County Jewish organizations protest evangelical attempt

The Palm Beach County Jewish community is reacting in different ways to a plan by an evangelic crusade by Jews for Jesus in Palm Beach County.

Religious freedom, tolerance, and intolerance
Religious Freedom
The freedom of individuals to believe in, practice, and promote the religion of choice without (government) interference, harrassment, or other repercussions – as long as practices based on, or resulting from, those beliefs do not break the law (e.g. do not encourage or result in fraud, tax evasion, murder, terrorism, acts designed to undermine the government or the constitution, the use of unethical persuasion tactics, etcetera).

Religious Persecution
The practice of discouraging religious freedom and the freedom to express and/or promote all or certain religious beliefs – with repercussions ranging from discrimination and harassment to prevention and prosecution (by legal and/or illegal means). Does not cover legitimate legal measures designed to prevent and/or prosecute illegal practices such as fraud, tax evasion, murder, terrorism, acts designed to undermine the government or the constitution, the use of unethical persuasion tactics, etcetera.

Religious Intolerance
a) Refusing to acknowledge and support the right of individuals to have their own beliefs and related legitimate practices.
b) Also, the unwillingness to have one’s own beliefs and related practices critically evaluated.

The following do not constitute religious intolerance:

  • Excercizing the right to challenge a religion’s claims (e.g. regarding alleged compatibility with, or superiority over, other religious beliefs)
  • Condemning and disallowing illegal practices
  • Rejecting a movement’s claim to be a ”religion” when there is sufficient evidence showing religion is used as a cover (e.g. the Church of Scientology).
  • Religious Tolerance
    Acknowledging and supporting that individuals have the right and freedom to their own beliefs and related legitimate practices, without necessarily validating those beliefs or practices.

    Jews for Jesus is organizing “Behold Your God!” in December with a goal of convincing Jews that Jesus Christ was the Messiah.

    “The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), the public-policy arm of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, is unequivocally committed to the constitutionally protected exercise of freedom of speech and freedom of religion and opposed to discrimination of any kind,” said Stephen Mendelsohn, chair of the JCRC.

    The JCRC is deeply disturbed and distressed, however, with the practices of these so-called ‘ Hebrew Christians ’ that demean Judaism by suggesting it is not as valid a faith as that of the proselytizer. These groups have undertaken an aggressive and deceptive campaign of proselytizing to the Jewish community, targeting our most vulnerable members, including the frail elderly and college students, with the intent to convert them to Christianity. The JCRC recommends that members of all faiths not engage – Jews for Jesus members in debate, nor provide them with personal information of any kind. The Jews for Jesus organization measures its success by the number of specific contacts and follow-ups it makes. It is important we show this organization that we reject its actions and efforts.

    The Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County is taking a different approach, linking up with the Anti-Defamation League, Temple Beth David, Temple Beth Torah and the American Jewish Committee to sponsor free seminars this week to educate the Jewish community about attempts of conversion.

    The particulars of the Jews for Jesus campaign were not available.

    There are an estimated 250,000 Jews in Palm Beach County.

    Michelle Kohn, the chair of the JCRC for the Federation of Palm Beach County said that the “JCRC stands for inclusion and better understanding of all people, I recognize the right of all groups to share their beliefs with others. However, we must strongly condemn and speak out against those groups, like Jews for Jesus, whose practices and tactics misrepresent the Jewish faith and attempt to convert Jews to Christianity.”

    William Gralnick, the Southeast Regional Director of the American Jewish Committee said that “Jews for Jesus uses deceit and deception to take advantage of a weakness amongst Jews. That weakness is not knowing our own Bible. Therefore they quote things and most Jews have no way of knowing what the true, Jewish interpretation is.”

    Gralnick added that it is vital to know that the Jews for Jesus are not Jews. “They are Evangelical Christians masquerading as Jews. They have the audacity to call their leaders rabbis and cantors when those people are often graduates of Christian seminaries and never graduates of Jewish ones. Any ceremony preformed by such people is therefore on its face invalid, a ruse, a lie, a fraud.”

    According to a spokesperson for the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County, the leadership of the Federation, the JCRC and the sub-committee on cults and messianic activities felt there needed to be a strong response to the Jews for Jesus campaign.

    According to the Jews for Jesus Website, there are currently 65 cities outside of Israel with a Jewish population of more than 25,000 and Jews for Jesus will use street evangelism, secular media campaigns, phone calling, personal visits and Bible studies to draw people’s attention to Jesus between now and 2006.

    The seminars on Thursday will be from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Henry and Ida Hochman Jewish Community Center, 8500 Jog Road in Boynton Beach and from 7 to 9 p.m. at Temple

    Beth Torah, 900 Big Blue

    Trace in Wellington. For information on the seminars,

    call 561-478-0700.

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