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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. Bob Arctor

    Many religions seem to have a "convert or else" thing going for them. As Troy says, "Judaism has other and bigger problems." Like Yosef, for instance.

    November 13, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
    • L

      Just like atheism but it's convert or get ridiculed. That's the method some atheists use.

      November 13, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
      • snowboarder

        you really have to admit that the doctrines of the major religions are pretty absurd.

        November 13, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
      • BootySantaColin

        You delusional, mentally retarded infant that believes in imaginary sky fairies and bronze age literature that is an exact copy of Egyptian mythology, what in the bloody heck are you babbling about? Pathetic.

        November 13, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
  2. donald

    why would a jew want to convert?

    November 13, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
    • redundant David.

      Because they want to keep their wee wee's in tact?

      November 13, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
    • Adam

      Maybe you should ask Adam Gadhan a former jew who converted to Islam. All Muslims believe that Jesus is the
      "Messiah" and Prophet of God. Jews just stop at Moses as the end of prophethood and are still waiting for a
      Messiah. Muslims say the Messiah already came and is testified in the Quran as Jesus son of Mary is the Messiah.

      November 13, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
    • NorCalMojo

      That's not really anybody's business except their own.

      November 13, 2013 at 11:53 pm |
  3. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Time to upgrade that religion to the Revised New Kernel – it's been out of beta for a while now. It's modular – 4000 denominations are available – and fully configurable regarding your hates and prejudices.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
    • snowboarder

      that is a fabulous metaphor.

      November 13, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
    • Ugh

      I think I just threw up a little in my mouth

      November 13, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
    • NorCalMojo

      There are over 10,000

      November 13, 2013 at 11:54 pm |
  4. Big_D

    What you thought that his only target was Muslims?

    November 13, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
  5. Land barren

    Ahh...if your not helping their cause or do not agree with them, your an anti-S, which means your a gentile (HEATHEN).

    November 13, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
    • 2 kinds of people believe that

      Are you a looney atheist or Bible thumper?

      November 13, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
    • Josh

      "which means your a gentile"

      If you're going to make sweeping asinine statements, at least spell them correctly.

      November 13, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
  6. Yuphah Kingkhuntz

    Worst. President. EVER!

    November 13, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
    • Dan

      Except until Obama came along

      November 13, 2013 at 6:57 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.

      It's anybody's guess between LBJ, Nixon and Baby Bush, with several others (Obama and Eisenhower notably) just missing out.

      November 13, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
  7. ermentrude

    I don't have a problem with this. People to convert to Judaism. Most of the people who convert to Messianic Judaism are Christians.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
    • Yuphah Kingkhuntz

      But how many presidents of the USA accept millions in cash to address whacko fringe religious cults?

      November 13, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
    • ermentrude

      People to convert to Judaism was a typo. People convert to Judaism, is what I meant.

      November 13, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
  8. Debbie

    A lot of Christians believe it is their Christian duty to spread the "word" however many don't want to hear the "word" and are as devout in their beliefs as Christians are in theirs. They do believe it their duty, I don't believe it's malicious, but it's a free country and everyone has a right to their beliefs or not to believe at all, get over it. If someone approaches me like the Mormons or the Jehovah I just politely inform them I'm not interested and go away.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
    • snowboarder

      I like to ask them questions about their s e x lives.

      November 13, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
    • Phil

      "By the jehovah"

      Who is by the Jehovah?? Jehovah is the Almighty God himself... What do you mean?

      November 13, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
      • snowboarder

        I assume you've heard of the jehovah's witness? would anyone really not understand what deb said?

        November 13, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
        • Phil

          I know what she meant, just wanted to point out the ignorance of some people.

          November 13, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
        • snowboarder

          so you understood what she meant. what was the point of the comment again?

          jehovah is one version of a deity and apparently the most prominent contemporary, since it is worshiped by jews, christians and muslims alike.

