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
[twitter-follow screen_name='JRavitzCNN']

(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. Paul

    Moe, you made the point- NO ONE is good enough, that is the point. Salvation isn't about 'good enough'. Did Jesus show contempt for Judaism? No, He was the fulfillment of Judaism. So what's your plan for 'life after death' or is death the 'end all'? The amazing thing is that God made a plan for life after death that doesn't require you to be 'good enough'! Thus, the thief on the cross, moments before his own death, could be included. There would never be enough time for him to make up his life of crime- he simply accepted Christ's offer of salvation.

    November 13, 2013 at 11:37 pm |
    • Observer

      Yep. Don't take full responsibility for what you do. Just pass the buck for someone else to take your deserved punishment.

      November 13, 2013 at 11:48 pm |
    • jesus_touched_himself

      You have to believe to be saved. fffffuuuuccckk that shiiiiiiit! jesus touched himself too, ya know?

      November 14, 2013 at 12:41 am |
    • jesus_touched_himself

      Your impotent dog can't save shiiiiit! Stop spreading fear and stop proselytizing shhiiiiiit! Keep your shiiiit to yourself.

      November 14, 2013 at 12:44 am |
    • jesus_touched_himself

      Tell your christ and god to suck mine anytime!

      November 14, 2013 at 12:47 am |
    • G to the T

      Your handle is ironic then. I believe that Paul changed the religion of Jesus (apocalyptic jew) into a religion about Jesus (suffering messiah). From my studies it appears that Jesus believed the end of this world was coming soon and that the Son of Man (and his twelve disciples) would rule over the 12 tribes as the jewish people are finally given their rightful place in the world.

      November 14, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
  2. Haha

    This messianic thing causes bad reactions. I had a friend who was the lawyer for my cities jewish cultural center. He was a cool guy. Then I went to this messianic temple one time and the "rabbi" there was like a pretty big jerk. You couldn't question him or you got kicked out and he was pretty uninterested in anyone that wasn't a J ew.. He also was really down on America and could wait to allied back to Israel and had speakers people though might be spies. Then one day I told my other friend and he like freaked out and called him every name in the book. Christians think sharing God, Je ws see as conquering.

    November 13, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
    • Crom

      It wasn't all that long ago that they were doing it themselves. Irony, hypocrisy, and fallacy, the triple crown of religion.

      November 13, 2013 at 11:43 pm |
  3. lol??

    When the NSA doesn't even know it's antichrist, it shows a lack education, morals, and upbringing. Those socies sure know how to leaven. That won't fly at a passover.

    November 13, 2013 at 11:33 pm |
  4. Journey

    All this liberal Christianity crap in America is wearing people out, and we need to get back to the apple pie basics as I finally did. I don't care anymore if the United States says the world is flat it is...if the Bible says the sky is green it is. That's Old School.

    November 13, 2013 at 11:31 pm |
  5. NOYB4EVER!!!

    Religion is a waste of time............

    November 13, 2013 at 11:24 pm |
    • jesus_touched_himself

      For sure, jesus touched himself too!

      November 14, 2013 at 12:38 am |
  6. JennyTX

    People, people, people. Religions are nothing more than theories. Don't get so worked up.

    November 13, 2013 at 11:20 pm |
    • Crom

      No, they're ideologies, delusional ones and extremely dangerous and harmful. That's worth getting worked up about, I think.

      November 13, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
    • lol??

      Down is the other option.

      November 13, 2013 at 11:23 pm |
      • Crom


        November 13, 2013 at 11:45 pm |
  7. alfredo

    Jesus was Jewish. Christianity is derived form Judaism. The two religions are intertwined. Let God decide...

    November 13, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
    • lol??

      There was a divorce, ya know.

      November 13, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
      • Crom

        Oh, a 'get' enforced by beating the wife-beater into granting the divorce? Good to know. Who is who now?

        November 13, 2013 at 11:23 pm |
        • lol??

          Calm down, err up.

          November 13, 2013 at 11:26 pm |
  8. Dissident-Wolverine

    Since I quit believing in the religious crap I feel so free as a person.

