Was George W. Bush acting on his own born-again Christianity when he agreed to speak last week at the Dallas fundraiser for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute? Or was this just one of the former president’s many speaking appearances, albeit to a group dedicated to the conversion of Jews to Christianity in order to advance the second coming of Christ?
We may never know.
What we do know, however, is that as president, Mr. Bush was a staunch supporter of Israel and a friend of the Jewish community. Nevertheless, when Mother Jones broke the news that the former president would address the Messianic group, a firestorm erupted in the Jewish community.
In an op-ed in the Forward, Rabbi David Wolpe called Mr. Bush’s decision “infuriating,” and sought to prove that the term “Messianic Jew” is an oxymoron. For Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Mr. Bush’s action was “mystifying. How do you have a respectful relationship if the measure of success of one group is the ending of the other group by having them convert away from their own religion?” he asked.
Tevi Troy, an Orthodox Jew who worked in the Bush administration, sought to emphasize Bush’s positive record with regard to Israel and the Jews. Yet even Troy admitted, CNN reported, “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.”
As reported in these pages several weeks ago, the Messianic Jewish movement is problematic for many Jews, who find the idea of missionaries to be threatening and deceptive. The organized Jewish community considers Messianic groups, including Jews for Jesus, to be beyond the pale. So we get nervous when our friends lend legitimacy to those we don’t trust.
But it was Mr. Troy who actually put things into perspective: If Jews want something to worry about, focus on the Pew study, with its host of troubling numbers about Jewish engagement and identity. Let’s first put our own house in order before worrying too much about those we want to keep out.