Judaism and Jews

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Judaism is the name first given by Christians to Jews in the 3rd century. (Tertullian). Jew(s) is a term used in late Old Testament times (e.g., 2 Kings and Esther) based on "Judah." Judaism is the Scriptures, oral traditions, the faith, practice, and polity of the people of Israel from the time of Moses to the present.

Judaism is "an evolving religious civilization as well as a religion and a way of life" (About Judaism). Characterized by deep spirituality, a moral life that gives more stress to deeds than words, Judaism is concerned "to make all of life holy." Holidays, rituals, and symbols are the means of letting every generation participate in the foundational events in the Jewish Bible.

One of the oldest of all religions, beginning with Abraham and Moses, the Jewish faith is centered on covenant. Through four millennia of persecution, trials, and renewal, Judaism has held fast to the gospel of uncompromising monotheism. The sanctity of relationships toward family, neighbor, time, property, and the inner life is carefully prescribed in a brief set of "ten words" (Exodus 34:28). Creeds or dogmas are few. Yet certain basic beliefs in addition to the above are the belief that men and women are created in the image of God and should imitate God, faith in atonement and forgiveness, and the belief that God works through human agency (the Messiah) to bring shalom.

Roughly the counterpart to the New Testament in Christianity is the Talmud in Judaism. it is a commentary on the Jewish Bible based on oral tradition. The 1st century church did not have the New Testament. A living testament was the church. Jew and Gentile Christian together became "our epistles known and read by all," according to Paul (2 Corinthians 3:2). Furthermore, even when written down, the New Testament was intended only for the eyes of Jews and Gentiles who had become disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, the rabbi from Galilee. Since they expected the immediate return of Christ, the urgent order of the day was that flesh and blood witnesses, both Jews and Gentiles would go to synagogues scattered over the world.

Two ways of dealing with anti-Semitism in the New Testament are: substituting "establishment" for "Jews" (J. H. Yoder) or "some of the Jews" (Baehr) whenever the term is used in a negative way. All the disciples, Paul, and, of course, Jesus Himself were Jews.

Some Mennonites whose careers have involved long-term exposure to Jews are: Karl H. Baehr of Garden City, NY; O'Ray Graber, St. Louis, Missouri, USA), John Kampen, Bluffton, Ohio; Frits Kuiper, The Netherlands; Roy Kreider, Israel (Harrisonburg, VA, 1988); Paul Swarr, Israel (Powhatan, VA, 1988); and John H. Yoder, Elkhart, IN. These have been engaged in depth dialogue with Jews.

Millard Lind, on behalf of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries (AMBS), Elkhart, IN, led the first full-credit graduate-level semester program in Israel in 1985. Jacob Elias (dean, AMBS), William Klassen, John H. Yoder (U. of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA), and John W. Miller (Conrad Grebel College) have participated in the life of Tantur, an interfaith study center near Bethlehem, West Bank, Jordan.

Through courses in Hebrew language and culture Mennonite colleges and seminaries have encouraged participation in Passover and Feast of Tabernacles as well as visits to temples and synagogues. Some Mennonite congregations have come to celebrate these as well. Nes Ammim (from Isaiah 11:10, "ensign to/for the peoples") is the name of a Christian kibbutz in Galilee. Frits Kuiper, a Mennonite theologian in The Netherlands who was very sympathetic with the Jewish cause during World War II, was instrumental in starting the kibbutz as a Christian witness and expression of repentance. Since American Mennonites wanted the kibbutz to become a basis for establishing congregations this came to be seen as proselytizing by the Dutch Mennonites. The kibbutz was taken over by the Dutch Reformed and the Christian Reformed groups of The Netherlands.

"Dutch Mennonites wrestling with attitudes to Jews," was the front-page headline of the Mennonite Reporter (Canada) on 14 September 1987. An independent evangelistic team had insisted that the "his blood be upon us" passage from Matthew 27:25 speaks clearly of Jewish "collective guilt" in the crucifixion of Jesus. General secretary of the Dutch Mennonite conference, Ed van Straten, in a statement accepted by at least one third of the Mennonite congregations, wrote: "In the 1930s when it was of paramount importance to protest against anti-Semitism and abhor it as evil, our community was silent." Such was their confession of guilt in the face of Nazi Germany's death camps which destroyed millions of Jews. Their position was strongly supported by Paul's Epistle to the Romans (chaps. 9-11) in which he expressly says in the strongest terms that God has not rejected his chosen people: ". . . I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race."

A Shofar (ram's horn) Committee under the Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions (MC) has encouraged Mennonites to observe the Feast of the Tabernacles. Paul and Bertha Swarr, who have worked in Israel since 1957, and Joe and Elaine Haines, with 20 years of work there, were on the same program with Rabbi Rich Nichol of Ruach (Spirit) Israel Messianic congregation in Boston.

Annual institutes on the Holocaust sponsored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews are held in Philadelphia. Both academic and religious education dimensions as well as fine arts have been part of the programs. AMBS has been represented at the institutes by John Howard Yoder and Jacob J. Enz. Franklin H. Littell, a Methodist scholar who has written on Anabaptist and believers' church history, was very active in the Holocaust movement phase of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Repentance, Littell pleads, will not come until Christian liturgy includes ". . . prayers and hymns and antiphonies" of the holocaust.

"Comprehending," as Christians, our profound identity with our Jewish brothers and sisters even on the plane of Holy History is indeed difficult. The dialogue, sometimes very intense, goes on between those who affirm Christians' Jewishness and those who emphasize the need for Jews to become Christians (conversionists). Roy Kreider and Paul Swarr have stressed affirmation of Jewishness first. Immanuel Study Center in Jaffa, a suburb of Tel Aviv, serves about 150 participants. Kreider, director of studies, and Swarr, pastor, in the 1980s recently turned over the leadership to local personnel, including Salim Munayer, an Arab Christian. Several Jews have become Mennonites, including one Mennonite minister in 1988.

It comes as a great surprise to Christians that the Jewish philosopher Maimonides [1135-1204] "affirms a special Jewish theology for Christianity (and Islam). He taught that Christianity and Islam are missionary arms of Judaism created by God to bring the 'pagans and heathens of the world under the Lord's canopy."' These words come from L. C. Yaseen's The Jesus connection: to triumph over anti-Semitism, a book carrying introductions by Billy Graham (Protestant), Theodore Hesburgh (Roman Catholic), and Marc Tannenbaum (Jewish).


About Judaism. South Deerfield, MA: Channing L. Bete Co., a leaflet that uses drawings to clarify Judaism's beliefs and three main "denominations." Baehr, Karl H. "The Churches Confounded by Israel Reborn: a Mennonite's Journey to Zion." Unpublished.

Bauman, Clarence. "The Quest for the Real Jesus." Transcript of a lecture given 8 December 1968 at Society of Friends in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Berger, David and Michael Wyschograd. Jews and "Jewish Christianity."  New York: KTAB, 1978, 71 pp., a Jewish response to Christian "conversionists."

Brawley, Robert L. Luke-Acts and the Jews: Conflict, Apology, and Conciliation. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987.

Eckardt, Alice L. "The Reformation and the Jews." Unpublished paper, ca. 1986, includes references to Anabaptists.

Enz, Jacob J. "Where are Messiah's People?" Mennonite (8 December 1981): 702-3.

Fisher, E. J., A. J. Rudin, and M. H. Tannenbaum, eds., Twenty Years of Jewish-Catholic Relations. New York: Paulist Press, 1986.

Janzen, Waldemar. Still in the Image: Essays in Biblical Theology and Anthropology. Newton, KS: Faith and Life, 1982; Winnipeg, MB: CMBC Publications, 1982.

Kauffman, J. Howard and Leland Harder, eds. Anabaptists Four Centuries Later: a Profile of Five Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Denominations. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1975: 248ff.

Littell, Franklin H. The Crucifixion of the Jews. New York: Harper and Row, 1975.

Mennonite Witness as it Relates to Jewish People. Salunga, PA: Home Ministries Dept. Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities, 1985.

The Plough. Rifton, NY, no. 16 (September 1986.

Shenk, N. Gerald. "A Poet, a Linguist, and a Synagogue: Symbols of Hope and Renewal." Mennonite Reporter (21 December 1987, on Jewish-Protestant cooperation in Yugoslavia.

Yaseen, Leonard. The Jesus Connection: to Triumph Over Anti-Semitism. New York: Crossroad, 1985.

Author(s) Jacob J Enz
Date Published 1989

Cite This Article

MLA style

Enz, Jacob J. "Judaism and Jews." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 2 Mar 2024. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Judaism_and_Jews&oldid=172020.

APA style

Enz, Jacob J. (1989). Judaism and Jews. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 2 March 2024, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Judaism_and_Jews&oldid=172020.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 469-470. All rights reserved.

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