I remember when I was in high school – it was a private Jewish school – there was a special assembly one day where a man came to speak about religious cults. The school wanted to be sure to educate us as to the activities of cults on college campuses before we graduated.
The speaker talked about all sorts of groups, but he emphasized Jews for Jesus. Apparently, at the time at least, Jews made up a disproportionate percentage of cult members relative to their percentage of the general population. This was explained as a result of many Jews coming from homes with no religious content who were searching for something more meaningful in their lives.
He explained to us how they operated. They would hold a synagogue service on Friday night and invite Jewish students. The service would be the same as the students had experienced in their respective hometown congregations. Only at one point the “Rabbi” would start to talk about Jesus.
What is called “Messianic Judaism” today is what was once called “Jews for Jesus.” It should not be confused with Jewish messianic groups such as the sect within the Lubavitch which believes that Rabbi Schneerson, their last Rebbe, was the messiah. Perhaps they changed their name in an attempt at re-branding because Jews for Jesus sounded so silly. I do not know who said it first, but it has often been brilliantly pointed out that there is another name for Jews for Jesus – Christians. A Jew who believes in Jesus is an oxymoron to say the least.
The messianics attempt to convert Jews to Christianity through subterfuge. They present Jews with an “opportunity” to accept Jesus without giving up their Jewish identity by formally converting to another religion. They let these Jews continue to observe Jewish traditions and holidays and even observe the Sabbath on Saturdays.
One such group is located in the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem. It is currently engaged in a multi million dollar renovation of an old building which will become their new center. Many, if not all, of the observant Jews in the neighborhood know about it and are angry about it.
The congregation is just a block away from one of the more popular synagogues for local English speakers called Mayanot. A year ago, while walking to Mayanot on Shabbat morning, I saw a group of people get out of a taxi right near the congregation. A man asked me in English where the synagogue was as he placed a kipah on his head. I thought at first that maybe he also wanted Mayanot and told him that I was headed there, but then another person in his group pointed to the Messianic congregation’s building. Maybe I should have said something like ask if he was Jewish, but I did not.
About six months ago something similar happened. On Shabbat morning I saw a man, clearly a tourist, in shorts and a T shirt looking at a map. He did not wear a kipah. It was Shabbat morning and he was a block away from the congregation. I asked him if he was lost and he told me that he was looking for the messianic “synagogue.” This time I asked if he were a Jew and he said, “no I’m a Christian.” I then asked him why he was going to the messianic congregation and he said, “I just want to give it my support.”
“Give it my support.” I was fascinated by his choice of words. Why would a Christian say that he wanted to attend services at a synagogue? O.K. maybe if he was invited to a Bar Mitzvah, but this was obviously not the case. Clearly by “support” this man meant that he waned to aid the cause of the messianics in their attempts to convert the Jews.
There is an organization in America which specializes in countering Christian missionary activities. Its leader spoke recently in Nachlaot on the issue, in part, in response to the community’s concerns.
Rabbi Tovia Singer, 53, lives in both Jerusalem and Passaic New Jersey. He has two daughters and studied at the renowned Mir Yeshiva in New York. He founded the organization Outreach Judaism in 1984 and is its director.
Rabbi Singer has boyish good looks that belie his 53 years. When I first saw him I was sure that he was younger than me. He dressed in black with a black kipah. He does not, however, wear a beard. A beard is indicative of the more ultra orthodox Jews represented by his dress and with whom the Mir yeshiva is affiliated. When asked about how he sees himself – modern or more Haredi – he avoided the question. It is understandable, however, that someone in his field would not want to be “typed” as belonging to a specific group.
Rabbi Singer is an excellent public speaker. He knows just how to interject humor into his talks without acting like a comic. His demeanor is reminiscent of Jackie Mason.
Rabbi Singer describes Outreach Judaism as “more of a network” than an organization. They have about eight full time employees who work on different projects. These include their web developers.
