In an effort to make Christianity more palatable to Jews, who are raised in a strong monotheistic tradition, often with an extensive knowledge of the history of Christian anti-Semitism, a handful of missionaries decided to repackage their faith as a form of Judaism. So they call their church a “synagogue,” they dub their ministers “rabbis,” start peppering their speech with Yiddish phrases, and BAM! Instant Judaism! Similarly, to smooth out some of Christianity’s rough edges for Jewish consumption, “Jesus” is only addressed by the Hebrew “Yeshua,” and the cross magically becomes a “tree.”
We’re not here to debate the intricacies of the Messianic movement, or the differences between “Chosen People Ministries” and “Jews for Jesus.” The fact is that these are groups that deceptively target unwitting Jews with the message that a Jew can convert to Christianity and still be Torah-observant.
I’m going to take a risk here, and briefly address our Christian readers. Yes, we are a Jewish newspaper with a largely Orthodox readership. But since making our presence felt online, the Jewish Voice has, ironically, attracted hundreds, if not thousands, of dedicated Christian readers as well, and we welcome them. These Christians, most of whom are also staunch Zionists, appreciate the pro-American, pro-Israel perspective offered by the JV. They enjoy our coverage of issues concerning the IDF, and Israel’s welfare in general. And here is what I would like to say to the Christian reader of this editorial:
When we find it necessary to stand up to these missionaries, you should be standing with us!
Even if you support the proselytization of Jews, is it not beneath your dignity to do so through dishonest means? Taking Christianity and repackaging it as Judaism is blatant false advertising. Judaism plus Jesus does not equal Christianity. Christianity minus Jesus does not equal Judaism. Christianity may have started its life as a Jewish sect, but it branched off nearly two thousand years ago, and exists today as a distinct religious tradition. There are so many nuances that make our faiths unique, that to attempt to conflate the two is to denigrate them both.
To put it another way: These pseudo-Jews are insulting both of us!
Turning back now to the JV’s primary (and originally intended) readership, my fellow Jews:
Rabotai – the only way to defend against the impending missionary threat is to strengthen ourselves spiritually. As cliché as it may sound, increasing our Torah learning (never a bad idea) is a good place to start. As a general rule, one should never let him or herself get drawn into a debate with a missionary. The potential for chilul Hashem far outweighs any conceivable benefit from the exchange. But if you find yourself with your back to the wall, allow me to offer you some advice, based on my own experience. There are three factors common to the vast majority of missionary “proof texts” (Biblical verses by which the missionary asserts that his Christian beliefs are alluded to in the Tanakh):
– Verses taken out of context
– Flagrant errors in translation
– A reliance on quantity over quality
Context is Key:
This is a common one and I won’t spend much time on it. Suffice it to say that when a missionary confronts you with a specific verse in the Torah, explaining it as a reference to Christianity, generally one need not look any further than the beginning of the posuk, the beginning of the paragraph, or at most the beginning of the chapter in which the verse appears, to gain a correct understanding of the context, which missionaries will often deliberately obscure. Many passages understood by Christian apologists as “prophecies” regarding their deity are understood by rabbinic tradition (or indeed, by anyone reading the passages in their original context) as referring to, for instance, King David, or as an allegory for the entire nation of Israel.
Lost in Translation:
“Behold,” says the prophet (Isaiah in this case), “a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (G-d with us).”
The navi is clearly foreshadowing the rise of Christianity, is he not? Who else claims their chosen one shall be the product of a virgin birth (well, other than the various pagan traditions from which the early Church drew most of its dogma)? Except that in the original Hebrew, the verse says an “alma” shall conceive, “alma” meaning young woman. “Betulah” is the word for virgin, and suffice it to say that if the prophet was referring to a betulah, he would have said betulah. And of course, there’s the “Immanuel” thing. Aside from the obvious fact that Christians don’t pray “in Immanuel’s name,” there’s the disingenuousness of taking a common name, meaning “Hashem is with us,” and removing the implied “is,” which is never removed in any other context. Many Hebrew names are a combination of G-d’s name and some noun or verb. They always mean “G-d is X” or “G-d does X.” Never would you combine the words Imanu (with us) and Kel (G-d) and think “oh, his name is G-d (with us).” This little deception is a two-for-one: both a mistranslation and something taken out of its cultural and linguistic context.
A Landfill May be Big and Impressive, but it’s Still Full of Garbage:
Once they establish their center of operations here in Flatbush, you may find yourself confronted by a missionary who swears to you that he has hundreds, even thousands of “proof texts” taken from our Bible, that prove that the Torah is just a prequel to the Gospels. Just remember that quantity by itself proves nothing. The above techniques alone, applied as a litmus test, will debunk the majority of these so-called “proofs.” The others may require a more thorough background in Torah scholarship, which is why, unless you’re a rabbi specializing in the subject, you should leave the inter-faith debates to the professionals, and if confronted, consult with experts like the good people at Jews for Judaism, or talk to your LOR (Local Orthodox Rabbi).
Just remember one thing: One times zero is zero. Ten times zero, is zero. A thousand times zero, is still zero. And in the end, that’s all these Messianics have (and in my opinion, all they are), an endless string of zeroes.
The only way to fight this threat is not through violence or intimidation, G-d forbid. It’s a free country, and these people are welcome to say whatever they want. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to strengthen ourselves, and increase our learning and mitzvah observance (and in particular, acts of kindness towards our less affiliated brothers and sisters).
By so doing may we merit mankind’s ultimate redemption, with the coming of the actual Messiah, may it be speedily and in our days.