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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. It was in the reign of George III that the aforesaid personages lived and quarreled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now.

    Look at his little face. As terrible as he was, you can't hate Dubya. He's like a little child cursing. Obama needs to find a redeeming factor. OK, only the most partisan psychopath would state that Obama's tenure has been anywhere near as bad as Dubya'a. However, it's not exactly been excellent, so he needs some redeeming factor. I recommend releasing a blues album. Let's face it, he sings better than he presides.

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7x4ZS7ZZWc&w=640&h=360]

    November 14, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      Barry?

      November 14, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
      • It was in the reign of George III that the aforesaid personages lived and quarreled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now.

        Barry indeed.

        November 14, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
  2. Just direct people here, let folks read if they want, you trolls are copying and pasting the same quotes

    http://politicalhumor.about.com/od/bushquotes/a/dumbbushquotes.htm

    November 14, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
  3. George Dubya

    Honey badger keeps beating me to the punch...kudos

    November 14, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
    • lol??

      "I spiked it." Billy Carter

      November 14, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
  4. George Dubya

    "You work three jobs? ... Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that." –to a divorced mother of three, Omaha, Nebraska, Feb. 4, 2005

    November 14, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
    • lol??

      She traded one ruler for three??

      November 14, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
  5. Honey Badger Don't Care

    "Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB-GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country." –Poplar Bluff, Mo., Sept. 6, 2004

    November 14, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
  6. George Dubya

    "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." –Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004

    November 14, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
  7. George Dubya

    "There's an old saying in Tennessee - I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee - that says, fool me once, shame on –shame on you. Fool me - you can't get fooled again." –Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 17, 2002

    November 14, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
  8. Honey Badger Don't Care

    "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." –Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004

    November 14, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
  9. Honey Badger Don't Care

    "You work three jobs? ... Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that." –to a divorced mother of three, Omaha, Nebraska, Feb. 4, 2005

    November 14, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  10. George Dubya

    "I'll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office." –Washington, D.C., May 12, 2008

    November 14, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  11. Reality # 2

    Only for the newbies:

    From the topic: "Others, such as Rabbi David Wolpe, who was dubbed America’s most influential rabbi by Newsweek in 2012, called Bush’s decision “infuriating.”

    Rabbi Wolpe is also notable in his conclusions that Abraham and Moses are fictional characters and that Exodus never happened.

    Said conclusions are significantly more damaging to Judaism than is President Bush's speech at a Messianic convention !!

    See p. 9 for more details about the New Torah for Modern Minds.

    November 14, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
  12. Master of Ceremonies

    This next guy is the current living president that is responsible for the most unnecessary and inexcusable deaths, injuries, and disabilities Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for President George W. Bush....

    November 14, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • Reality # 2

      The Twenty (or so) Worst Things GOD'S CREATURES Have Done to Each Other:

      M. White, http://necrometrics.com/warstatz.htm#u (required reading)

      The Muslim Conquest of India

      "The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. "

      Rank …..Death Toll ..Cause …..Centuries……..(Religions/Groups involved)*

      1. 63 million Second World War 20C (Christians et al and Communists/atheists vs. Christians et al, Nazi-Pagan and "Shintoists")

      2. 40 million Mao Zedong (mostly famine) 20C (Communism)

      3. 40 million Genghis Khan 13C (Shamanism or Tengriism)

      4. 27 million British India (mostly famine) 19C (Anglican)

      5. 25 million Fall of the Ming Dynasty 17C (Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Chinese folk religion)

      6. 20 million Taiping Rebellion 19C ( Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion vs. a form of Christianity)

      7. 20 million Joseph Stalin 20C (Communism)

      8. 19 million Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C (Islam)

      9. 17 million Timur Lenk 14C-15C

      10. 16 million Atlantic Slave Trade 15C-19C (Christianity)

      11. 15 million First World War 20C (Christians vs. Christians)

      12. 15 million Conquest of the Americas 15C-19C (Christians vs. Pagans)

      13. 13 million Muslim Conquest of India 11C-18C

      14. 10 million An Lushan Revolt 8C

      15. 10 million Xin Dynasty 1C

      16. 9 million Russian Civil War 20C (Christians vs Communists)

      17. 8 million Fall of Rome 5C (Pagans vs. Christians)

      18. 8 million Congo Free State 19C-20C (Christians)

      19. 7½ million Thirty Years War 17C (Christians vs Christians)

      20. 7½ million Fall of the Yuan Dynasty 14C

      vs.

