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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. Dmitry

    Bush speaks to Cristian fundamentalists group dedicated to attaching Judaism. Will Bush be addressing hitler youth next ?

    November 13, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
    • Rett

      What is he attaching to Judaism? Hitler Youth has been disbanded I believe.... Bush is a private citizen now so why does it matter who he speaks to?

      November 13, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
      • Crom

        He should only be speaking to federal prison guards and making phone calls without privacy to anyone. He could make a speech that way, but the money should go to repay the costs of his incarceration. He knows it, too. You can see it in his face a lot these days. And he still won't do what's right.
        He can start anytime, even now, to try to repair some of the damage, but nooooooooooo! He's got to hang with people who want to listen to him. It's understandable, but sociopathic as usual. Par for the course. A dirty ho.

        November 13, 2013 at 9:24 pm |
  2. Dee in Missouri

    GW is getting a little LONG IN THE TOOTH>>>>evil doer and their wicked ways it's generational with this family...greatest president hahahaha more like the greatest buffoon...

    November 13, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
  3. Intrigued and Confused

    I knew that the Muslims were intolerant and violent when anyone wanted to convert away from Islam or refused to convert to Islam. I did not know that the Jews held this same autocratic untenable position as well.

    There may very well be one God - and I suppose it is possible that he shows himself to many people in different ways so that many religions believe there's is the only right one.... It will be enlightening and intriguing if all of us go through a different door to heaven, and it opens up into the same place – with one true God - wouldn't that make us all look foolish for how we acted down here on Earth

    November 13, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
    • marco

      I think you missed the point entirely. Jews aren't upset cause people are "forcibly" converted OUT of Judaism, not forced INTO it.

      November 13, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
      • marco

        mean are upset cause....

        November 13, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
  4. conrad

    Missionary work is part of what Christians believe they must do. I don't think it's malicious in this instance. I think they are trying to do what they think is good and helpful.

    November 13, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
    • dgoren1

      I don't believe it's at all malicious, but Jews, for the most part, do not want to be converted, and virtually none believe Messianic Jews to be Jewish. They are not. A believer in Christ is a Christian, hence the name. Now, this is absolutely fine, but when a Jew accepts Christ, they are then a Christian, not a Jew. You can't have it both ways. They can claim to be Jewish all they want, but Jewish people themselves, practically all, do not see it that way. As the example in the story states, you can't be a vegetarian that eats steak.

      November 13, 2013 at 9:06 pm |
      • conrad

        Well that makes sense ... I mean as a Buddhist who grew up in a Christian household ... nobody in my family mistakes me for Christian. I guess that's just how it is when you discover you think differently than how you were raised.

        November 13, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
  5. dore

    The term "Christian" describes one who believes in Jesus as the Messiah.. Jews.. do not.. for several reasons. You cannot be a vegetarian and eat meat at the same time.. Either you are a christian and believe in Jesus as some sort of diety.. or you do not.. either way, the term Messianic Jew, or Jew for Jesus simply makes no sense.. its like sayiing, "I'm a green red apple orange".

    November 13, 2013 at 8:51 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Most Christians give me a completely different definition when I provide that one and tell that that I used to be one. Suddenly, when they find out I'm an atheist, the definition gets much more complex.

      November 13, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
      • Intrigued and Confused

        It is sad that you do not believe in a life after death - it means all you have to look forward to is to be eaten by worms when you go into the ground

        November 13, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Why in the fvck would I look forward to something I will not experience. You don't quite grasp the concept of death, do you?

          November 13, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
        • dgoren1

          Do you mean to say that if there is life after death, but somebody doesn't believe that when they die, that for them, it isn't true? Do you really think that God has made a heaven, given us the mind to think and be skeptical, as well as being a good, caring person, but then punish us for not believing what is a nearly impossible thing to believe? Now that's a vengeful God!

          November 13, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
    • conrad

      I believe that being Jewish has two sides to it, one is the religion and the other is cultural/race. There are secular Jewish people for instance. So one could theoretically be culturally and racially Jewish while also being religiously Christian.

      November 13, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
      • 123elle

        You're right! People have the right to believe whatever they choose if it helps them make it through this challenging, uncertain and sometimes painful life. I would not presume to tell anybody that they are forbidden to believe a certain way and must subscribe to a different set of beliefs. How overbearing and silly that would be. And it has been dangerous as well in the past, trying to force people into one or another box.

        November 13, 2013 at 9:18 pm |
      • dgoren1

        Except that being Jewish is not a race, and if you believe in Christ, you cannot be a Jew. I can say a tennis ball is purple when it is really yellow, but that doesn't make it so.

        November 13, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
    • Bill Cooper

      It means they are are illuminaries in secret societies. That's why rekindle which means they are illuminated. Read Behold a Pale Horse or listen to Bill Cooper's Hour of the Time Mystery Babylon series and you'll understand that these people aren't Jews just like Bush isn't Christian (my pet goat is a sick joke on 9/11 meaning Baphomet).

