Jews for Jesus offend Jews and Christians

Chicago Maroon, University of Chicago/October 3, 2005
By Ethan Frenchman and Seth Mayer

“Forgive us, lord, when we fail to foster genuine understanding between Christians and Jews,” wrote the late Pope John Paul II in his 1994 book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope.

Jews for Jesus, an evangelical organization, has launched a campaign around campus that fails at exactly that. Coinciding with both the beginning of the school year and the Jewish high-holiday season, the campaign goes beyond the appropriate bounds of missionary work by any reasonable definition. The group’s targeting of Jewish people for conversion and use of deceptive methods are disturbing and must be understood for what they are by people of all faiths around campus.

Jews for Jesus (JFJ) is an organization that redefines Judaism as a racial and cultural group, not a religion with its own basic and distinct set of beliefs. Present outside the University Bookstore and in an ad in the September 30th issue of this paper, the group claims that one may both “be Jewish” and accept Jesus as the messiah. JFJ uses misleading Jewish language and symbolism to disseminate their purely Christian message. The group refers to Jesus as Y’shua (which they claim to be his Hebrew name) and its members often wear Chai or Star of David necklaces. Along with including Jewish cultural references in their literature, JFJ sets up “Messianic” temples and celebrates Jewish holidays, albeit with Christian content.

An ad from JFJ exhorts, “Be more Jewish—Believe in Jesus.” Another, somewhat cynically, shows two figures saying “We’re real Jews who love Spielberg, pastrami, but most of all Jesus.” These two ads reveal the essential message of JFJ, one that claims that one is somehow more Jewish once by accepting Jesus, along with suggesting that Jewish identity is nothing but a collection of superficial cultural artifacts. For them, the cultural meaning of a pastrami sandwich is equal to that of a bar mitzvah.

In 1993, however, the Jewish state of Israel’s supreme court found that Jews who commit to Christian beliefs are members of a wholly separate faith, ineligible for the automatic citizenship normally conferred upon Jews who request it. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the ruling “marks the clear separation between Judaism and Christianity.” That said, it is impossible to be a “Jew for Jesus.”

Nonetheless, JFJ continues to make this contradictory claim, purposefully focusing on young, naïve, or socially vulnerable populations with their campaigns. College students, recent immigrants (most notably Russian Jews), and the elderly are targets for conversion. The Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington says these “deceptive proselytizing efforts” are “tantamount to coerced conversions.”

Many mainstream Christians groups and leaders such as the Presbyterian Church USA, the Roman Catholic Church, and Billy Graham have said that missionary work targeting Jews is at least “theologically invalid” and at worst that it “dishonors G-d.”

JFJ’s disturbing presence at the university is a threat to religious understanding and meaningful cultural pluralism. Their distortions undermine any form of religious meaning or significance. Disregarding any notion of “genuine understanding,” Jews for Jesus cynically uses manipulation in a manner that disgraces itself and hurts both Judaism and Christianity.

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