Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

Two Cheers for Jews for Jesus

posted by David Klinghoffer

The Perplexing Sentence of the Day Award goes to Hadara Graubart at Tablet who responds to my posts on shunning Messianic Jews (emphasis added):

Klinghoffer pats himself on the back for “daring” to suggest that Messianic Jews have something in common with theistic evolutionists, as both subscribe to “convenient delusions that give believers the comforting feeling that they don’t have to choose between logically exclusive alternatives.”

Again, there’s more than logic involved here. Messianic Jews may be trying to comfort themselves, which is fine, but can we agree that on the brain-washing spectrum, scrubbing one’s own is a lot better than being coerced into the tub?

I had to read that last bit a few times myself. Well, if those are the terms, I guess I would have to agree with Hadara. It is my sincere hope that no one will lay hands on me or her or anyone else and try to forcibly scrub our brains in a bathtub.
But I don’t think anyone’s actually being brain-washed by MJ. In fact, I wrote a piece in Hadassah Magazine that I’m proud of, noting that there seems to be a pretty steady flow of Jews and non-Jews, not a torrent but a flow, who pass through phony Jewish-Christian hybrid groups like Jews for Jesus on their way to, yes, Orthodox Judaism. So that, and a couple of other points besides, makes it reasonable to give two cheers for J4J and allied organizations.
Excerpt after the jump:

What’s to like about Jewish-Christian syncretism? I can think of three reasons to regard such hybridization with a mild countenance, if not a friendly one.

First, there are what I call the Jews for Jesus “success stories.” Like me, for example. These folks might not be traditional Jews today were it not for Hebrew Christianity at one point acting as a catalyst in their spiritual growth. When I was a high school senior taking classes on the Los Angeles campus of the University of California, I bumped into a Jews for Jesus missionary, Sid, passing out pamphlets. He talked to me for an hour about Isaiah 53, which Christians believe foreshadows Jesus’ life and death.

A typically ignorant teenager from a secularized suburban Southern California Jewish background, I was stunned and scared at being totally unable to answer any of the challenges Sid posed. It set me on a path to learning more about Judaism and ultimately converting. (I was adopted by Jews but my birth parents were gentile, meaning that under Jewish law I was not Jewish either — not that I understood that at the time.)

Or like the mom of a baby whose bris I attended. My friend Robin Alberg has a Jewish-born Christian mother but never realized what that meant till she was 15 and a student at Northwest Christian High School in Spokane, Washington. At Passover, a Jews for Jesus missionary addressed the student body and passed out matza.

“I was mesmerized,” says Robin. “When it was over, I started doing research. I read [Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s] Jewish Literacy as a direct result of hearing this guy talk. For the next two years, every paper I wrote for every class was about Judaism.” She had learned enough to decide by age 17 that she wanted to be Orthodox.

There is also the guy who sits behind me at the Orthodox synagogue I attend. Born Catholic in Poland, Menachem Rochon immigrated to South Africa. He and his (Jewish-born) wife were both spiritually searching and found a Jews for Jesus group, among whom they spent three years in Johannesburg. Later he would become disenchanted and, after moving to Seattle to work for Microsoft, he formally converted to Judaism. Today, he credits Jews for Jesus as a necessary “way station” on his path to Torah observance.

Messianic Jewish groups have their “success stories,” too. Penina Taylor, a countermissionary speaker and counselor, was raised in a turbulent, secular Jewish home in Miami. Encouraged by a friend, she became a Christian in high school, proceeding to join Southern Baptist and Charismatic churches before discovering Messianic Judaism.

Like Rochon, she and her non-Jewish husband became disenchanted. Encouraged by a Chabad rabbi in Baltimore, they made the leap to Orthodox Judaism. Would she have ended up there if Messianic Judaism hadn’t existed? “For me, I don’t think so,” says Taylor. “It was the bridge between being a Christian and even being willing to consider traditional Judaism.”

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posted June 19, 2009 at 7:43 am

Shameful title to your article. You fail to see many of the stories that end differently. And shameful in general.

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posted June 19, 2009 at 8:20 am

Maybe the best way to say it is that this is NOT something to cheer about. That’s as opposed to the opportunity it may provide at times to bring Jews back to Judaism.

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posted June 19, 2009 at 9:47 am

If Jesus was a Jew, and his early disciples were primarily Jews, then how is Messianic Judaism a “phony” movement? Obviously it clashes with traditional Jewish teaching, but Protestantism clashes greatly with my own Catholicism, but I don’t refer to it as “phony” Christianity.

