Last week the esteemed Rabbis Abraham Cooper and Yitzchok Adlerstein of the Simon Wiesenthal Center launched a rebuke against Ward Simpson, the Messianic Jewish president of GOD TV, regarding our Hebrew language television channel in Israel called Shelanu. Shelanu is the first-ever cable channel that broadcasts the stories, teaching and worship of Messianic Jews in Hebrew.
Before I address the rabbis' comments, let me say that this response article is not personally against them. As a Jew, I am grateful for the work of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. They have fought against anti-Semitism and against the anti-Israel BDS movement with courage and truth. However, when it comes to the issue of Yeshua (Jesus), they are governed more by history and emotion than Biblical truth.
For instance, they say that GOD TV’s Ward Simpson knows nothing about Judaism because he says the goal of the channel is not to convert Jews but to introduce them to Jesus as the Messiah.
But as the honored rabbis know, no one has a corner on Judaism. There are so many different sects and groups within Judaism, that there is no one definition.
For instance, there are some Jewish synagogues in the Reform movement that don't even believe in the existence of God. For them, Judaism is merely a cultural identity. One group, whose rabbi died 26 years ago, still has signs up all over Israel proclaiming him to be the King and Messiah of the Jewish people. They expected him to rise from the dead, but he did not. Twenty-six years later, many of them are still waiting.
However, it does seem that all groups agree on one thing, there is no such thing as a Jew who believes in Jesus. That they are antithetical. When a Jewish person says they have embraced the Messiah, meaning Jesus, the rabbis say he or she is no longer part of the Jewish people. They believe that a Jew for Jesus is an oxymoron but this is an emotional argument, not a theological one.
If we're just going to talk theology, then the group I mentioned above whose rabbi died 26 years ago are also no longer Jewish. If believing in a different Messiah disqualified you from being Jewish, then many groups would be disqualified, including the followers of the most revered rabbi in all of Judaism next to Moses, Rabbi Akiva. He proclaimed the military general Simon bar Kokhba to be the Messiah in the year 132 CE.
This false prophecy led to the deaths of half a million Jews during the Second Great Revolt. So gruesome was the scorched earth policy of the Romans, that I can't even share the stories here. Rabbi Akiva's recognition of a false Messiah was one of the greatest mistakes in Jewish history. But no one ever says that Rabbi Akiva left Judaism, in fact, he is revered. This is because their argument is not based on truth or fairness in theology, but emotion.
As I have documented in my books Identity Theft and The Jerusalem Secret, there has been a horrific, bloody history from the institutionalized church against the Jewish people. The rabbis eloquently retraced part of this history in their blog. And then, they reason, how can Jewish people believe in the Messiah of the people who murdered, raped, expelled and forced many of our people to convert to another religion.
Believe me, I understand that. That was my position until I became a believer. In fact, growing up if you had asked me what does it mean to be Jewish, my very basic and ignorant definition was this: “We don't believe in Jesus”. That probably holds true for many non-religious Jews.
However, what I challenge Jewish people to do is to divorce themselves from this horrible history and read the New Testament for themselves. Let's face it, anyone who reads the New Testament knows that it does not teach hate, violence or encourage forced conversions. The people who perpetrated such crimes against humanity were not Christians. Yes, they had a title or a label, but it was inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus. It was political Christianity, not genuine faith.
The truth is Jesus never preached to gentiles at all — just Jews. Neither did his disciples until almost 10 years after his death and resurrection. And when Peter finally did enter the home of a Roman centurion, he did so quite reluctantly. He had never been in the home of a gentile. For those first 10 years the movement of Yeshua-followers was 100% Jewish. If you had told one of those first believers that believing in Yeshua made them a Christian, they would have asked you, “What is a Christian?” They were Jews who had found the Messiah.
Now the rabbis can argue that they were mistaken and that Jews today who believe in Yeshua are misguided, but you can’t argue that we are no longer Jewish. Or else there is a whole slew of other Jewish people they will have to excommunicate.
I find it very interesting that they quoted me in their article but not by name. Could it be that my last name Cantor is understood by most people to be a Jewish name? And it was a bit dishonest because they quoted me from a press release that begins with the words, “As Israelis…” but left that out.
The quote makes it very clear that I am Jewish and Israeli — as opposed to a gentile outsider, Christian, from another country seeking to convert Jews. Let's look at the whole quote:
“As Israelis, we request that the law will be applied to us exactly as it is applied to anyone who wants to share their faith view, from Orthodox Jews to Muslims. It will be a sad day if the only democracy in the Middle East prevents the freedom of speech of Messianic Jews in Israel. We pay taxes, our sons and daughters are recruited to serve in the Israeli military, but when it comes to the freedom of speech, some want to silence us.
"Shelanu TV provides an outlet of expression for thousands of Israeli Messianic Jews and Christian Arabs to express their faith in Yeshua, as 70% of our content is created by Israelis. It was expected that some may disagree with our faith, but this is an issue of freedom of expression. We have an Israeli oversight team that has implemented stringent measures to ensure that Shelanu TV adheres to regulations and that it remains in good standing with the authorities,” says Cantor.
It would appear that they intentionally left out the fact that I am Jewish and a citizen of the State of Israel. In fact, as a citizen, I have more legal rights to share my faith here in Israel than they do as Americans. They also failed to share with their audience that 70% of the programming is from local messianic Jewish Israelis — not Western teachers and preachers.
They claim that the channel, that I'm quite sure they've never seen, is proselytizing. But that is not correct. There is no proselytizing — which conjures up images of enticing people to join your religion or sect with goods or funds or using fear tactics. On Shelanu TV, in addition to teachings, interviews and worship music, Israelis who believe in Yeshua share their stories. But what we don't do is pressure people in an undue manner. Everything is done in good taste. And the fact is that the average Israeli on the street has absolutely no problem with what we are sharing. It is only a vocal minority —and in this case, from another country.
Just this week an Arab Israeli bus driver was reprimanded for sharing his faith in Jesus with his passengers. Personally, I understand that people don't ride the bus to get a lecture on religion. However, I was very encouraged by the responses of Israelis to the situation. Let me share a few:
- “100 per cent legal,” one wrote. “Every citizen has the right to his or her own faith.”
- “What a bunch of losers are those who complained about this. What do you care what the driver had to say? Hypocrites. If he had been talking about girls or sex or drugs or politics, no one would have cared.”
- “So what? The Orthodox Jews who bother us to pray with tefillin (phylacteries) are much worse.”
- “I thought there was freedom of speech and religion in Israel.”
- “At a time when people are chanting terrorist slogans and waving Palestinians flags in the center of Tel Aviv and no one is complaining, this driver says a few words that set off a media storm.”
- Another reader called it “fake news” and accused Ynet (who reported on the situation) of making a mountain out of a molehill.
- “It’s shameful for you to have even reported on this. I see no violation. Where are the children? The driver was speaking with an adult passenger. This is fake news for the sake of ratings.”
So while I respect the American rabbis and the work they do in fighting anti-Semitism, I don't respect that they are seeking to tell Israelis what they can listen to or watch. If they know anything about Israelis, the more they tell them not to watch Shelanu, the more they will.
Ron Cantor is the CEO of Tikkun International, a global family of Messianic congregations and leaders. He also serves as the Regional Director for GOD TV in Israel and Shelanu TV. He has written several books on the Jewishness of the New Testament including his historical-fantasy novel Identity Theft.