Jews for Jesus
What is Jews for Jesus?
Jews for Jesus is a conservative, Christian evangelical organization that focuses on the conversion of Jews to Christianity. Its members consider themselves to be Jews – either as defined by Jewish law, or as according to the view of Jews for Jesus. Jews for Jesus defines "Jewish" in terms of parentage and as a birthright, regardless of religious belief.
The identification of Jews for Jesus as a Jewish organization is rejected by Jewish religious denominations and secular Jewish groups due to the Christian beliefs of its members. The group's evangelical activities have garnered mixed reactions from other Christian individuals and organizations, largely divided between liberal and conservative lines.
Founded in 1973, Jews for Jesus employs more than 200 people, estimates its adherents at 30,000 to 125,000 worldwide and takes in about $20 million a year in donations.
The organization was founded by Moishe Rosen an ordained Baptist minister (who was born Jewish and converted to Christianity at the age of 17) and Jhan Moskowitz an ordained Christian and Missionary Alliance minister and son of a Holocaust survivor. Rosen was the head of the San Francisco arm of the American Board of Missions to the Jews (an organization now known as Chosen People Ministries).
In 1973, Rosen broke off from that organization, and in September of that year, incorporated Jews for Jesus as Hineni Ministries with its headquarters in the San Francisco area. Over the next few years, it established branches in other cities. From September 1979 - June 1980, it shut down its branches to retrain its missionaries. It then went on to open more branches, mostly in United States cities, in the 1980s, as well as abroad in the 1990s. Rosen remained its executive director until May 1996 when he was replaced by David Brickner, also a Baptist minister. Moishe Rosen died in May 2010. The organization has maintained its headquarters in or near San Francisco, California since its inception.
Aims and organization
Jews for Jesus is based in San Francisco, California. Jews for Jesus official mission statement is "to make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide." Through media advertisements, production and distribution of literature, producing music and organizing person-to-person evangelism, the organization asserts that "a specifically Jewish mission" is necessary, saying, "Jewish people tend to dismiss evangelistic methods and materials that are couched in Christian lingo, because they reinforce the assumption that Jesus is for 'them' not 'us'."
Jews for Jesus promotes awareness of the Jewish heritage of the Christian faith. Their website contains brief descriptions of Jewish festivals. The group also provides programs that provide their Christian interpretation of Jewish holidays such as Passover, Sukkot and Hanukkah, explaining what they consider messianic elements and how they believe these festivals are related to Jesus.
A summary of Jews for Jesus' beliefs:
- The Old and New Testaments, as originally written, are divinely inspired and inerrant.
- Recognition of the value of traditional Jewish literature, but only where it is supported by the Bible.
- God the creator exists as a trinity, is perfect, all wise, all powerful and all loving.
- Jesus is the Messiah, the second person of the Trinity, was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died for the sins of all humanity, rose again, and is co-equal with God. Jesus will return to earth in the near future.
- People are saved through a belief in Jesus as savior and an acknowledgment of their sins, not by their achievements.
- Heaven is a reward for those who are saved; Hell is a place of "everlasting conscious punishment" for the lost.
- Israel exists as a covenant people through whom God continues to accomplish His purposes and that the Church is composed of both Jews and Gentiles who acknowledge Jesus as Messiah and Redeemer.
Jews for Jesus takes the mainstream Christian positions that Jesus is the Messiah, that his coming was prophesied in the Hebrew Bible, and that Jesus is the son of God, the second person of the Trinity. Jews for Jesus believes that their views of the Messiah are entirely compatible with the view of God presented in Jewish scriptures, and that the doctrine of the Trinity, fundamental to the Christian faith, is not entirely alien to Judaism.