      November 13, 2013 at 9:07 pm |
    • Cali Lib

      I dunno, are Shiite's muslim? The first Christians were Jews who believed that Jesus was the biblical messiah. Whether or not the majority of Jews agreed is irrelevant. The fact is the early Xtians were Jews. If these guys consider themselves Messianic Jews what is the harm to regular Jews??? Jehovah's Witnesse's and Mormon's try to knock on my door and convert me on a weekly basis, it doesn't bother me. I just say no thanks. Jews for Jesus are not forcing their beliefs on you just by handing flyers out to Jews. How hard is it to say no thank you????

      November 13, 2013 at 9:07 pm |
    • Crom

      There are three main definitions for "Jew", in no particular order:
      1. Ethnic group-identity despite having no actual ethnicity as a whole among claimants.
      2. Religious group-identity based upon Judaism of many different sects and levels of delusion.
      3. Cultural group-identity based upon various cultures the claimants personally identify with at some level.

      The Nazis used all three as justification for their Christian racist nationalist attempts at genocide of those "Jews" within reach.
      They had bible verses ready to hand, believing themselves a supreme "race" / "nation" who would conquer the world for Jesus, killing the "murderers" of Jesus and all other races who were filthy animals already damned in their eyes.

      Hypocrisy in action. That happens to be just what the Jews had been doing for a few thousand years already.
      In emulating the historical tactics of "Jews" towards non-Jews, the irony was deadly to millions of people, many of them racist themselves as it was more the norm in those days than not.

      I have escaped this hypocritical point of view by becoming a rational secular humanist who seeks equality for everyone, but my fascistic impulses tend to appear in seeking world-wide changes for the better – a nice helpful tyrant I would be, sure.

      November 13, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
  6. Phil

    The Jews know that God is not a trinity, why would they want to worship the pagan evangelical triune god??

    November 13, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
    • conrad

      Insults only lead us down the wrong path ... toward division.

      November 13, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        so what?

        November 13, 2013 at 9:28 pm |
        • conrad

          So some of us belive the world would be a better place without constant pointless conflicts, wars, and suffering.

          November 14, 2013 at 10:00 am |
    • Intrigued and Confused

      It is better than waiting around for some other God to appear -

      November 13, 2013 at 9:03 pm |
  7. Richard

    They are adults, if they don't want to be converted or preached to, they can just end it. But I can understand why Jews wouldn't want to be associated with or converted to lesser humans.

    November 13, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
  8. S Peshoff

    Bush now has the the right to speak his mind just like every other American. I am offended by Ravitz's implication that Jews will be misled or tricked into Christianity, as if they are sheep that will be led without a question. I find this article to be alarmist and in bad taste. Ravitz seems to be criticizing religious freedom–why shouldn't an American relay his views at a fundraiser for a private religious religious organization?

    November 13, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
    • bob

      I'm always afraid when Little George speaks his mind.

      November 13, 2013 at 8:51 pm |
  9. John

    Don't be naive people, everybody tries to convert everybody. Even the atheists and agnostics on this post are trying to say their way is the truth without sounding contrite. I guess the Jews don't try to convert everybody else, they just think they will be condemned. So which is worse, to think you know the truth and don't share it, or do share it? Cause let's face it, everybody thinks their way is the truth.

    November 13, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Atheists don't have a "way." The only thing atheists have in common is not believing in something. Atheists have as much in common as non believers of unicorns or non bird watchers or non stamp collectors.

      What does contrition have to do with anything?

      November 13, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
    • David

      John, Jews do not think everybody else will be condemned! Jews believe that every group has their own path to the Divine. In no way do Jews judge others for having a different tradition and different beliefs. I don't know where you heard that, but there's not a grain of truth to it. Christians and Muslims may believe everybody else is going to Hell (that's why they proselytize) but Jews have never believed that. Please don't tar all religions with the same brush, thank you.

      November 13, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
      • dore

        Correct this is why we are not allowed to try to convert anyone. Us Jews do not now, and have not ever thought that being Jewish is a requirement to have a relationship with g-d. What is required is that you live a life marked by justice, humanity and tthat you not turn your face from suffering. You can be Catholic and loved by god just as much as any jew.. You can also be a black hat wearing, tallis bearing, kosher torah espousing jew who does not treat other humans as he should and gd will turn his face against you.. Being a jew is about your relationship to other people... prayer without a life of justice is like being all talk no action.
        We are judged on what we do.. more than what we think.

        November 13, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
        • Crom

          BS all the way. The OT is not about a "loving" deity, but a psychotic rambling idiot-bag of pure shit.
          There is no way you can get there from here without severe cognitive dissonance / delusion / brainwashed cult-speak.
          The "god" of Judaism is a racist, female-hating, genocidal psychotic with delusions of thinking.
          "Love" a filthy animal? Jesus was an extreme heretic opposed to all current Judaic traditions and beliefs. He taught communism, as that was a way for him to survive. He led a band of twelve to give him religious authority by having a legalistic quorum of at least ten on hand at all times. The Temple priests hated his guts and had the Romans execute him.
          By having a quorum / minyan, he could pronounce his own brand of BS just like Maimonides did, "interpreting" all the Torah however he liked.
          But he was always on the run, never staying in one place for very long. "Like a thief in the night", indeed.

