On behalf of those who are not such ‘big hitters’ and fail to get a mention but never the less make significant un-acknowledged contribution to educate about missionary activity in Israel. I want to say that it would have been a nice to have at least got a mention in the article below after taking so much time out of work to talk, give advice, and who to contact [Avraham Leibler @ JewishIsrael] to the author on the phone, much of which I see in this article. Unless of course I am waisting my time!!? If so please let me know.
Remember the good old days when the only thing the Israelis had to worry about was being wiped off the map by their enemies? (Oh wait, that is still a problem.) But remember the other good old days when Jews for Jesus used to hand out pamphlets trying to convince Jews to convert? Or when the main evangelizing problem we faced was how to fit the unsolicited books and tapes we receive from Sid Roth and his ilk into the trash? It used to be, you could pretty much tell when someone was eager to share the “good news.” But in Israel, who worried about that sort of thing? It’s a Jewish State!
While the traditional tactics unfortunately still exist, and there are still far too many Jews being ensnared with these methods, missionary efforts have grown and gotten more sophisticated, especially in the State of Israel. Missionaries realize that the direct, confrontational approach is not very popular or effective. Most Christian Zionist groups operating in Israel (for the most part composed of evangelicals), such as the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, Christians United for Israel, Bridges for Peace, International Christian Zionist Center, and many others, claim they don’t proselytize. And they do not – directly.
Rather, they are aligned behind the scenes with groups that are aggressively proselytizing. If asked, many of these Christian Zionist groups will deny that they are trying to convert Jews to Christianity. Indeed, this is not their agenda. Their goal is to bring Jews to belief in Jesus, without which Jews cannot be “fulfilled.” And they sincerely believe that this is not the same as conversion.
From our perspective, of course, the subtle distinction doesn’t matter. However they word it, it shows a severe lack of respect for the Jewish religion when an outside faith system believes it knows what is best for us and what our true religion is supposed to be.
Why Can’t We All Just Be Friends?
Missionary activity is not illegal in Israel except when a financial incentive is offered or when approaching minors under the age of eighteen. Organizations therefore attempt it openly. Many missionaries are of Jewish origin, including Avi Mizrachi, an Israeli-born “Messianic” in Tel Aviv. He does not merely have his own congregation; he also runs the Dugit Messianic Outreach Center in Tel Aviv, where free coffee and entertainment are offered, mostly to secular youth. The trained staff is more than happy to share their faith.
In Jerusalem, the Clal building, at 97 Jaffa Road, is a sort of headquarters for missionary groups. King of Kings Ministries has an office on the 14th floor along with a “prayer tower,” and on the bottom floor is Café Forte. There had been on-and-off controversies about itshechsher in the past, but it currently has a Jerusalem Rabbinate kosher certification. Nonetheless, whoever patronizes this café is helping support the missionary effort.
There are hundreds of evangelical groups around the world that raise millions of dollars to support the people of Israel. Their humanitarian efforts include supplying food to the poor, educational materials to schools, donations to hospitals, aiding IDF soldiers, and volunteering to help in the fields. By definition, however, evangelicals have a “mission” to spread the word. They have a phrase to describe the reason for these loving deeds: “to provoke the Jews to jealously.” By being only good to us, they hope we will ask them to share their faith, and they are more than happy to do so.
According to Rabbi Michael Skobac (in a YouTube video entitled Evangelicals and Israel: Knight in Shining Armor or Trojan Horse?), about 25 to 40 percent of Americans identify as evangelical, and this is the fastest growing Protestant group in America. He says, “The basic reality is, the people who are the most supportive of Israel today are the very same Christians who are waging a very fierce campaign to convert world Jewry to Christianity. While it is true that evangelicals support Israel, love Israel, and even love Jews, evangelicals do not love Judaism. They believe Judaism is a false religion and that every Jew is on a paved road straight to hell unless they convert to Christianity.” Rabbi Skobac quotes Frank Eichorn, a former leader of Shalom International. Although he denied engaging in missionary activity, Eichorn explained in an internal memo to his fellow Christians, “The key to Jewish hearts is unconditional love. More Jewish people are converting today than any time in history.”
Time and time again, the website JewishIsrael.com publishes similar proofs and wording showing that most Christian Zionists have an agenda, even as they deny it.
Avraham Leibler, who made aliyah from the U.S. in 1983, and his Israeli-born wife, Shulamit, founded the Jewish Israel organization (JI) in 2008 after realizing that Israel is in the crosshairs of a massive but subtle missionary campaign targeting Jews for conversion. Few in either the Jewish public or the Israeli leadership seemed aware of this problem or took it seriously. Along with several board members, which include rabbinic director, Rabbi Dr. Sholom Gold, and content and research director, Ellen Horowitz, they created and maintain the Jewish Israel website, which monitors and responds proactively to missionary campaigns.
