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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. Sara

    Oh for goodness sake, most Christian sects are working to convert everyone, why should any group be exempted? To start criticizing people for trying to change people's minds on ideas is the first step to limiting free speach. Certainly go after misrepresentations, but the desire to convert is a part of their belief system and if you're going to knock it do so fairly and evenly and with justification and evidence.

    November 14, 2013 at 9:17 am |
    • PHILLIP FULTON

      What happened to the days when church goers would share their beliefs and opinions when someone asked?
      Now we have extreme religon, "in your face " type. Speak when spoken to, turn the other cheak, compasion,ect.
      christianity has gone bad, hope if dies out .just my opinion, right?

      November 14, 2013 at 10:33 am |
  2. Phil

    What is Bush gonna teach? That Jesus is the almighty God, when the Jews clearly know that Jesus worshipped their God, the one whom Jesus said: "I am ascending to my father and your father"?

    November 14, 2013 at 9:15 am |
  3. I am a Messianic Jew

    Unfortunately the Messianic Jewish rabbi or another rep from Messianic Judaism didn't respond.

    I have been a MJ for 20 years. I was born Jewish of 2 Jewish parents and 4 Jewish grandparents. I was a secular Jew, 3 times a year in a synagogue and that was it.

    A tragic episode in my family caused a very strange event to take place. A crazy "coincidence" that involved Jesus (Yeshua). It was a "knock on my door" and I had to choose if I was going to answer it. I chose to believe that this event wasn't a coincidence and I chose to accept Yeshua as my Lord and savior. And I am still a Jew. I never converted to anything. I am not a Christian.

    I have gone to a Messianic Jewish synagogue (UMJC affiliated) in West Haven, CT for 20 years about 45 Shabbats (sabbaths) a year. We celebrate all Jewish feasts and holidays. We DO NOT recognize Christian holidays, even Easter and Christmas but we recognize the events we believe occurred in those seasons. We DO NOT try to convert anyone. NEVER! As a Jew myself, I would be infuriated by that and we understand that! But we have open doors to all Jews who want to come in and see what we are about. I cannot speak for the practices of other Messianic Jewish organizations but that is NOT something the UMJC does.

    As far as the article writer asking where the Messianic Rabbi was ordained is absurd! Certainly he wasn't ordained in an Orthodox/Conservative/Reformed setting. They would never accept him! The UMJC had to come up with their own study and guidelines, based on both traditional Judaism mixed with our faith in Yeshua. Is it any less credible? Absolutely not. The rabbi is taught what is needed to serve his flock. Just placing the word "rabbi" in "" makes the comment prejudicial. Keep in mind, Judaism in general is fractured. We are singling out Messianic Judaism in this article, but the Orthodox are appalled by things the Reformed do etc. and every sect believes their way is correct.

    As for the comment that a Jew believing in Yeshua "makes as much sense as a vegetarian who believes in scarfing down steak." is nonsense. No vegetarian believes in scarfing down steak. A better way to say it is that a dog that goes "meow" is not a cat. It is a dog that goes "meow". I am just a dog that goes "meow". I am not a cat.

    November 14, 2013 at 9:14 am |
    • Sara

      I like your cat and dog analogy – it's a much better description of these subtle distinctions. The desire some have to wrap tight boxes around these religious concepts risks grossly misrepresenting reality.

      I'm not sure, however, why you are so emphatic on the holidays celebrated or the concept of conversion. Again, there are no tight boxes and a dog that can meow might also purr (celebrate Christmas). And if a group wants to convince others of what they believe in, what's wrong with that? Political groups do it all the time and religions are no different.

      I am not, btw, either Jewish or Christian and so don't have a stake in this; I just think some of these issues are getting blown out of proportion. If we want a world that really, truly believes in the free exchange and development of ideas it should be truly free.

      November 14, 2013 at 9:25 am |
      • I am a Messianic Jew

        My emphasis on the holiday issue is simple. There is no command in the the bible to celebrate the 25th day of December as the day of Yeshua's birth. It is a holiday adapted by the Church from pagan worship. Same can be said for Easter.

