Jews for Jesus
By Stephanie Persin
Jews for Jesus was founded by Martin "Moishe" Rosen in 1973. Rosen's mission, having converted to Christianity himself, was to help bring other Jews to the Christian faith. Rosen became a Baptist minister and a member of the American Board of Missions to the Jews. The ABMJ's goal was clear: To convert Jews into Christians. Rosen found that most Jews were unwilling to leave their Jewish traditions behind.
Taking on a new tactic, Rosen left the ABMJ and started an organization that would convert Jews while allowing them to keep their religious title. Jews for Jesus claims that Jesus is the "Jewish Messiah." Other evangelist groups reference the New Testament as evidence that Jesus is the son of God. Jews for Jesus, on the other hand, cites the Torah and Hebrew psalms as proof that Jesus truly is the messiah for the Jews as well as Christians. Rosen and his followers claim that Jesus' coming was predicted in ancient Hebrew Scriptures, and therefore, if Jews follow the Torah, then they must believe in Jesus as messiah.
Martin Rosen has used these tactics to convert thousands of Jews (as well as many non-Jews) to Christianity. Jews for Jesus have a budget of up to $24 million per year. This money has been used to fund their large evangelizing campaigns. The most recent worldwide campaign started in 2001 and is called "Operation Behold Your God." Thousands of evangelists were sent to London, Australia, Moscow, and throughout America to distribute pamphlets and to preach the ways of the "Jewish Messiah."
Beliefs of Jews for Jesus
Jews for Jesus has many "core beliefs" that are written as an attempt to combine Judaism and Christianity. Traditional Christian beliefs are clear throughout each of the organization's statements of faith. Jews for Jesus believe "in one sovereign God, existing in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." Other statements include the belief that all persons are born with original sin, that Jesus was born of a virgin birth, and that a person's salvation is contingent on his belief in the greatness of Jesus.
Traditional Jewish beliefs seem to be absent from their decrees. In fact, there is only one mention of the Old Testament in the Jews for Jesus' "Statement of Faith." Jewish literature is mentioned in the statement, but only to be rejected as not "binding" by the Jews for Jesus. Traditional Jewish literature can be identified as anything from Maimonides' and Rashi's interpretations, to the Talmud itself. If these Jewish texts were taken to be God's word, the Jews for Jesus could not fully support messianic Judaism. Jewish interpretative texts give no proof that Jesus is the messiah.
The mission statement of Jews for Jesus is: "We exist to make the messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide." While they are strongly devoted to Jesus, the most important belief of Jews for Jesus is the evangelizing of the Jewish people and the conversion of Jews to Christianity.
Methods of Evangelizing
Jews for Jesus uses colorful pamphlets and bright T-shirts to get across their message: "Be more Jewish: Believe in Jesus." Large mailings and a bombardment of pamphleteering are the main methods used by Jews for Jesus. The organization is also known for targeting vulnerable populations of Jews. New Jewish immigrants and college freshman as well as senior citizens and interfaith couples are easy targets for the organization.
The organization also holds services, addresses its ministers as "rabbi," and hosts Seders in cities with large Jewish populations. Evangelists in the organization have been trained to recite phrases from the Old Testament and to use Yiddish words so as to convince potential converts that Jews for Jesus maintain Jewish traditions.
While Jews for Jesus might confuse Jews about its motives, Martin Rosen makes his own goal clear: "Our duty is to aid the church at large and we work as an arm of that body to gather in the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel." When Jews for Jesus gains a follower, the new member is usually baptized and converted to Christianity. These new Christians refer to themselves as "Hebrew Christians" or "Messianic Jews."
Arguments Against Jews for Jesus
Jews for Jesus maintains that a Jew can keep their religious identity, even after converting to Christianity. Jews for Jesus is appealing because it claims that its converts can believe in Jesus, partake in baptism, celebrate Christmas, and remain Jewish, all at the same time. Jews for Jesus preach a combination of Judaism and Christianity.
The Torah itself argues against this idea of Judeo-Christian combination. While all Jews are considered members for life, a person who worships another god or idol is no longer considered Jewish (I Kings 18:21). Worship of Jesus as the son of God is considered belief in a foreign god, and the convert would not be considered Jewish. Judaism does, however, always allow a converted Jew to return to the faith when they again accept the oneness of God.
Jews for Jesus claims that Jews must put faith in Jesus as their savior from sin. Original sin is an inherently Christian belief and, according to Judaism, “sin is an act, not a state of being” (Jews for Judaism). The Torah does not teach that humans are born with sin, but that individual repentance is necessary when a person strays from the commandments of God. In other words, Jews do not believe that one person (namely, Jesus) is capable of repenting for all of humanity's sins through his death.
Likewise, Jews do not believe that one must pray to Jesus for God to hear. God, according to the Tanakh, can hear every individual's prayer. As it is written in Psalms 145:18, “God is near to all who call unto Him.” Christians feel that they must pray to Jesus in order for God to hear their words.
The most important argument against Jews for Jesus is the fact that Jews do not believe that the messiah has arrived. According to the Torah, the messiah must be a descendent of King David. Jews do not consider Jesus to be a direct descendent. More importantly, the messiah is supposed to bring peace to all humanity. As is stated in Isaiah 2:4, “And nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Jesus' coming did not bring about peace and, therefore, Jews cannot accept him as the messiah.
In response, Jews for Jesus might refer to the Second Coming of Jesus. The gospels predict that Jesus will ascend Earth again to fulfill his messianic prophecies. Of course, there is no mention of a Second Coming in the Torah. Therefore, Jews for Jesus is unable to use Jewish textual evidence to prove that Jesus is the messiah and will come again.
Many Jews are infuriated by Rosen's evangelizing methods. In response, Jews have created several organizations to combat Jews for Jesus and other messianic organizations.
“Jews for Judaism” and "“Outreach Judaism” are non-denominational organizations that fight against missionaries and cults who are seeking to convert Jews. These Jewish outreach organizations do not try to convert Christians to Judaism, but rather, they focus on educating Jews about their own heritage. The organizations offer classes, counseling, and another perspective for Jews who have been persuaded by Christian missionary organizations. "Jews for Judaism" uses some of its rival's tactics, and disproves the idea of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah by using excerpts from the New Testament.
The Israeli Supreme Court also made clear its feelings on Jews for Jesus as it applies to eligibility for aliyah. While all Jews are eligible to receive Israeli citizenship, the Supreme Court determined that Jews for Jesus are not actually Jews, as belief in Jesus as the Messiah is not a Jewish value. Rather, they said, Jews for Jesus "marks the clear separation between Judaism and Christianity" (1993).
Christians have voiced mixed responses to the Jews for Jesus' campaign. Some Christians, such as Reverend Clark Lobenstine, maintain that Jews for Jesus goes “beyond the bounds of appropriate and ethically based religious outreach” (Washington Post).
One organization, the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, has gone so far as to condemn Jews for Jesus for being “harmful to the spirit of interreligious respect and tolerance” (ADL). According to the Interfaith Conference, an organization representing many different churches, Jews for Jesus is a coercive force that preys on susceptible Jews.
Other churches, however, have a different opinion. Some Christians believe that it is their duty to convert Jews to Christianity, but that many churches are afraid to offend Jewish leaders. Some of these churches support Martin Rosen and the goals of Jews for Jesus.