    November 13, 2013 at 11:14 pm |
    • lol??

      Karnality and karnal corn only go so far.

      November 13, 2013 at 11:19 pm |
  9. Lenny Pincus

    Certain forms of Christianity appear to be mental health issues.

    November 13, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
    • lol??

      Will you please formulate your hypothesis with something to witch to ID?? No sense bowing down to mudder earth without a payback.

      November 13, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
  10. Casey

    The media manipulation of public opinion is a very scary thing. With the current administration's approval rates at all time lows, and signature legislation in danger of total melt down, CNN runs a story talking about the GOP as a party divided, and runs a story about President Bush designed to inflame. Most of you ... obviously... don't even recognize how you are being manipulated. It is an insidious and reprehensible activity. They're good at it... and they have been doing it for years.

    November 13, 2013 at 11:08 pm |
    • chubby rain

      Welcome to CNN's Belief Blog. It seems that you have reached this page in error. Please type f-o-x-n-e-w-s-.-c-o-m into your browser and enjoy content more tailored to your world view.

      November 13, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
      • Casey

        You pretty much prove my point. You are clearly not a thinking individual, and seem to be a "one news source" sort of person. In todays era of hyper partisanship... and the unthinking following of the mob mentality, it is most important to get your information from a wide variety of sources. You have clearly bought in to a particular point of view. You feel that ideas that don't align to yours must be shouted down... for some reason. Hey.. It's OK.. there's a million sheeple just like you out there who do not know how to think for themselves, and feel that some snarky restatement of a tired party slogan is the height of intellect. I try to stay positive... and continue to search for signs of intelligent life in the vast desert of the internet. The search continues.

        November 15, 2013 at 10:14 pm |
  11. dougjmiller

    This isn't Bush's finest moment, and it's almost sad and pathetic. However, this hardly compares to Obama who as president is actively supporting those terrorist forces and terrorist nations waging a genocidal war against Israel and the Jewish people. Fund raising for an organization attempting to convert Jews doesn't come close to helping those criminals attempting the annihilation of Israel and the extermination of the Jewish people.

    November 13, 2013 at 11:05 pm |
  12. Publius1787

    Wait a minute!?!?! Where are the religion haters and their comments??
    If this story was about Christianity there would be so many posts about how wrong it is to be a Christian and how a fake religion it is. Here is an article about Jews defending their faith from conversion, and not a single hatred about believing in Judaism as a religion.
    Goes to show you the trolls that pick on the wrong religion and the hypocrisy CNN perpetuates.

    November 13, 2013 at 11:05 pm |
    • Crom

      To: Publius1787
      From: Crom
      Re: Your point

      The fact......... is that no one debates us on Judaism here, hence the lack of arguments, yet I am always up for religion-bashing, as they are all BS, and if you'd check each post you'd see some posts of the brand you allude to in your post.


      November 13, 2013 at 11:28 pm |
    • The Jester

      I know! When will the poor Christians ever get a break?

      November 13, 2013 at 11:30 pm |
  13. Moe

    Bush was not good to the Jews or to Israel. He fabricated a war in Iraq that further destabilized the Middle East for decades. His policies, lies and preemptive, unilateral movement into Iraq killed hundreds of thousands and created an equal number of terrorists, all with their eyes on Israel. The concept of Jews for Jesus is a contradiction and falsehood. It is a place for aimless, confused and desperate people but then again that is what religion is all about.

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

      Several times I have encountered so called "Jews for Jesus" (Messianic Jews). I stopped to speak with them because I could not understand what would influence a Jewish person to accept a different faith. In all cases (within my limited personal experience), the answer became clear when the "Jew for Jesus" I spoke with turned out not to ever have been anything but Christian.

      I guess lying in the name of Jesus is one of the ways to heaven for these guys.

      November 14, 2013 at 12:02 am |
  14. Bill David

    And they accuse Obama of not liking the Jews.

    November 13, 2013 at 10:56 pm |
    • Moe

      They accuse Obama of everything.

