Friday, March 9, 2012

Called to Controversy: the Unlikely Story of Moishe Rosen and the Founding of Jews for Jesus by Ruth Rosen

  Moishe Rosen died last year so his daughter, Ruth,  had the wisdom and insight to understand that this unique and Godly man’s life was one that needed to be recorded. Her father’s desire to reach people with the gospel even after death has certainly been fulfilled thanks to this biography.

Ms. Rosen begins with her father’s family. The Rosens were a typical Jewish family during the depression. They worked hard, not letting hard times prevent them from succeeding and making a decent living. They stayed inside their Jewish neighborhood and, even though their religious beliefs were mainly secular as most of their fellow Jews were, their identity in being Jewish was very strong, their sense of community intact. Moishe grew up living a normal life with the expectation that he would join his dad’s business, settle down, meet a nice Jewish girl etc...

Things were going on pretty much according to plan until he met the nice Jewish girl. Ceil came from an orthodox Jewish family that was so harsh and legalistic that she had become a firm atheist. They married while still teenagers but Moishe worked extremely hard at first his dad’s then another company’s business. Little did Moishe know it, but Ceil was going to turn his life in a way that was going to have dramatic repercussions.

It all started when Moishe struck up a friendship with a Christian couple, Orville and Juanita, that engaged Moishe and Ceil in serious discussions about their faith and comparing it to the gospel that claimed that Jesus Christ was the Messiah and, in fact, was God. This led to Ceil sneaking a Christian bible into the home where she began reading the New Testament for herself.

Ceil started reading:

Now she would find out who those Christmas carols were really about and why Jesus was described as the one in whom “the hopes and fears of all the years” resided. She began with the first verse of the first book of the New Testament: “The generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” What’s wrong with that? She thought. It’s saying that Jesus was Jewish!....

…..The more she read, the more impressed she was that this was a Jewish book about a Jewish person who claimed to be the Jewish Messiah. (pg. 57)

Meanwhile, Moishe was having revelations of his own. It started when he met a man on a streetcar as he was returning home from Yom Kippur. Moishe had explained to the man, Orville, that he was fasting to atone for his sins. Orville asked Moishe if he now knew his sins were forgiven. After receiving a shrug and a “who knows” from Moishe, Orville began to explain the gospel and having full assurance for the forgiveness of sins.

The strangest thing was that as he explained the Christian religion, it sounded as though the whole thing was a Jewish idea. The part about Jesus dying to take the punishment for people’s sins, Orville said, was pictured in the original observances of Yom Kippur in Bible times when the Jewish high priest placed his hands on the scapegoat and recited the sins of the people. That goat was then led out into the wilderness, far from the camp of the Israelites. Another goat was sacrificed and its blood sprinkled on the altar as an atonement (covering) for sin. It all sounded weird and spooky to Moishe, but he couldn’t dismiss it as Christian mumbo-jumbo because clearly Orville was describing things from the Torah. (pg 52)

The turning point for Moishe was when he was shocked to find that Ceil had decided that Jesus was the Messiah. In a panic he ran to his Rabbi and presented him with all the arguments Ceil had given him in favor of Jesus fulfilling the prophecies in Isaiah and Jeremiah. What happened was completely unexpected. Each argument the Rabbi gave against Jesus being the Messiah only served to reinforce that Jesus was in fact the Messiah after all. The deal breaker was the argument over the Virgin birth. After going back and forth for a while:

The rabbi smiled mischievously… “well, think on this. It takes two to tango.”… The rabbi explained that when it came to the virgin birth, it simply was not possible.
Moishe later recalled, “What Rabbi Bryks didn’t know was that in that one statement, he completely undermined the case-not only for Christianity- but for Judaism and any kind of theism.”
….If God could not manage this one miracle, how did he mange to create the world, part the Red Sea, or do any other miracle? And if God couldn’t perform miracles, then the Bible must be wrong, in which case being Jewish meant no more or less than being Italian or Greek or African or Mexican- so why should it matter whether or not Jews believed in Jesus? (pg. 65)

The rest, as they say, is history. Moishe became a Christian, went on to seminary, and became involved in missions that specifically reached out to the Jewish community. This eventually led to his organizing the Jews for Jesus movement. The rest of the book describes the evolvement of the organization, the strategies Moishe and the staff learned to reach out to Jewish people and how to buffet “anti-missionaries”. This was a group of Jews that shadowed all the meetings and did their best to sabotage their ministry. Some of these anti-missionaries could get violent. It seems as far as Jewish people are concerned you can be an atheist Jew, a Buddhist Jew, a new age Jew… but you better not ever be a Christian Jew. Moishe and Ceil’s own family members received their conversions with such hostility that they disowned them. Ceil’s family even moved away to an undisclosed location without informing her. On her death bed, Moishe’s own mother told him that if he was going to try to talk about Jesus he could “go to hell!” (Introduction). Moishe dealt with every challenge with a strength and “chutzpah” that could only have come from God.

One area where the ministry was most effective was with the hippie movement in the early seventies. Because hippies had already bucked the system and rejected the established norms, Jewish hippies were much more receptive to hearing the gospel of Christ. In fact, they were responsible for a lot of the growth in Jews for Jesus at that time.

Ruth Rosen gives an honest portrayal of her father. She shows his strengths and also his weaknesses. Her book is a fascinating step by step account of one of the most controversial movements inside Christianity and also its leader. I highly recommend all Christians read this book and I hope they will be convicted as I was by Ms. Rosen’s final words in Appendix A, “Why Witness to the Jewish Peoples?”

Until recently...evangelical churches understood that (presenting the gospel) to all people included Jewish people.
Now there is considerable deviation….some question whether or not the Jewish people need the gospel at all. Others …challenge any method of evangelism that doesn’t begin with a Jewish person approaching a Christian…
Why has Jewish evangelism become so controversial? …(because) it’s easy to go with the flow-to evangelize those who are down and out. Jewish people are among the people groups described as ‘gospel resistant.’
…The other reason is Christians, whether or not they realize or admit it-want to be ‘politically correct.’
….Christians need to recognize that it takes courage to witness to someone who might be offended, angry, or argumentative. It takes courage to broach the subject to someone who may not only reject your message, but reject you…
…I have said it before and I will continue to say it: Bringing the gospel to the Jewish people is perhaps the most significant issue on which the church will prove its character, conviction, and commitment to evangelism.

I received this book for free from Thomas Nelson.

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  1. So glad we connected! WOW your Bio is incredible! That is so awesome that your son is on the USA swim team!!!!
    Blessings to you!

  2. Thanks, Cherie. I look forward to reading future posts by you as well. Blessings back!!

  3. Sounds like an interesting book - not that I subscribe to the notion but that I like to read books which I disagree with.

  4. Man of la Book: Yes you need to read this book!! I'll mail you my copy if you want.

  5. Thanks for this piece, Sharon. Great stuff.

    Yamina Collins

  6. Sorry Sharon, I was sure I answered you.
    I would love to read this book but cannot commit to any time frame.

  7. Zohar: If you send a mailing address to my e mail I'll get the book right out to you. Don't worry about a time frame.


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.