Traditional Symbols of Judaism Appearing in Christian Settings: Some Jews Fear Their Use Is a Subtle Kind of Conversion Effort

By Shulman, Andrew | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 7, 1998 | Go to article overview

Traditional Symbols of Judaism Appearing in Christian Settings: Some Jews Fear Their Use Is a Subtle Kind of Conversion Effort


Shulman, Andrew, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The recent Christian Bookseller's Association convention in Dallas featured displays of many religious item, including crosses, Bibles and shofars.

Shofars?

The shofar - a ram's horn primarily used in ceremonies to herald the Jewish New Year - is among the numerous Judaic symbols showing up in all sorts of Christian settings. Traditional Jewish prayer shawls are sold in Christian bookstores, while former vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, a Presbyterian, displays a menorah in his office at Empower America.

Some Jews see the trend in a postive light, but not everyone is happy with this co-opting of symbols. Phyllis Tickle, Publisher Weekly's contributing editor for religion, noticed an increased Jewish presence three years ago at the CBA while researching her book, "God Talk in America."

"Quite frankly, I was amazed," Mrs. Tickle said. "I stopped by and tried to talk to a Jewish fellow . . . [who said] the American market was so strong [for Judaic items] that he moved here from Israel."

Richard Honorof, of Feed My Sheep Ministries in Brunswick, Ga., is a Jew who migrated from Russia. He got everyone's attention during the Dallas CBA because of the repeated shofar blasts coming from his convention booth. He says he attended the CBA to "educate the gentile Christian believers to understand the Jewishness of the Bible." "I also teach those gentile Christians how to communicate to the Jewish people who don't believe in Jesus, not in a Christian way, but an Old Testament Jewish way," he said.

"What I have been doing for years is setting up Jewish sections in Christian bookstores up and down the whole East Coast; with the talit [prayer shawl] and with books and music and art."

Mr. Honorof said that there is a demand for his items, especially among Messianic Jews - those who say their belief in Jesus as the Messiah does not negate their Jewish identity. He said Christian interest in the Jewish origins of their faith could have political consequences for Israel's survival.

Christians "are all reading the Old Testament," he says. "They know that the God of Israel is going to set up his kingdom in Jerusalem and for those that are true Christians, they are going to lay down their lives to help the Jews, whether the Jews believe in Jesus or not."

The lines between Judaism and Christianity have been muddied in recent years, not only by Christians, but by some Jews, including Michael Horowitz, the conservative Jewish activist who has predicted persecuted evangelical Christians "will be the Jews of the 21st century.

"That's why you have many, many people from Israel who are ambassadors who are working with the Christian community which is very large for their support," he told the New York Times Magazine last year.

Plus, Seattle Rabbi Daniel Lapin, founder of Toward Tradition, is writing a book, tentatively titled "An Orthodox Rabbi Makes the Case for Christianity," arguing that a return to Judeo-Christian tradition is essential to restoring the country to "tranquility, spiritual vitality and moral greatness," according to a press release.

Mrs. Tickle guesses the incorporation of Jewish traditions and symbols into U.S. Christian worship was influenced by the Holocaust.

"The Holocaust drove into this culture the best of European Jewry," Mrs. Tickle said. "America embraced them and welcomed them and came to covet their abilities and appreciate the wisdom that made such skill possible."

She estimates 25 percent of all Christian bookstores have Judaic materials in them. One of the items she has noticed in stores is the talit, because some evangelical Protestants think that by putting the talit over their heads, they fulfill Jesus' commandment in Matthew 6:6 to "When thou prayest, enter into thy closet. …

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