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August 4, 2015 12:22 am

The Hebrew Roots Movement: Following Jewish Customs, But Worshipping Jesus

avatar by Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman / JNS.org

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A scene from Killing Jesus. Photo: National Geographic.

A scene from Killing Jesus. Photo: National Geographic.

JNS.org – Jason was raised in a typical, modern Christian home in the United Kingdom. He opened presents on Christmas and ate chocolate on Easter as he ebbed and flowed in his faith. In his 30s, he decided he was ready to have God as a constant presence in his life.

“I started looking online at more modern ways of expressing my religious faith. I was interested in reading more about what Christians call the Old Testament,” explains Jason, who asked that his last name not be used in the article.

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Jason discovered Yisrael Izzy Avraham, founder and executive director of Holy Language Institute and leader of the Hebrew Roots movement.

“After a few months, I decided that the Hebrew text was right,” Jason, who eventually became a Hebrew Roots follower, says.

Hebrew Roots adherents—not to be confused with Jews for Jesus, whose followers consider themselves Jewish and are known for intense proselytizing—are Torah-observant believers in Jesus, whom they identify by his Hebrew name, Yeshua. On the surface, many of the movement’s members look like observant Jews, keeping kosher (at least as outlined in the Bible), Shabbat, and holidays. They are generally pro-Israel and try to visit the Jewish state as often as possible.

But their religion centers on Jesus.

Ira Michaelson—outreach coordinator for Jews for Judaism, an education and counseling organization that seeks to counteract “deceptive proselytizing targeting Jews for conversion”—says the Hebrew Roots movement is “on the fringes of the fringe movement.” Its followers are rejected by Jews and Hebrew Christians (also known as Messianic Jews), and people don’t seem to stay in the movement for very long. They end up rejecting Christianity while they learn Torah, moving instead toward Noahidism or converting to some stream of Judaism. Noahidism refers specifically to those non-Jews who observe the seven Noahide Laws, which all of mankind can use as the basis of personal morality. (The seven laws are do not deny God; do not blaspheme God; do not murder; do not engage in incest, adultery, pederasty, or bestiality; do not steal; do not eat of a live animal; and establish courts or a legal system to ensure societal order and obedience.)

“This is an amazing thing,” Michaelson says, noting how overwhelming it can be for outreach workers like himself, who are usually the first contact for Hebrew Roots followers looking for something more. “We are dealing with a new community, in its infancy. Rabbis and anti-missionary professionals are being inundated with these people contacting us for help.”

According to a 2014 article published by Tablet magazine, there are 200,000-300,000 Hebrew Roots movement followers worldwide, most of whom joined in the past 15 years.

Michaelson tells JNS.org that while Judaism shies away from proselytizing, “certainly I don’t see why we don’t promote the truth, and the truth is God gave us the Torah to rouse people to be a model of what a relationship with Hashem is like and bring the other nations into a relationship with God in a proper way.”

On his Arutz Sheva radio show in Israel, “A Light unto the Nations,” Michaelson speaks on air with Hebrew Roots followers and is open to engaging in dialogue with them on Noahidism and conversion.

“There are so many people coming and saying, ‘What do I do now?’ They have rejected belief in Jesus, but they aren’t Jewish. You cannot pat them on the head and say, ‘Go away.’ I don’t have the answer, but I am trying to get the rabbis to address this,” Michaelson says.

April Nefores, founder of the popular Facebook group “Leaving Christianity and Finding the Truth,” says her online community offers one solution. She describes it as a “one-stop shop for everything Orthodox Jewish.” Among the nearly 1,000 followers of the public group, as well as the 1,052 members of the private group, one-third are Orthodox Jews, one-third are Noahides, and one-third are Christians seeking conversion.

“The stories on this thread will blow your mind,” says Nefores, who herself was raised in a Baptist school, with a Christian mother and Jewish father. She says Christians looking to convert have the misconception that they have to “be something,” which is not the case.

