Spiritual Instruction for Those Called to Restore Israel
That Clip Died for You
the Messianic storm over a Jews for Jesus video
Hannah Weiss, Restorers of Zion - 15/7/15
For those who are not familiar with the outreach clip released by Jews for Jesus last year (2/apr/14), entitled “That Jew Died for You”, or TJDFY, please take three minutes and watch it now. It’s best to watch it several times. This video is the cause of the storm documented in this article. Or is it? But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Somehow I missed the fact that this short artistic/evangelistic piece had become controversial in the Jewish Body of Messiah. I saw the clip when it first came out; then I moved on and forgot about it. It was only recently (june/2015) that I accidentally came upon a wave of protests that had erupted during the peak of its popularity (the video topped 1 million hits in the first month). The criticism was not limited to the clip itself, but extended to condemnations of the organization, calls for apologies and resignations, even charges that J4J had desecrated God’s name in creating the clip. (Reminder: this was Messianic Jewish feedback.)
How this report can build up the Body of Messiah
Finding that the controversy had pulled in old friends and leaders who interact with the Israeli believers, I decided to see if these charges were justified. Doing it a year after the fact was actually an advantage. With the dust long settled, I could get a complete picture of the Messianic (and non-Messianic) commentary on the issue. More specifically, I could test the repeated MJ claims of widespread Jewish backlash from the clip – which at the time were mostly confident predictions rather than reported events.
Besides its value as a reality check, I present this assessment as a case study for those MJs who aspire to the office of elder or judge. This is an honorable function, and we are expected to have competent leaders performing judgment services (1 Cor.6:1-11). But from my experience and observation, rendering judgments in disputes between brothers has one of the highest rates of malpractice (compared to the Scriptural instructions) out of any process in the Messianic Body. When it comes to weighing the merits of accusations against leaders in particular, we have seen extremes of condemnation and pardon that have caused untold damage.
This report will hopefully bring attention to the need to restore MJ integrity in at least two judgment skills that were lacking in the J4J controversy: a thorough examination of what happened, as opposed to what was said to have happened; and an attempt to see what it all added up to, in comparison to conclusions prematurely fired off and then forgotten.
My personal investment in this controversy
Until now I have had no stake at all. I have never held a position in J4J, the UMJC, the ADL or any of the other organizations, news outlets or blogs weighing in with a public response. Nor can I identify any relatives who perished in the Holocaust (they were no doubt affected, but my family was established in the USA by then). This gives me objectivity and distance in evaluating the TYDFY clip, but it also makes it easy to make pronouncements without consequences. It’s not entirely fair to scrutinize the views of others when you have not allowed others the opportunity to scrutinize you in return. So first I offer my personal take on the clip, and I invite comments – even arguments, if you are so inclined.
Due to my profession (a marketing communicator for 30 years), and my lifestyle (a Torah-observant Jewish believer rooted in Israeli culture), my analysis of the clip goes somewhat deeper than the average comment. I thought about the messages conveyed from several angles, as well as the messages which, according to Jews for Jesus, had been intended.
The messages I saw in “That Jew Died for You”
The video was a 3-minute clip produced on a limited budget. As a side-note, some critics specifically ridiculed it for its “low-budget” quality. As it stood, however, it carries remarkably strong images for a simple video.
The climax of the short plot is when the Nazi officers are interrupted in their sadistic “selection” process (right, to the work camp; left, to the “showers”) by the arrival of Jesus as one of their Jewish captives. It drives home the logical implications of Jew-hatred.
The stares of the officers, and the slight hesitation, tell us that they clearly recognize the Christian Savior – and they were not prepared for the encounter. They had forgotten that He was one of “them”. What will they do with Him? We see the choice as it develops.
Rather than arousing shame, Christ’s presence only whets the younger Nazi’s desire to destroy Him. The lust (as one reviewer identified it) is shown in his perverse eagerness to be the one to judge this special case, his up-down look showing his disdain and superiority, and finally his biting words accompanied by the spiteful head tilt. As the Redeemer is prodded in the direction of the gas chambers by a bored soldier enforcing the decision, the video wisely goes silent… giving viewers a few seconds to digest the traumatic implications.
The clip closes with scrolling text from the Suffering Servant prophecy in Isaiah 53. By now, it’s easy to apply the “transgressions” and “transgressors” mentioned in this famous chapter to what we have just seen. It’s especially relevant for those who deny the atrocities carried out at Auschwitz/Birkenau on the one hand, and yell “Jews back to Birkenau” on the other.
Pause for a side-note
If this application of Isaiah 53 troubles Messianic believers, it’s because we have lost the ability to read the scriptures and allow for multiple interpretations – the way Yeshua and His apostles did. For more details, please take a detour to an article on the Restorers site, “How to Read Torah through Jewish Eyes”.
Several years ago, we at RZ documented the reality that the Isaiah “Suffering Servant” passage is accepted in Jewish tradition both as a picture of the nation of Israel suffering rejection from the nations AND as the Messiah suffering rejection from His people (without one canceling out the other). Therefore, my allowing the first interpretation its place in the video did not represent a betrayal of the second interpretation. On the contrary, the result was a fresh interpretation of Messiah and Israel together suffering the same rejection from the nations, which further enriched my Jewish understanding of the passage.
In contrast, many MJs have absorbed the Christian tradition of either-or interpretation, which regards multiple understandings not as God-breathed revelation to be celebrated, but as competing options to be eliminated. Thus the typical church view of Isaiah 53 requires that the “Israel” interpretation must give way to the “Messiah” interpretation. (The modern Jewish view does the opposite: the “Messiah” interpretation must give way to the “Israel” interpretation. But ironically, that can only be done by dumping the Jewish method of interpretation and adopting the Christian way.)
My overall response to the clip
In conclusion, I decided after several viewings that I liked the clip very much… even the Isaiah 53 passage, the part that proved to be the most controversial for others. To my thinking, it was a most appropriate challenge for Holocaust Remembrance Day and the Christian Holy Week, the stated occasions for the release of the clip. I had identified so strongly with the Holocaust victims that I took the Isaiah 53 quote to be a message to the Christians, whose “transgressions” and “iniquities” included stripping Christ of His Jewishness, and/or cursing the Jews in His name. This understanding was shared by a few others who posted responses, mainly Christians.
So at first the dissonance that would result from an exclusive “Messiah” reading of Isaiah 53 went over my head. I was clued in by the contradicting statements from the clip’s producers.
The J4J defense of the clip
The official TJDFY website includes a text and video explanation about the Holocaust imagery in the clip. Many MJ objections showed no sign that the protesters had done even the minimum courtesy of visiting this explanatory site and giving the producers a hearing. So for those who missed it, I am giving this source extra attention.
Misunderstandings created, resolved, and recreated
The US-based headquarters of these Jewish evangelists were prepared for possible accusations that they had joined the growing trend of trivializing the Holocaust with cheap comparisons. They presented a fairly strong defense.
But they weren’t prepared for the interpretation controversy they had raised by adding Isaiah 53. J4J tied the clip to the Christian interpretative tradition described above. Their explanation presents the Isaiah passage, and indeed the entire clip, as a message to the Jews about their Messiah’s suffering (suffering for them, not with them). Gentile contributions to Jewish suffering are only mentioned in passing, and not with reference to Isaiah 53.
This is especially ironic since J4J had themselves published an excellent article acknowledging the “both-and” interpretation of Isaiah 53 endorsed by RZ, and embracing the suffering Servant as Messiah in one sense and as Israel in another. It was written by J4J staffer Aaron Trank, who would later bring it up in his personal response to the controversy surrounding this clip. But in offering a resolution to this centuries-old dilemma that has blocked a full Jewish-Christian understanding of Isaiah 53, Aaron was on his own. The official TJDFY site passed up an opportunity to link their own article.
As I mentioned, the clip itself (without the “help” of J4J’s explanation) does a better job in fusing Isaiah 53 with the traumatic image of the Messiah heading toward the gas chambers as “just another Jew” being “led to the slaughter”. Unfortunately, the J4J statement denies that message and tacks a different message over it.
J4J’s text defense
The official explanatory text on the “Why” site is only two short paragraphs. The first paragraph has a two-fold message: directed first at those Jews who blame Jesus for providing inspiration for the Holocaust (“Jesus has often been wrongly associated with the perpetrators of the Holocaust. In reality, he is to be identified with those who were the victims.”); and second at those Jews (and Christians?) who had forgotten His Jewish identity (“As a Jew, if he were in Europe at the time, Jesus may well have suffered the same fate of the six million who perished in the concentration camps.”)
These two messages are worthy and relevant, and those taking the clip at face value will recognize that they both come through in the video. Then the second paragraph of this text, with no warning, pulls readers in a completely different direction:
Jewish teaching promotes the idea that the death of Jews in the Holocaust accomplished kiddush ha Shem, the sanctification of God’s name. How much more then, the Bible tells us, Jesus’ death was intended by God for kiddush ha am, the sanctification of the people. Through him we can be made right with God. (See Hebrews 13:12)
Besides coming off as an obligatory “give them the gospel while we have their attention” exercise, the three-sentence statement fights with itself. There is nothing in the TJDFY clip that links the heartbreak of the Holocaust with the opportunity provided by Yeshua’s sacrifice to “be made right with God”. The One Jew who willingly laid down His life because this was His Father’s plan, and the six million Jews brutally deprived of their lives because the world refused to intervene, cannot coexist in the same thought. Last but not least, although Yeshua’s atonement does have the power to sanctify all peoples (not just “ha-am”, the [Jewish] people), the rabbinic concept of Kiddush HaShem has no connection to any atoning sacrifice mentioned in Torah. Despite the literal translation of “Kiddush” as “sanctification”, this is a special term reserved for martyrdom for the Jewish faith. The term “kiddush ha-am” does not exist either in Jewish teaching or in the salvation message.
Unlike the first paragraph, the second one feels forced and artificial. It provides ammunition for one accusation from the Jewish community: the evangelistic add-on of Isaiah 53 was the real goal for making the clip, and the Holocaust was just a means to that end.
J4J’s defense in explanatory videos
In fairness to J4J, their site demonstrates that giving the gospel was not the only goal. The lineup of testimonies from Holocaust survivors, each one of them worth the time it takes to watch, pokes holes in that accusation. Likewise, those who viewed one companion video on the TJDFY site, “Jesus in Jewish Art”, would have realized the unfairness of the second accusation from uninformed responders: J4J had showed insensitivity towards the Holocaust and its significance, by merging it with the image of Jesus.
The main video (“Why we made this film”) adds several more statements about the clip's use of the Holocaust setting. The first points out that they had attempted to address the haunting question, "where was God during the Holocaust?" J4J showed that this issue was indeed a priority by offering a 44-page booklet that apparently wrestles in more detail with the question. (I did not take the time to read it.)
The “where” question is also addressed in the clip itself. The Lord’s first appearance is partly off-camera and easy to miss; in fact, a Messianic Israeli friend watching it with me for the first time DID miss Him. It’s a fitting allusion to God’s presence in the real-life Holocaust, which the narrators mention more explicitly in their “Why” video. I should add that implicit in the video is the profound footnote that God did not demand… or necessarily receive… recognition for being there.
The second statement in the “Why” video is the hope that casting Messiah as one of the Holocaust victims would help fight the lie that Jesus or His teachings justified the Nazi “final solution”. By removing this obstacle, they anticipated that more Jews would re-think their opinions of Him, and of His claim to be their Messiah.
The third “Why” explanation (time mark 1:15) again brings in the gospel… and here the clash of messages returns more strongly than ever. The scene of Christ being driven off to the gas chamber in 1943 Poland becomes the background for a narrator’s voiceover telling us about “Jesus’ sufferings almost 2000 years ago”, introducing a time overlap which the scene does not support. The Nazi dismissal of “just another Jew” to the gas is overridden by the announcement that God sent Jesus “to die, willingly, as an atonement for our sin”. The latter spoken words make nonsense of the former printed words, which are clearly visible during the "atonement" voiceover. You might even think that a sound track from a different clip had been accidentally mixed with this one… were it not for the precise match a few seconds later between the video of the Isaiah passage and the audio explanation of its significance.
Having discharged the obligation of inserting a gospel commercial, the “Why” narration returns to the Holocaust theme, urging “both Jews and Gentiles to rethink their bias against Jesus and redefine the conversation” about Him, at which point the visuals (shots of the production team working with the stage set) once again reinforce what’s being said. But then comes a final statement about the film being a message of “hope and salvation”. No such message can be found in the film scenes, forcing the “Why” producers to create visual support for this statement with scenes from a world that never experienced Auschwitz.
To conclude, the confusion and offense arose partly from the message of the clip itself conflicting with the producer’s comments, and partly from the apparent fact that no opponents yelling “Holocaust abuse” had bothered to explore the official TJDFY site.
What were the Messianic objections?
The operative word used most often by the brethren was “offensive”. It was not given a context often enough to report a solid consensus on what that actually meant.
In the case of Messianic believers, we can rule out one possibility that haunts the wider Jewish community. It is inconceivable that we should ever find the gospel message of Isaiah 53 “offensive” in itself. Therefore, we should be able to immediately look for the offense elsewhere.
I suggest that in the context of this clip, the gospel application was not so much offensive as off-topic.
The conflict and moment of decision (“What will you do with Jesus?”) were squarely on the Nazi side, with the Jews as helpless witnesses. There was nothing in the visual presentation about the Holocaust victims struggling to accept Jesus’ role as Messiah; His carrying of the cross was merely a visual cue to distinguish Him from any another Biblical figure. As for the Jews arriving at Auschwitz, they see Him as a fellow prisoner – in fact, they accept His presence among them in a matter-of-fact way that also speaks (to the perceptive viewer). That message was indeed a challenge to the Jewish people, but it has to do with Jesus’ identity as a Jew who shares their stigma, not His role in forgiving their sin.