          November 13, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
        • Phil

          Only Jehovah's witnesses worship Jehovah... Protestants and Catholics worship a Trinity, Muslims Allah, Mormons call it Jesus!

          November 13, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
        • snowboarder

          @phil, don't get me started on that trinity nonsense.

          November 13, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
    • sammy47

      Debby, as you say everyone has a right to their beliefs and to espouse them freely. The reason why Jews think that "Messianic Temples" are offensive is because they use deceptive tactics to try to convince Jews that their "Temple" is a Jewish place. They teach about Jesus and the Christian Bible while wearing a Tallis, they have "Rabbi", and use Menorahs and Jewish Stars as their symbols. If they want to teach about Christianity, go right ahead. However it's insulting and disingenuous to use deception.

      November 13, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
  9. snowboarder

    I will never understand why all these religions seem to think you should join them.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:45 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.

      Jews don't. In fact, they're fairly selective.

      November 13, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
      • Crom

        "selective" = racist
        There. Fixed it for ya.

        November 13, 2013 at 6:47 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.

          If you say so buddy.

          November 13, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
        • snowboarder

          tribalism. racism. nationalism. all different words for the same thing.

          November 13, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
        • Crom

          Go back to snowboarding you mush-brained idiot.

          November 13, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • CommonSensed

      They want your money.

      November 13, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
      • Crom

        They want money, sex with your spouses, children, pets, food, and they want the power to lead you around by the nose or the sex organ of your choice, and they want your adoration and admiration for ripping you off and treating you like dirt to your face with flowery BS to cover it up. I could go on, but who needs a full list? Religion is BS and always will be.

        November 13, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
    • L

      I'll never understand why atheists think you should join their little cult club of self-worship.

      November 13, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
      • snowboarder

        I love the "self worship" fallacy. those spouting that idiocy really show their stupidity.

        November 13, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
        • Fan2C

          Believers seem to have a penchant, even a fetish sometimes, with "worshipping", and they think that everyone else does too.

          November 13, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
      • Observer

        I'll never understand why God think you should join his little cult club of self-worship.

        40% of the Ten Commandments have to do with "How to Worship ME".

        November 13, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
        • L

          100% of atheism is self-worship because you are your own god and master. So you're no different.

          November 13, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
        • snowboarder

          @L, everyone is their own master. they just don't realize it.

          November 13, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
        • Observer

          L,

          I wouldn't know. I'm not an atheist, but I guess I'll take your word for it.

          November 13, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
        • L

          But most people don't worship themselves as a god. That's why many atheistic leaders claimed to be a god. That's what atheism will do to you.

          November 13, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          "L" – do you actually know any atheists?

          November 13, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
        • Observer

          L,

          The leaders you are apparently referencing were mostly tyrants. They were only for themselves and were not leading a cause for atheism.

          It's highly unlikely that if atheists were asked for the 10 most important pieces of advice they could give their children that they would require worship of themselves in 40% of their comments. It takes God to be so vain.

          November 13, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
        • snowboarder

          @L, you clearly have that backward. megalomaniacs propose themselves as deities. that is certainly not atheistic.

          November 13, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
        • L

          Yes, Tom, I do. They don't act like trolls like most atheists here do.

          November 13, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
        • Observer

          L,

          You obviously haven't been paying any attention.

          The WORST troll on here is someone who uses dozens of names and steals other people's names to LIE.

          That lying troll is a CHRISTIAN. Ooops.

          November 13, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
      • Jessica Christ

        Actually? I've never met a prosthetizing atheist. They, for the most part, don't care what you believe as long as you don't keep trying making them believe in your religion, especially by passing religion-based laws that affect everyone because YOUR GOD told you to. That is why thousands fled the State Religions of Europe to come here.

        November 14, 2013 at 1:34 am |
        • No one ever answered this

          How is a law based on the laws their god different from a law based on your opinion?

          November 14, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
        • Joey

          In the example of gay marriage religious people want to ban gay marriage because their god doesn't like it, this forces those beliefs onto everyone, where as if you let gay people get married religious people are still free to follow their beliefs and not enter into a gay marriage.

