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Some sincere questions for two Orthodox rabbis

Some sincere questions for two Orthodox rabbis

Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University and has served as a professor at a number of seminaries. He is the author of 25 books and hosts the nationally syndicated, daily talk radio show, the Line of Fire.

As a Jewish believer in Jesus and longtime contributor to The Christian Post, I was glad to see an op-ed penned by two Orthodox Jewish rabbis, Abraham Cooper and Yitzchok Alderstein.  Although the editorial raised concerns about GOD TV’s new Hebrew-speaking channel in Israel, called Shelanu, which I fully support, it is still good for the Post readers to get a different perspective on faith issues, especially from the pen of Orthodox rabbis. And it’s good for the Post readers to be reminded of the terrible history of Christian antisemitism.

Still, the rabbis’ editorial left me with some serious questions, which I will address here shortly.

But first, in a direct and personal way, I want to express my deep appreciation to Rabbis Cooper and Alderstein for your tireless, decades-long stand against antisemitism. In this effort, we are united, despite our deeply different views about Jesus being the Messiah.

That’s why I am glad that you painted a vivid picture of the ways that the Church sometimes mistreated the Jewish people – in the name of Jesus, at that. This included things like forcing Jews to hear conversionary sermons or, worse still, offering them baptism or death.

I, too, have drawn attention to these monstrous abuses. In fact, my most translated book, Our Hands Are Stained with Blood: The Tragic Story of the Church and the Jewish People, focuses on this tragic history. Not only so, but it was this very book that helped sensitize Ward Simpson, the CEO of GOD TV and himself a Jewish believer in Jesus, to these very issues.

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That’s why Ward wrote (as you quoted in your editorial), “To exercise the right of free speech here [in Israel] without any regard for that history or the Jewish sensitivities against missionizing would be a callous misuse of that right.”

But this is where I must raise some honest and sincere questions to you for your thoughtful consideration.

First, what was your purpose in recounting some of the terrible history of the Church and the Jewish people? Was it merely to help Christian readers know how a large number of Jewish people feel about the gospel today? Or was it also to paint Shelanu in a bad light, as if there was any connection between historic Christian antisemitism and Israeli Jews sharing their faith with fellow Israelis? Again, I am asking sincerely, not accusing.

Second, you took strong issue with Ward’s statement that the network’s new, Hebrew-speaking channel in Israel will not be attempting to proselytize Jews. As he said, “The goal is not converting Jews to Christianity. It is helping them recognize Jesus as their Messiah without renouncing their Jewish identity or calling.”

To this you replied, “If Mr. Simpson truly believes that, then he knows nothing about Jews and Judaism. What for Mr. Simpson is an attractive synthesis is, for Jews, a contradiction in terms. Anyone in Israel who did not think that he was proselytizing for another faith now knows better.”

So my question is this: Do you see no difference between past Christian efforts to missionize Jews, which included forcing them to break all ties with their people, their culture, and their calendar, and Israeli Messianic Jews, who observe Shabbat and celebrate the Feasts and live in the Land, sharing their faith?

As I documented in Our Hands Are Stained with Blood, past baptismal confessions that Jews were required to recite included wording like this: “I renounce the whole worship of the Hebrews, circumcision, all its legalisms, unleavened bread, Passover, the sacrificing of lambs, the feast of Weeks, Jubilees, Trumpets, Atonement, Tabernacles, and all other Hebrew feasts, their sacrifices, prayers, aspersions, purifications, expiations, fasts, Sabbaths, new moons, foods and drinks. And I absolutely renounce every custom and institution of the Jewish laws…in one word, I renounce absolutely everything Jewish….”

This is the precise opposite of the message that Shelanu is proclaiming. Do you truly see no substantive difference between the two? And is it wrong for these Messianic Jews to seek to recover the Jewish roots of the New Testament faith, thereby discarding some of the later, anti-Jewish baggage of the Church? Is there anything deceitful about this?

Third, and lastly, since you are quite aware of the negative connotation of the word “proselytizing” in Jewish circles, can you not understand why Ward wanted to distance Shelanu from that word? Was this really “patronizing and false” on his part, as you claim in the title of your op-ed?

In your editorial, you remind Christian readers about some of the worst chapters in Jewish-Christian relations, which is why, to this day, “missionary” is a dirty word for many Jews. That history was truly antisemitic, and every true Christian must renounce it as contrary to the spirit of Jesus and the New Testament.

But then you turn around and place Shelanu in that same category, despite the fact that it is completely philosemitic, strongly pro-Israel, totally non-coercive, and simply encouraging our Jewish people to read the Hebrew Scriptures again and reexamine the possibility that Yeshua is our Messiah. What is so bad about that?

The good news is that, as always, our people will decide for themselves. That is all Shelanu is asking them to do.

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Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. His latest book is Evangelicals at the Crossroads: Will We Pass the Trump Test? Connect with him on FacebookTwitter, or YouTube.

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