Missionary Group Drops Bid to Get Zoning Exem Ption for ‘congre Gation’ Near Philadel Phia

Beth Yeshua, described by the Philadelphia Jewish Community Relations Council as a group of ” fundamentalist Christians masquerading as Jews, ” has cancelled a bid to buy a residential building for worship and a private school and dropped a request for a needed change in the zoning law.

Michael Masch, JCRC interreligious affairs director, said the group had on agreement of sale to buy a three-story mansion in Merion for $210, 000. Merion is a suburb contiguous to Philadelphia and is part of Lower Merion Township, an area heavily populated by Jews. The vacant building is up for sale by the estate of a wealthy couple.

An outpouring of protest at an Oct. 23 session of the Lower Merion Township Zoning Hearing Board forced the board to move a second session to larger quarters. The second session, scheduled for tomorrow, was cancelled when the “congregation” withdrew its bid to buy and its application to the zoning board, Masch told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The group, which now meets in a hotel, asked the zoning board for permission to operate a house of worship and a day school for 12 children from kindergarten to ninth grade. The school, which operates under the name “Halutzim” (Hebrew for pioneers) is conducted in a private home.

Lawyers for the Merion Civic Association, in opposing the zoning petition, did not use the JCRC charge that the group was engaged in “deceptive practices” in the zoning hearing, Masch said. He said the main opposition complaint, supported by Jews and non-Jewish residents, was that the area already has several religious institutions, including an Episcopal Academy, a Jewish day school and two synagogues.

JEWS, CHRISTIANS SENSITIZED

But the lawyers used the issue of the “deceptive practices” indirectly by questioning at the hearing the credibility of the “congregation’s” spokesmen, Masch said. He added he believed the group pulled out because of the possibility of a protracted and costly legal battle during which aspects of their finances would become public they preferred to keep private.

Masch said that the issue had “sensitized a great number of people – - Christian as well as Jew — to the deceptive character of Beth Yeshua and the unethical nature of its attempts to seduce and entrap Jewish young people.”

Masch said the “congregation” had been functioning in the area for about five years and had grown from 30 members to between 150 and 200. He estimated that about half of the increased membership was made up of Jews, particularly young adults.

He also told the JTA that Beth Yeshua is one of about 25 so-called messianic synagogues affiliated with the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, which has its headquarters in Chicago.

He said the group was unique among missionaries to Jews in that it refused to use the word ” Christ ” or ” Christian ” in any of its programs. But, he added, while the group observes many Jewish rituals, it has altered their content to conform to Christian theology. He said that, according to the group’s worship doctrines’ for Yom Kippur, “Jeshua Hamashiach” is the scapegoat. Its members study the Hebrew Scriptures but they also study the New Testament, he said.

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