I met the Leiblers and Ellen in the Leiblers’ Jerusalem apartment recently, where they introduced me to many of the concepts relating to Christian groups and what is happening on the ground in Israel. Jewish Israel is 99 percent self-funded, mainly because they don’t have the time to fundraise. With thousands of articles, links, videos, and images, the website contains a wealth of searchable information identifying who’s who in the missionary world, connections between the “non-proselytizing” organizations and their supporters, and how this affects Israel.
“Certainly there are a number of righteous gentiles who have been taking a moral stand with the State of Israel over the years and who are truly Israel’s friends,” Ellen emphasized. “Jewish Israel is not opposed to Christianity or investment from gentile sources. What they are disturbed by is the proselytizing agenda of organizations targeting the Jewish people.”
One of the most distressing videos on their site is a Restoration Feast of the Tabernacles Convention, a Christian celebration held in Jerusalem, organized by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. David Parsons, media and public relations director, speaks in English, with a simultaneous Hebrew translation. Why Hebrew? Because the featured honored guests, who are told to come up on stage and participate, comprise several units of IDF paratroopers. Their presence was organized by IDF veteran Doron Schneider, a self-described “Jesus-believing Jew.” As Ellen Horowitz writes, “As part of the honor, the soldiers were subject to sermons on the Jewishness of Jesus and how Christian prayers from churches and saints are behind them.” Parsons presents a picture of Christian love and support for Israel, explaining to the soldiers that there is a worldwide campaign of Christians reciting Isaiah 62 and offering prayers for the sake of Israel. What he fails to mention is that when evangelicals recite these verses, their kavana (aim) is that they are praying as Israel’s intercessors, since only their words reach G-d, and what they are praying for is that the nation of Israel will come to belief.
A Shabbos Meal…with Love
One would think that Israel is a refuge from this kind of behavior. On the contrary: Although there is an organization operating in Israel called HaMiflaht (The Refuge), it is not a safe place. Led by Scott and Theresa Johnson, this group is funded by a non-profit organization in Tennessee involved in missionary activity. In a YouTube video, you can see the Johnsons, who were former volunteers for International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, host a table full of IDF soldiers each week for a Shabbat meal at their Jerusalem home. Although Johnson is Christian, and he makes sure his guests are aware of that, he recitesKiddush, and his guests enjoy what looks like a lively Shabbat. They offer every amenity that these young people, many of whom are “lone soldiers,” could want.
The Johnsons insist they don’t proselytize, but Ira Michaelson knows better. Ira is one of a growing number of Jews working in the counter-missionary field who were themselves former missionaries. He was active in the Messianic movement for over 20 years and is now the outreach coordinator for Jews for Judaism East, after recently making aliyah. As Ira says, “Do you think if these kids ask Johnson about his faith he won’t share? He just waits to be asked.”
The Johnsons boast on their website that they serve over 4,500 meals a year to lone soldiers and new immigrants. The most important dish they serve, however, is their Christian love. Also on their website are letters of praise from several lone soldiers. One young man, Daniel, describes the delicious food and atmosphere and writes, “But that is not the only thing we do; until late at night we spend time on our balcony, drink wine, and talk about G-d, the stories of the Bible and the Tanach, and the persons from these stories.” He ends his letter with this (emphasis mine): “Scott and Theresa, the way they live, helped me change my mind about life and religion. It opened my eyes. First I was skeptic [sic] about what they told me, but the more I heard, saw, read, and studied about it, the more I got convinced that it all was true. I truly believe that G-d sent me to those people like angels that helped me understand and opened my eyes to this new life.”
Lone Soldiers and Other Vulnerables
The Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ), an organization founded by the “Messianic” lawyer Calev Myers in 2004, also has a lone soldiers project. As a way to influence this vulnerable population, JIJ presented their plans to help improve the lives of lone soldiers to the Knesset Security and Foreign Affairs Committee and were approved. This helps relieve the financial burden for the Israeli army, which otherwise provides its own places for these soldiers who have no home in Israel to go to when on leave. Although there are many Jewish places for lone soldiers, they are not as nice and “fun” as the ones supported with Christian money.
Avraham Leibler explains, “Chances are that if you are a religious lone soldier, you will not end up staying in one of the Christian houses. But if you are a secular lone soldier, and someone tells you that they have a Shabbat party and a movie afterwards, that sounds great!”
