Rockower Archive: How Jewish A Star? (May 1994)

(Editor’s Note: The following story from May 1994 received a second-place Rockower Award for Excellence in Investigative Reporting from the American Jewish Press Association, along with its follow-up story, “Star Crossed.”)

How Jewish a Star?

Publishers of “Alabama’s Oldest Jewish news magazine” proclaim on TV belief in Jesus as messiah

Since 1976, Margie and Marvin Rudolph have published the Jewish Star, which in recent years has come out every other month and claims to be the state’s largest and oldest Jewish newspaper.

But during the April 24 broadcast of “21st Century Guidelines,” a paid religious program with Rev. Daniel Ronsisvalle, on WABM-TV (Channel 68), they both spoke of having accepted Jesus as “the Jewish messiah” many years ago.

And in a telephone conversation with The Southern Shofar, they confirmed what they said on the broadcast.

This came not long after a retired Israeli government official living in Jerusalem told The Southern Shofar that the Rudolphs tried to proselytize him during their visit to Israel in March 1993.

Based on some articles in their publication, some in the Birmingham Jewish community have long speculated that the Rudolphs were involved in the so-called “Messianic” movement. Messianics maintain that Jesus is the Jewish messiah and that by accepting him as such, one becomes a “completed” Jew.

During the April 24 broadcast, Mr. Rudolph used that term to describe himself.

However, the organized Jewish community universally agrees that the messianic movement’s beliefs place it outside Jewish theology.

While it is acknowledged that anyone is free to espouse whatever beliefs they want, any reference to the messianic movement as being Jewish causes controversy in the Jewish community.

The Rudolphs appeared on “21st Century Guidelines” to promote the Promised Land, a new magazine they plan to introduce this summer.

The magazine is in response to requests by Christians for more information “on what the Lord is doing” in Israel.

During the show, after a short dialogue about the Holocaust, Ronsisvalle suggested a spiritual reason for renewed neo-Nazi activity. “We know as Christians — and incidentally, I think it’s important to say that you are Jews but you also have accepted Jesus Christ as your lord and savior,” Ronsisvalle said.

Mrs. Rudolph replied, “Certainly. That’s right.”

Mr. Rudolph added, “We have. We’re messianic Jews.”

Ronsisvalle, formerly with Cathedral of the Cross in Center Point, continued, “You’re messianic Jews, meaning that you actually believe that Jesus Christ was the messiah.”

Mr. Rudolph replied, “Yes.”

Ronsisvalle said, “Knowing that, Marvin, he’s coming back again.”

Mr. Rudolph replied, “Oh, he is.”

Ronsisvalle then added, “And it’s sooner than ever before. Could that be the reason why this hatred is rising once again?”

The Rudolphs agreed, adding that it was prophesied in Isaiah.

They also discussed the role of the Jew in the modern world, using scriptural references that state the Jewish people would be a blessing to the world.

Ronsisvalle said, “And they still are, even though as a race they’ve been in basic rebellion. Most of them reject Christ.”

Mrs. Rudolph replied, “That’s true,” and agreed to Ronsisvalle’s next statement, that the rebellion would change.

Ronsisvalle continued, “God is not through with even the unbelieving Jewish nation, I think we have to come out and say that, don’t you folks agree?” The Rudolphs answered that they did.

“Right now,” Ronsisvalle continued, “Paul says their eyes are blinded, so as a nation they don’t understand that Jesus was indeed the messiah. But when Christ returns, in one day, the Bible indicates, the whole nation will say ‘that’s him’.”

“That’s him, that’s right,” Mrs. Rudolph agreed.

She added, “He came to our people 2000 years ago, but they just rejected him.”

On the program, Mrs. Rudolph said her conversion to the messianic faith began 30 years ago — more than a decade before she began the Jewish Star.

She said, “30 years ago, someone came to me and told me the truth. The person was Jewish, came and told me of the Jewish messiah, Yeshua Hamashiach, Jesus the messiah… It was so beautiful, when he told me the truth.

“You know God says ‘if you seek Me with your whole heart you’ll find Me, but if you go to disprove it you’re going to get that much further away from him. You’re going to get so far away from him. But if you go with a humble heart and you seek him 100 percent with your whole heart, he said ‘you’ll find Me’. And that’s exactly what I did. I went toward the truth and he revealed himself to me,” she said.

Her revelation came in the middle of the night, she added. “After many years of belief and searching and searching, of which my family does not know — they do not know how deep I was, one night in the middle of the night, I think he comes in the still of the night. He came to me — there was a voice, that I want to come under the power of God.

“And when I said that, Brother Dan, there’s something that struck me in my forehead, it entered my head and I didn’t know what it was. It just seemed like my head opened up, and all of a sudden something rushed through me with such an intense power, an electricity that wracked my soul, and we’ve heard the words in the Bible that said ‘I was so afraid.’ I was so afraid, Brother Dan, and we are to fear God, and I know this fear. And it is so hard for me to explain or to tell you what I felt, but I knew that he was the true messiah,” Mrs. Rudolph said.

About two years after their wedding, Mr. Rudolph said, she began presenting scriptures to him. They have been married 26 years.

He said it was “Just a gradual thing, and my heart was right, and I was, I guess you could say, relatively easy. The veil was lifted from my eyes. I didn’t actually have a direct experience as she had, but… I know without a doubt in my heart, I know that he is the messiah, and I’m very grateful for it.”

Ronsisvalle commented, “And yet you love your Jewish heritage, and your Jewish friends, and your Jewish culture.”

Mr. Rudolph replied, “Oh yes. We’re — I think the best term would be a completed Jew.”

