Thursday, August 27, 2009

Jewish Missionaries Outraged at Christian Missionaries

This article (via Jewcy via OTD) is fascinating:
The Seed, like all messianic Jewish congregations, used deception and slick marketing to appeal to uninformed Jews, attempting to convince them that it is Jewish to believe in Jesus.

As David Kelsey at Jewcy points out, that same sentence with some minor changes fits Aish Hatorah -- the organization hosting this article! -- to a tee:
Aish HaTorah, like all kiruv congregations, used deception and slick marketing to appeal to uninformed Jews, attempting to convince them that Orthodox Judaism is true.

(Kelsey also points to an example of deception and slick marketing used by Aish HaTorah.)

Aish's lack of self-awareness is only part of the attraction for this article. We also get to see how one of these organizations views the threat of another:
All of this raised the ire of Chaim Feinberg, z"l, a young, fiery Orthodox Jew living in Albany's small Orthodox community. He brought his concerns to Scott Moskowitz, an active member of the Orthodox Jewish student's group at SUNYA. Scott, in turn, raised the issue with Rich and suggested that they endeavor to find a non-Jewish student to join the Seed to investigate its inner workings and tactics.

Why a non-Jewish student? Because Aish knows first-hand how effective missionary techniques can be. Truth, reason, empiricism, all irrelevant. Because Aish knows that with missionary work, the important thing is which organization gets the most face-time with you.

Deciding that finding a non-Jew for the job would be too hard, Rich himself (a Reform Jew) volunteers. Feinberg and Moskowitz, though, were worried. After consulting with a "reknowned" (but anonymous) rabbi agreed with the plan, but established some "strict ground rules":
These rules included the instruction that Rich was not to take a single move without Feinberg's approval, and that after each meeting with The Seed, Rich would need to sit and learn with Feinberg as a sort of deprogramming.

So "learning" with a "fiery, young Orthodox Jew" is DE-programming??

The lack of self-awareness continues:
During that first phone call, Rich and Pastor Birnbaum spent two hours talking. Rich laid the bait: he was lonely, Albany was so gloomy, everybody was so materialistic, he was a twice-a-year Jew who yearned for more spirituality. Birnbaum did not just take the bait, he gobbled it up voraciously. He told Rich that he knew exactly how he felt since he, too, had attended college in Albany.

Is that not the same story given to dozens of chabad rabbis and other kiruv professionals every day?

More on the "deprogramming":
Rich was in constant contact with Feinberg, nearly matching hour for hour the time he spent with The Seed -- deprogramming, learning together, and reporting on the tactics, inner workings, and funding structure of the Seed. At one point Larry Levy, then executive director of Jews for Judaism in Baltimore, was flown in to add his expertise to the deprogramming team working with Rich.

The story goes on from there, with Rich ultimately and triumphantly calling out the Seed organization from the stage of a Purim play "because a Jew is a Jew and never a Christian!" The press gets the story, and Seed ultimately falls apart.

Typically, the story would end there. But Aish apparently wanted to highlight their spectacular lack of self-awareness in the funniest way possible:
Rich had always toyed with the idea of spending junior year abroad and now the idea seemed perfect. He enrolled in Hebrew University. After a few weeks at Hebrew U, the seed of Torah that had been planted in Albany and watered by Chaim Feinberg began sprouting. Why did I travel halfway around the world to study the same things I had been studying in Albany? Rich wondered. What am I doing in the spiritual capital of the world without tapping into anything spiritual?

By the end of September, Rich had enrolled in Aish HaTorah.

King Solomon teaches us "There is a time to plant and a time to uproot that which has been planted." Sometimes, it seems, by uprooting what has been planted, a person also plants anew. While The Seed of Abraham has been relegated to the dustbin of history, Rich Maisel and his family are living a blossoming Torah life.

UPDATE: A "Messianic Jew" responds.


Anonymous said...

To reproduce a comment I left at Jewcy, did you also know Seed of Abraham isn't a Messianic congregation officially, but a One New Man congregation? It admits as much on its website. So not that slick then. And nowhere does Seed even claim to be Jewish, the most you'll get is some Jewish-sounding terminology.

It took me 6 minutes on the Seed website to work out that the group wasn't properly Jewish, and it took Rich 6 months! AND he had to be debriefed after every Seed meeting, even though the Seed group are clearly insane, claiming to raise the dead in their meetings. Was Rich really that unsure in his own beliefs?

I'm all for Aish criticising Messianics, but could they at least be accurate about us when they do?

More here:

Jewish Atheist said...


Thanks for commenting! I added your link to the post.

Anonymous said...

Cool, thanks J_A.

jewish philosopher said...

Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are missionaries for their religion - atheism.

The Hedyot said...

Great analysis. Totally spot on.

Off the Derech said...

Thanks for the link.

avian30 said...

I always found it amusing watching Torah Codes proponents such as Aish try to refute Jesus Codes when their own Torah Codes were similarly nonsensical.

I attended a Torah Codes lecture a few years ago in which some the main Torah Codes proponents (Haralick, Rips, and Gans) were arguing that long ELS's they found confirmed that the Torah Codes were real. I pointed out during the Q&A period that it was Christians who pioneered the study of long ELS's. I asked whether their findings confirmed Christian claims. They were not pleased! :)

avian30 said...

Sorry, that last link was supposed to refer to

Off the Derech said...


Jr said...

"Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are missionaries for their religion - atheism."

Brilliant analysis! I will note a few points though. First of all the categories of missionaries and apologists are usually kept distinct. Dawkins and Hitchens would in my opinion quite clearly fall in the apologist category if they were say Christians. It is not like they go knocking doors.

Secondly atheism isn't a religion, it is a philosophical position.

Thirdly what you are saying has very little relevance to what the post is about. The post is about two organizations accused of using deception and pretending to be something else than the missionary organizations they are. I don't think anyone is likely to be confused about the fact that Dawkins is arguing for atheism. (I mean it is pretty obvious from the title of his book to begin with.)

JA does seem to have some additional criticisms of Aish but nowhere does he imply that it is wrong in itself to argue for a cause or even missionise.

Anonymous said...

Judging by this post, I'd have to assume that you believe that telling a gay person that gay people should get married to people of the opposite sex, is just exactly the same as telling a gay person that gay people are able to have monogamous relationships.... right?

Cause the two things are spot on exactly the same thing!

Jeremiah said...

What is this crap? First of all, equating Jewish "evangelists" to Christian Evangelists is like comparing apples and oranges. Aish HaTorah (a great organization in my opinion) is trying to bring Jews back to Judaism, because of the alarmingly high rates of Jewish assimilation especially propagated by Messianic "Jews." If the author really knew anything about Aish, s/he would know that they are also quite nonjudgmental. If they can't revive your faith, then they at least would like your support for Israel, because it benefits the Jewish community as a whole whether religious or nonreligious.

Now, whether you agree with this or not let's compare this to Christian Evangelism. A fire and brimstone replacement theology that seeks to pull people away from their respective communities, because being a pillar of morality necessitates not necessarily what you do but what you believe.

You're comparing an organization that seeks to revive Jewish identity and strengthening a community with one that wishes to destroy communities by drawing them away using a morally repugnant ideology.

This is completely absurd.

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