The reflexive need to splice an explicit salvation announcement into every J4J presentation, regardless of whether or not it fits, is a habit which many have come to expect (or dread) from this evangelistic organization. We might argue about whether this feeling of obligation comes from a narrow view of how God reveals His Son to our people, or whether it comes from donor expectations…. That’s a question beyond the scope of this paper.
But the “off-topic gospel message” was not an objection heard from Messianic opponents. And the objections that were voiced did not hold water, as I will now attempt to show.
A few believers opposed Yeshua’s appearance at Auschwitz as an “anachronistic conflation”, taking a literalist view which demands strict separation of historical events and personalities. “Anachronistic” means “not belonging to this time period”; “conflation” is the merging of two unrelated concepts together in a way that destroys their differences. Besides the solid evidence that this creative device is already familiar in Jewish art, this was a judgment that our own faith will not support.
The Messianic meaning of the Isaiah 53 passage is itself an “anachronistic conflation”. The prophecy spells out the future reality in past tense: “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried.” (Isa.53:4) It’s an inescapable time-bending paradox – and not the only one in Scripture where Messiah is described.
An “anachronistic conflation” more relevant to this film is Yeshua’s final pledge to His disciples, some of whom went through the Holocaust: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” To creatively portray the Messiah’s presence in that dark hour should be a welcome reminder of the unseen reality. It is a violation of logic only for the unbelievers, who depend on human wisdom and visible reality (1 Cor.2:14-16).
There was one objection that noted the dissonance between the Holocaust and the gospel, but that individual suggested that J4J should have made the gospel the primary message. No opinion was offered on what to do with all the ‘off-topic’ Holocaust scenes which made up the entire 3-minute clip.
The most common MJ response was the prediction, or assumption, that the Jewish community in general, and Holocaust survivors in particular, would erupt (or were already erupting) in outrage at this misuse of the Holocaust. A repeating corollary was that J4J’s insensitivity would damage (or was already damaging) the efforts of other Messianic groups who are trying to bring the Good News to the Jewish people.
It’s hard to know how many tried to test their theory. They would have had to ponder the numerous Jewish artists who have associated Jesus symbolically with the worst-ever tragedy of the Jews, as a way of reclaiming Him for the Jewish people. To the J4J’s above-mentioned educational video I would add Chaim Potok’s novels, as well as the impressive poem someone posted at the beginning of the Messianic debate on this issue (see the timeline, 11/apr). That latter work, by 20 th-century Zionist writer Marie Syrkin, is entitled “To a Christian Friend” and it ends with the lines: “Return to Him the yellow badge. Give me back Jesus. He is not yours.”
Not least in this tradition is our very own Messianic Israeli sculptor Rick Weineke, whose work has often merged Yeshua and the Holocaust. Rick’s “Fountain of Tears” in Arad has deeply moved Jewish people who would never accept a J4J gospel tract… and has opened them up to Yeshua’s love in ways that can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit.
For all these reasons, it is imperative to test the widely published, effortlessly accepted MJ theory. Did the wider Jewish community and/or Holocaust survivors react in widespread outrage to this clip? If so, what did they find offensive? If the answers were not clear at the time of the MJ controversy, they should be clear by now.
I will admit that online investigations cannot show everything, and that much of the response has probably not been expressed in public statements. For example, there was no comment on this clip from Israeli Messianic leaders found online, other than two different entries from one individual. This finding is significant, since many of them have a good command of English and could have entered the online debate if they had wanted. In fact, a thorough check of the English-language blogs and letters archived at kehilah.com (the most comprehensive collection of Israeli MJ online communications) showed that from the time of the clip’s release (2/apr) until the last MJ comment abroad (mid-july 2014), no Israelis made “That Jew Died for You” a focus for comment. One article appeared (27/apr) in the Israeli MJ publication Israel Today, which did not quote any Israeli believers. The Caspari Center Media Review (a synopsis of mostly Hebrew Israeli press mentioning Christians or MJs) likewise reveals nothing.
By the same token, there was very little first-hand response from Holocaust survivors available online – other than the ADL’s Abe Foxman, whose personal Jewish-Christian background (explained later) may have fueled his condemnation. The closest we get to hearing from survivors are a couple of organizations speaking in their name, but with no actual quotes from survivors. A few believers with Holocaust family losses only mention the fact; those who were bothered by the clip gave the same reasons for their objections as those with no losses. A rare exception was J4J staffer Aaron Trank, who expresses ambivalence about the clip but ultimately defends it.
Be that as it may, the Messianic-Christian community appeared to be relying heavily on online responses for their opinions. So I present to you a chronicle of the responses (as complete a record as I was able to gather), as a reality check.
THE TIMELINE: Who expressed outrage, when, and what were their accusations?
In order to determine the sources of the repeating Messianic comments about “widespread Jewish outrage”, and to discover who/what they were referring to, I arranged my findings in chronological order. In the Jewish responses, I color-coded the names and organizations to distinguish between (presumed) Jewish Messianic believers and Jewish non-believers, giving a faith-based context for who was quoting, supporting, responding to, or taking issue with whom. The obviously non-Jewish respondents are considered third-party participants for our purposes – color-coded in green. Non-believing Jews with a contradictory identity (like one Jewish Holocaust denier) are violet and green but are counted in the Jewish feedback. All these differences are enlightening, and the colors make it easier to see who dominated the outrage over the clip.
Finally, in order to avoid confusion between fact and opinion, I bracket my own inserted comments between the notes [HW] and [end].
2/apr/14: The clip is released by Jews for Jesus. The J4J press release gives the debut date as 14/apr, but the earliest video is found here.
11/apr: This Messianic comment appears to the first review posted by anyone, anywhere. Messianic blogger Dror at Rosh Pina Project (RPP, a MJ blog that appears to be based in the UK) expresses an objection that is multi-layered. On the evangelistic add-on, he notes its dissonance with the Holocaust setting, but his objection is unique in proposing that it was the gospel, rather than the Holocaust, that was being short-changed: “The concept of Jesus suffering in a concentration camp… seems to distract from the main message of Yeshua being our atoning sacrifice.”
His other objection focuses on a predicted Jewish refusal to associate the crucifixion with the Holocaust. [HW] Here Dror missed a chance for self-education provided by the J4J video survey of Jewish art. [end]
11/apr: A poem by Zionist and Holocaust writer Marie Syrkin, is posted by an anonymous responder to Dror’s comment, presumably as an argument against his theory. Dror makes no reply to this challenge, and neither does anyone else at RPP.
14/apr: J4J media producer Sean Trank posts a short blog telling about his “mixed feelings” in producing the clip. He sums up his understanding of the message and advises viewers to take time to digest it: "This film expresses that God was very much present during the Holocaust and I invite you to watch and respond to the film in any manner you see fit. It may take time to process, it may take several views to process, it may offend, and it may tear down veils and give you a new perspective."
16/apr: The Christian News Wire runs a brief story announcing the release of the video to coincide with Passover, Christian Holy Week and Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s not clear whether this is a press release or a news report – J4J leaders are the only sources quoted, followed by the TJDFY link; but the headline and lead paragraph already mark the clip as “controversial”.
17/apr: A strongly worded protest over the clip appears in the Opinion section of the Jewish Forward from liberal Jewish writer Jay Michaelson. Using sensational language, Jay attracts attention from other media over the following weeks. He is quoted by numerous blogs and news outlets, both Jewish and Christian, as well as secular media.
[HW] As the first to bash the video, Jay Michaelson lights the fuse for quite a few other journalists and bloggers. Unfortunately, he supplies them with more heat than light. He quotes from the “Why we made the film” page at the TJDFY site, showing he had visited the site; but by asserting that the memory of the Holocaust was desecrated by the image of Christ suffering at Auschwitz, he shows that he didn’t absorb the companion video, “Jewish Suffering: A Look at Jesus in Jewish Art”, which debunks that idea. [end]
Jay sees nothing positive, only a “tasteless” and “ludicrous” attempt to “lever Jewish tragedy into Jewish converts”. He dismisses J4J as “a front” that is not really Messianic because it is funded by Christians. He makes a confident unqualified prediction on behalf of the Jewish people: “ Any Jew with personal, familial, or even historical memories of the Holocaust will immediately find it to be an outrage.”
Jay Michaelson evades the idea of Jesus’ eligibility as a Jew for the Nazi gas chambers. But he appears to be sincerely confused by the dissonance between the Holocaust imagery and the “theological message” given in the TJDFY site’s explanation of the clip:
J4J is so enmeshed in its Christian universe, its leaders seem unable even to understand that Jews see the world differently. Ending with a selective mistranslation [sic, misinterpretation] of the “suffering servant” passage from Isaiah 53, the film implies that Jesus was killed, by the Nazis and/or the Romans, for our sins. Of course, if that substitutional theology were true, why did six million Jews also have to die?
18/apr: A pastor at Topeka Bible Church (name not available) uses the clip to start his Good Friday sermon. He comments that to date, the clip has logged roughly “over half a million” views, including 180,000 hits in Israel, with 19,000 responses. He also mentions an “outburst” from unnamed Jewish leaders in Israel which was igniting a “firestorm” over here.
[HW] The source for his information was not mentioned, but we will assume these details came from J4J. I was unable to locate either the “outburst” or the “firestorm” here in Israel – the earliest Israeli news coverage appears in the Jerusalem Post, also 18/apr and quite brief. We might be missing some printed or radio-TV coverage, but the really newsworthy stories tend to show up online sooner or later. That “storm” never did surface in Israeli media, so this declaration remains a mystery. [end]
18/apr: Jay Michaelson’s critique is used as a springboard by blogger Adam Weinstein, who would later be quoted as a representative Jewish voice by Christianity Today (see 23/apr). [HW] It’s not clear why Adam’s response was selected by CT. His distance from Jewish identity is demonstrated by the fact that his only other blog on Jewish issues is a sarcastic slam against Israel’s defense needs. [end]
18/apr: A Jewish blogger affiliated with New Age briefly pokes fun at the clip, spending more time on inventing witty one-liners than explaining his objection.
18/apr: The Christian Post (advertised as “the largest Christian newspaper in the world”) covers the controversy, giving the most space to a J4J reply, prefaced by Jay Michaelson’s criticism (17/apr) of the video.
18/apr: The Christian news blog “One News Now” posts a brief positive announcement about the clip, quoting J4J’s David Brickner.
18/apr: The mainstream Israeli news outlet Jerusalem Post briefly notes that the J4J clip has “gone viral” and “is causing a stir” but does not elaborate. The news item (editorial?) of four sentences dismisses it as a “provocative” move by “messianic Jews” and most likely a “membership” drive for the J4J organization.
19/apr: The mainstream Israeli news outlet Ynet reports on the clip, with the headline, “Jesus Died a Jew: Video Showcases Christ as a Holocaust Victim”. Other than the subheading, which sounds mildly disapproving (“Video by 'Jews for Jesus' aims to convert Jews to Christianity and intentionally released in conjunction with Passover, Easter, Holocaust Remembrance Day”), the story is exclusively from the J4J viewpoint.
19/apr: The anti-Messianic site “Jewish Israel” links the clip, with a one-sentence condemnation of it as a “desecration of our people” and “a promotional clip for Jews for Jesus”. The site is managed by a small circle of Israeli and Diaspora orthodox Jews, who not only condemn all Messianic presence in Israel, but view “unregulated” Israeli-evangelical interaction with suspicion as well. [HW] Commentary from Israeli researcher Ellen Horowitz, which usually analyzes Messianic offenses against the Jewish community in great detail, is absent here. Presumably Ellen was not able to support her harsh verdict of the clip with a description of its content. But to her credit, she allows others to decide for themselves what they think. [end]
20/apr: Jewish Holocaust denier Paul Eisen posts the Ynet article (19/apr) and a link to the J4J clip, calling it “horrible rubbish” but declining to explain. Paul’s reason for objecting is found elsewhere on his site, where he voices his disbelief that “homicidal gas chambers” really existed, or that the Nazis carried out a systematic plan to destroy the Jews.
21/apr: An antisemitic Holocaust-denial site becomes the only source to express any criticism of Jay Michaelson (“he grossly misses the point”). In contrast, this blogger hates the clip precisely because it IS so sympathetic to the Jews: “The [J4J] video bonds the naive Christian believer to Jewish suffering by providing a bridge between the Passion of Christ and Jewish suffering. The intent is to plant the holocaust Zionist orthodoxy into the heart of the Christian naive soul.”
22/apr: Another Holocaust denier denounces the J4J clip as part of a Jewish plot to foist the “Holocaust fable” onto the Christian world.
22/apr: "Progressive Christian Channel" blogger Tony Jones voices strong condemnation of “the always-offensive evangelistic group” J4J and calls the clip “one of the most blatantly offensive and disgusting pieces of Christian propaganda that I’ve ever seen.” Tony’s objection accurately pins down the dissonance of “tak[ing] the Holocaust and us[ing] it for evangelism,” but he wrongly accuses J4J of using the Holocaust only as a means to that end.
Dr. Jones, who teaches theology at Fuller Seminary, does not regard accuracy on Jewish concepts to be relevant to his assessment. He notes that the clip “equates the Jewish understanding of martyrdom (kedoshim) [sic, Kiddush Hashem] with Jesus’ execution,” but says it doesn’t bother him. However, he regards his readers as unable to evaluate the clip’s merits for themselves: “I’m not going to link to it, because I don’t want you to watch it….”
23/apr: The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issues a statement on their site condemning the video. In it ADL director and Holocaust survivor Abe Foxman accuses J4J of “cheapening” the Holocaust and “cynically using” the traumatic event for evangelizing purposes.
At the end of this press release is a mention that the ADL had condemned J4J in 2001as well, for publishing testimonies of “people identified as Holocaust survivors who were quoted as saying that they were Holocaust survivors who ‘truly believe in Jesus.’”
[HW] Here I pause to give some little-known background on Abe Foxman before commenting on his attempt to discredit MJ Holocaust survivors.
