ARIZONA DAILY STAR
Tucson, Arizona. Published: 04/05/2004
Passover, Easter Mark Week,
Messianic Jews will Celebrate Both Holidays by Stephanie Innes
Two religions with a rocky history of interfaith relations will each celebrate
important biblical events this week - Passover for Jews and Easter for Christians.
Despite the obvious difference between the two faiths - Christians believe Jesus
Is the Messiah and Jews do not - a small and controversial group of Tucsonans
will be observing both religious holidays.
Messianic Jews will celebrate Passover, which begins at sundown tonight. They
will refrain from leavened bread for eight days and recount the Exodus story of
Jewish liberation from enslavement in Egypt. They will also contemplate the
Death and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.
Mainline Jewish leaders have denounced messianic Judaism, calling it a deceptive
form of radical Christianity that evangelizes Jews by inaccurately telling them
they can retain their Judaism while taking Jesus as their savior.
Messianic Jewish leaders, in spite of the criticism, say their faith represents
a very real "revival'' of Christianity, from its roots in Judaism - after all,
Jesus and his disciples were all Jewish, says Steve Shermett, leader and founder
of the 14-year-old Congregation Beth Sar Shalom , 5002 E. Fourth St., and a
Board member of the newly-formed Association of Messianic Congregations.
"We've mixed two cultures and taken what we think is the best of two worlds and
combined them. In my frame of reference, I'm still a faithful Jew," Shermett
One of the more well-known messianic Jewish groups is called Jews for Jesus,
which began in 1973 with a Baptist minister who was born a Jew. In response to
Jews for Jesus, mainline Jewish groups in the mid-1980s created the International Jews for Judaism, which uses education to combat what they say are
deceptive tactics to target and convert the Jewish community, particularly
College students, seniors and refugees.
"Theologically the two traditions contradict each other," said Rabbi Robert
Eisen of the Conservative Congregation Anshei Israel, 5550 E. Fifth St.,
Tucson's largest Jewish congregation. "You can't celebrate Passover and Easter
and maintain any sense of theology."
Eisen said normative Judaism would call Shermett a Christian. Christianity and
Judaism, while having some similarities, also have truths about them that are
distinct, he said. Orthodox, Conservative and Reform synagogues in Tucson have sponsored local
Workshops hosted by Jews for Judaism to let people know that being Jewish does
not mean accepting Jesus as the messiah, even if congregations like Shermett's
call themselves synagogues.
Mainline Jews do believe in a Messiah and a "messianic age," but their Messiah
hasn't come yet. Orthodox Jews, for example, hold that Jews are obligated to
Accept 13 principles of Jewish faith compiled by the medieval Jewish philosopher
Maimonides, who wrote of a "complete faith" in the coming of the Messiah.
Undaunted by mainline definitions of Judaism, Shermett, 38, has a leadership
role in both Christian and messianic Jewish worship services. He has been
ordained by the Conservative Baptist Association of America and is doing double
Duty as an interim teaching pastor at El Camino Baptist Church, 7777 E. Speedway, where
he will be preaching on Easter Sunday.
"Exodus was a fabulous story of deliverance that pointed to a greater
deliverance: Jesus," said Shermett, who grew up in a Conservative Jewish home
and graduated from the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, where he majored in
Jewish studies. "People are often faithful to the religion in which they were
born, but that doesn't speak to the veracity of the religion at all."
Congregation Beth Sar Shalom has about 100 worshippers for its Saturday Services. It is one of two messianic Jewish congregations in Tucson. The other
is Congregation Beit Avanim Chaiot, 3820 E. River Road, which has reported a
Congregation of between 25 and 50 people.
While such small numbers in proportion to the number of mainline Jewish people
In Tucson - nearly 23,000 - is troubling to Shermett, he takes it in stride. He
remains hopeful that people of all faiths will one day embrace Jesus.
"From our perspective, he's been once and he'll be back," Shermett said. "The
first time he came it was to make peace between God and man. The second time
will be to make peace between man and man. Our job now is to be faithful to him
and to spread his word."
ARIZONA DAILY STAR. Used by permission.