In the past, Tovia would conduct one on one sessions with Jews who had become involved with messianic organizations. “It was very time consuming,” he said. Now Rabbi Singer relies mostly on his recorded lectures that are available for free from his web site. The idea is that when a Jew is confronted with Messianic propaganda he can be referred to Tuvia’s lectures on Judaism that provide answers to the points that missionaries make. “The work [I do] today is public speaking.”
Rabbi Singer gave one of his public lectures this past Saturday night at the Kol Rina synagogue in Jerusalem. Kol Rina is located in an old bomb shelter under Beer Sheva Street in the Nachlaot neighborhood. He spoke for 90 minutes to a group of about 70 people and then took questions. Some of the questioners were visibly angry because of missionary activity in the neighborhood.
But why do we Jews find the so called messianics so objectionable? I will answer that question later.
Rabbi Singer began his talk by telling a story from his youth. He saw people putting up posters for a Jews for Jesus event in New York. He confronted the people and began to argue with them. Then an elderly Jewish man who Rabbi Singer had never met before pulled him aside and said, “do not argue with them. You do not know enough.”
Rabbi Singer felt offended by what the man said. He studied at yeshiva six days a week. How could he not “know enough?” The man meant that Tovia did not know how to answer their specific arguments.
Tovia explained how the missionary groups operate and why Jews who do not know exactly how to respond to their propaganda should not attempt to do so.
“In reality any fundamentalist, evangelical, born again Christian is completely dedicated to and obsessed with bringing each and every one of you to the cross. When you hear terms like non-denominational, think denominational. These people are completely committed to bringing every one of you to the cross,” explained Rabbi Singer.
“There are two rules about Jewish evangelism that I never want you to forget. Rule number one, in virtually all cases the person who is likely to succeed in converting a Jew is a Messianic Jew and not a Christian missionary.” In other words, it is the Jews who have become messianic who work at bringing other Jews to Christianity.
Rabbi Singer pointed out that most of the attendees probably knew of someone who became messianic. In fact, in my own community, there was an American woman who befriended many of us and even dated a religious man. She at some point confessed to being Messianic. Her now former boyfriend and most of us who knew her were outraged and have ceased to have contact with her.
“Rule number two is that it will not be a professional missionary who approaches you [first].” It will be a lay evangelical Christian who works with a Jew or who meets Jews at a university. These people are committed to convert Jews and are trained at how to “witness” to Jews. “These are the people who are succeeding with our nation. These are the people trained effectively at how to bring you [Jews] to the cross.”
The Messianic Jews never call themselves Christian. The Christians have learned that Jews do not like the idea of being a Christian. For the last two thousand years the worst persecutions of Jews were caused by Christian hatred of Jews. So they now tell Jews that they can be Jews and believe in Jesus.
They have a Messianic Passover Haggada. In it there are still the four cups of wine and the four questions, but the questions are answered with references to the New Testament. The three pieces of matzo on the Seder table are linked to the Trinity. The breaking of the Afikomen is compared to the breaking of Jesus’ body by the Romans. The holes in the matzo are compared to the holes in Jesus from being nailed to the cross.
Unlike Jews, who do not believe in converting the world to Judaism, Christians do believe that everyone must accept Jesus. But for some reason there seems to be a Christian need to convert the Jews specifically.
“Have you ever heard of Puerto Ricans for Jesus or Moslems for Jesus,” asked Rabbi Singer. “There is an imperative to convert the Jewish people.” It is because the Jewish People must accept Jesus as the Messiah before he will return. As long as there are Jews who continue to reject him then the Jews are preventing the end of days and Jesus’ return.
The rejection by the Jews of Jesus as the messiah was also a serious blow to Christianity. This is why Rabbi Singer says that, “only the conversion of the Jew to Christianity really means anything to them.” Yes they do want all people to become Christians. But Jesus was the Jewish messiah and the Jews were supposed to accept him 2,000 years ago. The failure to do so must be corrected by converting the Jews today.
“The claim of the Church is that the claim of Christianity can be proven from the Jewish scriptures. It’s the Jewish Bible that demonstrates that Jesus was the messiah. So if that is the case who should these first followers of Jesus have been. Should they have been our sages who knew the texts or lay people?”
