FROM MESSIANIC JEW TO COUNTER-MISSIONARY:
By Julius Ciss, Executive Director, JEWS FOR JUDAISM (Canada)
This is the last part of the 3 part series in which Julius Ciss tells us his story.
I found an increasing number of references in the Jewish Bible demonstrating that blood sacrifice was not required. For example, in Leviticus 5:11-13; Numbers 31:50; and Numbers 14:17-20, flour, jewelry and prayer were used to atone for sins. Interestingly, nowhere in the Old Testament is it ever mentioned that a gentile was required to offer a sacrifice for atonement. When a "sin sacrifice" was offered [which was only for an unintentional sin), it was always an animal sacrifice. Human sacrifice, the Torah teaches, is absolutely forbidden.
Who was right?
The Tenach is G-d's word, and instructs us to keep His Torah forever, neither adding to nor subtracting from it. How can the New Testament be Divinely inspired if it completely invalidates that same G-d-given Torah? The New Testament claims that the Torah is a curse ("Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law..." [Galatians 3:131), and that the only path to G-d is through faith in Jesus.
While these and many other questions perturbed me, I remained confident that there had to be answers to these issues. After all, hadn't the messianic prophecies proven that Jesus was the Messiah?
At the same time, my mental file of doubts continued to grow at an alarming rate.
Then the leader of my congregation assigned me to teach Sunday school to our adult congregants. I taught a program entitled "How to Share Israel's Messiah With the Jewish People". I used a variety of different books as resources for this series of classes, extending over nine months. During those months, I covered a lot of Biblical territory, digesting all this material.
There's a truism that one of the best ways to learn is to teach. In order to prepare my weekly lessons, I was exposed to various Biblical passages, which were regarded as traditional "proof texts" for Christianity. Often I found these references encouraging; they helped build my faith and my belief in Jesus as the Messiah. But the inconsistencies and contradictions I had noted between the New Testament and the Old Testament continued to multiply. One of the principles constantly impressed upon me, from the day I first became involved in Christianity, was that the Bible was one hundred per cent the true and "inerrant" word of G-d, and that G-d was not a liar or subject to error. And I was now discovering many errors. If G-d were in fact the author of this Bible, why was I discovering references in the New Testament, which were utterly inconsistent with the sources in the Tenach, which they claimed to be fulfilling?
The New Testament frequently alluded to passages in the Tenach, and blatantly erred in transcribing the information. For instance, the New Testament states, in Acts 7:14, that seventy-five persons came with Jacob to Egypt; whereas Genesis 46:27, Exodus 1:5, and Deuteronomy 10:22 all clearly state that there were seventy persons in total. In addition, the Book of Genesis (49: 28-30; 50:13) says that Ya'akov (Jacob) was buried in Mamre (which is Hebron, according to Genesis 23:19), in land that had been purchased from Ephron the Hittite. Yet the New Testament book of Acts (7:16-17) misquotes Genesis and claims that Ya'akov was buried not in Hebron but in Shechem, in land bought from the sons of Hamor. Furthermore, I observed time and again that the New Testament itself was markedly inconsistent from one chapter to another. The various accounts of the Resurrection in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were mutually exclusive. The very Resurrection of the son of G-d was not consistently described by this allegedly divinely inspired book!
I discovered that many of the references to alleged messianic prophecies in fact did not concern messianic prophecies at all. One such example, central to Christian doctrine, is the mistranslated reference to "virgin birth" in the Christian editions of the book of Isaiah (7:14). This "virgin birth" passage is a pillar of Christianity, because upon this verse Christianity bases its belief that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he was the son of G-d, and that he was the Messiah.
I remember clearly that, when I was first shown the passage of Isaiah 7:14, where Christians claim the concept of "virgin birth" first appears, my reaction was, "How could this be? How, for two thousand years, could the rabbis not have seen this?" I remember that, when I confronted my pastor at the time, he said to me, "Julius, it's because those rabbis were blinded. They had a veil over their eyes, but G-d has lifted the veil from your eyes so that you can see the truth."
I felt that I had been paid a huge compliment: G-d had chosen me above all the thousands and thousands of Jews who had gone before me for the last two thousand years. G-d would pick me, of all people, to see the truth in the Old Testament that the Messiah would be born of a virgin? I felt like a prophet. Never did it occur to me to check the original Hebrew, or to study Jewish sources for the traditional Jewish interpretation of this verse. I accepted the pastor's explanation at face value, certain that this prophecy was to be found in Jewish scripture.
Not until I was preparing a class on the "virgin birth" did I actually study the Hebrew sources. I saw that not only did the passage in question make no reference to a "virgin birth", but that it also had nothing whatsoever to do with the Messiah. When the entire chapter was studied in its context, it was seen to describe an event in history utterly unrelated and altogether foreign to anything contained in the New Testament.
