There hasn’t been so much media coverage about Jews for Jesus since their founder Moshe (Martin) Rosen met his maker. What caused the recent raucousness? Former President George W. Bush recently agreed to speak at a fundraiser for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, a group that trains evangelical Christians from the United States, Israel, and around the world to convince Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah.
I am thrilled that there are still people who see the insult and hypocrisy of groups like Jews for Jesus who masquerade as traditional Jews while downplaying their Christian theology. Moshe Rosen once wrote that missionaries should avoid initiating encounters with discussions of the Trinity, because he knew that most Jews would be uncomfortable with the idea a worshiping God in human form.
This is just another ploy to sugarcoat Christian theology to make it more palatable for Jews. I am often asked by missionaries, “So what is wrong with believing in the Jewish messiah?” This is an unfair question, because it intentionally avoids the issue that Jewish belief in the messiah is very different from the Christian view that the messiah is Divine and part of a Trinity.
For thousands of years the Biblical understanding of messiah is that of a human who leads the Jewish people back to the land of Israel, harkens an era of peace and service of one God. The messiah, along with the rest of us, will worship God directly and turn to God for forgiveness.
So how did Bush find himself in this brouhaha? One statistic in the recent Pew study sheds some light on this. The study claims 34% of Jews think you can be Jewish and believe Jesus is the messiah; Jews for Jesus and the messianic Jews have fought long and hard to gain acceptability for the misnomer that you can be Jewish and Christian at the same time. That Bush and 34% of Jews have fallen for this deception demonstrates that if you promote a lie long enough, it will be viewed as fact.
Missionaries are more of a problem than ever. We may not see them on street corners and college campuses as frequently as in the 70s and 80s, but ask any computer-savvy youth, and you will discover that the Internet has become the new battleground for the Jewish soul.
To respond to this growing phenomenon, we must redouble our efforts and promote the warmth, openness and spirituality of Judaism. At the same time we need to provide our youth the tools to apply critical thinking to real life issues and offer concise responses to the mislead claims of those who seek our conversion.
When I founded Jews for Judaism 28 years ago I quickly learned how challenging it was to keep pace with the multi-million-dollar crusade of missionaries who have set their eyes on the Jewish people. We need to preempt missionaries, and that is why Jews for Judaism is launching a new and innovative Smart Choices Critical Thinking Initiative to empower our youth with tools for life and inspiration to stay Jewish.
Details about our ground-breaking curriculum and Ted-style events for high school and college students are already posted at SmartChoicesProject.com. I hope these resources will be helpful to you or someone you care about, because together we must keep Jews Jewish and say no to Jews for Jesus.
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz founded Jews for Judaism International. On December 10 the organization will celebrate 28 years of Empowering our Youth with a Gala featuring guest speaker Michael Medved.
For information, please visit www.JewsforJudaism.org/Gala or call (310) 556-3344.