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Judaism, Jews-for-Jesus style

Incorporated under the name Hineni Ministries, Jews for Jesus was founded in 1973 by a Baptist minister named Martin “Moishe” Rosen, who was born a Jew but converted to Christianity at age 17. After his religious studies and ordination, Rosen - eager to convert his former coreligionists to his new faith - worked for the American Board of Missions to the Jews (ABMJ), a Christian proselytizing organization.

Realizing that many American Jews were proud of their Jewish identities but indifferent to theological arguments, Rosen pioneered an energetic evangelizing style – often using Jewish and Yiddish idioms – that was founded on the notion that a Jew could accept Jesus as savior and yet remain Jewish. Rosen broke from ABMJ to found his own organization, which soon became known as Jews for Jesus.
This image appears on the Jews for Jesus Website for South Africa.

Consistent with Rosen’s teachings, Jews for Jesus describes Jesus not as the God of Christians but as the Jewish Messiah prophesied by the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). In this way, belief in Jesus is more readily seen as “Jewish” and the teachings of Jesus as the “fulfillment” or “completion” of Judaism. “Believing in Jesus,” Jews for Jesus publications have proclaimed, “is the most Jewish thing you can do.”

The Christianizing process

Not all New Testament teachings are amenable to a Judaizing gloss. Once they become accustomed to the notion that Jesus may have been the Jewish Messiah, disciples of Jews for Jesus are then introduced to belief in the divinity of Jesus and other doctrines that are standard for Christians but alien and even contrary to the Jewish tradition, including original sin, the virgin birth and the Trinity.

Jews who accept Jews for Jesus’ Christian teachings are usually baptized. These new converts (like Jews converted by other messianic groups) typically call themselves either “Messianic Jews” or “Hebrew Christians,” often refer to Jesus by his Hebrew name Y’shua and begin worshiping in Christian churches. There are also a smaller number of messianic Jewish congregations.

Letters from Rosen to church leaders demonstrate that he sees his organization’s efforts as part of Christianity’s evangelical mission. “We consider ourselves an arm of the local church,” he wrote in a 1977 mass-mailing entitled “What Evangelical Christians should know about Jews for Jesus.”

Rosen continued, “We are primarily evangelists and we are always mindful that we should not usurp the authority of the local pastor. As we win and disciple [sic] Jewish people, we urge them to take their place in a local evangelical church or establish a congregation and call their own minister. Our duty is to aid the church at large and we work as an arm of that body to gather in the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel.”

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