WASHINGTON (BP)–Two Messianic Jewish organizations criticized in a letter directed to the Southern Baptist Convention say they will not be pressured by criticism, threats or violence into shunning their Jewish heritage just because they believe Jesus is the Messiah.
In a Dec. 3 letter to SBC President Paige Patterson, Gedale B. Horowitz, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council, based in New York City, charged that the “SBC’s endorsement of the use in Christian worship and conversion of symbols and rituals sacred only to Judaism” by Messianic Jews is offensive to “the entire Jewish community” and should be halted.
The Horowitz letter was written to Patterson the day after seven young men identifying themselves as members of New Jewish Order, a Jewish extremist group, forcibly entered the Paris office of Jews for Jesus, beat a staff member, painted anti-Christian slogans on the walls and trashed the office’s equipment.
The Paris incident is the latest of an escalating series of attacks on Messianic organizations and churches around the world by Jewish extremist groups, including the violent disruption of services last September at a Messianic church in New York City. Officiating at that service was the president of Chosen People Ministries — one of the three groups Horowitz complained about in his letter.
“If somehow we don’t get together very soon and find common ground, this is going to continue to escalate and someone is going to be badly hurt or killed,” said Gus Elowitz, pastor of a Houston Messianic congregation also taken to task by Horowitz in the Jewish Community Relations Council’s letter to Patterson.
Elowitz serves as vice president of the North American Messianic Association within the SBC.
“We must have a break in the hostilities,” Elowitz said. “Messianic Jews are getting chopped up by friendly fire from people who should be on our side on so many issues, but who have a problem with us because being Jews, we refuse to turn our backs on our Jewishness after becoming Christians. We can’t do that and we won’t do that.”
Until and unless Jewish extremists and other organizations teach their members to provide basic human respect for Messianic Jews and respond to them as fellow human beings, instead of something to be cursed and hated, there will only be more terror unleashed against Messianic Jews, said Mitch Glaser, president of Chosen People Ministries.
“There is no way that I am going to turn my back on my heritage because my use of the symbols of my heritage offends Horowitz. We don’t stop being Jews when we become Christians,” Glaser said.
Horowitz’s Nov. 8 letter was signed by five other Jewish leaders, including the top administrators of four Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jewish rabbinical schools. The mainstream Jewish council Horowitz leads encompasses 60-plus member organizations, including B’nai B’rith, the American Jewish Community and the American Jewish Congress and is not associated with Jewish extremist groups.
In his letter, Horowitz complained that Chosen People Ministries recently published and distributed a flyer written in Russian as “they proselytized in the Russian speaking Jewish community.” Horowitz complained that Jewish symbols were evident on the flier, but no mention was made that “their confidence is in Jesus the Messiah.”
Glaser said the flier was distributed by a Russian community group that teaches English as a second language and offers other services for recent Russian immigrants. They also give out fliers encouraging Russians to attend Messianic services, Glaser said. While Chosen People works with the Russian community group, it is not one and the same, Glaser noted.
“This is known to Mr. Horowitz, but he chooses to ignore that fact in order to make his case,” Glaser said.
In the same letter, Horowitz alleged that Elowitz deceives Jews by listing his Messianic church in the Houston Yellow Pages under synagogues and by using the title rabbi.
“We are a synagogue and I am a rabbi,” Elowitz responded. “I am sorry if Horowitz doesn’t think that a full-blooded Jew like me can go to seminary and become a rabbi if he follows Christ, but I am and I do.”
Houston, as most major cities, has more than one phone book, Elowitz said, and his synagogue usually runs a display ad in one or more of the phone books, prominently displaying his church’s motto: “Yeshua is the Hebrew name for Jesus.”
Glaser agreed that Messianic Jews have the right to call their meeting places synagogues and have done so since the time of Christ.
“The Greek word used for the gathering of believers in the Bible is synagogue. The early churches met in synagogues. They did not go around talking about church. It was synagogue, where Jesus was worshiped and taught as Messiah. What else would they have called it?” Glaser asked.
“As Messianic Jews, we don’t tell Jewish rabbis how to conduct their services, nor do we protest when Jewish community groups use symbols from our shared heritage,” Elowitz said. “Why must we be the targets of such attacks by fellow Jews because we follow the Jewish Messiah?”
The third and last Messianic group criticized in the Jewish Community Relations Council letter is Shalom Yisrael, a group which Horowitz never fully identifies. Horowitz called Shalom Yisrael only a “self-described Messianic congregation,” which sent a flyer to “the campus of a large college in New York.” The flyer’s Jewish symbols were evident, but Horowitz complained the group never identifies itself as Christian on the flyer.
Horowitz, however, did not return repeated calls to the Jewish Community Relations Council for further explanation of the identity of Shalom Yisrael. No such congregation is listed in New York telephone information listings. Neither Glaser nor Elowitz, both very active in Messianic circles, are familiar with the congregation.
Glaser said he is very grateful that Patterson, as the SBC’s president, has risen to the Messianic Jewish movement’s defense in an effort to help stem the rising tide of violence against Messianic Jews by other Jews, which threatens to drown any chances for meaningful dialogue between the two groups.
“I am thankful that Paige Patterson has the guts to stand for Jesus even when he is opposed in this manner,” Glaser said. “He has gone the extra mile, as my gentile Christian brother, in trying to protect the rights of Messianic Jews. For that, we are very grateful.”
Glaser said that while Messianic Jews are ready to talk to other Jews, “we are not ready to give up our Jewish identity.”
Glaser said without the SBC’s support it gets very lonely on the front lines of the Messianic-Jewish heritage war that is constantly being waged worldwide. The attackers at the Paris Jews for Jesus office spray-painted the office walls with Stars of David and slogans including “Israel Will Live” and “Never Again.” Before they left, the office worker they assaulted nonetheless managed to say, “God bless you.”
Such attacks are the sort of thing the constant sniping at Messianic Jews by Jewish groups engenders, Glaser said. The current issue of the popular New York City magazine Brooklyn Bridge recounts an attack by other Jewish extremists during a Hebrew New Year’s service Glaser was helping to officiate last September at the Hope of Israel congregation in New York City.
After struggling with several of the Russian Jews who were trying to enter the church for the services, several men forced their way into the church and began cursing those attending for betraying their Jewish heritage and accepting Christ. They poured ammonia on the floor and were attempting to set loose a sack full of white mice as church members wrestled them out the door. New York police are investigating the incident as a hate crime, Glaser said.
“This has to stop before people are killed,” Elowitz said. “I commend Patterson for asking Horowitz in effect to come and reason together. I am sorry Horowitz has not accepted Patterson’s offer to conduct an all-day meeting with several SBC officials, including a representative of the SBC Messianic Jewish congregations. It is apparent that because Patterson is insisting on having one of us there, to confront our accusers, that Horowitz won’t agree to the meeting.”
Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and soul and to love one another, even as He has loved us. “We’d love to get together with our Jewish brothers and sisters and discuss this in love,” Glaser said.
“We love our fellow Jewish people and there is nothing more we want then to tell them that Jesus is the promised Messiah,” Glaser said. “We also want to make the point very clearly that Jewishness and Jesus go hand in hand. Horowitz and other Jewish leaders need to talk with us about matters of real substance about this. The topic of our dialogue should be Jesus, not our Jewishness.”