      November 13, 2013 at 11:01 pm |
      • Paul

        Guilty as charged and now more believe that than don't. Obama was willing for millions to lose their insurance to get his way- and lied about it (okay, if you like 'misspoke, deceived, etc. fine, but it was a lie that even liberals like Bill Maher acknowledge, they just justify it as the only way he could get it passed).If it's that bad, it didn't deserve to pass!

        November 13, 2013 at 11:29 pm |
        • Crom

          The way some people explain it is that the most intelligent option of simply expanding Medicare was too big of a bite, so they used a bad hash of an old GOP health-care plan as a way of doing it more slowly.
          Why no one is willing to consider removing the profit-motive from something like health-care is more than I can stomach.

          November 13, 2013 at 11:50 pm |
  15. Fiona

    He's no longer president, and you (aides) no longer work foe him. Hie can do what he likes.

    November 13, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
    • Moe

      He has always done what he was told and now he just shows his contempt for Judaism. This display is what is wrong with religion as Dubyah preaches, "my religion is better than your religion. He showed this throughout his Presidency and hundreds of thousands died. He is a war criminal and now he shows he is a bigot.

      November 13, 2013 at 11:08 pm |
      • Crom

        Anyone religious is a bigot, as all religious ideologies rely heavily upon our primate instincts towards having a group-identity we can identify with. No one is immune unless their brains have some serious structural problems.

        Bigotry is just ignorant, xenophobic bias on behalf of what a person perceives as being group characteristics / values / etc. and it is ignorance that allows lies and delusions to have so much sway in a person's thinking and reactions.

        Long story short, he's just a human being who felt justified in doing what he did, no matter how crazy or stupid.
        I'd let him reflect on it all he wants in federal prison, but it's not up to me and Obama doesn't have the guts to do it, so I guess he'll have fun flying around laundering money. It pays pretty good, I hear.

        November 14, 2013 at 12:13 am |
  16. Ryan

    Well, it was a poorly researched article, sorry. Centuries of indoctrination has reinforced the notion that if one believes in Jesus, that makes them by default, a Christian. In general, Christianity has perpetuated this, and in some ways, laying exclusive rights to the Messiah. "Oh, you believe in Jesus, well that automatically makes you a Christian."

    Messianic Judaism is a movement that is distinct from Christianity, and a way of life that most closely resembled what Jesus taught and lived. Messianic Judaism doesn't want to convert anyone to Christianity, it wants to present to the world the Messiah as represented in the bible, not the Messiah Christianity has in some ways distorted. The organization labeled as Christianity has done some amazing things in the history of mankind, both individually and as a whole. The flip side is, they have also done some awful things as well in the name of Jesus. I wish most people who call themselves Christians would do a serious study of how the Christian Church strayed from their Jewish roots, and it wasn't for the better. It was a result of anti semitism, from the early so called church fathers to Martin Luther, at times there was a vitriolic and unwarranted hatred towards the Jews. And Christians wonder why they have not been as successful preaching Jesus to the Jewish people.

    God is so much more then what any movement or denomination that wants to put God into a box. In the end, maybe it is time to present to the world the Messiah that spoke, taught, and lived Torah whose Father gave his only begotten Son, so all who call upon the name of Jesus will not perish, but will be saved and have eternal life. Praise and Glory to the Risen King!

    November 13, 2013 at 10:44 pm |
    • AJD

      If a Jewish person does not, however, believe that Jesus was "the messiah" then it would in fact be attempting to "convert" them to try to convince them that he was. I have had a lot of experience with Jewish people, Orthodox and Reform, and I never met one that believed that Jesus was the messiah. True, they may not be attempting to convert them to full "Christianity," but they are trying to convert them into a belief that their current religion does not accept as true or valid.

      November 13, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
      • Jesus freak

        It is not a crime (yet) to try to convert or persuade someone to believe in something different than what they currently believe. I realize there is sensitivity due to the church's historical treatment of Jews.

