Billed "Houston we have a problem in Israel", JewishIsrael's Content and Research Director, Ellen Horowitz, visited Houston last November and reported to the Jewish community on the costs evangelical love and support are exacting on Israeli society.
Ellen received a very warm welcome and exceptional hospitality from Shannon and Jack Nuszen. Shannon serves as JewishIsrael's North American Advisor.
On Shabbat afternoon, November 8th, Ellen spoke at Young Israel of Houston. After giving a general overview of the extent of the missionary infiltration and of the foothold that messianic Christian sects are gaining in Israel, Ellen stressed the need for accountability and foresight on the part of Jewish leaders who are actively partnering with evangelical leaders and organizations. Ellen’s overall message, which was expressed throughout her visit in Houston was:
"We cannot reap the benefits from any of our alliances if we cannot establish and hold red lines. The reality on the ground in Israel today reflects our inability to keep our fences intact and assert ourselves as a unique and sovereign nation with exceptional obligations."
There was a good turnout and Rabbi Yehoshua Wender's congregation responded with a number of questions. Shannon noted that those in attendance "really understood the severity of what we are dealing with, and were anxious for practical solutions."
Both Jewish and Bnei Noach (Noahide) community members were in attendance. In answer to the resounding question, "What can we do?”, JewishIsrael will be working over the next year to develop a more pro-active and solution-oriented response.
Did You Hear the One About the Rabbi Who Preached at the Baptist University?
After Shabbat, Ellen attended a debate at Houston Baptist University (HBU) between Rabbi Tovia Singer and Dr. Craig Evans. The full debate on the topic “Is Jesus the Promised Jewish Messiah?” can be viewed at this link.
Dr. Evans is recognized as one of the leading and most prolific Christian scholars in the world. He is a staunch conservative Christian and is held in the very highest regard in the evangelical community. The moderator was Mary Jo Sharp, an Assistant Professor of Apologetics and a prominent member of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Rabbi Singer told JewishIsrael, "I was treated with genuine respect and deference by all the staff at HBU. We all chatted quite a bit prior to the debate; they all seemed to be genuinely ecstatic and relieved that I am a person of faith and not some atheist. I was delighted as well because we were going to discuss the Jewish Scriptures that evening. We were set to debate a core, fundamental question: Is Jesus the promised Jewish messiah? It was vital to me that I answer this question by appealing to the Tanach. After all, what is God's opinion? I was set to appeal to the most graphic messianic passages in the Jewish Scriptures that evening.”
The audience was a mix of devout Christians, HBU faculty and students, Christian academics from other institutions, as well as members of the Jewish community and former Christians who have expressed an interest in Judaism.
JewishIsrael does not advocate theological debate. We have written and reported extensively on the late Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s halachic position on the matter of interfaith dialogue. However this encounter was something to behold.
Rabbi Singer impressed a packed auditorium with a combination of humor and scholarship. Based on the audience reaction and the crowds surrounding Rabbi Singer after the debate, it appeared that there was no contest. From what JewishIsrael has heard, sales of Rabbi Singer's book after the event were brisk.
Perhaps most telling was the remarkable silence emanating from the sponsors following the event. While there was wide-spread publicity prior to the debate, as of this writing neither Houston Baptist University, Christian Thinkers Society or the First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Houston have reported on the event itself. Confident Christianity simply linked to the debate video without further comment.
Seven Laws of Noah Plus
On Sunday November 9th Ellen paid a visit to the Netiv Center for Torah Study in Humble Texas. The classes given at Netiv are geared toward a non-Jewish audience based on the concept of "Universal Torah for all peoples".
Ellen heard Rabbi Tovia Singer speak at Netiv and she met with Netiv's education director Rod Reuven Dovid Bryant and his wife Melanie.
Netiv participants deem Jesus as persona non grata. They have rejected Christian doctrine, as well as having dismissed the messianic and Hebraic roots alternatives. Bryant is a warm and vibrant teacher who encourages the participants in the Netiv program to engage in an authentic search for Hashem through Torah Judaism.
Bryant, a former pastor, and his wife are completing the conversion process. It appears that several of the families from the Netiv congregation are doing the same. Bryant has recently gone public with an announcement of his conversion to Judaism in a very thoughtful and moving video.
It is worth noting that when it comes to warmly welcoming sincere converts to Judaism, as well as those individuals who have rejected jesus and are exiting Christianity, Jewish communities can be very insular, suspect and somewhat aloof. It is understandable that concerns about messianic missionary infiltrations have contributed to this attitude. Yet the emerging situation calls for community rabbis to educate themselves and their congregations on who these people are, to offer proper guidance, and to remember Ohel Avraham.
Despite Bryant’s conversion, he is reluctant to abandon his flock, who have studied Jewish scriptures in depth and are anxious to do more than what is required of those keeping the Seven Noahide Laws.
In addition, the Netiv group is associated with certain rabbinic figures who are exploring a number of avenues to grant Torah literate non-Jews a form of Ger Toshav status. Pursuing this particular issue is beyond the scope of JewishIsrael. Intuitively, JewishIsrael is concerned with what those avenues and intentions are. We hope to see additional respected and competent rabbinic authorities become involved and offer direction.
While Netiv and Noahide branches may be proliferating, Christian messianic missionaries are also claiming success and gaining acceptance and a foothold in Israel. In addition, the challenging issues of conversions, the definition of a Ger Toshav, changes in the Law of Return, intermarriage, Freedom of Religion and Christian aliyah will need to be addressed in the very near future. If qualified rabbis do not step forward then the field will left open to those rabbinic mavericks offering solutions and promises that may push the normative Jewish envelope close to the edge or over it.
In a related development, JewishIsrael has heard from reliable sources that the Knesset is in the process of appointing a minister for the position of implementing a process of Aliyah for non-Jews. It seems that government offices are being swamped by requests from Christians who want to immigrate to Israel. This is a cause of great concern and JewishIsrael will be monitoring the situation closely with the hope that those who will be made aware will put a halt to such a development.
Great Ending to a Productive Trip, at Shaar HaShalom
Ellen concluded her visit to Houston with a presentation to congregation Shaar HaShalom. Rabbi Stuart Federow, leader of the congregation, is a respected counter-missionary specialist who has advised JewishIsrael and contributed his opinions on a number of occasions.
Once again there was an excellent turnout and the audience was especially responsive and concerned. Rabbi Federow gave Ellen a copy of his book, Judaism and Christianity: A Contrast, which is a must-read in a world where the essential and fundamental lines which define Judaism and the Jewish people are being erased in a relentless effort to bring Jews to jesus.