Referenced Messianic Jewish Review Blog

The official blog of the Referenced Messianic Jewish Review. The Referenced Messianic Jewish Review studies the history, composition and theology of the Messianic Jewish movement.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Russians Are Coming

For anyone who has been following the Messianic movement's attempt to convert the Jewish people, it is hard to ignore the vast focus on evangelizing the Russian Jews and other Jews from the Former Soviet Union (FSU). In Israel, Russian/FSU Jewish immigrants are the group most generally targetted by missionaries. Further, huge amounts of money and missionaries are flowing to places like the Ukraine and Russia to convince Jews to adopt Christianity in the form of Messianic "Judiasm." Even in the United States, there are Messianic missionaries specifically aiming for Russian/FSU Jews. There are a number of reasons why Messianics are targetting the Russian/FSU Jews more so than other Jews.

1. Russian/FSU Jews generally lack Jewish knowledge

Under the Soviet Union, practice and learning of Judaism was illegal. For generations, Jewish people knew little, if anything, of Jewish belief and practice. Since they do not know about Judaism, they are easier to fool into adopting Christian beliefs under the guise of the Messianic movement.

2. Russian/FSU Jews are often poor and needy

The economy in many parts of the Russia and FSU is poor. In Israel, many of the new FSU immigrants come with little money, so they need extra money, food and other goods on a regular basis. Missionaries are aware of these needs so they bring them aid items like food and use these items as a way of opening the door into the home of the needy Jews. Once they have given the needy Jew some aid, they then use the opportunity to convert them to Christianity.

3. Russian/FSU Jews are often isolated from the rest of the Jewish community.

Due to language and geography, Russian/FSU Jews are often isolated from the rest of Judaism. It is hard for a Jew in Estonia to connect with Jews around the world. In places like Israel and the US, Russian/FSU immigrants often are isolated by their inability to speak the local language and due to cultural differences. Messianic missionaries target these vulnerabilities, such as opening language centers as a way of inserting themselves into the immigrants' lives with the eventual goal of converting the immigrants. The ultimate interest is not in the immigrants' success but in convincing the immigrants to become Christians.

The targetting of Russian/FSU Jews by Messianic missionaries has led numerous counter-missionary groups to provide programming and materials in Russian. The Chabad centers in Russia/FSU often operate counter-missionary programming through their Magen League. Here is a link to their operations:

Here are links to Russian language counter-missionary material from major counter-missionary organizations:
Jews for Judaism:
Outreach Judaism:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Jewish Bible?

There are several attempts by Christianity, using the Messianic movement, to convince Jews that Christian views are actually Jewish. Some of the more bizarre attempts involve the writing of "Jewish Bibles." There are two prime examples of this that I will highlight.

Dr. David Stern is the writer of the Complete Jewish Bible. Of course, the word "complete" is quite a bit misleading. In the view of Stern, "complete" includes the Christian Bible aka The New Testament. In fact, it is published by Jewish New Testament Publications, Incorporated. Ah, but why would Stern think that the Jews need the Christian Bible? The clue is in his education. Stern has a Master's of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, one of the largest evangelical Christian schools in the country. Stern embraced Christianity in 1972. He has not practiced Judaism in decades.

Dr. Phil Goble is the author of the Orthodox Jewish Bible. It is supposively a Bible that is translated specifically to reflect views of Orthodox Judaism. However, this is not actually the case. The entire function of the book is to convince Orthodox Jews of Christianity, especially the Assemblies of God version of Christianity. Goble is an Assemblies of God missionary to the Jews. He became a licensed minister and missionary in 1973. He has been working as a missionary in New York for about 30 years and runs a Messianic congregation for the Assemblies of God. Moreover, the New York branch of the Assemblies of God gave him money and support to produce this book.

These two books represent just a few cases in which Christianity and Christian ministers use Jewish terms in their attempt to bring Jews to Christianity.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Jews for Judaism Grant

Jews for Judaism is in the running for a grant, which is given in a contest format. So, if you want to help Jews for Judaism win, vote for Rabbi Kravitz!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Whole Lot of Money, Part $5.5 Million

Zola Levitt may have been born Jewish, but he converted to Christianity when he was a college student in March of 1971. Campus Crusade for Christ was the organization that led him to Christian theology and eventual conversion. Levitt got active in the conversion of other Jews to Christianity and founded Zola Levitt Ministries. Though Levitt died in 2006, his work is being carried on by his family and his associates.