        Celebrating Christmas, Easter etc. are some of the distinctions between a Messianic Jew and Christian. So I emphasized.

        Messianic Judaism, although you can say it has been around since the first group of believers (Peter, John, Thomas and the whole crew) is really still in its infancy and trying find its center. It needs to mature. Right now, there are places of worship that call themselves Messianic Jewish synagogues and may have a Torah, but are a congregation primarily of non-Jews, bringing church tradition with them, but who feel worshiping in a Messianic Jewish setting (some Jewish liturgy etc., wearing a yarmulke) is the real way to do things as Yeshua Himself was/is a Jew. And I can understand where the more established branches of Judaism reach their opinions about Messianic Judaism based on these extremes. But I, and many other Jews just like me, are the other extreme. Jews in every sense and measure of the word who believe the all prophecies were fulfilled by one Man. We are the remnants of Peter, John and Paul.

        I went to visit a conservative synagogue on shabbat not too long ago. Rabbi gave a short sermon about Jeremiah. Rabbi saw a new family in his congregation (me and my family) and came over to talk with me after the service ended. I forgot the term he used to describe his congregation but essentially it is open-minded to mixed marriages etc. All are welcome. I dropped the bomb on him that I believe in Yeshua and his face changed. He pretty much said I and my family were not welcome. I said that he just gave a sermon about Jeremiah. Everything the prophets foretold about the Messiah came to pass in Yeshua. His reply? He doesn't give much weight to the prophets. So we left. And the rabbi still has his head in the sand to this day.

        November 17, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
    • The Gunmother

      Thank you so much for your comment. My brain and my smile got to learn something.

      November 14, 2013 at 9:31 am |
  4. Flavius Josephus

    I wrote the bible to try to quell the Jewish Revolution against Ceaser. I'm glad you all love my work. I never imagined that a well thought out piece of propaganda for Rome would become a world classic and a world religion! "Give to Caesar what is his" Lol, you all are suckers. Keep paying your taxes to Rome while waiting for the white bearded fella to come "save you from Roman persecusion and Roman wars. "In Hoc Signu Vinces, Bit*hes!"

    November 14, 2013 at 9:13 am |
  5. jonusb

    How is Bush even relevant anymore? He wasn't relevant during his administration, and he CERTAINLY has nothing to do with America now.

    November 14, 2013 at 9:12 am |
    • John

      You are an idiot

      November 14, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  6. Dave

    CNN still blaming Bush...

    November 14, 2013 at 9:09 am |
    • david stolz

      Bush was always an idiot – and will always be a fool – this is a bad idea – the difference is today Jews will not tolerate the abuse of the past –

      November 14, 2013 at 9:21 am |
  7. candycoatedapple

    People aren't forced to listen to him... it's there choice, they can stay or they can go... what business is it of yours?

    November 14, 2013 at 9:08 am |
    • A. Goodwin

      If you were Jewish, you would understand....

      November 14, 2013 at 9:38 am |
  8. bostontola

    I personally don't like proselytizing of any kind, and I don't like Bush, but the dude is just going to speak. If Bush says inflammatory things or calls Christians into inappropriate action, then defend.

    November 14, 2013 at 9:02 am |
    • Sara

      Yeah, this whole conversation is pretty silly.

      November 14, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  9. David

    Messianic Jews are fake Jews

    November 14, 2013 at 8:59 am |
  10. Jesus is the Messiah

    John 14:6 λέγει (says) αυτώ (to him) ο Ιησούς (Jesus), εγώ ειμι (I am) η (the) όδος (way) και (and) η (the) αλήθεια (truth) και (and) η (the) ζωή (life) ουδείς (no one) πέρχεται (comes) προς (to) τον (the) ατέρα (father) ει μη (unless) δι΄ (through) εμού (me).

    November 14, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • Adam

      There is some question regarding that quote. Jesus may not have said "only way", but "one way". We as Christians cannot imply condemnation to the rest of the world because some may believe in a different spirituality that brings them closer to God.

      November 14, 2013 at 9:16 am |
    • tom

      Fiction.

