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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. Journey

    I wish all the liberal Christianity crap in the U.S. would disappear. We need to get back to the Biblical basics; "the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it." I used to get all wrapped up in all that soft stuff, but nowadays I got myself to a place where if the Bible said the sky was green I'd believe it. Old School.

    November 14, 2013 at 4:37 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Which Babble? Whose interpretation?

      November 14, 2013 at 6:43 am |
  2. Alan Sikes

    PLEASE will people stop trying to convert Jews to Christianity?? AND PLEASE will the Jews in Israel stop trying to hoard all of the land and prevent the Palestinians from claiming their own state in the lands they deserve??

    November 14, 2013 at 4:15 am |
  3. Freedom of speech

    Why is it on CNN its not even news ?

    November 14, 2013 at 3:29 am |
    • sam stone

      it's a belief blog. it is not in the news area

      November 14, 2013 at 6:03 am |
  4. Freedom of speech

    who wants to use their influence to stop an ex-president from expressing himself?

    November 14, 2013 at 3:27 am |
  5. Zickafoose

    George Bush IS the antichrist.

    November 14, 2013 at 3:10 am |
    • Harmageddon?

      Well, if he is, he has to reveal his side since the Messiah has already arrived:

      thereligionblogging.blogspot.fi

      November 14, 2013 at 5:38 am |
  6. elia

    Bush is former president of america who know How to play with future by supporting Israel is the best thing he doing right now but if I got a chance to speak to bush I shall tell him go and rise up a fund for those Jews live inside the is Jewish land.
    That is the Best IDEA.

    November 14, 2013 at 2:47 am |
  7. bam

    just doing what the Christian Taliban do best....
    religion of peace and love

    November 14, 2013 at 2:38 am |
  8. Bill

    So Jews are supposed to be jealous of Christians? Why?!? Most Christians in the United States are a bunch of obnoxious, unintelligent, white trash, ignoramuses. It is for that reason that t the former president would be a perfect spokesman for the Christians in this country.

    November 14, 2013 at 2:32 am |
    • warren

      Spoken like a true anti-Christian bigot.

      November 14, 2013 at 4:33 am |
      • truthprevails1

        Awe with that persecution complex again...grow up!

        November 14, 2013 at 4:47 am |
  9. 2Bo

    His time would be better spent converting religious nut jobs to atheism.

    November 14, 2013 at 2:29 am |
    • warren

      Well, it obviously worked with you.

      November 14, 2013 at 4:36 am |
  10. Cynthia Avishegnath

    I have no problem for messianic Jews who believe the Jesus is the messiah, as long as they also believe that Jesus is not the Almighty, and also deny that Jesus is in any form part of the Person addressed by the tetragrammaton Name.

    I mean, we have lots of Jews who believe the Rebbe Schneerson is the messiah. Just a messiah and nothing more.

    For any kind of messianic to believe that Jesus or Rebbe or Mahatma Gandhi is anything more than messiah would be idolatry and perversion of the Name of the LORD. Being messiah is no big deal, The messiah is just a flag, a marker of the attainment of the Sabbath age. The messiah has no further function than that.

    AFAIAC, the messiah concept is a decoy. A decoy at the fork of a road according 1 Samuel 8 - to choose between the governmentation of by unscrupulous messiah-king or the representative democracy idealized by Moses' father-in-law Jethro.

    November 14, 2013 at 2:24 am |
    • bushdiver

      Well the Jews, Christians and all the rest may be in for a big surprise when they die and find out that there is nothing after death.

      November 14, 2013 at 3:03 am |
      • Berel Dov Lerner

        If there is nothing after death, how can anyone be around to learn anything and be surprised about it after they have died?

        November 14, 2013 at 3:17 am |
      • J

        I agree that an afterlife does not exist. However, how does a dead person realize that there is no afterlife? I lay in bed some evenings wishing that these kooks would die and somehow be made to realize that they were wrong their whole lives, but unfortunately they die ignorant and that is that.

        November 14, 2013 at 3:17 am |
      • cjacja

        Am I the only one here is get the joke? Yes that's good.

        You all should join my religion, Become a follower of FSM. Our heaven is better there is a beer volcano. Seriously now, religion is not for dead people

        November 14, 2013 at 4:24 am |
  11. brian

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

    Don't blame them. Where was CNN ordained as the know it all of everything?

