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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. Paul Alexander

    So I see that the arch-assassin of the Neo-American Century has risen from the ashes to remind us of the horrors of the Bush Dynasty!

    November 14, 2013 at 1:02 am |
    • Radz

      Right? If anyone is the Anti-Christ, it's Dubya.

      November 14, 2013 at 1:09 am |
  2. roxanne

    Bush doesn't work for you people anymore! Where do these people get off trying to dictate his life? Bush is living the life, could care less what you people whine about. He's rich and fulfilled. These comments are equivalent to a feckle on his butt. Go whine about the "Affordable care act".

    November 14, 2013 at 1:02 am |
    • pa jesseson

      it is precisely because he doesn't work for me anymore (he never did, only against me, since I am a true American and he a GOP shill) that he is fair game and is rightfully being called imbecilic, insensitive, uniformed, and worse. Hey, i remember those words with regard to him. but whether it's bush or the burning bush, even the idea of conversion of others is slime, so there's another word for your guy, and all who, like you, support the sleaze bag.

      November 14, 2013 at 1:11 am |
  3. That's just crazy talk

    Rarely is the question asked, is are Jewish people learning.

    November 14, 2013 at 12:59 am |
    • cup o joy

      Isaiah 53...He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities....With His wounds we were healed. Psalms 22 They pierced My hands and My feet. They cast lots for My garments. Zechariah 11, Rejoice Jerusalem, your King is coming to you on a donkey's colt...

      Deuteronomy...The Lord will send a Prophet like unto Moses, and in His Name the Gentiles will trust...
      Read it in your Torah...Read it in your Tenach....

      November 14, 2013 at 1:10 am |
      • Adman

        That last quote on Deut 18:18 refers to the coming of Mohammed who is like unto Moses. Jesus was exclusively born (without father) He is unlike unto Moses.

        Next, the idea that God became a man and then died as God to alleviate the sins of mankind...... is NOT part of the teachings of Jesus. Its all made up that ... God..he died.? Then rose again .
        Jesus never taught he was God. He taught us the way to God is by worshiping our Creator like he did. In the Bible it says "he went a little further... and fell on his face and prayed to God. Muslims pray the same way. Christians don't.
        Muslims love Jesus, revere him, follow him... but NEVER worship Jesus nor Muhammad. They worship the God of Jesus and Muhammad.

        November 14, 2013 at 1:45 am |
      • That's just crazy talk

        You're religious nut job

        November 14, 2013 at 8:56 am |
  4. jesus_touched_himself

    90% of American Christians use contraception; Christians now have no qualm using in-vitro that once they considered as immoral – playing god!

    Fuuuck the Christian moral BS and proselytizing!

    November 14, 2013 at 12:58 am |
  5. jesus_touched_himself

    The Vaticuuunt folks touch themselves, ya know?

    November 14, 2013 at 12:48 am |
  6. Paul

    CNN, you're worried about who a former President might offend when 93,000,000 are about to lose their health care plans because of the current President's lie? Hmmm....

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

      Paul,

      SInce you consider the King James Bible to be wrong and unreliable, which Bible version is the "ONE" true Bible?

      November 14, 2013 at 12:47 am |
      • cup o joy

        The original Hebrew is the one true Bible (Torah Tenach). The original Greek is the one true new testament...

        November 14, 2013 at 1:12 am |
        • Observer

          cup o joy,

          Yep. So no English Bible can be trusted, right?

          November 14, 2013 at 1:24 am |
      • pa jesseson

        for paul, it's the bible of his dick cheney (lose the second name.) this paul guy is bush in drag. worse.

        November 14, 2013 at 1:13 am |
    • Radz

      Oh, hell, go for the lie gold. Make that 320 million people for flavor. Don't forget to add that Obama is a Muslim illegal alien from Kenya. And that he's a Communist.

      November 14, 2013 at 1:06 am |
      • pa jesseson

        and don't forget the real reason these mo tons hate him. want to guess? try "he's black". bingo. you get an american flag pin. real american exceptionalism i.e. exceptionally dumb and poisonous, like bush.

        November 14, 2013 at 1:15 am |
  7. bob

    Too bad Idi Amin, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, or Heinrich Himmler were not available for the speaking engagement. Bush is certainly a member of that group, but pitifully stupid in comparison to the others of that group.

    November 14, 2013 at 12:37 am |
  8. Erick Holmes

    I didn't know they were trying to convert Jews. As far as I'm concerned the radical Islamic groups want everyone Muslim.

