There was recently a story in the Jerusalem Post about the negative behavior of certain Christian missionaries who were visiting an elderly and sick Holocaust survivor who couldn't even speak. They later admitted that they were trying to convert her when her family was not around, and they even claimed that they succeeded (even though the woman couldn't even speak). As the article mentions, these missionaries called themselves "Messianic Jews" - a title which has become popular among many missionaries. Before I discuss with you the story, I need to review with you why the missionaries chose this title.
As we know, large and well-funded Christian missionary organizations are increasing their efforts to persuade Jews with little or no Torah education to become Christians through accepting Jesus as both their Lord and Messiah. And they are targeting Jews in Israel. The missionaries realize, however, that even many secular-oriented Jews feel that a Jew who adopts another religion has betrayed his people and his heritage, so many missionaries have adopted the following strategy to attract Jews: They call Christianity, “Completed Judaism,” and they call Jews who accept the Christian religion, “Messianic Jews” or “Jews for Jesus.” They also refer to Jesus by a Hebrew name, and they organize missionary congregations which use Jewish symbols, sing Hebrew songs, and celebrate Jewish holidays - all in a Christian context.
The new strategy of many missionaries that target Jews is to initially just focus on their belief that Jesus is the promised Messiah. We, the people of the Torah, reject this claim, for Jesus did not fulfill any of the prophecies regarding the arrival of the Messiah which are described in Chapter 11 of the Book of Isaiah and other chapters, such as the establishment of world peace, universal spiritual enlightenment, and the ingathering of all the exiles of Israel. At a later stage of their missionary work, when they think that they are beginning to succeed in their attempts to influence someone, they will reveal their belief that Jesus is also Lord and Savior. They will also state that Jews and others who do not accept this belief are condemned to eternal damnation. Why, however, do they save this belief for a later stage of their missionary activity?
These missionaries are aware that most Jews have an aversion to idolatry, including the worship of a human being. They are correct that we have this aversion to idolatry, and our aversion is based on many verses in our Sacred Scriptures. The following Divine statement can serve as an example:
“You shall not have other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3).
As the commentator, Ramban, explains, the worship of human beings is also a form of idolatry; thus, the above commandment refutes the Christian doctrine concerning the deification of Jesus.
The following quotes from our Sacred Scriptures can serve as additional examples of the many Torah teachings which refute this Christian doctrine:
“God is not a man” (Numbers 23:19).
“Know it today and take it to heart repeatedly that Hashem alone is God; in heaven above and on earth below – there is none other.” (Deuteronomy 4:39)
“Hear O Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem is One! (Deuteronomy 6:4)
“I, only I, am Hashem, and there is no Savior aside from Me.” (Isaiah 43:11).
I have attached excerpts from the article in the Jerusalem Post about the missionaries, and these excerpts will be followed by a Hazon commentary:
Are missionaries targeting the elderly?
RACHEL GEIZHALS, THE JERUSALEM POST
A Holocaust survivor who was suffering from dementia was deceived by those hired to help her, family members said, because they claimed they converted her to their Messianic Christian religion.
The two women who were hired to play music and speak with 94-year-old Sara told her daughter Goldie Maxwell weeks after Sara died that they were both Messianic Jews, that they had played and sung songs from the New Testament when Maxwell and her husband were not around, and that at the end of her life, Sara had a revelation and acknowledged Jesus as the messiah.
They also recorded these statements in a document they gave to Maxwell after Sara's death in March.
"I sensed that they had betrayed me, because I let them into the house on certain assumptions, but even more, the betrayal of my mother and of who she was," Maxwell told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. "They knew who she [Sara] was."
...The incidence of missionaries using subterfuge to target the elderly and other subsets within the community is not infrequent, according to anti-missionary groups. However, it is difficult to determine how widespread this phenomenon is.
"It's probably a lot more common than we know," said Penina Taylor, executive director of Shomrei Emet Institute for Counter Missionary Studies.
Haredi anti-missionary organization Yad L'Achim (literally, "A Hand to Brethren") does not have current data on the number of missionaries volunteering in senior facilities and homes. However, Binyamin Klugger, the head of the organization's Jerusalem chapter, said he knows of many seniors whose aides spoke with them incessantly about Messianism.
...Anti-missionary organizations say it is hard to keep track of cases like these. Many cases may go unreported because of familial embarrassment, and the sentiment that once someone is dead, there is nothing that can be done, explained Taylor. That is, if the families even find out that such a thing took place.
But Maxwell is speaking out. She is devastated by what happened to her mother, upset that it may be happening to others and scared that Messianic missionaries may use her mother's story to advertise and proselytize.
Sara lived with Maxwell and her husband in their Jerusalem apartment for about seven years. She was diagnosed with dementia in 1997, became wheelchair-bound and physically dependent after a fall in 2001, and in the past few years, she lost her ability to speak. When Maxwell asked a social worker to refer a pianist who could play music for her mother, the case manager recommended Efrat Gerlich, who played at local old age homes. The case manager, an Orthodox Jew, did not know about Gerlich's beliefs or activities.
Gerlich told Maxwell she knew a Polish immigrant, Adina Higa, who could talk to Sara in her native Polish and stimulate her. After a while, Maxwell suggested that Higa sing Polish folk songs with Gerlich's piano accompaniment.
