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Why Don’t Most Jewish Believers Wear Crosses?

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Why Don’t Most Jewish Believers Wear Crosses?

By Mottel Baleston
An actual response to a friend who asked

Hello Robert,
In responding to your question about the lack of display of the cross image among most Jewish believers and in Messianic circles, my answer needs to be carefully understood within this context: I am deeply aware and very grateful that my salvation was purchased by Messiah Yeshua as He shed His blood on the cross. What He accomplished on that Roman torture stake alone has made possible my entry by faith into the family of God. There is no other way of atonement, no other means of salvation for my Jewish people or for anyone else.

At the same time, I am very aware that there is a vast difference between the perfect work of Messiah Yeshua on the cross and what it evokes versus the graphic image of the cross and the widely varying thoughts it evokes in the minds of many.

Let me give a fictitious example: You live in a community that has a variety of people of different races, and everyone gets along well. However, there are a number of people who wear a distinctive red jacket, and every time one of the red jacket people sees someone from your extended family, they jump on you and brutally hit, kick, and beat you. Over the years, it has always been that way, and last year the violence was especially bad, with a number of men from your family having been pulled from their homes and hacked to death with swords and axes, their wives and daughters brutally raped and then killed while the authorities turned a blind eye to it. It is easy to understand that upon seeing any of the
“red jackets,” people from your family have a visceral reaction to them. They are filled with terror. They start to shake uncontrollably and expect to be slaughtered.

Now, let me go from fiction to fact: In February 1919, the people of the Jewish village of Felshtin, my grandmother’s village, were just trying to keep warm in the midst of a cold winter. They had spent years trying to stay out of the way of the non-Jews who ran the town, but occasionally, racial hatred against the Jewish people spilled out of that large Eastern Orthodox church topped with an enormous cross symbol. On February 18, men of a Ukrainian Nationalist militia wearing crosses around their necks rampaged through my grandmother’s village, and in a two day storm tore through the homes of Jewish people, dragging entire families into the streets; using axes and shovels, they hacked them to death in front of each other. This is a literal and exact account of what happened. I have copies of the eyewitness accounts of dozens of survivors and several horrific photos. The accounts of rape and dismemberment are gruesome beyond words.

The names of the four members of my grandmother’s family who were slaughtered are:

Sora Ita Segal (wife of Yaakov Segal)
Mutti Segal
Meir Segal, son of Chaim Sholom
a young son of Yosel Segal

Together with my relatives, six hundred other Jewish neighbors—yes, six hundred
more—were hacked to death, almost half of whom were children.
Now, whether you are from the fictional village and cowered when the “red jackets” appeared or you are from a traditional Jewish background and cowered whenever someone wearing a cross appeared, you have an understandable and justified fear. The simple and indisputable fact is that for most of the last thousand years, the symbol of the cross has been used, i.e. misused, by those who went to church on Sunday and beat Jews on Monday. The events in my grandmother’s village are just one instance. Similar horrific murders and rampages occurred in waves across “Christian Europe.” I understand very well that those who killed my relatives were not genuine Christians no matter how many crosses appeared on their buildings and around their necks. Their loyalty was to a church institution. But the indisputable current reality is that in the minds of most of my Jewish
people the symbol of the cross, the graphic representation of the cross, is linked to a thousand years of violent persecution.

Just as that is indisputably true, I believe it is also indisputably true that the only hope for Jews or Gentiles is the finished work of Messiah Yeshua on the cross as He made atonement. I embrace the Messiah and His finished work as Scripture commands it. However, nowhere in Holy Scripture am I instructed to embrace the graphic symbol of a cross as a necessary representation. There is a difference between the graphic cross symbol and the reality of what Messiah accomplished. Do you understand the difference? Do you understand that a person can cling to the person and work of Messiah without utilizing this symbol? In fact, throughout history there have been groups of Christian believers from various backgrounds who did not utilize the symbol of the cross.

At the same time, I understand that for some believers, wearing the cross may be very appropriate and helpful, and in the spirit of the freedom spelled out in Romans 14, I support their right to do so. For some believers, that symbol represents a tangible and cherished connection to their faith, and I am glad they have that reminder that means so much to them. Additionally, if a believer lives in an area where there is nothing negative associated with the graphical symbol of the cross, its use may provide opportunities to share one’s faith.

Just as quickly as I have said that, a look at the popular media today reveals that many entertainment personalities are often seen wearing crosses, probably for most as a “good luck charm.” At the same time, their immoral, decadent lifestyles are making the news. My Jewish people see all that and roll their eyes, understandably so.

What should settle the question is God’s Word: To the Jews I became as a Jew that I might win the Jews (I Cor. 9:20). All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable or edify (I Cor. 10:23). So, do you have the “right” to wear a cross? Yes, you do. However, the more important question to ask is: What’s more important, my rights or the ability of someone to truly hear the gospel? Upon examination, you may find that your wearing of a cross symbol in your sphere of influence is a positive thing, and if that’s true, I would say, “Wear it and be well!” However, in the world God has called me to reach, that graphic symbol does not say the same thing that it does in yours.

I trust that God will always find us willing to surrender our rights in any matter so that we might be used as yielded and effective tools in his hand.

Your brother in Messiah,

Mottel Baleston
Isa. 62:1

Author’s Postscript: This was a difficult letter for me to write, and no doubt, an uncomfortable letter for some of you to read. One way to react is like people often do when in an argument with another: Instead of listening to the other person’s heart, your ears are closed and you’re only formulating an angry response. I hope you have listened to my heart in this, because I have seen Gentiles who truly put aside their own preferences go on to be mightily used by God to reach Jewish people. I was led to Messiah Yeshua by Vincent Morgan, a Christian man who put aside his own culture and decorated his home with the Jewish Star of David and Israeli art. He showed me both hospitality and the Scriptures and has led dozens of Jewish people to saving faith. May God find each of us as yielded, usable tools in His hand!

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  • Rachael Pengelly
    Reply

    Thank you Mottel for sharing this important insight and the Biblical perspective that we can identify with people culturally where there is liberty. You’ve really helped us take a look inside the Jewish mindset, given the way Jewish people carry their history as a people, no matter where in the world or when in history; sadly ‘Christendom’ has not been kind in the main.

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