CARR 109-112


Contemporary American Reform Responsa

68. Status of a “Completed Jew” in the Jewish


QUESTION: There are a number of individuals in the

community who consider themselves as “completed Jews” or “Messianic Jews”; they accept

Jesus as their savior, but, nevertheless, still feel Jewish “in their hearts.” How should the

congregation view such individuals? (Rabbi A. S. Task, Greensboro, NC)ANSWER:

Individuals who feel a vague attachment to one or another religion pose no problem for those

religious groups which leave identification solely in the hands of the individual. Judaism,

however, does not do so. It is not the individual who defines whether she is Jewish but the group.

For us in the Jewish community anyone who claims that Jesus is their savior is no longer a Jew

and is an apostate. Through that belief she has placed herself outside the Jewish community.

Whether she cares to define herself as a Christian or as a “fulfilled Jew,” “Messianic Jew,” or any

other designation is irrelevant; to us she is clearly a Christian. It is true that this individual may

be somewhat different from other Christians as she continues to follow certain Jewish practices

and folkways, but we should remember that various Christian sects do likewise. For example, the

Seventh Day Adventists observe shabbat as their day of rest. There are some Black

Christian groups who also follow specifically Jewish observances, and there have been other

groups like this in the past centuries. We should, therefore, consider a “completed

Jew” as an apostate. What would her status be for us? Judaism has always considered those

who left us as sinners, but still remaining as Jews. They could always return to Judaism through

teshuvah, and the exact response of Judaism depended very much on the conditions of

the time. Hai Gaon (as quoted by Aderet Responsa, VII #292) felt that an apostate could

not be considered as a Jew. Centuries later the rabbis of the Mediterranean Basin had to face

the problems of the Marranos (anussim). Their attitude differed greatly and may be

summarized under five headings: (1) Apostates were Jews who had sinned but,

nevertheless, remained Jewish (Isaac ber Sheshet; Simon ben Zemah of Duran, but on some

occasions he did not grant this status; Solomon ben Solomon; Zemah ben

Solomon). (2) Those who considered the apostate as Jewish only in matters of

matrimony (and so their offsprings were Jewish), but not in any other area (Samuel de

Medina). (3) Marranos (anussim) were non-Jews in every respect including

matters of marriage; their children were not considered to be Jews (Judah Berab, Jacob Berab,

Moses ben Elias Kapsali, etc.). (4) An apostate was worse than a Gentile (ben

Veniste, Mercado ben Abraham). (5) Descendants of the Marranos who have been

baptized were like Jewish children who have been taken captive by non-Jews, and their children

are Jewish (Samuel ben Abraham Aboa). A full discussion of the problem may be

found in H. J. Zimmel’s Die Marranen in de Rabbinischen Literatur pp. 21 ff. One extreme

position was held by Solomon ben Simon Duran (Rashbash Responsa #89) who felt that

not only the apostate but also the children would continue to be considered Jewish forever into

the future as long as the maternal line was Jewish. He also felt that nothing needed to be done

by any generation of such apostates when they returned to Judaism. No ritual bath or any other

act was considered necessary or desirable. In fact, he emphasized that no attention be given to

their previous state, for that might discourage their return. Rabbenu Gershom similarly urged the

quiet acceptance of all who returned to Judaism (Mahzor Vitry pp. 96, 97). The

other extreme has been presented by Hai Gaon as cited in a slightly different fashion by Rashi

(in his commentary to Kid. 68b and Lev. 24.10). He felt that any returning apostate, or the

children of a Jewish mother who had apostasized, were potentially Jewish but must undergo a

process akin to conversion if they wished to become part of the Jewish community. That point of

view was rejected by most later scholars, as for example, Nahmanides (in his commentary to

Leviticus 24.10; Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 268.10 f; Ezekiel Laudau, Noda

Biyehuda #150, etc.). We, therefore, have two opposing positions in rabbinic literature; both,

of course, represented reaction to particular historic conditions. Solomon ben Simon of Duran

wished to make it easy for a large number of Marranos to return to Judaism; unfortunately this

did not occur. Even when it was possible for Jews to leave Spain, the majority chose to remain.

Rashi’s harsh attitude probably reflected the small number of apostates who were a thorn in the

side of the French community. The later tradition chose a middle path and encouraged the

apostate’s return along with some studies, but without a formal conversion process. Even if an

apostate indicated no desire to return to Judaism, he would, nevertheless, be considered as part

of the Jewish people (San 44a). A summary of special laws which were applied to

apostates would include a number of matters mainly connected with family law. The marriage of

an apostate who left Judaism under duress, if performed according to Jewish law, was valid (Yeb

30b; Shulhan Arukh Even Haezer 44.9). The rules of divorce when apostates were

involved were modified; such individuals were not considered to be reliable witnesses except in

the case of an agunah. Penalties could be imposed on their inheritance (Kid. 18a)

although they did possess the right of inheritance (B. B. 108a, 11a). Normal mourning rites

should not be observed for such persons (M. San. 6.6; Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah

345.5). Clearly apostates stood outside the community in all but relatively few matters until their

repentance. Each of these cases cited above, of course, dealt with apostasy under

greater or lesser duress. Outside pressures played a major role in the lives of the individuals

involved. This is not the case with the “Completed Jew.” We would, therefore, be stricter with her

than with individuals who were forced into a position of becoming Christian. For us such modern

willing apostate is a non-Jew. In this matter we would disagree with the Talmud and later

tradition (Bech. 30b; see “An Apostate Proselyte,” American Reform Responsa, #71 for

further references). We can not, and should not, exclude such individuals from

attendance at services, classes or any other activity of the community, for we always hold the

hope that they will return to Judaism and disassociate themselves from Christianity. But they

should be seen as outsiders who have placed themselves outside the Jewish community. This

should be made very clear to them and to the Jewish and general community, especially as

many such individuals are active proselytizers . Such individuals should not be accorded

membership in the congregation or treated in any way which makes them appear as if they were

affiliated with the Jewish community, for that poses a clear danger to the Jewish community and

also to its relationships with the general community. We certainly do not want these

individuals to speak for Judaism in any public forum. In conclusion, we should make the

distinction between ourselves and these individuals very clear to them, to the Jewish community

and to the general community around us.September 1983

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.