“They say, ‘I was a Christian, I left that, so now I need to convert.’ Hold on! You don’t have to convert to Judaism. Not everyone has to be called a Jew. God did not make everyone Jewish. You could be a Noahide,” says Nefores. “But if you feel in your heart you were born to be Jewish, I absolutely have rabbis in the group that can do conversions.”

Nefores is now an Orthodox Jew. She was raised in America’s South and was taught that Jews—her father included—were going to “burn in hell” for their lack of belief in Jesus. She always felt uncomfortable about it, but was never encouraged to explore why.

“[The Christian theologians I grew up with] tell you to go on faith. To just believe,” Nefores says.

As she got older, Nefores was less willing to blindly follow. During a more traumatic period in her life, she reconnected with a high school friend who had become a Messianic Jew. The two started learning the Old Testament online and exploring their Jewish roots. One year, Nefores didn’t buy a Christmas tree. Soon after, she stopped going to church. Her friend left Messianic Judaism, too.

“I felt alone in the world. There was no church, no shul. ‘What am I?’ I asked myself,” she says.

A rabbi told Nefores to explore her family tree, and she discovered she was Jewish. She re-married her husband through an Orthodox ceremony and has embraced the Jewish faith ever since.

Jason from the U.K. left the Hebrew Roots movement to find faith, too. He did not convert to Judaism and does not consider himself Jewish, but says he is “living as part of the Jewish community” and believes in God from Judaism’s perspective.

“By 2012, I started to severely question the New Testament,” Jason recalls. “I said a prayer one evening: ‘God, I know you are there, but I am not sure about anything else. I want you to punch me into shape. Just make it plan and obvious.’ Today, I am sojourning within the gates of the Jewish community.”

In other words, Jason wants more than the seven Noahide laws, but does not go as far as identifying as a Jew.

“We are all excited about this,” Michaelson says regarding the surge of Hebrew Roots followers embracing some form of Jewish tradition. “We are seeing a groundswell.”

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  • Sharon

    The Christians are so obsessed with Jesus that they completely forget G-d the Father and Creator of the Universe. Even Jesus who was Jewish, prayed to the Father ONLY. To illustrate this point would be similar to when one is going to a King’s castle, but instead of serving and bowing down to the King, that person ignores the King but instead starts praising the son or or the servants of the King!! How would the King feel? Complete and utter disrespect and disloyalty to the King. This is exactly what the Christians are doing to G-d!!
    We should all have a personal relationship with G-d and we do not need interceders for that! Learn from Abraham, Isaac
    and Jacob who were beloved of G-d.
    The Jews were given a contract on mount Sinai to believe in the G-d of Israel and that He is ONE. They were NOT told of a son. In the same contract the jews were also warned that in the future G-d will test them with so called prophets and dreamers of dreams who perform miracles and to take heed not to fall for them. Only G-d is G-d, there are no additions.
    In short, G-d will have make a repeat performance of Mount Sinai in front of the whole Jewish nation for them to change or believe in anything new other than what is written in the Torah/Tenach.

    • DACON9

      obviously you haven’t studied.
      As you put it I will summize you are a xtian.

      IT’S TOO LATE TO REPEANT AND RECTIFY YOURSELF
      …….AFTER……… THE MASHIACH APPEARS’

      NOTHING NEW WILL HAPPEN…
      YOU ARE FINDING THE WAY
      YOU NEED GUIDANCE.
      I ENCOURAGE YOU TO SEEK IT FROM A
      TORAH ORTHODOX RABBI”
      never from a reformed,deformed conservative advisor…
      but you have good qualities going for you.
      people are like diamonds.. we need to be refined…
      you are a beautiful diamond..waiting for the craftsman

