Jews welcome evangelical Christians’ pro-Israel stance and efforts to form friendly relations with the Jewish community but anti-missionary activists worry that this relationship comes at a price. The fundamentalist Christian denominations have been aggressively targeting Jews for conversion for the past 50 years with increasing success.
Methods involve convincing uneducated Jews that they can accept Jesus while remaining Jewish, quoting “proof texts” from the Tanach to prove Jesus’s place in Judaism and blurring the lines between the two religions by adopting Jewish practices and rituals within the worship of Jesus.
In recent years these efforts have reached new levels as missionaries take the New Testament’s dictum to use whatever methods possible to preach The Word to Jews (Paul in 1 Corinthians “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.”).
Several disturbing cases have come to light of missionaries posing as religious Jews. They infiltrate the Orthodox Jewish world, send their children to cheders and BeisYakovs, take on positions as sofers, mohels and rabbis, present themselves as Cohenim and even try to marry their children into Orthodox Jewish families in order to gain credibility (and Israeli citizenship).
Jewish leadership has been slow to respond to this threat. So let’s put down your Slots lv login for a minute and see how a number of community activists ARE working diligently to raise attention to this threat.
The movement to “bring Jews to Jesus” has a number of forms. The most prominent involve the messianics who aim to make Christianity more palatable to Jews by emphasizing Jesus’s rule as the Jewish messiah. The trinity – and presenting Jesus as a part of a god-trihead – is not pushed here though in their services, all prayers – including brochot,
Torah readings and all other traditional Jewish teffilot – always include “in the name of Jesus” as part of the prayer. It’s estimated that messianic congregations, which have prayers on Friday nights, celebrate chaggim and often have sefrei Torah in an aronkosdesh behind a kippa/tallit-wearing “rabbi”, have expanded quickly in recent years as they reach out to uneducated, elderly and otherwise vulnerable Jews.
Outreach Judaism, one of the largest and most active organizations combatting the efforts to missionize to Jews, estimates that “more than 8000 Jews cross over to the ‘Hebrew-Christian’ movement each year.”
Outreach Judaism also reports that “there are over 1000 Christian missions dedicated to converting the Jewish people”, many of which operate in Israel. They include Tel Aviv cafes where patrons are served their coffee along with some information about the “Jewish messiah,” rest stops along the Israel Trail so that hikers can enjoy friendly and comfortable food, drink and conversation while they hike Eretz HaKodesh and centers that cater to the physical and spiritual needs of new olim and even lone soldiers.
Who are the Missionaries?
Catholics and mainstream Protestants generally don’t get involved in missionizing. It’s generally the fundamentalist, right-wing branches of Christianity that support missionizing to the Jews. While many of the Hebrew-Christians and messianic congregations aren’t part of these denominations, groups like the Baptists, the Southern Baptists and the Assemblies of God support the evangelical efforts both financially and philosophically.
The current Jews-for-Jesus type of evangelical activity got its start in the ‘70s when the evangelical Christian world started to look into the reasons that Jews continued to resist Christianity. They concluded that the traditional methods of conversion were compelling to Jews but if they were somehow able to convince Jews that “there’s nothing more Jewish than to believe in Jesus” – meaning that Jews could accept Jesus and still be Jewish – they had a better chance of success. To the horror of the Jewish world, that approach has proved to be quite successful.
The question that many Jews ask is WHY are these Christian groups so obsessed with converting Jews? There are a number of reasons. In the New Testament both Matthew and Paul prioritize the conversion of Jews (Paul – “to the Jew first”; Matthew “go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”). In addition, it’s widely believed in the evangelical world that the mass conversion of the Jews will bring Jesus’s “second coming.”
Finally, many Christians find it troubling that, of all people, it’s the Jews who refuse to recognize Jesus as anything other than a 1st century teacher who, like hundreds of thousands of other Jews, was killed by the Romans. By ignoring the figure that is supposed to be the Jewish savior, Jews present a troubling and humiliating challenge to Christianity.
Missionaries are proving that they are prepared to use any type of subterfuge – including misquoting Tanach and taking Tanach verses out of context, targeting uneducated Jews and Jews in distress and misappropriating Jewish dress, customs and rituals in order to blur the lines between Christianity and Judaism.
What to Do
It’s estimated that supporters of evangelical work that’s aimed at converting Jews to Christianity donate hundreds of millions of dollars to the different missions EVERY YEAR. So it’s not possible to compete with the kind of funds that missionaries have at their disposal.
It is possible, however, for more Jews to educate themselves on missionary tactics and then confront the missionaries. Shannon Nuszen, a former Christian missionary who ended up converting to Judaism and now runs the anti-missionary organization Beynenu, points out that it was only when she met Orthodox Jews who could refute her “proof texts” that she understood how hollow these tactics really were.
Much missionary activity takes place online today. Missionary youtube videos and social media sites are open to everyone – if more knowledgeable people in the Jewish community were to study missionary tactics and then met the missionaries online with refutations, it could help stem the tide. Sites like Outreach Judaism and Jews for Judaism have well-organized archives of articles and explanations that can be accessed by anyone for free.
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