Jewish missions

Jewish missions
   Protestants first began to evangelize Jews systematically at the end of the 18th century. While many denominations abandoned the mission by the end of the 20th century, some efforts continued.
   The first Christians were Jews; Christianity established itself as a new religion in part by separating itself from the Jewish community. By the fourth century, most Christians of Jewish heritage had been integrated into the larger Gentile Christian community.
   Christians made repeated attempts to force Jews to abandon Judaism, often through acts of discrimination and persecution that remain a blot on Christian history Shortly before the Reformation, both Spain (1492) and Portugal (1496) banished Jews who would not convert. The anti-Semitism that had become institutionalized in Roman Catholic countries passed to Protestantism. The relatively liberal policies of Napoleon, embodied in the Civil Code of 1804, was followed late in the 19th century by a new wave of anti-Semitism that emanated from Germany, which would culminate in the Jewish Holocaust during World War ii.
   A new interest in evangelizing Jews was born at the end of the 18th century, in the context of the Protestant community's global missionary endeavor. The London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews (popularly referred to as the London Jews Society) was founded in 1809 by Joseph Samuel Christian Frederick Frey (1773-1850), who had formerly worked with the London Missionary Society. A scandal forced Frey to resign; the real work of the London Jews Society would fall on a later associate, Joseph Wolff (1795-1862).
   Wolff, the son of a German rabbi, was educated at Protestant and Roman Catholic universities. He was baptized as a Catholic, but after moving to England in 1919, he affiliated with the Church of England and with the London Jews Society. In 1821, he left England to begin a career as a missionary to Jews from the Mediterranean to Russia, founding missions in several countries. In 1838, he was ordained as a priest in the Church of England, and a decade later he settled in a British parish and wrote books on his adventures. The London Jews Society continues to operate, though a number of new societies began to form in the last half of the 19th century. The Midmay Mission to the Jews was founded in 1876 and the Scripture Gift Mission in 1888.
   in America, as in England, real interest in the mission began only in the decades following the Civil War, especially in the 1880s, when a new wave of Jewish immigration began, primarily from Russia and Poland. New interdenominational societies and denomination agencies were established to further the effort. in addition, various churches funded missionaries who targeted Jewish communities in eastern Europe. By far the most important effort was the American Board of Missions to the Jews (ABMJ) founded in 1894 by Leopold Cohn (d. 1937). Through the 20th century, it established mission stations across the United States. Joined by other groups such as the Chicago Hebrew Mission (later the American Messianic Fellowship) and the Biblical Research Society, as well as denominationally supported missionaries, a significant effort to evangelize the Jewish community was established. It remained somewhat invisible, as converts were rarely organized into separate Jewish Christian congregations, which were opposed by the agencies.
   Following World War II, most major Protestant denominations withdrew their support. Jewish evangelism, which had regularly been a part of the program at international missionary conferences earlier in the century, completely dropped out of consideration by the time the WORLD Council of Churches was founded in 1948. The reduction of support for Jewish missions was eased by their lack of success relative to other missionary activity.
   On the other hand, a new generation of evangelists who had been born Jewish emerged in the 1970s. Moshe Rosen, a staff member of the ABMJ, who was caught up in the Jesus People movement in California, broke with the organization over the issue of maintaining those elements of Jewish culture and religious practice that did not conflict with the Christian faith. Rosen insisted that he was still a Jew, and wished to keep his culture in spite of his faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Like the ABMJ, the Jews for Jesus founded by Rosen and others in 1973 continued to direct their converts toward existing congregations, but in their self-identification as Jews and their use of Jewish religious forms (such as using Passover ritual in the Lord's Supper), they set the stage for the most significant development in modern Jewish missions - Messianic Judaism.
   The growth of Messianic Judaism was spurred in no small part by the establishment of the state of israel and the speculation among conservative Evangelicals that the last generation before the return of Christ had begun in 1948, a view popularized in Hal Lindsey's best-selling The Late Great Planet Earth (1970).
   The spectacular growth of Jews for Jesus occurred at a time when other ethnic groups within the American protestant community were discussing how their particular cultures could be used as tools for expressing their faith. Christians who had been raised as Jews also discussed whether they should abandon their distinctive culture (thus cutting themselves off from family and friends). At the time, Jewish Christians were integrated into congregations where their Jewish past was not acknowledged. In the 1970s, young Jewish converts began to call for new Christian centers that were Jewish in every way possible, even to the point of being called synagogues.
   In 1975, the old Hebrew Christian Alliance of America was renamed the Messianic Jewish Movement. Shortly thereafter, "Messianic synagogues" emerged and united into new Christian denominations. By the end of the century, several denominations (reflecting differences between Refortn and Orthodox Jewish practice and Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal forms of Christianity) had been formed, including the international Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues, the union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, the Fellowship of Messianic Jewish Congregations, and the Association of Torah-Observant Messianics.
   The Jewish community has protested against Protestant missionary activity and raised the issue through its programs of dialogue with Christian organizations. It has been quite successful among Roman Catholics and those churches connected to the World Council of Churches in winning declarations against Jewish missionary activity. it has been less successful among conservative Protestants, who, interestingly, are among the key advocates of continued American support for the state of israel. The Jewish community has been particularly offended by the rise of Jews for Jesus and the Messianic synagogues, both of which perpetuate what they believe is a lie - that one can be Jewish and Christian at the same time. Several organizations, such as the Los Angeles-based Jews for Judaism, have been founded in the last generation to counter the work of Jewish missionary groups.
   See also Evangelicalism.
   Further reading:
   ■ David Berger and Michael Wyschograd, Jews and Jewish Christianity (New York: Ktav, 1978)
   ■ Leopold Cohn, To an Ancient People: The Autobiography of Dr. Leopold Cohn (Charlotte, N.C.: Chosen People Ministries, 1996)
   ■ Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Hebrew Christianity: Its Theology, History, and Philosophy (Washington, D.C.: Canon, 1974)
   ■ Carol Harris-Shapiro, Messianic Judaism: A Rabbi's Journey through Religious Change in America (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999)
   ■ Baruch Maoz, Judaism Is Not Jewish: A Friendly Critique of the Messianic Movement (U.K.: Mentor: Christian Focus Publications and CWI, 2003)
   ■ J. Gordon Melton, Encyclopedia of American Religions, 7th ed. (Detroit: Gale Research, 2002)
   ■ Karl Pruter, Jewish Christians in the United States: A Bibliography (New York: Garland, 1987)
   ■ David A. Rausch, Messianic Judaism: Its History, Theology, and Polity (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen, 1982).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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