(Editor’s Note: This lead editorial from May 2000 won a first place Rockower Award for Excellence in Editorial Writing from the American Jewish Press Association).
For Those Who Do Not Know Where To Ask
Item: A missionary group in Mississippi goes through the Birmingham phone book and sends “New Covenant” Christian Bibles to “Jewish-sounding” names.
Item: A traveling evangelist visits Greenville and Cleveland, Miss., trying to witness to as many Jews as he can find, and then writes about it in an evangelical publication and asks readers to pray for those he met, by name.
Item: A national evangelist tricks 80 Jewish newspapers into running ads for a film that turns out to be evangelical.
Item: a “Jews for Jesus” representative spends two weeks in April visiting churches throughout Alabama to teach them about Passover. The title? “Christ in the Passover.”
Did you know that the three matzahs represent the trinity? And the middle one is broken because the middle member of the trinity, Jesus, was broken? And the afikoman? Why, it’s a reenactment of the resurrection story.
What? You celebrated Passover differently?
Of course, churches use the symbolism of Jesus as the “lamb of G-d,” and Passover is the one time we have a physical reminder of the ancient sacrifices. Of course, the original lamb was to be unblemished, so it could not be “broken”, but who cares about small details like Biblical inerrance when you’re trying to convert Jews?
This year, there has been a great deal of activity on the missionary front — more than we have seen in some time. Of course, the biggest threat to the Jewish community is not the missionary or the “messianic,” but assimilation and apathy. But that’s another column.
Elsewhere in this issue, there is an article about how the Jewish community of Cincinnati fought back against the so-called “messianic” Seders, where churches simply fell prey to misinformation. They think they are learning about Passover, when in fact they are seeing a perversion of the Passover story.
There is a lot of honest, genuine interest in Passover. These days, it is common knowledge that Jesus was a Jew, and lived that way his entire life. Christians want to know more about what that means, as a way of better understanding their own faith.
The Passover Seder is a natural place for that exploration, because many think the “Last Supper” was a Seder. There is still debate about that, because three of the four gospels indicate it was, but the account in John is written in a way that precludes the possibility of a Seder.
Here in the Bible Belt, there are many churches interested in learning about the Jewish roots of Christianity. Unfortunately, all to often they get “messianic” interpretations of Judaism, which are no different than how Christianity views Judaism, and which completely distort Judaism and the history of the early church.
It makes a great deal of sense for the Jewish communities around the South to form teams, similar to Cincinnati’s, educate themselves and make themselves available to teach Christians about what Judaism really is, and what it is not.
If we don’t, then we have seen that someone else will certainly step in. And chances are we won’t like the lessons being taught, and our non-Jewish neighbors will be more confused and less enlightened.