Jews should combat Christian proselytization by educating Jewish children in Hebrew school about the New Testament from the Jewish perspective, an interreligious expert said Monday.
"What I'm suggesting is not only quality Jewish education, but that the Jewish religious schools devote time to tell the story of the Jewish roots of Christianity, how it grew, who they were, how it separated from us, and the differences between the faiths," said Rabbi A. James Rudin.
Rudin, senior interreligious consultant of the American Jewish Committee, was one of two panelists at the forum on Messianic Judaism, which was held Monday at Temple Emanu-El. William Gralnick, southeast regional director of the American Jewish Committee, filled in for Moshe Fundo, a panelist who was stuck in New York City when his flight to West Palm Beach was canceled.
The forum, attended by more than 75 people, was designed to address concerns posed by the recent presence of a Jews for Jesus group on Worth Avenue, in CityPlace and around Palm Beach County. The group is handing out literature and holding recruitment programs countywide through Monday. Jews for Jesus is one of many messianic organizations that tries to recruit Jews by claiming to be Jewish while believing in Jesus as the Messiah.
Jewish leaders, including Rudin, say the group is a front for evangelical Christians trying to convert Jews to Christianity. The messianics celebrate Jewish holidays and use Jewish symbols and rituals.
Rabbi Isaac Jeret, spiritual leader of Temple Emanu-El, introduced the forum by calling Messianic Judaism "one of the great problems facing the Jewish community in the 21st century. It's a new, old threat with different clothing and a different voice."
The forum began with the showing of a Jews for Jesus recruitment tape asking for "compassionate Christians" to help with the "Behold Your God" campaign. The campaign runs through 2005 and is targeting 66 cities around the world with populations of more than 25,000. The tape includes interviews with several Holocaust survivors who now say they believe in Jesus.
"In their own words and in their own images, we get a sense of the threat of Jews for Jesus," Jeret said.
Gralnick talked about the vulnerability of immigrants, particularly Russian immigrants, to proselytization by messianic groups. He said many immigrants don't know the language and may feel like strangers in athe new country for decades.
Gralnick said messianic groups often approach recent immigrants, offering "a one-on-one ministry. They're there to become your friends. They're there to invite you home to dinner. They're there to show you 'shabbat' and there to take you to 'synagogue,' " he said. "It's an insidious infiltration of a community. It preys on the weak."
Rudin said there are about 900 Hebrew/Christian sects and they all use deception to look Jewish while putting forth Christian beliefs.
Rudin also said there have been several people over the centuries who have claimed to be the Messiah, but he said they did not meet specific determining criteria, including Jesus.
"On all the big points - reconciliation between peoples and nations, reconciliation among families, lions and lambs lying down together . . . none of them have been fulfilled," he said. "In fact, in Christianity there has to be a second coming. The Messiah has to come back. In all these criteria, none of these people have fulfilled the task.
"I don't argue faith with people," Rudin said. "But I can argue that none of the people mentioned have met the criteria for the Jewish Messiah."