For the record, the head of the ADL has at times expressed a strong Jewish-Christian ambivalence. The TJDFY site includes a valuable crash course on the spiritual (pagan) foundations of Nazism, which begins with a quote by Abe Foxman implying that Nazi ideology was compatible with Christianity: “Many of the same people who operated the gas chambers worshiped in Christian churches on Sunday…The question of the complicity of the church in the murder of the Jews is a living one.”
From that statement, one would never guess that Abe had survived the Holocaust as a baptized Catholic. He confesses in his bio, “Had my parents died during the Holocaust, it is a possibility that I may have even become a priest when I grew up…. Even once I was reunited with my parents, I was a good practicing Catholic…. I cried when other children called me a Jew. ” Abe Foxman’s attempts to delegitimize J4J’s Messianic Holocaust survivors may be an indication that their stories came too close for comfort…. or that he could only cope with his past Christian identity by denying their current Messianic Jewish identities.
TO CLARIFY : I would not think to criticize this long-time defender of the Jewish people for a past over which he had no control. However, he may not have realized that these attacks by the ADL set a dangerous precedent of discriminating against one subgroup of Holocaust survivors. The wording of the condemnation from 2001 also encourages Holocaust deniers by insinuating – without evidence – that some Holocaust survivors may have fabricated or embellished their stories. [end]
23/apr: Mainstream Christian magazine Christianity Today carries the story, including a handful of quotes representing the different sides in the controversy. Leading with Jay Michaelson (17/apr), the report adds Adam Weinstein (18/apr), whose right to speak for the Jewish people is unquestioned, despite his complaint about J4J seeking “to convert Hebrews [sic]”. The article also includes Messianic blogger Dror (11/apr) as a more nuanced objection.
23/apr: Liberal Israeli news source Ha’aretz reports on the video, finding interest in the controversy but remaining neutral about the clip itself. The report quotes the Forward’s Michaelson (17/apr), giving equal time to J4J’s executive director David Brickner, and reprinting the opinions quoted (23/apr) in Christianity Today.
23/apr: Rosh Pina Project links the Ha’aretz article, and cites it as proof of “massive backlash from the Jewish community”. RPP blogger Gev reinforces this idea by slightly misquoting the Israeli news headline as “Most Tasteless YouTube Video Ever”. The actual headline is an open question based on the opinion of Jay Michaelson: “the 'most tasteless YouTube video ever'?”
23/apr: J4J media producer Sean Trank, who was involved in producing the clip, posts his own experience of the feedback as viewing hits the 1 million mark. According to Sean, the private comments are far more positive than the made-for-public comments. He comments:
Just the fact that [sic] being a Jew for Jesus stirs up trouble by nature… Yet the feedback we received in just a few days of the launch might surprise you. I like many others who worked on the project assumed the worst as far as what response the film would get, but I was pleasantly surprised by many responses from people who took some time to really think about the reality we were portraying.
He provides links to a few of the “worst” (all of which are in my report), and he invites talk-back.
One Jewish believer named Bill responds, saying that he finds the 3-minute video “incredibly offensive and it hurts.” Sean asks the brother why he feels that way. There is no reply.
[HW] Unless Bill answered Sean privately, he lost all opportunity to finish that conversation, at least in this life. On 2/jul/2014, the Lord took Sean home. While he was producing the clip, Sean apparently already knew he was dying of lung cancer. I would assume that his elation in the above-mentioned post was from the realization that his final earthly contribution was being taken seriously by the world – and not misplaced pride in causing controversy, as some bloggers at RPP would later insinuate. [end]
24/apr: The secular media outlet UK Telegraph carries a review of the clip by (presumed Jewish) journalist Jake Simons, framed in sensational terms like “sick joke” and “possibly the most offensive video ever made”. Jake’s reason for the superlatives: “It assumes the right to blithely portray the Holocaust…for its own narrow theological ends.” He dismisses the J4J explanations as “wooly and confused”, and Jake himself is skeptical that the Jews ever associated Jesus with the perpetrators of the Holocaust, or that the Holocaust ever stopped Jews from thinking about Jesus.
[HW] Although he has written before on Holocaust issues, Jake Simons could have learned something new, had he viewed the J4J-supplied testimony of Holocaust survivor Rose Price, who relates that every time a camp guard beat them, he would say, “Jesus told us to hit you. Jesus hates you.” [end]
24/apr: The ADL condemnation (23/apr) is carried on several Jewish sites, including a report at Algemeiner, and one at the Jewish Press. The religious Israeli news outlet Israel National News comments that the video “is being seen as a step too far even for Jews for Jesus, a group already infamous for its provocative activities and attempts to lure Jews into leaving their religion.” But only the ADL response is quoted.
24/apr: The mainstream Israeli news source Times of Israel gives a factual report on the ADL denunciation, placing Abe Foxman’s quotes opposite the J4J response.
24/apr: Secular UK media outlet Huffington Post covers the story, giving the lion’s share of quotes to Jay Michaelson with a nod to J4J rebuttals.
25/apr: Jay Michaelson’s condemnation (17/apr) of the J4J clip is picked up by the UK Independent. Roughly the same space is given to J4J’s Susan Perlman, but a caption over the J4J clip link says, “Warning: Contains some scenes that viewers may find upsetting.”
25/apr: The secular network BBC interviews Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner who says she is also “a Christian theologian” [sic]. Rabbi Klausner states that the clip producers “connect the Holocaust with punishment” and that the clip’s message was that “the Holocaust was punishment” on the Jewish people; she demands its removal from YouTube. Julia Pascoe, UK director for Jews for Jesus, responds (more extensively on BBC radio earlier in the day, but only briefly quoted in this BBC news item). Rabbi Klausner is later quoted by several other sources.
25/apr: The Israeli orthodox news outlet Israel National News publishes a retraction and apology to the clip’s producers. Embedded in another story about a "missionary ad" run by J4J was this: “The [J4J] organization states, however, that it strongly rejects views that were attributed to it in the Israeli media that the Jews are to blame for the persecution they have experience [sic] over the generations, and especially for the Holocaust, because of their rejection of Jesus. [Our news outlet] Arutz Sheva, which previously reported those claims, apologizes for any misunderstanding.”
[HW] The only previous Arutz Sheva report on the clip that I could find (24/apr) makes no mention of this accusation. It’s possible they deleted it. Likewise, I found no other “Israeli media” that printed this view which they report was attributed to J4J. [end]
25/apr: The secular newspaper UK Guardian hosts a commentary by interfaith priest Giles Fraser who gives equal time to condemning the “mind-bogglingly offensive” J4J clip and condemning the notion of Jesus dying for the sins of mankind, an idea which he says “was unknown in the early church”. Giles rejects the clip mainly because of the cross appearing in it, which to him conveys “the idea that the Jews were the Christ-killers”. [HW] Without commenting on his fractured theology, I will note that his heart is in the right place. But he will search in vain for even a hint about “Christ-killing Jews” anywhere in the J4J clip. [end]
25/apr: The London-based Jewish Chronicle reports on the clip. Other than mentioning (without details) that it “has been condemned for drawing connections between the Holocaust, Jesus and punishment” (likely an indirect quote of UK Rabbi-Christian theologian Klausner, 25/apr), the short article just gives the scene sequence, ending with: “Another actor, dressed as Jesus Christ holding a large wooden cross, suddenly appears at the front of the gates. The Nazi officer directs him to the gas chamber. ‘Just another Jew,’ he says.”
25/apr: American MJ Nicole Czarnecki starts a poll to survey believers’ reactions to the clip. She uses the site to promote a petition calling for J4J director David Brickner to step down. Nicole accuses David of “exploiting the Holocaust” and bringing J4J to a “deplorable” state. As it is worded, her appeal implies that J4J is being cursed and that God is going to “deliver them to trouble”. (The petition was not successful and was eventually closed.)
Nicole receives two challenges on this blog from MJs. Says Stan Cohen: “Why is Jesus being on the side of the Jews offensive? If he was a Nazi I would be very offended.” An anonymous responder: “I think this film is very powerful and as a Messianic Jew myself it has been a great value for [sic] have a conversation about Jesus with my Jewish family.” Nicole receives support from Richard, a Christian who says the clip is “disgusting, as is the whole premise of Messianic Christianity [sic].”
Nicole responds to Richard with the prediction that her cousin (a Holocaust survivor who became a “Catholic Messianic Jew”, now deceased) “would be [sic, would have been] offended” by the clip. She continues with criticism of J4J’s management.
26/apr: Atheist Jaclyn Glenn is upset by the popularity of the J4J clip and makes “a response video”, in which she rambles against Christian Nazis and Christians in general, but doesn’t have anything specific to say about the clip itself.
27/apr: British Jewish blogger Sam Gross volunteers his negative opinion about the J4J clip on the Times of Israel blog. Sam expresses his “revulsion” at the clip’s content because of the existence of Nazi Christians, causing him to conclude that the Jews at Auschwitz were killed for Jesus. [HW] It is not clear how Sam reached this conclusion by watching the video. Nor is it clear why the “Swiss-born Briton studying at Cambridge” chose to express his opposition to a US-produced clip on an Israeli site. But his fellow-Brit Jake Simons should read it, since Jake is skeptical (24/apr) that any Jews blame Jesus for the Holocaust. [end]
27/apr: One of the strongest public rebukes is posted on the blog of former J4J evangelist and American MJ Stuart Dauermann. Due to the length and tone of his response, I will comment in some detail.
[HW] I understand from Stuart’s comment here that he received offline criticism for his post which perhaps stung, and I don’t like to add to that. But there are greater issues at stake than his comfort zone, or mine, and a public declaration from a respected teacher in the MJ community needs an equally public response. [end]
Stuart writes that he was reluctant to share a personal letter he had sent to his former colleagues at J4J, David Brickner and Susan Perlman. But he feels it is more important for “the public” to recognize the difference between Jews for Jesus and himself. More accurately, his desire to distance himself from J4J was a stated motive before he saw the clip: “I felt obliged to watch it, since it would be in the public eye, and as I said, the public often misimagines [sic] Jews for Jesus and Messianic Jews like me as the same.” Stuart mentions this concern four times in two paragraphs.
Among other charges, Stuart Dauermann’s rebuke to J4J contains a criticism for trying “to speak of his [Jesus] being wounded for our transgressions, as if Jews went to the ovens for their own, but he was prepared to go in our place!” [HW] While the Isaiah 53 add-on and the “Why” video do invite confusion about why Yeshua is portrayed at the gates of Auschwitz, this particular objection is based on an imaginary offense. The video did not imply that Yeshua was presenting himself to the Nazis as an atonement that could release the inmates from Auschwitz. There was no offer of a prisoner exchange, much less any choice given to Jewish prisoners about whether they could let Yeshua “go in our place”. And there was certainly no insinuation that “Jews went to the ovens for their own [transgressions]”! [end]
Stuart tells the J4J leaders that their project will damage not just J4J but the entire “Messianic Jewish movement and the gospel” in the eyes of the Jewish people. The only source of feedback he names is unspecified YouTube comments following the clip. [HW] This was the one feedback source I did not consider valuable, since YouTube back-talk tends to be dominated by irrelevant responses and irresponsible flaming. [end] These comments lead Stuart to conclude that “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” – applying to them Paul’s rebuke (Rom.2:24) to lawbreaking Jewish hypocrites who offended the non-Jews.
After speculating that the “well-deserved backlash” they can expect is probably past repair, Stuart makes a prediction: “I think it will be very difficult if not impossible to find any Jew who regards this positively.” [HW] Within two days, a rabbi and Holocaust expert refutes this prediction with a direct rebuttal, but the event goes by without comment in the MJ blogging community. [end]
Two MJs immediately ask permission to reprint this letter to J4J leaders, and Stuart gives it.
27/apr: Gerry Cohen, secretary of BMJA (British Messianic Jewish Alliance), expresses support of Stuart Dauermann’s denunciation and responds to the prisoner-exchange idea as though it were part of the clip: “I cannot see why we should have an image of Yeshua about to go (anachronistically!) to His death instead of the Jewish people.” Cohen mentions that BMJA is publishing a denunciation of the clip, and he goes on to call the creators of the clip “wolves”.
[HW] The term “wolves” is New Covenant shorthand for predators infiltrating the flock of Messiah with the intention of destroying believers. This is equivalent to accusing J4J of faking their faith in Yeshua, and calling for them to be ejected from the Body. It’s hard to over-emphasize how serious it is to make such a charge against a fellow believer, and I can’t help but ponder the condition of a Messianic audience that would let this slander pass unchallenged. [end]
Stuart Dauermann thanks Gerry for the news, and says he expects similar denunciations from UMJC (Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations) and MJAA (Messianic Jewish Alliance of America). The UMJC does eventually issue a condemnation (28/apr), but not the MJAA.
27/apr: A short article appears in the MJ publication Israel Today, in which J4J director Susan Perlman is interviewed by Israeli writer (and MJ pastor) David Lazarus. Here the report of Jewish feedback is confusing. First, it’s quite positive:
Jewish people in particular are showing great interest in the new short film, which is now being reported on in Israel’s mainstream media. According to Susan Perlman, the Director of Communications for Jews for Jesus, the film is getting more than 100,000 views a day. “This is way beyond our expectations,” says Perlman.
But this optimism is tempered with speculation on potential Jewish negativity (“Watching Jesus carry his cross into Auschwitz looking like the same Christ figure so often blamed for the Holocaust may prove too much for Jewish people”) and actual Messianic negativity fueled by that same speculation (“Some Messianic Jewish groups in Israel are concerned that the Jews for Jesus strategy may backfire and further alienate Jews from Jesus”). However, no quotes from Israeli believers are provided.