    November 14, 2013 at 12:32 am |
    • Adman

      That's so dumb. Radical Islamic Group cannot want everyone Muslim... They want everyone to leave Muslims alone.
      They speak the truth about their belief in One God. While Christians are worshiping their Messiah Jesus, and Jews are haggling with Christians for their past persecution...Muslims say.. Messiah Jesus, son of Mary is a Prophet of God. Not God. His mother Mary is therefore not "mother of God" as many Catholics believe. God has no mother, aunt or such relatives. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad are all a brotherhood of prophets and Muslims love them all, revere them all, but worship none other than the God of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.

      November 14, 2013 at 1:56 am |
  9. m

    "He was a friend to Israel during the Second Intifada"
    As a fundamentalist christian Bush surely believes that The State of Israel is vital to the fulfillment of the bible prophecy of the second coming and thus must be protected. BUT this has nothing to do with the Jewish People. Or it can be summed up for the christians in a reworking of an old Peanuts cartoon line. "I love Israel! Its Jews I can't stand."

    November 14, 2013 at 12:24 am |
    • G to the T

      Charlie Brown, Lucy and Linus stand in front of the class ready to show their presentations for "International week":

      Lucy – "I got France"
      Linus – "I got Belgium"
      Charlie Brown – "I got Iraq..."

      November 14, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
  10. susan

    For heaven's sake, Bush can speak to whoever he wants. He isn't even president, just a citizen like the rest of us. Long live free speech, a cherished Jewish value.....

    November 14, 2013 at 12:20 am |
  11. shawbrooke

    I appreciate the Jewish faith for its tolerance. That's what's needed now, a remembrance that people get to choose their path and that a group of people that are Jewish and Christian exists. Bush should not be expected to exclude them from his speaking schedule. 1492 was 500 centuries ago plus. Might be time to let it go.

    November 14, 2013 at 12:18 am |
    • Jake

      1492 might be 500 years ago, but 1942 a time when they were genocidally slaughtered was only 70 years ago. Jews have good reason to take threats to their existence seriously.

      November 14, 2013 at 1:21 am |
  12. Goy

    Do we make a fuss when Jews go to memorialize a man who said "goys are donkeys to serve jews?"

    Bush is not going to a jewish temple to preach conversion, so what is it to you?

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

    Please go back and read the article. This is just a speaking engagement by Bush, for money. He is not a MessanicJew, nor does he support them. They're just paying him to talk for an hour and tell stories about his life and the Presidency.

    November 14, 2013 at 12:08 am |
    • Crom

      Would he speak at any function, no matter how criminal or insane just for money? Because that is where you're going with this.

      November 14, 2013 at 12:14 am |
  14. jimatmad

    The Republicans have a check list.

    They aren't going to stop alienating different groups until the only people who MIGHT vote for them are old Christian white guys.

    November 14, 2013 at 12:04 am |
    • Bob Johnson

      Must be written by yet another whining black guy....

      November 14, 2013 at 12:07 am |
      • pa jesseson

        sorry dude. written by another whiney black guy who has the kind of head on his, um, shoulders your wife craves. as I said, sorry dude. it ain't you. but leave it alone. it'll grow. hatred like yours always does.

        November 14, 2013 at 1:19 am |
  15. Reality # 2

    Rabbi Wolpe is also notable in his conclusions that Abraham and Moses are fictional characters and that Exodus never happened.

    Said conclusions are significantly more damaging to Judaism than is President Bush's speech at a Messianic convention !!

    To wit:

    origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

    New Torah For Modern Minds

    “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. (prob•a•bly
    Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell).

    The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

    The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."

    November 14, 2013 at 12:01 am |
    • Carole Clarke

      Until relatively recent times, archaeological "digs" were funded by Christian organizations and headed by pastors not scientists. Any views that came out of the dig had to tally with their beliefs or the funding would dry up. Now that Israel has educated its own archaeolegists, unearthed evidence and dating will stick to what is discovered.

      November 14, 2013 at 12:21 am |
    • Crom

      Sounds like a sort of "intelligent design" scam.
      He keeps his "Rabbi" label, writes a new pile of dung disavowing the very source of his "Rabbi" label, and shows all those goyim intelligent design nutbars how the game is played. Oyy, my irony meter just exploded again. So hard to get good ones these days...