- According to an article on Jews for Jesus by B. Robinson of Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance,
Their doctrinal statement is basically indistinguishable from Evangelical and other conservative Christian groups. ... They differ from some Evangelical Christian groups in their belief that Israel continues to exist as a "covenant people." They also integrate some Jewish customs and use Hebrew and Yiddish in some literature
Stated core values
Jews for Jesus describes its core values in the following way:
They commit to:
- Direct Jewish evangelism as their priority
- An apostolic lifestyle of availability, vulnerability and mobility
- Striving for excellence in all that they do
- Deploying only front-line missionaries who are Jewish or married to Jews
- Principle-based operations and practice
- Accountability to their mission family and the body of Messiah
- Integrity and faithfulness
- Creativity in their staff
- Stepping out in courageous faith and taking risks for God.
- Understanding that they:
are under the authority of God and His word
desire to honor Messiah Y'shua and
are dependent upon the enabling power of the Holy Spirit
Leadership, funding and outreach
Jews for Jesus is funded by donations from Messianic Jews and like-minded Christians. It has a full-time staff of more than 200 employees running branch offices in nine cities across the United States. There are also branch offices in Australia, Brazil, Canada (in Montreal and Toronto), France, Germany (in Essen), Hungary, Israel, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Ukraine (in Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov, Kiev and Odessa). In addition to its English-language website, the group has websites in Hebrew, Portuguese, Polish, Persian, Italian, Spanish and Korean.
The majority of evangelism used by Jews for Jesus consists of handing out literature on the streets, one-on-one Bible studies, full-page ads in leading newspapers and magazines, ISSUES (an eight-page evangelistic publication for Jewish seekers) and internet evangelism. The organization uses colorful pamphlets and T-shirts to get their message across and is known for targeting populations of Jews which they see as receptive to their message, such as recent immigrants, college students, senior citizens and interfaith couples. Regarding "targeting," Jews for Jesus says this on its website:
"The term 'targeting' brings to mind darts or firearms. We can't imagine throwing the gospel at people or aiming to harm them with it. Actually, targeting is a propaganda term that has been misappropriated from the marketing profession. . . . Those who are not Christians use it to disparage evangelism. To scoffers and unbelievers it has a negative connotation. We avoid the term 'targeting' because we see the gospel as something to be presented freely rather than something to be sold. We don't throw our tracts at people; we hand them to those who want to take them." Stephanie Persin writes, "Evangelists in the organization have been trained to recite phrases from the Old Testament and to use Yiddish words so as to convince potential converts that Jews for Jesus maintain Jewish traditions."
Regarding Jewish traditions, Jews for Jesus says on its website: "As for the accusation that we 'fraudulently use Jewish symbols and Jewish holidays,' we have a right to use Jewish symbols by virtue of our ancestry, and we have a right to celebrate Passover and other Jewish holidays and interpret them according to the teachings of Scripture. The accusation would only be valid if the New Testament were false." On their official website, Jews for Jesus says that they give out 8 million pamphlets a year. They use college-age volunteers for some of their short-term evangelism campaigns. Each July they send a team of 20 to 30 to New York City, which they say has the world's largest and most diverse Jewish population.
Affiliations and support
On the Christian counter-cult site Apologetics Index, Jews for Jesus is listed as an orthodox member of the Christianity family. Jews for Jesus is a member of numerous evangelical Christian groups, including The World Evangelical Alliance, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, the World Evangelical Fellowship, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Canadian Council for Christian Charities, the Evangelical Alliance of Great Britain, the Evangelical Alliance of South Africa, the Fédération Evangélique de France (Evangelical Federation of France), and the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism.
Here is what some prominent evangelical Christians have said about Jews for Jesus:
- J.I. Packer, Board of Governors' Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia: "Jews for Jesus is a worldwide Christian mission that was born against the background of California's Jesus movement and has grown steadily ever since. Holding that Jesus of Nazareth -- God incarnate, crucified, risen, and now reigning -- is the true Messiah foretold in the Old Testament and the true fulfillment of Jewish hopes, the mission exists to press his claims on Jewish people everywhere. It is based on two principles. First, Jews who receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and who are 'completed' and 'fulfilled' thereby do not need to leave behind their Jewish identity or break with Jewish ways. As Judaizing was not a theological requirement for the first gentile Christians, so gentilizing is not a cultural requirement for today's Jewish believers. Though they belong in the Christian church, which has been mainly gentile -- non-Jewish, that is -- for most of its life, within the church they are free to be as Jewish as they like. Second, up-front, in-your-face challenge, with as much humor, chutzpah, and goodwill as possible, is the way to approach Jews evangelistically."