A later reference to “the multitude of negative reactions to the film from the Jewish community” turns out to be “some Israeli newspapers” which quote Jay Michaelson’s opinion piece in the Forward, “calling the film ‘the most tasteless YouTube video ever.’” [HW] As we have seen, Jay’s terminology was first repeated by the Christian Post (23/apr) and Christianity Today, and after that only Ha’aretz picked it up (in the form of a question). Later Israeli reports focused on the ADL’s condemnation only. [end]
28/apr: Several responses on Stuart Dauermann’s blog express distaste and delegitimization of J4J as a ministry. MJ responder Merrill passes on an anonymous complaint from a MJ in the UK about J4J as an organization. Stuart receives these comments uncritically and with thanks; he then repeats his reasons for publicizing the letter as a need to distance MJs from the clip’s producers (bold emphasis mine):
I thought twice and then twice again about first sending this letter as an email, and then posting it as I did on my blog. I felt that these things needed to be said, that a retraction or public apology by Jews for Jesus would have been SO powerful and arresting, and remains, sadly, appropriate. I also felt that I needed to remind people unaware of nuances and variations of various kinds that not all of us who are Jews who honor Yeshua as Messiah would produce or favor such a film.
28/apr: The British Messianic Jewish Alliance (BMJA) issues a brief rejection of TJDFY. “Portraying Jesus as an Auschwitz victim distorts both the nature of Jesus' death and the history of the Holocaust.” [HW] Like other MJs weighing in on the issue, BMJA does not take into account the Jewish artists who had portrayed Yeshua in exactly that way. [end]
The BMJA statement then adds an objection heard for the first time (emphasis mine): “Many British Messianic Jews who lost family members in the Shoah are distressed by this video.”
[HW] It’s conceivable that Jews who don’t know Yeshua as Messiah might not accept the imagery. But if it causes distress in those who love Yeshua, surely that requires more explanation or examples. We receive neither. My efforts to find supporting online evidence for this startling claim yielded only one statement – more accurately, another letter to J4J made public (see 29/apr). The writer turns out to be a member of the same BMJA Committee that made this claim. [end]
28/apr: The Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) publishes a denunciation from their Executive, charging that “the video diverts the emotional impact of the Holocaust in an effort to convey its own message,” and that it also “diminishes the uniqueness” of both the Holocaust and the sacrificial death of Yeshua. They add an assessment of the Jewish response similar to that of UMJC colleague Stuart Dauermann, only in past tense: “The video has gained wide exposure and notoriety, including condemnation from many sources within the Jewish community.”
28/apr: European MJ Anna Wikmann recommends Stuart Dauermann’s post (27/apr) and registers the same sort of reaction to the clip (“distasteful and blatant sensationalist exploitation of a sensitive issue”). Interestingly, she reports that posting her rejection of the J4J clip on the Jerusalem Post Facebook page provoked responses from angry Jews – not discussing the clip but attacking her Messianic identity. Anna points out that she had nothing to do with the clip’s production or with J4J, and yet she blames this Jewish hostility against MJs in general on this J4J project.
28/apr: Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg of Congregation Beth-El (NJ) writes in the Christian Post that he sees the J4J clip as “compassionate”. A Yeshiva University graduate and lecturer on the Holocaust, he also identifies both his parents as Holocaust survivors. Among his qualifications: “I am not a stranger to this subject having just authored a new book The Holocaust as Seen Through Film, one of the many books that I have written with a Holocaust theme.” Rabbi Rosenberg writes that he does “not agree with those who are attacking the video.” Although he rejects the clip’s secondary (evangelistic) message, he accepts the primary message and verbalizes it: “If Jesus were at Auschwitz he would have been murdered just for being a Jew.”
[HW] The American rabbi makes it clear (twice, emphatically) that he is not Messianic, apparently out of concern that someone might misinterpret his favorable review of the clip as sympathy for the Messianic faith. At this point he is possibly unaware that Messianic believers are becoming known for their unfavorable reviews of the clip. [end]
28/apr: Rosh Pina Project reprints Stuart Dauermann’s open letter to David Brickner and Susan Perlman. Feedback begins immediately.
The first comment provides evidence that Stuart’s attempts to distance himself from J4J have failed. Jewish non-believer Menashe Dovid quotes from Stuart’s alternative method of “in-reach” evangelism, and accuses him of being “just as bad as JFJ if not worse, it is just the same hurtful false nonsense dressed up in different clothes.” [HW] It’s important to note that Menashe only attacks Stuart and does not express an opinion about the clip, similar to the experience reported above by Anna Wikmann. [end]
RPP blogger Gev tries to redirect Menashe Dovid’s anger to J4J: “The issue in Dauermann’s post is that of using the Holocaust for another agenda, and that is the problem we also have with the JfJ video.” Menashe still does not comment on the video or its Holocaust imagery.
A response from Dr. Alan Poyner-Levison, director of Beit Shalom Ministries (UK), thanks Stuart for his open letter, and calls the J4J clip “a horror show”.
MJ blogger “ProclaimLiberty” defends Stuart with a rebuke to Menashe: “It would seem that you can’t discern the difference between apples and oranges if you paint Stuart with the same broad brush as JFJ whom he criticizes.” To this Menashe replies, “Thank you for not answering my point.”
[HW] Menashe is correct that the MJ defenders had failed to address Stuart’s stated reason for watching the video (27/apr), which the non-believer rather bluntly describes as “desperate attempts to make himself out to be not like the un-nice, cruel and insensitive JFJ.” Like the other MJ bloggers, Stuart does not reply to Menashe’s challenges. [end]
29/apr: Stuart Dauermann’s letter of rebuke to J4J receives a personal response from Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg, the above-mentioned son of survivors and Holocaust lecturer. Identifying himself to Stuart as a Torah-observant Jew who is not a believer in Yeshua, Rabbi Rosenberg expresses his approval of the clip. He posts to Stuart’s blog a column that he posted that same day at the Patheos interfaith site, which repeated his assessment of the clip as “compassionate” and “powerful” (the same piece carried 28/apr by the Christian Post).
Rabbi Rosenberg follows up this post with a personal statement to Stuart that he is not “being used by Jews for Jesus” but is simply publishing his informed assessment of the clip.
There is no response. MJ comments continue along the same lines as before, with no reference to this post. It would take more than two weeks for Rabbi Rosenberg’s online presence to even be acknowledged by the blog owner.
29/apr: J4J head David Brickner posts a video update to J4J supporters concerning the results of the clip. He mentions that bringing Jesus into the Holocaust as “an iconic image” had been done before by Jewish artists, but admits that portraying Him as Messiah has created “a lot of pushback”. He shows awareness of opposition from Jewish leaders and “even some believers”. Brickner says (time mark 4:05) that Rabbi Rosenberg called their office to “commend us for the film”, and adds that “hundreds of people” have contacted J4J wanting to hear more. Specifically, he says that the greatest positive response to this clip is from Jews in Israel.
29/apr: Another personal rebuke to J4J is made public by British MJA Committee member Adrian Glasspole, who found the video “distressing” – the same term used in the BMJA denunciation (28/apr). Adrian reinforces his view by citing the similar objections of BMJA and Stuart Dauermann. His specific objections are based on theological literalism (“The idea of his life being taken from him [Jesus] does not sit well with his statement that he laid down his life, and that no-one took it from him”), the claim/fear of offense to others (“There are many Messianic Jews who are deeply offended by the video, and probably the majority of non-Messianic Jews who will be aghast at the subject matter”) and the desire to distance himself from J4J (“As you know, many see Jews for Jesus and Messianic Jews as synonymous. While this is untrue, that is the perception of many people, Jewish and Gentile.”)
[HW] This appears to be the only published objection from any MJ whose relatives had perished in the Holocaust, of which BMJA claimed there were “many”. Adrian identifies one great-uncle who had been killed by the Nazis, although not in the camps. But the clip’s “distressing” aspect is not shown to be its effect on Adrian personally, or on the victim’s immediate family. His objections are no different from those by MJs with no personal connection to the Holocaust. [end]
29/apr: Speaking as Senior Rabbi of Messianic congregation Ahavat Zion in Beverley Hills and “ the President of the Union of Messianic Believers (UMB)”, Joshua Brumbach posts hearty approval of Stuart Dauermann’s letter to J4J as a statement that “eloquently” expresses his own sentiments. Joshua notes with satisfaction the consensus of “opposition” in the UMJC, BMJA, Rosh Pina Project and the Israeli paper Ha’aretz. [HW] It’s debatable whether that last source expressed opposition – see the report of 23/apr. [end]
30/apr: J4J staffer Aaron Trank (also brother of the clip’s co-producer Sean Trank - 23/apr), posts a personal YouTube response to the clip. This feedback is also worthy of extended comment, because it is later misinterpreted by other MJs (1/may).
Aaron says he understands why the clip is offending people, and notes that his own great-grandmother had perished in Auschwitz. He calls the juxtaposition of Yeshua with the Holocaust “weird for me… I still don’t know how to feel about it,” but he does not call it offensive. He acknowledges that the clip is an attempt to follow the example of Marc Chagall (who painted Christ on the cross in the midst of Holocaust imagery) which he calls “profound”.
Aaron Trank talks about the realization, “after I worked through all my emotions”, that this “bizarre” juxtaposition can be found in Isaiah 53, and he invites viewers to click the link he provides to the previously published J4J article, which was written by him and explains the idea. He calls it “strange” but “powerful”, and invites dialog about “why we made the film”. [HW] Although he was not involved in producing it, here he is willing to speak on behalf of the producers. [end]
Aaron’s invitation brings a few varied responses (dates not listed). MJ Rich Robinson finds the clip “more intriguing than disturbing”. MJ Aaron Zaretsky, who lost family in Auschwitz, thinks the clip was good and wonders why others have a problem with it. Christian blogger “VenomFangX” says, “The more I think about the film, the more I admire it.” Presumed non-believer Carlos Mendoza expresses dislike for the clip and also for the J4J organization, because “they take advantage of the more secular Jews that don't have a solid foundation in the Torah.”
Russ Resnik of UMJC accepts Aaron’s take on the juxtaposition of Jesus and Holocaust suffering, but objects to the clip’s “self-declared purpose as an evangelistic message”. [HW] This is somewhat different from the official UMJC statement, 28/apr, which objects to the juxtaposition on the grounds that it “diminishes the uniqueness” of both. [end] Aaron answers Russ by defending the clip’s producers: “The saddest thing about all this to me is the idea that people would use the remembrance of the Holocaust as a blunt tool for evangelism... I absolutely know that is NOT what the ministry intended to do when the film was released.”
An anonymous believer says the J4J organization “crossed some major boundaries” with the clip, but doesn’t give specifics. Instead, he/she says that Aaron’s organization is “obnoxious” and passes on an anonymous complaint from a British believer about having to constantly explain that he/she is “not working for Jews for Jesus”.
Israeli Messianic leader David Lazarus contends that Jewish artist Chagall and TJDFY are aiming in opposite directions. He adds a report on Israeli backlash: “In this context, to Jews the iconic Christian of Christ [sic] feels like a distraction from and dishonoring of the sufferings of our people. For the Jewish community at large it is offensive in the extreme as is being so regularly expressed in the Israel press.” Aaron Trank responds: “I won't deny that the hope behind the film was that it would help Jewish people consider Yeshua. But, that was only a fraction of the intention behind the film.”
[HW] David’s was the only objection that surfaced from an Israeli MJ leader, or from any Israeli believer. Regarding his description of the offense caused by juxtaposing Christ and the Holocaust, it’s possible he’s never heard of our Israeli brother Rick Weineke’s sculpture in Arad known as “Fountain of Tears”, which so impressed a board member of Yad Vashem that she asked Rick to make her a miniature model of it for her home.
Concerning David’s report of “extreme” objections “regularly expressed in the Israeli press”, I found the coverage in the English-language press to be sparse and rather muted (see 18-19/apr and 23-25/apr, 19/may), and I found nothing at all in the Hebrew Israeli press. More questions are raised by comparing his statement here with the article in Israel Today – written by David Lazarus himself – only three days earlier (27/apr). [end]
30/apr: Blogger Gev at Rosh Pina Project becomes the only Messianic believer to comment on Rabbi Rosenberg’s article. Gev rejects J4J’s attempt to add Rabbi Rosenberg’s opinion to the debate: “Jews for Jesus are promoting this article [sic, Rosenberg’s phone call] as some sort of justification for their video.” Gev does not address the Holocaust professor’s assessment of the video, other than noting a lack of visual evidence in the clip that “Jesus was an observant Jew” (quoting Rosenberg). He focuses more on Rabbi Rosenberg’s repeated denial of faith in Yeshua.
MJ responder Joshua [Brumbach] questions why J4J is relying so much on the reaction of Rabbi Rosenberg, who doesn’t accept Yeshua’s Messianic claims. [HW] The same question could have been asked of those believers opposing the clip, since their concern likewise was the reaction of Jews who don’t accept Yeshua’s Messianic claims. [end]
Gev then reaffirms that the clip will bring “a predictable backlash from most of the Jewish community and most rabbis.” [HW] He appears unaware that only the day before, Rabbi Rosenberg had personally attempted to open direct dialog with Messianic believers in general, and with Stuart Dauermann in particular, about the positive aspects of the video. [end]
1/may: Rosh Pina Project calls Aaron Trank’s response (30/apr) an “apology”, erroneously reporting that Aaron “breaks rank with his organization over this film”.
1/may: RPP blogger Gev links J4J director David Brickner’s update (29/apr), and again informs readers that David is “defending the [TJDFY] video using this article [sic] from Rabbi Rosenberg as their silver bullet to slay they [sic] accusers.” For the second time, there is no discussion of Rabbi Rosenberg’s qualifications to speak on the issue, or even a suggestion to open a debate at RPP about his conclusions.
1/may: Presbyterian blogger Kathy Larson in North Carolina posts a review of the clip. She criticizes the technical quality and says she doesn’t understand what they “were trying to say” in the clip, but she adopts Jewish non-believer Jay Michaelson (17/apr) as her guide on what to think. She recommends to J4J that they replace the clip with “stories of hope” about people who survived the Holocaust… showing that she never visited the TJDFY site.
