Sunday, January 31, 2010


...the social supports ... for guidance--churches, ethnic communities, patriotic activities, and a liberal arts education--have either disappeared or now appear ‘plastic’ and unreal. Enduring this kind of acutely felt tension, these young people yearn for a quick cure for their sense of isolation and confusion (Lofland and Stark, 1965). They seek a sense of full belonging and purpose in life, independent of their familes, but without engaging in the struggle to achieve true "mutual understanding" between individuals or the serious "analysis" of their situation required to find and shape their own identity. ... Then at a moment of crisis, a "turning point"... they encounter the missionaries of one or another New Religious Movement offering just such an alternative path to (or temporary detour from) maturity. (Comprehending the Cults: The Sociology of New Religious Movements, 91) 

A Jewish teenager arrived in Toronto, and stayed with his Messianic Jewish aunt. From the start she was particularly confrontational towards him about her belief in Yeshua, and he eventually left over religious differences (he was an atheist). Yet, amazingly, he continued to attend the Messianic congregation she had initially dragged him to, because he appreciated the friends he had made. Eventually, not just the beauty and goodness of the community, but the reasons they gave for their Yeshua-faith convinced him, and he began to profess belief as well.

Later, while looking for an apartment, he met an Orthodox Jewish couple, who happened to be preparing a Shabbat meal. The couple convinced him to stay for for the night. Near the end of the meal, his faith in Yeshua came up. Concerned about the boy's beliefs, which they considered shocking and alien, this couple had to think fast. They proceeded to lie to him by telling him that they have a friend who might be interested in learning more and considering this Yeshua. In fact, the friend they were speaking about was none other than Julius Ciss, a professional “counter-missionary,” whose interest was only to dissuade the young man from his belief in Yeshua and bring him back into the fold. Taken in by their ruse, he agreed to meet with Julius, who used the usual stock arguments and attacks. This was countered by rhetoric from believers, but he was gradually losing touch with them. Unable to refute the anti-missionary’s arguments and won over by his kindness (which included setting up the young man an apartment with a Jewish family), the teenager eventually gave up his faith in Yeshua and became an assistant to Julius.

Now, is my summary above a perfectly charitable re-telling of this story by Aish HaTorah? Perhaps not. In my reading, it all turns on an act of deception - some might say a “white lie,” or maybe even just a “stretch of the truth” - wherein the professional (counter-)missionary is misrepresented as a potentially receptive person so as to set up a meet. In the author’s words, he was "a friend of the Sheiners who, they said, was potentially interested in the 'wares' he peddled."

The context makes it clear that the Sheiners meant to shine the young man on. Just as clear was what they thought they were dealing with: a peddler of wares. In dealing with people considered to be perpetual lying salesman - you know, the “Jews for Jesus” - this act could be very easily excused.

So yes the story I told was not fully charitable, but it is a plausible interpretation of the facts given. In fact, its more probable than the story as written, which reflects a mixture of biases: the concerned ignorance of the couple towards the young man's Yeshua faith, filtered through the reactionary feelings of things once believed but no longer by the young man himself, filtered through a sort of patronizing disdain of the author. Some of these biases could be found in any number of believers in Yeshua who are still reacting against their own traditional Jewish past, still thinking in anti-Jewish tropes. The point is that the tale relies upon prejudiced language - anti-Christian tropes, to be specific, though much more toned down and cleverly put than some - as opposed to reasons for believing or disbelieving in Yeshua.

If one were to look for what reasons Aish gives elsewhere - well... here you go. In my view, these are not successful (or close to successful) in providing rational warrant for dismissing the person and claims of Yeshua. But here this story is not about reasons. The author’s real point is that the mission of “Jews for Judaism” and other antimissionary organizations is both just and vital. To try to proffer any reasons against belief in Yeshua would just be preaching to choir, and could possibly raise more questions than they answer.

A few points stand out to me:
1) Stories are not the same as reasons. Care matters, and so does intellectual engagement. 
2) Coercion often seems justified at the time. God's love persuades but never coerces.
3) Though positioned as reflecting mainstream Jewish thought for a contemporary audience, Aish haTorah is closely aligned with a new religious movement: counter-missionary Judaism. This need not detract from the teaching on their site, which is often very thoughtful and substantive. But counter-missionary Judaism is an agenda driven movement. The agenda is to dissuade one from beliefs considered non-Jewish - particularly faith in Yeshua. This alignment may certainly compromise the objectivity of their presentations, particularly when dealing with Yeshua-faith. (and yes, viz-a-viz their position, the same flaw could apply to this blog, which is aligned with an agenda of glorifying Yeshua as the Jewish Messiah.)


Judah Gabriel Himango said...

Hi Matt,

Just found your blog. I'm a Messianic guy myself.

I enjoyed this blog post; you're right to highlight some of the deceptive techniques often used.

Are you familiar with the Rosh Pina blog? They document this kind of thing: Rosh Pina Project

Matt said...

Shalom Judah, thank you for stopping by.

I have visited Rosh Pina (as I have your KLT blog as well btw)!

Matt said...

And I feel slight sense of shame for having visited without commenting. I generally don't make comments even when I enjoy the reading, a habit I would be wise to reverse. :-)