By Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz for COLlive
Shock and disbelief are understandable reactions to the news that missionaries masquerading as Orthodox Jews infiltrated the Jewish community in Chicago. Now it’s time for a response.
When I founded “Jews for Judaism” in 1984 with the blessing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Christian missionaries aggressively proselytized on street corners and college campuses. Now, the internet gives missionaries access into our homes, and Messianic congregations provide a subtler approach for more than 200,000 Jews worldwide who practice a distorted mix of Judaism and Christianity.
For many assimilated and intermarried Jews, messianic “Jewish-Christianity” appears to offer the best of both worlds: the Christian belief in instant salvation without losing Jewish culture and rituals. Biblical and rabbinic texts are distorted, mistranslated, and taken out of context to rationalize the belief in the Trinity and the abolishment of the mitzvos. Some missionaries even cite a New Testament passage, that the Gospel shall be proclaimed “whether in pretense or in truth,” to justify the use of deception.
In addition to assisting with exposing the missionary infiltration in Chicago, I have received calls for help from Chabad Shluchim and other rabbis in Texas, California, Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia, New York, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Washington State, and Israel. These rabbis have either encountered infiltration or discovered that a member of their community had converted to Christianity.
The problem is only growing. In Israel alone, tens of thousands of secular Jews now see Hebrew Christianity as a spiritual alternative to what they call the “religious coercion of Orthodoxy.” One missionary group in Israel uses the internet to reach hundreds of thousands of people each month with videos in Hebrew and English.
Rabbis of Jews for Judaism have more than four decades of experience providing specialized counseling, and education to those in need. The JewsforJudaism.org website contains hundreds of articles, and our YouTube channel has more than 300 video presentations and receives 3,000 daily visitors. We also engage Jewish millennials and promote critical thinking with our SMARTalks.tv initiative.
Guided by the Torah’s wisdom and the Rebbe’s insights, we have helped countless families reunite with their children, and numerous individuals return to Judaism. Many whom we helped have become Jewish leaders, including at least one who became a rabbi and runs a Chabad House.
Here is some of the Rebbe’s advice, which I’ve shared with many families:
In a letter to a family, I was counseling because their child had accepted Christianity, the Rebbe advised them to strengthen their Jewish observance to “indirectly strengthen” their child’s spiritual health. He also told them that “when it comes to the Jewish heart, one never knows when or how will come the moment of truth and proper response.” This wisdom has proved to be true.
Once I was counseling a young man who had converted to Christianity and married a non-Jew. When he cut short his conversation with me, I assured him that my door was always open. I then advised his parents to increase their observance and start by putting mezuzahs on their doors — especially to their son’s room. One year later, the man reached out to me and described how his wife had unexpectedly made an anti-Semitic remark. This “woke him up,” and after several counseling sessions, he returned to Judaism.
Concerning missionaries who want to attend a Torah study, the Rebbe said in another letter that they “should not be judged in the scale of merit” because, among other reasons, they will try to influence vulnerable attendees. Even in the case of someone who is a “tinokos shenishba” (inadvertent sinner), the Rebbe warned that their presence can be harmful, especially since afterward, they will probably socialize privately with people they met in class.
In addition to helping families and individuals, communities host Jews for Judaism representatives like myself for speaking tours. These dynamic talks inoculate community members against misleading arguments they may hear from missionaries or even non-Jewish friends and neighbors. Whether in Dallas, Puerto Vallarta, Toronto, or Tel Aviv, our presentations are a useful tool for rabbis and well received by audiences.
My advice for Jewish communities is simple: Don’t let your guard down, be sensitive to people seeking answers, and follow the instruction of the Ethics of our Fathers: “Know what to answer.”
–Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz is the founder of Jews for Judaism International. He resides in Los Angeles and works side by side with his son Rabbi Zalman Kravitz who was recently appointed the executive director of the Los Angeles Center of Jews for Judaism. For more information and to arrange a presentation, contact [email protected]
VIDEO: The Jewish Response To Missionaries