In a presentation that blurred the lines between Judaism and Christianity, the founder of Jews for Jesus spoke to the First Baptist Church of Prunedale on Sunday.
Jews for Jesus was founded in early 1970s by Moishe Rosen while he worked for the American Board of Missions to the Jews, a missionary group which converted Jews to Christianity.
"We serve the Jewish community that believes in Jesus," Rosen said. The Jews for Jesus Web site stresses that "being Jewish and believing in Jesus are not mutually exclusive."
Rosen himself was born and raised within the Jewish faith, he told the 46 congregants, though he later referred to himself as a Christian.
Rosen described Jews for Jesus as a missionary agency connected with evangelical churches. The organization encourages Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah.
"Christians were and are Jews and Gentiles who, of their own free will, chose to trust in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, as the one who offered himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world," the Jews for Jesus Web site says.
"We support Jews who believe in Jesus and reach out to Jews who don't believe in Jesus," Rosen said Sunday.
Rosen told the church that Jews who recognize Jesus as a messiah often are ostracized by other Jews.
Rabbi Bruce Kadden of Temple Beth El in Salinas, interviewed later and separately, said he didn't understand what Rosen meant.
"Jews that consider Jesus the messiah are Christians," Kadden said after explaining that Jesus does not factor into the Jewish faith as a messianic figure or scholar. "We don't really ostracize anyone for that."
Touching on a popular debate, Rosen said he didn't think Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ" would ignite anti-Semitism.
"There is nothing as natural or normal for people as hatred, preconception, and prejudice," Rosen said.
He said Jews have been targets of discrimination and hate crimes since before the time of Jesus. He cited as an example the feast of Purim, a Jewish festival that celebrates the heroine Esther who saved Jews from persecution under the king of Persia. Purim was celebrated Friday.