In an extraordinary tale of what appears to be furtive and clandestine religious infiltration, a “rabbi,” “scribe,” and “mohel” posing as an ultra-Orthodox Jew in the French Hill neighborhood of Jerusalem has recently been exposed as an apparent covert missionary and member of the Messianic movement.
Even more incredibly, this is the second community the missionary has infiltrated and the second time he has been outed.
The individual in question, Michael Elkohen, or Elk as he was born, claims, however, that he is Jewish from birth, and that although he was a missionary in the Messianic movement, he is today a committed Jew.
Elkohen has lived for the last five years in French Hill with his five children and, until February, with his wife, Amanda, who tragically died after a long illness two months ago.
He worked as a scribe, writing mezuzot, tefillin, and other holy writings, studied in yeshiva, and posed as a learned rabbi who was well versed in Jewish law.
Indeed, Elkohen did obtain rabbinical ordination from an Orthodox US institution called Pirchei Shoshanim in an online program.
Elkohen claimed to be Jewish from birth, as did his wife, and even claimed to be a kohen, meaning that both his mother and father were Jewish and that his father was not descended from converts.
He even served as a mohel and performed brit milah (religious circumcision), apparently for several baby boys in his community.
Elkohen’s three daughters attend ultra-Orthodox Bais Yaakov schools, and his sons go to an ultra-Orthodox kindergarten and school.
But at the same time, it is claimed that Elkohen was actually a member of the Messianic movement which believes in the fundamental tenets of Christianity, and is a covert missionary.
He is, by his own admission, the author of a 2008 book called The Triumph of Justice about Messianic Judaism, and the author of a blog under the name Lev David about being a covert missionary.
The Triumph of Justice is anonymously published by MorningStar Publications with attribution given to “An Orthodox Jewish Rabbi” and “Lev David Ministries.”
MorningStar Publications belongs to the Morning Star Ministries Evangelical Christian organization based in South Carolina.
In 2011, Elkohen, under the name Rabbi Michael, conducted an interview for MorningStar TV in his ultra-Orthodox garb in which he quoted from the New Testament; called on viewers to think about becoming missionaries in Egypt and Syria; prayed to God that the people of the Middle East would return to Jesus, specifically to “stir the Jewish people to jealousy” and to “a jealousy to seek Your face in Jesus’ name.”
In 2014, while studying at a yeshiva in Beit El, Elkohen was confronted by the Yad L’Achim anti-missionary organization, and he confessed to being a missionary, both to the organization and in writing to one of his rabbis.
He said, however, that the night prior to writing his confession he had decided to abandon his involvement with the Messianic movement and that he “chose Judaism.”
Shannon Nuszen, a former missionary who runs the Beyneynu anti-missionary organization, believes, however, that Elkohen remains a covert missionary despite his 2014 confession.
She said that Elkohen’s goal was not to immediately begin preaching and seeking to actively convert or influence Jews to turn to Christianity or Messianic Judaism.
“He ran a yeshiva for Messianic Jews, was giving smicha [rabbinic ordination] to messianic Jews, and conducting weddings in Messianic communities in Israel and the US,” said Nuszen.
“He wanted to become influential in the Jewish community. He was supposed to be in a place that when God removes the blinders from the eyes of the Jews, he could harvest souls and bring them to Jesus – that is what a covert missionary is there for,” she continued.
Beyneynu investigators noticed that Elkohen ran two Facebook profiles, one under Michael Elkohen in which he maintained his Jewish persona, and one under Michael Elk where he posted as a Messianic missionary.
Beyneynu also discovered a Facebook post by Elkohen’s wife, Amanda written in 2019 in her Facebook profile under the name Amanda Elk.
In it, she noted that she had needed to pay the equivalent of $1,000 to get new passports for her children for an upcoming visit to the US and made an appeal for donations to support her family.
In the post, she included a link to an online donations portal at the CMM World organization. CMM, which stands for “Christ’s Mandate for Missions,” is a proselytizing group which seeks to “make disciples of all nations, not just converts.”
Its website says that it has “covert missions” in Israel, and specifically that “we have several missionaries in Israel,” adding: “These hidden troops are doing a mighty work in Israel, as they have been strategically placed and sent by the Holy Spirit.”
