Editorial MLL

Our notion of Jewish-Christian + Messianic Jews in a global context

Well-known Jewish-Christians related to Hamburg are the composers Felix Mendelsohn-Bartholdy as well as his sister Fanny Hensel, writer and poet Heinrich Heine, architect Martin Haller, Higher Regional Council, Justice Dr. Arthur Goldschmidt, the merchant and philantropist Max Emden and writer Ingeborg Hecht. Other Hebrew-Christians were secretary and foreign language correspondent Ilse Silbermann. She was confirmed at the Jerusalem Church by the Jewish Pastor Ernst Moser, lived and worked in Blankenese, was deported  from Altona, at the age of 24 and murdered in the death camp of Auschwitz in 1942. There is also physician Dr. Hermann Da Fonseca-Wollheim of  Altona-Bahrenfeld. He had a medical office in his house, was interned at KolaFu (Konzentrationlager Fuhlsbüttel) and deported to the KZ Buchenwald near Weimar. There he was murdered on May 13 in 1944 by SS-guards.

Hebrew-Christians were a group of Jews severley persecuted by the Nazi-regime who are now out of focus of the wider public. They have been completely fallen into oblivion. Centuries before Jewish-Christians were present in a different cultural setting, for example in Spain and Portugal in the 17th century. They fled the inquisition and migrated to Turkey, Brazil, the Caribbean, Amsterdam and Hamburgo where they were also known as Marranos, Conversos or Christianos Nuevos. These people had a Catholic-Jewish background and a mediterranean lifestyle, they spoke Spanish or Ladino.

During the Nationalsocialist reign of terror (1933-45) in Germany and Austria the churches of the so-called III. Reich excluded Hebrew-Christians of Central-European origin, denounced them to NS-authorities and delivered them for internment, slave labour and excecution. Jewish-Christians were persecuted as ‚Jewish‘ (according to racial NS-laws, it was basically a crime to be Jewish). They were deported to death camps like Theresienstadt (Therezin) and Auschwitz (Oswiecim), where they were murdered like all their fellow Jews, even if they considered themselves Christians. The Jewish pastor of the Jerusalem congregation of Hamburg, Dr. Arnold Frank and his congregation tried to counter antisemitism. Frank helped baptized and non-baptized Jews to acquire documents that opened ways to take refuge in Great Britain, until he himself and his fellow pastor Ernst Moser had to escape Hamburg in 1938. In contrast to Jewish communities in Germany, who had been re-established little by little through an influx of Jewish migrants from Eastern Europe and Persia, congregations of Jewish-Christians almost completely disappeared from the maps of Central Europe.

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Inscription Jerusalemchurch Eimsbüttel (formerly Irisch-Presbyterian, today EKD-Nordkirche)

The descendants of persecuted  Jewish-Christians – a tragic legacy
Experts assume there once had been living approx. 150,000 Jewish-Christians in Austria and Germany in the 1930ies. Many of them had been deported and killed by the Nazis, but there are also quite a few, who survived. These people were not registered as ‘Jews’ by NS- authorities or religious congregations. The surviving Hebrew-Christians mostly covered their identity up, were hiding it from their own children and grand-children in order to protect them. Documents providing infos about Jewish ancestors are missing, had simply disappeared. Until today many people are not fully aware of the fact, that they are of Jewish descent – because it was – and still is – dangerous, it is kept a secret. Today the self-searching process is difficult and often ignorance and non-acceptance are reactions of the society and family members. Today the offspring of these crypto-Jews in Germany are perhaps only one percent of the population, which nevertheless would sum up to a total of approximately 800,000 people.

