When converting a Jew to Christ

Haaretz, Israel/May 31, 2006
By Bradley Burston

To the many true Christians who wrote in response to an article on Jews for Jesus, a letter of thanks:

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am grateful for the many who wrote in sincere concern for my personal fate, in light of the possibility - which I readily grant may turn out to be entirely true - that, of all those cited in the article, the only one who may ultimately face eternal damnation, is me.

Those who read with care, responded with what can only be described as lovingkindness, and explained why they it was important to them that I accept Jesus as my personal savior, have my admiration and my honest thanks.

Others, and they were many, who voiced anger at my anger, scorn for my scorn, have my thanks for reading thus far, and allowing me a chance to further discuss what appears to be my stubbornness, my refusal to listen to logic, my scale-coated blindness to seemingly self-evident truths about Christianity and its messiah, and, at root, my refusal to accept Christ as my own.

Some readers suggested that the problem was that I never had a chance to get to know Jesus.

Not true. I lived in a world suffused with Jesus and his teachings. In December, as Christmas vacation neared for our public school, we sang carols heralding the virgin birth of the infant King of Israel. Television evangelists brought the New Testament into our home.

Perhaps as a result, I believe that Jesus was an extraordinary holy man, one with great gifts of wisdom, perception and strength. But I'm a believing Jew, and as such, I cannot accept Jesus as divine.

If I may address our Christian readers directly, how can I say this so that you can understand and accept this? I can only ask that you take on faith the following statement:

It is against my religion.

Growing up, most of my friends were Christian: Methodists, Roman Catholics, Mormons, Armenian Orthodox. I occasionally visited their houses of worship as they occasionally visited mine.

I found Christianity to be filled with beauty and generosity, wondrous grace and wisdom. In every respect, a magnificent religion.

Just not mine.

What we all learned, perhaps just out of instinct, was a profound respect for one another's beliefs.

We learned something else as well. Beliefs sometimes conflict.

One day when I was nine, my friend Dennis, who lived just up the street, came home from his parochial school with a worried look on his face. He explained that he and his family would be saved and would go to heaven, and that we - with whom he was close - would not, and that we would all be sent to hell.

I believe now that what made Dennis so fearful for us was, in part, his intuitive sense that none of us Jews in the Burston house were about to accept Jesus as divine, that the Jewish interpretation of the second of the Ten Commandments forbade us from doing so, and that, if he truly respected our faith, he would make no effort to try to persuade us to give up our religion and join his.

Dennis respected our faith.

Other readers have suggested that the problem was, well, Judaism.

"A careful study of the true Torah, the writings, and the prophets (Not the heretical Talmud which is not the Word of God, but a rabbinical corruption) clearly and plainly teach that the Torah of itself and Judaism does not save anyone," wrote a reader who holds a doctorate in Biblical Studies.

"Judaism is a relic of the past and today there is something much better - faith in Yeshua who fulfilled all the Torah concerning Messiah," the reader said, also calling Judaism "obsolete" and explaining at length exactly why.

Still others tried their best - and I believe, succeeded - in helping me understand how they saw the act of spreading the Gospel to the Jews.

"Tell me, if you honestly believed with all your heart and soul that there was only one God, only one true religion, only one path to salvation, and that every single person on Earth who does not take that path will spend eternity and a very real, literal hell, how would you feel about such lost people? Your neighbors and friends?" wrote a reader from Chevy Chase, Maryland.

"Would you not feel obliged to help them if you were in a position to do so? If you were walking by a burning house and saw someone sleeping on the couch, would you just keep walking? Wouldn't you help? That's all we Evangelical Christians are doing."

A number of readers (see Heather of Virginia, Talkback #924) felt that I had condemned Christianity as a whole for acts of evil committed in its name. That was not at all my intention, and that is not at all my belief.

But it is no less unfair, to expect Jews to be able to view the act of conversion dispassionately. The history of Church-endorsed efforts to convert Jews by the sword, by application of red-hot irons, by the threat of torture, beating, exile, public disgrace, loss of livelihood, is a matter of more than a thousand years and a thousand cities.

We're not that good at forgetting.

Perhaps the largest number of readers wrote in to assure me that believing in the divinity of Jesus in no way compromises one's Jewishness. It fact, several said, it makes one a better, more complete Jew.

I know that this statement is an expression of a wholesome and entirely commendable desire to share glory, to expand God's realm, to bring balm to strife-torn souls and ensure their place in Paradise everlasting.

This is also, however, the argument that goes to the very heart of the Jews for Jesus problem, and which makes the movement such a source of torment for Jews throughout the world.

Please try to imagine that I, as a Jew, tried to persuade you to give up your belief in Jesus, and then told you that if you did, you would be no less a Christian.

This, for us, is the crux: Jews want Judaism to survive. You remember Judaism. The religion that gave birth to yours.

I ask you to accept the following as an article of faith: Judaism cannot survive as a form of Christianity.

That is one reason why Judaism, which forbids suicide and offers exemptions to religious precepts when human life is at stake, also has a strong belief in Kiddush Hashem, literally, Sanctification of the Name [of God], a term applied to those occasions when Jews have chosen death over conversion to Christianity.

I beseech you: Respect this religion, this faith which gave birth to yours. Let this religion live. Respect the right of the Jews to live as Jews. To worship as Jews, and to respectfully decline to worship Jesus.

I beseech you: Respect the teachings and the practices of the Jews in your midst, as you would have had the Jews of Jesus' time, respect his.

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