  • DACON9

    ATT TRACIE D:
    NOT ONE PIECE OF WRITINGS CAME FROM JEUSX your deadgod.
    no one spoke of him during his life,
    No rabbis called Pharisees followed him, they opposed him.
    paul went outside of Judaism to attract followers.
    the handful of Jews that followed him have disappeared, where are they, who are they? meaning they too were meaningless.
    any writings about your deadgod came 50 years later and kept evolving correcting the previous errors and failures of jesux your deadgod.
    It is said he was ignoramus. he was NOT a rabbi,
    NEVER WAS.
    IT IS ALSO UNLIKELY THAT HE EVEN READ OR WROTE HEBREW.
    YA KNOW WHAT I MEAN..IGNORAMUS…REMEMBER?
    HIS MOTHER WAS DOCUMENTED BY MANY NON JEWISH HISTORIANS
    THAT MARY WAS A LOOSE WOMAN.
    Joseph, marys husband was away for almost a year to earn money upon returning he finds her pregnant. Jospeh quietly left mary. Your deadgod disappeared from age of 10 till 30,,where was he..no one knows….
    why did he die if he was a god and why if he
    saved so many people then took himself off the saving of people deciding to die and stop his ministry of saving souls. he could’ve continued…why did he tell people to not listen to rabbis and not listen to THE ”ONE G-D” AND HARVEST WHEAT ON THE SABBATH..
    I LITERALLY HAVE HUNDREDS OF WHYS..PROVING THE MYTH OF your deadgod.
    I repeat …your deadgod of flesh violating the second commandment did not know kabbalah or the hootsie tootsie.

    you would serve your life so much better if you study the first and second century seeing for yourself…
    xtianinity is all about money and power.
    no gods of flesh…only myths….

    OHH BY THE WAY, being your into myths and magic..get the newest spiderman comic release…they kill spiderman then he rises, takes a Viagra pill, then flies away..
    he reappears as one of the fantastic 4 superheros.
    great story based on the stories of mark and Mathew…
    you’ll love it

  • Ron Murray

    The Hebrew Roots Movement, for the greater part, rejects both Jewish and Christian customs. The Word of God, Torah / Yeshua is what we follow, not the dogma of man. Yeshua railed against the rule of man being raised to the level of Torah, so do I.
    There are scoffers from both Judah and Christian beliefs who are flat out reject Isaiah 11: 1-16 and Luke 15:11-32

  • Tracie D

    Jesus/Yeshua was a Kabbalist. Boy we could learn so much and understand and make things less convoluted if we could realize this!

    • Ron Murray

      You blaspheme the Only Begotten Son Of God.
      Kabbalah is witchcraft cloaked in Jewish Dogma.

    • Jeff

      I heard that same thing many times. Such a saying lead me from Christianity into full-blown God-Hating Paganism for nearly a decade. The problem with the statement is that if one were to study Kabbalah without a profound, deep understanding of Torah (Bible from a non-Hellenized aka “Modern Western”) point of view, it can lead you VERY far from God, very quickly. I found it to be quite the Gateway philosophy to Witchcraft (which is precises where I wound up eventually.) Thank GOD He opened my eyes to what I was doing.

  • DACON9

    ALGEMIENER MAKES SO MANY ERRORS IN REPORTING.
    SOMETIMES I THINK THAT ALGEMIENER SUPPORTS SOCIALISM COMMUNISM MESSIANICS AND EVERYTHING THAT IS REJECTED IN TORAH.

    Now the reporter didn’t get the name of the movement correct.
    Its NOT ….Hebrew roots….
    Its ””’HEBREW WEEDS””
    __________
    Now to commenter allen dumdum.
    As you correctly stated by King Solomon, “NOTHING NEW”.
    YOU xtians BROUGHT 2000YEAR OF SIN, PERVERSIONS,IMMORALITY YOU TOOK FROM THE GREEKS THEN THE ROMANS MERGED INTO CONSTANTINES AND NICIAN CREED
    YOU’RE A VIOLATION OF ‘ONE’ G-Ds ALONEs’ HOLY TORAHS ‘written and oral’G-DS SPOKEN AND WRITTEN 1st and 2nd commandments.