Jeffrey Seif, a convert to Christianity, now is the main face of Zola Levitt Ministries. Seif has attended numerous Christian schools, such as Trinity Theological Seminary and the Moody Bible Institute (see my blog post on Moody Bible Institute's involvement in the Messianic movement: ) Seif also was a professor at Christ For the Nations Institute (CFNI). CFNI is highly involved in the Messianic movement in Israel with it's Messianic outreach, the $2.5 million Maoz Israel. Maoz Israel is run by the daughter and son-in-law of Gordon Lindsay, the founder of CFNI.

Zola Levitt Ministries provides copious on converting Jews, including an institute which trains people in Jewish evangelism. They discuss evangelizing the Jews on their popular television show. The television show originally was broadcast by the Christian Broadcast Network and now appears on other major Christian stations such as the Daystar Network. They even run a Messianic congregation, Shalom Shalom, which is part of the Fellowship Bible Church Dallas. Levitt was always active in the Messianic movement and a regular speaker at Messianic congregations. Of course, Seif has also followed in Levitt's Messianic involvement.

So, how much money is being spent by Zola Levitt ministries in their mission, which clearly includes converting Jews to Christianity? According to Charity Navigator, Zola Levitt Ministries spent more than $5.5 million in the year ending 2007! Again, this is just further proof that Christians are willing to spend lots of money through the Messianic movement as a method of converting Jews.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Church of England and Messianics

The Church of England, also known as the Anglican Church, is the true start point for Messianic "Judaism." In the 1800's, the Church of England was trying to convert Jews to Christianity. The problem is that even when Jews converted, they still would not attend church. So, the Church of England wanted a way to convert Jews and make it more likely they would attend church. They created a movement called Hebrew Christianity and a movement organization called the Hebrew-Christian Alliance and Prayer Union. Today, the Hebrew Christianity movement is now generally known as Messianic "Judaism."

The Church of England started it's modern Jewish evangelism when it started the London Society for Promotion of Christianity Amongst the Jews in 1809. The London Society later changed it's name to Church's Ministry Among the Jewish People (CMJ). The Church of England has never stopped it's activities in converting Jews and continues it's activities in the Messianic movement as a method of converting Jews to Christianity.

Currently, there are CMJ branches in the UK, Ireland, USA, South Africa, Australia and Israel. As an example of their Messianic work, CMJ branches are very involved in Israel. They sponsor the Christ Church Ministry Centre in Jerusalem which houses a Messianic congregation. Also in Jerusalem, they sponsor the Anglican International School which runs three Messianic schools. Beit Immanuel Ministry Centre is the CMJ Tel Aviv Messianic congregation. CMJ Israel also runs the Emmanuel Bookshop, which has plenty of Messianic wares. CMJ Ireland advertises that it has church planter training in Poland and the Ukraine, with the hopes that the trainees will run congregations for them.

To get an idea of just how much the Church of England wants to convert Jews, let us look at the financials of the UK branch of CMJ. CMJ UK spent £968,576, which is equivalent to more than $1.6 million (£1 = $1.6586), in 2007. They also have more than $2.6 million in assets. That is an incredible amount of money to convert the Jews, particularly when you consider that this is just the UK branch of CMJ, not all branches of CMJ.

Overall, The Church of England is the founder of the Messianic movement and one of it's principal sponsors, particularly in Israel.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Rabbi Schochet

There was a time that the Messianics challeged Jewish leaders to debates, thinking that this would be a good way to reach Jews for conversion. In Canada, Rabbi Schochet often answered those challenges. After losing members to Rabbi Schochet, the Messianics gave up on the public challenges. After all, instead of gaining followers, they were losing followers.

Simply put, true Judaism is perfectly able to stand on it's own in the face of Christianity and Rabbi Schochet knows true Judaism. Here is a link to a countermissionary audio lecture by Rabbi Schochet:

Christian Training, Part II

Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) is another popular educational hub for Messianic leaders. Founded in 1924 as the Evangelical Theological College, the focus of DTS is Christian ministry. This focus on Christian ministry has led it to be a perfect place for Messianic leaders to gain their education to evangelize the Jews.