Of course, soldiers are not the only targets of these missionary groups. And personal Jewish acceptance of the primary Christian belief is not their only objective. Ruth Guggenheim, director of Jews for Judaism East, says, “One of their long-term goals is to simply get Israelis used to hearing the Hebrew word mashiach used to mean the Christian diety. Just like the Big Lie of Goebbels, if something is repeated enough times, it becomes acceptable, believable. What the missionaries are instructed not to do, however, is to bring up the trinity idea or that they consider Jesus a deity until much later.”
One way the message gets repeated every day in Israel is by means of television and radio. There are three Christian TV channels on cable or satellite, some broadcasting 24/7. There are hundreds of sophisticated websites and Facebook groups with translations in several languages including Hebrew, Russian, and Amharic – with one goal: to convert the Jews.
Ruth says that missionaries have worked hard over the years to make conversion more “palatable to Jews who might have never considered converting to Christianity. In the ‘good old days,’ when a Jew accepted Christian beliefs, he always called himself a Christian. Now they have a marketing scheme and use the ‘brand’ name, ‘Messianic Jews’ that allows Jews to believe they can remain within the Jewish fold while ‘only’ accepting ‘Yeshua.’”
These people get insulted if you call them Christians. “We are Jews!” they insist, and want to be accepted as just another stream of Judaism, like the Orthodox, Conservative or Reform. They claim to base their beliefs on the Hebrew Scriptures – with their unique interpretation, of course – and scorn the “legalism” of rabbinic Judaism.
In describing the enormity of the problem in Israel, Ruth says, “In America, we live in a Christian society. But if you think of the over 150 Hebrew Christian congregations in Israel, a country no bigger than New Jersey, and compare that to around 400 such congregations in America, think of the concentration there. The Israeli population has never confronted this. From secular to chareidi, Jews live in a Jewish society. The issues they have had to deal with in the past have only been regarding physical destruction.
“And now you have a large group of Christians who ‘love the Jewish community’ and are so supportive of Israel both politically and financially, coming in with open arms. Israelis are not used to looking at the possibility that these friends could be wolves in sheep’s clothing.”
Jews for Judaism figures show the shocking growth of Messianic believers (not all halachically Jewish) in Israel. In 1948, there were only 12 Jews who self-identified that way. In 1998, there were 6,000. It took another 11 years for that number to go up to 10,000 in 2009. But four years later, the number doubled to 20,000. It is unlikely that this is due to a population explosion.
There is even a second generation, people who grew up in Israel and were raised Messianic. Some of them attend a Hebrew-speaking primary school (through 9th grade) in the heart of Jerusalem, Makor HaTikvah. Although not all the children of the Messianics attend this school – many attend regular public school – it boasts well over 100 students.
A Flaw in the Law
How do we explain this statistical anomaly? It has to do with Israel’s Law of Return (LOR). This fundamental law of Israel was originally passed in 1950. The intent was to make Israel a haven for any Jew who needed a home or chose to make aliyah. The exceptions were “anyone engaged in an activity directed against the Jewish people” or who “is likely to endanger public health or the security of the State.” An amendment in 1970 defined the word Jew to mean anyone who was born of a Jewish mother or who has become converted to Judaism and who is not a member of another religion.” (Emphasis mine.)
Another amendment was added at the same time. For the purposes of family reunification, it was decided that the LOR also applied “to a child and a grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew, and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew, except for a person who has been a Jew and has voluntarily changed his religion.” (Emphasis mine.)
In other words, according to an Israeli lawyer I contacted, the LOR grants citizenship to anyone who has at least one Jewish parent or grandparent (or a Jewish spouse), unless one’s mother is Jewish and they have “willfully changed religions.” However, as long as the applicant with the Jewish parent or grandparent was not himself halachically Jewish, he is allowed to make aliyah with no restrictions! It doesn’t matter what religion he practices. He can be a Messianic missionary. These immigrants are not registered as Jews, but they have full citizenship and aliyah rights. This is hardly what the intent was when the 1970 law was crafted, but this is the loophole that has existed all these years.
It was not until 2008, however, that the floodgates were opened to Christian Messianic missionaries. That was the year that Israeli evangelical/Messianic attorney Calev Myers, of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, made a big splash by representing 12 non-Jewish Messianic petitioners before the Supreme Court. Myers, the product of a Christian home – his mother is Christian and his father was a Jew who converted to Christianity and became a pastor –uses his PR skills and his legal office to expand the presence of Messianic and evangelical Christianity in Israel. All 12 of the petitioners had Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers. Myers argued that their Messianic affiliation should not matter, since they only had paternal heritage and do not fall within the law’s restrictions on Jewish applicants, who cannot be practicing another religion. He won the case and was quoted in a Christian Broadcasting Network blog (JI site): “This is yet another battle won in our war to establish equality in Israel for the Messianic Jewish community just like every other legitimate stream of faith within the Jewish world.”
