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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. G_Edwards

    Someone's always "irked" by something.

    .

    November 14, 2013 at 7:21 am |
  2. humtake

    I miss the Bush days when we had a President who, regardless if you agreed with him or not, did what he said he was going to do and DIDN'T BLAME EVERYONE ELSE FOR HIS MISTAKES. He had conviction and, just like the media is doing with Obama and will continue to get worse with every new President, the media just spreads as much propaganda to get readers as possible regardless of how it spins stories against him.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:17 am |
  3. Steve 22

    Slow news day???

    November 14, 2013 at 7:13 am |
  4. archie

    good for bush, finally getting something right!

    November 14, 2013 at 7:08 am |
  5. ally buster

    Perfect!

    An idiot lecturing idiots-

    November 14, 2013 at 6:53 am |
  6. Flash Omobma

    Fake story courtesy of msnbc and now repeated here. GWB is a great friend to Jewish people. Jewish people love him and there is no conflict here and no sane Jewish person cares about this. I don't see any stories about the Clintons speaking to controversial groups. Typical media bias and invention. This story was manufactured by Rachael Maddow, an evil woman who I believe is an atheist of Jewish heritage. Instead of doing pertinent stories about the ACA debacle, she chose to invent this hassle of Bush for no other reason but to change the subject from Obama's miserable failure as a leader. I can keep my doctor, and Iran will never make a bomb....yeah right.....
    This is the type of news media corruption that creates anti-semitism by asserting the Jews as a people have any opinions about this. Naturally the reader assumes that would be petty. But it's a fiction. George Bush is a great man and a friend to Jewish people. Live and let live.

    November 14, 2013 at 6:48 am |
    • Frank

      yes but can you blame CNN ? if they don't work really really hard they will have to run stories that make Obama look dishonest and CNN does not care for any reality they can not "bend" to their agenda and to the personal needs of the man who calls himself Obama

      November 14, 2013 at 7:09 am |
    • Rascal262

      So is your assertion that it's a lie that Bush is going to speak to a group dedicated to converting Jews to Christianity, or that is not the group's actual purpose?

      November 14, 2013 at 8:38 am |
  7. Leonard Berdichever

    These Jews need to learn a thing or two about religious freedom and freedom of conscience – I understand the vast majority of them reject Jesus (Yeshua, himself a Jew) as Messiah, but that doesn't mean they have the right to deny others the opportunity to hear the Gospel and decide for themselves if they want to convert or not. Israel is one of the most oppressive countries when it comes to freedom of religious belief, Christian missionaries (especially of Hebrew origin or those who are trying to reach out to Jews) are routinely persecuted and bullied over there. This needs to stop and the US government needs to put a lot more pressure on Jerusalem to allow for greater religious freedom.

    November 14, 2013 at 6:39 am |
    • Flash Omobma

      This is fake story and "the jews" don't think anything about GWB speaking to a group. Jews are not monolithic but generally Jews love GWB because of his integrity.

      November 14, 2013 at 6:53 am |
      • Chopper007

        Generally Jews love Bush? The comment must be intended as satire. In case you haven't noticed they tend to be liberal.

        November 14, 2013 at 7:25 am |
    • richunix

      You: This needs to stop and the US government needs to put a lot more pressure on Jerusalem to allow for greater religious freedom.

      For what, so both sides can push their belief in mythology. Yes lets push for more hatred, killings all in the name of the deity of the month. Why just your gospel, why not the Quran, how about Buddha, or the Indian beliefs, what make your mythos’s more special?
      Stephen F Roberts: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

      November 14, 2013 at 7:08 am |
  8. paul martin foreign correspondent

    Let's cut te crap and put the myths aside ! Rich jews NEVER cared about their poor and anyone who tries to say otherwise is a damn liar or fool ! Wealth seperates ALL races, religions and politics,etc Wealthy zionists do give to Israel and to jewish charities but the donations end up in the pockets of the manupulators just like in any other race or cause ! Anyone who doubts what I say try knocking on a rich jew's door and see how fast he'll call the cops ! Most jews are struggling just like everyone else and it's absolute rubbish to think they all stick together and help each other ! THere are many jewish billionaires and multi millionaires who dread having to give to poor jews and that's telling it like it is !

