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Messianic, yes; but it isn't Judaism

Palm Beach Post — Friday, October 24, 2003 — William Gralnick, southeast regional director of the American Jewish Committee

Posted on 10/24/2003 12:48 PM PDT by yonif

With the Jews for Jesus gathering like a dark cloud of locusts, it is no wonder that Jews across the county flipped out when The Post used a picture of a Messianic congregation celebrating "Tashlich," the ceremony of casting one's sins upon the waters.

Nor were they much comforted by the column that acknowledged the use of the picture as a mistake for a Rosh Hashana story. It was more than a mistake; it missed the point. It was not a picture about Jews celebrating Judaism. It was a picture of Christians playing at being Jews.

While that is a harsh assessment of both the use of the picture and the group, it is important, as the Navajos used to say, to "walk a mile in another's moccasins" to understand. Let us begin locally.

Jews for Jesus is coming to town Dec. 8-22, with two stated purposes. One is to convert as many Jews to Christianity as possible. The other is more interesting -- to tell Christian pastors and church leaders that if they are not part of the solution -- the bringing of Jews to the Christian Messiah -- then they are part of the problem. This ratchets up the aggressiveness of an already aggressive group that has no compunction about chasing Jews in crowds the way sheepdogs cut sheep from a flock.

The shame of it is that over the past several years, there has been significant tension in this county between Jews and evangelical Christians, which is what Jews for Jesus, Chosen People's Ministry and other messianic Jewish groups really are. We had the infamous pre-Passover mailing of the so-called Jesus tapes, a 1980s film telling the story of the Passion.

Then came the "To the Jew First in the New Millennium" at which the First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Atlantic College and others held workshops whose purpose was to teach Christians how to convert Jews. There also was the lifting and using of a chamber of commerce mailing list inviting people to bring their Jewish friends on a dinner cruise. The letter suggested that the Jews shouldn't know the conversionary purpose until they were aboard.

Now, get ready to slip on those moccasins. Few are aware that, if they were counted like animals, Jews would be listed as an endangered species. There are barely 15 million post-Holocaust Jews left on Earth. Roughly 30 percent are living on the edge in Israel. Another 1.5 million are engaged in a dicey experiment of revitalizing a religion that hasn't been legal since the Bolshevik Revolution and later the Cold War in places where anti-Semitism seems to have been in mother's milk. To be a Jew in France is to think daily about moving to Israel.

In Toronto, a gigantic billboard was erected in a Jewish neighborhood calling Jews to Christ. And what about the Presbyterian Church USA establishing Congregation Avodat Yisrael? The church has pledged $145,000 for five years, the Pennsylvania synod has kicked in $75,000 and the church's General Assembly another $125,000. Avodat Yisrael has hired staff who call themselves "rabbi" and/or "cantor."

Now we come to the nub of it. It is the treacherous deception. The problem with Messianic Judaism, and the picture, is that it isn't Judaism; it's a lie.

One can't graduate from a Christian seminary and be a rabbi. The most golden-throated singer is not a cantor without the Cantorial Assembly or a similar body conferring certification. To be a Jew, one must be born to Jewish parents or go through conversion with a rabbi. It is forbidden to worship more than one god. Acceptance of the divinity of Jesus does make one Christian. It does not and cannot maintain one's status as a Jew.

So what is one to do? If you are Jewish, tell young and old alike that the locusts of conversion are about to descend and to be prepared for deception of the highest, or lowest, order. Jews must teach Jews better and more often. That is the best antidote.

If you are Christian, ask yourself this: "Is this the way Jesus would have wanted it?" Was he deceitful? Was he deceptive? Did he take with him hordes of people to descend on nonbelievers? I think not. And ask this: "Is this the kind of Christian I want to be?" If not, "Is this what I want my church to be doing?" I hope not.

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