Tisha B’Av & Messianic Judaism

Photo: David Frommer

Photo: David Frommer

Tablet Magazine has another article by Chaplain David Frommer, this time about his experience during Tisha B’av in Kuwait.

He draws a parallel between the catastrophe associated with Tisha B’av and his own unfortunate circumstances. However, after some introspection Frommer comes to realize that even out of destruction comes hope.

Knowing little about the holiday other than the fact that it was now my least favorite, I was surprised to learn that defeat, destruction, and infuriation weren’t the entirety of the story. Though I still suspected that modern-day U.S. Army leave policies were apparently being decided by descendants of Caligula, I was struck by how the tragedies of exile to Babylon and Rome had led to such unforeseen yet vital creations as the writing of the Torah and the establishment of the rabbinate—triumphs of Jewish resiliency and inspiration.

In the end, Frommer leads his deployed community in a meaningful and worthwhile observance. However, the event brings some other issues to the forefront that challenged some of his own ideas and perceptions. In joining a service member for havdalah, he comes to realize that he has “Messianic Jews” in his congregation.

Since childhood, my parents had taught me to avoid Messianic Jews at all costs, much as one would avoid body-snatching aliens or evil wizards. More recently, the issue of Messianic Jewish military chaplains had almost derailed my own efforts to become the first cantor ever endorsed for such work.

After my awkward and unexpected introduction at Havdalah, I always welcomed [Messianic Jews]. But I never felt completely comfortable about it until that Tisha B’Av.

I’ll let you read the actual article to see how he actually comes to this realization, but the end result is his focus on inclusion instead of exclusion.

That’s a big can of worms to open, and only one glance at the comments section below the original article shows how strong the emotions are that surround the idea of including “Messianic Jews” in the Jewish community.

My selective use of quotation marks above probably give away my own thoughts on Messianic Judaism. I don’t personally recognize them as members of the tribe, but I do make a very important distinction between those “Messianic Jews” that are open about their beliefs and those that are subversive and aggressive in their attempts to proselytize . (The former I can tolerate, the latter I despise). There are a lot of complex issues here, and before you jump to your own conclusions I would point out that in situations like Chaplain Frommers, where one is thrilled to scrounge together 4 Jews for a service, the idea of having anyone willing to participate is often an asset.

One of my personal pet peeves is when (particularly in small communities) Jews seem to work harder to pick out differences and separate themselves than they do to find a common bond and unify. So Chaplain Frommer’s message of unity resonates with me, even if I can’t personally make the leap of fully integrating “Messianic Jews” into a congregation.

I don’t think the article is likely to change anyone’s mind about how they feel about Messianic groups, but it’s Frommer’s path leading to his decision, particularly his venture outside of his own Reform upbringing, that is the real learning point.

Go give it a read over at Tablet.


  • Messianic Jews is an oxymoron. These are christians. One who believes in jc is a christian and can never be a Jew. I would personally feel uneasy around these people.

  • Were I in Chaplain Frommer’s place, I know I would have a tough time not letting my personal discomfort with “Messianic Jews” and their problematic history get in the way of my duties as a chaplain to that servicemember. This is where a military chaplain’s role is trickier than that of your average civilian rabbi or cantor. A chaplain has to provide support for people of all faiths while still maintaining integrity as a leader within his or her own tradition, and that can’t always be an easy line to walk. What struck me about the article was that Chaplain Frommer was behaving just as I would hope any military chaplain would act: to help ensure that a servicemember’s religious needs are acknowledged and met to the greatest extent possible, even when they differ from the chaplain’s own.