    November 14, 2013 at 2:00 am |
    • J

      Dumb comment. CNN asked a question, which by definition means that they do NOT know the answer. How can you be a know it all for asking a question?

      November 14, 2013 at 3:19 am |
    • cjacja

      They don't claim to know, they were asking. It is their job to ask the questions we can't ask. I give them a C- most of the time but in this case better. Hanging up the phone is a strong way to say "he is a fake".

      November 14, 2013 at 4:27 am |
  12. southernwonder

    there needs to be some tolerance shown toward christian people for a change.

    November 14, 2013 at 1:56 am |
    • CIC

      Christians do wonderful things every day. George Bush is an idiot who wears Christianity on his sleeve to gain adherents for his selfish purposes.

      November 14, 2013 at 2:14 am |
      • warren

        Bush is one of the quietest Christian public figures I have ever seen. Your hysteria is deafening.

        November 14, 2013 at 4:39 am |
    • bam

      as soon as other christians stand up and tell their other loon members to stop forcing their religon onto others.. then and ONLY then will we the OPPRESSED stop pushing back

      November 14, 2013 at 2:42 am |
    • truthprevails1

      That persecution complex is pathetic.
      We'll show tolerance when christians stop thinking they are above everyone else and stop trying to deny equal rights based on their giant book of fiction. You live in a Secular nation, not a theocracy...suck it up and either deal with it or feel free to move to a country that is theocratic.

      November 14, 2013 at 4:27 am |
      • warren

        Wow, your fear of Christians is palpable.

        November 14, 2013 at 4:40 am |
        • truthprevails1

          No fear involved. The fact is they seem to fear change and whine whenever something goes against their book.
          Facts are facts, they think they are the persecuted ones but yet fail to see how they attempt to deny equal rights to people on a regular basis.

          November 14, 2013 at 4:45 am |
  13. Thomas

    Rick Perry is the opening act !

    GW will be headlining , doing a few of his old favorites like " By the Time I get to Bagdad " and " Moonlight in Kandahar ".

    November 14, 2013 at 1:53 am |
  14. nik green

    "If the American people knew what we, the Bush's have done, they would run us out of town and lynch us". President George H. W. Bush, 1993.

    November 14, 2013 at 1:51 am |
  15. CIC

    So what do they get out of converting? The power to become president? The ability to delude themselves and have other people that agree with them -because agreement magically makes things true? There may be Christians out there who might somehow be able to convince Jews that their religion should be left behind – but Bush isn't one of them.

    November 14, 2013 at 1:36 am |
  16. Jim

    Let GWB talk to this group. Attempt to muzzle him just look stupid. It seems like American Jews are over reacting to any attempt to suggest that other religions are worthy of consideration.

    They get steamed when Mormons "baptise the dead" by looking up old family records and saying an incantation over people long gone. If Joseph Smith was the true profit, I mean prophet, then the Jews should be grateful that great grandma will be finally going to the planet Kolob. If LDS is a scam, then who cares what prayers they offer up in their Temple as long as they don't ring my doorbell?

    November 14, 2013 at 1:36 am |
    • Fladabosco

      Read the article again. It isn't about Jews being upset that other people believe something, it's that these people target Jews to convert. If Jews did that to Christians you wouldn't be able to hear the wind because of all the right wingers and neo-Nazis complaining about a 'Jewish conspiracy.'

      November 14, 2013 at 1:45 am |
      • Real Deal

        Flad,

        "it's that these people target Jews to convert."

        These people target **everyone** to convert. The Jews shouldn't feel so special already.

        November 14, 2013 at 3:26 am |
        • tffl

          This particular group _does_ target Jews specifically – it is their reason for being.

          November 14, 2013 at 5:28 am |
  17. darknesscrown

    Christians trying to impose their values on other people? Unheard of. I think this is unprecedented. Christians are typically such tolerant and respectful people of differing viewpoints. **snicker** Actually, I don't really care if Jews are insulted by this, either. This is what devoutly religious people do, regardless of sect. The only people who respect other people's space and don't infringe on other people's rights are the moderates who really just only want to live their lives out to their completion with the least amount of friction possible...which is most people. Religious people being insulted by other religious people makes me laugh, not feel bad or angry for either side, respectively. All they have to do is not cling to dead ideas and there wouldn't be anything to get mad about in the first place.

    November 14, 2013 at 1:32 am |
    • Fladabosco

      Actually Jews don't try to convert people to Judaism. In fact it is not easy to convert. To convert to Christianity you say a sentence. To become Jewish you have to study for years and get blessed by a rabbi.