1/may: The London-based Jewish Chronicle files a second report about responses to the clip, quoting Rabbi Laura Klausner’s previous interview of 25/apr with BBC (“sickening”), interfaith organization head Reverend David Gifford (“appalling”), and (Jewish) Board of Deputies VP Jonathan Arkush (“a crass attempt to court controversy at the expense of the victims of the Holocaust”). The (28/apr) “condemnation” by BMJA is now quoted as well, described as “a group also working to convert Jews”. For balance, the defense of Julia Pascoe of J4J-UK is included: She says the clip is meant “to share the message of hope and start dialog” and refute the idea that “Jesus was to blame for the Holocaust — I’ve heard that all my life.”
2/may: MJ Dan Sichel posts the first comment following Rabbi Rosenberg (29/apr) on Stuart Dauermann’s blog. Dan shows a lack of reading comprehension: “I suppose to a rabbinical Jew… it [the clip] is VERY offensive.” But he comprehends what the others have neglected to consider, that Yeshua Himself was offensive. Dan wonders “if telling the truth this way doesn’t have some value. To me, the real answer would be, does this cause Jews to think about Jesus, and/or think about Jesus in a new way? If the answer to any degree is yes, then the offense is worthwhile.”
2/may: After clip viewing tops 1.3 million hits on YouTube, the Australian Jewish News reports angry responses from two Jewish leaders: the executive director of Melbourne’s Jewish Holocaust Centre, Warren Fineberg, and the president of the Association of Holocaust Survivors and Descendants in Sydney, George Foster. Their objections consist of generalized condemnation and fear of potential complaints by Holocaust survivors. No actual complaints are quoted or referred to, but Foster demands that the video be removed from the Internet. The AJN report also mentions “outrage around the world” over the clip, but gives no examples.
2/may: Former MJ-turned-orthodox Gene Shlomovich brings up the clip, but only as a platform to explain why he no longer believes that Yeshua is Messiah. He mentions casually that “the video was designed to provoke a reaction from the Jewish community (which it did and it wasn’t positive)…” but he does not attempt to document the statement, apparently because the reaction of the Jewish community to the clip was not his concern.
2/may: Christian blogger “Ruth” (not her real name) expresses uneasiness about the clip, based on her understanding that “ many Jews [are] saying the film is offensive and that it’s highly insensitive to apply the imagery of something used to destroy so many Jews (i.e., the cross) to their deepest wound.” She counters these unspecified sources by linking a real one, namely the (28/apr) Christian Post article by Rabbi Rosenberg, commenting: “At least one rabbi is saying kind things about it.”
Ruth offers her own objection that she says (rightly) hasn’t been voiced yet: “I believe both Christians and Jews would be better off in the long run if efforts were made to serve this film up to a Christian audience.” (emphasis hers)
[HW] As another reviewer who did not appear to visit the TJDFY site, Ruth believes (wrongly) that merging the iconic Jesus-with-a-cross into the Holocaust is a Christian idea which “needs some tweaking” in order for Jews to relate to it. But she’s right that “it’s the Christians who dressed Him up as a non-Jew” and that this clip could help restore His stolen identity. [end]
2/may: RPP blogger Dror uses the (30/apr) Aaron Trank “apology” [sic,] and the Australian Jewish News report (2/may) about J4J-Australia considering a removal of the clip from their site, to call for an apology from J4J headquarters: “The variety of JFJ responses show an organisation sending out mixed messages – and it is time for David Brickner to show genuine leadership and apologise for the video.”
Dror adds a new reason for J4J to apologize: “Add to the list of offences, a charge that JFJ are insulting the Jewish community by implying they somehow hold Jesus responsible for the Shoah.” [HW] Far as I can determine, this was not denied by the Jewish community as a false charge. [end]
3/may: RPP blogger Nicole Czarnecki goes farther than Dror and suggests that David Brickner should not just apologize but resign. Over the next days, Nicole responds several more times to this thread with more general complaints about how J4J has gone “downhill” under David Brickner, and how Israeli writer Carolyn Glick “lumped in all Messianic Jews with Jews For Jesus” in an unidentified article.
4/may: American Messianic blogger Yahnatan rejects any similarity between J4J’s merging of Yeshua in the Holocaust and the Jesus-infused art of Marc Chagall. He somehow reads the clip’s message as “it takes a Nazi to recognize Jesus as a Jew” – which implies that the Jews around Him had rejected Jesus as a Christian alien. On the other hand, Yahnatan notes that the portrayal of Jesus suffering with the people was not fully developed: “Chagall's work points at that young woman stumbling and says, ‘Right there--that is Jesus stumbling.’ This video makes a different claim” by having Jesus help her minimally from the sidelines instead.
[HW] In that context, it’s reasonable for Yahnatan to associate that sidelined gesture in the clip with Christian help or its absence during the Holocaust. But while it’s right to mourn the rarity of Christian intervention during the Holocaust, it’s a mistake to call the visual gesture in the clip a “parlor trick” or “a complete fantasy”. God did not limit His actions to those of His disciples, as Yahnatan claims. Testimonies of Holocaust survivors, including those on the TJDFY site, give abundant examples of His direct and invisible help.
These criticisms aside, Yahnatan’s treatment of the clip was one of the most thoughtful to be found online, and it added something constructive to my own view. It made me wonder how much clearer the Lord’s identification with the Jews might have been if it had begun with Yeshua staggering out of the wretched cattle car with the others, giving a new meaning to “via dolorosa”. [end]
4/may: Two additional Holocaust denial sites brand the clip as a sinister Jewish tactic to exert control on the Christians. One calls the clip “mass brainwashing”, while the other (an orthodox priest of unknown affiliation) speculates, “What better way to guilt-trip gullible Christians into worshipping Jews?” [sic] He goes on to challenge J4J to prove that the gas chambers really existed.
6/may: Israeli Messianic believer Rivka replies to Dror’s call for a J4J apology (2/may): “I think the video has been great because it breaks the stereotype that Jesus was a Nazi and that all believers are Nazis. After all, He was familiar with much suffering as well. It is extremely sad that the most persecution [for this clip] comes from the messianic community.”
[HW] To my knowledge, Rivka is the only believer to publicly lament this phenomenon which is the subject of my article. But she admits to being a J4J staffer married to a J4J employee, so theoretically she could be dismissed as not objective. [end]
14/may: After two weeks, Stuart Dauermann responds to Rabbi Rosenberg (29/apr) with this reply: “I stand entirely with you in your aspirations and your intended message. You are truly one of the disciples of Aaron, ‘loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and bringing them close to Torah’.” He says nothing about Rabbi Rosenberg’s evaluation of the J4J clip, which was the reason the Holocaust expert had contacted him. Nor does Stuart offer to the rabbi an explanation of why his own evaluation of TJDFY differs so sharply.
[HW] This omission indicates that Stuart might not have read Rabbi Rosenberg’s first and much longer post, which included his twice-published article. Incidentally, the same thing happened with David Lazarus: three separate responses from Rabbi Rosenberg to his (27/apr) Israel Today article (scroll down to no. 18-20 from the top of the talk-back list) also went unanswered.
With each case of evasion or inattention, a rare opportunity was lost for honest dialog with a Jewish non-Messianic leader – which most Messianic believers would consider the whole point of Jewish outreach. [end]
14/may: Stuart Dauermann replies belatedly to Dan Sichel’s suggestion (2/may) that the offense caused by the clip might be worthwhile. Stuart argues that “just getting a Jew to think about Jesus in a new way is no justification,” and he compares the clip to a Messianic Jew telling mourners at their mother’s funeral that believing in Jesus will keep them from going to hell like their mother just did.
[HW] Unless Stuart has evidence that J4J has ever presented the gospel to mourners in such a fashion, this must be regarded as irrelevant at best, and perhaps something approaching groundless slander. How Holocaust victims were judged after death is not even attempted by J4J in this clip, or anywhere on the TJDFY site. The comment resembles his earlier condemnation of J4J (27/apr) for the clip’s non-existent message that “Jews went to the ovens for their own [transgressions]” – an accusation retracted, with apologies, by the Israeli news source Arutz Sheva (25/apr). [end]
19/may: RPP blogger Gev responds to Israeli MJ Rivka (6/may) by agreeing on one point, and then raising a new criticism which he now says triggered some of the objections:
The point is fair that Jesus would, if he had been around at the time, have been arrested and sent to the camps, however having him carrying a cross and looking unlike any of the other Jews there misses the point. It would have been better if as Jesus arrived at the selection he would have indistinguishable from all the other Jewish people there apart from the nail-holes in his hands.
[HW] This is a valid criticism only if the global Jewish community knows enough of the New Covenant to recognize Yeshua merely by His wounds. The fact is that many Jews know Him only in vague terms. Although this was posted as a response to Rivka, Gev missed what she had written about her own experience: until the age of 19 she had no idea that Jesus was even Jewish, or that He looked any different from a Catholic. This supports the idea that the use of the universally familiar iconic imagery (the cross, the Biblical costume) is the only guaranteed way to identify Jesus to Jews. [end]
19/may: The Australian Jewish News reports that J4J-Australia has responded to the 2/may objections from “the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Melbourne and the Association of Holocaust Survivors and Descendants in Sydney”, by removing their copy of the clip from the Internet. The quoted response by J4J spokesman Bob Mendelsohn implies that the uproar is due to a lack of information, which their opponents showed no interest in obtaining:
“The landing page extras feature beautiful personal stories from survivors and a short essay on Jewish art and the suffering of Jesus with his people. Along with articles on the Holocaust, it was a very good and sympathetic voice,” Mendelsohn said on Monday. “Unfortunately, most in this region who saw the short video never made it to that landing page … As a result, we pulled it today [19/may].”
19/may: The liberal Israeli news outlet Ha’aretz reports on the controversy in Australia which caused the J4J branch there to “take down” the video. The article quotes the Australian Jewish News, including an additional response from J4J’s Bob Mendelsohn: “Many on our worldwide staff have too many relatives who perished in the camps to have intended that aggravation.” Ha’aretz then informs readers where the clip is still online, and repeats text from its previous article (23/apr) with the information borrowed from Christianity Today (also 23/apr).
20/may: Rosh Pina Project links the above Ha’aretz article, pointing with apparent pride to their involvement as “one of the first if not the first to critique the film in any way.” The post also mentions RPP blogger Dror being quoted again.
27/may: Christian blogger Lon Hetrik gets the message intended by the clip and gives it some thoughtful treatment. He is the only reviewer who mentions the testimonies of the Messianic Holocaust survivors found at the TJDFY site. But his lack of information about Jewish responses results in a humble what-if about negative impact of the clip: “I suspect that a non-Messianic Jewish audience would only take offense.”
25/june: Louis Lapides, identifying himself as a Jewish believer in Jesus and a teacher in biblical studies in the United States and Canada, begins a review of the clip with the statement that “the strong negative reaction by the Jewish community to the JFJ evangelistic effort remains a stain on Jewish-Christian relations.” He goes on to dismiss the artistic use of Yeshua appearing in Holocaust scenes as “anachronisms”, using this idea to reject both J4J and (by implication) Jewish artist Marc Chagall. The rest of the long post critiques the clip as though it were a news report, with technical objections such as: “I find it hard to believe [that] the Nazi guards…would allow a man carrying a cross, wearing first century clothing, beaten and wearing a crown of thorns into a concentration camp.”
17/jul: Messianic leader Matt Rosenberg on his blog mentions the J4J clip as a worthy MJ attempt to debunk the idea held by “many Jewish people [who] think that Hitler was a follower of Jesus.” At the same time, Matt says that MJ attempts to identify themselves apart from Christians has resulted in an “identity problem” for Messianic Jews. “I am tied to both sides of history, the persecuted and the persecutor…. As a Messianic Jew, I have responsibility not to distance myself from either side of history.”
[HW] Matt eventually comes down on the side of Jewish identity. But when he tries to give equal honor to rabbinic leaders and church leaders, he creates a new identity problem that goes beyond “crazy” to toxic. Pirkei Avot, which he commends in particular, was not written by “fathers of [our] faith” – it begins with a declaration of an unbroken chain of faithful Torah teaching from the Sinai revelation to the Bar Kochba rebellion, a claim that denies both the Biblical record and Jewish history. [end]
21/jul: An opinion is posted by liberal journalist Brian Pellot on “Free Speech Debate” at Oxford University. He accepts the opinions of Jay Michaelson (17/apr) and Rabbi Klausner (25/apr) at face value, and dismisses the J4J view with editorial sarcasm: “Disowned by Jews and ostracized by most Christians who understand your mission but not your identity, why not go for broke and exploit the memory of six million dead Jews in a floptastic [sic] attempt to convert their descendants to your way of thinking?”
Brian recognizes Laura Klausner’s “absolutely reasonable” demand to remove the J4J clip from cyberspace, accepting her claim “that many viewers consider the video to be offensive.” However, as a supporter of free speech and religious practice, he rejects the idea, because “offence should not be grounds for censorship.”
23/apr/15: After more than half a year of silence, the clip is again mentioned in the Christian magazine Christianity Today as background to a report about Messianic Jews in towns that had experienced the Holocaust. CT reports about the clip that “many Jews called it the ‘most tasteless YouTube video ever.’ [HW] This is misleading; as we saw above (17/apr/14), this was the opinion offered by one Jewish columnist, Jay Michaelson, whose colorful choice of words was thereafter quoted by other sources. [end]
A Summary of the Findings
1. The non-believers most vocally offended by the clip were religious / political liberals and antisemites.
Based on an exhaustive search, the most strongly worded attacks (other than from MJs) came from those who reject or ignore a Biblical value system: anti-Zionist Jews, Christians who do not interpret the gospel message literally, humanists with no explicit affiliation, and confirmed Holocaust deniers. They were uniformly hostile to the J4J clip, with no exceptions or qualifications. Moreover, not one of them attempted to relate to the idea of Jesus’ Jewishness qualifying Him for Nazi extermination.
