How to reply when the doorbell rings

source: Jerusalem Post, July 2, 2008

Many years ago, while a rabbi in Atlanta, I
answered a knock on my door one Shabbat afternoon. Standing in front of
me was a fine-looking couple – obviously non-Jewish.

"Shabbat Shalom, rabbi," they said, and asked to have a word with me.

 


I sensed that they were missionaries and asked
them what the subject was. They replied that they wanted to talk to me
about the "Son of God."

I suggested that while I respected their personal beliefs, in
Judaism there is no such thing as a son or mother of God, that ours is
a very strict monotheistic faith, and that our God is one, not two, and
not three. I added that before attempting to convert Jews, they should
consider converting Christians to Christian teachings, because
throughout history, Jews had seen very little of Christian love and of
turning the other cheek.

End of conversation.

WELL, AT least they were honest. Today, missionaries are much more subtle.

For one thing, they often
pose as Jews themselves. And, most significantly, they do not initially
ask Jews to accept Jesus as the son of God, nor mention that in
Christianity, Jesus is worshipped as a divine being.

Contemporary missionaries realize that Jews – even secular,
non-religious Jews – have a visceral revulsion at the idea of a human
being as divine. They also realize that, for Jews, the figure of Jesus
symbolizes a church that has for millennia condemned Jews to purgatory
and eternal damnation; that the church, in the name of Christian love,
has been responsible for oceans of Jewish blood because of the Jewish
refusal to accept Jesus as a divine being; and for the belief that Jews
deserve to suffer because of this refusal.

Aware of all this, many contemporary missionaries have
apparently altered their strategy. They are now appealing to Jews from
a pseudo-Jewish perspective. In order to entrap Jews, in other words,
much missionary activity has been Judaized. Jesus is no longer Jesus;
he is now "Yeshua," a nice, Jewish-sounding name – as seen in recent
missionary ad campaigns on Jerusalem's buses.

A close reading of some of today's missionary material shows
that the central belief in the divinity of Jesus and his role as "lord
and savior" is hardly mentioned. Today's emphasis is on his supposed
role as messiah. Further, many missionaries themselves now refer to
themselves not as Christians but as "messianic Jews." They wear
yarmulkes, don a tallit, and even have their own "rabbis."

The State of Israel is a crucial target for such missionaries,
and many so-called messianic Jews are actually born Christians who have
given themselves Jewish names and moved to Israel for one reason: to
proselytize Jews.

THIS NEW strategy is illustrated by several recent media articles. The Washington Post
ran a news article on June 21, picked up from the Associated Press,
about "messianic Jews" who claim that they are discriminated against in
Israel – a questionable accusation. The article's description of
messianic Jews made not a single reference to the divinity of Jesus. It
slavishly followed the news release of the missionary group that issued
it – which was careful not to mention the fact that so-called messianic
Jews believe Jesus is the son of God.

Even The Jerusalem Post made no mention of the divinity
of Jesus in its article last Thursday about the three-day messianic
conference taking place that weekend.

An innocent reader comes away from such articles with the
impression that "messianic Jews" are simply another group within
Judaism. There are Orthodox Jews, hassidic Jews, haredi Jews, and there
are messianic Jews – all part of one big, happy Jewish family

WHAT WE see here, in effect, is a renewed assault on the
fundamentals of Judaism – not the traditional frontal assault, but, in
a shift in tactics, one that attempts to infiltrate through indirect
means by blurring the Jesus-as-God aspect of Christianity and stressing
the Jesus-as-messiah aspect. Many missionaries feel this roundabout
approach is less threatening to Jews, more "Jewish-friendly."

In view of this renewed offensive against the basic beliefs of Judaism, some obvious truths must be reiterated:

First and foremost is the cornerstone belief of Judaism: God is
a pure and unadulterated One. He is singular, the unity of all unities,
alone, unique, and indivisible. He cannot be transformed into two or
into three – and certainly not into statues or figures. He is not and
never was human, and he has no physicality, no father or mother.

Millions of Jews have gone to their deaths proclaiming Shema Yisrael
– Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Over and over
again the Hebrew Bible prophetically warns against the inevitable
attempts to dilute and distort this unity (see Deut. 13).

Further truths follow from this cardinal principle:

1. It is a distortion to claim that one can be a Jew and at the
same time believe in Jesus as a god or as a messiah, or a prophet or
savior.

2. It follows, therefore, that terms such as "Jews for Jesus,"
or "Jewish Christians" are grotesque perversions. Such terms are
misleading, misguided, misconceived, and ultimately a miscarriage of
truth – for no Jew can believe in any divinity other than the One God,
and no Jew can view Jesus as anything other than a teacher of another
faith system.

AS FOR the true identity of the Messiah, we have no specific
knowledge, as Maimonides states in his Code, in Hilchot Melachim. In
Judaism, the Messiah will not be a divine creature but a man born of a
man and woman; he will inaugurate an era of universal peace,
spirituality and enlightenment, and will gather in all Jewish exiles to
the land of Israel, as outlined in Isaiah 11.

Jesus has not fulfilled any of these prophecies. Furthermore,
he is worshipped as a deity by another faith. For converts to
Christianity to claim that they are "messianic Jews" is thus another
pathetic distortion.

Having said this, it is important to state that Judaism has no
quarrel with those who choose not to follow the pure monotheism of our
faith.

We are not a missionary religion, and the
benevolent behavior of the modern State of Israel toward non-Jewish
religious minorities demonstrates Jewish magnanimity to those who do
not follow Jewish ways. We have only respect for those who wish to
worship their own deity in their own way, and to live ethically and
lovingly with all people. We condemn those who would demean or use
violence against believers of another religion.

AT
THE same time, missionaries should know that Judaism disdains those who
would entrap unlettered Jews through deception and falsehoods. To try
to persuade innocent Jews that there is no real difference between
Judaism and Christianity – even when these attempts stem from "love and
friendship" for the Jewish people – is an example of such deception.

We welcome genuine evangelical love and friendship and cherish
evangelical support for the State of Israel. But evangelicals must
realize that words like "love and friendship" are very hollow when they
come at the price of apostasy and betrayal of the millennia-old faith
of the Jewish people.

Jews understand that the conversion of the Jews to Christianity
is a central tenet of many Christian sects. We know that missionary
societies around the world budget many millions of dollars annually in
order to "save" Jews. If this is a basic teaching of evangelicals, so
be it. But Jews can learn from them. We too should be budgeting
millions to save fellow Jews around the world, and especially in
Israel, from ignorance and Jewish illiteracy.

The old secular Zionist order, in its haste to be accepted by
the outside world, deprived entire generations of Israeli Jews of even
elementary knowledge of our Jewish heritage – with the result that too
many Jews have no idea of what Judaism stands for, or of the deep
chasms that separate Judaism from Christianity.

We must become missionaries to ourselves. It is long past time
for us to deliver serious Jewish learning to our people. This is
particularly needed for newcomers to Israel from lands like Russia and
Ethiopia, who are particularly vulnerable to the artful blandishments
of clever missionaries. They, together with all Jews, need to know how
to reply when the doorbell rings.

The writer, a rabbi in Atlanta for 40 years, is the former editor of Tradition magazine. The author of nine books, he presently serves on the editorial committee of the Encyclopedia of Mitzvot.

 

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