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Jerusalemchurch Hamburg (Irisch-Presbyterian) during allied air raid in 1942
© Privatbesitz Annemarie Kohl

Not Jews anymore, or still considered Jews? Insights from Ethiopia and Israel
According to the halakha, Rabbis consider Jewish-Christians still as apostates or heretics, though Hebrew-Christians are of Jewish descent.  Jewishness cannot only be defined by religion but also according to ethical values, genealogy, culture and Family history. Often the documents to prove Jewish origin are missing. Though the Falascha Mura in Ethiopia (coptic Hebrew-Christians without documents proving their Jewishness) were accepted by the Israeli government as Jewish and allowed into the country of Israel. The Ethiopian ambassador Hiruy Emanuel revealed in the late 1990‘s in Berlin, that there were official treaties between Ethiopia and Israel allowing the emigration of Falascha Mura (Hebrew-Christians) from the North of Ethiopia to Israel. Until today not only the Falaschas/Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews call themselves Beta Israel and not ‚strangers‘) are migrating to Israel. There is an ongoing aliya of Ethiopian orthodox Hebrew-Christians (Falascha Mura) though, who are as well granted citizenship of Israel. However, today we know that these groups of Ethiopian immigrants have a weak status in Israel, which in their imagination was the biblical land of their abode. They hoped that homecoming would bestow them with redemption from galut (forced exile in Ethiopia). In Israel there might be at present also about 120 different groups of Messianic Jews who – like many Ethiopians – are more or less marginalized.

Mirjam + grandchild of Beta Israel in the Province of Gondar, Northern Ethiopia

Falasha + Falasha Mura migrated from 1979 on in several waves to Eretz Israel

Synagoge in Simien Mountains/Gondar

Europe: Respect or reject? Cultural extermination since Constantine
What about the children of the Hebrew-Christians in Europe? When will they be accepted by the Church, the Synagoge or the Israeli government? Over centuries Jews were either converted by force or came to the Christian faith in Jesus out of their free will. In both cases they had completely to do away with all their Jewishness, i.e. religious rites, prayers, kashrut (biblical diet) and holidays, to prove that they were ‘Honest Christians’! They were treated like gentile infidels though by the churches. The historical facts had been reversed: The official churches had taken away and transformed ideas, customs and holidays from Jews, for example the Mashiach whom the Christian clergy simply called ‘Christ’. They had changed Pessach into Easter, Shavuoth into Pentecost and used it for their own purposes in the aftermath of a decree of Emperor Constantine at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.C. This law also ruled that the Churches were the New Israel of a ‘New Covenant’ (replacement theology)! Jews and Jewish-Christians were banned from church services ! Intermarriages between Jewish-Christians and Non-Jews were according to the concile of Elvira in the fourth century forbidden!

Messianic Jews – what’s that and who is considered a Messianic Jew?
Today there are various groups of Messianic Jews in Israel, South America, USA, England – and also in Germany who are – as a non-accepted Jewish minority – sitting between the chairs of well-established Churches and Synagogues. Some officially still hold a church membership, some are members of synagogues, others are not affiliated with any of these institutions. Many Messianic Jews are Christian fundamentalists or claim to be Jewish orthodox (London, GB/Florida,USA). A moderate position in between is still missing. Most of the people who are today members of Messianic congregations in Germany came as refugees in the 1990’s from post-soviet countries like Russia, Moldavia, the Ukraine etc. For them, the Mashiach is Yeshua (in Hebrew = Redeemer), the Jewish Jesus Christ.  

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Messianic Jews derived from the Jesus People movement in the USA
Foto © Jakob Damkani

A liberal Jewish-Christian platform in Germany is still missing. MLL Hamburg is a registered society concerned about Hebrew-Christian traditions in Hamburg – it is not a congregation whatsoever! We do work on a voluntarily basis and are able to issue tax excemptions for your donations. We will give you more infos and insights about Jewish and Jewish-Christian topics here if you plan to come to Hamburg. We offer guided tours, seminars, workshops and are studying Torah and Texts of Brith Chadasha (New Testament writings) on traditional Shabbat including kidush and a meal. We also basically observe the Jewish calendar! Please also do notice our recommended books under “Literatures” on our MLL-Homepage as well as “Education & Culture“, “Seminars“, “Events”, which you easily can find in the menu above.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us:

Board of Trustees MLL e.V. Hamburg Frank Scheerer – Friedrich Quaas – Andreas Birnbaum