Got news? Jews for Jesus founder dies

The passing of Moishe Rosen wasn’t earth-shattering, but this was certainly news worthy of coverage on more obit pages than that of The Washington Post.

As I’ve followed Google News for a widening catalog of obituaries about the Jews for Jesus founder, who died Wednesday after a protracted battle with cancer, the only real change has been the increase in coverage from sectarian media outlets. CBN did their story, and the Jewish Chronicle another.

But no mention from the San Francisco Chronicle, despite the fact that Jews for Jesus was based in San Francisco and Rosen died there. And, as of yet, nothing else, except for this bio from the Orland Sentinel’s religion blog and this brief AP report.

So let’s take a look at the WaPo story:

Jews for Jesus, founded in 1973, is the largest and most visible part of the Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Christian movement, which holds that Jews can recognize Jesus as the messiah and still retain a Jewish identity. The group has offices in 11 countries, including Israel, and employs more than 100 missionaries worldwide.

Mr. Rosen said he modeled his evangelical efforts on Vietnam War protests he saw while living in the San Francisco area. Jews for Jesus spread its ideas via street theater performances and printed pamphlets with catchy titles such as “On the First Day of Christmas My Rabbi Gave to Me . . . ” and “Jesus Made Me Kosher.”

Adherents handed out millions of copies on street corners and college campuses and at shopping malls and airports.

“[W]e must believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths the Lord Jesus in order to be saved,” Mr. Rosen wrote in a statement posted online at the time of his death. “There are no shortcuts.”

The next line mentions how Rosen’s message angered Jewish leaders, and plenty of members of the American Jewish community. I can certainly understand that. I’ve long been uncomfortable with Jews for Jesus — partly because they thought that I was going to be their mole on The Jewish Journal’s staff but mostly because I think that they mislead many Jews about the cost of following Christ.

The Washington Post’s Emma Brown does a good job mentioning that perspective but not getting hung up on it. After a quote, she quickly returns to Rosen’s life in an obit that leaves little to criticize. I would have liked to have seen discussion of how Jews for Jesus differ from Messianic Jews — in short, significantly — and maybe a bit more about some of the group’s legal battles — they got to both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of Israel. And Brown’s obit wasn’t as thorough as the one from the Baptist Press, which was written by the BP’s editor. But who could expect it to be?

I would, however, expect a few other daily newspapers to wake up to Rosen’s death.

PHOTO: Rosen as a Jews for Jesus council meeting last June, via Flickr.

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  • Paul Carden

    “should have awoke?” Please change to “awakened”! Thanks. I greatly appreciate your work.

  • David Klinghoffer

    Brad, there’s a fascinating passage in his “farewell” on the J4J website that I haven’t seen anyone explain. In an otherwise brief text, he spends a lot of words on it, so it must have been of significant concern to him. What (and who) does Rosen have in mind when he writes:

    As I go, one of the things that concerns me deeply is how much misunderstanding there is among believers. I never thought I would live to see the day when those who know the Lord and are born again were supporting the efforts of rabbis who, frankly, not only don’t know Christ, but don’t want to know Him….

    Likewise, I am concerned over something else that I never thought that I would see or hear and that is, Jews who have become believers in Jesus and have important positions in ministry yet feel that their primary purpose is to promote Jewishness and Judaism to the Jews.

    Your further reporting on this would be appreciated.

    Interesting, perhaps, that he died on Shavuot, the Jewish festival commemorating the revelation of the Ten Commandments.

  • Mattk

    The fact that the SF Chronicle didn’t tdo an obit should be an embarrassment for that city. I wonder if the SFBay Guarian or SF Weeky is going to say anything about it.

  • John Pack Lambert

    I have to admit ignorance on some points. The only self-professed Christian who still fully identifies as a Jew who I have known who was not a Latter-day Saint (I have known at least four people in the later category, and since my grandmother was a Jew before she joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I at times claim such) was a part of Jews for Jesus, and I never really thought of them as distinct from Messianic Judaism.

    I recently read a history of Judaism in America where the author dismissed Jews for Jesus as clearly not Jewish because “whatever else a Jew is, a Jew is clearly not Christian”. Yet, that author seemed to use Jews for Jesus and Messianic Judaism interchangably and never really suggested there was Messianic Judaism beyound that.

    Yet, Mr. Greenburg seems to hold the view that Jews for Jesus are not part of Messianic Judaism at all. I am guessing he has good reasons for thinking such, but not being well aquainted with such movements I do not know for sure.

