Shomer Mitzvot
Pt.3:"Who is a Jew?
Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy

A Series of Practical Messianic Living (halachah) 

(Note: all quotations are taken from the Complete Jewish Bible, translation by David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., unless otherwise noted)

The material that we will be dealing with here originally appeared as one of my short answers on the web-forum series "Ask the Messianic Rabbi", located at As part this series on Torah Observance, I have decided to develop the teaching a little further.

My answer might seem lengthy, but if you’ll hear me out, I think you will agree that the amount of space was necessary. 

"Who is a Jew?"

I am of the persuasion that the TaNaKH and the New Covenant Scriptures finally and authoritatively answer this age-old question. I expect that quite a few other rabbis might disagree with me, citing various rabbinical sources and such. But this rabbi still stands on the unchanging, unbiased, error-free Word of HaShem as the Final Authority—period. By addressing this issue first, I believe that any subsequent questions will take care of themselves. I don’t presume my lists to be 100% comprehensive, rather, just the highlights.

Who is a Jew? Let’s examine some of the Biblical requirements, starting with the TaNaKH:

  • Born into the natural lineage of Avraham
  • Father is of this lineage, or willingly converted to this lineage
  • Mother is of this lineage, or willingly converted to this lineage
  • Male children are circumcised on the eighth day, in accordance with the covenant
  • One God-given Torah exists for everyone in the community, and anyone who actively, and by faith, participates, is part of the community
  • Etymologically, one who was/is from the Tribe of Judah, the region of Judea, or a follower of the Jewish religion. The Hebrew word literally means "One who praises YAH"
Now let’s examine some the New Covenant requirements:
  • Possibly born into the natural lineage of Avraham, but not necessary
  • Father is of this lineage, or willingly converted to this lineage
  • Mother is of this lineage, or willingly converted to this lineage
  • Males should not be compelled to be circumcised (in accordance with the covenant), unless they positively feel directed by the Ruach HaKodesh to identify specifically with the physical aspect of Jewish lineage
  • One God-given Torah exists for everyone, as detailed and interpreted by the Messiah Yeshua and the Apostles who wrote the letters of the New Covenant. Anyone who actively ,and by faith, participates, is part of the community
  • Etymologically, one who was/is from the Tribe of Judah, the region of Judea or a follower of the Jewish religion; to include now "spiritually", those who, like faithful Avraham, believe and come to trust in HaShem, through Yeshua
  • One who’s circumcision is not [only] outward, and of the flesh, but [also] inward, and of the heart; one who’s praise comes not from men, but from HaShem
As you will notice, most of the qualifications of both lists repeat themselves, with a few very important differences. "Who is a Jew?" A Jew is anyone who willingly or decidedly falls into one or more of the categories from one list, the other list, or both combined. The modern thinker needs to remind himself that this is the way that HaShem sees them on this issue, regardless of where the Synagogue or the Church might disagree! There are physical Jews, and there are spiritual Jews! There are children born into the family and there are those who belong by "adoption"—both are legitimate heirs to the parental inheritance rights! The Torah says in the book of Ephesians that because of Messiah, we are no longer two separate men, rather, we are now one new man! This paradigm shift boggles the mind! Yet it still defines the question of who is a Jew. Some of the physical Jews forfeit their Biblical right to be called as such. And HaShem knows who they are, even if we don’t. Likewise, every person who calls himself a spiritual (or adopted) Jew is not necessarily a genuine one either. To be sure, the Torah recognizes these "fakes" also.

Now to deal with the question that the reader posed.  A real Jew (physically or spiritually) is not necessarily a good Jew.  Specifically in the case of your inquiry, most of the rabbis would consider him still eligible to receive many of the privileges afforded to physical Jews, however I’m not too sure HaShem and his Torah would feel the same way.  "The full scope of being a loyal Jew includes involvement in the Jewish community and support for Isra’el.  However, it means as well the preservation of the very historic-biblical roots of our heritage, which make these involvements possible… Not all will be able to fully give themselves to the whole of the Jewish heritage, but as loyal Jews, we do so the extent that we can in the Spirit’s leading"  (Taken from Growing to Maturity, A Messianic Jewish Guide, Daniel C. Juster, 1982, 1985, 1987).  Historically, when the Jews became disinterested, by faith, with HaShem, then he became equally disinterested with them.  Covenants require a response on the part of the participants.  HaShem has never reneged on his part of the agreement!

(For more on the "shomer mitzvot" series, read the next issue!)