Would Jesus want to convert Jews?

Turn the latest Evangelical conversion drive into an opportunity.

jesus 224 (photo credit: )
jesus 224
(photo credit: )
A serious blow was dealt to the Jewish-evangelical alliance with the publication in Friday's New York Times of a full page ad by the World Evangelical Alliance - representing hundreds of evangelical Churches, organizations, and leaders, some being among the most prominent in the country - affirming their intention to proselytize Jews. The ad said, "The most loving and Scriptural expression of our friendship toward Jewish people, and to anyone we call friend, is to forthrightly share the love of G-d in the person of Jesus Christ.... We recognize that it is good and right for those with specialized knowledge, history, and skills to use these gifts to introduce individuals to the Messiah, and that includes those ministries specifically directed to the Jewish people." Oh brother, here we go again. Is this really what we all need right now? Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are slowly building an army of non-believers to ridicule global faith. Fundamentalist Muslims who assail both Judaism and Christianity are digging in against the West. And a secular and exploitative culture in America is slowly eroding the dignity of women and the innocence of children. And just when we thought that Christians and Jews could really work together to reverse this tide, we get this: Christians who profess to be the Jewish people's friends by devoting themselves to the end of their existence as Jews. NEXT MONTH in my old stomping ground in Oxford I will be engaging in a debate as to whether belief in the divinity of Jesus is compatible with Judaism. It is not. Period. It never was, and it never will be. But that has never stopped us Jews from loving and respecting our Christian brothers and sisters and the great faith they practice. The time has come for them to once and for all declare their reciprocity by refraining from ever directly targeting Jews for conversion. This is what Jesus would want and says so with ferocious directness, going so far as condemn all who attempt to pry Jews away from Judaism: "Whoever goes against the smallest of the laws of Moses, teaching men to do the same, will be named least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who keeps the Law of Moses, teaching others to keep them, will be named great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:19). The Jewish community must respectfully but forcefully respond to our Christian brothers and sisters as to why proselytizing Jews is a bad idea. IT'S BAD for Christianity because it betrays the tragic fact that after thousands of years of persecuting Jews, many Christians still have not evolved enough to respect the Jewish faith. It's bad for Christians because if they reject the Jewishness of Jesus they will never fully understand his teachings or his life. It's bad for Jewish-Christian relations because, for all their immense support for the State of Israel, most Jews are still suspicious of evangelicals precisely because many treat Judaism as an unsaved, subordinate faith. And it's bad for the Western world whose basic fabric is based on Judeo-Christian values, which will of necessity suffer if the groups who promote these values neutralize each other through unnecessary conflict. But rather than merely lamenting this new effort by Christian to proselytize Jews, I believe that we might see it as an opportunity. Time magazine recently identified the new effort by scholars to re-Judaize Jesus as one of the 10 most important new ideas in the world. Using public forums to teach our Christian brothers and sisters of the essential Jewish nature of Jesus and his teachings is vital to a renewed relationship. Jesus was a Pharisaic rabbi. Everything he taught and lived was based on the Torah and the Talmud. From his proclamation that "The meek shall inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5) which comes from Psalm 37, to the famous Golden Rule of 'Do to others what you would they do to you," which derives from Leviticus 19, to his statement that 'the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath,' whose origin is the Talmud (Yoma 85b), Jesus' mission was to renew Jewish attachment to the Torah in a time when the threads of tradition were being unwoven due to the oppressive hand of the occupying Roman beast. WHILE JESUS lived, Judaism was practiced by 10% of the Roman Empire. Later, because the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, it superseded Judaism as the world's foremost monotheistic faith. Judaism became a backwater that was practiced and largely known only to Jews. But it is specifically Jewish values which today represent a great hope for rejuvenating a crumbling modern world and from which our Christian brethren can greatly benefit. For instance, Christianity says that faith trumps action. What you believe is more important than what you do. And that's why they want us to believe in Jesus. But is that really the problem in the world today, that people don't have the right beliefs, or that they don't have the right actions? Nearly all people believe in love, and, according to the Rutgers University Marriage Project, close to 90 percent of all college undergraduates also believe in marriage. But their actions are not loving, as they practice cheap 'hookups' that are bereft of romance and commitment, and husbands continue to profess a belief in marriage while cheating on their wives, as we've seen recently with so many politicians. LIKEWISE, few today don't believe in democracy. Even wannabe dictators like Putin and Chavez, and actual dictators like Mubarak and Assad, do their best to give their actions a thin democratic veneer. It's their actions, rather than beliefs, that aren't democratic and which must change. Another example: Christianity values perfection while Judaism values struggle. Jesus was perfect, and Christians are meant to emulate his example. But in this age where we are all so deeply flawed and so many are lost, the message they must hear is that of the Hebrew Bible, which recounts all the errors of its heroes to teach us that even flawed human beings can vastly contribute to the perfection of the world. And is the Christian emphasis on salvation what we most need now, or is it the Jewish emphasis on redemption? Should we be talking about getting into heaven when, after so many thousands of years of human history, our earth still has genocide in Darfur, terrorism in the Middle East, and broken, lonely souls across the West? Rather than worrying who needs to be converted to get into heaven, Christians and Jews should join together to create heaven here on earth. The writer hosts a daily radio show in the US. He is working on a book about the Jewish life of Jesus.