Many in community stunned

Several Jewish community members did happen upon the broadcast while switching channels, and told The Southern Shofar that their reactions ranged from rage to disbelief to disgust.

Judaism’s three denominations differ slightly in the view of a messianic’s status. Rabbi Jonathan Miller said a messianic “is a Christian. Plain and simple.”

Rabbi Reuven Tradburks said that the Orthodox perspective differs in that while there are some implications for a Jew who accepts Jesus, but “in terms of strict Jewish status, you can’t lose it once you’ve got it.”

Still, he added that someone who calls himself messianic would not be eligible for religious honors. “We wouldn’t give an aliyah to a person who has accepted Christianity, because the bracha (blessing) you’re making is a lie. You don’t accept the Torah. So there would be implications of that sort.”

Messianic blending of Judaism and Christianity is impossible, he said. “The two can’t go together. That’s the bottom line. How to categorize someone who is a Messianic Jew is like trying to dance at two weddings at the same time. That’s so obvious to us.”

Rabbi Michael Wasserman said that “Christianity, which began as a Jewish sect, chose very early-on to break with Judaism and go its own way as a separate religion.

“To try to deny that break today, after almost 2000 years,” Wasserman continued, “violates the integrity, I believe, of both religions.”

Of the Rudolphs’ televised comments, Tradburks said “They have a right to believe in whatever they want to believe in, but they have no right whatsoever to speak on behalf of the Jewish community.

“They have put themselves outside the Jewish community entirely in this belief, and if they want to light Chanukah candles as Christians, then let them go ahead and do it. But that’s not Judaism. Businesses should know… that their statements are not accepted by the Jewish community at all,” Tradburks added.

Miller echoed the sentiment, saying “They have every right to believe what they want to believe… We do have every right to tell them that they can’t speak in the name of the Jewish community — at least I can say they can’t speak in the name of Temple Emanu-El, and I don’t believe they can speak in the name of the Jewish community.”

Miller called any claim on their part to represent the Jewish community “reprehensible.”

The Rudolphs have not been members of any local synagogue for many years, nor are they members of the Jewish Community Center or active in local Jewish community organizations.

For example, JCC Executive Director Garth Potts, who arrived in Birmingham in 1991, has never met the Rudolphs. “I have never had any contact — verbal, written or otherwise — with the Jewish Star,” he said.

Therefore, he was surprised to find an interview of himself in the July/August 1992 Jewish Star.

“They took the article, as best I can tell, and pieced it together from the Birmingham News, and possibly from comments that were made in our bulletin here,” Potts said, “but I have never spoken to these people and they have never contacted me for comments or anything such.”

The article, which spoke of the JCC’s new outdoor pool that opened in May 1992, was actually copied from the Feb. 10, 1992 issue of the Birmingham News. There was no byline or reprint permission noted.

Refusing comment were Birmingham Jewish Federation Executive Vice President Richard Friedman, and Debi Shendelman of the Community Relations Committee.

The Federation has stated a policy of not getting into the middle of issues involving independent commercial ventures.

Mrs. Rudolph, when asked for comment, said “I’m not going to grant you a personal interview, because I’d like to share it with people personally… I want to be led by the Lord to share my personal testimony.”

Asked why she has not been public with this belief in the past, she quoted Ecclesiastes, saying that to every thing there is a season. She added that her beliefs were a personal matter.

Mr. Rudolph said “we have no qualms about our beliefs. We’re proud of what we believe and we feel fortunate to be what we consider one of the chosen Jews.”

Responding to the suggestion that these views may be viewed as controversial in the Jewish community, he replied that such may have been the case decades ago, but “what about the other Jewish people — of which there are more and more in this day and time, who are of the same beliefs that we are?”

Estimates of the number of messianics in the United States today range around 150,000.

He asked why some Jews talk about messianics in negative terms, then “capitalize” on Christmas and Easter in their stores, when they do not believe in the messages of those holidays. “That’s one of the most hypocritical things I’ve ever heard of.”

Encounter in Jerusalem

This revelation would have come as no surprise to Mordecai Dolinsky, who was director of the Israeli Government Press Office from 1982 to 1984.

Dolinsky, who lived in Jerusalem before passing away on April 15, had a visit from the Rudolphs in March 1993. Dolinsky, a friend of former Alabama governor Fob James and his wife, Bobbie, had often hosted the Jameses in Jerusalem.

When the Jameses found out the Rudolphs would be traveling with a group to Israel, they suggested the Rudolphs visit Dolinsky, in a letter dated Oct. 30, 1992, that was subsequently printed in the October 1993 Jewish Star.

In an interview with The Southern Shofar on March 16, Dolinsky said it took the Rudolphs “thirty seconds to get their message across.”

When he met them at their hotel, he said they were excited that he arrived “just at the right time because there is a big prayer meeting about to take place.”

Dolinsky said, “They wanted me to take part in the prayer meeting. I expressed myself saying I don’t attend Christian prayer meetings.

“They said, ‘Oh, many of these Christians are Jews. You’ll feel right at home’,” he said.

When Dolinsky spent time in Birmingham, he told Tradburks of his encounter with the Rudolphs. “He told me that they were messianic Jews, and it was obvious, clear and they didn’t deny it,” Tradburks recalled.

Dolinsky said he also had a discussion with the Rudolphs about their beliefs.

Mrs. James said the incident was “unfortunate” and that she felt the Rudolphs did not mean any harm.

Dolinsky commented that “Bobbie has really done everything in good faith” and has expressed her regret to him about the incident.

“I told her, send me your Christian friends. Send me your Jewish friends. But don’t send me Christians disguised as Jews,” Dolinsky said.