Messianic Judaism link by Yahoo! stirs up Internet

As the World Wide Web weaves its way into American life, more and more organizations are going online. But a few are doing it in a way that strikes many Jews as out of line.

Take a controversial listing posted on Mountain View-based Yahoo! — the world's largest subject-oriented index to the web.

When Internet cruisers stop at the Yahoo! site for "Society and Culture: Religion: Judaism," they access a diverse menu of Jewish subjects: congregations, culture, publications, music.

But tucked away among listings under Judaism is "Messianic Views."

Browsers who then click on this listing are transported to "Society and Culture: Religion: Christianity: Messianic Judaism." That list features 10 web sites, including one for the Maryland-based Association of Torah-Observant Messianics.

No Christian symbols appear on the association's home page, which includes Stars of David, a Jerusalem skyline and a greeting: "Shalom Aleichem. Welcome to Teshuvah. A journey back to God."

That web site offers discourse on the Messianics' belief in "Yeshua," or Jesus, as the messiah. The interested browser can even call up a page with a form on which to e-mail a prayer request.

The web site also offers links to Messianic theology, congregations, observance, Yiddishkeit and the anti-abortion movement.

Yahoo!'s decision to list Messianic Judaism under Christianity with a link to the Judaism index has generated a storm of critical e-mail from Jews and at least one Messianic "administrative rabbi/pastor." The controversy even appeared in a May 1996 Wired Magazine article on the difficulties associated with Internet classification.

"Our fundamental purpose is to provide intuitive access to information," Yahoo! spokeswoman Srinija Srinivasan said. "Our categories are not meant to be `definitional' — that is, by listing Messianic Judaism under Judaism we are in no way claiming that we do or don't `recognize' it as a subset or sect of Judaism. It is not our place to do so."

What "we are claiming," Srinivasan continued, "is that as a topic of information, Messianic Judaism is significantly relevant to the topic of Judaism. The mere fact that Messianic Jews claim that they maintain Jewish identity and culture makes them relevant to the topic of Judaism."

Rabbi Stuart Federow of Conservative Congregation Shaar Hashalom in Clear Lake, Texas, shot back via e-mail: "By placing it there, you have granted credibility to their claim, a claim that is not accepted by ANY Jewish group!

"What you have done by continuing to list these groups as Jewish, despite the protests from ALL branches of the Jewish community, is simply to enable them to continue their ruse to get Jews to convert to Christianity, thus rendering Yahoo!…a resource of the Christian missionaries."

New York Rabbi Yaakov Menken also scolded Srinivasan.

"On the Judaism page, one has no way of knowing that `Messianic Judaism' leads to a subsection of Christianity," wrote the Orthodox rabbi who directs Project Genesis in Spring Valley, N.Y., an organization that delivers Jewish education over the Internet.

"Around the world, Jews have listed the Yahoo! Judaism page as a valuable launching point to things Jewish. We do feel that it's a perversion to put these `Messianics' up as members in good standing."

Steve Heiliczer, who describes himself as "Reb Yeshaiah, administrative rabbi/pastor of the Knesset HaShuvim Messianic Jewish Congregation and Covenant of Love Messianic Outreach Ministries in Bowie, Md.," also questioned Yahoo!'s decision.

"You stated that the subject of Messianic Judaism is relevant to both Judaism and Christianity," Heiliczer e-mailed Yahoo! "And yet you placed our listings under Christianity. Maybe this is because you misunderstood something. Although Messianic Judaism is indeed a subject of interest to Christians, it is because Christianity evolved FROM Messianic Judaism."