- Dr. Joseph M. Stowell III, past president of Moody Bible Institute, current president of Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and author of over 20 Christian books: "Since Moishe Rosen founded Jews for Jesus in the early 1970s, thousands of Jewish people have come to experience living faith in Jesus as their Messiah through this strategic ministry. And just as important, thousands of Gentiles have as well. We are proud that David Brickner, the executive director, and many others at Jews for Jesus are graduates of Moody Bible Institute. I'm privileged to be associated with them and I encourage you in your association with Jews for Jesus now and in the future."
- Mark Bailey, President of Dallas Theological Seminary: "I have watched the ministry of Jews for Jesus for twenty-five years. I have known their chairman of the board, Byron Spradlin, for the same period. Susan Perlman now serves on the board of Dallas Theological Seminary, and I am pleased to call Moishe Rosen and David Brickner my friends. All are committed followers of Messiah Jesus. I have always found the ministry of Jews for Jesus and their traveling musicians to be evangelical in their doctrine and appropriately evangelistic in their presentation. They are both creative and biblical in their communication of the gospel. They help lead the way in Jewish evangelism.
- John Stephen Piper, Senior Pastor, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota: "For almost two decades I have followed with joy the ministry of Jews for Jesus. I say with joy" because I love the gospel of the glory of Jesus the Messiah, and I love Jewish people, and I love bold, compassionate ways of connecting Jews and Jesus. All I have seen and all I know of Jews for Jesus makes me happy to say a rousing YES to their ministry. From Moshe Rosen to David Brickner I have admired the leadership. I have seen them up close and in action. I have been a partner in the Behold Your God mission in Minneapolis and have spoken to the band of bold witnesses before they hit the streets. I encourage my people to give support, and I have wished I had a fraction of the dedication and courage I see in the missionaries who put themselves at risk week in and week out. The risk is mainly from misunderstanding. It is inevitable. Bold, loving summons to believe on Jesus as the Messiah will be seen by some as arrogant,by others as abusive, by others as controlling, by others as ethnic assault, by others as the most precious gift ever given. I see it as obedience to Jesus and as the very embodiment of the love of Christ for lost sinners like me. 'Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.' (1 John 5:12) May God give Jews for Jesus faithfulness to offer the Son to all who need him—to the Jew first and also to the gentile."
- Torkild Masvie, International Director, Caspari Center, Jerusalem: "I have known the Jews for Jesus organization and senior staff for years. They are an organization with fundamental integrity, i.e. they live up to their stated goals with no hidden agenda. They are characterized by their clear, sober, biblical theology which is in line with the principles of the reformation. They represent a clear voice against the separation of Jewish and Gentile believers in Messiah and encourage active membership of Jewish believers in Jesus in local churches."
Opposition and criticism
One of the criticisms of Jews for Jesus surrounds the tactics they employ in their missionary and outreach programs. Critics say that the organization uses vague and misleading language along with deceptive tactics in its attempt to convert Jews to Christianity. These tactics include statements that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Jewish prophecy of Messiah and attempts by Jews for Jesus to interpret core principles of Judaism in an effort to bring these Jewish principles into accord with Christian doctrines. To this end, critics say that Jews for Jesus uses the ambiguity in the definition of "Jew" and "Jewish" to confuse their prospective converts into believing there is a possibility of one being a follower of both Christianity and Judaism simultaneously.
