By Yair • April 1, 2008
Hi all. In light of recent events surrounding Pope Benedict’s unfortunate decision to reinstate a Latin prayer for the blindness of my People to end, and the World Evangelical Alliance’s full page ad in the New York Times about their intent to proselytize Jews, I thought it would be useful to write an open letter to fundamentalist Christians who happen by our little community here at JBC.org. I feel especially compelled to do this given the responses lots of Christians have had to the Jewish community’s response to these acts.
First of all, I’d like to say that as someone born in to and raised in an evangelical home in which my mother is a minister, in which I learned to read with the King James Bible, and as someone who as a young adult was for a time a missions committee director at a large evangelical church, I know where you are coming from. I know the verses you base your arguments on, I know how you actually do want to see us all convert because you think it’s what’s best for us, and I know exactly why you think its important that we Jews come to Christ for the role such a move would play in your eschatology. Let it suffice to say I know you and your positions, maybe even better than you do.
It is important that you know something. It doesn’t matter how much you “love” us, how much you “have a burden from the Lord” for us, how much you desire that “all Israel should be saved.” None of this matters because whatever the reason you think it, your conviction is that Jews are eternally tainted and worthy of hell unless we become like you. And by extension, you imply that Jews are inferior to you in the eyes of G-d. So your compulsion is to do all you can to convert us, because you think it’s good for us. But if someone sincerely believes that it is good for you if they punch you in the face, it is still wrong if they do it. Sincerity doesn’t really matter if damage is done in its wake.
And for 2,000 years, we have suffered more at the hands of Christians who wanted to see us convert than we have at the hands of anyone else. We have lived through dozens of expulsions, countless lynchings, pogroms, the Crusades, the Inquisitions, and ultimately the Holocaust, all of which had the official sanction of the Roman Catholic and/or Orthodox churches, with a good measure of Protestants thrown in. Now, you may argue as one missionary I encountered in Jerusalem did that these people “weren’t real Christians.” But the problem is that they have been the representatives of Christ on earth during these events, whether that is convenient for your modern conversion efforts or not. The bottom line is we have done better under almost everyone’s rule than under Christian leadership, and history is not something that victims easily forget.
You say that you are just being faithful to your religion by trying to convert us. I agree with you, but that doesn’t mean we should shake it off, and continue to give you the benefit of the doubt. For one thing, Islam has a claim of exclusivity, but despite having Muslim friends, I’ve never had one overtly try to convert me. They are respectful and we talk about religion, but only Christians have ever told me I am flawed. I won’t begrudge you of this position, but I submit that we don’t need to let it slide and pretend like everything else is fine between us.
You say that some Jews have converted, and that they have found a completeness in their acceptance of Christ. But you know what? Jews who become Muslims say the same thing. And Jews who become Buddhists do too. In fact, so do Christians who become Muslims! Perhaps what you see as proof of the rightness of your cause is actually a common phenomenon experienced by everyone who has a religious experience.
We get accused of being intolerant when we respond as I am to Christians who want to convert us, but I need to remind you that this conversation is only happening because of institutionally-driven, orchestrated attempts to convert Jews. If you want to talk about how Jesus has impacted your life with me, let’s go have a cup of joe and talk. But when your organizations pump millions of dollars in to targeting vulnerable Jews with dishonest schemes like “Messianic Judaism,” which in fact isn’t Judaism and never has been, then we have a problem, and I will not look the other way and pretend it’s all good. The fact of the matter is that groups like Jews for Jesus and their ilk don’t spend a lot of time outside Ohr Sameach or Yeshivat HaKotel, or outside of the Jewish Theological Seminary or RIETS, where they’d have to actually argue with rabbis and scholars. Know why? Because they would lose those arguments every single time. There may be a lesson in there somewhere…
We get told, “Hey, wait, some really important Jews have become Christian!” But any Jew with a familiarity with Jewish history can point out that really important Jewish religious leaders have also become Muslims, including Shabtai Zvi. They’ve also followed false messiahs, including one of our most important sages, Rabbi Akiva, who was convinced that Shimon bar Kochba was the promised one, and paid for it with his life; incidentally, this one was at the hands of the Romans too. The bottom line is that a decision for Christ or anyone else by a Jewish leader does not demonstrate the rightness of this decision any more than Christian leaders like Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker made decisions which signal that solicitation of prostitution is now appropriate Christian behavior.
