Moishe Rosen, the notorious Jewish convert to Christianity who founded the infamous evangelical missionary group Jews for Jesus, died on May 19, 2010, in San Francisco, after a prolonged battle with cancer. He was 78. His passing presents a serious opportunity to reflect on the devastating effect he had on thousands of Jewish lives worldwide.
Born Martin Rosen in 1932 to immigrant Jewish parents, he was raised with a minimal Jewish education in Denver, Colo. He converted to Christianity in 1953, at the age of 21, and in 1957, he was ordained a Baptist minister.
From 1957 to 1972, he worked as a missionary for the American Board of Missions to the Jews (currently known as Chosen People Ministries). After a falling out, reportedly over his controversial proselytizing tactics, using the name “Moishe,” Rosen launched the radical San Francisco-based Jews for Jesus movement in 1973.
He believed “Judaism never saved anybody” and that unless you believe in Jesus as your lord and saviour, you will burn in hell forever. To Rosen, this included the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
Rosen’s Christian missionary philosophy personified three controversial New Testament passages: Romans 1:16 – “to the Jew first;” I Corinthians 9:20 – “to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews;” and Philippians 1:18 – “whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I will rejoice.”
He aggressively and almost exclusively targeted Jews for conversion, and is responsible for the loss of countless young Jews to the Christian faith and the subsequent damage done to thousands of Jewish families. His most successful and deceptive tactic promoted the notion that a Jew can be both Jewish and Christian at the same time. However, he simultaneously condemned Judaism as a “false religion” and once said, “The fact is, we are not practising any form of Judaism. We are practising Christianity.” This didn’t stop him from encouraging the use of rabbinic Jewish practices, such as lighting Shabbat candles or wearing a kippah in an attempt to masquerade Christianity in the guise of authentic Judaism.
Sadly, as a direct result of Rosen’s pioneering efforts, today there are more than 1,000 Christian missionary groups targeting Jews for conversion worldwide, using evangelical technology that he initiated. With an annual budget exceeding $275 million, these groups have succeeded in converting hundreds of thousands of Jews globally in recent decades. The American Religious Identification Survey 2008 estimated that 500,000 American Jews had converted to a religion other than Judaism, the most dominant faith being Christianity.
Both Jewish and mainline Christian clergy condemned Rosen’s aggressive and controversial proselytizing methods. In 1990, Rev. David Selzer wrote, “Jews for Jesus is another attempt to deny Jewish identity to Jews… as a Christian, I oppose the group.”
In her PhD dissertation on Jews for Jesus, Juliene Lipson describes how she infiltrated the group and discovered a disturbing side to Jews for Jesus and Moishe Rosen. According to Lipson, members agreed that “full submission to the leadership of Moishe Rosen is the will of God.” She also described a meeting where “members were asked to stand, whereupon Moishe struck each one across the face hard enough to knock them over.”
On the website www.UsedForJesus.com, ex-Jews for Jesus staff members testify to the abusive and cult-like atmosphere within Jews for Jesus, including the above mentioned “pain training” as well as shunning of former members, rigid restrictions to personal life, and raging and intense anger. We met Rosen on several occasions and witnessed his inexplicable outbursts of rage.
Rosen obviously ignored the words of the Rev. Billy Graham who wrote in a 1973 press release, “gimmicks, coercion and intimidation have no place in my evangelistic efforts.”
Rosen’s authoritarian personality elicited criticism from Jews and non-Jews. University of California at Berkeley professor Margaret Singer, respected as a leading authority on cults and mind control, considered Jews for Jesus a cult. This was echoed by former Jews for Jesus member Ellen Kamensky, who categorized the group as a destructive cult and told Jews for Judaism it misrepresented the New Testament passage, Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple,” to convince her to cut off contact from her family.
Misuse of biblical passages to prove Jesus is the messiah is a mainstay of Jews for Jesus. Its proof-texts are either taken out of context or mis-translated.
Rosen’s second-most-deceptive tactic is described on page 52 of his book, Share the New Life With a Jew, where he instructs his missionaries to not get “sidetracked with discussion on the deity of Christ.” He continues to explain that as important as this doctrine may be to Christians, “correct theology is not what will save your Jewish friend.”
In other words, don’t bring up the most crucial beliefs of Christianity – the Trinity or bodily incarnation of God in the person of Jesus – since they are difficult for Jews to accept because they contradict our fundamental Jewish belief in the absolute unity of God. In a remarkable sign of unity, all denominations of Judaism agree that this is the No. 1 reason why Jews cannot believe in Jesus, aside from the fact that none of the criteria of the Messiah or the Messianic Age were fulfilled by Jesus, namely:
• The Messiah must be a direct male descendant of King David and King Solomon, David’s son – 2 Samuel 7:12 – 13
• The Jewish people will be gathered from exile and they will return to Israel – Isaiah 11:12
• The Temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt – Ezekiel 37:26–27
• There will be worldwide peace – no more war – Micah 4:3
• The Messiah will rule at a time when all the Jewish people will observe God’s commandments – Ezekiel 37:24
• He will rule at a time when all people, Jew and gentile, will come to acknowledge and serve the one God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – Isaiah 66:23
All of these criteria for the Messiah are found in numerous places in our Bible. One good example is in the book of Ezekiel, Chapter 37: 24-28.
Today, you won’t see Jews for Jesus missionaries standing on street corners as often as they did in the 1970s and 80s, because they can now reach directly into our homes via the Internet, which they flood with propaganda. Today, some missionaries claim that more than 50 per cent of Jews who have recently converted to Christianity did so as a result of an initial contact with a Christian missionary over the Internet. Jews for Jesus is also very active on university and college campuses and has harnessed the zealousness of millions of evangelical Christians who have adapted Rosen’s methodology.
Unfortunately, Rosen’s legacy will be that his deceptive tactics have become the accepted protocol in most of the evangelical Christian movement. It is now second nature for many church members to tell their Jewish friends, and Christian students to tell their Jewish peers, that they can be Jewish and Christian at the same time. In Israel, Jews for Jesus missionaries, along with 20,000 Israeli “Messianic Jews”, promote Jesus exclusively as being the Jewish Messiah while intentionally avoiding any mention of their belief that Jesus is God.
In these ways and many more, today the threat of Jews for Jesus is more serious than ever.
Jews for Judaism was created 25 years ago as a direct response to Rosen and Jews for Jesus, which recognizes Jews for Judaism as a formidable adversary due to our effective educational programs, materials and websites, and our passionate counsellors who have helped inspire thousands of Jews to return to their faith.
Today, the Jewish community must redouble its efforts to keep Jews Jewish.
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz is the founder and executive director of Jews for Judaism International, based in Los Angeles, and Julius Ciss is the founder and executive Director of Jews for Judaism (Canada), based in Toronto.