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Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles said it was “laughable” to suggest that American Jews are not regularly exposed to the claims of Jesus.
“It is dishonest, deliberately or inadvertently,to say that one can live in a Jewish faith community and accept another scripture or accept a different God,” Wolpe told JTA. “It’s striking that for thousands of years the definition of being Christian was believing in Jesus, and all of a sudden they’ve discovered, no, you can do that and be Jewish.
“It is, whether they realize it or not, a marketing tool, not a discovery.”
It’s not clear if Bush initially understood what an appearance at a Messianic Jewish event would signify. Sources close to the former president said that an aide recommended accepting the engagement without understanding Jewish sensitivities. Bush went ahead, the sources said, not because he favored the movement’s mission of proselytizing but because he thought backing out would be bad form.
“Someone looking at this in the American context, who is not well versed in Jewish history, does not look at this and say that is a nuclear issue,” said Tevi Troy, a former deputy health secretary and top liaison to the Jewish community under Bush. Troy emphasized that his boss has always been sensitive to Jewish concerns.
Resnik estimates there are some 20,000 Jews affiliated with Messianic congregations, but he estimates the number of Jewish believers in Jesus could be much higher. The recent Pew Research Center survey, which caused such angst among American Jewish leaders, actually was heartening to Messianic Jews with reporting that 34 percent of respondents believed it was possible to believe in Jesus and be Jewish. Many Jews understood the finding to reflect the view that beliefs have no bearing on a person’s Jewish status.
“No one could ignore the Pew survey that came about,” said Mitch Glaser, the director of Chosen People Ministries. “Thirty-four percent of the aggregate community believes you can be Jewish and believe in Jesus. It’s almost undeniable now in the Jewish community. We’re a vital community and we are attracting President Bush and others who want to speak to us.”
Despite their rejection by mainstream Jewry, Messianic Jews are not entirely outside the tent. Resnik says members of his congregation donate to local federations and are accepted to a degree as volunteers, making fundraising calls, visiting the Jewish elderly and teaching English to Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
Jewish security professionals also reach out to Messianic congregations in cases of perceived security threats against the Jewish community, according to the Secure Community Network, the security arm of national Jewish groups.