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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. FrenchChef

    I'm not surprised Bush would attack Jewish Americans that way. Bush never encountered a minority who he respected as his equal.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
  2. Cpt. Obvious

    CNN has a glaringly ridiculous grammar error on a headline on the home page. Great reporting, CNN.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
  3. budkis420

    I was lucky enough to have met George W. Bush at the White House. My name is Axus Ovevil, and when I heard Mr. Bush libel and Slander my good name on T.V. I sent him a strongly worded letter. In turn he invited me to the White House. We watched Football and drank PBR and did enough cocaine to kill a small horse. George had a seizure and fell on the floor. Secret Service rushed in and told me that I saw the president "Choke on a Pretzel" and they banned me from the White House ever since. I think I will go to this event..

    November 13, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
  4. Michael Girouard

    Forced conversion was also practised after the Reformation in Europe and Britain by Roman Catholics against Protestants and vice versa, depending on the prevailing political climate of the times. Christians also did it to Muslims. In a country that enshrined the right to freedom of speech, it sure gets curtailed in a hurry if someone tries to voice an unpopular sentiment. Restricting points of view is more characteristic of totalitarian states (can you say North Korea? Iran? China?) than it should be of the New World, unless we are collapsing into the decadent morass that our ancestors fled from in the first place.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
  5. nothanksimdriving123

    My mythology is right, yours is wrong, and I know that is true because it's what I believe because it's what I was taught as a kid and my teachers and/or parents could not have been mistaken because that is our infallible interpretation of what it says in this translation of a book written by men who thought the sun orbits the Earth.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
  6. Joe

    I think it's safe to say that if Jesus was the King of the Jews and its true that he had followers that were Jewish that that truly believed in him that there would be a lineage of Christian Jews to this date, no?

    November 13, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
    • Ryan

      Yeah... they're called Christians.

      November 13, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
    • garden j

      Jesus was Jewish.

      November 15, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
      • Michael Girouard

        As has been pointed out, Jesus wasn't Christian. That church is a construct that took on its own life several centuries later.

        November 15, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
  7. CommonSensed

    At least that village that lost their idiot will know where to find him on November 14th.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
  8. tuffyturf

    After people who listen to dummy Bush, they do not ditch their religion, they denounce their U.S. Citizenship and go to Canada..

    Only so much of this moron you can handle.. Go back to your Paintings George, let the real Presidents like Clinton, and Carter broker peace and good will on behalf of the U.S.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
    • Deserttrek

      really? jimmy cater an arab lover and anti semite?

      get a life bigot.

      November 13, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
  9. John New York

    Seriously? An ex-prez, who strongly identifies with evangelical Christians, is going to speak to a group that aims to converts Jews to Christianity. What is the problem again? Jews recall a history of forced conversion and object to this event? American Jews enjoy enormous wealth and political power in a nation that protects individual freedoms. Adults who answer the door to any religious evangelical can just say no and close the door. I think maybe the Jewish community should grow up – stop acting like a teenage girl. President Bush: do your talk, let's move on.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
    • darth cheney

      Maybe Bush should grow up and accept that Jews are Jewish.

      November 13, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
      • Kevin

        Ever heard of freedom of speech and respect to one's opinion?

        November 14, 2013 at 9:42 am |
        • Awenshok

          the former president still plans to speak at Thursday’s banquet, where tickets reportedly range in price from $100 to $100,000

          November 15, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Ed

      I recall when my 6 year old came home from kindergarten because her littel friend told here that her mom wouldn't let her play with my duaghter any more, because she found out we were Jewish. "You killed Jesus." the other 6 year old told my Leah. And Leah and I had a very tough week while she learned that we live in a large hostile world filled with others.

      Oh yeah, she "grew up" that day. More than any 6 year old should ever have to. Your problem, John New York, is you have no idea what it feels like to explain race hatred to a 6 year old. Is it just that you're unaware, or is it because you're a part of the problem.

      November 18, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
  10. Toby

    Wrong! Jewish people are not converted.. They are still of the Jewish faith. We the non Jewish faith are grafted in.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
  11. mr rork

    i worship money.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
  12. pbcal

    Bush is not unlike other politicians who will sell their soul for a dollar. They have offered him a speaking fee he can't turn down.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
  13. Rob

    I am not a Bush fan but to be upset or advise that he not speak, you know about exercising his rights of free speech and freedom from religion, seems the most absurd thing anyone calling themselves American could do.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
    • AE

      It seems like he'll be preaching to the choir.

      November 13, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
    • Doris

      True – better to just give him the opportunity to do what he does best. Then we can all laugh about it.

      November 13, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
  14. Doris

    Try as he might, he will achieve the Sam Waterston look.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
    • Doris

      LOL – oops – he will never

      November 13, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
      • Crom

        Whew! That was a might big oops there. Good thing you caught that before Sam saw it and choked on his product endorsements. They're kind of like pretzels, I hear.

        November 13, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
  15. Ben

    Stop complaining. They're just trying to save your soul.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
    • You sound

      You sound like a fruit basket

      November 13, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
      • Crom

        I see you misspelled "nut sack". That's okay. We're here for you.

        November 13, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
  16. david

    Maybe people need to look on the brightside. Maybe with W speaking, there will actually be Xians that decide to convert to Judaism.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
  17. david

    This is the same GWB that screwed all the good Jews in South Florida, to get elected.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
  18. Buddha

    Oi vey!

    November 13, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
  19. CommonSensed

    He is doing it for the money. What more need be said?

    November 13, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
    • Judas" attorney

      30 pieces of silver and then some

      November 13, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
    • bam

      people rich form OIL dont DO things for money he is doing it because he believes in "SAVING" others from their false gods...
      Sarah Palin does stuff for money

      November 14, 2013 at 2:45 am |
  20. Grafted olive branch

    We love all Jewish people, messianic and otherwise.

    November 13, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
    • cufi

      🙂

      November 13, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • Samuel

      May the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Great I AM, bless us all.

      Amen.

      November 13, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
      • Crom

        Meh.

        November 13, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
        • Crom

          Stealing my name so early today. What a big boy you are now.

          November 13, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
      • Reuben,Simeon,Levi

        Amen!

        November 13, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
        • Joseph & Benjamin

          Amen!!

          November 13, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
        • Bilhah & Zilpah

          Amen!!!

          November 13, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
        • Matthew & Mark

          Amen!!!!

          November 13, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
      • Cornelius

        Amen
        🙂

        November 13, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
        • The samaritan woman

          Amen! 🙂

          November 13, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
      • bam

        im lost which page of Winnie the Pooh r we on?

        November 14, 2013 at 2:44 am |
    • Michael

      Messianic aren't Jewish unless they're ethnic Jews, and even then it's solely ethnic.

      A better name for Messianic Jews would be dishonest, opportunistic Christians.

      November 13, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
      • Rick

        Michael, what an unbelievably ignorant and judgmental thing to say. Just because you don't understand is no reason to criticize.

        November 15, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
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