SAN FRANCISCO (BP)–Moishe Rosen, founder of Jews for Jesus, died May 19 around 8:30 p.m. in San Francisco after a battle with bone cancer. Rosen, who founded the evangelistic organization in 1973, was 78.
“Moishe Rosen’s innovative thinking and commitment to Jewish evangelism built the largest Jewish mission organization in the world,” Jim Sibley, director of the Pasche Institute of Jewish Studies at Criswell College in Dallas, told Baptist Press, “but more importantly, they have been used to reach countless Jews and Gentiles for the Lord.
“His concern began with the Jewish population in the United States, but later embraced the major Jewish populations of the world,” said Sibley, a former Southern Baptist representative in Israel and former director of Jewish evangelism ministries for the North American Mission Board.
“Often provocative and controversial, he was always unashamed of the Good News of salvation,” Sibley said. “He has been a friend, a brother and a fellow soldier; he will be greatly missed.”
Mike Saffle, president of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship, recounted a bit of Rosen’s spiritual history: “Moishe was born to an Orthodox family, yet became an atheist. After his wife, Ciel, began an earnest search for God, Moishe finally admitted what he’d known all along: there IS a God, and His Son is Y’shua, Jesus.”
Rosen was “passionately in love with his Lord, his wife and his people, Israel. His mission was to open the eyes of Jewish people to the truth of their Messiah, and he pursued that calling to the end. His ministry spans the globe, reaching many for Christ,” said Saffle, pastor/rabbi of Shalom Adonai Messianic Baptist Fellowship in Wichita, Kan.
He was “a funny, humble, loving man whose greatest passion is Y’shua and telling Jewish people about Him. We will miss him, and pray for his family’s strength and comfort,” Saffle said.
Ric Worshill, vice president of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship, wrote in an e-mail that Rosen “has been an inspiration to many Jewish believers since we found Christ as Savior. Many of the present Jewish believers in Christ were led to the L-rd by Moishe or his disciples. Moishe has been an excellent example of a true shepherd and servant of the L-rd. He devoted his life to building up the saints, to build up other saints, so together we can all build up the body of Christ.
“Brother Moishe brought much fruit to the Kingdom when he founded Jews for Jesus. This faithful brother helped lead many of the lost remnant of Israel to the Jewish Messiah,” said Worshill, a police chaplain in Lindenhurst, Ill.
Rosen, a native of Denver, became a believer in Jesus in 1953.
As recounted by Susan Perlman, a longtime assistant, in an article at the Jews for Jesus website, www.jewsforjesus.org, “In 1950, when they were both 18, Moishe married his high school sweetheart, Ceil, who is also Jewish. Three years later, Ceil came to know Jesus and was instrumental in leading her husband to the Lord. And so, at the age of 21, Moishe, the son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, gathered his family together to tell them the news: ‘I’ve been studying the Bible lately and I’ve decided that Jesus is really the Messiah. We’ve all been wrong and I wanted you to know that I’m going to believe in Him and follow Him and give my life to Him.’
“The response that came from his father after hearing that somewhat abrasive announcement was equally jarring: ‘You can just get out of my house and don’t come back until you’ve given up this Jesus business!'”
The rejection by his family “didn’t deter him from following his destiny,” Perlman wrote. “If anything, it brought him closer to his Messiah, who was ‘despised and rejected’ by so many. Moishe immersed himself in the Scriptures and never wavered from being a forthright teller of the truth of the gospel. He actually came to discover that he loved to tell others about Y’shua.”
Within a year, Rosen had a call from God: “… as he was devouring the Book of Acts for the second time,” Perlman wrote, “he read the words ‘I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus’ (Acts 20:21) and he knew, as he put it, that it was God’s personal call to him, a message ‘more real than if I had audibly perceived His voice that God was speaking to me, calling me, telling me, that I was to be a witness to Jews and Gentiles.'”
Rosen enrolled at Northeastern Bible College in New Jersey and, after graduating in 1957, was ordained as a Conservative Baptist minister. He joined the staff of the American Board of Missions to the Jews, working 10 years in Los Angeles and seven years in New York City. Uncomfortable in an administrative role, he began visiting college campuses in New York, “listening and learning what was on the hearts of young Jewish people,” Perlman wrote, “and how he might find ways to connect to their spiritual hunger.”
Rosen began to carve out those connections in 1973 when he founded Jews for Jesus, which today numbers 200 staff members in the United States and worldwide.
Jews for Jesus’ outreach encompasses evangelistic campaigns in New York City, London, Paris and other major cities; evangelistic pamphlets and books; Bible instruction, discipleship and witness training; music and drama teams; full-page newspaper and magazine ads and other secular media outreach; and Internet evangelism.
Rosen stepped down as executive director of Jews for Jesus in 1996 at the age of 64 but continued to serve on the board of directors and as a staff member. Among the books recounting the Jews for Jesus story are “Not Ashamed: The Story of Jews for Jesus” by Ruth Tucker (1999) and “Jews for Jesus” by Rosen and Bill Proctor (1974).
Rosen played a key role in the formation of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism, which emerged from the 1980 Consultation on World Evangelization in Pattaya, Thailand.
Tuvya Zaretsky, Jews for Jesus’ director of staff development, in a tribute to Rosen, wrote, “Today, the LCJE is regarded as the most successful special interest committee in the whole international Lausanne network. Moishe Rosen’s commitment to that network and the cause of Jewish evangelism has received well-deserved acknowledgement and appreciation.”
At the time of his death, Rosen was a member of Dolores Park Church in San Francisco, which is affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church. He previously was a member of First Baptist Church in San Francisco.
Rosen, in words of encouragement to the Jews for Jesus organization posted on its website after his death, noted two concerns:
— Commenting on “how much misunderstanding there is among believers,” he lamented, “I never thought I would live to see the day when those who know the Lord and are born again were supporting the efforts of rabbis who, frankly, not only don’t know Christ, but don’t want to know Him.
“To be an honest ministry, it can only come from the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit can only indwell those who have the new birth and are born again. Therefore, I would urge you to think very seriously before you support any ‘ministry’ that involves Jewish people and doesn’t actually bring the gospel to the Jews.”
— “[S]omething else that I never thought that I would see or hear,” Rosen wrote, is “Jews who have become believers in Jesus and have important positions in ministry yet feel that their primary purpose is to promote Jewishness and Judaism to the Jews.
“I hope I can count on you to show love and respect for the Jewish people, but Jewishness never saved anybody,” Rosen continued. “Judaism never saved anybody no matter how sincere. Romans 10:9 & 10 make it clear that we must believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths the Lord Jesus in order to be saved. There are no shortcuts. There is no easy way. Within Judaism today, there is no salvation because Christ has no place within Judaism.
“Aside from these concerns, I want to say that I feel as I have always felt that we stand on the edge of a breakthrough in Jewish evangelism,” Rosen wrote. “Just a little more. Just another push. Just another soul — and we will have reached critical mass where we begin generating that energy that the whole world might know the Lord.”
Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press.