NEW YORK (Jul. 25)
The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of New York today said it welcomed the suit filed against it by the Jews for Jesus group as a means of exposing the activities of the missionary group.
“We welcome the suit as an effort to expose them and their tactics,” said Julius Berman, chairman of the JCRC task force on missionaries and cults. “We seek an honest disclosure of the organization.”
Jews for Jesus filed suit in State Supreme Court in Manhattan yesterday against the JCRC and several of its executive officers charging that the Jewish group had violated its civil rights by urging rabbis on Long Island to try to stop the missionaries from holding an interfaith seder last Passover.
USE OF DECEPTIVE PRACTICES CITED
Berman, speaking at a news conference for the Jewish media at the offices of the JCRC, dismissed the suit as “a thinly veiled attempt to stifle our efforts for full disclosure to educate Jews and non-Jews alike as to the true nature, intent and tactics of Jews for Jesus.”
He asserted that Jews for Jesus “utilizes deceptive practices and distortion to ensnare unwary people and blurs the distinctions between Christianity and Judaism. Their activities lead to tensions between these two great faiths and undermines the integrity of both systems.”
CLAIMS CIVIL RIGHTS WERE VIOLATED
Nonetheless, a spokesperson for Jews for Jesus charged the JCRC with violating their civil rights when it distributed the memorandum to Long Island rabbis, who, the spokesperson said, “intimidated some pastors” and local businessmen to prevent Jews for Jesus from gaining access to establishments in Nassau and Suffolk countries.
Susan Perlman, information officer for Jews for Jesus, asserted in a telephone interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency yesterday that the organization has “no arguments with the JCRC.” But, she added, “When a group of rabbis decides what the Jewish community should and shouldn’t hear that is violating our civil rights. That is not only unethical but it is illegal.” She added that the group does not seek a “financial windfall” but “minimum” monetary damages. The suit seeks $100 in damages and reimbursement for attorney’s fees and court costs.
MEMORANDUM BY THE JCRC
The memorandum that the JCRC sent to a number of Long Island rabbis warned that the Jews for Jesus was seeking a site to conduct a seder and service. “Please contact your Christian colleagues,” the memorandum said. “Impress upon them how serious an affront these Hebrew Christian groups are to the Jewish community.”
The memorandum also urged the rabbinical leaders to contact catering establishments in the area “and ask the cooperation of the management in not renting to these groups.”
The suit contends that the memorandum had “a restraining, chilling and inhibiting effect” and was in violation of New York civil rights laws guaranteeing “the full and equal usage” of public places regardless of “race, creed, color or national origin.” Jews for Jesus did not hold its seder on Long Island, instead staging it in New Jersey.
The beliefs and activities of Jews for Jesus and other so-called Hebrew Christian groups have fallen under criticism by Jewish and some Christian leaders, who assert that such beliefs negate the uniqueness and deny the legitimacy of both faiths.
DEMANDS HONESTY AND DISCLOSURE
Berman and other JCRC officials indicated that “the JCRC strongly supports the constitutional guarantees of religious freedom for all.” Malcolm Hoenlein, JCRC executive director, said, however, that “they cannot pretend to be a Jewish organization. We demand that level of honesty and disclosure.”
The Jews for Jesus group was founded in 1973 and has its headquarters in San Francisco. It has recently purchased a seven story building in midtown Manhattan and engages in the distribution of handbills in New York and other major cities where it maintains offices.
The fliers distributed by Jews for Jesus, according to JCRC officials, distort traditional beliefs. Seders conducted by the group contain “Christological overtones,” said the JCRC, citing the following examples: the three matzot on the seder plate are said to represent the trinity, and the broken afikomen, the crucified Jesus.
Furthermore, the JCRC charges that Jews for Jesus, “by virtue of sheer numbers, has taken over the Hillel at the University of Texas at El Paso, and in Miami, Florida, they purchased a section of a Jewish cemetery — all in an attempt to gain credibility as legitimate members of the Jewish community. This is just the tip of the iceberg.”
JCRC officials describe the missionary group as a well organized, professional operation with substantial funds, estimated in the several millions of dollars. Hoenlein claimed that some support for Jews for Jesus comes from fundamentalist Christian groups, although he did not specify which groups.