These reviews were not limited to the criticism of coupling the Holocaust theme with a gospel message. The critique sometimes became an opportunity to express animosity toward the idea of Jesus’ atonement in general. At other times, the stated offense was irrelevant to the clip’s message (ridicule of the actors, special effects, stage props, etc.). The hostile response was occasionally justified by Church history, Nazi history or other issues beyond the scope of the 3-minute clip. And more often than not, hostility was directed at J4J as an organization, which became the target of sarcasm and disdain.
The most interesting response was animosity toward the clip from several antisemitic sites claiming that it was too supportive of the Jewish people and took the Holocaust too seriously – a remarkable achievement for a video so widely accused of the opposite.
These findings are food for thought. But we will eliminate the voices of Bible-believing Christians (evenly divided between positive and negative feedback), Holocaust deniers and non-Jewish liberals, because they are irrelevant to my original search for “Jewish community outrage”. So who’s left? Perhaps a more revealing question is: who’s missing? Following are my observations.
2. The oft-repeated predictions / statements of widespread Jewish offense were exaggerated or imagined.
Noticeable in its absence from the Internet uproar was the Israeli community, both the standard Jewish and the Messianic populations. The Israeli believers commenting online consisted of one J4J staffer (positive), one news report (mostly positive), and one MJ leader (negative). Among Israeli non-believers, I found a total of two bloggers reacting (both negatively and without elaborating).
The English-language Israeli press confined itself to factual descriptions of the clip and the related controversy. No Israeli news outlet (including the above MJ news report) was interested enough in the story to solicit comments from Israel’s Jewish leaders or this country’s many Holocaust-related organizations. The coverage relied on reactions abroad, often including J4J statements.
Regarding Israeli Hebrew chatter, I was unable to locate any online Hebrew coverage at all, or any Hebrew social media discussing the clip (one lone commenter to a Hebrew forum was reacting to an English report in the Jewish Chronicle, and no one responded to his post). There is a Hebrew TJDFY site, but the clip did not work when I visited it. That may reduce the response, but given the widespread Israeli ability to consume English-language media, it wouldn’t account for a total lack of outrage. On the contrary, three reports from J4J (18/apr, 27/apr, 29/apr) indicated positive reactions from Israelis.
The Jewish Diaspora community response was mixed. Condemnation was registered by two organization leaders in Australia, two more in the UK, and the ADL in the USA. Their objections consisted of unsupported accusations or references to unnamed offended third parties. These quotes were repeated in various Jewish media, usually contrasted with J4J defenses. Individual bloggers and journalists with varying levels of Jewish background comprised most of the protest, with reactions ranging from ridicule to indignation. They were quoted as representatives of the Jewish community, but they were actually speaking only for themselves. Finally, one Holocaust expert, a rabbi who is also the son of Holocaust survivors, endorsed the clip on three separate sites (28-29/apr).
That’s the sum total of the non-Messianic Jewish public opinion. It falls short of the generalizations in the media and the rumors in the Body about widespread “outrage”, and in some cases it even contradicts them.
3. Hostility in the wider Jewish community was dwarfed by Messianic hostility.
The most outrage registered anywhere – either in the faith or outside – was concentrated in selected corners of the Messianic Jewish community. Based on my best efforts at collecting all sorts of responses, the incidents of condemnation from Messianic Jews outnumbered those from the non-believing Jewish community by more than 2 to 1.
Although I would not question the sincerity of those fellow believers who condemned the clip for whatever reasons they stated, I note that those with the greatest zeal to speak out against the clip spent the least amount of time and effort in checking their facts.
4. The Messianic hostility was fed by self-perpetuating myth, leadership trust, and resistance to truth.
By and large, what fueled the MJ outrage over the J4J clip was an imagined perception of what was taking place in the non-believing Jewish community, particularly among Holocaust survivors. Or alternately, a prediction was made of what would soon be taking place in the non-believing Jewish community, blamed ahead of time on an organization presumed guilty by reputation of causing such controversy.
Some spoke in the name of the Messianic community, while others spoke as individual believers. In either case, it was not documentation but leadership credentials that gave validity to the otherwise questionable predictions/fears/impressions. The verdicts were pronounced and repeated with no follow-up to find out how closely they matched the truth.
“He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.” (Proverbs 18:13) Thus far, the affair could be viewed as a prolonged sin of ignorance (although not innocent). The moral picture changed when the truth intruded on its own and challenged the perceptions and predictions.
The intrusion gradually made itself felt in the scarcity of strong negative Jewish responses despite continual references to “extreme offense” and “massive backlash”, etc. There were attempts to bridge the gap with exaggeration and occasional tweaking of evidence to make it seem stronger than it really was, but the end result resembled the “evidence” supporting the theory of evolution.
The real moment of truth was the counter-evidence in the person of Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg. This positive assessment of the J4J video by a knowledgeable Holocaust authority was voluntarily offered to the public, on several online sites. Rabbi Rosenberg even made multiple attempts to initiate direct dialog with the MJs protesting TJDFY… no doubt expecting that they would appreciate hearing from the people who they most feared had been offended by the clip.
Instead, Rabbi Rosenberg’s expertise was denied and even maligned as “a silver bullet” inexplicably found somewhere by J4J, which they were using for unfair advantage. This was an insinuation that any academic would find insulting, not to mention a Jewish non-believer.
But in their zeal of defending an opinion already sealed with Messianic authority, these believers lost all fear of offending the wider Jewish community or Holocaust survivors. They felt free to completely ignore the rabbi’s comments, and almost completely ignore his online presence.
This behavior is known elsewhere as “bearing false witness” (Torah) or “lying against the truth” (NT).
5. MJ hostility was mostly directed at J4J and its leaders.
There were signs that it was the organization rather than the video that was often being targeted. Besides the above-mentioned neglect of Jewish feedback that might have vindicated J4J’s project, the desire was voiced by MJs to disassociate from the organization, and even discredit it. Following are examples that were either supported or condoned by our community.
First, while some MJs limited themselves to critiquing the clip, others went on to denounce the J4J organization. Both kinds of condemnation were received either by active agreement or passive lack of protest, approved in the same measure and without distinguishing between them.
Second, old perceived offenses involving J4J were unearthed and rehashed, incidents having nothing to do with J4J’s treatment of the Holocaust or even with Jewish evangelism – these also passed without challenge.
Third and most disturbing, a few decided to publicly brand individuals at J4J as incompetent, insensitive, unteachable, or too proud to admit mistakes. Apparently this did provoke some offline challenges on the rightness of naming and shaming individuals for their behavior. That’s a widespread taboo but a wrong one; it is actually the model left for us by the apostles. And one MJ defense of the rebuke to J4J leaders tried to justify it as good and necessary: “It shows a healthy, multi-faceted movement where people have the freedom to voice their opinions without having to fear for their heads to be chopped off.”
The freedom to voice a negative opinion is not the issue here. It’s the freedom to voice a negative opinion that turns out to be disconnected from reality. Does the fact that “it was said in love,” or that “no personal attacks” were intended, exempt the opinionated person from apologizing for untrue statements, uninformed criticism or baseless predictions?
What are we to make of the fact that the orthodox Jewish news outlet Arutz Sheva had the integrity to issue a public correction and apology (25/apr/14) to their theological enemy for publishing an erroneous criticism expressed by a third party, while it never dawned on the band of MJ critics to apologize to their brothers in faith for publishing first-hand errors of fact that gave rise to a chorus of off-base opinions?
And while on the subject of “the freedom to voice opinions”… after all the anxiety expressed about what the Jewish community and the Holocaust survivors must think of the video, isn’t it sad that the opinion of a Holocaust expert and the son of survivors counted for nothing, simply because he gave an opinion we weren’t expecting?
The implication: J4J created controversy with this clip, MJs who already dislike J4J saw the opportunity of using the controversy to discredit J4J, and they weren’t about to let some outsider take away that opportunity by actually liking the “offensive” clip.
We need to probe still further, and ask why negative opinion gave way so quickly to denunciation and calls for action. Any public denunciation of MJ organizations or individuals is normally a drastic step for our community. It is reserved for clear-cut heresy, or scandalous sexual misbehavior, or something already so widely known that we can’t hide from it (like prominent MJ leaders leaving the faith). While the 3-minute clip had its flaws, was it really as sinful as all these? Was it sinful at all?
What was the real motive for the strong language one MJ camp used against another, publishing it for the whole world to see?
6. A significant amount of Messianic opposition was driven by a desire to disown a Family member.
The public disassociation from TJDFY by certain MJ circles in the UK and the USA was based, at best, on a false alarm sounded prematurely. More often, the disassociation was part of an ongoing campaign to be recognized as unrelated to these evangelists who tend to invite public controversy.
The wisdom of J4J confrontational, hit-and-run evangelistic methods can be debated, and so can the idea of identity confusion projected by them (“Jewish” and “Christian”, depending on the audience). But scripturally speaking, these differences are not sufficient cause for telling the world that “we are not with them”.
The idea was promoted by more than a few, including Stuart Dauermann, that “people’s worst views of the organization” J4J are extended “by implication [to] the Messianic Jewish movement.” That idea simply does not stand up to scrutiny. Those who feel that disassociating from Jews for Jesus will improve the movement’s acceptability to the Jewish community need to come to terms with the reality of Jewish hostility towards Messianic Jews in general.
While the Gentile appearance of the gospel can be identified as an offense that keeps Jewish people from receiving their Messiah, the offense is in its irrelevance. The response of a self-confident Jewish observer to a Christian evangelist carries a sense of detachment: polite disinterest (“not for us”) or perhaps cultural affirmation (“fine for you”). When Jews for Jesus or other MJs are truly perceived as Christian, they can evangelize all day long without being seen as a threat by a Jewish community secure in its own identity. The fact that the Holy Spirit sometimes convicts a Jewish heart anyway is a miraculous override of the offense – and a far cry from apostolic days, when Jewish responses were counted by thousands.
It’s only when MJs are recognizably Jewish in presenting the gospel that they get too close for the Jewish community to take refuge in detachment. Then there will be either interest or hostility. And as Jewish identity and Torah learning grow, the polarized response does not go away; it increases. (I speak from experience.)
As the closeness and relevance become threatening, that's when the attack shifts from the identity (no longer alien) to the message (salvation only through Yeshua – Acts 4:12) and the membership (one Family of Jews and Gentiles, with no spiritual distinction – Acts 15:7-9). Whether these are expressed by Jews for Jesus or by some other MJ group, the hostility will be the same.
So when Messianic Jews “disassociate” from J4J in an attempt to move out of range of the Jewish hostility directed against J4J, we are in danger of implying that we bring the Jewish people a different message, and that we belong to a different Family or spiritual caste.
It would appear that MJ claims on both counts have succeeded – and also failed. We note for example that the British Messianic Jewish Alliance, whose vocal condemnations of J4J stood out in the lineup of MJ disapproval, managed to absolve themselves of association with J4J but were nevertheless viewed by the Jewish Chronicle (1/may) as guilty of the same offense as J4J: BMJA is “a group also working to convert Jews.”
In the same way, Stuart Dauermann’s attempt to draw a thick line between himself and J4J was answered by a rather blunt reminder from a non-believer (28/apr) that he and J4J bring the same message: “an idea [that] ‘rejection of God’s ultimate messenger, Yeshua the Messiah’ is a basis [sic, a reason] for repentance”. Denying that common message (which thankfully Stuart does not) would mean to sell our spiritual birthright for a bowl of ‘acceptance-soup’. But refusing to publicly own that common message does not neutralize the challenge; it only raises suspicions of intellectual dishonesty, or perhaps cowardice.
The MJ success-failure at the community level is demonstrated in a blog associated with “Jewish Israel” (a religious anti-Messianic site) and written by a former Messianic Jew. “A. Michael” (presumably not his real name) informed his readership two years ago already that many MJs had essentially disowned J4J (emphasis in the original):
Jews for Jesus, as I have mentioned before, is not really a Messianic organization. It is mainstream Christian in theology and countless Messianics would not consider them having the same purpose as they themselves do.
I will ignore the blogger’s cheap generalization of the MJ community as “former mainstream Christians” who were never Jewish to begin with. (Conveniently, he and his Jewish family are exceptions.) What we need to take seriously is the “purpose” over which he says MJs have parted ways with J4J. They have rejected “missionizing the Jews”, which Michael defines as the goal “to get them to believe in their god and messiah [Yeshua].”
While the idea of Yeshua being a different god is obvious disinformation, we cannot deny that our people need to believe in the one and only Messiah for both Jews and Gentiles. The announcement that we have given up saying so is not a cause for satisfaction. Are we editing the essentials of salvation, simply to avoid being mislabeled as “Jews for Jesus missionaries”?
Even if we were at ease with that self-censorship, the hope that it will win us a hearing is doomed to disappointment. Michael goes on to say: “This blog is not just an anti-missionary blog…. It is an overall Messianic combating blog, as the name clearly implies, because it will argue against Messianic ideas whether or not they are used to try to convert Jews to Christianity.” (emphasis in the original)
Again, we can ignore the false flag. The practice of “converting Jews to Christianity” in past generations was the very thing that provoked the Jewish exit from the church, an exodus now known as the Messianic movement; and in declaring war on “Messianic ideas” (rather than on Christian doctrine), Michael proves there is a meaningful difference. What he’s really against is Jews turning other Jews to Yeshua, something J4J has been doing since the 1970s.
So supposing some MJs go so far in avoiding J4J’s “offense” that they keep their convictions about Yeshua to themselves. Even silent Messianic Jewish faith, which is unacceptable to Yeshua (Matt.10:32-39), won’t be acceptable to the rejectionist Jewish community either.
As a self-identified insider who grew up Messianic, Michael writes about community shortcomings which we have ignored for decades: lack of unity, lack of Torah consistency, and lack of integrity when speaking in the Lord’s name. But he acknowledges that MJs spare no pains in making sure that non-believers don’t lump them together with brothers who generate controversy.
