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Missionary Assaults on Judaism (Part 1).

The Jewish response to the propaganda of Christian missionaries today is unprecedented. Jews are now accepting Christianity of their own free will, under no conditions of constraint. This has never occurred before. (The mass conversions of the "Frankists," seemingly without coercion, were due to the state of despair that plunged the deceived Jews into an abyss of disidentification with their own people.)

In earlier centuries, even when apostasy from Judaism was not due to direct force, it was still the result of the overall status of Jews, to whom most civic activities were closed; abandoning Judaism opened the gates to share the "fruits of civilization." There is a story told about a Jewish scholar, Chwolsohn, who ostentatiously claimed that he had converted to Christianity out of "pure conviction." "I became convinced," he declared, "that being a professor in the University of Petersburg [a position inaccessible to Jews] is a higher status than that of a melamed [teacher] in a Jewish provincial school."

Whatever the relationship is of the Gentile world today to Judaism, a Jew now certainly has adequate opportunities without changing faith.

The tens of thousands of Jews who join the various sects and cults of Jesus fellowships are motivated by the conviction (or impulse) that they are embracing a more meaningful view of life. Allowing for a certain percentage of spiritual misfits, one must accept the fact that many Jewish Jesus-followers seek a meaningful religious engagement and "find" it in the "charisma of Jesus." The question is why? What can prompt a Jew to exchange the GodConcept of Judaism for the charisma of Jesus? People become skeptical about their religion because of an awareness of its irrelevance to existential problems, or for social reasons -- if they feel their religion sides with the forces of oppression. But, if disenchantment with establishments and protests against those in power are to be directed against religion, then it is undoubtedly the Christian church that over the centuries has cooperated with, and sanctioned, oppressive regimes and policies. It is the Christian churches that have abetted the evils tainting history; Judaism has never been stigmatized by social oppression. The protest against social evils, against oppression of society, should rather be directed at Christianity's spokesmen, not at the leaders of Judaism.

The Christian world is aware of the Church's history in the social realm. Missionaries therefore avoid stressing Christian dogmas and the historic record of the Church vis-a-vis Judaism; they do not dare to compare Judaism's record with that of Christianity in the spheres of social activism, in dealing with the poor and oppressed, with the relation to bloodshed and atrocities in the disparate histoiles of Church and synagogue. Two millennia of history are not referred to in the attempt to convince a Jew of the supremacy of Christian doctrines.

There is only one single lure in the ensnaring of Jews by missionaries: the "charisma" of Jesus. The primary article in missionary propaganda is Jesus's individual greatness, his power to redeem those who believe in him.

But this is not a recent phenomenon; the agitation to win Jews for Jesus goes back to Jesus. Since the days of the apostolic community in Jerusalem the determination to make Jews follow Jesus has been a primary goal of the Church. After Christianity became the official religion in Rome, Jews were made to feel the oppressive force of the Church, her bishops, monks, missionaries, and kings. The concept of Jesus has been paramount in all churches and denominations of Christianity from the very beginning. Whenever Jews were threatened with inquisitions, autos-da-fi, expulsions, or lured by promises to become Christians, the figure of Jesus was the determining factor.

This brings us to the cardinal question: Why should Jesus be more tempting to the modern Jew than to his ancestors?

Before we start to save Jews from drifting in the "grater of Christian redemption," we must find an answer to this puzzling question.

The new tactic of missionaries and Jewish dilettantism

For close to two millennia efforts to make Jews accept Jesus meant telling them to leave the fold of Judaism, their religion and people. The dividing line between Jew and Christian has been synonymous with the division between Synagogue and Church. The missionary call to Jews was dear and unambiguous: leave Judaism in order to embrace Jesus.

The situation we face today is radically different. For the first time, the missionaries of various denominations are telling Jews that They can share the blessings of Christianity, the charisma of Jesus, while remaining Jews. Missionary activities among Jews today aim to separate the belief in Jesus from the abandonment of the Jewish people. Missionary propaganda now offers Jews the alternative of remaining Jewish nationally, even religiously, while accepting the Christian dogma that Jesus's coming constituted the turning point in history.

Today's missionaries are willing to admit that the centuries of hate and persecution of Jews were a tragic "misunderstanding"; it was also wrong to conceive of the Christian church as the adversary of the synagogue, to condemn Jewish tradition as extraneous to the fellowship of Jesus. Jesus was born a Jew and died a Jew. The fact that his "death redeemed all of mankind" should not be an obstacle for Jews to recognize Jesus's divine uniqueness. Thus the propaganda line of missionary activities today can be defined as: embrace Jesus and remain Jewish.

