Judaism and Other Religions-Why don't we missionize?
Ruminations about Dec 25
I started the discussion with an aside on how many Christmas songs were written by Jews. Here is a short video clip ( which I could not put up at the time) which summarizes it:
We take note that we are a minority in a Christian civilization, just as we have been a minority in Muslim civilizations. When things go well, we are happy with our neighbors of all faiths.
In Europe, it would have been unthinkable for a Jew to set foot in a
church, other than to convert, and I am sure that in the Islamic world, that
too would have been unthinkable. That is one element of the Western
enlightenment that told strong roots here, for sure.
said, through most of history, that wasn’t the case.Too often though, things
don’t go well.
My father’s comment on what to
answer when Christian’s ask him what Jews think of Jesus. His answer- why ask?
We Jews live among many religions? Do we need to answer what we think of
Mohammed, or what we think of Buddha. It’s not a Jewish issue!
So- maybe turn the tables- what do we think of
our neighbors, of other religions.
Or, since we have the original word of God,
certainly as we saw it, why did we not do as our two cognate religions do:
Constantine- In Hoc Signo, Vinca -In this sign,
you call conquer( The vision of a sword in heaven, shaped like the Christian
In Islam, the division of the world into Dar Al
Islam-the world of Peace( inside Islam)- or “ Dar al Harb” the World of the
Sword ( those refusing to accept Islam).
We, too, had a
period of militant missionizing- but very short lived- shortly after the time
of the Maccabees- John Hyrcanus a) destroyed capital of the Samaritans b)
conquered Idumea and forcibly converted them. There was a presumption that
perhaps also the pagan populations of Galilee were forcibly converted, which
gave rise to anti-Semitic claims that Jesus was never born a Jew. However, that
seems to be inaccurate and Galileans were, to the most part, transplanted
Very short lived, indeed. And
restricted to lands that were historically part of ancient Israel. Some other
later exceptions-when pagan kingdoms converted to Judaism and then engaged in expansionist wars-like the
early Jewish kingdom of Yemen a century before Mohammed.
However, we were, during the Greek
& Roman periods, active missionizers-
So, the Christian Scripture has, in
the words of Jesus, this condemnation:
to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You cross land and
sea to make one convert, and when you get one, you make him twice as much a
child of hell as yourselves! ( Matthew)
Jewish population in Roman Empire
estimated 10%, about 7 million- some by birth, but many by conversion.
Growth stopped by 1) 2 disastrous
wars against Rome 2) Intensive restrictions and repression of Jews after
Constantine, as expressed in Justinian code .
Nevertheless, we weren’t fully
committed to making the whole world Jewish- although some one did write a song
and a movie ” When your in Love, the Whole World is Jewish”. Maybe that’s why
we didn’t need to.
We eventually went beyond not
actively seeking, to actively pushing away:
Keep in mind, under both Christianity
and Islam, to convert to Judaism was essentially, to welcome suicide. The
convert would have to escape to be protected from execution and the community
that helped him convert would be in trouble.
reluctance to accept Christian converts to Judaism was grounded in Christian
laws that prohibited apostasy; such laws punished apostates and those who
converted them with death. Rabbi Mosheh Isserles noted
in one of his glosses in the Shulḥan ‘arukh that “in these lands [Poland] . . . it is
forbidden to convert non-Jews” (Yoreh de‘ah 267:4). The Magdeburg
law, which served as the legal framework of Polish cities, and, after 1658,
legislation enacted by the Sejm both demanded death penalties for apostasy from
Still operative in many Moslem
countries till today. In Pakistan,for instance.