To paraphrase the content of Chapter 7 of Isaiah: the prophet Isaiah speaks to King Ahaz at a very peculiar time in Jewish history. There were two Jewish nations in the Holy Land at the time; the kingdom of Judah in the south, with its capital in Jerusalem; and the kingdom of Israel in the north. They were enemies. Israel had formed a military alliance with the kingdom of Aram, and had planned an attack on the kingdom of Judah. Ahaz, the king of Judah, was frightened by the enemies at his doorstep and didn't know what to do. He was approached by the prophet Isaiah, who said, "Ask for a sign from G-d to show you that everything will be all right." Ahaz refused to ask for such a sign. Isaiah then declared to the king: "I'11 give you a sign. The sign is that the young woman is going to have a baby. By the time the baby is old enough to eat honey and digest cheese, you should know that the two nations that have allied themselves against you will no longer be a threat." The fact that this prophecy was fulfilled during the time of Ahaz and Isaiah can be seen in II Kings, chapters 15-17 and II Chronicles, chapter 28.
The Christians mistranslated the Hebrew word meaning "the young woman." She is referred to in Hebrew as "HaAlmah", or "the young maiden", with the definite article indicating a specific woman whose identity was known both to Isaiah and to Ahaz. The Christians say that "alma" translates not as "maiden", but as "virgin". This claim is not supported by the Hebrew or by any other instances in which the word "almah" appears in the Tenach. (The correct Hebrew word for "virgin" is "betulah".) The mistranslation was the result of pagan influence. Greek and other pagan mythologies are full of stories of the gods coming down and impregnating women who then give birth to gods.
I made numerous simila and almost equally dismaying discoveries during the course of my preparation for the Sunday school classes.
In addition, I had begun to scrutinize the lives of many of the people in my congregation. Despite the fact that they claimed to have "new" lives in Jesus, I saw that there were a number of them whose prayers went unanswered. Several exhibited neuroses, which were clearly indications of very, troubled lives. Even with all the prayers for healing offered in the congregation, these individuals continued to be ill.
The New Testament promises believers that they will be able to heal the sick in Jesus' name, as stated in Mark 16:18: "If they drink any deadly poison, it shall not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover. It disgusted me that some Christians in the group blamed those who did not appear to have been healed for "not having the faith", or for "giving in to the temptations of Satan"! I felt that such people were playing an extremely dangerous game with the lives of others. And, oddly enough, while they claimed to have perfect literal faith in the above New Testament verse regarding the power to heal, I never once saw any instance of their drinking a deadly poison and living to tell about it.
The more I observed, the more I became aware that there were two distinct groups comprising the congregation: the blind believers, or followers; and the leadership, who seemed to be interested only in their own political survival. The same appeared to be true of other congregations I had visited. I began focusing on the sermons delivered in our congregation. I repeatedly heard pleas for money. Almost every week, the congregational leader had something to say about people giving their tithes (one-tenth of their income) and offerings. Frequently, an entire sermon would be devoted to the necessity of ensuring that we gave our tithes and contributed generously to the congregation. I began to wonder why I attended these services, when I was receiving only persistent requests for money.
I simultaneously realized that there were qualities lacking in the congregation's leadership. A year after I had joined the congregation, a gentile minister was appointed as the spiritual leader. I became increasingly aware of his lack of sensitivity to Jewish issues. Disagreements often arose when those members who were Jewish felt that their needs were not being acknowledged. I saw that our "spiritual leader" lacked any understanding of the Jewish neshama (soul]. He was also intent on grooming the non-Jews among us to assume leadership positions. I thought this very strange for a Jewish congregation!
At the same time, I began to notice that some of my long-time Jewish friends were leading very rich, vibrant, and rewarding lives within the context of traditional Judaism. Chaya, a woman whom I'd known for many years, had become an Orthodox Jew, and was a constant, committed friend to me throughout my five years of involvement with Christianity. She never turned her back on me, always offering an outstretched hand to try to welcome me back to the fold. Moshe, another friend, who, in fact, was once involved in this same "Hebrew Christian" church, had since left it, and also had come to fully embrace Judaism. He occasionally phoned to engage me in discussion, trying to reason with me. Even after he had presented many very compelling arguments against Christian belief, I irrationally and adamantly responded, "I don't care what you say; I believe, and that's all that matters." I had invested so much, both emotionally and spiritually, for such a long time, that it was shattering to think that I might be wrong.
Gradually, though, I began to realize that much of what I believed seemed to be making less and less sense. I was not allowing my intellect to think through any of the profound arguments advanced by my friends. I had believed in Jesus, but was now finding that my reason and intellect, my "Pintele Yid" (spark of Jewish spirituality), and my neshama were crying out to me, "Julius, stop, listen! You're making a mistake."