This is substantiated as follows: (a) the coming of Jesus marked a decisive turn in the history of Judaism; (b) Jesus's ministry was consistent with the prophetic and messianic vision of Judaism; (c) Jesus was a devoted Jew, who, by his special virtues (god-like, or prophet-like), reached spiritual heights inaccessible to contemporary Jewish leadership, and the acceptance of Jesus's historical position is the fulfillment of a more profound Judaism; (d) the religious and political establishments of the Jewish people were hostile to Jesus because his teachings endangered their status.

This line of missionary propaganda has found a fertilized soil among Jews. Jesus-cults are gaining ground in alarming dimensions. No Jewish community is immune to the threat of apostasy: not in the Diaspora, and not in the State of Israel. Jewish newspapers and periodicals in all languages are filled with reports about tens of thousands of Jews thronging into various Jesus-fellowships, seeking life's meaning in the savior-cult, the paramount doctrine of the historical adversary of Judaism.

There was a report recently about an international conference of famous academicians of various universities from the State of Israel to "elucidate and deepen" the therapeutic forces of the cult of Jesus. This information evidently surprised no one in the upper echelons of Jewish intellectuals and caused no concern at the world of Torah.

As so often in Jewish history, the spokesmen of "strict" Orthodoxy follow their traditional road of "solving" issues by sublime indifference -- by turning their heads and eyes in another, more agreeable direction.

But it is not only those whose traditional inertia excludes them from confronting the enemies of Judaism who remain passive to the growing threat of missionary kidnaping. Active Jewish scholars have either adopted the same tactic of splendid passivity or, what is worse, have fought the flames of missionary propaganda with the oil of a "re-Judaized Jesus."

This has been exacerbated by the fact that, beginning with the 19th century, the campaign for the acceptance of Jesus as a positive figure in Judaism has been conducted, among Jews, by Jewish scholars.

The "charisma" of Jesus has had its effect on those scholars because it correlated with their interpretation of Jesus's teachings as rooted in Judaism. By magnifying his "Jewishness" in a certain direction -- of universalism they could justify their "belief in Jesus the True Jew."

The penchant of contemporary Jewish scholars for dissecting the Gospels in quest of an imaginary Jewish source of the Jesus-fellowship, a Jewishness that disappeared among the waves of Gentile Christians, constitutes the paramount inspiration for contemporary missionaries.

The cornerstone of Christianity's opposition to Judaism, its endeavors to make Jews abandon Judaism, is the legacy of Jesus. The appearance of Jesus, his life and death, have become Christianity's assertion of Judaism's "unjustified survival." The later theological transformations of Christianity are irrelevant to Judaism. Christianity's assaults against Judaism are anchored in Jesus. As stated above, missionary propaganda, too, is not grounded in its dogmas and doctrines, but in the charismatic centrality of Jesus. Jewish wrangling with Christians about the issue -- to whom does Jesus's "greatness" belong -- confirms the Christian claim of Jesus's centrality in Jewish history!

It would be unfair to claim that there are no efforts among Jews to counter missionary propaganda; there is a multiplicity of organizations, institutions, and individuals appealing for support in the war against missionaries. The problem is whether that "war" is being carried on effectively; whether all Jewish leaders are aware of the magnitude of this threat. Aiming to compromise missionaries by pointing to "contradictions" in the New Testament is an exercise in futility; double-edged statements increase the "mystery of the Christ...." Furthermore, some arguments used by Jews against missionaries, such as the conventional finding of discrepancies between Jesus's teachings and later Christian dogmas, have an opposite effect. As far as Jews and Judaism are concerned, Jesus and Christianity are an inseparable entity. There is nothing to gain for Jews in finding alleged (or real) inconsistencies in the New Testament. That is the exclusive domain of Christianity.

Despite claims and propaganda to the contrary, Jewish leadership and Jewish institutions have not faced up to the growing threat of missionarism. The reasons for the absence of a comprehensive response in defense of Judaism are: (1) widespread ignorance as to the origin of the clash between Judaism and Christianity and the basic issues that made the two religions incompatible; (2) fundamentally wrongheaded tactics on the part of those who devote themselves to combating missionary propaganda; (3) Jewish "dialogues" with Christian scholars that avoid focusing on the fundamental issues that led inevitably to the exclusion of Jesus and his disciples from Judaism; instead, they have imbibed the post-Enlightenment hoax of a redefined Jesus, who "only" fought a "corrupt establishment and hypocritical Pharisees" in the spirit of the Biblical prophets; (4) the prevailing conviction that it is good for Jews to show the "common roots" of Judaism and Christianity.