    I guess there are three ways to approach this issue, if not more. There is the way of Mormons of Jewish descent, who by virtue of being in a unified church do not function religiously distinctly. On the other hand Mormon theology so fully embraces notions about the house of Israel, the nature of Israel’s chosenness, and the like, and acceptance of the Book of Mormon requires a view that sees the Law of Moses as fulfilled by Christ, that Mormonism is both theologically more concerned with Judaism than much of Christianity, and yet not open to inserting the continuance of Jewish practices as a religious imperative.

    There is also a big difference between retaining a Jewish ethnic identity and a Jewish religious identity. This issue is not addressed head on enough

  • John Pack Lambert

    Thinking more on matters of the article they really ignore what I is most central to the issue of Jews for Jesus.

    Before we can understand what “Jews can recognize Jesus as the Messiah and still retain Jewish identity” means we have to figure out what being Jewish means.

    Some have posited that integral to the definition of being Jewish is being a non-Christian. This definition worked in 17th Century Europe, and even in mid-20th century Europe worked.

    However in modern Europe and North America it is inaccurate. Not only does it ignore the current demographic and political climate but it ignores the family history of most Jews.

    In Israel about half the Jews have ancestors who lived under the control of essentialy Muslim governments or in Mulim majority countries at the dawn of the 20th Century. Those who chant “we will not be Dhimmis again” may not like Jews for Jesus and other such groups existing in Israel, but they do not fear Christian but Muslim proselyting.

    In France the most amazing thing about modern Judaism is that people speak of the Holocaust. The majority of French-Jews are not holocaust survivors or their children, but the survivors or children of survivors of the rise of a nationalist regime in Algeria that expelled Jews as foreigners.

    The vast majority of anti-Jewish violence in western Europe is done by Muslims. In the US it may not have yet reached that point, but Muslims expressing hate and anger for Jews has occured.

    However, even though there are many Israeli and North African Jewish immigrants in the US, as well as a sizable number of Bukharan and other Central Asian Jews in New York City, and at least some Jews who immigrated from Cuba or Argentina among other Latin American countries who were in the turn children of immigrants from what was when they left the Ottoman Empire, although today it is Turkey, Lebanon and Syria, the American Jewish community is still descibed in most sources as being essentially made up of immigrants from Europe and their descendants. Even more out of line is the claims that Israel’s Jewish population is essentially of the same origin, a claim which is totally false.

    The question of whether Judaism is a religion, a race, or an ethnicity is still not decided. Even if we limit it to being a religion who is Jewish is complexed. This is in part because unlike Christianity a Jew does not technically have to do anything to become a Jew except be born of a Jewish mother. Well, it was that simple until the early 1980s. Then the Reformed Jews adopted rules that also allowed paternal descent. Even before that, different Jewish groups had different rules for conversion, which meant that some people who were raised Jewish were considered non-Jewish by other Jewish groups because their mother’s conversion had not been truly accepted.

    So with the complexities of Jewish identity the big question that the Post has avoided is what Jews for Jesus meant by retaining Jewish identity. The pamphlet title “Jesus made me Kosher” really obscures more than it enlightens.

    Since Kosher means pure, is the pamphlet asserting that Jesus makes one pure, and they no longer have to follow all the rituals to live a kosher life, or is it asserting that the example and teachings of Jesus lead them to follow the whole law, or is it like some news headlines and just sort of thrown out there to hook people in with no intention to really deal with the issue?

    Lastly, but hardly leastly, I think it is a diservice to mention cases going to the Supreme Court and yet not discuss what they were. What was Jews for Jesus doing that lead to a Supreme Court hearing and especially in the US, who were they in court proceedings against and to what extent was whatever was claimed to be the issue the issue and to what extent was it just a cover claim by government officials trying to appeas Jews by destroying Jews for Jesus?

    There is one other question that needs considering. If one can be a religious Jew and believe in Jesus, than can someone not a Jew by birth become such? I am not sure, but I am guessing that this may be as devisive a question among Messianic Jewish groups as conversion is to Jews overall.

  • Jon in the Nati

    I sorta thought that this any mention of Messianic Judaism or Jews for Jesus would get people all riled up (I have seen some Jews get veeeeeery angry about it). I figured it would be like the JW thread a week ago.

    I am glad, BAG, that you at least alluded to the point that Jews for Jesus =/= Messianic Judaism. Also, MJ exists on a spectrum, from those groups/congregations that are nearly indistinguishable from your standard Protestant congregation, to those that are nearly indistinguishable from Reform Jews except that they profess belief in Jesus as Messiah. Additionally, some MJ groups are affiliated with Christian denominations (such as Southern Baptists) while others are wholly independent and profess a fully Jewish identity, which of course is not recognized by any “real” Jews.

    An interesting subject, to be sure.

  • Michael Montague

    I loved the book he wrote entitled “Christ in the Passover!” It is a great book and one I highly recommend to all of my viewers and friends. May you rest in peace my Brother in Yeshua! Shalom! We will join you shortly!

