The Long Island Council of Churches, target of a suit by Jews for Jesus over a Council letter accusing the Jesus group of “subterfuge and dishonesty,” is not the first Christian organization to repudiate the efforts of such groups “for their campaigns to proselytize and thereby seek to undermine Judaism and the Jewish people,” a rabbinical expert reported.
Hineni Ministries, the national Jews for Jesus organization, filed the suit in State Supreme Court in Manhattan Friday to stop the Long Island Council from disseminating what the group called negative information. The suit asks for an injunction against distribution of the Council letter in which Jews for Jesus is accused of “engaging in subterfuge and dishonesty” and with “mixing religious symbols in ways which distort their essential meaning.”
In commenting on the lawsuit, Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum, director of inter-religious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, said that as recently as 1973, “more than 90 local councils of churches throughout the country involving Roman Catholics, Protestants and evangelical leaders, including Dr. Billy Graham, forthrightly rejected such efforts to target the Jewish community, and especially Jewish young people, as objects for their soul-snatching.”
Moishe Rosen, director of the Hineni Ministries, said the Council letter had been reported in various media and that it “reflects poorly on the actions of our group, which are anything but dishonest.”
Rev. Jack Alford, executive director of the 600 member Council, said the Jews for Jesus Lawsuit “proves the point” of the Council letter. He said the Jews for Jesus “would like to deny us our rights protected under freedom of speech and freedom of religion.” He said the outlook of the Jews for Jesus group was the kind “spawned in some fascist and communist countries.”
INCREASED ACTIVITIES NOTED
Hebrew-Christian groups have stepped up their activities in the New York area for the summer when prospective converts are out on vacation and more readily accessible. A spokesman for Jews for Jesus said the group plans to have 40 missionaries on Manhattan streets every day this summer.
Tanenbaum said that the Long Island Council “stands on absolutely firm ground in charging Jews for Jesus, the B’nai Yeshua and other so-called Hebrew-Christion movements with subterfuge.” He said he could demonstrate “to any fair-minded person abundant evidence that Jews for Jesus and the allied Hebrew-Christian groups have consistently engaged in fraud, deception and the morally offensive actions of manipulating and trivializing Jewish sacred articles as well as Jewish religious beliefs.”
Tanenbaum said that the groups use all of the symbols of Judaism, including sponsorship of Friday night services, Seders and similar Jewish observances, seeking to create the impression that they are simply another version of Judaism, in a masquerade for Christian missionary efforts.
He said that in a series of leaflets produced by Jews for Jesus and reprinted by B’nai Yeshua, which proselytizes on college campuses and invites Jewish students to attend weekly Friday night Sabbath services at its new $1 million center in Stony Brook, N. Y., next to the State University of Stony Brook, Jews for Jesus uses the statement that “Jews for Jesus is a registered trade mark for Hineni Ministries.”
Tanenbaum said Hineni, which is Hebrew for “Here I Am,” Abraham’s response to God’s call, is generally recognized as the official name of an Orthodox Jewish religious movement organized by Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis. “Moishe Rosen simply appropriated that name undoubtedly to try to transfer to himself and to Jews for Jesus the public image of some kind of association with an authentic Jewish group,” Tanenbaum said. “If that is not deceptive, then I do not know what the word means.”
He reported that in another pamphlet the Jews for Jesus group have the phrase: “Hinenil here am I. It’s a highly Jewish thing to do,” referring to giving up Judaism to become a Jew for Jesus. He called the idea of Jewish-Christians “a theological impossibility”. Alford said his organization stands by the letter which led to the lawsuit. The letter was sent last February to the 600-member churches and to the 200 Long Island synagogues.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.