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

        No, it would just be an acknowledgement of the suffering servant who came to be pierced and crushed for our iniquities as spoken of in Isaiah 53 and multiple, multiple other scriptures. It was well accepted and taught within Judaism that the Messiah would come before the temple was destroyed as spoken of in Daniel 9, Micah 3:12. However the Jews were looking for the Conquering King as they were oppresed by Roman rule, not the suffering servant who bore our sins to take away the sins of the world. The rest they say, is history.

        November 13, 2013 at 11:02 pm |
    • rotorhead1871

      religion is only good for causing wars....choosing a particular belief doesn't make it better or right...but it makes all other beliefs wrong.....hence..time to fight...

      November 13, 2013 at 11:12 pm |
      • Paul

        What wars did Jesus start?

        November 13, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
  17. AJD

    It's one thing to speak to different religious groups and be accepting of them, it's a whole different thing to choose to speak to a group that makes their main goal to try to persuade another religious group to relinquish their beliefs and follow theirs. One thing I can't stand about religion is the pressure religious people put on others to "convert" no matter what faith they are. To directly or indirectly tell others that they are somehow "less than" if they do not conform to that person's belief system. As a former president, I feel that Bush should still see himself as a representative of ALL citizens of the U.S. and not be involved with a group that has the type of goal that this group has. I am an atheist so my personal feeling is that it doesn't matter what either believe in, it would just be trading one imaginary friend for another and really make no difference if one converted in the realm of reality, however, because I would like to be free to be an atheist without people trying to "convert" me, I always feel obligated to denounce those who do not respect others. If a Jewish person wants to convert to Christianity, they know it's out there and can pursue that of their own free will. They don't need people hassling them to do so...and no president, current or former, should put themselves in a position to be seen in support of that sort of thing.

    November 13, 2013 at 10:41 pm |
  18. Joseph Smith is God

    What you need to do to become a mormon:

    1- Accept Jesus as your Lord

    2- Gives us a statement providing your early income so we can donate %10 to the Lord in Salt Lake City

    November 13, 2013 at 10:37 pm |
  19. joe barnathan

    "Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one"

    Every Jew knows the Shemah Yisrael

    The concept is very simple ONE means only ONE!
    Not one and his son

    November 13, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
    • Jesus freak

      "Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands? Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and the name of his son? Tell me if you know! (Proverbs 30:4)

      November 13, 2013 at 11:09 pm |
  20. Hmmmm

    Ha ha so when some one converts to Christianity, It's George Bush's fault.

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

      No it just shows him as a soulless narrow minded proselytizer telling Jews they are not good enough. He has already done enough damage to the Jews and this further shows his contempt to Judaism.

      November 13, 2013 at 11:03 pm |
      • liz48

        Moe, you have got the facts totally screwed up. No one who claims the Yehoshua (Jesus was the name used in greek translations) is Moshiach is telling Jews they are not good enough. Nor is everyone who claims Yehoshua is the Moshiach a christian.

        I am NOT a christian and I am not a Jew but I believe he is Moshiach. I believe HaShem is One and I honor the 7th day Shabbath, though I live eternally in the Shabbat of Moshiach who has reconciled man to HaShem to live as One with and in and part of HaShem, as HaShem Is. The Jews already believe in that process though they believe they would proceed before the goyim. If you know that HaShem is not governed by chronological time, and that the mixture of linen and wool was permitted ONLY in the Temple to be worn by the Cohen Gadol (High Priest), you will understand that HaShem always saw the Goyim and Jews as One. And HaShem is outside all limits of time and space.

        I have witnessed the Life of Moshiach in the man Yehoshua (called Jesus by christians), as taught and revealed in the oral and written Law and the Prophets. If you believe you will be established. There are rabbis (not messianic rabbis) teaching people that if they can believe the Moshiach they will see His manifestation in their life today. As the Nevim (prophets) said – if you do not believe you will not be established.

        To believe you must personally seek HaShem as Your Parent and open your heart to Him to teach you. In the Family of HaShem He is Abba...

        November 13, 2013 at 11:57 pm |
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