A short time ago, a news story broke concerning a supposed Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) family that presented themselves as someone they were not. Reports from the Jerusalem Post and other outlets confirm with ample proof – that the family wasn’t Jewish. These were Christians masquerading as Haredi Jews.
Their web of deceit was long, from using forged documents to grossly lying about their identities. And to complete the ruse, they took on a more identifiably sounding Jewish surname, from Elk to Elkohen.
The issues of using deceitful tactics along with the act of lying may work well in the areas of espionage or national security but in God’s economy they remain grievous sins.
As a new Jewish believer in the mid 70’s, I remember all too well my introduction to what turned out to be a cult in Long Island. The congregation was Shoresh Yishai and was led by a charismatic Lutheran pastor named Jack Hickman. Drawn by the Jewish services, Orthodox garb and his seeming revelational teachings on Torah, I would take a number of “pilgrimages” to Long Island each year.
Jack Hickman utilized deceit, adopting a pseudo-name presenting himself as a Jew; someone he was not. When the truth of this grand deception was exposed, many were deeply wounded. Through this appalling deception I lost a number of really close friends, friends who relocated to Long Island to be a part of this cult…including the best man at my wedding.
During the early pioneering years of a resurgent Messianic Jewish movement, we too were often accused of deception. It was argued that our use of Jewish symbols was only to lure and deceive Jewish people to becoming Christians. The claim was rather ludicrous in light of the fact that we were Jews who zealously clung to our God given identities as Jews. After all, we had found the Jewish Messiah! We never hid who we were or what we believed.
The story of Michael Elk is one that’s been played out in Messianic synagogues for long decades. In Michael Elk, we’re not talking about an evil person, but a misguided person; a person falling prey to questionable winds of doctrine and living a lie. One can only imagine the many factors that may have influenced him.
With the emergence of the Messianic Jewish revival so many of us gained a zeal and love for who we were as Jews. With this came the increased desire of many to rediscover the Jewish roots of Yeshua and the New Covenant.
While we are most grateful for the way God is opening the hearts of our Christian brothers with regards to Jewish roots, and the Jewishness of the gospel, this process has led to a number of problems.
The problem is one that goes beyond the pale of mainstream Christianity’s supersessionist position of being the “new Israel,” the true “Israel of God.” The Jewish roots movements have created a new narcissism whereby believing Gentiles lay claim to being Jewish, emulating what they observe from Jewish Orthodoxy.
Furthermore, and just as mendacious are those claiming Jewish ancestry through the “Two-House” teachings; promulgating the belief that “Christians” are essentially part of the supposed “lost tribes of Israel” now being united. Adding to the mix; what of “One Law, One People” adherents and their call for a universal Torah observance among Gentiles? They all believe themselves to be Jewish.
This story, which has rightfully drawn the ire of many, reminds us to be ourselves and not rationalize the use of deceptive methods. A biblical moral, ethical approach always bares the right kind of fruit.
On the lighter side, when my wife and I dine out and come upon a man wearing kippa and tzitzit, our initial instinct is first, they’re not Orthodox and secondly, probably not Jewish. When a person comes into our shul with a long Hebrew name, more often than not they too are not Jewish. Oh, and the horrors and embarrassment that comes when they just butcher Yiddish expressions!
The Holy One has created and established everyone with their own uniqueness and beauty; there’s no need to alter what He has set you apart for. Be yourself and honor the heritage of your parents.
A trustworthy witness tells what is right, but a false witness, deceit. (Prov.12:17)
Rabbi Frank Lowinger
Congregation Brith Hadoshah, Buffalo NY