    November 14, 2013 at 6:31 am |
  9. Katie

    Wouldn't it be nice if the Christians stopped making trying to convert people to their religion such an important aspect of their belief? When people cry out that non-Christian religions are so intolerant, they should take a good hard look at this. Go be a Christian and leave other people alone.

    November 14, 2013 at 6:27 am |
    • Rett

      If a person were in mortal danger you would no doubt applaud ones effort to save them.....even if they did not recognize that they were in danger nor wanted any help. If I believed I had the cure for AIDs but did not share it for fear of making someone feel bad because it reminded them of their condition I would be soundly criticized. Christians are compelled their message of hope or else the blood of those who die without hope is on the Christians hands....now having said that a lifestyle should be the obvious testimony of a Christian but sadly is often not.

      November 14, 2013 at 6:51 am |
      • sam stone

        And this is why people find you annoying

        You and all your evangelical bretheren come off as the boy who cried "wolf"

        get off your knees

        November 14, 2013 at 7:17 am |
  10. cj-53

    Judaism certainly has a huge problem, it has been infiltrated by east european zionists. Islam has a huge problem, it has been infiltrated by psycopaths and fools. Christianity has a huge problem, it has been infiltrated by misleading concepts and is losing its faithful to atheism.

    November 14, 2013 at 6:27 am |
  11. Bill Davis

    Let's face it religion is a big business, and more about the BUCK

    November 14, 2013 at 6:26 am |
  12. Aaron

    Jews are getting intolerant just like their Arab cousins in Saudi Arabia. Women in Israel are now getting treated like second class citizens. Judaism and Islam are ditto.

    November 14, 2013 at 6:22 am |
  13. Aaron

    What happened to freedom of religion? North Korea gets irked whenever Koreans convert to Christianity. Is trying to convert people illegal or not? If not, then these people who complain are just "sore losers".

    November 14, 2013 at 6:20 am |
  14. A Rational Jew

    What I don't get, is Christians take our holy book, start calling it the "Old Testament," take our god, turn him into a three-headed joke that they themselves can't even explain, and tell us that our Messiah has come when we don't believe that ourselves!!

    This "Messiah" Yeshua (Jesus) did not restore Jerusalem, did not unify the people and did not cast out the gentiles. He was a failure. A nobody who was executed as a common criminal. Look at Joseph Smith or David Koresh. It's the same thing all over again.

    And then, my favorite of all – they way you try an explain away his death. He "had" to die to save the World? Yeah, where is that in scripture.

    November 14, 2013 at 6:19 am |
    • bill

      You are absolutely correct...its all "your" fairy tale. You invented your own god just like the greeks and everyone else. A Jew following Jesus is no conversion...its a Jew following another Jew so get over it.

      November 14, 2013 at 6:35 am |
  15. Douglas

    Isaiah 10:22 "Though your people be like the sand by the sea, Israel, only a remnant will return. Destruction has been decreed, overwhelming and righteous."

    Let every knee bow and every tongue confess.

    There is power and salvation at the foot of the old rugged cross.

    The hour is upon us. Repent and be saved!

    November 14, 2013 at 6:06 am |
    • truthprevails1

      Still not able to think for yourself.

      November 14, 2013 at 6:30 am |
    • sam stone

      wow, another person who feels he needs to be "saved"

      is it just because you are used to being on your knees, doogie?

      November 14, 2013 at 7:11 am |
    • richunix

      Based on your remarks are you Apologetic or Prophetic follower?

      Stephen F Roberts: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

      November 14, 2013 at 7:28 am |
  16. NotGivingIt

    I think the only reasonable response here would be: "Too bad".

    Dude's an ex-President. Can do whatever he wants.

    November 14, 2013 at 5:21 am |
  17. Justice

    If Bush is a Christian, why would be lie to send our troops to their death in Iraq? Oh, that's right, Bush believes God reports to him. Your day will come evil one and so will Cheney's.

    November 14, 2013 at 5:17 am |
    • saggyroy

      I thought it was because he is pro-life.

      November 14, 2013 at 5:52 am |
    • Allen

      I assume that you believe Obama lied too....am I correct?

