Some Thoughts on "Messianic Judaism"

Eugene J. Fisher, Associate Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and interreligious Affairs, National Conference of Catholic Bishops 

[posted with permission of the author]


The Catholic Church in general and this [United States] Conference of Bishops in particular has no official position on Messianic Judaism as such. It appears to be a phenomenon of Protestant Christian outreach to the Jewish community. As such, it is not within the jurisdiction of Catholic authorities, of course. There have been expressed, publicly but unofficially, some reservations that Catholics might have with it as an organized movement.

First, as was articulated so well by Professor Tommaso Federici in a paper delivered at the invitation of the Holy See for a meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee in Venice in 1977, virtually any conceivable organization developed by Christian churches whose aim is to proselytize or convert Jews will inevitably, because of the tragic history of such efforts, have such a chilling effect on the Jewish community of today that it would result in an inhibition of the fully free exercise of the faith relationship between God and Jews. On pastoral grounds, therefore, the Catholic Church has not sanctioned any organizations created specifically to "target" the Jewish community. This does not, of course, diminish in any way the Catholic Church's universal proclamation of the gospel to all humanity. 

2. The phrase, "Messianic Judaism," is highly problematic to many of us. We Christians who, following the logic of the gospel, set early upon the "parting of the ways" with our elder sisters and brothers in faith in the One God of Abraham and Sarah. This involved a recognition of the "newness" of the new age of salvation history brought about by the Christ-event. In so doing, over the course of some centuries, early Christianity came to acknowledge that the religious tradition which embodies the New Creation ("the Church") is no longer a form of Judaism but its own, distinct reality. Hence, for any group of Christians to try to adopt for itself the name, "Judaism," is to raise, however innocently, a host of theological dilemmas arising from the scriptures themselves and from the practice of the early Church.

3. On a more juridical level, the Catholic Church recognizes fully the precepts of religious freedom. The name, "Judaism," means simply "the religion of the Jewish people." It is the Jewish community alone, and not any of the Christian churches which can adjudicate whether or not the name "Messianic Judaism" or "Messianic Jew" can have any standing or recognition. To my knowledge the Jewish community in all its variety is of a remarkably united view on this matter. And the principles of religious freedom recognize the Jews' rights, and theirs only, to determine such a matter.