Rabbis say Christians who share the gospel with Jews use deception and mind control.

Leading Jewish spokesmen are the first to acknowledge that Christian evangelism has had an impact on the Jewish community. In the last two decades, tens of thousands of people have abandoned Judaism to become Christians. Some Jewish leaders fear for the future of their religion in this country.

In addition to Christian evangelism, cults are partly responsible for the exodus of young Jews. To combat that exodus, the Jewish community in recent years has stepped up its efforts to keep its sheep in the fold.

Malcolm Hoenlein, director of the New York-based Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), in the mid-1970s launched a Task Force on Missionaries and Cults. As its name implies, Jewish leaders see little difference between losing people to cults and losing them to Christianity.

“Every major Jewish community has a task force to deal with the missionary and cult problem,” says Rabbi Ben-Tzion Kravitz, director of the antimissionary Chabad Counteraction Program in Los Angeles. These concerns, Kravitz says, are shared by Jews across the theological spectrum. “The truth is that the large majority of Hebrew Christians know relatively little about Judaism. [They] embrace Christianity … out of ignorance.” Kravitz and others try to educate their Jewish constituencies in hopes of making them resistant to evangelism.

Such efforts have helped create public relations headaches for Jewish Christian organizations such as the San Franciso-based Jews for Jesus. Widely respected among evangelicals, the group was listed as a cult alongside Moonies and Hare Krishnas on the jacket of the recently published book Mindbending (Doubleday).

“The Jewish people to whom we want to direct the message of Christ are reticent to hear us for fear that they might be caught up in some sinister cult,” says Moishe Rosen, Jews for Jesus founder and director. He adds that many evangelical pulpits that once were open to Jews for Jesus programs are now closed.

Most Jewish leaders stop short of labeling Jews for Jesus a cult. But they refuse to back down from their claim that it uses cultlike practices, including deception and mind control. Leaders in the antimissionary effort cite numerous Christian groups and individuals in addition to Jews for Jesus as being part of the problem.

“We feel it’s deceptive for Christians to represent themselves through the use of traditional and rabbinical Jewish symbols,” Kravitz says. Among other things, the rabbi objects to evangelistic pamphlets displaying the symbol of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis and the use of evangelistic ads sponsored by Jews for Jesus during the Chanukah season.

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Addressing these criticisms, Rosen says “most Jewish symbols are also in a sense part of the Christian tradition because of the New Testament.” Rosen points out that Chanukah, the Feast of Dedication, is mentioned in the New Testament (John 10:22). “By claiming exclusive rights to these [Hebrew] symbols, they are denying the church a Hebrew heritage.”

But to Jews, cultural symbols cannot be divorced from a Jewish religious context. “A number of groups will tell you, ‘Keep your Jewish holidays, keep your kosher foods, keep your Jewish rituals, but accept Jesus Christ in your heart as the Messiah,’ ” says Philip Abramowitz, director of the JCRC task force. “This makes a mockery of Judaism and Christianity.… Theologically, it’s impossible to be a Jew for Jesus.”

In a similar vein, Kravitz likens the term “Christian Jew” to “kosher pork,” arguing that neither exists.

“The problem is, we [Jewish Christians] have redefined what it means to be Jewish,” says Sam Nadler, northeast regional director of the American Board of Missions to the Jews (ABMJ). “Being Jewish for us includes a very strong faith in Jesus. We work out our faith in a way that is Jewish in tone … because we are Jewish.”

Kravitz charges that in order to “proselytize” Jews, Christian organizations regularly misrepresent Jewish teachings. Kravitz alleges further that Christian groups pose as religious Jews in order to win an ear from unsuspecting potential converts. He cites as an example a calendar of Jewish holidays published by the ABMJ that is used as an evangelistic tool.

“We do have a Jewish calendar,” Nadler says. “But when we discuss Jesus, we’re discussing something Jewish. We promote Jesus in a Jewish way because he’s a Jewish Messiah. We don’t feel this is deception.”

Some Jewish community leaders, including Rabbi Yehudah Fine of New York, say they understand that aggressive evangelism is an integral element of conservative Christianity. Fine says some Christians have branded him “satanic” because of his efforts to keep families together. “I’m not a ‘deprogrammer.’ I have no tricks. To me, this whole issue is pivotal around communication,” he says. While the rabbi is skeptical of instantaneous conversions, he does allow that some people find God through Jesus Christ. He says he does not try to get people to renounce Christianity, but to ensure that any decision to become a Christian is an informed one.

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Addressing allegations of mind control, Rosen again examines the Jewish perspective. “When you preach the gospel and tell someone there is sin, the rabbis say it’s manipulation by guilt. When you say there is no salvation without Christ, that’s manipulation by fear.” Rosen says that as a matter of policy, Jews for Jesus does not attempt to minister to people under the age of 18. He adds that, for ethical and practical reasons, Jews for Jesus would never try to hide the fact that it is a Christian organization. Rosen stresses that his critics consider Christianity itself deceptive.

“For 2,000 years [Christian] missionaries have been deceiving Jews by misrepresenting what the Jewish Bible says,” Kravitz says.

Abramowitz says that even if he felt that Christian evangelism was being done openly and honestly, “I would still work against somebody who is trying to convert my people.… Let’s face it, there are only 5.8 million Jews in this country. With intermarriage [between Jews and Gentiles] and assimilation, we have enough problems without people ‘missionizing’ Jews.

“Maybe what we need as a Jewish community is to … do more positive work to show the vibrancy and beauty of our own religion,” Abramowitz adds.

Rosen says that he, like Abramowitz, hopes Jews will delve more deeply into their faith. “The more they find out about Judaism,” Rosen says, “the more likely they are to come to Christ. It is not a person who avoids his Jewishness who becomes a Jew for Jesus. It is a person who is deeply concerned with what God wants from his life.”

North American Scene

Princeton Theological Seminary has established a program to train Asian-Americans for ministry in the Asian immigrant church. Asian-Americans make up one of the fastest-growing groups of American Christians. Korean immigrant congregations alone number 1,200 and are growing by 80 new churches a year.

Record numbers of people are joining the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Since it began a membership campaign two years ago, 660,000 people have joined the church. The denomination has been baptizing an average of 1,034 persons per day. The church has set a goal of 1 million new members by next summer.

A group of Christian and Jewish leaders has asked President Reagan to disavow the view that the Battle of Armageddon is imminent. The Christic Institute, a religious public-interest group, says Reagan has referred to his Armageddon beliefs at least nine times. The institute said many religious leaders fear Reagan’s beliefs would affect his actions in the event of a nuclear crisis.

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Proctor & Gamble has renewed its battle against rumors that the company supports the “Church of Satan,” according to Advertising Age magazine. Flyers distributed at churches, schools, shopping malls, and work places charge that the company’s corporate symbol, a drawing of the man in the moon, is Satan’s symbol. Similar accusations abounded in 1982. Proctor & Gamble is mounting a direct-mail campaign to quell the rumor.

The Christian Action Council (CAC) has scheduled a nationwide Sanctity of Human Life Sunday for January 20, 1985. More than 7,000 congregations participated in this year’s observance. The CAC says hundreds of churches committed themselves to establish crisis pregnancy centers.

A Massachusetts nurse was found not guilty of trying to kill a severely disabled patient by turning off his respirator. Victoria Knowlton was charged with assault with intent to murder. The patient, William Cronin, lost consciousness after the life-support system was turned off.

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