      November 14, 2013 at 9:19 am |
    • richunix

      please site your source? i.e Codex Sinaiticus or P45/46/75

      November 14, 2013 at 9:30 am |
  11. Bill Leffler

    Nobody is forcing anyone to convert. If you like your faith, you can keep it. Period.

    November 14, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • Nathan

      That's awesome!

      November 14, 2013 at 9:03 am |
    • Dave

      today the internet is yours

      November 14, 2013 at 9:08 am |
      • Doris

        LOL! document.getElementById('LikeButton').click();

        November 14, 2013 at 9:37 am |
  12. CJ

    You have to take the good with the bad. The Christian right is indeed Pro-Israel and they are also all about conversions.

    November 14, 2013 at 8:57 am |
  13. Nat

    All due respect to Jewish folks that have been persecuted by the Christians in the past, but the reality is that Christians have targetted everyone who is not Christian, not just Jews, and continue to do so today.

    November 14, 2013 at 8:56 am |
  14. Harry Cline

    Don't waste your time 'W', you had 8 years to convert some on your staff, but then you didn't want to bite the hand that fed your fraudulent resigned uh.

    November 14, 2013 at 8:54 am |
  15. Carl

    Is this for the democrats that are in hiding after the low turn out of the ACA... oh yea It's Bush's fault lmao come out of the woodwork demorats

    November 14, 2013 at 8:52 am |
  16. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    So Mr. Bush ( W ) will encourage the Christian faithful among his God's chosen people. Perhaps he will encourage more people to come and be saved by his Messiah. Why do Christians not do more of this sort of thing? If they truly believe that the stakes are such that anyone who does not believe as they do faces eternal torment, why don't they do even more to get to the lost people around them? I'd think they would do much more if they truly believed.

    November 14, 2013 at 8:51 am |
  17. KAS

    "He was a friend to Israel during the Second Intifada,"

    I'm sure he was. All the U.S. taxpayer money we send so Israel can continue to oppress people and expel them from land it wants to make it "pure". It would be horrible if we didn't support such egregious actions because they are in no way similar to what happened to the Jews 60 years ago.

    We'll just blindly genuflect every time Israel cries wolf and claims to be the victims while it imprisons children for throwing rocks while ignoring settlers who attack Palestinian school children, destroy Palestinian crops and illegally build on Palestinian land.

    Yeah, Bush was a good friend to Israel when supporting apartheid is considered a good thing.

    November 14, 2013 at 8:50 am |

    • Apartheid South Africa had no better friend than Israel. Fellow travellers.

      November 14, 2013 at 8:53 am |
    • CJ

      Many Jews may like this statement but those things did and probably will continue to happen.

      November 14, 2013 at 9:04 am |
  18. Parker

    The photograph in the advertisement for the speech has Bush looking more vapid than ever. Hillary once said Bush looks like Alfred E. Neuman; Bush is a far more apt poster boy for the afflcition of brainlessness.

    November 14, 2013 at 8:49 am |
    • eric martin

      mr. or mr. clinton ?

      November 14, 2013 at 9:22 am |
  19. Paul

    As long as the group is not rude or offensive I don't see the issue, and half my family is Jewish. It's called freedom of religion, and that freedom includes trying to convert people to your side in a peaceful manner.
    Get over it.

    November 14, 2013 at 8:48 am |
  20. Steven

    The book 300 Times 0 on Amazon .com addresses all of the prophecy about Jesus from the Jewish scriptures. Whether you are an Atheist, Evangelical or Orthodox Jew, this book is one of the best ever written on the subject. I know that if you email the author he will send out free copies as well. The email address is on the "about the author" page on Amazon. It's written by Yaakov ben Chaim Tzvi a very learned Jew.

    November 14, 2013 at 8:47 am |
    • richunix

      Reading books based on a believers religious belief is only the opinion of that believer, it does not make it any more believable that the previous author. Religion is mythology, nothing more.

      Is God willing to prevent evil, but is not able?
      Then he is not omnipotent.

      Is he able, but not willing?
      Then he is malevolent.

      Is he both able and willing?
      Then whence cometh evil?

      Is he neither able nor willing?
      Then why is he called GOD?

      -Epicurus 33 CE

      November 14, 2013 at 8:51 am |
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