          November 13, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
  10. Jon Harris

    Supporting moral upstanding religious groups is all good. If their was a Messianic Jewish Islamic group all the better. What the World needs now is love sweet love. Aloha.

    November 13, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
  11. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    I don't see that Gerorge W Bush is respected to the degree that his endorsement of this group, or any other, would be taken seriously. And he is most likely trying to justify himself, not endorsing the faith or religion of his audience.

    November 13, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
  12. Obama the liar

    Funny the liar libtards still bashing a great man ( W) but yet they get so angry and call you all kinds of names if you disagree with wackbama

    November 13, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      troll harder

      November 13, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
      • Intrigued and Confused

        52% of Americans no longer believe or trust Obama and find him untrustworthy - those are Nixon-like stats

        November 13, 2013 at 9:06 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Your reply has nothing at all to do with my comment.

          November 13, 2013 at 9:10 pm |
        • conrad

          so what?

          November 13, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
  13. Jess Sayin

    If what you believe is actually the "truth" then your beliefs will stand up to any assault. The Messianic "Jews" usurp the Jewish religion to con people into believing their POV. If their beliefs are truth, they would not have to hit people over the head, pretend to be Jewish, insult them or use a village idiot to get others to follow. After starting wars for his oil buddies, everyone knows Bush will do anything for money. Not news.

    November 13, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
  14. Obama the liar

    George W is a class act, america owes him any apology for blaming him for clintons problems ( sub prime mortgage and bin laden) funny libtatds blamed bush for gas prices, i was middle class under bush ive been in poverty for 5 years now and getting worse, God Bless W one of the great american presidents

    November 13, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
  15. Margaret

    Just remember that Bush claims to be a born again Christian and if he could he would convert the whole country to His beliefs. That is why mixing politics and religion is so bad.

    November 13, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
    • Intrigued and Confused

      Since George is no longer in politics, he is free to spread the faith - and he is a good man for doing so

      November 13, 2013 at 9:06 pm |
      • Crom

        Spreading lies is all he knows. Getting paid for it means he will never, according to your idiotic bible, get any reward in "heaven" for his works, so you are doubly wrong. Try door number three.

        November 13, 2013 at 10:18 pm |
  16. airjackie

    President Bush is still in therapy and rehab. An religious group could get the attention of the President as he repents. People don't know most of the horror and evil done in the 8 yeas Bush was President. Cheney brags about it but Bush is burden with guilt. Now likely a friend or his parents advised him go for the money their willing to pay. The Event is 100k a seat and with the President not allowed to leave the US he had to do what he can for money. It's like Judas Iscariot convinced himself that taking the 30 pieces of silver but later saw the results of his decision.

    November 13, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
    • Crom

      Yes, murdered by one of the "apostles", no doubt, on the land he had just bought to set himself up as a big landowner, eschewing the communistic worldview of his brother for the capitalistic one of the Romans, gaining power with money.

      Get it yet? Jesus wasn't a capitalist at all. Judas WAS the quintessential capitalist, doing anything for wealth and power.

      GOP christards, take note.

      November 13, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
  17. John

    Why is this news? Isn't this just a sad attempt by CNN to elicit Bush bashing? Tomorrow, will be a non-news article about Obamacare so the other side can have their turn. Is it any wonder this country is divided? Maybe we should blame the media for the disfunction in Washington.

    November 13, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
    • Frank

      OMG how true is that...talk about trying to derail the current administrations debacle......hey let's bring up Bush again...wow...just wow.

      November 13, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
      • John

        If only more people see this....

        November 13, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
        • Crom

          We see it every day from the Obama spin-doctors, the Koch filth, the ever-greedy religious right and left.

          Every.

          Fucking.

          Day.

          November 13, 2013 at 10:29 pm |
  18. Phil

    The just would never leave their religion to worship the 3 headed god... god father, god son and god Holy Ghost!

    November 13, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
    • Phil

      * Jews

      November 13, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
    • Intrigued and Confused

      This is bigotry -– Oops, I am sorry, is that anti-semetic?

      November 13, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
  19. TedMFields

    Missionary Accomplished!

    November 13, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
    • Crom

      *facepalm*

      November 13, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
    • dondiego

      Well played, sir. You win.

      November 13, 2013 at 8:43 pm |
  20. Carl, Secaucus, NJ

    Part of the reason conservative Christians support Israel is that they actually do believe when the Jewish messiah appears, the Jews will recognize that it was Jesus all along. Bush Jr. supporting Jews for Jesus may seem provocative or offensive, but it only reflects what many Christians believe–that the Jews will eventually accept Christ.

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

      It only reflects the common delusional antics of cult members.
      They all do that sort of thing.
      t's due to brainwashing, not religion per se.

      November 13, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
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