The insistence by Jewish scholars on the authenticity of Jesus as a figure in Jewish history has made it necessary to bring up the age-old question of the essential difference between Judaism and Christianity.

The conflict between Jesus and Judaism

The shifting of the comprehensive clash between the Jewish people and Jesus to the realm of theology and political motivations leads to the sidetracking of the aspects of Judaism that are of primary concern to the modern age.

Fighting idolatry was only part of Judaism's mission. It is a platitude, turned distortion, that Judaism's sole role was to introduce the ideal of the One God. Judaism never suggested that belief in One God constitutes the solution to man's existence. The God of Judaism is not a single-faceted entity. Judaism never knew, nor did it proclaim, a solitary God-idea. Judaism is a God-Torah concept -- a Torah anchored in man's innate potentialities, and in man's duty to realize them by deed, -- not to rely on redemption by faith.

Judaism did not see man's existence on earth as a tragic "fall," from which only faith and ritual could rescue him. Judaism saw man as the earthly partner of the Heavenly Creator.

The Redemption envisioned by the prophets of Judaism was contingent upon the action of man, of his capacity to rule the earth, and to perfect creation. Man both as an individual and a collective was the vehicle for redemption. The national infrastructure of Judaism was assigned as a parochial setting for this universal ideal; it was assigned to demonstrate that the capacity of man, as an individual and as a collective, could be realized!

Judaism postulates man's destiny to utilize his great endowment, his intellect, to rule and perfect God's earthly Creation. The Sinai revelation established the national framework of the Covenant People, in order to demonstrate that the Law of God is the road to the redemption of mankind. Judaism's message was the affirmation of man's potential to do "justice and judgment" by discriminating between good and evil.

It was in affirmation of man's potential and the spacious range of human activity that the Law was given; it was in the importance of the this-worldly habitat that a nation was raised to a divine status.

The Torah is not an ode sung to a supernatural individual, it is a call to common man, to the masses of mankind to recognize the potential bestowed on them by their Divine Creator.

Judaism's basis is bilateral: the recognition of man's dependence on God, and of God's dependence on man. Judaism's Kingdom of Heaven is not an abandonment of the earth, but the coronation of man's activity on it. The Jewish vision of the coming Kingdom of God was not a conglomeration of individuals transformed into heavenly beings, devoid of the "desires of the flesh" but a family of nations that have outgrown the residues of animality and rule their earthly habitats in peace. Even at the End of Days, the weapons of destruction, the swords, will not become angelic wings but plowshares to produce earthly goods.

The artificial binding together of the Bible with the Christian gospels obscures the great changes that transformed the Mediterranean region in the centuries separating the two sources. It suggests that the problems confronting Judaism were the same in both epochs. This is entirely false!

The Pentateuch and the books of the prophets depict the struggle of Judaism for the concept of the One against the prevailing cults of polytheism. In the time of Jesus, polytheism was fading out; the idea of One Creative Power permeated the religious and intellectual circles of the Gentile world. Ironically, this did not diminish the isolation of Judaism and of the Jewish people; it engendered a new form of animosity.

While in previous centuries the primary challenge for Judaism had been the fight against idolatry, in the epoch dealt with here, Judaism was fighting to retain its uniqueness amidst syncretizing, converging civilizations and religions. Under the spiritual guidance of Hellas and the political tutelage of Rome, peoples and countries shed their separate identities and merged into a common pool of cultural and religious ideas.

In the last centuries BCE, the distinction between the Weltanschauung of Judaism and of all the others came into sharp focus. The military and social adventures of the Hellenistic rulers led to the convergence of peoples and religions. The concept of a semi-universalistic mankind (in a rudimentary perception) came into collision with the "parochial" character of the Jews. Judaism's emphasis on the potentiality of the common man also undermined the egocentric philosophies and cults orbiting around the grandiosity and/or "divinity" of superhuman individuals.

Hellas -- the perennial adversary of Judaism -- developed in its philosophical schools the view of a cosmic theology removed from the problems of the earthly realm.

Synthesizing the mystic cults of the Orient, Hellenism pinned man's hopes on a hybrid man-god or god-man redeemer, in whom believers could find blissful escape from life's miseries. The Gentile cults and religions viewed mankind's relationship to the divine power as passive, fatalistic. Man's actions were meaningless in determining the course of history. Other cults reduced man's hopes to the efficacy of priests and magicians, learned and experienced in bribing the various heavenly rulers and/or "discovering" the secrets of the supernatural powers.

