeing him as a false idol. 

However, one relatively modern faith movement known as Messianic Judaism combines Jewish and Christian beliefs by accepting Jesus as their promised Messiah. Messianic Jews seek to retain their Jewish heritage and follow a Jewish lifestyle, while at the same time embracing Christian theology.

Many Christians view Messianic Judaism as a sect of Christianity, as its adherents accept key beliefs of the Christian faith. They acknowledge the New Testament as part of their holy Scriptures, for example, and they believe that salvation comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ as the promised Savior sent from God. 

Most Messianic Jews are Jewish by heritage and generally think of themselves as Jews, even though they are not regarded as such by other Jews, or by the legal system in Israel. Messianic Jews see themselves as completed Jews since they have found their Messiah. Traditional Jews consider Messianic Jews to be Christians, however, and in Israel sporadic persecution of Messianic Jews has occurred.

Beliefs and Practices of Messianic Jews

Messianic Jews accept Jesus Christ (Yeshua HaMashiach) as the Messiah yet retain a Jewish lifestyle. After conversion, they continue to observe Jewish holidays, rituals, and customs. Theology tends to vary widely among Messianic Jews and is a blend of Jewish and Christian tradition. Here are several notable beliefs of Messianic Judaism:

Baptism: Baptism is done by immersion, of people who are old enough to understand, accept and confess Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah, or Savior. In this regard, Messianic Jewish practice is similar to that of Christian Baptists. 

Bible: Messianic Jews use the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh, in their services, but also use the New Covenant, or B'rit Hadasha. They believe both tests are the infallible, inspired Word of God.

Clergy: A rabbi—a word that means "teacher"—is the spiritual leader of a Messianic congregation or synagogue.

CircumcisionMessianic Jews generally hold that male believers must be circumcised since it is a part of keeping the Covenant.

Communion: The Messianic worship service does not include communion or the Lord's Supper.

Dietary laws:  Some Messianic Jews observe kosher dietary laws, others do not.

Gifts of the Spirit: Many Messianic Jews are charismatic, and practice speaking in tongues. This makes them similar to Pentecostal Christians. They believe that the Holy Spirit's gift of healing also continues today.

Holidays: Holy days observed by Messianic Jews include those recognized by Judaism: Passover, Sukkot, Yom Kippur, and Rosh Hashanah. Most do not celebrate Christmas or Easter.

Jesus Christ: Messianic Jews refer to Jesus by his Hebrew name, Yeshua. They accept him as the Messiah promised in the Old Testament, and believe he died an atoning death for the sins of humanity, was raised from the dead, and is still alive today.

Sabbath: Like traditional Jews, Messianic Jews observe the Sabbath starting at sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday.

Sin:  Sin is regarded as any transgression against the Torah and is cleansed by the shed blood of Yeshua.

Trinity:  Messianic Jews vary in their beliefs about the Triune God: Father (HaShem); Son (HaMeshiach); and the Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh). Most accept the Trinity in a manner similar to that of Christians.

Sacraments: The only traditional Christian sacrament practiced by Messianic Jews is baptism.

Worship services: The nature of worship differs from congregation to congregation. Prayers may be read from the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, in Hebrew or the local language. The service may include songs of praise to God, canting, and spontaneous speaking in tongues.

Congregations:  A Messianic congregation can be a very diverse group, including Jews who carefully follow Jewish laws, Jews who have a more liberal lifestyle, and individuals who do not follow Jewish laws or customs at all. Some evangelical Christians may even choose to join a Messianic Jewish congregation. Messianic synagogues follow the same design as traditional synagogues. In areas where a formal Messianic synagogue is unavailable, some Messianic Jews may choose worship at evangelical Christian churches.

History and Theories Of How Messianic Judaism Got Started

Messianic Judaism in its current form is a relatively recent development. The modern movement traces its roots to Great Britain in the mid-19th century. The Hebrew Christian Alliance and Prayer Union of Great Britain was founded in 1866 for Jews who wanted to keep their Jewish customs but take on Christian theology. The Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA), started in 1915, was the first major U.S. group. Jews for Jesus, now the largest and most prominent of the Messianic Jewish organizations in the U.S., was founded in California in 1973.

Some form of Messianic Judaism may have been present as early as the first century, as the Apostle Paul and other Christian disciples attempted to convert Jews to Christianity. From its beginning, the Christian church has followed Jesus' Great Commission to go and make disciples. As a result, a notable number of Jews likely accepted the basic principles of Christianity even while retaining much of their Jewish heritage. In theory, this off-shoot of Christianity may have formed the foundation of what we now think of as the Messianic Jewish movement of today. 

Whatever its origins, the Messianic Jewish movement became widely recognized during the 1960s and 1970s as part of the counterculture "Jesus People" movement, in which large groups of young adults were seized by a charismatic, ecstatic form of Christianity. Jewish young adults who were part of this spiritual revolution may have reinforced the core of modern Messianic Judaism. 

According to estimates, the total number of Messianic Jews worldwide exceeds 350,000, with about 250,000 living in the United States and only 10,000 to 20,000 living in Israel. 

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Zavada, Jack. "Beliefs and Practices of Messianic Jews." Learn Religions, Feb. 16, 2021, Zavada, Jack. (2021, February 16). Beliefs and Practices of Messianic Jews. Retrieved from Zavada, Jack. "Beliefs and Practices of Messianic Jews." Learn Religions. (accessed June 5, 2023).