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Bush's plans to address Messianic Jewish group irks former aides
Former President George W. Bush plans to address a group committed to converting Jews to Christianity.
November 13th, 2013
05:34 PM ET

Bush's plans to address Messianic Jewish group irks former aides

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

(CNN) - Of course Tevi Troy has heard the hubbub.

He knows full well that his onetime boss, former President George W. Bush, plans to speak Thursday at a Dallas fundraiser for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute – a group dedicated to converting Jews to Christianity.

“I have yet to meet a Jewish person who hasn’t heard about this,” says Troy, who served as a Bush administration liaison to the Jewish community and was a former deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The topic of conversion can prompt a visceral reaction for Jews whose darker times have been marred by persecution, expulsion and forced conversions. Millions have died for and because of their faith.

“There’s good historical reason for the Jewish discomfort,” Troy says.

But before Troy, an Orthodox Jew, will tread into this controversy, he wants to discuss the Jewish value of hakarat hatov, or “recognizing the good.”

He says people should remember and appreciate that Bush was “a very good president to the Jewish people.”

He was a friend to Israel during the Second Intifada, Troy says. He was an outspoken opponent of anti-Semitism. And in the wake of the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl by al Qaeda in Pakistan in 2002, when Jews felt like targets, Troy says Bush took on terrorism.

That said, when it comes to Bush’s decision to speak at the annual banquet for this messianic group, one that believes Jews like this former aide need to be saved, Troy admits, “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.”

CNN tried to speak with five other former Bush administration liaisons to the Jewish community, but only two of those responded. Both suggested Troy could speak for them, too.

His words, though, are tempered. Others, such as Rabbi David Wolpe, who was dubbed America’s most influential rabbi by Newsweek in 2012, called Bush’s decision “infuriating.”

The Messianic Jewish Bible Institute is representative of a longstanding effort to convert Jews, one that dates back to Paul in the New Testament who said, in Romans 1:16, that the Gospel should be taken “to the Jew first.”

The institute's website features a menorah in its logo. Its chairman is listed as Rabbi Jonathan Bernis, a man who heads up another organization called Jewish Voice Ministries International, where an “Ask the Rabbi” feature includes an image of him wearing a yarmulke and Jewish prayer shawl.

CNN reached out to Bernis at Jewish Voice Ministries but was told by a spokeswoman that he was not allowed to comment on the upcoming fundraiser.

Then CNN asked where he had been ordained as a rabbi, and the spokeswoman hung up the phone.

We also called the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, which pulled down from its website any references to Bush’s upcoming appearance soon after Mother Jones broke the story. An institute spokeswoman said there would be no comment.

A source close to Bush, who didn't want to be named, confirmed to CNN on Wednesday afternoon that the former president still plans to speak at Thursday’s banquet, where tickets reportedly range in price from $100 to $100,000.

The source also said that Bush addresses all sorts of groups, secular and religious of varying stripes. Bush tells stories from the White House and speaks about his love for America, which includes a commitment to religious freedom and tolerance, according to the source.

Had Bush’s onetime liaison to the Jewish community still been working with the former president or been asked, Troy said he certainly would have advised against such an appearance.

Troy says the problem is most people don’t understand why talk of converting Jews stirs up such strong feelings in the Jewish community.

“It dates back to a time when forced conversion was a serious issue, when the church was imbued with the power of state,” he says.

Troy points to the Spanish Inquisition as an example, explaining how under duress and torture, Jews had to convert to Christianity or face expulsion from Spain in 1492. Those who stayed and exhibited any shred of Jewish observance were persecuted.

The Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, founded in the mid-1990s, includes in its mission the goal to "educate Christians in their role to provoke the Jewish people to jealousy and thus save some of them."

The institute's statement of faith also says that those who are born Jewish and "place their faith in Messiah Yeshua," Jesus, "have not disowned or separated themselves from their race and Judaic heritage, but remain sons and daughters of Israel."

