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
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(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. GrowUp

    Snooze. If people spent less time worrying about prophets and messiahs, and more time treating others with respect and dignity, there would be no need for a guy in the sky.

    November 13, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
  2. Yakobi

    I see Mother Jones has nothing better to do than continue to harass republican former presidents.
    Scandals of the current democrat administration? Nah, let's see what Bush is up to these days.

    November 13, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
  3. aleksander einstein

    Well, for starters, it is immoral for any person, religious or not, to attempt to force people to convert to any, belief system.

    "Religion should be primarily within the individual."

    At the end of the day, Psychology is comes down to how you react to information. Therefore, regardless of what you hear or see, ultimately your behavior will be determined exclusively by your "System of Thought Interpretation." (Psychology) According to reality, no movement has ever reached the Zenith.

    November 13, 2013 at 7:21 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.

      In this situation, nobody is being forced.

      November 13, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
  4. Judith

    Bush is pandering to religious fundamentalists (that are probably among the only ones that still issue this disgraced man invitation). The Christian right is always cultivating Jews, which is quite ironic, since they feel all Jews who do not convert are bound for Hell. This is a shameful thing for Dubya to do, but it's nothing compared to getting thousands killed in an unnecessary war. Bush, as usual, is clueless.

    November 13, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
  5. Annimee

    He's a Christian. He's speaking to other Christians, who happen to be Jewish Christians. What's the PROBLEM??

    I'm so sick of people being offended. I'm offended that they're offended. As Pope Francis mentioned recently: we're getting off-track. If you want to promote your own religion, then promote what you BELIEVE (in the Pope's case, he referred to it as the fragrance of the Gospel, which I thought was a very nice way to say it.)

    People are bashing each other for one reason and then another. If the Jews have something to OFFER, then step forward and offer it. That's the best way to make your point.

    In My Opinon.

    November 13, 2013 at 7:19 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.

      Jewish Christian is kind of an oxymoron.

      November 13, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
      • Annimee

        Why should it be considered an oxymoron? That's mainly a clever insult but it doesn't hold up. IMO.

        The New Testament is an extension of the Old Testament... in the Christian view, Christianity is what comes after Judaism, or because of Judaism, or a fulfillment of Judaism. Even Jesus said that He came to fulfill the law and the prophets. So a Jewish Christian is a very natural combination.

        The New Testament predicts that Jews will eventually recognize Jesus as their Messiah. I know that statement will set off fireworks, but I think they should get used to it because now that the Jews are miraculously back in their land... the fulfillment of that prophecy could be near at hand. I'm just saying.

        Perhaps they should take a closer look at Jesus and see if He fits the prophetic mold. I wonder if they even dare to do that, or perhaps their prejudice is too great. They dismiss Jesus without even thinking about it. Shame.

        November 13, 2013 at 7:31 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.

          Whereas Christians accept Jesus without thinking about it.

          November 13, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
        • Annimee

          Maybe you should try it and see how easy it isn't.

          Are you one of those who sits on the fence and mocks everybody else? Get off that fence and get to work. Jesus said that he would rather have people hot or cold, but those who are lukewarm he will spit out of his mouth. Fence sitting is not productive.

          November 13, 2013 at 7:42 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.

          I don't sit on the fence. There is no god and all religions are hokum.

          November 13, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
  6. ajtlawyer

    What's the big deal? Jesus was a Jew himself as were all of his inner circle of disciples. He witnessed to Jews himself. I'm sorry for the past persecution of Jews but that doesn't mean that they or any other group of people have to be put in some self-contained, air-purified jar so they can never hear the views and proposals of others. Quite frankly, a great deal of the world's problems continue to come from people nursing grudges and animosities for things that happened centuries ago. This has to stop if we're ever going to learn to live with one another. Muslims take this nonsense even further, meting out death sentences to Muslims who convert to Christianity.

