Religious split: Some say Adat Chaim congregants' beliefs are contradiction

The Coloradoan/January 21, 2007
By Kelli Lacket

The Star of David figures prominently on Adat Chaim's sign on South College Avenue.

And the congregation is listed in the phone book under the heading "Synagogues-Messianic."

But the congregation's claim to be a Jewish synagogue is something that riles many Jews in the community.

Adat Chaim congregants believe, like Christians, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Jewish messiah and that Jesus of Nazareth is the "right arm" of God.

"There was a separation of two religions where really there is oneness," said Vern Meyer, who the congregants call the rabbi of the congregation. Meyer said that, although he has studied extensively with rabbis, he has not been ordained as a rabbi.

Most of Adat Chaim's congregants were born Gentiles but have gone through a conversion process to become Jews, Meyer said. They follow Jewish laws, such as keeping kosher and observing the Sabbath, he said.

But to claim to be Jewish while believing in Jesus is a theological contradiction and to call oneself a rabbi and to dress as a rabbi without being ordained is deceptive, said Rabbi Yerachmiel Gorelik with the Chabad Jewish Center of Northern Colorado.

"I view this as something which is very wrong and reprehensible. To attempt to deceive by subterfuge, namely to act and promote oneself as Orthodox Jews when you are not is akin to me, an Orthodox rabbi, dressing or acting as a Christian priest or a Muslim sheik in order to mislead those from that religion," Gorelik said.

Gorelik invited Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz from Los Angeles to speak Thursday at Colorado State University about the issue of Jesus- believing Jews.

Kravitz is founder of Jews for Judaism which counters missionary efforts to convert Jews to Christianity. He expressed concerned about Messianic Christians who believe in Jesus as the Messiah but practice some Jewish rituals and may dress as Jews.

“Part of what we are concerned about are some manipulations, some distortions, some hypocrisy, some deception on some levels,” Kravitz said.

Unlike most Christians, Adat Chaim congregants believe the messiah did not abolish the laws of the Torah.

“We are still bound by the Torah. We are still bound by the oral law,” said Joseph Miller, one of the congregants.

The congregation has been in Fort Collins for 25 years, but much has changed in the past year. Longtime leader Danny Miller left the congregation in spring 2006 because of family problems, Meyer said. After his departure, the congregation dropped in size from nearly 100 members to about a dozen families. Some who left are meeting in homes in the area, he said.

The congregation’s accredited school for about 30 primary and secondary students closed at the end of the 2006 school year for financial reasons, Meyer said.

Still, Meyer hopes to grow the congregation and hopes that one day the congregants will be accepted as Jews by the rest of the community.

“We want to live here in Fort Collins as Jews and be content to fit in,” he said. “Are we deceiving people? … I would invite anyone to come for a visit and see for themselves.”

The messianic debate

The messianic movement is an umbrella term which describes hundreds of congregations with varied beliefs and religious practices.

On one end of the spectrum are evangelical Christians who practice their religion with a Jewish flavor. Some of the congregations were planted or are supported financially by Protestant Christian denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention and Assemblies of God.

Jews for Jesus, the most well-known of such groups, states that its primary mission is to evangelize Jews — to convert Jews to a belief in Jesus as the messiah prophesized in the Hebrew Bible.

The movement consists of about 400 congregations in the United States and a few overseas with a total membership of about 20,000, Rabbi Carol Harris-Shapiro said in a phone interview with the Coloradoan in 2005.

Harris-Shapiro is a Reconstructionist rabbi and author of the 1999 book “Messianic Judaism: A Rabbi’s Journey through Religious Change in America.”

No more than half of messianics are ethnic Jews, said Harris-Shapiro, who teaches contemporary Jewish studies at Gratz University near Philadelphia.

“(The messianic movement) has been a bone of contention in the Jewish community for a long time,” Harris-Shapiro said. “The messianic community has been accused of deception. In the 1970s, there were things going on that were absolute deception — people were converting (to Judaism) and never telling the rabbi they were Jesus believers in order to say ‘I’m a Jew’ and evangelize to Jews. Those excesses have died down a bit.”

But messianic congregants are still considered by many Jews to be “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” she said.

“It goes back to Jews being persecuted by Christians,” she said. “There were Jews who became Christian and these were the ones who helped to persecute the Jews.”

None of the four major denominations of Judaism recognize messianics as Jews, said Rabbi Zvi Ish-Shalom of Congregation Har Shalom, the largest Jewish synagogue in Fort Collins.

“As Jews we accept and honor everyone’s particular path to God. … They can call themselves whatever they want, but messianic Christianity is not on the radar screen of Judaism,” he said.

But Meyer said Adat Chaim is not messianic.

“We are not messianic in the sense that the word has been used,” Meyer said. “Messianic Judaism is just another Christian sect.”

Adat Chaim congregants do not believe in the trinity and do not celebrate holidays with pagan origins such as Christmas and Easter. The congregation has severed its previous affiliation with messianic congregations, Meyer said.

Meyer said that his goal is not to convert Jews to Christianity.

“Jews for Jesus takes born Jewish people and places them in Christianity and turns them into Christians. That’s offensive,” he said.

Most of his congregants were not religious at all before joining, though most have a Christian heritage, Meyer said.

“There has always been room in Judaism for conversion,” he said. “I’m not making Christians out of Jews. I’m making Jews out of Christians.”


Traditionally, to be considered a Jew, a person must have a Jewish mother or must formally convert under the guidance of a rabbi ordained by a recognized Jewish institution.

“Several Jewish denominations also recognize a person born of a Jewish father to be fully Jewish,” Ish-Shalom said.

“Converts must meet with a rabbinical court, consisting of three recognized leaders in the Jewish community, who determine through a process of inquiry the sincerity and readiness of the candidate to take on the responsibilities of Jewish life,” he said.

Fort Collins rabbis are skeptical that a credentialed rabbi would convert those who profess a belief in Jesus as the messiah.

“You can’t convert with a view that expresses a loyalty to Jesus,” Gorelik said. “When someone converts, he is pledging full and utmost loyalty to God and to the Old Testament and to all 613 commandments and first among those commandments is not to have any other gods. So inherently, Jesus and Judaism is a contradiction.”

Among the converts at Adat Chaim is Joseph’s wife, Sharon Miller, who converted to Judaism in 1999. She said her Orthodox conversion was conducted by a rabbi from out of town, and she met with a rabbinical court of three rabbis who questioned her extensively.

Sharon said she keeps a kosher kitchen, covers her hair, dresses according to the strict standards of modesty and keeps the Sabbath.

“I live a more Orthodox life than a lot of Jews,” Sharon Miller said. “The only difference is that I can say that prophecies have been fulfilled and that there are two comings (of the messiah).”

“I’ve shed so many tears about not being accepted as a Jew,” Miller said. “Why spend the energy anymore?”

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