A Hebrew Catholic is a Jew who has entered the Catholic Church. Hebrew is his ethnicity and culture, his membership in God’s people Israel. Catholic is his faith, his membership in the Church of the New Israel.
Many Jews who become Catholic call themselves Hebrew Catholics because Hebrew is historically associated with Abram the Hebrew, who received the eternal election in the everlasting covenant with God, and whom Melchizedek blessed with bread and wine foreshadowing Rabbi Yeshua.
Who is a Jew? Rabbi Paul, a Jew Acts 26:4–6 speaking of Jews, makes the relevant distinction: “As regards the gospel they are enemies of God, for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” Rom 11:28–29. We understand Judaism as a religion, but also as a tribe. Rabbi Paul means by “enemies of God” that they do not believe that Rabbi Yeshua is God’s Mashiakh as the Gospels affirm.
God promised Abram, “To your descendants I will give this land” Gen 12:7. The history and destiny of Abram’s descendants, God’s chosen Hebrew Gen 14:13 people, were forever bound to the promised land. As regards the election, “The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable Rom 11:29.
God continued to emphasize that his covenant would be with Abram’s descendants forever. “For all the land which you see I will give to you and to your descendants for ever” Gen 13:15. God established his covenant in the flesh with Abram’s descendants: “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant” Gen 17:7. In Rabbi Yeshua‘s time the Jews cited their Jewish identity: “We are descendants of Abraham” Jn 8:28.
Visibly, from the tribal perspective, Hebrew Catholics continue to be Jews. At birth we were recognized as descendants of Abraham, most of us as children of a Jewish mother and therefore members of the tribe of Judah. Our baptism does not affect our ancestry.
Then, the rabbis say, you follow Yeshua, whom we do not accept as Jewish because he claimed to be the Son of God.” The First Commandment says, “You shall have no other gods before me” Ex 20:3; Deut 5:7.
They add, “You follow this Yeshua, whom our ancestors knew face to face and did not follow.” Yes, we reply, and he warned them that the Temple would be destroyed Jn 2:19–21 because “you did not know the time of your visitation” Lk 19:44.
Rabbi Yeshua repeated his prophecy,
Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down” Mt 24:2.
The Second Temple was built of walls 5 meters (about 16 feet) thick of stones weighing on the average 10 tons each, including one weighing 400 tons, and capable of accommodating up to one million people. It was a building so wondrous that even today its construction remains a mystery.
If an ordinary man had predicted that so massive a building would be destroyed with not one stone left on another, within the lifetime of his hearers, he would certainly not have been taken seriously.
Rabbi Yeshua at the time he made this prophesy was already no ordinary man. He presented a tribal genealogy 7:43 far better than any modern rabbi’s Mt 1:2–16; Lk 3:23–38, and he kept the religious commandments § 578. He reminded Rabbi Yokhanan‘s disciples, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them” Lk 7:22. A man who has raised others from the dead certainly deserves to be taken seriously, but they did not Mt 23:37.
Then, Rabbi Yeshua’s bet din did not condemn him according to God’s law. God had commanded for idolatry cases, “On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses he that is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness” Deut 17:6. When Rabbi Yeshua said “I am [the Son of God]” Mk 14:62, Caiaphas immediately said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy” Mk 14:63–64. But it could be blasphemy only if Rabbi Yeshua in fact was not the Son of God. The high priest made no attempt to show that Rabbi Yeshua was not God’s promised Mashiakh.
But some 40 years later Emperor Vespasian ordered the Second Temple destroyed. His son Titus crucified so many Jews that the Romans ran out of wood for the crosses, an obvious echo of Rabbi Yeshua‘s crucifixion. The Temple destruction on the Ninth of Av made it obvious that the Temple was destroyed by God, not Vespasian. It would have made obvious sense at that point for them to re-consider whether Rabbi Yeshua might indeed be the Son of God. He had been condemned by Caiaphas’ bet din, and no further evidence was needed.
Let’s bring this question into our own time. Suppose that during the late 1990s the CIA had found a source who said that the World Trade Center would be destroyed. However, suppose the CIA experts found no connections, concluded that the man was not credible, and did nothing in response. But then, after the World Trade Center fell to the ground, they would have remembered that the man’s prophecy had been accurate and decided that he was highly credible after all.
Then the rabbis try one more time, “Well, it’s not that exactly. It’s that the Gospels say Joseph wasn’t the father of Jesus of Nazareth, so the link to David’s line Jer 23:5–6; was broken.” And that’s where they’re impaled on the horns of a dilemma. Logically, apart from faith, there are only two possibilities. “Who do you say that I am?” Mt 16:15.
If they acknowledge that the Gospels are true, they have to acknowledge that Rabbi Yeshua’s conception was miraculous Is 7:14, therefore that he really was God’s promised Mashiakh, and therefore Jewish on God’s own authority.
Or, they can say they don’t believe that the Gospels are true, in which case Joseph would have been seen as Rabbi Yeshua‘s biological father. After all, the genealogies show that Joseph was in the line of David, and if he was the biological father of Rabbi Yeshua, then Rabbi Yeshua was Jewish on both tribal and religious grounds.
Some go even further, asking how King David himself could be Jewish when Ruth, his great-grandmother, was a Moabitess, a pagan. But Ruth had told Naomi, “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God; where you die I will die, and there will I be buried” Ruth 1:16–17. With these words Ruth was grafted into God’s people Israel, she became a Jew.
After that time, as a Jewish woman, she married Boaz Ruth 4:13 and bore Obed Ruth 4:17, the grandfather of King David. Some scholars say that her real conversion occurred at the moment of her marriage to Boaz. Since both occurred before she conceived her son Obed, Ruth was certainly a Jewish woman when she entered into the line of Rabbi Yeshua Mt 1:5.