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posted June 19, 2009 at 10:20 am

Mr. Klinghoffer, you’ve made an interesting point (I’ve noticed the trend myself of former messianic Jews finding their way to Judaism).
In any case, we both agree that most cases do not end like this, and indeed many other Jews (not necessarily messianic) never get to Judaism at all.
Wouldn’t that therefore make it our responsibility, as obervant Jews, to reach out to our secular brothers and teach them about Judaism? Don’t just leave it to Chabad or Aish…every observant Jew can reach out and teach Jews about Judaism.

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Israel ben Betzalel

posted June 19, 2009 at 2:49 pm

I am a Chassid who happens to also believe that Yeshua is the Mashiach. Some would call us Messianic Jews, and some in fact call us ultra-orthodox Messianic Jews. We do not see a need to leap into other sects of non-believing Judaism, for we already are a Judaism, and we are as “authentic” as it gets. The reason some (not all) Christians who dabble with Messianic Judaism think about jumping ship and join in with non-believing sects of Judaism, is because they lack foundation – true Torah foundation in how to use Jewish hermeneutics and the Torah to support and defend the truth that that Yeshua ben Yosef shel Netzaret is the Mashiach. In fact, those Messianic Jews that become more orthodox with a solid foundation in understanding that the entire Torah (from the smallest letter, to the whole scroll, and both written and oral) is about Yeshua, and that there is not one single item of Torah that is not about the Mashiach, then you have Messianic Jews of the stature and strength of Rav Shaul (Paul the Apostle) who can not only run circles around anti-missionaries, but who out of love for them can show them that they have not yet made true teshuvah (repentance to the Torah), and thus cause them to consider where they stand.
The Torah is absolutely clear as to who the Mashiach is. There is no polar opposites to Judaism and truly mature believing (to use a Christian term) spirit-filled faith in Yeshua haMashiach. If anyone would like to know more, or questions this, or understand just how truly Jewish the Mashiach, Yeshua, is, or how submitting to him as the Mashiach is compatible with true teshuvah, then they are free to contact us at We will be happy to answer any question. Unlike some who claim to be MJ, we don’t have an identity crisis, and we know our Torah and of Whom it teaches us of. Do you know yours?

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David Klinghoffer

posted June 19, 2009 at 4:21 pm

A Chassid who believes in Jesus? Is that like being a Sufi who believes in Buddha? You see the problem is that words have meanings. You trivialize serious beliefs by acting as if they didn’t. Any serious Christian, as any serious Jew, will hold what you say in contempt. “Rav Shaul.” Give me a break.

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Israel ben Betzalel

posted June 19, 2009 at 5:01 pm

When Yeshua is the Mashiach, the ultimate Chassid, and thus the greatest tzadik of all tzaddikim, then there is no trivialization of the term.

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David Klinghoffer

posted June 19, 2009 at 5:58 pm

“Israel ben Betzalel,” if you want to believe Jesus is the Messiah, then call yourself a Christian and stick up for your Christian beliefs forthrightly, as serious believers in Jesus do. Everyone will have a lot more respect for you that way, even those like me who disagree with you. But do yourself a favor and leave games of dress up to kids. (“I know! Let’s dress up Jesus as a Chassidic Jew and Paul as an Orthodox rabbi! That way we don’t have to feel guilty about abandoning our ancestral religion!”) It’s just not worthy of adult consideration. You can discard the phony kosher-style Hebrew name too. What a joke.
I wrote a post about religious conversion as a fantasy role playing game that you might want to take a look at:

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posted June 19, 2009 at 6:29 pm