    November 13, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
    • sadlyperturbed

      Don't act almighty. Hatred of those of a different religion have not been this high in a century. Religion, all religion, is the problem. Because each thinks they are the only way to salvation or heaven or whatever you call it in your particular religion. People apparently still need those two thousand year old myths to make them feel comfortable with life, and de ath.

      November 13, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
      • Doug

        "Religion, all religion, is the problem."

        While I would agree in general, the problem is really specific to the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Polytheistic religions tend to not start religious wars because they accept that other people can choose and follow their own religion.

        On the other hand, the monotheistic religions start from the premise that they are the only ones that know the truth and that everyone who doesn't believe the way they do is an evil sinner, who must either be converted or will wind up in hell. It is the arrogant belief that they are the only ones who know the one and only true path, as if there cannot be more than one path.

        November 13, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
  7. Steve

    Who did these aids think they were working for. This clown was converted by Billy Graham, spoke at Bob Jones University, and was ordered by none other than God to be president. These aides have been serving a seriously delusional substance addicted man for some time.

    November 13, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
  8. alex

    If Jewish people become Christians, won't they stop their massive "contributions" to Republicans? Those contributions have ensured that the American taxpayers pour around $3 billion a year into Israel, scot-free. Not at all anti-Israel, but find it curious that Repubs bring up Israel as a reason not to vote Dem....like it's a privilege for those of us who work and pay taxes collectively to have $3 billion a year sent to a foreign country....then told not to vote for Dems who might want to reduce that handout. Granted, the starving oil companies are making out better with $20 billion a year in tax forgiveness.

    November 13, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
  9. Doug

    According to the Israeli children's television show "Tofee and the Gorilla", Jesus was a Nazi because he tried to turn Jews into Christians.


    November 13, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
    • Annimee

      Well, like I said... bashing everybody else isn't going to win points. They would be better off telling us what's good about Judaism than putting together something like this. Using children to do it. Not very nice at all.

      November 13, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
      • mecanico-tuercas

        Jews are just responding to what Christians did to them for 2000 years!

        November 14, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
  10. MrHulot

    Bush getting back at Jews for getting him into the Iraq War.

    November 13, 2013 at 7:15 pm |
    • Judith

      Maybe there were a few Jewish neo-cons who urged Bush to go to war, but you are forgetting the war's biggest cheerleader and enable, Richard B. Cheney. Cheney is not Jewish. He's simply a war profiteer–the worst form of human life.

      November 13, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
      • MrHulot

        You’re right. I should have said Bush was getting back at Zionists. That should cover both Cheney and Rumsfeld.

        November 13, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
  11. Art

    We Jews have an expression for Messianic Jews. We call them "Christians"

    November 13, 2013 at 7:15 pm |
  12. Jessica

    Bush, like so many other fundies want the Jews to rebuild the temple on the mount and then die so the second coming of Jesus happens. This isn't new news and has been in the background since W. became president.

    Maybe they should stop trying to bring about the end of the world and actually help poor people instead.

    November 13, 2013 at 7:15 pm |
  13. Hooligan

    “a very good president to the Jewish people.”

    yeah, and screwed everyone else over.

    November 13, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
  14. rmarma

    whats he getting paid because isnt that why he's doing it

    November 13, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
  15. VonKlemperer

    The only way they can be Saved is if they agree to convert.

    November 13, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
    • snowboarder

      seriously? who is really going to pretend that they know the real way to salvation?

      November 13, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
  16. CBP

    I do not have an opinion one way or another on how good a President George Bush was to the Jewish people. In fact, the notion would never enter into my thinking about George Bush's speaking arrangements with the particular group. Now that he is retired he has the right to speak with any group and I have the right to be critical or not. His ex[aides do not need to address the situation or try to make this situation better. People must base their opinions on the facts as they appear today and each of us must decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. I am absolutely not surprised that Mr. Bush will speak to this group. He does identify with groups like this and has since the last days of his presidency.

    At some point we will get a copy of his speech and we can form opinions then.

    November 13, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
  17. kamarasune

    I don't know what to think of this. On one hand I have a great deal of respect and love for the Messianic Jews, and on the other is Bush....I would just measure and weigh his words with great caution. Peace be with you.