I, like many Jews, want to have respectful and friendly relationships with Christians of all stripes. But Christians need to understand that the way they carry themselves matters, and that orchestrated attempts by large Christian organizations to convert Jews will, of necessity, be fought against with all the might we can muster. Doing so does not make us intolerant, but sensible, and dedicated to the preservation of our People, our Torah, and our purpose on this earth.
About the Author
Yair is a Jew by Choice who made his conversion in 2003 after a couple of years of study. He came to Judaism from the evangelical Christianity in which he was raised, and he is now a member of Temple Israel in Duluth, Minnesota, a congregation dually-affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation. In his community Yair serves as a gabbai, he leyns Torah and Haftarah, teaches Torah and Haftarah cantillation to b’nei mitzvah students, and leads the occasional adult education class. His specific areas of interest and study in Judaism include Jewish mysticism, the history of Jews in Muslim lands, Mizrachi and Sephardi music, and the relatedness of Eretz Yisrael to Jewish rituals, traditions, and collective consciousness. As a convert, issues of Jewish peoplehood are also a special interest, as are Jewish men’s issues. He maintains his own blog called Northwoods Jew.
12 Responses to “ A Word to Christian Readers ”
- Huw Apr 2nd, 2008 at 5:32 am
- Thanks for this, Yair. The reactions of some Jews (and the meta-reactions of some Christians) have been predictable.
- I’ve been more interested – and shocked – in the reactions of Jews who want to make light of this. I’ve even seen one comparison to the Alienu (posted over at Jewschool, I think). In short the prayer used to say, “Roman Catholics think Jews are basically liars (“perfidious” was the word) but we want them to be saved” and now it says “Roman Catholics think Jews are spiritually blind, but we want them to be saved”. I’m sorry, I don’t see that one is much better than the other. That the new prayer was written by a former member of the Hitler Youth is only that much more disturbing.
- Rachamim Apr 2nd, 2008 at 5:43 am
- A truly wonderful post, I couldn’t agree more with what you have stated so elegantly.
- Chavi Apr 2nd, 2008 at 6:13 am
- Not to toot my horn or increase traffic, but I recently wrote about a “Jewish Christians” who like to take liberty with what the afikomen means at the Pesach seder. See it here: http://mamaloshen.blogspot.com/2008/03/jeiwsh-christians.html.
- Great post, and as someone who grew up in the Bible belt in Southern Missouri and then Nebraska, I, too, grew up in an atmosphere of evangelical proselytizing and fundamentalism. It’s just obscene sometimes. I have nothing more intelligent to add to your post!
- Yair Apr 2nd, 2008 at 7:30 am
- Hey Huw,Rachamim,
I’ve read about that thing with the Afikomen too, and it makes me angry. First of all it ignores reality. Second of all, they do it in a way that seemingly requires them to ignore the fact that they are revising Jewish history and tradition and pretending they’ve got the real deal. They also say matzot are striped and full of holes because Jesus was whipped and stabbed. Whatever. Thanks for the comments, and I’ll check out your post!
- You know, I don’t buy the Aleinu comparison they made over there. For one thing, the Catholic Church has followed up on their prayer with the open support of Crusades, pogroms, inquisitions, and tacit support of the Holocaust. Aleinu just asks for the day when all people acknowledge the oneness of G-d – we are monotheists after all. But we’ve never openly campaigned for people to become Jews, much less killed them because they weren’t. And thanks for your stance and your comments!
- Jenny Apr 2nd, 2008 at 7:35 am
- Excellent post, Yair.
- Avi aka TG Apr 2nd, 2008 at 10:28 am
- Yair great post! You are bang on!Call it my little speculative fiction!
- I don’t really have anything to add because I think you’ve thoroughly covered it with the above. However, as I was reading your post I kept getting hit by mental images of Jews for Judaism shadowing people like the folks from Jews for Jesus, while they’re out evangelizing the streets of New York. Can you picture it? Pairs of Jews for Judaism in bright and beautiful spiffy T-shirts and kippot, clearly identifying them as Jews for Judaism, following around evangelicals as they try to target unsuspecting Jews on the street. Handing out counter missionary fliers and verbally challenging the Jews for Jesus on their BS!