      November 14, 2013 at 12:23 am |
  16. Mark

    forced conversions took place hundreds of years ago and it was not done by members of the messianic jewish group in US. you are stiffling religious freedom of expression by attempting to dictate to the former president where he can and cannot speak (especially Bush who was such a staunch supporter of israel). you guys are being hedgemonic and you should stop. if some jews want to convert to christianity let them. if some christians want to convert to judiasm let them. it is none of your business to dictate. i always like president bush despite all his critics...he was a fine human being and a president who did what he felt was right and continues to. i applaud him.

    November 13, 2013 at 11:51 pm |
    • Quasi

      Dubya was even worse than the terrorists he claimed to go after. So many humans were killed because his evil and horrible lies and disgusting decisions.

      November 14, 2013 at 12:03 am |
      • Snoopz

        Which Obama continues to this day with his drone massacres.

        November 14, 2013 at 12:09 am |
        • Radz

          Which is better than putting our soldiers at risk for Bush's stupid perfidies.

          November 14, 2013 at 12:18 am |
    • ksb

      Ah, "Freedom of expression". The first argument of the unthinking.

      The KKK also has freedom of expression. That in no way obligates us NOT to call them what they are, to denounce what they stand for, to say it would be a terrible symbol if such and such a person would speak before them.

      Messianic Jews are (in my humble opinion) either delusional or liars. I hereby invoke MY freedom of expression to call Bush a putz for associating with them.

      November 14, 2013 at 12:13 am |
    • mattspottery

      ^^^ Exactly!! Bush loves Jesus and loves Israel, two things that fit perfectly for a Messianic Jewish audience. If people are that upset that others have different beliefs in one of the freest countries in history, they really need a hobby...

      November 14, 2013 at 12:35 am |
    • mattspottery

      The fact that he is "irked" is like watching a spoiled child complain that someone who used to play with him only is now playing with other kids too. Bush loves Jesus and loves Israel – two things that make him perfectly suited to speak to a Messianic Jewish audience. If you're sad that there's so much freedom of religion in this country, try another one...

      November 14, 2013 at 12:40 am |
  17. samuel

    i am the way, the truth and the life ... no one comes to the father except by me. this is jesus christ speaking. he is the only one you can believe in for salvation. there is no other name given among men through which salvation comes but the name of jesus christ. praise and glory to HIM lion of the tribe of juda, king of kings ,lord of lords, alpha and omega who paid the ultimate sacrifice that whoever believes in him may not perish in hell but have eternal life in heaven amen.

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

      Yep. TOUGH LUCK for the billions of people who never heard of Jesus.

      November 13, 2013 at 11:57 pm |
      • Crom

        Crispy critters. They'z'em gonna fryyY naow! Ha ha all those babies guilty of being born are gonna PAY NOW, yep.

        November 14, 2013 at 12:26 am |
      • pa jesseson

        i heard of jesus. nice boy. good jewish boy. loved his mother. never knew his father but stayed out of trouble till the converting haters got hold of him. that was the end. they say he will come back some day to play stick ball with the fellas. but everyone knows it isn't true. he could never bat worth a damn. but he was a good jewish boy. read it again. he never liked the christians, never joined them. then he died. too bad. nice boy.

        November 14, 2013 at 1:21 am |
    • cup o joy

      And, in the Hebrew Bible (Torah and Tenach), God calls Himself Alpha Omega over 500 times. Read Isaiah 53, Psalms 22, Zechariah 11, Micah 5:2, Isaiah 9:3 and 9:6.

      November 14, 2013 at 1:19 am |
      • pa jesseson

        you forgot cruz1:13, palin 2:666, and rand paul: 101. best fiction writers in american history. and Looooooossssseeeerrrrrssssss big time.

        November 14, 2013 at 1:23 am |
  18. Rabbi Nuttercakes

    dolfin meat is delicacy for SKorea! do not interrapt!

    Greetings from Seocho-gu, Seoul Korea. Home of Samsung Town!
    삼성 타운에서 인사말!

    November 13, 2013 at 11:44 pm |
    • Radz

      Just discover Google Translate?

      November 14, 2013 at 12:23 am |
  19. lol??

    Humans always let Jesus down.

    November 13, 2013 at 11:44 pm |
  20. NorCalMojo

    It doesn't really matter who it irks. This is America and people are allowed to worship how they choose.

    Their protests just make them seem intolerant.

    November 13, 2013 at 11:38 pm |
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