7. Our inverted priorities say something about the health of the Messianic Body.
In medicine, when an organism loses the ability to “distinguish what is non-self (foreign) from what is self” (Merck’s Manual), the result is “auto-immune disorder”. In the 80 different variations of this disorder, the immune system doesn’t shut down – it does something far worse. It allows invading bacteria, toxins, cancer cells and foreign particles to roam the body unchallenged; instead its own healthy tissues are attacked as the enemy. Sometimes everything works normally, and sometimes there is a “flare-up” when confusion reigns. The condition is unpredictable and incurable.
There is a spiritual condition in the Body of Messiah that follows the same symptoms.
Inside the Body, we cannot recognize who belongs to the Lord and who does not. Distinctions that can only be perceived by the Spirit (like Romans 8:14-16 and 1 John 4:6) are beyond us, so we replace them with rules. Anyone who says the right words and performs the right actions can “pass” as born again; anyone who is pleasant, talented and intelligent is assumed to be led by the Holy Spirit. People pretending to be brothers are commissioned to teach the flock and take up leadership positions, while true brothers are shunned for their “divisive” ways and unauthorized ideas, all because we cannot detect either the presence or absence of the Spirit of God.
In relating to those outside the Body, we might also call it “Family Identity Disorder”. The Disorder “flares up” when we avoid brothers who are part of ourselves by virtue of belonging to Yeshua. This is often because that connection is a source of potential suffering. Then we join ourselves in spirit to those who do not belong to Yeshua, because we desire this connection as a new source of acceptability (or a reprieve from suffering).
But knowing from the Word of God that we are not supposed to dump Family connections to avoid suffering, we justify our escape by making the offending brother’s faults a higher priority than unity with him. And knowing from the Word that we are not to seek or expect acceptance from the world, we justify our double-minded effort by making “dialog” a higher priority than the forbidden friendship with the world (James 4:4).
Before going any farther, I want to avoid three possible misunderstandings.
One: I am not advocating unity at any price. There are clear-cut commands in the New Covenant regarding sins which require disassociation from “so-called brothers” until they repent. These commands are covered in detail on the Restorers site (“Sins that Remove Us from the Kingdom of Heaven”). Causing the Family embarrassment, exercising poor choice of words, or being over-zealous in evangelism are not on that list.
Two: I am not condemning MJ dialog with Jewish non-believers. “How will they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? How will they hear without a preacher? And how will they preach unless they are sent?” (Rom.10:14-15) We have tremendous opportunities to interact with the wider Jewish community – and greater opportunity with the Torah community than most are aware of. But the line between dialog and submission is distinct, and the results of crossing it are drastic.
Those who “are sent” to dialog with the secular or religious Jewish community are less likely to cross the danger line if they value our Family highly enough to pass up conditional acceptance, and even suffer rejection or misunderstanding, rather than downplay or hide the Family members who might challenge someone’s sensibilities.
Three: I am not ignoring Jewish sensibilities and identity. On the contrary, the God-given identities of Jewish and Gentile carry important meaning and responsibility. Being a Jew or being a non-Jew is like being citizens of one country or another. Citizens have certain laws that apply only to them, and other laws applying to foreigners (or to everyone). Citizens and visitors alike need to respect the laws applying to them while in that country. If they move to another country where the roles are reversed, their law-keeping should change accordingly.
The missing piece in our unique Jewish or Christian identity in the Body of Messiah is the awareness that both Jews and Christians are dual citizens living under two covenants, each with its distinct obligations. Unlike heavenly citizenship in the New Covenant, where Jewish-Gentile categories do not apply, earthly citizenship includes a two-tiered obligation to the Torah Covenant defined by Jewish-Gentile differences. These are outlined in Torah and reinforced in the New Covenant (1 Cor.7:17-24). Rejection or misapplication of any part of this dual citizenship is like citizens of a country claiming to be only visitors, or insisting on following the laws of a country not theirs. This is how many Messianic Jews – and “Hebrew Roots” Christians – offend Jewish sensibilities (and confuse non-Jews too). The resulting friction is often met with inconsistent attempts to please one “country” or another, a confusion that can lead to “Family Identity Disorder”.
There are symptoms that erupt when we are shifting our identity from Family to a foreign body. Among other things, we express conditional love for those in Messiah, and we feel no obligation to stand with them under fire – especially if they did something to “deserve” it. At the same time, we court those in the foreign body with uncritical eagerness, imitating them even where they are violating Scripture, and defending their missteps with a loyalty that would be excessive even for spiritual Family.
In rabbinic Judaism, unquestioning devotion to rabbinic authority is demanded as one of the requirements for full community acceptance. In Israeli secularism, the worship of individual freedom generates pressure in the opposite direction, and full acceptance requires the defense of Self as the unquestioned authority. Messianic Jews are losing people to both foreign camps, partly because we don’t embrace our unique identity as redeemed Jews walking in the Spirit. We don’t embrace it because suffering is involved.
The good news is that those foreign camps are losing people as well, thanks to the Lord’s ability to draw those who are hungry for the truth. But we had better not mislead the Jewish people who long for the Family situation described in the New Covenant; right now we cannot guarantee the Body as a safe, nurturing place to practice true Oneness and Holiness. What Paul described as an everyday reality (1 Cor.12:20-26) we can currently only work and pray for as a future goal.
8. The Word of God warns us to judge ourselves.
When did the MJ version of Family Identity Disorder develop, and why? Each one who is reflected in this mirror will have to answer those as an individual. But maybe my experience-based observations will provide a starting point for some.
The friction between J4J and the mixed (secular-religious) Jewish community is a known weak spot for Messianic Jews. In searching for affirmation of the Jewish side of their identity, some work for acceptance by the religious camp, mainly in the Western Diaspora, where the dominant Jewish identity is religious and the “ignorant” assimilated Jews are marginalized. Others seek acceptance in the secular camp, especially in Israel, where the dominant Jewish identity is national and the “overbearing” religious Jews are resented. Those Jewish believers who are rejected by the camp of our choice become problematic for us to own as Family. Thus pro-Torah MJs are more vocal in disowning J4J because the Torah community expresses more hostility to that organization. Or so it is thought.
In addition, all MJs explain to the Jewish community that they are not Christian (since both secular and religious Jews see Christians as foreigners), but when interacting with Christians they acknowledge that we are spiritual Family… at which point the Jewish community (unable to grasp the concept of earthly-spiritual dual citizenship) accuses MJs of confusion, duplicity or worse. Those MJs who likewise don’t grasp the concept, and who still hope to gain acceptance into their preferred camp, may even accuse one another of the same offenses voiced by the non-believers they are courting. Thus an initiative by a Jewish ministry widely mislabeled as “Christian” managed to provoke more fireworks among Jewish believers than among Jewish non-believers. By the same token, the Christians most hostile to J4J are likely those seeking acceptance from the Jewish community, which requires proving that they are not “Christians” like those others who have offended Jews.
To ask forgiveness for sins committed by fellow-believers, and even to shun their company if those sins continue – this is godliness.
To disown brothers who are not in sin, simply because it’s the price of admission into a society where we crave acceptance – this is betrayal.
Paul wrote that to participate in the ceremony of the Lord’s Supper (a picture of our indivisible Oneness with all those who confess Him), while denying the reality represented by that picture, is to invite drastic consequences. So it’s no coincidence that God’s judgment is a physical reflection of the spiritual Body condition: “For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep [i.e. have died].” (1 Cor.11:29-30)
We can expect this judgment to become more frequent and in-our-faces as the Restoration of Israel comes nearer. God is NOT going to send thousands of new Jewish believers into a sick or weak Body, which has been seeking for its identity in human affirmation rather than in the Holy Spirit, and which spends so much of its energy attacking the wrong things and excusing the wrong things.
But – “if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged.” (v.31) The Body’s spiritual immune system (discernment of real Family and defense from real threats to that Family) stands or falls on our grasp of the truth. So our self-judgment starts here.
9. Our love of the truth needs to be restored and realigned.
Because testing for truth was avoided when the opportunities came, we need to ask why promoting the theory of “widespread Jewish outrage” became more important than loving the truth, unexpected though it was. To not ask “why” will be to risk a spirit of deception moving into our House (2 Thess.2:10-11). Whoever is faithful… or unfaithful… in a small matter will be the same in a great matter.
I leave it to those who dodged the truth in this controversy to find the answers to “why”. I will attempt to answer “how”. How did we lose our love for the truth? How did we take selected threads of truth and twist them into a whip to use on our brothers?
Jewish outreach is a flash point precisely because we are all so passionate about it. What could be more important than seeing our people inherit all the prophecies about the “new heart and new spirit” and “cleansing from all your idols” and more? (Ezekiel 36 and Deut. 30 are only partly fulfilled to date.) Our personal theories about who is right or wrong in this vital matter, as well as our ways of expressing them, are supposed to be guided by the biblical standards of godly confrontation:
Test all things, hold fast to what is good, and avoid all appearance of evil.
When it’s time to speak, speak the truth in love.
Be slow to speak, be quick to listen, and be willing to correct wrong impressions.
In this short list, everything is harnessed to get at the truth. We know there is effort involved. We should listen, test, check our facts more carefully… but it’s so tiring and time-consuming. After a few tries and with competing pressures, we stop thinking about the faithful companions of truth: due process and objectivity.
We guardians of the flock stop thinking of the Lord as the ultimate Guardian, who knows all things and by His Spirit can deal with every threat in its time. Like the prophet Samuel told King Saul (1 Sam.13), the Lord tells us to prepare for the battle, and then to stop… to wait for Him. But He does not always show up ‘on time’ to our battles. Like Saul, we see the opportunity for leadership slipping away, and so we summon up our self-control (the Hebrew meaning of 1 Sam.13:12) and take the lead – in the Lord’s name, but not in the Lord. We go after the offenders, armed with our own understanding.
With logical deduction working in high gear on a growing list of untested assumptions and hastily drawn conclusions, we see no reason to “be slow to speak”. The blogs are receptive, and our updates are getting supportive talk-back…. But there’s pain building in some “unrelated” area of our life or ministry, and we can’t figure out why. We have forgotten that the brother we are attacking is part of us; when we stab him, we ourselves bleed.
Meanwhile, momentum has started among supporters. They cheer us on, repost our comments, and bring us new ‘evidence’ to confirm our assumptions. The standard for checking such things, already mediocre, sinks even lower; we don’t want to lose fans by finding fault with their contributions.
The wider the audience, the harder it becomes to take back wrong assumptions, to change our mind, to humble ourselves and apologize. Instead, we start ignoring evidence that goes against us. If cornered, we defend our faltering case by attacking the challenger. Without noticing, we move from scrutinizing Messianic positions to skewering Messianic brothers… and not necessarily limited to the brothers we were originally tracking.
The truth – given by God as our starting point, our goal, and our anchor at all points between – becomes a threat to neutralize.
If we continue on this path, those who walk in the truth will all become enemies to be silenced: the David who served us faithfully, the priests who are helping him, even our beloved Jonathans will be dodging our spears.
Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, we upon whom the ends of the ages have come. (1 Cor.10:11)
We must return to loving the truth: prizing it more than acceptance by the wider Jewish community, more than our leadership reputation, more than our desire to be proven right. Only then can we look clearly at the friction between the different MJ branches in the Lord’s Family.
10. MJs need to strengthen the weak joints in our region of the Body.
Our biological joints are intricate structures where different bones and limbs meet to form the body. It’s significant that two bones meant to work together do not actually touch; they are joined by ligaments and are cushioned from each other by cartilage.
When the body moves, all the different parts move in different directions – and they are supposed to. But moving in different directions does NOT mean moving without each other. Most people can translate that into the picture of a properly functioning spiritual Body.
So what happens if one or another bone starts to pull away from that juncture where it meets with a different bone? Even the slightest dislocation (think about the meaning of that word) of the smallest joint results in instant pain and immobility for the immediate body region, and sometimes for the entire body… with the brain having a lot to say about it!
It’s no wonder the metaphor is used in Hebrews: “Make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.” (Heb.12:13)
If any body part could describe the redeemed Jewish community, it would be the mouth. Besides the famous prophecy that “the Word of the LORD will go forth from Jerusalem” in the days of the Messiah, there is a direct command to the redeemed of “Jerusalem” to call out to their native brethren, “the cities of Judah”, and fearlessly tell them the “good news”:
Get yourself up on a high mountain, O Zion, bearer of good news!
Lift up your voice mightily, O Jerusalem, bearer of good news; Lift it up, do not fear.
Say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” (Isa.40:9)
When we speak, we are mostly aware of the tongue, teeth and vocal chords. But if you ever had your jaw “pop out”, you suddenly discover how much speaking depends on that small joint connecting the upper and lower jawbones.
If the redeemed Jewish community is the mouth, perhaps the UMJC and J4J are respectively located in the upper and lower jaws.
The rest of the Body wouldn’t want them to move the same way; one part swings freely in space, the other is firmly anchored to the skull, and both are needed to deliver Zion’s message to “the cities of Judah”. Nor would we want them to be too close together; the cushioning cartilage that recognizes where one bone ends and another begins is what enables each bone to play its part. But if they do not move in coordination, the joint that connects them will dislocate. The Body will stop in mid-motion. The call will become stammering, troubled, ambivalent… anything but “a mighty voice”.
Besides being painful and scary, a dislocated jaw is surprisingly common. Clinically it’s called TMJ Disorder, and in simple terms the problem is from weak muscles where the joints of the upper and lower jaw come together (these are small, not the powerful muscles that bite and chew).
According to physical therapists, TMJ has become more common due to the hours we spend using computers with poor posture. We tend to slouch for hours, our head out of alignment with our spine, which puts pressure on those small joints connecting our jaw. Cell phones also contribute to the problem: we hold our head sideways for prolonged periods to anchor the phone, putting unequal stress on one jaw joint or the other.
