Missionary Assaults on Judaism (Part 1)

By Mamlak, Gershon | Midstream, February 2001 | Go to article overview

Missionary Assaults on Judaism (Part 1)


Mamlak, Gershon, Midstream


The Jewish response to the propaganda of Christian missionaries today is unprecedented. Jews are now accepting Christianity of their own free will, under no conditions of constraint. This has never occurred before. (The mass conversions of the "Frankists," seemingly without coercion, were due to the state of despair that plunged the deceived Jews into an abyss of disidentification with their own people.)

In earlier centuries, even when apostasy from Judaism was not due to direct force, it was still the result of the overall status of Jews, to whom most civic activities were closed; abandoning Judaism opened the gates to share the "fruits of civilization." There is a story told about a Jewish scholar, Chwolsohn, who ostentatiously claimed that he had converted to Christianity out of "pure conviction." "I became convinced," he declared, "that being a professor in the University of Petersburg [a position inaccessible to Jews] is a higher status than that of a melamed [teacher] in a Jewish provincial school."

Whatever the relationship is of the Gentile world today to Judaism, a Jew now certainly has adequate opportunities without changing faith.

The tens of thousands of Jews who join the various sects and cults of Jesus fellowships are motivated by the conviction (or impulse) that they are embracing a more meaningful view of life. Allowing for a certain percentage of spiritual misfits, one must accept the fact that many Jewish Jesus-followers seek a meaningful religious engagement and "find" it in the "charisma of Jesus." The question is why? What can prompt a Jew to exchange the GodConcept of Judaism for the charisma of Jesus? People become skeptical about their religion because of an awareness of its irrelevance to existential problems, or for social reasons -- if they feel their religion sides with the forces of oppression. But, if disenchantment with establishments and protests against those in power are to be directed against religion, then it is undoubtedly the Christian church that over the centuries has cooperated with, and sanctioned, oppressive regimes and policies. It is the Christian churches that have abetted the evils tainting history; Judaism has never been stigmatized by social oppression. The protest against social evils, against oppression of society, should rather be directed at Christianity's spokesmen, not at the leaders of Judaism.

The Christian world is aware of the Church's history in the social realm. Missionaries therefore avoid stressing Christian dogmas and the historic record of the Church vis-a-vis Judaism; they do not dare to compare Judaism's record with that of Christianity in the spheres of social activism, in dealing with the poor and oppressed, with the relation to bloodshed and atrocities in the disparate histoiles of Church and synagogue. Two millennia of history are not referred to in the attempt to convince a Jew of the supremacy of Christian doctrines.

There is only one single lure in the ensnaring of Jews by missionaries: the "charisma" of Jesus. The primary article in missionary propaganda is Jesus's individual greatness, his power to redeem those who believe in him.

But this is not a recent phenomenon; the agitation to win Jews for Jesus goes back to Jesus. Since the days of the apostolic community in Jerusalem the determination to make Jews follow Jesus has been a primary goal of the Church. After Christianity became the official religion in Rome, Jews were made to feel the oppressive force of the Church, her bishops, monks, missionaries, and kings. The concept of Jesus has been paramount in all churches and denominations of Christianity from the very beginning. Whenever Jews were threatened with inquisitions, autos-da-fi, expulsions, or lured by promises to become Christians, the figure of Jesus was the determining factor.

This brings us to the cardinal question: Why should Jesus be more tempting to the modern Jew than to his ancestors? …

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