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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. Joseph Smith is God

    The only thing you have to do to became a mormon is:

    1- Accept Jesus as you Lord

    2 – Provide us with your Yearly Income, so we can know how much you made and like that make sure you give your Thieving for the Lord!

    November 13, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
    • Colin

      And you have to believe some really, really nutty stuff.

      November 13, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
    • tony

      Giving money to the lord is of course easy. You ask your church leader and congregation to help you burn the entire collection each time and together watch the smoke ascend to heaven, so god can receive it.

      Would your church leader do that? If so he is probably honest. Beware the others though. . .

      November 13, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
      • Crom

        Not if they know the trick and simply go along knowing that later they'll have all your money, not just five bucks.

        November 14, 2013 at 12:31 am |
  2. tony

    There is a religion and morality as espoused by Jesus Christ, whether he existed, or no, and the US concept of Christianity, which kinda matches JC's idea of evil personified.

    November 13, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
  3. EX Born Again

    Born Again tactics:

    1- They say " Jesus loves you", and "I love you" but there looking for was to rip you off

    2 – They say they speak in tongues, but it BS or it seems they get demon possessed, sometimes even talking what is obscene

    November 13, 2013 at 10:29 pm |
  4. Circus Circus

    This whole thing was a Golem created by the nefarious zionists in late 1800s. It has come back to threaten them.

    November 13, 2013 at 10:28 pm |
    • Crom

      Holding hands with the House of Saud. Good times.

      November 13, 2013 at 11:38 pm |
  5. sammy750

    A Jewish leader who worked with G. Bush when he was President is surprised that Bush would speak. He still hopes that Bush will withdraw. My personal feeling is Bush is senile and doesn't understand who he is talking too. The Jewish Leader said Bush should know what effect his attendance will have and the Jews will never forgive Bush in the Future.

    November 13, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
  6. Dan the man

    Ah, W! The guy who got us tangled up in Iraq. And what did we get? China won the oil contracts, the bombs are still going off there, and Iran not only got rid of its worst enemy but now has sway over the largest demographic.

    But at least we didn't spend much money on it.

    November 13, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
  7. Stan Hubris

    "Every time we do something, you tell me Americans will do this and will do that. I want to tell you something very clear.
    Don't worry about American pressure on Israel. WE, THE JEWISH PEOPLE, CONTROL AMERICA. AND THE AMERICANS KNOW IT." - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, October 3, 2001

    "I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction. They won't get in the way." - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, July 2010

    November 13, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
  8. twalk

    NO, thank you GWB. I would rather watch it rain.

    November 13, 2013 at 10:18 pm |
  9. bobo111

    This rabbi has a lot of nerve being "infuriated". I am a major Israel supporter but the rabbi's in this country leave a lot to be desired: They are 1 sided and opinionated to say the least ! They cry because Bush is addressing this group and protest other similar issues, yet, they either refuse or half heartedly welcome mixed marriage couples and their children to the temples: this is true all accros reform and conservative jewish temples(forget about Orthodox they wldnt even look at mixed marriage. And now they cry for this ! If this stinking rotten rabbi as a leader he and his other pals wld welcome with open arms and acceptance mixed marriage couples and their kids as full 100% jews. So big shot most influential reb you got what you deserved up your rear end. And yes i DO support 1000% israel- it is the only decent country in the entire middle east where men and women are equal and freedom flourishes–the women even get to drive cars–not a very good idea but necessary–haha just kidding. But seriously, Israel takes raps but look at the dog countries around it–saudia arabia where they stone you if you look sideways, and the rest of the muzzie countries where females are treated like property and have NO rights and dehumanized / forced to cover themselves head to toe–this alone wld make anyone feel second class and ashamed of their own personal body and themselves. The list is endless in the these stone age countries where their is no democracy and their religion is nothing but an excuse to keep power for the few and enslave others and where they hate the western world and would lke to destroy america..Reminiscent of a country in europe in the 1930's!

    November 13, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
  10. jackinlondon

    "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" – That statement is so ridiculous as to be laughable. Jesus was, after all, Jewish. His followers were Jewish. His teachings were rooted in Judaism. So what, was there some sort of a cut-off that if you were a Jew then and you believed in Jesus you were still Jewish but now if you do, you are not? As someone raised Jewish who converted to Catholicism many years ago, the more I know about Christianity the more I see the commonalities and the ties that bind Christianity and Judaism together. I don't think there is anything wrong with Jews who come to accept Jesus as the messiah – it doesn't make them suddenly non-Jews. If they choose to express worship for God in a Jewish context, honestly, what is wrong with that? Why on earth does everyone look to be offended all the time?

    November 13, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
    • bobo111

      Completely 100% true ! Jesus was a Jewish preacher according to just about every knowledgeable scholar, religious leaders etc–even wikpedia states so ! Strange strange world that a religion 's central figure is from a different religion and stranger still so many in that same religion believe jews are evil and no good and/or have horns etc and so many are quick to say -blame them jews ! strange world !

      November 13, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
    • Someone

      The answer to your question is simple – Jesus is not accepted as the Messiah by observant Jews. To accept Jesus as the Messiah rejects something very fundamental in our current beliefs.

      Yes, there are similarities between Judaism, Christ-based religions, and even Islam (Kosher rules comes to mind). Again, the answer is simple – these religions all refer back to the Old Testament.