Non-Muslims are forbidden to convert Muslims to another
religion, a crime punishable by law. [Pakistan: Struggle for Human Rights,
(Hong Kong/Singapore: Christian Conference of Asia - International Affairs,
p. 105.] For Muslims themselves, conversion is reportedly
dangerous and may be punished under section 295A of the Pakistan Penal Code
which imposes up to two years imprisonment for outraging the religious feelings
of any class of citizen. [Rights of Religious and Other Minorities (Pakistan),
(Geneva: International Commission of Jurists, 1987), p. 9.] https://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6ab541c.html
But- even before these codes and elgal restrictions, we were
also of a split in opinion:
Common Rabbinic dictum:
כספחת קשין גרים לישראל
Based on Nidah 13b
Converts are as painful for Israel
don’t learn enough and don’t live up to their commitments to mitzvot or
This would have been elicited by the sense that , under the Roman
prosecutions, those who had converted in good times, ran away when things got
tough. Furthermore, many of the half-way Jews, or pagans influenced by Jews,
fell in to the Christian camp as it expanded.
that same quote, about scabs:The opposite, they are so devoted, it makes those
born Jews look bad in comparison.
This would have been supported by the realization that major teachers of Judaism were Ben Bag Bag
and Ben Hehe as well as the author of Aramaic Targum Onkelos, also identified as
Aquila, author of a Greek translation. All converts.
נעמן גר תושב היה נבוזר אדן גר צדק היה מבני בניו של סיסרא למדו תורה בירושלים
מבני בניו של סנחריב לימדו תורה ברבים ומאן נינהו שמעיה ואבטליון
מבני בניו של
המן למדו תורה בבני ברק ואף מבני בניו של אותו רשע
The descendants of the great enemies of Israel became students and
teachers of Torah- Sisera,Nebuzaradan, Haman, and even Nebuchadnezzar. Sancherib
was the ancestor of the two great teachers, Shamayah and Avtalyon.Rabbi Akiba
also reported to be descendant of a convert.
Not an unusual thought- the Jewish Museum of Berlin has in its
archives, a folder, of some 300 cases of Germans who converted to Judaism after
the Holocaust. My father was the officiating Rabbi.This was sent to me just
But we did not take an active role
in outreach- yad mekarev veyad docheh- One hand pulls in, and one hand pushes out.
Story of the pagan who comes to Hillel
Al regel achat- on one leg( regel-leg-regulus-Latin-rule)
Shabbat 31 a
שׁוּב מַעֲשֶׂה בְּגוֹי אֶחָד שֶׁבָּא לִפְנֵי
שַׁמַּאי. אָמַר לוֹ: גַּיְּירֵנִי עַל מְנָת שֶׁתְּלַמְּדֵנִי כׇּל הַתּוֹרָה
כּוּלָּהּ כְּשֶׁאֲנִי עוֹמֵד עַל רֶגֶל אַחַת! דְּחָפוֹ בְּאַמַּת הַבִּנְיָן
שֶׁבְּיָדוֹ. בָּא לִפְנֵי הִלֵּל, גַּיְירֵיהּ. אָמַר לוֹ: דַּעֲלָךְ סְנֵי
לְחַבְרָךְ לָא תַּעֲבֵיד — זוֹ הִיא כׇּל הַתּוֹרָה כּוּלָּהּ, וְאִידַּךְ
פֵּירוּשַׁהּ הוּא, זִיל גְּמוֹר.
This is, of course, a variation of the Golden Rule, something in
use in Jewish sources well before the time of Jesus.
The strictness of Shammai drove him
away, the patience of Hillel brought him close.
Still we ask the question- do we actively go
out and push for proselytes?
My cousin’s daughter, you may recall, spoke to
us on a recorded interview, on Yom Kippur, on the need to bring in more people.
But again. If we do bring in people from the
outside, it is by social influence or connection or acquaintance, and not
through coercion, whether political or through application of pressure. Even
now, in US, where anyine can switch to any or no religion, we don’t push our
way in, knocking on doors, leaving pamphlets, like Jehovahs Witnesses, or
Mormons, or The American
Board of Missions to the Jews or Jews for Jesus.
Instead, we get Chabadniks
knocking ONLY on Jewish doors.
After all, we
were the first recorded group in history to see a common source of humanity. It
is the bible that traces all to one common ancestry-Adam. Concept of 7 Naochide
moral and spiritual code, - Tzadikei umot haolam yesh lahem helek bolam haba-
righteous of all nations have a place in the world to come.