There are exercises to strengthen the muscles, and the long-term solution is to straighten the head alignment with correct posture. Appropriately, the above-mentioned passage in Hebrews prescribes the same solutions for healing spiritual joints that are threatening to dislocate: “Straighten the paths… Strengthen the weak and the feeble… so that what is lame may not be dislocated.”
Perhaps more surprising is that the context of this joint-strengthening metaphor is “the Lord’s discipline”, which is described as not pleasant and even sometimes painful.
11. We are “Zion, Bearer of Good News” only when we work together.
I submit that the Messianic movement suffers from a case of TMJ Disorder, and that the clip “That Jew Died for You” is just one of the pressure points which remind us of the chronic problem. Here are some painful speculations on what might have been.
Granted, the wisdom of the one-size-fits-all evangelism which has made Jews for Jesus famous (or notorious) is open to debate. Another ongoing debate is the MJ identity vacuum, which bounces between “Jewish” and “Christian”. For these reasons, it was originally thought necessary for more Jewish, more relational Messianic Jews to functionally part ways with the more Christian, more confrontational Jews for Jesus. I have been a participant in those debates since the 1970s. To date, we have yet to develop a self-expression that fully integrates both Covenants and both kinds of evangelism, as the apostles did. But even the apostles recognized the need for a division of labor based on different callings (Gal.2:7-9).
The agreement to diversify (or disagree) is one thing. It’s quite another for one branch in this Family to blacken the other as “wolves” (27/apr) or “a horror show” (28/apr). That attitude advocates nothing short of dismemberment. A blanket denunciation also gives the impression that we are offended by the idea of proclaiming the gospel out loud “to the cities of Judah”... in any way whatsoever.
Dislocation is not fatal like the self-destroying Family Identity Disorder. But dislocation has a crippling effect on our witness of Messiah to our people. It will continue to hinder us until we “strengthen the weak muscles” where the different Messianic ministries were designed by the Head to meet and work together.
This strengthening exercise begins with following God’s parameters for managing our differences. Thus we come full-circle.
Test all things, hold fast to what is good, and avoid all appearance of evil.
When it’s time to speak, speak the truth in love.
Be slow to speak, be quick to listen, and be willing to correct wrong impressions.
You who know your Bibles can quote many other relevant instructions. It’s time to walk the Talk, and encourage those who have been limping.
And for that purpose, we return to the most basic issue brought up in the Messianic storm over the J4J video: the fear of causing unnecessary offense to the Jewish community. On this point, we need to internalize a basic truth.
12. The difference between necessary and unnecessary offense is defined by God, not men.
The statement that “even offenses ‘for the sake of the gospel’ are still offenses” (Stuart Dauermann) was a rebuke, implying that the gospel can somehow be presented without causing offense. This notion is being explored by churches seeking to reach the lost through “seeker-sensitive” methods. The results of that experiment are grist for some other analysis. What’s relevant for us is its application to Jewish evangelism.
Some would say that the “mighty voice” approach is inappropriate for the Jewish community, which has been “shouted at” by the institutional Church for so long they have developed an allergy to the message. The proposed alternative is to break the gospel to them gradually and vaguely, replacing the message delivered by our Messiah with pregnant hints and ambiguous admissions, in order to avoid unnecessary offense. There's just one problem with this comforting scenario: watering down Yeshua's challenge is not Scriptural. It was God’s command and not man’s to be vocal (and also to not be afraid to be vocal) in calling out His arrival to Judah.
That being so, we may assume that less offense is caused by the volume or directness of the message than by the ongoing identity confusion of “Zion” – i.e. there are doubts about whether or not the "bearer of Good News" on the "high mountain" is entitled to that name. After several decades of Messianic claims to be the last-day Zion, we are still fumbling with a split-and-spliced identity, made up of cherry-picked commitments to the Covenants God made with redeemed Israel. As a result, it's difficult for the bereaved Zion of Isaiah 49 to recognize us as her own children (v.20-21).
The Scriptures indicate that this is a problem to be addressed – not for the sake of evangelism, but for the sake of our own faithfulness toward God. According to the promises (Ezek.36:26-27, Deut.30:6-8), a circumcised, Spirit-filled heart will bring Israel into unprecedented Torah observance. If the MJ community is not moving in the direction of “do[ing] all His commandments which I [Moses] command you today” (Deut.30:8), we need to find out why this New Covenant promise is only half-fulfilled among us. It is an all-important discussion still waiting to begin.
For now we can ponder the question: What gave us the idea that we should not under any circumstances cause discomfort in bringing the Good News? Is “HERE HE IS, THE ONE YOU’VE BEEN WAITING FOR” a lullaby, or a call to action? We are sent not only to those who are looking for Messiah, but to those who are not – the sleepers, the side-tracked, the spiritually empty who are in denial. These people don’t always thank you for jolting them out of their dream… at first. We need the patience to wait until the truth sinks in as the Holy Spirit works. Meanwhile, we need the maturity to not take the temporary hostility as a final rejection.
In any case, this is not about us. The call of Zion is not for our people to accept the Messianic believers – it's a call for them to accept the Death-into-Life that Messiah offers.
What about the argument that neglect of Torah among Messianic believers is an unnecessary offense? This is not a repeat of my reference four paragraphs ago. It is an answer to MJs who are referring to Torah as the Jewish community currently defines it, and who are integrating the authority of rabbinic tradition into their Torah teaching.
Here I speak from 30 years of first-hand experience and observation:
13. Trying to join the Torah community will either intensify the offense of Yeshua or neutralize Him altogether.
If you enter Torah learning through the door of rabbinic teaching, you might (or might not) avoid giving offense temporarily, but you have entered a minefield. Soon enough you will find that the price to remove the offense of your participation permanently is to disown Yeshua as the Jewish Messiah and "find for yourself a rabbi" approved by their community (Pirkei Avot 1:6). When dealing with rabbinic authority, no one can spiritually survive without a total commitment to "obey God rather than men"... and a willingness to take whatever consequences come from it (Acts 5:27-42).
And that is only the beginning of the dangers. The desire to receive honor from men rather than from God is a legacy of two thousand years still in force, which will make it impossible for you to learn or practice the Torah that Moses taught (Jn.5:43-47). Besides the mixture of lawful and unlawful commands that have accumulated under the label of "Torah", a wrong understanding of their purpose is also taught by the Torah community: keep all the commandments that apply to you, and you will change your own heart and acquire God's heart. The rabbinic establishment has turned the Torah's New Covenant promise the wrong way around, and we dare not go along with it, even passively.
Diligent Torah obedience will not bring Israel a circumcised, Spirit-filled heart; it will only bring them to the One who can give them that (Jn.5:39-40). This one-way directional truth is a life-giving distinction that must be pointed out to the teachers of Israel, as Yeshua Himself did (Jn.3:3-5). It will necessarily offend some… but only those who haven’t yet faced the despair of Yavne’s founding rabbi, Yochanan ben Zakkai, who ended his life with the fear that his unparalleled devotion to Torah would not save him from hell. (Talmud, Berakhot 28b)
We must also take great care in Messianic Torah teaching and practice not to “sow a field / vineyard with two kinds [of seed]” . The Hebrew word for "two kinds" is “kilayim”, and it is used in three different illustrations: animals, produce and clothing (Lev.19:19, Deut.22:9-11). The spiritual picture in this Torah prohibition is about giving a status of holiness to anything coupled, planted, or woven with a mixture of redeemed and unredeemed efforts. In 2 Cor.6:14, Paul applies the animal version of “kilayim” to being “unequally yoked with unbelievers”.
The Deuteronomy passage is strongly relevant to the laborers in Messiah's vineyard who are tempted to mix rabbinic teaching with the Word of God; the command reads (in the literal Hebrew): "You shall not seed your vineyard with kilayim, lest the fullness become sanctified, the [mixed] seed which you will plant and the yield of the vineyard." Incidentally, "sanctified" can also mean "off limits to you". Either way, once you mix the holy and common seed together in your vineyard, you will no longer be able to distinguish between them or separate the resulting fruit. You will have to call everything in that vineyard either "holy" (a perversion of God's holy things, which carries consequences) or "off-limits" (a waste of all your labor and a permanently ruined vineyard). Clearly prevention is far better.
14. A necessary offense is caused whenever the Spirit confronts the flesh.
Dear Family: beware of trying to mix “that which is born of flesh” with “that which is born of Spirit” ! It’s no coincidence that Yeshua first spelled out the unchangeable distinction between flesh-seed and Spirit-seed (John 3:6) to a member of the revered second-Temple Sanhedrin… and it's no coincidence that later, when this teacher of Israel tried to purify a defiled Torah judgment (Jn.7:45-52), he offended his colleagues. Another redeemed teacher of Israel was emphatic about the continual "opposition" between the desires of the flesh and the Spirit (Gal.5:17). Note that the context of Paul's warning was a letter to Gentile believers who were attracted by Jewish Torah obligations, which were not required of them. He described it as an attempt to improve the Spirit's work by mixing it with flesh work (Gal.3:2-3).
What should we conclude from these three examples? Although God's Spirit and man's flesh are at war in countless situations, the confrontation tends to surface most clearly in Torah teaching and practice, or wrong teaching and malpractice.
As we noted before, the New Covenant confirms that the earthly obligation of Israel to their Covenant also applies to redeemed Israel (though not to the redeemed of other nations). This brings us to a valid question: Will Spirit-filled Torah observance by redeemed Jews remove the offense of the gospel which we looked at earlier? Yes and no.
Yeshua’s Spirit-filled apostles at the height of their Torah anointing were punished by the Jewish authorities (Acts 4:1-31), avoided by respectable Jewish society (Acts 5:12-18), falsely accused as a “plague” on the Jewish community (Acts 24:5-9), and “spoken against everywhere” including far-away Rome (Acts 28:22). The barrier between Messiah and our people has never been conceptual or emotional or even halachic. It’s spiritual. The true fathers of our Messianic faith accepted the reality that their obedience to God would make them offensive to ungodly men (Acts 4:18-20).
A Torah-observant life taught and practiced under the Lord’s guidance today is likely to resemble that of the apostles. So if their Torah disturbed the Temple authorities of the first century, it's likely to scandalize today’s rabbinic establishment. The brand of “Torah” we see today was introduced after the Temple’s destruction, at which time selected areas of Torah-faithful Pharisaic teaching were buried or reversed... particularly those that pointed to Yeshua. (See some of our documentation here.) Over the centuries the rabbinic breakaway from second-Temple Torah accelerated, incorporating teachings and practices that the original Pharisees would have been horrified to see labeled as “Torah”. (This will come as a relief to believers struggling to reconcile Yeshua’s command in Matt.23:2-3, to obey the Pharisees, with the body of commands from those assumed to be the heirs of the Pharisees. Once we realize that this is a mistaken assumption, the dilemma is greatly reduced.)
Today’s mainstream Jewish observance is entrusted only to people who have proven their loyalty to that wayward system, which is becoming more fragmented and contradictory with time. Fully informed Torah, in faithfulness to the Holy Spirit’s leading, is therefore a living challenge to a faltering status quo. It will provoke even stronger rejection than that endured by J4J. Or, it will provoke stronger attraction than anything J4J has seen. In these days, the spiritual barrier is coming down, because this is the God-ordained time for Israel’s Return to Him.
The Torah lifestyle proposed here carries a high price-tag. After exposure to centuries of "kilayim" Torah, the restored Spirit-led Torah looks and feels strange to the Jewish people. Nearly everyone is made uncomfortable by it, even Spirit-filled believers, and at first some may even fail to recognize it... just as Yeshua's own disciples failed to recognize Him after His resurrection. But at some point we will be able to say of Torah that we no longer know it "according to the flesh" just as we no longer know Messiah that way, or any "new creation" in Messiah (2 Cor.5:16-17).
It's noteworthy that Israelis are more intrigued than threatened by the idea that Yeshua can open the way to a better and truer Torah for Israel. Many will admit that the only other Torah they know is not life-giving, and they are more willing to wrestle with the implications than Jews from the West. In other ways as well, the spiritual barrier between Israel and Messiah is coming down faster in the Land than in the Diaspora. That’s no surprise to those who know the Prophets. The Torah will not go forth from Los Angeles or London.
When God's restored Torah finally does go forth from Zion and Jerusalem, as it is written, the teaching and practice of that Torah will draw validity from the power and wisdom of God, not from the affirmation and wisdom of men. For this reason, it will continue to offend those unbelievers (and perhaps also professing believers) who “cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God.” So wrote one of the greatest Torah scholars in our Family (1 Cor.2).
He who has ears to hear, and has counted the cost, let him so walk.
For better or worse, the Messianic storm over the Jews for Jesus video is embedded in cyberspace. The whole affair is long past.
At the time, though, the opportunity was available for all those born of the Spirit to “destroy speculations” that “raised themselves up against” the truth, and to “take captive every thought” of dismembering His Body “to the obedience of Messiah”. (2 Cor.10:5)
Had we done that, Messiah would have transformed this controversy. The drive to promote ourselves or our group over J4J, in a bid for acceptability, would have given way to a desire to put only One Name forward.
But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, through whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Gal.6:14)
Our hasty judgments and demands for apologies would have been pre-empted by a community-wide decision to cover the ‘offenders’ silently with prayer, at least until we were sure about the offenses.
But if you had known what this means, “I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,” you would not have condemned the innocent. (Matt.12:7)
The opportunity for responding to TJDFY and its producers according to New Covenant standards was lost. But maybe this review and appeal will cause those involved to respond with humility and make a new statement of disassociation… from their previous mistakes. Even a year after the fact, the Body of Messiah can only profit from such a step, and the first to take it will receive a double portion of grace for setting an example.
Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit therefore to God. (James 4:5-7)
So good can still come of this affair. In the end, we might be thankful that the clip came under such strong Messianic attack, because it brought our dysfunction into focus and gave us a reason to examine ourselves. We are being given a second chance to behave more like the Israel of God. Shall we make use of it?
Questions, comments and factual corrections are welcome. Write to: hannah[at]restorersofzion.org
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