There are several ironies in this. For one, according to the Israeli lawyer I spoke to, “The Law of Return has become a law that makes non-Jewish immigration easier than Jewish immigration.” Another irony is that Messianic believers, such as Myers, disdain the rabbis and rabbinic Judaism, charging them for being too “legalistic.” What could be more legalistic than using this loophole, which was certainly not the intent of the law? And lastly, these Messianics call themselves Jews, although they entered the country by proving they were not Jewish. The JIJ advises messianic applicants to conceal their beliefs when they apply for citizenship.
(Although the Jewish Agency tries to weed out applicants such as these, putting their status in limbo for a few years, they later tend to win their appeals and become citizens.)
How can Israel, as a democracy, eliminate these activities? Obviously, the more missionaries who are let in, the more proselytizing will be done. In 2015 alone, there are many Israel-focused Christian conferences and events scheduled. According to the JI website, “They all emphasize bringing Israelis to ‘belief’ and empowering the messianic Christian movement. Included among these missionary happenings are the Israel Summit Stand Firm, Envision Pastors and Leaders Conference, Empowered 21 Global Congress, and the Lausanne Conference on Jewish Evangelism.”
“The Israeli government is not in a position to stop such events,” JI states, “because the U.S. State Department considers such censure a violation of International Religious Freedoms legislation. Over the last 40 years, Israel has become dependent on the Christian tourism industry, Christian Zionist U.S. congressional support, and evangelical-led hasbara efforts. All of this makes it difficult to protest what amounts to a ‘Jesus revolution’ in Israel.”
Ellen Horowitz told me “The new issue of the day is religious freedom and democracy. Israel will need a find a way to maintain its identity as a Jewish state and uphold the integrity of the Torah and the people of Israel without succumbing to or importing American definitions and standards of democracy and freedom of worship.” She expects this to be a big uphill battle that we’ll have to fight for.
Not All Our Leaders Are Helping Matters
It would be bad enough if missionaries were successful due to their own efforts alone. Much worse is the fact that they are being aided by the Israeli government and some rabbis. JI is replete with articles and videos about right-wing religious leaders, including Orthodox rabbis, who either participate in interfaith prayer services, unwittingly appear to promote a Christian agenda, and/or accept evangelical money with no parameters in place. This is despite the clear and widely accepted rulings from modern Torah authorities prohibiting interfaith theological encounters which blur the lines between religious faiths.
A committee of Binyamin Regional Council rabbis have written a set of halachic principles that address these problems. Jewish Israel, in describing this document in its website, says, in part, “The tremendous influx of monetary and voluntary support emanating from gentile sources convinced the rabbis to present a much needed and clear halachic response with which to guide the Jewish community in Israel. The scope of the rabbinic treatise goes beyond the questions of accepting monetary and hands-on assistance from gentile sources. Very sensitive prohibitions with regards to avoda zara, empowering Christianity, participation in Jewish-Christian gatherings, expressing admiration for Christian belief, and expressing gratitude are addressed in an unequivocal manner by the committee. The rabbis involved express great concern about the blurring of the line between Christianity and the Jewish faith, the dangers of strengthening Christianity in Eretz Yisrael, and problems inherent in becoming dependent on Christian sources. The document urges leaders and community activists to act in accordance with halacha but to proceed with dignity, respect, and tact, and to take care not offend gentiles who are true friends of Israel.”
Clearly, there is a need for a more proactive and concerted effort to combat the growing Israel missionary threat. The task is massive. Ruth Guggenheim says, “No one organization can do it all. Jewish Israel has a “phenomenal knowledge-base and relationships with Israeli politicians. However, they don’t do the educational programming that Jews for Judaism is known for, specifically geared to raise awareness of how missionaries use various Jewish beliefs, and take them out of context, misquote them, or use them to target and proselytize Jews. In addition to Jewish Israel and Jews for Judaism, there is Yad L’Achim, which is a well- known Israeli organization with its own version of boots on the ground.”
Ruth shared her vision for a coordinated effort. She hopes to create a new entity, one day, using all three groups, to be called “The Israel-Jewish Alliance.” Goals for this potential alliance would include: 1) A new website in Hebrew targeted to young men and women in Israel; 2) Online and offline tools designed for the Israel market; 3) A systematic and continuous social media campaign arming young Israelis with information; 4) Ongoing educational programs and rotating classes to educate rabbis, social workers and other influencers; 5) Meetings, events, and collaboration with the IDF and its soldiers and other groups; 6) An ongoing media campaign.
May Jews for Judaism, Jewish Israel, and all other groups fighting missionaries have much success, and may we see the end of losing Jewish souls.
If you would like to get in touch with Ruth with further suggestions or to find ways you can contribute to this effort, you may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-500-5430