There is a close relationship between Jews for Jesus, one of the oldest Messianic groups evangelizing Jews, and DTS. Mark L. Bailey , the president of DTS, has written a letter of support for Jews for Jesus which is on the Jews for Jesus website. He has also taken part in the Lausanne Consultation for Jewish Evangelism, a yearly conference on Jewish evangelism. Harold Hoehner, a professor at DTS was a former board member of Jews for Jesus until his passing in February. Carter Corbrey, a graduate of DTS, has been published in the Jews for Jesus newsletter.

On Jews for Jesus' side Susan Perlman, First Assistant to the Executive Director of Jews for Jesus, is a board member of DTS. Larry Dubin, a full-time missionary for Jews for Jesus in Washington, D.C., is a graduate of DTS. Similarly, DTS graduate Jack Meadows trains missionaries for Jews for Jesus.

Here are some of the DTS graduates who are evangelizing Jews to Christianity through the Messianic movement:

Michael Rydelnik is the professor of Jewish Studies at the Moody Bible Institute as part of Moody's Department of World Missions and Evangelism (see my blog entry Christian Training, Part I for more on the Moody Bible Institute) and is widely published in the Messianic movement.

Jim Sibley is currently the Associate Professor of Jewish Ministry at Criswell College (a Baptist school) and director of their Pasche Institute of Jewish Studies. Sibley is the former Coordinator of Jewish Ministries for the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. He was also a church planter/evangelist in Israel for the Southern Baptist Convention. Sibley led the creation of many of the Southern Baptist Convention's Messianic congregations.

Arnold Fruchtenbaum is a former missionary with American Board of Missions to the Jews and The Christian Jew Foundation. He founded Ariel Ministries, which spends over $1 million for it's missionary programs in the U.S., Canada, India and New Zealand.

Larry Feldman is a missionary with Chosen People Ministries (formerly American Board of Missions to the Jews) and leads Shuvah Yisrael in California.

Vladimir Pikman is the director of Chosen People Ministries in Germany. He has been president of the German Messianic Jewish Alliance. He is currently the vice-president of the International Messianic Jewish Alliance.

Avner Boskey runs Final Frontier Ministries in Israel (through an office in Nashville). He has formerly run a Messianic congregation in Russia and currently evangelizes in Israel. He has been a member of the Theological Commission of the United Christian Council in Israel. He has also been part of the National Evangelism Committee in Israel.

Todd Baker is the staff theologian for Zola Levitt Ministries. He created Levitt's department of missions to Israel and leads Levitt's Shalom, Shalom Messianic Congregation.

As the Messianic movement is a Christian movement, Christian education at schools such as Dallas Theological Seminary have provided the knowledge base for much of the Messianic leadership.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Christian Training, Part I

There are a number of Christian colleges, seminaries and universities which have trained Messianic leaders. However, there are a few that stand out as being "Christian training hubs" for people who lead Messianic congregations. The Moody Bible Institute is one of the first and most involved Christian schools in the Messianic training process.

Dwight Moody, the founder of Moody Bible Institute, often talked about the importance of converting Jews. The Moody Bible Institute first started a program aimed specifically at training missionaries to evangelize Jews in 1923. Some of the funding for this program came from the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America (now called the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America). Moody continues to have a major in Jewish Studies, which includes ministry internships, designed for students who want to be missionaries to Jews and work in the Messianic movement.

On a historical level, a number of well-known missionaries to the Jewish people studied at the Moody Bible Institute. This includes Joseph Cohn, who led the American Board of Missions to the Jews (now called Chosen People Ministries) for thirty years, beginning in the 1920's.
Here are a few current Messianic leaders who have trained at Moody:

Larry Feldman of Beth Ariel Fellowship in California, a Evangelical Free Church of America congregation. Larry has also planted approximately half a dozen Messianic congregations through Chosen People Ministries. Moody graduate Jeff Gross is an elder at Beth Ariel.
David Brickner, the leader of Jews for Jesus and an ordained Baptist minister
David's uncle, Harold Brickner of Beth Messiah in Michigan
Steve Shermett of Beth Sar Shalom of Arizona, which is part of the Scottsdale Bible Church
Michael Campo of Christian Jew Foundation Ministries. He is a church planter of several Messianic congregations including Rock of Israel, a North American Baptist Conference congregation
Rob Styler of 2nd Adam, a ministry of the Christian Jew Foundation Ministries
Loren Jacobs of Congregation Shema Yisrael in Michigan
Dan and Arlene Rigney, non-Jewish missionaries for Ariel Ministries
Jeffrey Seif, an ordained Christian minister who runs Zola Levitt Ministries and it's Institute of Jewish-Christian Studies

It is clear that the impact of evangelical Christian schools such as the Moody Bible Institute have influenced and will continue to influence the direction of the Messianic movement.