Judaism's clash with Jesus's teachings must be seen against this background: a phase in the perennial confrontation between the two rival cultures--Judaism and Hellas. Jesus's teachings were rooted in the Hellenic conviction of man's predetermined helplessness against the forces of the material world and the hope of redemption through a supernatural individual.

The mentors of Judaism were duty-bound to resist the alien syncretistic views of Jesus -- to defend Judaism and Jews against Jesus's assault on the fundamentals of their religion.

The "parting of the ways" between Judaism and Christianity began with Jesus; its continuity after Jesus's death was due to the fact that Jesus's disciples acted according to their master's teachings. Jewish sources make it abundantly clear that the conflict was not with subsequent developments in the Church but with the Jewish-born Jesus and with his disciples!

The fight of the Jewish people against the followers of Jesus was aimed against their efforts to gain a foothold among Jews. The harsh statements in the Talmud are all confined to Jesus, to those who preached Jesus to Jews, and to their efforts to gain a hold in Judaism.

A most flimsy argument is to claim the ethnic origins of Jesus and his apostles as evidence for Christianity's Jewish origins.

Two centuries before Jesus, Judea was shaken by a civil war between a group aiming to efface Judaism, and the uniqueness of its people, in favor of Hellenism. The spokesmen of this group ("Hellenizers") were all Jews. Some of them occupied the highest position in the Temple. No historian has ever used the Jewish ethnicity of the Hellenizers in 165-145 as evidence that their ideas were rooted in Judaism.

Despite differences between these two phenomena of the last centuries of the second Commonwealth, the Hellenizers and the Jesus-fellowship, the expulsion of each of these groups is marked similarly in the Jewish prayer book: a special benediction in the Shmoneh-Esreh.

What is of utmost significance is that both of these groups, the Hellenizers and later the followers of Jesus -- although Jews in an ethnic sense -- were dealt with differently from all other Jewish sects. All others were referred to as deviating in a minor or major degree from Judaism; the Hellenizers and the disciples of Jesus, as Jesus himself was, were considered alien to the very essence of Judaism. (The flood of scholarly treatises, academic works, and fictional literature about new finds of Essene sects establishing affinities between some Jewish sects and teachings of Jesus are reflections of modern authors, not of the ancient documents found.)

In the disputes between Jewish and Christian representatives during the Middle Ages, both sides based their arguments on the assumption that the split with Judaism was grounded in the teachings of Jesus. This is also the view in the Talmudic and post-Talmudic sources. It also correlates with that of primary Christian writings.

It was Jesus's aim to find substantiation, in Biblical sources, that Jewish authorities considered a fundamental danger. As soon as Christianity became the religion of Gentiles, Jews adopted the same attitude toward it as to other phenomena in the syncretizing Gentile world.

The mentors of Judaism in the first centuries CE succeeded in revealing the anti-Judaism basis of Jesus's teachings and defeated the efforts of Jesus's disciples to gain a foothold among Jews.

With this, the basic conflict between Judaism and the Church was terminated on the Jewish side. Once the promoters of Jesus's gospel were removed from the body of Judaism, the authorities of Judaism saw no reason to interfere in the theological disputes within Jesus's churches. Christian propaganda among Gentiles was of no more concern to Jews than was the spread of any other Gentile cults and religions.

The kingdom not of this world

In enumerating the main issues of the conflict between Jesus and the People of Israel, there is thus no need to deal with such Christian dogmas as the Incarnation, the Eucharist, the Trinity, the Immaculate Conception, etc. The adaptation of new christological elements has no bearing on this relationship. Whether these doctrines were a direct result of Jesus's teachings or were due to the impact of Gentiles in Jesus's fellowship has no relevance to our theme. Even if Jesus's logia had been introduced in the name of just a "teacher in Israel," it would have made little difference. Whether Jesus claimed to be San of Man or Son of God, his concepts were a compendium of anti-Judaism. Refutation of Judaism is the indigenous element of Jesus's teachings, as understood by Christians and Jews alike!

Tons of paper have been consumed in finding "parallels between" Biblical and Talmudic sayings and the statements of Jesus. They are a total waste, a magnificent display of how scholars paper over with footnotes the lacunae of common sense.

Jesus used Biblical metaphors and Judaic formulations to proclaim the exact opposite of Judaism: namely, that man's only hope lies in escaping from the duties of this world; the cleaving to faith alone, and the denial of the national infrastructure of Judaism.