Missionary outreach to Jews in America isn't new. It dates back to the 19th century. A Hungarian man who called himself a "rabbi" established a ministry in 1894 to target Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn, offering them assistance, education and New Testaments translated into Yiddish.

On the opposite coast in San Francisco in 1973, a Baptist minister - who was born Jewish - founded a proselytizing organization called Jews for Jesus. His small army has been knocking on doors and pounding the pavement ever since.

A less aggressive approach, preferred by others who might call themselves Messianic Jews or Hebrew Christians, has been the establishment of Messianic “synagogues” and organizations. They’re sponsored by Christians, and they incorporate Jewish symbols and modified Jewish rituals. They’re often led by leaders who call themselves rabbis, use Hebrew phrases and wear traditional Jewish accessories.

Critics cry false advertising, subterfuge and bemoan how such outfits, including the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, which built its base in the former Soviet Union, often target Jews who don’t know better – what Rob Eshman of the Jewish Journal in Los Angeles called, “the low-hanging fruit of Jewish identity.”

While Messianic Jews believe it’s possible to be Jewish while believing Jesus is the Messiah, others say this makes as much sense as a vegetarian who believes in scarfing down steak.

The historical concern may have been rooted in forced conversions, but Troy knows that's not an issue today.

In fact, the group Bush will address - and others like it - don’t really worry him. He’s more concerned about a recent Pew study that showed how a growing number of American Jews don’t identify with any faith, let alone their own.

About a third of American Jews born after 2000 answered “none” when asked about their religious affiliation, the survey showed.  Of everyone surveyed who was raised Jewish, according to the researchers, 6% now describe themselves as Christian - mostly as Catholics, Protestants or "just Christian."

Messianic Jews, Pew said, constitute a very small group. Meantime, though, the Pew survey also showed that 34% of those asked believe a person can be Jewish and believe Jesus was the messiah.

But the fundraiser in Dallas, even if it features the likes of a former U.S. president, isn’t what’s hurting American Jews, Troy says.

"Judaism," he says, "has other and bigger problems."

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: evangelicals • Judaism • Politics

soundoff (1,377 Responses)
  1. Christopher

    Many Messianic "Jewish" congregations did originate as Protestant evangelical outreaches intent on drawing Jews into mainstream Christianity. However, while I have consistently seen Rabbinic Jews denounce these groups for actual or perceived proselytization of Jews, not once have I seen them praise them for introducing Gentiles to Torah, work that the Rabbinic Jews should be doing themselves (Isaiah 2, Micah 2). Nor have I ever seen them in the same breath explain how the Torah keeping and Torah teaching Yeshua should be like "steak" to a vegetarian (Deuteronomy 18:15).

    December 14, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
    • Ed

      OMG you are so FULL OF IT. Listen the avowed purpose of your supposed religion is to annihilate my religion. To make every Jew a believer in your Jebus. . . and therefore no longer a Jew. That is a horrible aim – which is why we can no more call Messianic derivative cult a Jewish group than we would be right to call Nazism a Christian group – after all, the Nazis told people to study the bible, so they must have been OK, right?

      I wish you could see your point of view from my eyes. I wish you could understand centuries of well-meaning Christians, just like yourself, who think you know the right answer. You would have made a great torturer in the Inquisition, you know that? The priests would have had no trouble at all convincing you that you were "helping" those poor lost Jews by raping our children and wives in front of us "to help us".

      Do us all a favor and take your phony EVIL help and SH**&^ve it. You are nothing but a HATER full of self-proclaimed piety and self righteousness. Seriously, Christopher, (speaker for Christ) you need to look in the mirror at who you resemble throughout history.