So, we have a universalizing core—that core gave both Christianity
and Islam its dynamic. If we possess what we consider to be true to all, we
have an obligation to preach that truth. If I believe I have a vaccine for a
pandemic- do I not have an obligation to vaccinate you? Even by force? To do
less is to be immoral, in that perspective.
This is true not just of religion, but of all universal ethics- it
drove Alexander to his great conquests, as a student of Aristotle. It drove Marxists
to spread the faith, by the sword.
Unfortunately, universalist ideologues too often become universal
Eric Hoffer on the True Believer:
All mass movements
strive, therefore, to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and
the realities of the world. They do this by claiming that the ultimate and
absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth
nor certitude outside it. The facts on which the true believer bases his
conclusions must not be derived from his experience or observation but from
holy writ.( He meant Das Kapital and Mein Kampf, not the Bible or
Yes, we have a militant religion- especially at the start-
We are to enter the land of Canaan and take it by force. We are to
cleanse it of its pagan inhabitants. But, except for the short , short period
in which the Kingdom under David expanded deep into Syria, that land was
restricted, very much to what is now the State of Israel with the West Bank-and
There was no imperative to take any other territory, and Milchemet
Mitzvah was restricted to those wars essential to defend the land of Israel. We
have no sense of “wakf” as in historic Islam, to say that whatever was once an
Islamic land, remains forever Islamic, and must be regained by force.
the people of Israel are defined in the
Torah “ mamlechet kohanim” a kingdom of priests, not of conquerors. Repeatedly, we are told that we were chosen,
not because we were the mighty power, but precisely because we were the
smallest of the peoples on earth.Deut 7:7-8
קָדוֹשׁ֙ אַתָּ֔ה לַיהֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ בְּךָ֞ בָּחַ֣ר ׀ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֗יךָ
לִהְי֥וֹת לוֹ֙ לְעַ֣ם סְגֻלָּ֔ה מִכֹּל֙ הָֽעַמִּ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־פְּנֵ֥י
מֵֽרֻבְּכֶ֞ם מִכׇּל־הָֽעַמִּ֗ים חָשַׁ֧ק יְהֹוָ֛ה בָּכֶ֖ם וַיִּבְחַ֣ר בָּכֶ֑ם
כִּֽי־אַתֶּ֥ם הַמְעַ֖ט מִכׇּל־הָעַמִּֽים׃
מֵאַֽהֲבַ֨ת יְהֹוָ֜ה אֶתְכֶ֗ם וּמִשׇּׁמְר֤וֹ אֶת־הַשְּׁבֻעָה֙ אֲשֶׁ֤ר
נִשְׁבַּע֙ לַאֲבֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם הוֹצִ֧יא יְהֹוָ֛ה אֶתְכֶ֖ם בְּיָ֣ד חֲזָקָ֑ה
וַֽיִּפְדְּךָ֙ מִבֵּ֣ית עֲבָדִ֔ים מִיַּ֖ד פַּרְעֹ֥ה מֶֽלֶךְ־מִצְרָֽיִם׃
To what purpose this elevation:The
Romans believed it was to” divda et impera.” Dive and conquer.
The European colonialist believed it
was their obligation of “mission civilisatrice”, for the Japanese Imperialists,
it was the “Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere.”
That was never seen as the Jewish
mission. Rather, in the words of the Prophet Micah, there would be a grand
reconciliation of all nations, gathering in the Holy Mount of Jerusalem:
.In the days to come,
And the many
nations shall go and shall say:
Let us go up to the Mount of the LORD,
To the House of the God of Jacob;
That He may instruct us in His ways,
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For instruction shall come forth from Zion,
The word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
Thus He will
judge among the many peoples,
And arbitrate for the multitude of nations,
And they shall beat their swords into plowshares
spears into pruning hooks.
Nation shall not take up
Sword against nation;
They shall never again know war
But every man
Under his grapevine or fig tree
With no one to disturb him.
For it was the LORD of Hosts who spoke.
Though all the
Each in the names of its gods,
We will walk
In the name of the LORD our God
Forever and ever.
Micah 4 1-5