On its website in answer to a frequently asked question,"How can I respond to the accusation that Jews for Jesus distorts Jewish religious symbols?," Jews for Jesus says, "Regardless of what anyone says, we are Jews in that we are physically descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. At the same time we are also Christians—those who believe in and follow Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. One classification does not cancel out the other, even though rabbis like to teach that Judaism and Christianity are mutually exclusive categories and hence are antithetical to one another."
Belief in Jesus as deity, son of God, or even a non-divine Christ/Messiah or Prophet (as in Islam), is held as incompatible with Judaism by all Jewish denominations.
In 1993 the Task Force on Missionaries and Cults of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRCNY) issued a statement which has been endorsed by the four major Jewish denominations: Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism, and Reconstructionist Judaism, as well as national Jewish organizations. Based on this statement, the Spiritual Deception Prevention Project at the JCRCNY stated:
On several occasions leaders of the four major Jewish movements have signed on to joint statements opposing Hebrew-Christian theology and tactics. In part they said: "Though Hebrew Christianity claims to be a form of Judaism, it is not ... It deceptively uses the sacred symbols of Jewish observance ... as a cover to convert Jews to Christianity, a belief system antithetical to Judaism ... Hebrew Christians are in radical conflict with the communal interests and the destiny of the Jewish people. They have crossed an unbridgeable chasm by accepting another religion. Despite this separation, they continue to attempt to convert their former co-religionists."
The director of a counter-missionary group Torah Atlanta, Rabbi Efraim Davidson, stated that "the Jews for Jesus use aggressive proselytizing to target disenfranchised or unaffiliated Jews, Russian immigrants and college students" and that "their techniques are manipulative, deceptive and anti-Semitic."
In his 1997 book The Vanishing American Jew: In Search of Jewish Identity for the Next Century, Alan Dershowitz wrote: "In America, and in other nations that separate church from state, one's Jewishness is a matter of self-definition ..." but notes: "I do not mean to include former Jews who practice Christianity under the deliberately misleading name Jews for Jesus. A Jew for Jesus already has a name: a Christian."
In an interview for Beliefnet, Orthodox Rabbi Irving Greenberg, the author of For the Sake of Heaven and Earth, said:
"There are Jews for Jesus who use the trappings of Judaism to bring people into a religion that teaches that Judaism is finished. Jews for Jesus are worse theologically than the mainstream of Catholicism or Protestantism, which now affirm that Judaism is a valid religion. Jews for Jesus say that it is not. They use the Jewish trappings, but de facto, they are teaching the classic Christian supersessionism--that Judaism was at best a foreshadowing of Christianity".
Outreach Judaism, a Jewish counter-missionary organization founded by Rabbi Tovia Singer, aims to provide educational resources to individuals targeted by organizations such as Jews for Jesus.
Jews for Judaism
Jews for Judaism, established by Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz in 1986, is a Jewish organization aiming "to strengthen and preserve Jewish identity through education and counseling that counteracts deceptive proselytizing targeting Jews for conversion". The name Jews for Judaism is a deliberate parody of Jews for Jesus, as Jews for Jesus is one of the missionary organizations that Jews for Judaism was founded to counter.
Some Western Christians object to evangelizing Jews because they see Jewish religious practice as valid in and of itself.
Some Liberal Protestant denominations that have issued statements criticizing evangelism of Jews include the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church USA, which said in 1988 that Jews have their own covenant with God. The Board of Governors of the Long Island Council of Churches opposes proselytizing of Jews, and voiced these sentiments in a statement that "noted with alarm" the "subterfuge and dishonesty" inherent in the "mixing [of] religious symbols in ways which distort their essential meaning", and named Jews for Jesus as one of the three groups about whom such behavior was alleged.
In 2003, the sponsorship of Jews for Jesus by All Souls Church, Langham Place, a Conservative Evangelical Church in London, with a launch event on Rosh Hashanah launching a UK mission targeting the Jewish community led to the Interfaith Alliance UK a coalition of Jewish, Christian and Islamic religious leaders issuing a letter of protest to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Islamic interfaith conference
The Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington includes Muslims, Jews, and liberal church groups. The Conference states that they "support the right of all religions to share their message in the spirit of good will;" however Rev. Clark Lobenstine, has condemned the "proselytizing efforts" of "Jews for Jesus and other messianic Jewish groups." His wording matched the Conference's 1987 "Statement on Proselytism," which makes claims against "groups that have adopted the label of Hebrew Christianity, Messianic Judaism, or Jews for Jesus," so it is unclear which claims are directed at Jews for Jesus in particular.