    The world existed, THE NATION OF ISRAEL had
    the great King David, King Solomon, many other great kings and great prophets that such as ISAIAH and you adulterated their writings. YOU PLAGERIZED THEIR WRITINGS.
    THE KINGS AND PROPHETS WERE WAY BEFORE your deadmangod, specifically 3700 years before your god that died.

    The ‘ONE G-D ALONE GAVE ISRAEL OUR TESTS AND REWARDS.
    From Adam to jesuc…3700 years we had glorious kings and prophets
    before your deadgod was born of a roman soldier ‘pantera’ a handful of jews followed his wild sect of rebels.
    THEN YOUR deadmangod YOU made into a messiah then a god who brought death and destruction not only to the Jews but to the world.

    YES AT TIMES JEWS FAILED THEN GOT UP AND SUCCEEDED THROUGH REPENTANCE.
    YOU XTIANS SEND PEOPLE TO ”ETERNAL DAMNATION”

    the great xtian nations are no longer great.
    ISRAEL RISES FROM THE ASHES AND GRAVES YOU MADE FOR ISRAEL AND REMAIN GLORIOUS AND VICTORIOUS.

    ITS NOT YOUR FRIENDSHIP Israel seeks but
    “ONLY THE ONE G-D OF ISRAEL FRIENDSHIP WHO IS OUR GUARDIAN” THAT CAN AND DOES PROTECT US..
    G-D TOLD US ‘HE WILL ALWAYS B WITH US EVEN WHEN WE FALL, IF WE MAKE THE EFFORT TO GETUP,,,’HE” WILL HELP US”
    AND ISRAEL IS CERTAINLY A LONG WAY FOR YOUR XTIAN POGROMS,9 CRUSADES,INQUISTIONS,HOLOCAUSTS AND MORE RECENTLY YOU ATTEMPTED CONVERSIONS THROUGH DECEITE LIES AND EVIL WORKINGS.

    and we JEWS ARE BEING GATHERED AND GOING TO ISRAEL
    LEARNING HOW TO SERVE ‘ONE G-D’
    IN 1948 the population we approx. 500,000
    NOW ITS 7 MILLION

    this is while you go around the world to sell to deceive and trick people into believing in a god that died
    a god of flesh a god that cried while on the cross

    WHILE JEWS BEING BURNED ALIVE BY THE XTIANS
    WERE SINGING SONGS IN PRAISE OF HASHEM KNOWING
    THAT THEY WILL DIE SERVING ”ONE” G-D ALONE
    “I AM ALONE,THERE IS NO OTHER THEN ME”

    ””””””SHEMA YISRAEL””””””

  • Allen Donow

    As Solomon says “There is nothing new under the sun”. The anti Messianic Jews movement began when Jesus was walking the streets of Jerusalem, 2000 years ago. The anti Jesus Jews argued, ridiculed, accused, and eventually took to calling for death for Jesus (and his followers, who were almost all Jews at the time) whom they could not get to shut up and stop their miraculous deeds. Yes, even the New Testament records that some followers of Jesus left him because they could not hear his words (as happens to some today). But as it turned out, a large part of the gentile world found faith in Messiah Jesus and became enamored with the God of Israel. They call themselves followers of Christ (the Greek word for Messiah) and many read the Bible, including the Tanakh and New Testament.

    In the meantime the anti Jesus Jews are still trying to get rid of belief in Jesus. I suppose it’s getting more traction since many Jews these days are being called by Jesus. However, to do that they are going to really have to deal with the problem of Jesus himself. They tried 2000 years ago, but His resurrection made that effort a failure. What’s left for them to do today, well in the words of Solomon, only more vanity.

    • Jan Peter Ottosson

      Good comment Allen Donow ! The Messiah knew that He would not be accepted at the time. And somehow even the messianic Jews do not accept Him. They nominally call Him the Messiah but do not accept that his totally new law of Love is the basis for a NEW life in God. They want Him loyally continuing the old law. Not to mention their subdued non-acceptance of His resurrection, which is the pillar of faith. And indeed, as you say, this is a sort of vanity.

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