      December 15, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
  2. Aden Medina

    Shame shame shame. How can this inhumane person who murdered just about a million innocent Iraqis for no reason at all have he nerve to say something befoe a religious group who proclaims in its Ten Commandments THOU SHALT NOT MURDER? Whatever he does now, he cannot erase the fact he deliberately murdered hundreds of thousands of Iraqi elderly, men, women and chilodren for no reason at all but to decieve American voters to reelect him pretneding to revenge 9-11 and using non-existent WMDs for his excuse to be a mass murderer. He deserves to be summoned before the Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity. At any rate, if he escapes judgment on earth, he will surely face God in the hereafter to acoount for the human beings he deliberately murdered without justification.... If you believe in God, this guy will will surely face the ultimate wrath of God to burn in hell maybe for eternity. Did not even have the humility to apologize before the world and America even as Mr. Olberman of MSNBC publicly hollered at him to aplogize for launching an unjustified war.

    December 7, 2013 at 11:53 pm |
  3. Sean

    regardless of this argument, Bush has literally no business describing the benefits of Christianity. he may be the worst Christian on the planet since whoever the Spanish King was during the Inquisition. My God, have Americans got it wrong

    November 28, 2013 at 9:23 am |
    • Justin

      Shoot, most Christians I have met (and growing up in America, that's, er, a few...) most of them, I would say at least 78%, they still have some ingrained sense that the Jews killed Jesus... I'm Jewish, and don't know a lot about Christianity, but if these self proclaimed Christians are thinking ANYTHING LIKE THIS... doesn't that take away from the basic tenet of Christianity that Jesus "died for our sins"? If they think the Jews or the Romans or anybody but G-d killed Jesus for our sins to be released, doesn't that make them NON-CHRISTIANS??? I think it does make them Non-Christians, but that's just me...

      December 3, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
      • Christopher

        You really shouldn't try to learn about Yeshua from antinomian "Christians". For starters, just use the Tanakh.

        December 14, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
  4. dave

    Opinions, can any one have them anymore? The best thing that has ever happened to me as a Jew was, that Messiah Yeshua found me. Just a small fact, most Jews have never read Is. 53. If you are jew I would read this. Also, the Jews cannot be saved through Abraham. . WE as a people have suffered for many years, so has the early Church. One more small fact. Jews are the ones on that fateful day who called out and said," let his blood be upon us and our children". Let us not ever forget that. We the Jews had are only salvation killed. but remember this was the will of the Lord. Jesus loves us and wants us to except Him as Our Salvation. Love one another.

    November 27, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
    • ed

      Oy vey, Dave, oy vey. When you found Jesus, it was not the BEST DAY in your life as a Jew. it was your LAST DAY as a Jew.

      It's great you are so happy. Thanks ever so much for respecting me in my happiness as well. You've gone down a different road, and really there are already sooooooo many Christians on your road, so could you just enjoy your new friends and leave the Jews alone?

      Also please remember, Dave, that those words supposedly spoken by "the Jews" were written by recently founded Christianity who had an urgent need to look good to their Roman buddies.

      since when has anyone ever spoken for the Jews. That fact alone should tell you that the statement is not authentic. (joke. Doubt you will get it.)

      The combination of "I been saved" fervor and quoting the very haters who say "they told us theydeserved it" is really very very sad.

      I hope you don't pass this loony point of view on to any children.

      November 27, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
  5. Deins

    Good old progeny. The blood line said to be the “soul intent” of God and Family? As Isaac descended from Abraham! Ishmael descended from Abraham! As Ishmael was sent away in the wilderness on principal! Just like Jacob stole the birthright of Esau through a bowel of portage On principal! Too fill an empty stomach. As Jesus descended from Abraham and was framed, bludgeoned and murder on principal. Just like a sacrificial lamb is nothing more than a “scapegoat”. Used to justify the sins of a worldview and its “Way of Life”!
    Are these the Omens or the Will of God that came to defined the evolution of “Love One Another”? As all the blame was laid upon the Celestial Gift of Life and Essence! The Gift of Adam and Eve! Everything we truly are as the Children of God and Family. As we see what “became like god”? Could care less! As the servant of the Vineyard today!

    November 23, 2013 at 11:27 am |
    • ed

      Got Crazy? Get back on those meds. Your writing style is from the Dr. Bronner Castille Soap bottle.

      November 23, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
  6. Azaroth

    Here in Gunland, if politicians don't believe Iron Age Fairy Tales, they can't get elected. Also, Big Business.