The Witness of Love
Today, unlike the 1400s, Torah-observant Jews and faithful Catholics often stand together defending our shared love for God and for one another against the powerful secular forces that threaten us both. In our time Holy Mother Church, in this radically different environment, has shifted the emphasis from gospel to election Rom 11:28. Pope Benedict XVI declared in Cologne, 2005, “In considering the Jewish roots of Christianity (cf. Rom 11:16–24), my venerable Predecessor, quoting a statement by the German Bishops, affirmed that ‘Whoever meets Jesus Christ meets Judaism.’”
There exists what the Church calls a hierarchy of truths. At the very top are Rabbi Yeshua’s two great commands. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” Mt 22:37–40.
Below them are the ways we love God and neighbor. Among these the great capital virtue of humility, the great theological virtue of charity, and the other capital and theological virtues, are near the top. Below the levels of theological certainty are the prudent judgments by which we try to live these commands from day to day.
We may of course observe any or all of the mitzvot as a private devotion, or as part of the rule of a Church-approved religious order, as long as we know and teach that God does not command them for us. We may wear the kippa and tallit, eat kosher foods, celebrate a Passover Seder, etc.
Within the Hebrew Catholic community there is a lively discussion over whether a man born Jewish now Catholic should, as a private devotion, wear the kippa and tallit, eat kosher, etc. Some Hebrew Catholics keep the mitzvot as a discipline similar to Friday abstinence but much more of a sacrifice. Others point out that Jews coming into the Church need to see other Hebrew Catholics already there. Those opposed say that no Catholic may witness, even by appearance, against the Son of God. When a Catholic wears the kippa and tallit alone he appears to the world as an ordinary Jew who denies Rabbi Yeshua. The Hebrew Catholic so vested can add a large pectoral crucifix to complete the sign of Rabbi Yeshua‘s fulfillment of the Israelite covenant.
Why do some Hebrew Catholics visibly witness to their Jewish backgrounds? After all, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” Gal 3:28. Rabbi Yeshua has a place for each of us in His vineyard 1 Cor 12:4. The traditionalist movement invites Holy Mother Church to remember her medieval traditions, but the Hebrew Catholic movement, Second Exodus included, invites her to remember her earliest traditions, the language and culture in which Rabbi Yeshua and his shlikhim celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
§ 674 “The glorious Messiah’s coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by all Israel.” If we truly seek the Second Coming, we will need some living witnesses to show Jews that they have a place in the Church.
Visits to a Synagogue
The most prominent question concerns a Catholic’s occasional participation in synagogue worship.
St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis have all visited synagogues during their pontificates. In this they followed the Church’s earliest traditions. Rabbi Yeshua’s shlikhim, after the Holy Spirit descended on them, Acts 2:4 continued, “day by day, attending the Temple together” Acts 2:46. The witness of the shlikhim, and of St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, is a clear sign that the faithful may attend synagogue worship.
Most of the synagogue service is consistent with Catholic teaching. More accurately, “Salvation is from the Jews” Jn 4:22. “It is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you” Rom 11:18. The Church’s motto, lex orandi, lex credendi, as we pray so we believe, comes from her own Jewish roots. The most frequent Jewish prayer, and the last prayer an observant Jew prays in his final minutes of earthly life, is the Shma.
Some Catholics express concern about one particular series of prayers. Jews in Temple and synagogue over thousands of years have prayed the amidah, “standing,” also called the shmone esre, “eighteen benedictions.” Mishna Berakhot 33a. The amidah has been updated slightly over the centuries, but its origins go back to the Old Testament days. The first three benedictions affirm the Jewish belief in one God of Israel –the God of history, the God of nature, the God who sanctifies. The next six are personal, petitions for understanding, repentance, forgiveness, deliverance from affliction, healing, and deliverance from want. Six national petitions follow, for the re-union of Israel, for the righteous reign of God, against slanderers and traitors, for the righteous, for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and for the Messiah to come. Then come three for service to God, for the hearing of prayer, the Temple service, and thanksgiving for his mercy. The final petition is for shalom, peace.
The birkat ha minim, prayer against heretics, added around AD 80 specifically against Christians, was inserted as the twelfth benediction. Today the specific reference to Christians has been removed but the substance of the prayer remains, and most Jews who pray it know when it was added and why.
Holy Mother Church put the third benediction, the kedusha, into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but the twelfth, fourteenth, fifteenth and seventeenth benedictions are inconsistent with Catholic faith. In some circumstances our presence in the synagogue during such benedictions can give scandal by suggesting that we accept them. When a prayer service is inconsistent with Catholic faith we ordinarily stay away. However, in many circumstances our attendance can give a positive Catholic witness of love greater than the negative witness. The papal visits are an example. We may be invited to the wedding of a Jewish family member or close friend such that our absence from that once-in-a-lifetime event would cause a bitter and enduring remembrance. Or we may visit a synagogue as part of an outreach to a Jewish friend.
The fourteenth benediction, the prayer for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, is a prayer for the rebuilding of the Temple, “… rebuild it soon in our days as an everlasting building.” It is inconsistent with Catholic faith because Rabbi Yeshua is the new Temple Jn 2:19. The fifteenth, the prayer for the Messianic King, pleads, “Speedily cause the offspring of David, your servant, to flourish, and lift up his glory by your divine help because we wait for your salvation all the day.” Rabbi Yeshua has already come. Finally, the seventeenth, the prayer for restoration of the ancient Temple service, is inconsistent with Catholic faith because the Temple service continues today in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
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