    November 13, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
  18. redundant David.

    Best time to convert is before they hack parts off.

    Stand there chanting with a knife over me and I will see the light real quick.

    November 13, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
  19. W

    Education is our first priority. We must ask ourselves one question. Is our Jewish children learning about Jesus?

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


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

        It's a joke on how W. used to flub up with his mangled sentences.

        November 13, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
        • BootySantaColin

          Jokes are not logical. Pathetic.

          November 13, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
  20. GnatB

    "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"

    Of course it's possible to be Jewish while believing Jesus is the Messiah. One could argue that it's actually mandatory to be Jewish (or at least follow the judaic religion) to believe that Jesus is the Messiah.

    The Messiah is a Jewish concept prophecied in the Old Testament. Christians believe that Jesus is that Messiah. Non-Christian Jews don't. That's pretty much the entire difference between the two religions.

    It's why a Christian anti-semite is an idiot who doesn't understand his own religion. A Christian anti-semite has to first hate himself.

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

      If you say only Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah. Non Christians dont. You are missing out one billion people on earth who are non Christians who believe Jesus the son of Mary is the Messiah. They are Muslims. Their Quran testifies that "Most certainly, the Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, is a Prophet of God" (Chapter Mary-Quran)

      November 13, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
      • Upside Yo Haid

        Not true. Muslims do not believe "Jesus" is any kind of messiah. Your lack of knowledge is either propaganda or just stupid.

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

          LOL. Seems like you never read the Quran Ch 4: verse 171.where in Quran God testifies that "Most certainly, the Messiah Jesus, son of Mary is a Prophet of God sent unto you"

          ALL Muslim submit to the word of God in Quran and believe Jesus IS the Messiah.... while the Jews did not recognize him and are still waiting for one.. I CHALLENGE you to show me ONE Muslim who would not agree with what I said. So you are up against more than 1 billion people if you refute me.

          November 13, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
        • Crom

          So now you think all muslims are actually christians now? That passage explicitly says that there is no "trinity" and that Jesus is neither the son of Allah nor anything but a messenger/prophet. Try reading it in Arabic. I think you'll change your tune then.

          November 13, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
      • GnatB

        Prophet isn't the same thing as the Messiah. Not even close.

        Yes, Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet. They do NOT believe he was The Messiah. (Not even sure if Muslims believe in the concept of a Messiah)

        November 13, 2013 at 9:16 pm |
    • Upside Yo Haid

      Anyone who flings around the label "anti-semite" the way you do is nothing but a dipshiz striving for pre-eminence.

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

        ROFL. What is anti-semitic about that? I am also a semite BTW.

        November 13, 2013 at 7:30 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.

      'One could argue that it's actually mandatory to be Jewish (or at least follow the judaic religion) to believe that Jesus is the Messiah.'

      Tell that to Fred Phelps.

      November 13, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
    • Robert Jones

      Nonsense. The two are incompatible. If you read your scripture you will find specifically what the adherents to Judaism were looking for in the Messiah. Jesus did not fit their strict interpretation hence they did not/do not believe. Messianic Judaism is not a recognized religion. They "rabbi's" or "pastors" do not attend any recognized rabbinical or theological seminaries. They receive no formal training in ancient languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek or Latin) or interpretation of the sacred scriptures. I suppose next we will be seeing Hindu Jews or Muslim Christians.

      November 13, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
      • GnatB

        Except for the fact that he did supposedly fulfill the 400 some odd scriptural prophecies about the Messiah?
        That said, yeah. He wasn't the Messiah the Jewish people at the time wanted. Somebody to bring them out from under the boot heel of Rome, but that had little to do with the prophecies in scripture.

        Anyways, yeah. Messianic Judaism isn't it's own religion. They're just Christians. But then, Christianity is effectively just a jewish sect/cult. Heck, just about every Christian on the planet celebrates passover, whether they know enough about their own religion to realize it or not.

        November 13, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
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