Rabbi Singer’s point was that the Jews back then who really did know the Torah did not accept the Christian arguments for Jesus. The first Christians were in fact Jews who did not know the Torah. The same thing is happening today. The Jews who become messianic are not people who, like Rabbi Singer, studied in Yeshivot and who really know the Torah. They are Jews who know little or nothing about their own religion.
To convert Jews they are careful in their choice of language.
They don’t say Jesus Christ to a Jew, instead Jesus Yeshua (Hebrew for savior which is what Christ means).
They don’t say convert. Instead they say become a messianic Jew.
They don’t say come to Church because Jews do not like churches and tend to be uncomfortable in them. Instead they say come to a messianic synagogue.
Messianics revel in the opposition that they get in Israel. They use incidents in Israel where they were attacked by Jews as a tool for fundraising when they speak to churches. This has the effect of causing more anti-Semitism amongst Christians who might otherwise have been Judeophiles. “Missions to the Jews are poisoning the minds of some very good people in America and Canada against the Jews.”
Rabbi Singer talked about a Jewish American treasury agent who trained agents on how to identify counterfeit money. Instead of studying phony bills, they learn everything there is to know about the real currency. They spend their time learning every detail of actual US currency including how it feels. This is because once they become experts on the real thing then they will have no trouble identifying a fake.
Rabbi Singer likens this to the cause of fighting missionaries. The best training, he says, is education of Jews. Once a Jew knows about the real thing then he will know how to spot a fake. Once a Jew really knows what the Torah says then he will not be fooled by the arguments of missionaries who quote passages from the Bible out of context.
“Listen to me brothers and sisters. Know the real thing. If you know the real Torah then no missionary will be able to rob you of your relationship with God.”
There were people who did not like that approach. Some of the attendees kept on asking the Rabbi what they can actively do to combat missionaries in Israel. Rabbi Singer just kept on saying that he had already answered the question.
Many people, myself included, when they first find out about the missionary activities, wonder why the government of Israel does not put a stop to it. Many reasons are given. The cynical think that there is a political explanation for it. The government, they believe, is too afraid of alienating the Christian fundamentalists in America on whose support it depends. Others mistakenly believe that it is because the secular government just does not care about the issue.
The fact is that Israel is a democracy with freedom of religion. Israel’s declaration of independence, unlike America’s, has the force of law here since we have no constitution. The declaration specifically guarantees freedom of religion and pledges to respect all of the many religions practiced here in Israel.
You cannot have freedom of religion and freedom of speech in any country if you do not allow people freedom of belief. You cannot stop a Jew from believing in Jesus. You cannot legally stop Christians from preaching to Jews.
There are exceptions, however, when it comes to the right of every Jew in the world to live in Israel under the Law of Return. Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in one landmark cases that a Jew who formally converted to another religion is no longer part of the Jewish People and as such has forfeited a right of return. In another case it ruled that a Messianic Jew is by definition a convert to Christianity.
The entire Jewish world accepts this fact. Even the most liberal and secular Jewish groups in North America have banned any messianic groups from the Jewish Federations.
But why are we more offended by messianics than by Christians who actively work at converting anyone of any religion to Christianity? The first reason is that these movements make the false claim that you can be a Jew and believe in Jesus. You cannot. It is that simple.
Also, messianics engage in deceit and fraud to get Jews to convert. They know what they are doing and they know that the goal is to convert the Jews. If telling Jews that they do not need to give up their Jewish identity makes it easier to convert them then so be it. Their missionaries know that their best chances are with Jews who do not know the Torah so that they can mislead them about what it actually says.
Finally, and most importantly, these groups are fronts for fundamentalist organizations that want to convert all of the Jews to Christianity. We know what they are doing and how they are going about doing it and quite frankly it pisses us off!
The answer to missionaries clearly lies, as Rabbi Singer says, in education. First Israelis and Jews around the world must be better informed about the activities of messianics. Second, and this is most important, Jewish education must be strengthened so that Jews will not only know what the Torah really does say but also understand why believing in Jesus is a red line across which one ceases to be a Jew. Outreach Judaism is an organization that works to do just that.
For more information on Outreach Judaism: