IN THE NEWS
Finding Jesus in a Jewish World
Ann Arbor News (December 17, 2005)
Rabbi Mark Kinzer's teachings are seen as radical by mainline Jews
BY CATHERINE O'DONNELL
News Staff Reporter
It's almost 10 o'clock Saturday morning. Rabbi Mark Kinzer kisses his tallit, the prayer shawl worn by Jews, and places it over his shoulders, reciting in Hebrew from Psalm 36: "How precious is your steadfast love, Oh God."
But Kinzer is no ordinary rabbi. He leads Congregation Zera Avraham, the Messianic Jewish community that meets each week in a room rented at Fellowship Bible Church in Ann Arbor.
In Hebrew, "Zera Avraham" means "Seed of Abraham." Regarding itself a Jewish congregation, Zera Avraham honors Yeshua - Hebrew for Jesus - as Israel's messiah.
"Just as Yeshua's first disciples were faithful Jews, loyal to their people and committed to the Jewish way of life, so we seek to honor Yeshua as faithful Jews today," reads a statement at the group's Web site.
It's a radical notion for mainline Jews, some of whom accept Jesus as a great teacher but none of whom accept him as the Messiah.
Kinzer addresses the issue in his November book: "Post Missionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People" (Brazos Press, $24.95).
"I'm a bit of a lighting rod," Kinzer acknowledges. "Some think I'm going too far in making a place for Messianic Jews within the Jewish world."
But after years of study with both Christians and Jews, Kinzer sees belief in Yeshua (or Jesus) as a continuance of God's covenant with Israel, and that he and his group must be firmly committed to Jewish identity and practice.
Messianic Judaism, Kinzer says on the first page of his book, is "the attempt of Jewish Yeshua-believers to sustain their Jewish identity and expression."
There's wariness in the mainline Jewish community - concern that Messianic Jews want to convert Christians.
"Jews view Messianic Jews as Christians," said Deborah Dash Moore, director of the Frankel Institute for Advanced Jewish Studies at the University of Michigan.
Messianic Judaism "is not a movement of Judaism; it's a movement of Christianity," said Rabbi Jason Miller, on staff at Ann Arbor's Hillel, an organization mainly for Jewish students at the U-M. "If someone says they believe Jesus Christ is the Messiah or the Son of God, that is a core principle in Christian theology, and that person is a Christian.
"If they're born Jewish, they always have the ability to return to Jewish faith, but they would be considered heretics [and apostates] by normative Jewish understanding," Miller said.
Belief in Yeshua is a link to Christians, Kinzer says in the book, but Messianic Jews don't proselytize. They don't try to convert Jews to Christianity.
Kinzer, 53, holds a doctorate in Near Eastern Studies from the U-M. He's the son of a Detroit lawyer who attended Conservative services daily and a grandson of a Talmudic scholar who emigrated from Austria-Hungary in the early 20th century.
Kinzer divides his time between the rabbinate and running the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute based in Ann Arbor. Founded three years ago with a faculty of five, the institute offers academic courses in such things as scripture and spiritual life as well as practical courses in rabbinic leadership. They are taught as week-long intensive courses around the country, but in 2006 will be taught online as well. In the next year or so, said Kinzer, the institute would like to open a central campus but a location hasn't been determined. The goal for the next 10 to 15 years, he said, is to have an abundance of Messianic Jewish scholars.
"It will change the nature of how we're perceived."
Catherine O'Donnell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (734) 994-6831.