How long have you been a Christian?" "I'm not a Christian," the woman replied indignantly. "I'm a Messianic Jew."

I was visiting Beth Yeshua in Philadelphia, one of the leading Messianic Jewish congregations in the United States. Though my question was poorly chosen, I was stunned by the definitive rejection of the label Christian and reminded that there may never be an easy fit between Jewish faith and 2,000 years of evolving Christian culture.

"In A.D. 150, Justin Martyr wrote to Trypho the Jew, saying, 'You can be a Jew or a Christian, but you can't be both.' And that is the one thing both communities have traditionally agreed on," says Jamie Cowen, rabbi of Tikvat Israel, a Messianic Jewish congregation based in Richmond, Virginia. "The whole thrust of Messianic Judaism is to restore the roots of the faith as a belief in Jesus as a Jewish Messiah.

"We see our mission as being two primary things—to help Jews understand Jesus as their Messiah, and to help the Christian church understand her Jewish roots."

The rapid growth of Messianic Judaism has been remarkable. In 1967, before the Jewish people regained control of Jerusalem, there was not a single Messianic Jewish congregation in the world, and only several thousand Messianic Jews worldwide. Today, over 350 Messianic Jewish congregations—50 in Israel alone—dot the globe. There are well over one million Jews in the United States who express some sort of faith in Yeshua (the Jewish form of Jesus), according to a 1990 survey, one of the most extensive ever conducted. Sid Roth, host of the Messianic Vision radio and television show, estimates that more than 100,000 Jewish people in the former Soviet Union alone have made professions of faith.

As the numbers ...

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