    November 23, 2013 at 9:57 am |
    • typically

      Hopefully, we will pass legislation across every state to ban all athies from everything.

      (Must admit dodo makes a huge deal out of something 329,999,998 Americans never heard of)

      November 23, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  7. typically

    Greatest people on the face of the earth. Incredible! Best scientists, doctors, lawyers, composers, business people, professors.

    November 23, 2013 at 7:59 am |
  8. krehator

    I'm sorry, but many (not all) Jewish people are the most uncompromising hardliners when it comes to religion. Surely they have a right to promote/protect their religion, but they often excuse themselves of standards of conduct they expect of others. Anyone who criticizes a jew is labelled "anti-semitic". However, they seem to think they get a free ride on criticizing any other religion. In other words, they run around whining about anti-semitism, but are anti-Christian, anti-Islam, anti-nonjew themselves. There exists a level of arrogance and exceptionalism within Orthodox Jews that is disturbing.

    In Israel, Christians are under constant attack by Orthodox Jews, and the state supports it. In some ways it's no different than being a Christian target in an Islamic state. What is the difference between a Jewish State and an Islamic State? The religion....that is all. Same tactics, same oppresive behavior, ect.

    November 22, 2013 at 1:41 am |
    • ed

      Christians persecuted? Alli can say is "it's about feigging time that Christians get a taste of the blood libel and hatred they have spewed out for the last 1500 years.

      Plus, what you bemoan as "persecution" is not more than. The garden variety prejudice Jews experience in Christian cultures every day

      November 23, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
      • typically

        O Edwardo, I can't thank u enough for shedding light on the myth of the christian martyrs! Who Cares that u have no idea? It makes for a good lie u love to tell.

        November 23, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
        • ed

          Don't get me wrong a few Christians have died over the years. But you must admit, the Church made a centuries-long project of extermination of opposing beliefs that almost unprecedented.

          November 23, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
    • showtime

      Wow. nice blanket statement there. Any specific examples of Jews being intolerant towards christians or arabs? Didn't think so. Protecting your country does not equate to intolerance by the way. Judaism is a very exclusive religion, we don't bother others and we certainly never approach another human being to tell them that their religion is wrong and they're going to hell. We try to let others be comfortable in their own views. This is not to say that a jewish person won't argue their point if confronted, but I bet you can't even find one person who was approached by a jew and asked to convert to judaism. So, a sneaky group of christians trying to label themselves as jews in order to trick young people is kind of offensive. No 35 year old professional is going to be tricked by these people, its the elementary, middle, and highschool students who are at risk since every public school in america is essentially a christian church.

      November 25, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
  9. Adam

    Look at that picture! Bush looks like he's aged 30 years since 2000.

    November 20, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • UncleBenny

      Maybe he's finally understood the incredible damage he caused.

      November 21, 2013 at 9:10 pm |
    • Trish

      He looks unbelievably bad. His throat looks awful.

      November 21, 2013 at 11:26 pm |
  10. I AM

    He's just going for a free dinner. He has no idea what this organization does. Just like when he was in office.

    November 19, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
  11. Sam

    One idiot will be talking to a group of idiots.

    November 19, 2013 at 9:02 am |
  12. aasii

    Is Will of God to hurt feelings?
    http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1062290

    November 19, 2013 at 5:33 am |
  13. bushbush

    This guy Bush is Texas Nutcase.

    November 19, 2013 at 4:43 am |
    • Science Works

      A must read.

      And the state of Texas is the talking snake no ?

      Bill Nye: Debate Over Evolution In Texas Schools Is Jeopardizing Our Future

      Posted: 11/23/2013 5:01 pm EST | Updated: 11/23/2013 7:28 pm EST
      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/23/evolution-in-texas-schools_n_4330218.html

      And another part of the problem is the RCC's biblical stand on procreation when they teach and supposedly understand evolution.

      Evolution should not be up for debate.

      November 25, 2013 at 7:30 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.