- Shimshonit Apr 2nd, 2008 at 10:31 am
- Thanks for the post, Yair. I am interested to hear what people who were once part of the devout Christian world have to say about proselytizing from a Jewish perspective. I had a friend in college who once told me that I could never be a complete Jew without Jesus. Besides looking at her like she had two heads (and thinking, “No, I’ll never be a complete Jew without a CONVERSION”), I never really had much truck with that aspect of the Christian world. Huw writes, In short the prayer used to say, “Roman Catholics think Jews are basically liars (“perfidious” was the word) but we want them to be saved” and now it says “Roman Catholics think Jews are spiritually blind, but we want them to be saved”. I’m sorry, I don’t see that one is much better than the other. Call me weird, but I actually do see a bit of improvement. According to my trusty American Heritage Dictionary, perfidious means “treacherous.” Treacherous is worse than blind, in my book. It smacks of pre-Vatican II dogma holding all Jews responsible for Jesus’ death in perpetuity. Blind is just clueless, not getting the memo. Their ultimate goal is the same (i.e. to “save” us) but I do see an alteration in the language, from libelous to inane.
- And the part of the Aleinu that I think has some people hot under the collar is a part that has probably been cut out of the liberal siddurim, and is only in parentheses in the Artscroll: after the phrase, v’goraleinu k’chol hamonam comes the sentence, She’hem mishtachevim le’hevel v’rik, umitpalelim el el lo yoshia, “For they bow to vanity and emptiness and pray to a god which doesn’t redeem.” It’s in parentheses because it may have been removed from the service at one time, offending whatever “host country” the Jews were sojourning in at the time. Many Orthodox Jews don’t say this line, and the melody for Aleinu skips over it. But my husband, for one, says it anyway, citing what he calls the “Superbowl factor,” or the near-worship by people of the utterly ridiculous in society. Ha! Good thing no Christian (aside from my mother) heard what my great-grandmother would say in her declining years whenever someone asked her how she was doing: “Oy, I feel like the goyishe gott; I can’t see, I can’t hear, I can’t walk.” (It wasn’t until I was davening Hallel in shul that I realized where she got it from: Psalm 115.)
- Rabbi Asher Wade lectures about this subject, and Aryeh Kaplan (the OTHER Rabbi Kaplan) wrote a book called The Real Messiah: The Jewish Response to Christian Missionaries. In addition, Martin A. Cohen and Helga Croner have edited a book called Christian Mission-Jewish Mission, and in his book Permission to Receive: Four Rational Approaches to the Torah’s Divine Origin, Lawrence Kelemen has a very interesting appendix entitled “The Catholic Church’s Response to Our Critique of Christian Credibility,” a VERY interesting read.
- Yair Apr 2nd, 2008 at 12:50 pm
Your great-grandmother sounds like she was a pretty interesting person, I love that line :)! Thanks for your thoughts. Good point about the Aleinu language. Although, still, I think having language like that is one thing when it’s a response to years and years of the kind of treatment Jews have received from the Church; to have 2 billion adherents and pray like that about others seems to me to be a different thing entirely. But whatever the case, good points!kol tuv,
- Your idea isn’t far off… that’s one of the things that Jews for Judaism does! Here’s an interesting flier on a training at their Toronto office:
- rachel-esther Apr 2nd, 2008 at 1:34 pm
- Great post – thanks for spelling it out as it is.
- Rivkah Apr 2nd, 2008 at 5:21 pm
- Very well put, Yair. Although I respect the evangelistic viewpoint (having also grown up within it), I agree that there is a difference between personally sharing one’s experience because of sincere caring, and an institutionalized assault on an entire people’s belief, culture, and history.
- Shimshonit, I had to laugh at your great-grandmother’s complaint.
- Schvach Apr 13th, 2008 at 2:29 pm
- Hello Yair: What a great posting, and close to my heart and mind – I’ve posted a few blogs about this same subject on my site. Proselytizers get my goad every time. Let’s not forget that the great author of Targum Onkelos
was a ger. Tell that to the next proselytizer who gives you a headache.
- Yair Apr 13th, 2008 at 4:04 pm
- Hey Schvach,Anyway, thanks again!
- Thanks for your comments, I’ll wander over your way and check out your posts, if they’re still up. And thanks for that tip about Onkelos, I’ve somehow managed to never pick up on the fact that he was a ger. Have you heard how the Teimanim recite Targum Onkelos verse by verse with the Torah in public readings? It’s beautiful…
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