  • Dan

    I have long noticed a strong cultural bias that is reflected in the selections made in obituary page coverage. The Los Angeles Times routinely gives a large amount of space to the death of generally unknown left-leaning activists and minorities and women of relatively minor accomplishment while ignoring or giving slight attention to more accomplished religious and business leaders.

  • Chip

    The LA Times covered the story Saturday.

    The Baptist Press appears to have gotten the cause of death wrong.

  • Mark A. Kellner

    I think that they mislead many Jews about the cost of following Christ

    This comment on Mr. Greenberg’s part seems to beg for an example — at least one — to support the assertion. I’ve seen Jews for Jesus in a number of situations and have never seen the underestimate the cost.

    The greater issue, which Mr. Greenberg may not wish to raise, is that the American Jewish community in general, and the British and Israeli Jewish communities to a degree, have a problem: you can be almost any kind of Jew you wish, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Agnostic or even Atheistic, and your’re OK with the majority of Jews. Identify yourself as a Jew who believes in the Jewish Messiah who was born, raised and died as a Jew, and there’s trouble.

    If the Jewish community would admit the possibility of Messianic Jews, we could have the basis for some dialogue and process. Moishe Rosen’s life and work was an important step in that direction.

    And, for what it’s worth, I write this as a “nice Jewish boy” from Rego Park Queens who knows Jesus as the Messiah.

  • Ruth

    Thank you for drawing attention to this. Jews for Jesus is also one of the largest missionary organizations in the world.
    I met Moishe Rosen 16 years ago and have kept a friendship with him ever since. Due to a computer crash, I lost all his personal emails to me.

    I am confused by what you mean here: “… mostly because I think that they mislead many Jews about the cost of following Christ.”

    Would you please elaborate?? Is there something on their website or broadsides that gives you this impression?

    There are many missionaries in J4J whose families abandoned them when they embraced Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah. I cannot imagine anyone in J4J misleading anyone on that. In fact, Moishe once told me the #1 deterrent to Jewish people receiving Yeshua is the familial cost.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    I am confused by what you mean here: “… mostly because I think that they mislead many Jews about the cost of following Christ.”

    Sorry for the silence. I was out of town all weekend. What I meant was that, at least in my opinion based on my experience here in LA, Jews for Jesus underplay what it means to become a Christian.

    Becoming a Christian means leaving your old life behind, and this is especially true when a Jew is baptized because, in that situation, the impetus is not only internal and spiritual but also external and cultural. Someone born a Jew who follows Christ can continue to observe Jewish custom, but they very likely will not be able to do so with Jewish members of their community or even their family.

    This is where the difference between Messianic Jews, which do exist on an incredible spectrum, differ from Jews for Jesus, which doesn’t so much involve joining a Messianic church as it does evangelizing to Jews by maintaining Jewish practices.

    To be sure, this is quite off-topic from how the media covers Jews for Jesus, though J4Js and Messianics are routinely confused and incorrectly used synonymously, like evangelicals and fundamentalists.

  • John Pack Lambert

    I seem to recall reading that some Messianic Jews insist on using the name “Yeshua” and “Yeshua Ha-Messiah” and refuse to speak the name of Jesus.

    Greenberg is right is realizing that there are ethnic Jews who are Christians, but that is totally different from being a Messianic Jew. I think it is one of the failures of the vast-majority of other Jewish groups that they fail to realize this distiction.

    Another disturbing trend is that some Jews use “cult” as a hateword against Jews for Jesus and other such groups. I think some even claim JFJ “brainwashes” people.

    It tells you a lot that the San Francisco Chronicle did not cover this death. I think it is mainly because the media likes to portray American Jews, especially Reformed Jews, as open and accepting. THeir use of connections in police departments to try to arrest JFJ members and attempts to ban distribution of JFJ materials, especially on college campuses, is the type of anti-freedom activity by the left that the news media constantly tries to sweep under the rug.

  • John Pack Lambert

    My understanding is that Jews who reject Jesus as the Messiah virtually universally reject the right of anyone who calls Jesus the Messiah to be a Jew, whether they are part of a regular Christian Church or a Messianic Jewish group.

    I guess maybe in a Messianic Jewish group Jews would get support from fellow outcasts. However, I still wonder, to what extent are Messianic Jews people of Jewish background who accepted Jesus and to what extent are they Christians who want to return to the Jewish routes of the faith?

    At one point there was an unsourced claim in wikipedia that the later is the case. It definantly resonates with the ethno-nationalists Jews who view all who think “to baptize a Jew is worse than to kill a Jew” and who view 19th-century converts to Christianity as “converts of convience”. However it ignores the fact that there have been several Jews who not only converted to Christianity but became Christian clergy of one type or another.