An opposition has emerged from Muslim imams and leaders in the light of the emergence of "Messianic Muslim" Evangelical missions directed at the Muslim community modeled on Jews for Jesus, with the presentation of Evangelical beliefs in Arabicised terms and encouragement of Muslims to become "followers for 'Isa", and on 10 December 2003, a joint Jewish-Muslim Delegation supported by the Office of the Chief Rabbi in Great Britain together with Muslim imams presented a protest to the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres.
1987 – freedom of speech
In the case of Board of Airport Commissioners of Los Angeles v. Jews for Jesus, Inc., 482 U.S. 569 (1987), The Supreme Court held that a law which banned "First Amendment activities" within the Central Terminal Area at L.A. International Airport to be invalid as substantially "over broad," and therefore, invalid on its face. As Justice O'Connor stated, in her opinion, such a law could even be construed to prohibit a traveler from approaching a ticketing booth and asking when the flight from Des Moines was scheduled to arrive. The municipal agency in charge of Los Angeles International Airport had barred the group from distributing leaflets at the airport "as part of a larger ban on what they described as First Amendment activities. Jews for Jesus challenged the airport's right to institute such a sweeping ban."
1992 – civil rights violations
In 1992 the New York Court of Appeals ruled against Jews for Jesus in a suit the organization brought against the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRCNY), an umbrella group representing 60 Jewish agencies in the metropolitan New York area. The case addressed the JCRCNY's 1985 warning to Long Island rabbis that Jews for Jesus was seeking a venue to conduct a Passover seder. Jews for Jesus sued the JCRCNY for violating its civil rights; the decision upheld a lower court ruling that the JCRCNY communication did not "go beyond the proposal stage" and that there was no evidence that any of the Long Island rabbis had actually contacted establishments for the purpose of discriminating against Jews for Jesus.
In a 1992 lawsuit brought by Jews for Jesus against the JCRCNY, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the efforts of the JCRCNY urging Jewish organizations not to patronize a New York country club because it allowed Jews for Jesus to hold its annual convention on its premises were not protected as an exercise of the JCRC's First Amendment rights.
1993 – refusal of automatic citizenship in Israel
In 1993 the Supreme Court of Israel, in a case involving a couple affiliated with Jews for Jesus, ruled that Jews who adhere to the Christian beliefs are regarded by Israeli law as "members of a different faith," and are not eligible for the automatic citizenship that Israel grants Jews. This is done not to try to change Jewish Law, but to preserve the Jewish character of the State of Israel – i.e., that allowing in people whose sole mission is to get Jews to become Christians is inimical to one of the core ethics of the country (to be a haven for Jews; see Israeli Declaration of Independence). In its summary of the ruling, the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the belief that Jesus is the Messiah "cannot be reconciled with Judaism" and "marks the clear separation between Judaism and Christianity."
1998 and 2005–2006 – online name
Jews for Jesus has been involved in litigation regarding Internet use of its name. In 1998 they successfully sued Steven Brodsky for cybersquatting — registering the domain name jewsforjesus.org for a site criticizing the organization. The domain now belongs to Jews for Jesus and is used for their main site.
In 2005 Jews for Jesus sued Google for allowing a Blogspot user to put up a site at the third-level subdomain jewsforjesus.blogspot.com. In September 2006 Christianity Today reported that "Jews for Jesus settled out of court with a critical blogger identified as 'Whistle Blower' on jewsforjesus.blogspot.com. The evangelistic ministry assumed control of the site."
"Jews for Jesus" Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (with minor edits), under GFDL.