          November 14, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
  10. Avi Shlomo

    My people in the white house, it is what I call the Mossad bosses who give orders to the inept American presidents. Bush like others served 2 masters and only in America

    November 13, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
  11. cc

    Personally I think all religious recruitment should be banned-but that's not going to happen. Since it isn't I don't' see this as any worse than Mormon missionary work or Jehovah's Witnesses who go door to door. Assuming the group is sincere they're probably morally better than most of the televangelists.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
  12. SLB

    First Bush should convert himself into true Christianity before even converting others..the bible says " a blind man will guide another blind man into a pit"
    Second, how much $ is he getting for that?

    November 13, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
    • snowboarder

      lol! true christian!

      November 13, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
    • Dustin

      And I bet you know exactly what "true" Christianity is right? People like you are the problem, not the solution.

      November 13, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
      • SLB

        Yes I do. I not only read the bible but study it, so I know who is doing Gods will today. I respect the other denominations, each person has the right to choose which way they wanna go but only one has Gods approval, after all he's only one God!

        November 13, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
        • snowboarder

          ironically, I have never met a person that suggests that the doctrine they follow is not the true doctrine.

          thank you for reinforcing that for me today.

          November 13, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
  13. Not Too Hard to Understand

    But to be fair here, folks, no one ever said SFB Bush was particularly bright or well-informed.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
  14. Bill

    I can't say I'm surprised from the president who believes in gay conversion therapy. I wonder if there's a therapy that would convert Bush from an imbecile to a normal human being?

    November 13, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
    • Crom

      They say you can't fix stupid.....yet. I fear he will die of old age before a cure appears. Gosh.

      November 13, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
    • L

      Atheists think that ridiculing someone for believing what they do will covert people. What's the difference?

      November 13, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
      • Debbie

        when was the last time an atheist came knocking on your door to spread the truth??

        November 13, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
        • L

          They don't but instead they troll online.

          November 13, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
        • Crom

          @L
          You seek us out and choose to engage and respond to our posts here, so you are wrong yet again. You must like it, yes?

          November 13, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
    • Observer

      Bush said he is quite religious and talks to God. Looks like God thought he was a doofus and so didn't tell him about 9/11 coming or that he shouldn't start a $2,000,000,000,000 war for false reasons.

      November 13, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
  15. SpaceCowboy

    Bush's next scheduled speech is at a Ku Klux Klan meeting.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
  16. Ved

    It's a free country. So long as no one is forcing Jews to covert to Christianity, or vice versa, it's all good. I grew up with those Jehovah's Witnesses knocking on the door trying to convert me, but it never occurred to me to be upset or angered by it. They believe they are doing a good thing, and I am free to disagree; no harm done. If Jews were persecuted in the past, or forced to convert; that's wrong. But it was the force and persecution that was wrong, not the concept of trying to convert people to your religion.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
  17. Veritas

    Well the Neo-Cons made a great convert out of W! WMD,s the Frum Doctrine, Iraq bad! The elder Bush along with Baker were a bit too savvy to do their bidding.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
  18. IpseCogita

    Yes, people of one religion are going to be upset when people of another religion practice their faith sincerely. The two sides could be Christians and Jews as in this case, or they could be Jainists and Druzes. Whether or not a former president is involved has nothing to do with anything.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
  19. Bruce

    Wonder if the next group will try to proselytize liberals into compassionate conservatives/

    November 13, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
    • Debbie

      compassionate conservative??? HAHAHA that's a good oxymoron

      November 13, 2013 at 6:50 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.

        No it isn't.

        November 13, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
    • Dustin

      Liberals know everything already, it would be a waste of precious time. (sarcasm should be evident)

      November 13, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
  20. GI Joe

    I heard this was to bring about the second coming and the end of time. Have I been misled?

    November 13, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
    • Crom

      Yes.

      November 13, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
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