The following article - a report on our very successful "Just say Know" seminar - appeared in the "South African Jewish Report" on Friday, 6th October 2000.

by David Saks

A day-long seminar, hosted by the anti-cult organisation Jews for Judaism, was held at Eduworld on 24 September to deal with the growing missionary menace in South Africa. The seminar was attended by some fifty people and dealt with various aspects of Christian missionising in South Africa, in particular the Jews for Jesus phenomenon whereby Jews are persuaded that belief in Jesus and remaining fully Jewish are fully compatible.

"What you are doing is absolutely crucial because we live in a world where there are so many competing ideologies around," he said, "It is up to us to be defenders, powerful defenders, of the faith".

Rabbi Cyril Harris, Chief Rabbi of South Africa

The seminar was opened by Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris, who outlined the problem of evangelism in a society where many Jews were ignorant of Judaism but where freedom of other religions to propagate their faiths was a constitutionally protected right. The young, the emotionally vulnerable and the ignorant were being targeted, he said, and therefore these categories in particular had to be watched all the time. Sadly, it was not uncommon to find Jews who were well educated in secular terms but were complete ignoramuses when it came to Judaism. He dubbed this the "Barmitzvah Syndrome", whereby for many serious Jewish learning effectively ended rather than began at the age of thirteen. .

Rabbi Harris concluded by encouraging Jews for Judaism to continue their good work.

"What you are doing is absolutely crucial because we live in a world where there are so many competing ideologies around," he said, "It is up to us to be defenders, powerful defenders, of the faith".

Darren Sevitz, chairman of Jews for Judaism, stressed that his organisation was not anti-Christian but was opposed to the deceptive cloaking of Christianity in Jewish terms. The purpose of the seminar, he said, was to show that Judaism and Christianity, far from being inter-linked, were in fact two completely different faith systems.

Part of the seminar included showing excerpts from a Jews for Jesus fund-raising video, which inter alia showed "born again" Jews baptizing their children and singing Christian hymns whilst dressed in talleisim and kippot. The video brought home the seriousness of the problem to all participants, with shock and disgust being the most common reactions.

"Jews for Jesus have taken something and made it look like something else", said Rabbi Finkelstein, "That's what we're fighting - pictures, images that look Jewish but are not Jewish".

It was almost an obsession with many Christian groups to convert Jews, Rabbi Finkelstein continued. In part, this was because Christian scripture in certain places clearly put a premium on converting Jews over other nation, which explained why there were no evangelical movements calling themselves "Muslims for Jesus" or "Bahai for Jesus". Another reason was the inevitable sense of incompleteness of Christianity so long as the majority of Jews, from whose ranks Jesus had emerged and who had been his contemporaries, continued to reject it. In order to perpetrate the myth that Christianity was just a more developed form of Judaism, he pointed out, missionaries couched their message in overtly Judaic terms and themselves made use of the trappings of Judaism, including the wearing of talleisim and kippot when reaching out to Jews. Guidelines published by the Jews for Jesus movement openly advised missionaries to use subterfuge in order to win Jews over, amongst other things recommending that terms like 'Christian', 'Cross' and 'New Testament' be eschewed in favor of 'Completed Jew', 'Tree' and 'New Covenant'.

In addition to their fraudulent - but in propaganda terms highly effective - message that one could remain a Jew and still believe in Jesus, missionaries realized the importance of a friendly face. A prospective convert was treated with excessive consideration and friendliness and made to feel special.

The task facing Jews for Judaism was not an easy one, Rabbi Finkelstein said. Missionary organisations, particularly those whose goal was to win over Jews, were extremely well-funded, far more so than were counter-missionary bodies like his own. He believed that with just two full-time staff members, Jews for Judaism could do tremendous damage to the missionary movement in South Africa. Far more threatening, however, was the extent to which many Jews were out of touch with their heritage. Modern Jews increasingly defined being Jewish in negative terms. They knew what they were not, but not what they were and what it meant, and this might be at the root of the problem.

"We need to know what Judaism intrinsically feels like", Rabbi Finkelstein said, "The Jew in the past, even if he was largely ignorant, still knew deep down what it was to be a Jew; he could smell the lies".

Rabbi Finkelstein nevertheless thought that in South Africa at least the Jews for Jesus movement could still be nipped in the bud. This was because it was still relatively new in this country whereas in the United States and Israel it had become entrenched and would be very difficult to uproot.

Darren Sevitz, with clinical disdain and in a deadpan style that was much appreciated by the seminar participants, systematically exposed the fallacies of the Christian doctrine of sin, sacrifice and atonement when applied to Jewish texts and theology. The founders of Christianity had been forced to change the whole concept of sacrifice and messiahship in order to find a way to justify Jesus's death and in so doing broke completely from their Jewish roots. Sevitz demonstrated numerous instances in which Christianity had tampered with Jewish texts, distorting their meaning. "Once you are allowed to do that, you can prove anything", he said.

The afternoon session focused on how Jewish texts were routinely misused and abused by missionaries in their attempts to make them look like they predicted the coming of the Christian founder. Scripture, Rabbi Finkelstein said, was manipulated in order to make it fit a pre-existing ideology. He likened this to an archer who shot an arrow first and afterwards drew a target around it. A biblical quotation could not be taken at face value, he stressed. Various questions had to be asked about it first, for example what was its context, was the translation accurate, were the verses prophetic or messianic and even if the extract cited existed at all. Rabbi Finkelstein applied these rules to, amongst other passages, Isaiah Chapter 53, which Christian missionaries often used to back up their claims. He was able to systematically prove how any Christiological reading into these verses was based on plain misunderstandings, the complete disregard of related texts in which similar terms appeared, wishful thinking and sometimes downright dishonesty.

The seminar concluded with a presentation by Brandon Sieff, who extensively cited Tanach to demonstrate the eternal nature of the original Covenant between G-d and the Jewish people and the authenticity and reliability of Jewish scripture when compared with second-hand and often incorrect or contradictory Christian accounts.