      November 14, 2013 at 6:00 am |
  18. Wendy Theriot

    This is all you can come up with about Bush? It's called freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Very disappointed in CNN for even covering this with all that is currently happening. Obama hanging by a thread, and thousands dead and suffering after a typhoon and you still try to attack Bush?
    I applaud President Bush for starting what may be the beginning of the return to faith for Christians in the United States during our dark days.

    November 14, 2013 at 5:02 am |
    • truthprevails1

      Christianity has left?? Oh that is wonderful news, except that it is a blatant lie! Christianity has no place outside of the home or church. You wouldn't want Muslims or Pagan's (the root of christianity) stepping in and trying to tell you how to live or trying to impose their beliefs, so give that same respect to others...you do live in a Secular nation that doesn't need imaginary friends to get by. Christianity is on the decline (thank you interwebs) and in due time will take its place amongst the many other dead religions of the world-sadly most of us won't be around to see the true end of it.

      November 14, 2013 at 5:07 am |
      • Allen

        Paganism is not the root of Christianity. That's actually pretty stupid.

        November 14, 2013 at 6:02 am |
        • truthprevails1

          Actually it is a very large part of it, while it may not be the total root of it, it has a large part.
          Since apparently you are the one who is stupid, a little reading and thus educating, might do you some good:
          http://www.reformation21.org/shelf-life/pagan-christianity-exploring-roots-of-our-church-practices-1.php

          November 14, 2013 at 6:19 am |
    • tffl

      A) CNN, believe it or not, is actually capable of covering more than one story at a time – even stories that you don't care for.

      B) Would you feel so positive about the push to proselytize if were Muslims or Buddhists trying to convert Christians? I don't really care what Christians do amongst themselves, but these same people call it religious persecution when people in other countries do it to Christians.

      C) Since this organization isn't targeting "lapsed" Christians but people of another religion, it's hard to see how you call this a possible "beginning of the return to faith for Christians". This is purely an attempt to convert "non-believers", which seems horribly intrusive to those "non-believers". (Also, not everyone thinks these are such "dark days". There are problems, but not the ones that I'm sure _you_ are referring to with that phrasing.)

      November 14, 2013 at 5:20 am |
      • Allen

        You should probably out away your personal bias and actually research religious persecution throughout the world. Considering that Christians are being murdered in all corners of the globe, I'm not sure that calling a speech "persecution" is the best way to display your intelligence

        November 14, 2013 at 6:05 am |
  19. Schmoogalicious

    Hmm. Did Troy and the other Jewish Bush administration employees not realize that Bush was an evangelical Christian when they agreed to work in his administration? Converting folks is what evangelicals do! What the heck did they expect of Bush? After all, the guy was constantly spouting evangelical Christian code words during his presidency. In fact, he's probably giving money as we speak to Texas ranchers attempting to raise a perfect red heifer to be slaughtered on the site of the 2nd Temple in Jerusalem, enabling the construction of a new temple, which will lead to chaos and war in the Middle East and result in the rapture, Armageddon, the return of Jesus, and the deaths of 2/3 of the Jews and the conversion to Christianity of the other third.

    If knowing all that wasn't enough to scare Bush's Jewish political appointees, then I don't understand why they'd bother to bat an eye at Bush's speech to the Messianics.

    November 14, 2013 at 4:46 am |
    • truthprevails1

      " the return of Jesus, and the deaths of 2/3 of the Jews and the conversion to Christianity of the other third."

      2000 years and waiting...not gonna happen because christians have been deceived-dead people don't return from the dead after 3 days that should have been their first clue that their book is fiction but gullibility is what the system of belief relies upon.

      November 14, 2013 at 4:54 am |
    • Allen

      Code Words! LOL!

      November 14, 2013 at 6:06 am |
  20. bronorman

    Very interesting. If former President Bush will be able to swing it, this is a landmark that will be credited to the Republicans. The Jew bashing in America and France in the aftermath of the very expensive Road Map to Peace and Persian Gulf wars were signs for predominantly Protestant America and the Cathars of Europe to see if the Jews of Israel will ever acknowledge Yeshsua as Messiah. Whatever for were America and France protecting Israel for, if not for Yeshua's prophesy, "I came to fulfill the law and the prophets," among other prophesies. It is about time. In fact, I can see Messianic Judaism snowballing to an avalanche. Why? Muslims acknowledge Yeshua as a prophet with a little twist to it, but it is an acknowledgment, nevertheless. Even if grudgingly.