The teaching of Jesus as perceived by his disciples viewed the this-worldly realm as evil and hopeless. Man's only hope lay in freeing his spirit from "the satanic temptations and the desires of the flesh" that permeate man's earthly habitat.

Jesus turned his back on the social and national problems in Judea. he opposed the aspiration for national liberation, not because he disagreed with the tactics of the various sects in Judea; he simply denied the need for national and social structures. According to Jesus, human activism in the shaping of this-earthly life was futile and doomed!

Jesus's ministry was permeated with an adamant silence about the problems and issues of Judaism and Jews in that age. Jesus did not differ in the approach to the social, economic, political, national issues uniting and dividing all other Jewish parties and authorities -- he simply regarded them as superfluous, a hindrance to his view of a "kingdom of heaven" sundered from anything earthly.

Jesus's denial of the importance of institutions and laws to guide and sublimate earthly existence was the reason for his hostility to the Pharisees, Sadducees, and all those who sought in the Torah guidelines for Jewish national preservation, the continuation of Jewish parochialism. Jesus propagated individual/universal redemption through Faith alone-- surrendering of man's all earthly aspirations.

From the days of the Mother-Church in Jerusalem, through all the ages when Christianity was on the crest of a wave of conquest, gaining empires and ruling West and East, the social struggles of peoples took place outside the confines of Christian doctrine. Tyranny, despotism, and brutality went on unhindered by the vicars of the Church. This was not because the mentors of Jesus's church were wicked or unprincipled. No doubt such were not unknown to the Church. But the Church was not lacking in sensitive personalities who cared for their fellow men. Nonetheless, Christianity never mobilized its followers to crusades for the rights of man, for reforms in the socio/political/economic realm. Such activities would have contradicted the other-worldly dogmas constituting the legacy of Jesus.

The ideals of humanism, the concepts of social justice --all those principles on which Western civilization prides itself--emerged and matured outside and independent of Christianity's theological realm, actually in collision with the Church.

Christian humanists, undoubtedly moved by the sufferings of the masses, shocked by the atrocities committed by pious Christian monarchs, never protested when the Church canonized the perpetrators of these atrocities as saints. Those Christians who were concerned with the sufferings of men were driven to find consolation in philanthropic activities, in charitable acts. Ideals of social reforms, fighting authorities and demanding changes in the political/economic structure would contradict the fundamental pessimistic view of Christianity about the hopelessness of human earthly activism.

The evils in social life, the cruelties of heads of state, the oppression and exploitation of the masses were not incompatible with Christianity. All those were elements of earthly life. Christianity was "pure" religion and above the needs of man's terrestrial existence.

Christianity, following Jesus, viewed all systems and rulers with a pragmatic neutrality, commanding Christians not to rebel against the social status God placed them under and to subordinate themselves to any ruler: "render unto Caesar what is his." The this-worldly sphere belonged to those whom God destined to be the Caesars.

In the first centuries of the common era, and in the middle ages, the other-worldly character of the Church constituted no hindrance to the Church's position in the terrestrial realm. The masses of mankind and their existential problems did not figure in history; the ruling individuals and elite groups found ways to gain the acquiescence of the Church to their this-worldly aspirations. The Church's negation of the "indulgences of the flesh" was not a detriment to the upper classes, the laity, or the clergy.

Sufferings and failings and the frailty of man in improving his earthly existence was a correlation of Jesus's teachings, that man's earthly existence was the domain of Satan. The Church, therefore, made no distinction between various governments and different economic-political systems; they were all part of the "corrupted flesh" from which man could be freed only by Faith. The only interest the Church had in the "City of Man" was that it should not hinder the activities of those who are building the "City of God," the oasis to which the faithful must escape.

The Dark Ages, when misery and helplessness were the allotment of the masses, was the Golden Age of Christianity and of the omnipotence of the Church.

The degradation of Judaism in medieval Europe conformed with the general picture of the Dark Ages; the humiliation of the Jewish people bore testimony to the message of the Christian gospel. Jesus's "Heavenly Kingdom" shone in splendid isolation, with no danger of being contaminated by illusions about a Law that opened a vista to the establishment of a just kingdom on the earth.

GERSHON MAMLAK's Ph.D. dissertation, which concerned the confrontation between Judaism and Hellas, won the 1991 CUNY Ph.D. Alumni Achievement Award in History. His essays on the philosophy of Religious Zionism won the 1989 Rav Kook Award.
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Title Annotation:conversion of Jews to Christianity, and discussion of relationship between Jesus and Judaism
Author:Mamlak, Gershon
Date:Feb 1, 2001
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