Why do you attack the person instead of the issue? Is it because you know you cannot attack the issue because it is truth?
One who is Jewish, who recognizes Yeshua as the Messiah, remains shomer, is no different than Rabbi Akiva who proclaimed Simeon Bar Kokhba to be the Messiah or those who believe the Lubavitcher Rebbe to be the Messiah. However, most of Judaism would disagree with them also. There is one difference that must me noted although; Yeshua is the only one who after almost 2000 years is proclaimed as the Messiah of Judaism and is the only one who met all of the requirements of the Messiah ben Yoseph. (He will meet those of the Messiah ben David when He returns.) Therefore, it seems to me that mainstream Judaism is out of step with the faith that Abraham had in the Word of HaShem but in step with Israel when HaShem asked Moshe, “How long will this people spurn Me? and how long will they not believe in Me?” I would ask you, who is the “Word of HaShem” who created the world; who is the promised seed of Gen 3:15; who came to most, if not all of the prophets; etc. And why do you reject Him? How is it that ancient Judaism understands this, but modern Judaism runs from it? Who is HaShem in Heaven that rains down fire that HaShem called upon? Who is the first HaShem found in the first verse of the Shema following the athnach and who is the second?
This is important because being Jewish isn’t enough as Korach shows us. They “forfeited the lives of their souls in the hereafter” as Bachya ben Asher says. We also see that in Dt 29:17-21 that not all who are “Jewish” will be forgiven and have life eternal. So how are you avoiding HaShem’s curse that He says He places upon His people who reject His salvation?
Shabbat Shalom

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Israel ben Betzalel

posted June 19, 2009 at 6:42 pm

I do agree with your presentation that J4J and MJs serve Judaism well in encouraging teshuvah among those challenged by missionaries and countermissionaries. I do want to not come across as sounding arrogant or not listening to what it is you have to say either. I believe your experiences with evangelicals has opened your eyes to seeing that the Great Divide is caused by a lack of teshuvah. Christians say this of non-believing Jews (if they understood the term “teshuvah”), and non-believing Jews say this of Christians. But from our perspective, both camps fall far short of teshuvah, and both, to a point, from our view, are engaging in idolatry by their various understanding of who the Mashiach is from the Torah.
Bear in mind that I originally mistook this blog for being a Christian blog (gasp), since your picture (lack of beard, and noticeable kippah) and your words in your posts about Messianics are all to familiar in my interactions with traditional Christians. I have since read your profile, and understand that you too are on the a path of teshuvah as well.
From your writings and books, I gather that you agree that all Jews and Gentiles should be making teshuvah, for it is only from the boundaries of the Torah can anyone stand upon any truth and make teshuvah for good (and hopefully any Great Divide be bridged).
Teshuvah, in our opinion should include one’s perceptions of who Mashiach is, and thus our obedience to role model as he obeys the very Torah written about him.
Its our goal as orthodox Jews to learn Torah and mitzvot since as we learn Torah and mitvot and engage in halacha, we come to understand our relationship to HaShem, and learn more about Mashiach since the Mashiach is the greatest tzaddik of all tzaddikim, who is by implication echad with the Torah in corporeal form. So from our perspective, if one rejects Torah, they are rejecting Mashiach, and if one rejects Mashiach, they are rejecting Torah. May we all make teshuvah.
Shabbat Shalom!

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Sam ben Seymour

posted June 19, 2009 at 6:46 pm

Yes David K, you are correct in what you said in your latest comment. And there is NO way that so called “messianic judaism” or anything else it’s called is Judaism. In addition, Jews should be clear on setting specific limits in regard to missionary activities by Christian supporters of Israel. For example, it’s a great shanda (shame) that there are those Jews who look the other way in regard to various Christian groups who “support Israel” while also activily supporting so called “messianic judaism.” It’s not enough to support Israel when Judaism is not respected. As such, it’s up to those Jews involved in Christian Jewish relations to do what’s right instead of the looking away while Jews are led away from Judaism in Israel and elsewhere. The basis for Christian Jewish relations should be as stated in the concise and excellent essay by Rabbi Berel Wein–entitled “Exclusivity and Tolerance”–which is a MUST READ–and can be found on the internet.

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David Klinghoffer

posted June 19, 2009 at 6:59 pm

Yoseph, what I find irritating is the presumption that I or any other grown up will be impressed by dress up. It’s as if someone showed up at my door dressed in sandals and a robe, trying to sell me on belief in Jesus, and waited for me to be suitably impressed by his costume, *expected* me to be impressed, as if switching around Greek for Hebrew names, or modern dress for pseudo-ancient clothing, would make any difference. It’s insulting. Disagree with me, fine. But don’t treat me and every other Jew like a fool.
The question about the Rebbe is worth a reply. What’s the difference? Several, actually. Any Chabadnik who goes around referring to the Rebbe as “He,” as a kind of god man, has departed from Judaism. Waiting for a dead Messiah to return? Eccentric, but there may be Talmudic justification for it. But Jesus is an especially unlikely candidate for the role, given that belief in him has never done anything for Jews other than to insure that their children or grandchildren will not identify as Jews. Belief in Jesus, I’ve written elsewhere, has been an extraordinarily powerful acid on the existence of the Jewish people. No, sorry, that’s not what you’d expect from a religious belief system inspired by the Jewish messiah.
What about yourself Yoseph? Do you imagine you will have any Jewish descendants? HIghly doubtful, if you stick with your Christian beliefs. Do you think that’s what God wants? The messiah’s role is to lead the Jews to become ingested by the much larger Gentile world, and thus disappear?