      Operation Iraqi Freedom- The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US Troops killed in action, 3,480 and 928 in non combat roles as of 09/15/2011/, 102,522 – 112,049 Iraqi civilians killed as of 9/16/2011/, http://www.iraqbodycount.org/ and http://www.defenselink.mil/news/casualty.pdf

      – Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan: US troops 1,385 killed in action, 273 killed in non-combat situations as of 09/15/2011. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed mostly due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror, http://www.defenselink.mil/news/casualty.pdf

      – Saddam, his sons and major henchmen have been deleted. Saddam's bravado about WMD was one of his major mistakes. .

      – Iran is being been contained. (beside containing the Sunni-Shiite civil war in Baghdad, that is the main reason we were in Iraq. And yes, essential oil continues to flow from the region.)

      November 14, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
  13. George Dubya

    We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories ... And we'll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them." –Washington, D.C., May 30, 2003

    Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere!" –joking about his administration's failure to find WMDs in Iraq as he narrated a comic slideshow during the Radio & TV Correspondents' Association dinner, Washington, D.C., March 24, 2004

    November 14, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  14. Russ

    As well-known atheist Penn Jillette so aptly stated: "how much do you have to hate somebody to NOT proselytize? how much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and NOT tell them that?"

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owZc3Xq8obk&w=640&h=360]

    November 14, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • Evangelism=Christianity on steroids

      Looks like Jesus!!

      November 14, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
    • Maddy

      How much do you hate Penn Jillette?

      November 14, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  15. Evangelism=Christianity on steroids

    ....

    November 14, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  16. George Dubya

    "I wish you'd have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it...I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with answer, but it hadn't yet...I don't want to sound like I have made no mistakes. I'm confident I have. I just haven't - you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I'm not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one." –after being asked to name the biggest mistake he had made, Washington, D.C., April 3, 2004

    November 14, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  17. Reality # 2

    George W. Bush’s greatest legacy

    By Eugene Robinson,July 26, 2012- Washington Post

    "This is a moment for all Americans to be proud of the best thing George W. Bush did as president: launching an initiative to combat AIDS in Africa that has saved millions of lives.

    All week, more than 20,000 delegates from around the world have been attending the 19th International AIDS Conference here in Washington. They look like any other group of conventioneers, laden with satchels and garlanded with name tags. But some of these men and women would be dead if not for Bush’s foresight and compassion."

    November 14, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • Maddy

      You see this as a negative?

      November 14, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
      • Reality # 2

        Absolutely not. It was noted as to counter all the negativity about President Bush.

        November 14, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
  18. George Dubya

    "See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda." –Greece, N.Y., May 24, 2005

    November 14, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
  19. George Dubya

    "For every fatal shooting, there were roughly three non-fatal shootings. And, folks, this is unacceptable in America. It's just unacceptable. And we're going to do something about it." –Philadelphia, Penn., May 14, 2001

    November 14, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  20. Honey Badger Don't Care

    Not only was bush a terrible president he also spent the most time on vacation than any sitting president EVER. That means that he ruined our country more in less time than anyone.

    November 14, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • L

      Atheism has ruined this country even more.

      November 14, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
      • sam stone

        could you be a bit more specific, L?

        November 14, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
      • Honey Badger Don't Care

        Yes, and not collecting stamps has ruined the United States Postal Service.

        November 14, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
      • Maddy

        In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, either accidentally or with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response ...

        This should totally resonate with L.

        November 14, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
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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.