Mel Gibson

Every now and then I see something which causes my jaw to drop. The following is just on example.

Gateway Church in Texas has a Messianic congregation. Their Jewish Ministries program is run by Pastor Geoffrey Cohen. On Cohen's biography it says that his favorite actor is Mel Gibson. Really, Mel Gibson?

It is not like I do not appreciate Gibson's acting ability, it's just that he doesn't seem to like Jews. Gibson became a darling to many evangelicals after he made the film "The Passion." The film purported to depict the last hours of Jesus' life and was very popular among evangelicals. Passion plays have a long history of leading to violence against the Jews and the Jewish community was pretty vocal at their displeasure toward Gibson for creating a movie out of the Passion plays.

To appear to be listening to the Jewish community, Gibson had a pre-release showing of the film so Jewish leaders could give him feedback and suggestions. One of my rabbis attended the showing. He said that it was clear that Gibson had no intention of taking seriously anything that the Jewish leaders said at the meeting. It was all for appearances, to make Gibson appear as if he really cared what the Jews said while in truth he did not. Unfortunately, the Jews were portrayed in The Passion in numerous ways that were historically wrong.

In 2006, Gibson was pulled over for driving while under the influence. Among the comments he said to the officer, Gibson stated that "F-ing Jews. The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." Now, I will grant you that he was drunk and that he did apologize for his comments. However, I think all of us who practice Judaism took him off their "favorite actor" list after this comment, just in case any of us still had him on their list after the inaccurate portrayal of Jews in The Passion.

So the Jews may not be fans of Gibson but as for the Messianics.....I guess he is still a favorite!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Like Karaites

Karaites are a small Jewish group that generally reject the Oral Law (e.g. Talmud and Mishnah) and take a more literalistic understanding of the Bible than the rest of Judaism. There are a number of proofs from the Bible that the Oral Law is real (which is likely why the Karaites have never been the majority among the Jewish people) but for the sake of keeping this blogpost on one topic I will not go through the proofs today. However, I have had a number of Messianics tell and e-mail me that they are similar to the Karaites. The Messianics believe that they take a literalistic approach to the Bible just like the Karaites and that the Jews are making errors through the Oral Law. But is it true? Is Messianic "Judaism" and the rest of Christianity really reading the Bible on a literal level? What do the Karaites say?

Interestingly, the Karaites completely reject Messianic "Judaism" (and all the other branches of Christianity) for the same reasons as the rest of Judaism. Here is a link to an English translation of a famous Karaite countermissionary text. It is clear that they reject the Messianics claims, pointing out the same errors as other Jewish countermissionaries, such as Rabbi Tovia Singer of Outreach Judaism or Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz of Jews for Judaism.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Promise Keepers

Among the big supporters of the Messianic movement is the Promise Keepers (PK), a evangelical Christian men's organization started by former Colorado football coach Bill McCartney. PK is one of the largest Christian organizations in the United States. Michael Walker is the PK Treasurer. He is the senior pastor of Church in the City and the "rabbi" of it's new Messianic congregation Beth Abraham. Jonathan Bernis, of Jewish Voice Ministries, is on the Promise Keepers Board. Jewish Voice Ministries spends more than $1 million per year in it's evangelical efforts toward the Jewish people. Bernis also refers to himself as a rabbi (as does the PK site) despite having no rabbinical degree, just like Walker.

Not satisfied to simply include Messianics on his board, the Promise Keepers created The Road to Jerusalem/International Coalition of Christians and Messianic Jews. This PK subgroup has the function of bringing the Messianics closer to the other evangelical Christians and helps in fund-raising for Messianic causes.

Guest Messianic speakers for PK include the Chernoff brothers (see my blog entry for more details on their non-Jewish background) and Dr. Dan Juster, a Presbyterian minister who has been active in the Messianic movement for more than three decades.