      November 13, 2013 at 10:29 pm |
      • Crom

        They plaigarize, some wholesale, some retail.
        Islam, like Christianity, seeks to "out-do" the stereotypical "Jew" in worshipping tradition, acting like rabid bands of murdering cult members with extreme totalitarian rules invading everyone's personal lives to a great degree.
        Christians try to be a mirror-image of Jews, with everything as opposite as possible yet just as "holy", while muslims reflect the totalitarianism of the first murdering band of outlaws driven by fear and total control believing they should not control themselves in any way besides ritual nothings.

        But they don't even come close to mormons, who try to be the "Jewiest Jew Jews A-Jewing" worshipping the ancient bigoted stereotype that the founder used as his template for the wealthiest religion he could think up through his hat.
        Seriously, has anyone heard of any religion trying to out-do a stereotype as much as the LDS wakjobs?
        I ask you.

        November 13, 2013 at 10:45 pm |
  11. Billy Bones

    Apparently there is a guy in Australia who claims to be Jesus Christ born again. I wonder if a group will follow him too.

    November 13, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
    • Colin

      There's a very easy way to find out if he is. Crucify him, wait three days........

      November 13, 2013 at 10:17 pm |
    • bobo111

      Yes ! Heard about him–and he also had lunch with Elvis last week !

      November 13, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
  12. Bill Walker

    Still Best President Ever. We just do not know it.

    November 13, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
    • Ground Control

      We includes you, so you don't know it either. And we will never know it, because it is totally untrue. Better than Lincoln? Not a freaking chance.

      What a stupid thing to say.

      November 13, 2013 at 10:17 pm |
    • Someone

      Best President ever – the man who brought us the Iraq war, the Patriot Act, the Great Recession – rrriiiiggghhhtttttt.........

      November 13, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
  13. John Hurd

    I'm tempted to start a group whose purpose is to convert Christians to Judaism and to invite Bush to speak there. Think he'd go?

    November 13, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
    • Dan the man

      Could you start a group to convert religious people to sanity instead? W wouldn't do that one either.

      November 13, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
    • Eddie Van

      Make that converting Christians to Islam. Jews don't really try to convert people.

      November 13, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
    • DavidG

      I think this man would talk anywhere where his share comes from profits of a $100k a ticket.

      November 13, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
      • Crom

        This is just more blatant money-laundering. By making it appear as if he had "earned" it, it becomes "clean" money.

        Status quo and no one willing to stop the crime. Oh, a "god" would come in handy about 20,000 years ago, but it was just the wind, a cloud farting, and is that a squirrel over there? My goodness gracious me.

        November 13, 2013 at 11:04 pm |
  14. EX Born again

    Born agains are the biggest schemers alive, one time my pastor told me to help him pretend in front of people that I had a disease and that he would was curing me... He got a good stack of money that night...

    November 13, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
    • somethingstellar

      LOL I hope you asked for a cut

      November 13, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
      • EX Born Again

        I tried but, the pastor was so greedy that he gave me not much...But i felt bad for all those mislead people...I was thinking: " What if that was my granny or parents?"

        November 13, 2013 at 10:34 pm |
  15. don0011

    Oh, give me a break. This is similar to some secular people always shouting about the Crusades but don't say anything about the secular enlightenment revolution of Robespierre and the French Revolution.
    The Jewish people is confused, depending on who you ask, some of the Jews are looking for the Messiah and some says what Messiah. The Messianic group are saying Jesus is the Messiah. However, it is suppose to be like this. Christian in the know, knows that it will be at the last moments before Jesus 2nd coming that the Jews admit Jesus is their Messiah. However some secular people and some atheist and others just wants to do what they want to do.
    That is the point of things, everyone does what they have to do.

    November 13, 2013 at 10:01 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      The secular enlightenment also brought us the Const.itution of the United States.

      November 13, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
    • Crom

      Well it certainly seems like most people are just trying to do what they see as correct for them, but that's also the problem.

      We all have to do what is correct for everyone, and no one in charge is willing to step up and do the right thing, so the rest of us, disenfranchised and oppressed, are more likely to live our whole lives like this than to see real positive changes before we die. No opportunity is given to us to escape the status quo. Over 50 trillion dollars in the hands of a few, the rest of us get shit sandwiches and a kick to the gutter while the oligarchy stomps down even harder in the old psychotic tradition of totalitarianism.
      Good times.

      November 13, 2013 at 11:19 pm |
  16. Major Tom

    Is he taking the short bus to get there? And will someone please make sure his helmet is on and fastened tight?

    November 13, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
    • Ground Control

      He wanted the Air Force to shock and awe them first so they would put up a statue of him in the square (monsoon-proof, like the Jesus one).

      November 13, 2013 at 10:05 pm |
  17. jonathanlockwoodhuie

    I figure that after Dubya ended his (unfortunate) service to his country, he has the same right as any other American to prosletize. It is really OK for any American to try to convert any other American (much as I hate that Saturday morning knock on my front door). Whatever happened decades ago on another continent doesn't place the Jewish religion above American law and social norms.

    November 13, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
  18. Copenshaw

    Sounds absurd. Why is it anyone's business where a previous president is talking? He may talk at Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Jehova's Witnesses meetings. He was American president, not just the Jews' president.

    November 13, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
  19. hal

    OY ; – )

    November 13, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
  20. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    I wasn't expecting the Spanish Inquisition ...

    November 13, 2013 at 9:56 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.