After five years of exposure to a variety of people who claimed to be "fulfilled, Messianic Jews", I was forced to admit that not a single Jew among them had ever known what authentic Judaism was all about.
The one person whom I felt might give me some answers to my many doubts was Toronto's new Director of Jews for Jesus. He seemed intelligent, had a Hebrew name, and claimed to have had a traditional Jewish background. I had worked with him both as a graphic designer and as a street missionary, distributing leaflets. I went to Jews for Jesus' headquarters to attend a meeting, and found myself in his office. 'While I was admiring the contents of his bookshelves, my eye was drawn to a black and yellow book spine entitled Faith Strengthened.
I reached to remove the book from the shelf. He nervously grabbed it from my hands, saying, '"You don't want to look at that."
"Why?" I asked. 'What is it?"
"It's a book written by a rabbi in the Middle Ages to refute Christianity," he responded. "It's just the type of book Satan loves to use to trip up a 'Messianic' believer."
I smiled politely, but was very uncomfortable for the rest of the afternoon as a result of this incident.
The following day, I ran to a local Jewish bookstore and requested a copy of Faith Strengthened. I bought it and rushed home to devour it.
The book seemed to articulate and to clarify many of the doubts I had harboured about Christianity. It answered a number of my questions with lucid rational arguments, and encouraged me to learn more about Jewish responses to Christianity. "Am I really being tempted by Satan," I wondered, "Or is G-d allowing me to finally use my mind?"
I returned to the Jewish bookstore and purchased two more books:Â The Real Messiah, by Aryeh Kaplan; andÂ Jews and Jewish Christianity, by David Berger and Michael Wyschogrod.
I could no longer continue my commitment to Christianity or my belief in Jesus. What I read in these books completely shattered my faith and left me with a mountain of doubts. Despite having been cautioned that these doubtful thoughts were from the Devil, I had reached the point where I said to myself, "Devil be damned! I have to listen to my own intellect." This Christian teaching of doubts being the voice of Satan himself had maintained a powerful hold on me for most of the five years of my involvement in "Messianic Judaism", just as I'm sure it has a hold on many adherents to the Christian faith.
Christians believe that the Devil is a constant adversary, sitting in every corner. On the one hand, the Christian tries to do what is right; but, on the other hand, there's a satanic power constantly trying to make him sin.
When we make a decision, something in us informs us whether it's a right decision or a wrong one. If we have doubts, our instincts tell us that we should listen to our intellect and to the lessons of our past experience. We must also weigh the "pros" and "cons". Here I had been involved in a situation where I had made a major spiritual decision and I had many doubts. I was told that these doubts were not a normal function of my human mind, but were the work of a potent spiritual force, which was attempting to deceive me. The entire concept totally distorts reality.
Fear of Satanic influence had introduced into my dilemma an utterly unanticipated dimension. I had been taught that I couldn't listen to doubts about Jesus' divinity because these doubts were from Satan! In retrospect, I see that this was a form of mind control, or brainwashing: a serious violation of free will.
In Judaism, we are taught to think, to ask questions, and to be skeptical. We are encouraged not to accept things on faith, but to look for proof. This constitutes one of the biggest differences between Judaism and Christianity. While faith plays a vital role, Judaism places great emphasis on learning and education.
I decided that I had to meet with someone Jewish who had a thorough knowledge of both Judaism and Christianity. My friend Chaya arranged a meeting for me with Rabbi Immanuel Schochet. After we had spent an entire evening in discussion, he advised me to take one per cent of the effort I had devoted to Christianity and to invest it in an exploration of Judaism. He suggested that it would not be wise for me to maintain contact with my "Hebrew Christian" friends of the last five years. In retrospect, I believe he was right; I had forged such a deep emotional bond with many of these individuals that seeing them would have made me very vulnerable to their overtures.
There was great consternation in the "Messianic" movement when I left. Because I had been very active in missionary work, as an illustrator, graphic designer, and teacher, I received phone calls from several concerned "Messianic" leaders throughout the United States. I had contributed my artistic talent to the efforts of no fewer than twelve "Hebrew Christian" missionary organizations in North America. These were Jews for Jesus, Kol Simcha, Hebrew Christian Witness, Messianic Jewish Movement International, Congregation Melech Yisrael, Hamilton Friends of Israel, Messianic Literature Outreach, House of David, Lamb, Messianic Vision, Jewish Voice, and the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations. I had committed myself wholeheartedly to "Messianic Judaism", and my departure was a rude shock to many.
Abandoning the "Hebrew Christian" movement was very difficult, and the difficulty was compounded by the fact that I was leaving behind some of the best friends I had ever had. To this day, I still love them and miss them. I wish it were possible to maintain these friendships; but I know that, had I tried, I would never have been able to resolve the spiritual issues at the centre of my being.
