After being personally approached by missionaries in social situations, I can no longer go on ignoring it - hence the necessity in my mind of this controversial article.
My apologies to those people from all backgrounds who "just want to learn Hebrew". In particular I'd like to acknowledge that the vast majority of Christians do not engage in missionising Jews; if this is you I urge you to discontinue reading now. My intended audience is the Jewish reader, to become familiar with Messianic organisations before they knock on your door or give you a pamphlet in the shopping mall. This article is not intended to offend, rather it is a call for tolerance and mutual respect between two communities. Unfortunately, missionaries have always been a fact of Jewish life - and have over the last decade spent $US 1 billion on efforts to convert Jews.
I would also like to stress that the contents of this site are offered publically on the Internet to anyone - regardless of their faith or lack of it. Not to do so would be discriminatory. Although I'm not an expert on Jewish Law, Judaism does hold the rather tolerant idea that Christians (and Muslims) who follow the tenets of their faith "merit a place in the world to come". Naturally, I'm not talking of the membership of Al-Qaida or the Ku Klux Klan. This follows from the general principle "all the righteous of the world merit a place in the world to come" - the righteous being those who follow the rules of civilised behaviour tradition says was given to Noah. However, Jews are called to follow the Law, specifically given to them. I hope this explains the subtle points often misconceived by visitors here -
Christian missionary activity directed at the Jewish community, which has occurred continuously during the last 2000 years, can potentially destroy it as Jews don't actively seek converts and reproduce themselves almost entirely from natural population growth.
Firstly, let's go away to the history books and have a quick look at how things were done in the past.
Exactly who are these Messianic groups?
"Messianic Judaism" is a recent invention of the missionary Christian movement that combines a mixture of Jewish ritual and Christianity. Duff-Lawrence, a Christian missionary to the Jews working in California, first coined the term in the late 1950s. It was conceived as an idea to make Christianity seem less foreign to a potential Jewish convert. Each group in the movement differs in how much Jewish ritual is mixed with conventional Christian belief.
One end of the spectrum is represented by Jews For Jesus (1970s), who simply target Jews for conversion to Christianity using imitations of Jewish ritual solely as a means for attracting the potential Jewish convert.
On the other are those who don't stress the divinity of Jesus, but present him (at least at first) as the "messiah". They incorporate Jewish ritual on an ongoing basis.
The movement has received criticism from mainstream Christian leaders, for these groups claim to believe in the New Testament and yet gloss over the distinction between the two communities instituted in that work; for the deceptive tactics used to gain Jewish converts; and for their discriminatory organisational structures.
The founder of Jews for Jesus, Moishe (formerly Morris) Rosen, explains his organisation's strategy here.
The central point of this article is: Judaism and Jesus don't mix. Not in any proportion. Christianity and Judaism are separate belief systems.
Messianics are well organised and funded, and are currently investing resources into attempts to become part of mainstream Jewish communal institutions. They are original, ingenious, sophisticated and motivated in their conversion campaigns. There has even been a test case in the Israeli Supreme court where two individuals attempted to make Aliyah under the Law of Return. The Internet has given them the means of reaching a vast audience of Jews who have not had the benefit of a Jewish education. In the last 30 years they have managed to market their ideas to around 150,000 Jews worldwide.
The marketing tactics of these groups are hard sell indeed. For example:
People undergoing transitions in their lives (such as young people leaving home and going to university) are prime targets. These groups exploit moments of isolation, weakness and vulnerability that every individual in our modern societies have from time to time.
Messianics are typically very pro-Israel. A typical Messianic website uses an unusually high number of Jewish symbols - Magen David, Mezuzah, Shabbat Candles, use of Hebrew and Yiddish language etc. They are intimately aware of the weaknesses and fears of the community, and to manage this they will have from time to time advertising campaigns like "assimilation proof" splashed around (ironically, assimilation is where Jews lose touch with their culture and blend into the general population). It is difficult for authentic Jewish organisations to compete with their lure. Jewish converts are treated like mini celebrities, regardless of their level of knowlege or involvement in the community.
There is a pattern in the organisation of these groups. Like the example of missionary activity in the 1400's you read above, they are typically lead by a charismatic, apostate Jew, of varying ability. This pattern of Jews leaving the community and then vigorously trying to damage it with their new ideology repeats itself throughout history, and is acknowledged in Jewish history books as a paradox of Jewish civilisation. For example, Johann Pfefferkorn, Pablo Christiani (Jews turned Christians); Sa'id ben Hassan (Jew turned Muslim); Karl Marx (founder of Communism, who's grandfather was a rabbi). Arguably it can be seen today in the zest that a fringe group of secular Jews practising journalism have for all things Jewish, where they quite excel their gentile peers, then claim "we can't be biased, we're Jews!".
While I respect (and by criticising deception defend) the right every individual ultimately has to choose their religious beliefs, there are compelling arguments against their decisions which are beyond the scope of this article - see the anti-missionary links below. What however this leader gives these groups is the ability to claim "I was/am an 'Orthodox' Jew, and I found Jesus - so why shouldn't you?". (Orthodox is in inverted commas because this popular claim of having a solid Jewish education is almost always an exaggeration - typically these individuals were raised in unaffiliated Jewish homes).
Importantly, let's now have a look inside a Messianic Church (or "Synagogue").
There are three issues here:
The first is the validity of the claim that "the man Jesus is to be worshiped, or is the Jewish messiah" is a true representation of the Biblical texts. It is common knowledge, of course, that my opinion would differ from that of a Christian. However I do respect their right to this belief, and am not out to market mine to them! If you want to know why Jews don't hold this belief, I refer you to the Outreach Judaism link below.
The second, is whether it is appropriate for one group to go into another people and missionise. Should they not be given the respect to decide for themselves in their own time whether to take up this belief? Shouldn't simply making the customs and beliefs easily available to those who seek them out be enough? Many responsible Christians today, after seeing the aftermath of missionary activity on native peoples, are questioning the morality of this. In their wake indigenous peoples are left with damaged social fabric and are inclined to descend into crime and substance abuse, and a lingering resentment. In particular, given the bloody history and constant failure of missionary activity against the Jews, Christians of good will are calling for this to cease; and mutual respect to begin. Can it really be said that missionaries respect Jews, when they do not respect their right to continue to live as Jews?
Thirdly, there is the question of whether deceptive, almost predatory missionary campaigns are acceptable. This author holds every visitor of good will to this site compelled to say no - at the very least, the ends does not justify the means.
Click here to see how missionary activities to the Jews are being conducted in the 21st century.
Why have such groups recently appeared? I suspect it has something to do with the millennium, and the very visible progress Israel has made for the status of Jews over the last 50 years. For the first time in perhaps 1500 years, in some places it is fashionable, or at least acceptable - to be Jewish. It is a way of plugging into the energy of both. I think it is to be expected: we live in complex societies, in a world of spin and marketing.
If you are Jewish and have become a member of these groups, I encourage you to consider the point by point discussions of their claims presented for you by authentic Jewish authorities at the links immediately below. This may be an uncomfortable process, but if you feel you know the truth, then seeing these arguments should not be threatening.
If you are a non-Jewish member of these groups, I urge you to reconsider your involvement in activities damaging the integrity of the Jewish community, particularly given the long history of similar activities. How will history judge you?