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

      Hi, muslims even believe that Jesus is coming back. They also believe in the virgin birth and that Jesus giving life to the dead. Just a few of their beliefs about Jesus.

      November 14, 2013 at 5:22 am |
      • Cat

        Well if Muslims believe it, it must be true!

        I wish Christians would realize you have been trying to convert us for 2000 years. You have persecuted us, you have killed us. We still haven't adopted your Jesus. Please leave us alone on this subject.

        November 14, 2013 at 5:52 am |
        • Allen

          Here's a deal. we'll leave you alone.....................and you'll leave us alone................deal?

          November 14, 2013 at 6:07 am |
        • bill

          what a joke and the jews didnt start the killings? go read your bible or the old testament or whatever else you call it and see who started this crap?? Jesus is one of yours he is a Jew...get over it! Every group has murdered and persecuted each other because of this jewish god!

          November 14, 2013 at 6:43 am |
    • cantormikezoos

      To Mr. Bronorman: As a third-generation Holocaust survivor, I feel demeaned, scared and viscerally threatened by your comment, much more so than by the Anglo-French Jew bashing to which you refer . The vast majority of my maternal grandmother's family were murdered by God-fearing Christians in eastern Europe during the Holocaust. Almost all of my interactions with my Christian colleagues have been and remain peaceful and most worthwhile. Yet, comments such as yours – like any conversion attempts of Messianic Jews, Jews for Jesus, or anyone for that matter – leaves me filled with fear that indeed history does in fact repeat itself and that my fellow Jews and I are in real danger once again. Whether intentionally or not, the call for Jewish conversion to Christianity all too often has foreshadowed the mass annihilation of Jewish communities worldwide. I feel as if your comment, not so dissimilar from the action and inaction of millions of European Christians during World War II, threatens the very lives of my people, my family and myself. I don't know if you're aware of how your comment comes across (I hope you are not aware, in fact), but this is how I – and likely many Jews the world over – hear it. I believe it is a very slippery slope between calls to convert Jews and mass murder.

      November 14, 2013 at 5:37 am |
      • Allen

        So, what you're saying is that you weren't in a Jewish concentration camp...

        November 14, 2013 at 6:09 am |
        • cantormikezoos

          Allen,

          Thanks for your response. As for your question: no, I was not saying anything about whether or not I personally was in a concentration camp, and no, that particular calamity fell upon my grandmother's generation.

          November 14, 2013 at 7:09 am |
      • Ralphster

        No, sir, it is your comment that is disturbing and engages in odious associations, flimsy insinuations, and fails to hold up to just and moral scrutiny. There is no connection between calls to convert Jews and murdering Jews. The Church has never called for the murder of Jews. Nor has it ever officially taught that Jews or any other non-Christian should be forcibly converted. When we believe in Christ, we affirm that all are called to such belief and seek to spread it. Nothing wrong with that. In fact the first Christians who believed this and were doing it were Jews themselves.

        If you are not interested in converting, that is your decision. Plenty of other Jews should here the message of true faith and make a decision for themselves.

        And let us put a stop to the tacit smears against Christians who are pious and seek to bring others to their faith. Any God-fearing Christian who engaged in murder during WWII was not acting like a God-fearing Christian. And then there is the plum comment about the action and inaction of millions of Europeans Christians. If you want to condemn inaction, should we not hold up the mirror to those like you? What about all the Jews of the USSR in the 1920s and into the 1930s who either actively aided and abetted Stalinism, or stood by in inactive silence as Russian and Ukrainian Christianity were decimated by Bolsheviks? And what about the most powerful military in the Middle East today, a Zionist Jewish one, that sits idly by while innocent people are being destroyed in nearby Syria? How often do we hear the catcalls of Allied inaction during WWII coming from those who have nothing to say about Israeli military inaction today?

        Let's stop the smears and self-serving double standards, cantormikezoos. After all, we're mishpachah.

        November 14, 2013 at 7:16 am |
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