" Jewishness never saved anybody. Judaism never saved anybody no matter how sincere (Martin "Moishe" Rosen)."
The founder of Jews for Jesus, the Reverend Martin "Moishe" Rosen, died this past week. Rosen is arguably the most important person in the modern history of converting Jews to Christianity, so it is worth a moment to consider his history and legacy. Martin Rosen as born to a Jewish family in 1932 but by 1953 he had already converted to Christianity. By 1957 he was an ordained Baptist minister.
Reverend Rosen was hired as a missionary for the American Board of Jewish Missions (ABJM), an organization that later changed its name to Chosen People Ministries. Rosen worked as a missionary to the Jews in San Francisco. He attended the popular evangelical church, the Mustard Seed, and can be considered fully part of the Jesus Freak movement of the hippie generation. Involvement in an evangelical church continues to be mandatory for all Jews for Jesus missionaries today.
According to his writings, he experienced frustration at the many people who immediately shut their doors to him. He knew that he needed a gimmick, a way of keeping the doors open. It was then that he invented the term "Jews for Jesus," as a way of opening the doors more easily to his ministry. By selling himself as a Jew and ignoring his Christian conversion, education and mission, Rosen experienced greater success as a Christian missionary.
Rosen eventually broke away from ABJM and created Jews for Jesus. The organization currently runs a $20 million a year budget and has over 100 staff members, along with hundreds of volunteers. The early success of Jews for Jesus led many other Christian groups to found Messianic ministries and congregations as a way of converting Jews to Christianity. For instance, Jews for Jesus was highly influential on the early career of Steve Cohen, who founded the Lutheran Church-Missiouri Synod's Apple of His Eye Ministries. For many Christian missionaries and leaders, volunteering with Jews for Jesus was their first attempt at Intercultural ministries, a term used to describe evanglization of people from different cultures to Christianity .
So what are the legacies of Martin Rosen? First, he popularized among Christians the idea of "Messianic Judaism" as a way of bringing Jews to Christianity. When the Church of England first created "Hebrew-Christianity" (the original name for "Messianic Judaism") in the 1800's, it was to present Christianity in a Judaicized form to more easily bring Jews to the Church. Rosen took this evangelical idea to another level. He helped bring the movement from a fringe group to be fairly mainstreamed in many Christian denominations. More and more Christians are now willing to misrepresent Christian belief as a form of Judaism to convert Jews. Jewish symbols and holidays are quickly changed to incorporate Jesus and Christian theology. Even individuals with no Jewish background or lineage will introduce themselves as Messianic Jews to promote Christianity. On a personal note, most Christians that have spoken to me about Jews for Jesus were shocked when I told them that Rosen was a Baptist minister. He was such a good salesman that they thought that he really was a practicing Jew!
Second, the mainstreaming of deceitful methods to convert Jews has created a continual rift in Christian-Jewish relations. Though many in evangelical Christianity truly want to support Israel and the Jewish people in a beneficial way, many Jews will not trust evangelical Christians because of the use of deceptive methods such as "Messianic Judaism" to convert Jews.
Third, Rosen left a mixed legacy within his own organization. Though widely hailed as a brilliant missionary, he was known for a quick temper and a violent personality. Many staff members left the organization burnt out and angry at his overbearing demands and hostility. When David Brickner, the non-Jewish current leader of Jews for Jesus, took over from Rosen, one of his first jobs was to reach out to angered former staff members.
Interestingly, though Jews for Jesus has the highest budget of any Christian ministry aimed at Jewish conversion, its fame has led to a considerable drop in success from its early years. Most Jews have heard of Jews for Jesus and some counter-missionary groups have developed to counter Jews for Jesus (e.g. Jews for Judaism). During Jews for Jesus' larger missionary campaigns, known as Behold Your God, they train hundreds of volunteers and spend thousands of dollars to convert Jews. However, Jews have become aware that Jews for Jesus is a Christian missionary group, so it is rare that more than a handful of Jews will accept Jesus on any of these campaigns.
Ultimately, Rosen saw the dressing of Christianity in the clothes of Jewish symbols and holidays as his best method of converting Jews to Christianity.