I went to Aish HaTorah and to Ohr Somayach, two organizations devoted to exposing Jewishly uneducated Jews to the richness and depth of their faith, and there started learning for the first time what Judaism truly was all about. For the first time in my life, I met "born again" Jews, true messianic Jews, and I encountered a Jewish life I'd never known. I met Jews who were more than willing to talk about belief in G-d, and about how to achieve a personal relationship with Him. They invited me into their homes and synagogues, and I was able to experience the magnificent sanctity of Shabbat and the spiritual depth of Jewish prayer. I was introduced to the excitement of Torah study. I formed lasting friendships, and through these friends I encountered the Jewish holidays in a way I had never known. I soon realized that I had missed so much, by simply closing my eyes to my true Jewish heritage. I regretted not having explored it earlier, and especially having taken this heritage so much for granted as to have entirely overlooked it.
Since my return to Judaism, I have developed an honest and sustaining personal relationship with G-d. I believe that the Torah, which the Jewish people have embraced for over 3,300 years, is the only document describing the revelation of G-d to the Jewish people. The New Testament is not of Divine origin. Moreover, the Book of Deuteronomy (13:1-12) clearly teaches us that the false prophet who was responsible for the inauguration of the New Testament religion was strictly a test from G-d to see if the Jewish people truly loved Him and would uphold His Torah.
In the first year after my return to Judaism, I was careful not to mention my Christian past. Only later, when asked what had influenced me to become Torah-observant, did I reluctantly speak of those five years. Several people referred me to other Jewish organizations, which were interested in my knowledge and experience of Christianity. I have since spoken to countless Jewish audiences in the United States, Israel and Canada about my experience, and about the differences between Judaism and Christianity. I am often called upon by people to advise them how to most effectively counsel a loved one who is involved in Christianity.
I am now a "counter- missionary", not by choice but of necessity. other than a few activists, no one in the Jewish community appears to be addressing the problem of deceptive missionary tactics in the aggressive drive to convert Jews, When I walked into the church with Mary Beth, I knew to what I was being exposed; but when I walked into the "Messianic Synagogue". I was misled. The people used Hebrew names and Hebrew terminology, sang Hebrew songs, and wore yarmulkes and tallitot. The leader of the congregation said, '"You're not going to convert and become a Christian. You're a Jew; now you'll be a 'completed Jew', a 'fulfilled Jew'. You're not being asked to believe in Jesus Christ, but to accept 'Yeshua HaMashiach' as your Messiah instead. You won't be baptized; you'll have a 'Mikvah-Bris"'. The missionaries make the Christian religion look very Jewish, like kosher pork! It troubles me that Jews are falling prey to these false claims. Because of my own misspent years when I could have been living as a Jew, I hate to see others being sold the same false bill of goods, and cheated of their authentic heritage. Having been on both the Christian and the Jewish side of this issue, I know with certainty that Christianity is wrong for the Jew, and that Jesus is not the Messiah.
According to the Tenach, the Messiah will accomplish four things: he will cause the Jewish people to return to the Land of Israel; he will bring about world recognition of G-d; he will serve as catalyst for world peace; and he will effect the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem which existed prior to the Roman destruction in 70 CE. Jesus met none of these criteria. World history clearly shows that there have been more wars waged since Jesus' death than before it, many of which have been fought in his very name. Nor is there a worldwide knowledge of G-d; if there were, all the missionaries scattered over the face of the earth would be entirely unnecessary. And why are there so many world religions contrary to Christianity? The Jews have not all returned to the Land of Israel; nor has the Temple been restored.
How could Jesus have been the Messiah when these conditions have not been fulfilled? The Christians claim that these four criteria will be met in Jesus' "Second Coming". However, Judaism does not anticipate a Messiah who comes, fails miserably in his mission, dies, and then comes back thousands of years later to try again.
I pray, with all my heart, that any Jew who is involved in Christianity will make an effort to explore what Judaism has to say for itself, about the Messiah, and about the Christian faith, before embarking on a commitment to a religion that will lead him or her far from truth and from our precious Jewish heritage.
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Julius Ciss, Executive Director of JEWS FOR JUDAISM (Canada), was a prolific Advertising and Editorial Illustrator in North America from 1975 to 2004. He was also a popular Illustration Professor at The Ontario College of Art & Design from 1977 to 2004. The images on his personal website, www.juliusciss.com, are just a few samples of the hundreds of paintings he created during his award-winning illustration career in Canada. Once referred to as the Jewish "Norman Rockwell", Julius retired from both creating and teaching illustration in 2004 to devote himself full-time to the vital counter-missionary work of JEWS FOR JUDAISM (Canada). You can contact Julius at firstname.lastname@example.org.