Forums Hebrew Christians, Messianic Jews Post-missionary Messianic Judaism?: A Hebrew Catholic Perspective

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    • AvatarBrother Gilbert Joseph
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      In the mid 1980’s before I entered the Catholic Church I came across Father Lev Gillet’s book “Communion in the Messiah”. Father Lev Gillet was a Russian Orthodox priest who was influenced greatly by Paul Levertoff a Chasidic Jew (descended from the family of the Alter Rebbe Schneur Zalman of Liadi) who came to faith in Yeshua as the Mashiach in 1897 and became an Anglican priest. This book probably had the greatest influence on me and was the template for my understanding of Jewish Election and vocation in the Church along with certain insights of Father Elias Friedman in “Jewish Identity”. The weaknesses in Father Elias’ approach was in the area of how Jewish Identity could be preserved in the Church, as like many of his generation, he did not see the validity and central importance of Jewish Torah observance in accordance with the Halakah of Rabbinic Judaism for the preservation of Jewish identity in the Church. In fact it was the suppression of the distinctive Jewish Torah observances and Gentile hostility to Rabbinic Jewish tradition that led to the ‘Regime of Assimilation’ and the gradual death of the Church of the Circumcision which was the mother form of the Church.

      I believe that Father Elias sensed a weakness in his understanding and that is why he said that he left the issue of how to preserve this Jewish Identity to the Holy Spirit and further development by the Jews in the Church once they started to be gathered for collective action. For me the insights of Gillet and Levertoff as explored in “Communion in the Messiah” remedied this weakness in “Jewish Identity”. However Father Elias never intended “Jewish Identity” to be the definitive and last word but as the beginning of a developing conversation.

      Mark Kinzer of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC)[which was founded at the same time as the Association of Hebrew Catholics]has written an important book called “Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism” that is also influenced to a certain extent by the insights of Gillet and Levertoff. In 2005 Kinzer writes:

      “…Over the past decade, numerous changes have occurred within the Messianic Jewish movement. One of the most significant developments has been the emergence of voices explicitly advocating a bilateral eccesiology in solidarity with Israel’s covenant, Torah, and religious tradition. In doing so, these voices follow the course first articulated by Levertoff and Gillet…”.

      This movement towards the insights of Levertoff and Gillet among certain Messianic Jews is exciting as this movement is thus more ‘friendly’ towards Catholics. In fact Mark Kinzer writes positively about the role of Hebrew Catholics. Kinzer writes:

      “…Before turning to the early signs of an emerging postmissionary Messianic Judaism, we should look at a surprising movement that has recieved too little attention: Hebrew Catholicism… Its distinctive eccesiological setting has facilitated a set of penetrating insights regarding the Jewish people and the church…”

      Father Lev Gillet states that Levertoff

      “…holds the ideal of a Jewish Christian community, which he conceives as ‘…a Jewish branch of the Catholic Church in a congenial Jewish traditional environment, where the esentials of Christian Faith and worship are expressed, as much as possible, in Jewish terms.”…”

      Kinzer writes:

      “…From Levertoff’s point of view, the most “congenial Jewish traditional environment” for a “Jewish Christian community” was the mystical Hasidic world of his ancestors. Levertoff believed that Yeshua-faith could easily be integrated with the best in Hasidic spirituality. Levertoff gathered a small group of Jewish Christians in Stepney for Sabbath worship, employing traditional Jewish music and a Hebrew-language liturgy. Nevertheless, Levertoff was not a missionary, and he appears to have had misgivings about the entire Christian missionary posture towards the Jews…”.

      In this regard Levertoff and Father Elias Friedman are in accord. Father Elias said to the early members of the AHC:

      “Consider the primary aim of the group to be, not the conversion of the Jews, but the creation of a new Hebrew Catholic community life and spirit, an alternative society to the old.”

      In fact Father Elias saw that any targeted missionary programme aimed at Jews to be undesirable in an era where Jews would be merely assimilated into Gentile culture and their descendants would lose their Jewish Identity within a few generations. He referred to this as “the regime of assimilation”.

      However I think the weaknesses in both Father Elias and Mark Kinzer’s positions are due to their backgrounds in conservative-style Judaism rather than orthodox Hasidic Judaism. For me the Hasidic and mystical dimensions of any future “Jewish branch of the Catholic Church in a congenial Jewish traditional environment” is essential to the whole project. This insight of both Levertoff and Gillet needs greater emphasis. Hasidic Judaism is already much closer to Catholicism not only in its mystical insights but in its approach to heart-centred Torah observance and in regards to morality. Thus if UMJC and other Messianic Jewish groups started to embrace this Hasidic dimension of Levertoff and Gillet insights they would draw even closer to their Hebrew and Gentile Catholic brothers and sisters.

      Levertoff developed a Hebrew Christian liturgy called ‘The Meal of the Holy King’ drawing on the best of Christian and Hasidic liturgy. This Eucharistic liturgy was approved for use by the Anglican Bishop of London of the time. The establishment of Anglican ordinariates in the Catholic Church and the acceptance of their Anglican liturgical traditions could open a door to Jewish ordinariates with their own distinctive liturgical traditions. A recourse to the insights of Paul Levertoff a Hebrew Anglican priest, Lev Gillet a Russian Orthodox priest and Elias Friedman a Hebrew Catholic priest for the growth of a “Jewish branch of the Catholic Church” demonstrates the potential for ecumenical development and the healing of the breaches and wounds in the mystical Body of Christ.

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