The Promise Keepers are just one more example of a Christian organization which has embraced the Messianic movement in it's efforts to convert Jews to Christianity.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Disputation

Today is the anniversary of the famous Disptuation between Nachmanides and Pablo Christiani which took place in 1263 in Spain. During the Middle Ages, the local Catholic churches often forced Jewish leaders into "debates" about Judaism as a method of convincing Jews to leave Judaism and become Christians. The structure of the debates generally held to a similar format; Christian leaders in the debate could say anything they wanted to while the Jewish leaders were handicapped by being forced not to say anything that would go against Christianity. By having this rule in place, the Catholic Church hoped to have a better chance at defeating the Jews in debate and thereby increasing the likelihood of gaining Jewish converts.

The Disputation between Nachmanides and Pablo Christiani is probably the best known of these debates. Nachamindes was one of the greatest Jewish scholars ever and to this day, holds a position of high reverence among all Jewish denominations. Pablo Christiani was a Jewish convert to Catholocism. Much like today, Christians in the Middle Ages probably viewed Jewish converts as having a better position in the community to talk to Jews about Christianity. Of course, these converts were not called Messianic Jews or Hebrew Christians, as the Messianic "Jewish"/Hebrew Christian movement did not appear until the 1800's. Converts from Judaism were simply called Christians.

However, The Disputation was different than the other debates of the Middle Ages. The King of Spain allowed Nachmanides full freedom to talk as he wished. This was a bold move by the King, since he was himself a Catholic and a representation of Catholic power in the region. Given such freedom, Nachmanides easily defeated Pablo Christiani in the debate. Nachmanides wrote down the proceedings of the debate which has been kept for posterity. Below are a few links on the topic:

Norwegians in Israel?

In the United States, we are used to Christian denominations like the Southern Baptist Church and the Assemblies of God movement taking the lead in the Messianic movement. However, in Israel there are different Christian denominations sponsoring and supporting Messianic "Jewish" congregations in their attempts to convert the Jewish people.

The Norwegian Church Ministry to Israel (NCMI) is an active part of the Christian evangelical push in Israel. Their flagship attempt to evangelize Jews toward Christianity is the Caspari Center. The NCMI created the Caspari Center in 1984, an evangelical Christian educational outreach which trains Messianic leaders and teachers throughout Israel. The Caspari Center is a large operation, with expenses at over $300,00 per year and involves the participation of several other Scandinavian Christian organizations.

The Norwegian Church Ministry to Israel is also the founder of a Messianic congregation called Beit Eliahu in Haifa. Beit Eliahu's original name was Elias Church and it is a church plant of NCMI's Reverend Magne Solheim. NCMI has also planted a Messianic home for the elderly called Ebenezer Home. Lastly, the NCMI runs Immanuel Church, which includes Hebrew services on Saturdays. Why would a church have Hebrew services on Saturdays when they have perfectly good Christian services at the same church on Sundays? There is only one reason; to convert the Jews.

I hope this served as a taste for the Scandinavian Christians investment in the Messianic movement as a method of evangelizing the Jews.

But You Don't Understand!

One of the most common lines I hear from Messianic missionaries goes something like, "Jews just don't understand. Jews are just being stubborn, that is why they don't accept Jesus." I find this line amusing as some of the most avid leaders of the counter-missionary movement are former missionaries and members of the Messianic movement.

Rabbi Binyamin Kluger is one of the leaders of Yad L'Achim, an Israeli counter-missionary organization. Rabbi Kluger is a convert to Judaism. He was born Christian and worked as a missionary to the Jewish people. Rabbi Kluger eventually rejected Jesus, converted to Judaism and became a rabbi.

Penina Taylor was born Jewish but became a Christian in her teens. As an adult, she and her family created a Messianic congregation in Maryland. It was after 17 years as a Christian and Messianic leader that she returned to Judaism. She is now the director of the Israeli counter-missionary organization Shomrei Emet.

Julius Ciss is the Director of Jews for Judaism in Toronto. Like Penina, he was born Jewish but eventually joined the Messianic movement. With his knack for art, Julius became a popular artist for many Messianic congregations and organizations. After five years in the Messianic movement, Julius returned to Judaism.

Do they understand? Of course they do, they were missionaries and messianics, leaders and Christian worshippers. For many years, each contributed their time and energies to convert Jews to Christianity. The idea that Jews reject Jesus because they are stubborn is simply not true. The reason why Jews reject Jesus is that he failed to lived up to Biblical Messianic prophecy and because Christianity (including the Messianic movement) holds beliefs in direct contradiction to the Bible.