      Another interesting item is that there is nothing in Judaism that says you have to believe in god. There is nothing that says 'if you don't believe then X will happen to you.' You might anger god and god might write something bad for you in the book of life for next year, but who knows.

      A rabbi told a story to a class I was in that started, 'A man walks up to a rabbi and says 'I don't believe in god,' The rabbi replies 'So?'

      November 14, 2013 at 1:44 am |
      • Diptera

        But all the major monotheistic religions try to force their ways on others: Vigilante gender segregation of streets in Israel. Mandatory head coverings in Islamic countries. Working ban on Sundays in Germany.

        November 14, 2013 at 3:06 am |
  18. Jessica Christ

    If insulting & dimissing other cultures & faiths weren't bad enough, the reason that groups like this want to convert the Jews is to hasten the Rapture, AKA the end of the world, where old white Christians all get swept up into Heaven and leave everybody else behind. These are powerful people who influence lawmakers in DC. They are a delusional religious cult who think they can end the world. THAT is why it's embarrassing to have a former president give creedance to these guys.

    November 14, 2013 at 1:23 am |
    • Wilson

      Sounds like you are scared to be left behind....

      November 14, 2013 at 1:26 am |
      • Fladabosco

        Sounds to me like he is realistic enough not to care what you think.

        November 14, 2013 at 1:36 am |
        • warren

          Obviously he cares a lot about what people think or he wouldn't have gone on his bigoted rampage.

          November 14, 2013 at 4:44 am |
    • counterww

      There are a lot of Christians that are NOT "old white men" .. and preaching the gospel is Jesus' edict in the Scriptures. You need to talk to a few Christians and stop supposing what we believe about the rapture and other prophesied events.

      November 14, 2013 at 1:27 am |
      • Fladabosco

        I know lots of Christians and I have an interesting viewpoint: I am a classical musician and get hired by churches to play for holidays, special services, etc. I have heard lots of sermons and I know a bunch of very religious Christians and some of them are willing to do anything to hasten the second coming. Some of them are very illogical about it and I wouldn't be surprised if they approved of violence if it would bring god home faster.

        It's sick.

        November 14, 2013 at 1:35 am |
        • Wilson

          It's sick yours conclusions of your sick mind: You do not read anywhere in the Jesus commandments to do violence! Actually, now days is the Christians whom suffer violence in all of the world: Overseas they are beheaded and here they are blackmailed by "instructed" people like you. You should be more honest with your mind and reject the work and profit from those you call "violent"

          November 14, 2013 at 1:44 am |
  19. David Taylor

    Jews that refuse to accept other Jews just because they believe Jesus is the messiah have truly lost their way. Its bigotry, intolerance, and hateful. Ironically, it's the very kind of hate that led to the holocaust. But as the saying goes ... "hurt people hurt people." Even so, it should be unacceptable in the 21st century for a people to reject their own just because they choose to believe something different from the majority. How miserably embarassing.

    November 14, 2013 at 1:15 am |
    • Fladabosco

      Really? If Jews organized to undertake it to disprove to Christians that Jesus was the messiah and that they should convert to Judaism can't you just hear the religious right in this country, and the neo-Nazis screaming about an 'International Jewish Conspiracy? The outcry would be incredible.

      I find it really arrogant for anyone to tell me they know more about god than I do, whether they read it in Aramaic or heard it from a televangelist or from the local preacher. And to tell me that I won't go to heaven unless I pray the way someone else does is arrogant beyond belief.

      November 14, 2013 at 1:33 am |
      • Wilson

        Yah... I see you too are one of those scared to be left over.....

        November 14, 2013 at 1:47 am |
      • J

        Where is your proof of heaven and hell?

        November 14, 2013 at 3:26 am |
  20. Matt

    I really couldn't care less about where Dubya speaks. However, I hope he makes sure to regale his audiences with tales of his NAZI BANKER GRANDFATHER PRESCOTT BUSH. Perhaps he has some fun stories from his grandpa about the good old days when he was a traitor to America and worked feverishly to help Thyssen make and launder as much money as he could for Adolph Hitler. Don't believe this is true? Do some basic research. In fact, look into Dubya's greatgrandfather, Prescott's father Samuel Prescott Bush. He really kicked things of as the biggest insider war profiteer during World War I. What a family!

    November 14, 2013 at 1:07 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.