About six weeks after Sara's death four months ago, Gerlich and Higa came by to speak with Maxwell about what they did with her mother and how she responded. In the course of their conversation, Maxwell discovered something shocking: Gerlich and Higa were talking about their Messianic beliefs and - even more disturbing - what they did to introduce Sara to Messianism.
Gerlich gave Maxwell a three-page document about her work with Sara. Halfway through, Gerlich wrote, "I noticed that whenever Adina began to pray, Sara began to fall asleep, and I began to put my hands on Sara and declare the victory of the messiah on her life..."
When cataloging what she and Higa sang with Sara, Gerlich included a song from the New Testament's Book of Revelation. At the end, Gerlich concluded, "Sara, indeed merited in her last days to a very personal and special revelation of God. May her memory be blessed!"
Maxwell was aghast, to say the least.
"How I felt inside was stunned. I probably went white," she remembered.
Maxwell said she had no inkling that this was happening. When she was there, Gerlich and Higa played songs in Yiddish and about Shabbat and Jewish holidays, but when she went out, they played Messianic songs.
Maxwell said she now finds herself wondering whether she missed any signs. She said in retrospect, she can remember instances of disquiet during or after sessions with the women.
"There was a look on my mother's face one day that looked either highly strained or strain and fright," Maxwell said. "In hindsight, she may have been trying to register an objection or she may have felt something was very wrong."
What makes the case even more disturbing is that conversion to Messianism is the complete antithesis of Sara's life, Maxwell said. Sara was a Holocaust survivor who spent some of the war in a convent pretending to be a Polish gentile. She secretly lit Shabbat candles, and when the nuns recited their prayers, Sara thought of hers.
"Your claim that in the last two weeks of her life my mother came to believe that Jesus is the messiah negates the fundamental religious beliefs she maintained and later instilled in her children," Maxwell said in a letter to Higa after she discovered what transpired.
"Her silence, and her complete helplessness, left her wide open to everyone else's subjective interpretations of what she may or may not have be thinking," Maxwell wrote. "It enabled you to indulge your fantasy. And you have run wild with it."
Gerlich and Higa could not be reached for comment.
Maxwell charged Gerlich and Higa with a complete lack of transparency and honesty. But she has few if any options in taking legal action, because Israeli law allows the freedom to speak with others about religious views, and missionaries are permitted to proselytize as long as they do not try to work with minors or offer material incentives.
Maxwell said she hopes that the existing law will expand to encompass not just minors, but all who are powerless, like her mother was.
"I felt it was much worse than an act of disrespect to her and to me. But even more, a desecration," Maxwell said. "Really, the greatest possible offense to her, because she was helpless. She couldn't have actively fought them."
Although the article highlights an existing problem, we should not automatically assume that the majority of Christians would support the deceptive and ugly behavior of these missionaries. We need to remember that there are Christians who do not engage in missionary activity; moreover, we also need to remember that there are Christians who do engage in missionary activity who would condemn the behavior described in the above story. There are, however, Christians who believe that deception for the sake of their cause is justified; in fact, a number of the posted comments in the Jerusalem Post in response to the above story were from Christians who defended the behavior of these missionaries! A sincere convert to Judaism that I had the privilege of meeting once taped a conversation she had with a Christian missionary who stated that deception for the sake of bringing people to a belief in Jesus is commendable.
I know from personal experience that some of these missionaries feel that deception is permitted for their cause. There was a Gentile woman from Texas on my mailing list a few years ago who said that she was withdrawing from Christianity and wanted to convert to Judaism. She later told me that she was connected to a community of Gentiles that wanted to join the Jewish people through conversion. I was not sure of her sincerity, and I decided to try to get more information out of her. She became very excited by my interest in the group, and she was hoping that I would help them to convert and come to Israel. In her excitement, she mentioned the Hebrew name of this group and where they were located. I did a search on the web, and I discovered that this was actually a Christian missionary community which was targeting Jews! After I confronted her with the information, she admitted that she was trying to deceive me.
The best approach to combating missionaries is to educate our own people; however, we also need to be streetwise and find appropriate ways to protect our people from missionary marauders who use deceptive tactics.
There is another related issue facing our people: There are many Christian missionaries who are not deceptive, but who feel an obligation to share their faith with "everyone" they meet, and they also want to volunteer at our hospitals, nursing homes, centers for needy immigrants, and centers for needy children. Some of these volunteers come from Evangelical groups that raise money for Israel and related causes. We need to make it clear that volunteers who wish to “convert” the people they are helping are not welcome, and with regard to their offers of financial help, we should have the self-respect to tell them: "Our souls are not for sale!"
May we soon experience the arrival of the true Messiah, who will inaugurate the messianic age of universal enlightenment and shalom. And may we soon experience the day when Hashem, God of all the hosts of creation, will vindicate our people and our faith, as recorded in the following prophecy:
“Thus said Hashem, God of the hosts of creation: In those days, it will happen that ten men, of all the languages of the nations, will take hold, they will take hold of the corner of the garment of a Jewish man, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’ ” (Zechariah 8:23).
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen