Axiom: a self-evident truth that requires no proof; a universally accepted principle or rule
Two axioms framed my identity as a Jew growing up in New York City:
“Jews don’t believe in Jesus.”
“You can’t be Jewish and believe in Jesus.”
Self-evident and unspoken, these axioms guided the stylus shaping my Jewish identity. Like meat and milk, or oil and water, everyone agreed that Jews and Jesus just don’t mix. The following stories illustrate my point.
One balmy summer evening in the heart of Manhattan’s upper west side, clad in a Jews for Jesus tee-shirt I stood on Broadway giving out evangelistic literature. Two handsome twenty-something couples walked by. Smiling I held out a tract saying, “Like one?” Skillfully skirting my out stretched hand, eyes averted, one of the four disdainfully announced for all of us to hear, “You can’t be Jewish and believe in Jesus.” End of discussion! Or, so he thought.
As they passed I wheeled around, and cried out in an earnest yet friendly voice, “Wait, wait! Please stop! I’ve heard that a thousand times in the last few days.
Please, just tell me why?”
Shocked and amused the group turned toward me, and to their friend awaiting his response. He hesitated momentarily then confidently blurted out, “Because you can’t!” Not missing the irony of the moment everyone laughed, and I replied, “Thank you for making that so clear.”
A few years later I attended a dialogue between leaders of the Jewish and evangelical Christian community which addressed the contentious issue of Jewish and Christian perspectives on Christian evangelism. During one of the breaks I waited my turn to talk with one of the Jewish leaders, who for many years served on the American Jewish Committee as National Interreligious Affairs Director. I asked a series of simple questions, “Rabbi, can a Jew be an atheist…a Buddhist…practice TM… and still be Jewish?” to each the rabbi answered confidently and quickly “Absolutely.” Then, I asked, “Rabbi can a Jew believe in Jesus and still be Jewish?” Just as confidently and quickly he responded, “Absolutely not.” My follow-up question, “Why not?” was dismissed with a disgusted wave of the hand, a non-verbal “Because you can’t.”
By offering these two examples I do not intend to communicate that there are not well thought out theologically and historically based responses to my question. They simply illustrate my point: The denial of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah is an axiomatic fixture of Jewish identity. Why? Because everyone knows that to receive Jesus is to reject being Jewish. Everyone knows it, no one doubts or questions it; it is a cornerstone of our identity as Jews.
This blog is an attempt to show not only the error of these cherished axioms but to establish new, life-giving axioms:
“Jesus is totally Jewish.”
“The most Jewish thing in the world a person (Jewish or Gentile) can do is to receive Jesus as Israel’s promised Messiah.”