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Israel ben Betzalel

posted June 19, 2009 at 7:26 pm

“Any Chabadnik who goes around referring to the Rebbe as “He,” as a kind of god man, has departed from Judaism”
I happen to absolutely agree. It is clearly written “Eloheim lo ish.”
Yet to ignore that HaShem is Israel’s King, Savior, and Redeemer, is to ignore a fundamental truth of Torah that it is also written “HaShem ish” as it is “???? ??? ????? ???? ???” “HaShem ish milchamah HaShem shemo.” If this is Mashiach’s role, then who is Mashiach according to Torah? Well Mashiach means anointed, so where is the first mention of the concept of anointing in the Torah? First Answer: Jacob pouring oil on the stone, the “even”. This is where we find the first mention of the concept of pouring oil in the Torah – the stone that Jacob anointed, and what did he call it? The “Beit El.” When we ask Torah logical questions, and not eisegete, we find who the Torah tells us that Mashiach is.
Anyways, I am not certain you want to dialogue with me on the matter. Its getting late. I will look at your response next week.
As far as playing dress up, one can be frum without showing off. I do agree that many in MJ do play dress up but are not shomer. But there are quite a few of us who are, and we don’t play games. We are not deceiving anyone, but in order for you to see this, you may have to drop your prejudice of us first. It’s convenient to accept “Christians exploring the Hebrew roots of their faith,” and J4J; but check yourself to make sure you aren’t making a scapegoat out of frum Messianic Jews with which to encourage others to push over the nearest cliff. It’s not a profitable exercise of your time.
It ultimately sounds like your biggest complaint is that we don’t call ourselves “Christians” yet to some extend, depending on one’s definition, we are and aren’t. Yet we are not what we say we are, we are what we do, and to that end, I think we can focus our conversation on what matters most: teshuvah.
Shabbat Shalom

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Israel ben Betzalel

posted June 19, 2009 at 7:32 pm

I should clarify in case my last sentence is misread: one is not what one necessarily says they are, but rather one is what one actually does. To that end, we are shomer Torah, and our continual desire is to be shomer, and hopefully like you, we encourage anyone to prove otherwise so that we too can make teshuvah. Shalom.

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posted June 20, 2009 at 10:31 am

Messianic is the right thing!

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posted June 21, 2009 at 7:22 am

I recently had a Shabbos meal with a wonderful older Baal Teshuva couple in Jerusalem who came to Orthodox Judaism later in life. Their daughter unfortunately, was introduced to Jews for Jesus by a born again Christian roommate in college and as a spiritually oriented individual raised in very Reform home with absolutely no spiritual sustenance – she jumped right in.
Her parents took her to their local Reform rabbi when it became obvious that she wasn’t just going through a phase. She came with her list of proofs, he had absolutely no idea how to engage with her and the whole thing was a disaster. Fast forward a few years. Her parents discovered Orthodox Judaism but she’s now married to a non-Jewish man who fancies himself a minister and she doesn’t allow her children to see her grandparents because her daughter had started getting too curious about her grandfather’s learning.
The story is a genuine tragedy; this woman was clearly the kind of person who’d have been drawn to Torah if she’d been exposed to it before being introduced to Jews for Jesus. I understand your points in the last two posts on Jews for Jesus but you shouldn’t gloss over the fact that there are real Jews who are irrevocably lost to this organization.

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Sam ben Seymour

posted June 22, 2009 at 12:18 am

Thank you Josh for your post. I would have been stronger in how you worded your ending, but still–thank you.

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posted June 25, 2009 at 12:15 am

I thought you might be interested in learning about OUR Jewish traditions which embrace the real Christ. We are the Frankist Association of America. One of our members has a new book out:
These are our teachings passed on through generations. If you can’t afford the book you can see the website of one of our teachers –
Beth El Jacob Frank

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