CMM also appears to be associated with MorningStar.
In 2016, Elkohen’s wife was diagnosed with cancer, for which she began to receive treatment, which was, however, ultimately unsuccessful.
Amanda Bradley, a resident of Beit Shemesh, became friends with Elkohen’s wife, Amanda, via social media in 2015 before she got sick, and after her cancer diagnosis they became increasingly close.
Bradley met Michael several times during her friendship with Amanda but says she did not know him well.
She says he was very knowledgeable in the fields of Jewish law, Bible, Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism. He did “a good job” of coming across as a devout and religiously authoritative Jew, with any gaps or quirks in his personal history and Jewish knowledge explained away by his having been secular and then becoming religious.
During Amanda’s sickness Bradley would accompany her to doctor appointments, went to be with her in the hospital before surgery, and was at her side in the hospital on the last Shabbat before she died.
It was only one day after the end of the shiva mourning period for Amanda that Bradley discovered, through a network of friends, that she and Michael were covert missionaries.
Following this revelation, Bradley says she confronted Elkohen and asked him directly if he and his wife were indeed missionaries.
“He said ‘yes, we came to Israel as missionaries, but we did tshuva [repentance] and it’s all in the past,’” she said he continued, adding that when she asked again about his and Amanda’s family history, he said: “Of course we’re Jewish, and we were born Jewish.”
Bradley says that he told her he had changed his name from Elk to Elkohen in the Population and Immigration Authority of the Interior Ministry.
Elkohen has claimed, however, that his family name is of Moroccan origin and that his family immigrated to the US from that country.
Bradley was extremely upset and disturbed by the revelations and decided to delve into Elkohen’s family history under the name Michael Elk, using his home state of New Jersey and his date of birth, which Amanda had told her once to accurately identify him and his family history.
Bradley began examining Elkohen’s family records available online, using the discovery by freelance journalist Judy Lash Balint that his father was William Thomas Elk who lived in Salem Country, New Jersey, and died in 2006.
William Thomas Elk’s funeral was conducted in the Friendship Mennonite Church where he was a member, and he was buried in Lawnside Cemetery, Pilesgrove, also in Salem County.
A picture of his headstone bears an image of a cross.
William’s father was Carl Elk, who was born in Salem County in 1913, and his father was George Elk, who was also born in New Jersey in approximately 1865.
This lineage and the Christian faith of his father contradicts Elkohen’s claims to be a kohen, since even if his mother was Jewish, the status of kohen is patrilineal.
Furthermore, there was no Moroccan Jewish immigration to the US in the mid-19th century when Elkohen’s ancestor George Elk was born.
Elkohen’s claim that his mother was Jewish also appears to be false.
Bradley found that Elkohen’s mother was originally called Patricia Springer, whose mother was Shirley Gertiser.
Shirley’s mother was Bessie Knowles (Gertiser). Born in 1908, she died 1956.
According to records obtained by Bradley, Bessie Gertiser was buried in the Baptist (Christian) cemetery of Salem, in Salem County, New Jersey.
When contacted by phone by The Jerusalem Post, Elkohen hung up. When contacted by text message, he referred the Post to a rabbi of his by the name of Gideon Holland.
He did not answer questions on whether his parents were William Thomas Elk and Patricia Elk (neé Springer).
Speaking to the Post, Holland said he was certain that Elkohen was Jewish and said the reports of him being a missionary were “a terrible injustice” to him.
Holland provided what is supposedly a copy of Elkohen’s religious bill of divorce from his first wife issued by the Beth Din of Philadelphia.
Holland said he had never contacted the beth din as to the authenticity of the document.
An official in the Yad L’Achim organization told the Post that it had not seen any evidence that Elkohen was involved in missionary activity and efforts to convert Jews since his confession back in 2014.
It said, however, that there were certain questions about him to which it is seeking answers, including the fact that he had friends on Facebook who were from the Messianic movement and who liked some of Elkohen’s posts.
The official said that this did not mesh with the life of someone who claimed to have abandoned missionary activity.
Nuszen says that Beyneynu believes Elkohen has at least five Messianic students acting as covert Christian missionaries in other Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel, which her organization is currently investigating.