There are only three possible reasons why former President George W. Bush has agreed to be the keynote speaker at the annual fundraiser of Messianic Jewish Bible Institute.
1. He loves Jews so much he wants them to experience the joy of being Christian.
2. He really doesn’t like Jews, and what better way to show it than to do the one thing even his most ardent Jewish supporters find objectionable.
3. He really doesn’t pay attention to details. His people mentioned something about the Messiah and a big fat speaking fee, and he nodded without even looking up from his canvas
Since reporter Sarah Posner broke the story in Mother Jones, a small shitstorm has kicked up over the President’s decision. Why are Jews upset?
Because the sole purpose of the Irving, TX-based Messianic Jewish Bible Institute is to convince Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah. When Jews accept Jesus as the Messiah, they stop being Jews. This is something all Jews agree on—it may be the only thing all Jews agree on. You could argue with that, but it’s just one of those things Jews believe. It’s what makes Jews Jews.
"'Jews for Jesus,' writes Rabbi David Wolpe, “makes as much sense as saying ‘Christians for Muhammad.’”
Mr. Bush, therefore, is helping to raise money to a group whose reason for being is to stop there from being Jews.
It sounds alarmist, but there it is. Success for the group Mr. Bush supports would mean no more Jews.
Of course, the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute doesn’t see things this way. It tells those it proselytizes that they can believe that Jesus is the Messiah and still be Jewish. The thing is, they know that not a single Jewish scholar, or text, or tradition, or belief, supports that claim. So, in order to do away with Judaism, they have to lie, and engage in subterfuge and double-speak. Mr. Bush, a straight-shooter, is speaking to some of the greatest snake oil salesmen in the great state of Texas.
Keep in mind: Jews have no problem with Christians believing in Jesus. Some of our best friends are Christians. Many Jews, like me, even like and admire Jesus, that fiery Nazarite, for his radicalism, his truth-telling, and his courage. Don’t forget, as Reza Aslan, the author of Zealot, said, “Jesus was a Jew, first and foremost, and that everything he said and did has to be understood solely within a Jewish context, that his teachings were simply a form of Judaism that then became what we now call Christianity. He was a fervent, zealous, law-abiding Jew.”
But where we simply part ways, where we remain Jews, is that we don’t believe the man was the Messiah.
For the Bill Mahers and (may his memory be a blessing) Christopher Hitchens out there, this is just a foolish fight between two sets of what Louis C.K. calls, “believies.”
But for Jews, it’s an important, defining distinction. There are many theological reasons why Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah (you can read them here), but I believe the real reason goes deeper than theology, than text.
For Jews there is no Father and Son, there is no Trinity: there is only Unity. One. That is a mindset with vast implications for how Jews see the world and behave in it. God is ineffable, certainly not a man, and God’s power lies precisely in that mystery. We are good with the biggest piece of the puzzle left unsolved—that missing piece is the engine of our spiritual journey.
That’s why when we start believing in Jesus as God, we stop being Jewish-- not just in name, but deep down, in our souls.
According to its 2011 IRS filling, Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, the group Mr. Bush is supporting, spent $1.2 million convincing Jews around the world not to be Jews. Read through the filing and you’ll see how the group goes about doing this. It spent $69,000 in Ukraine, $79,000 in Russia, and a whopping $203,000 in Ethiopia (note to IRS—that seems like an awful lot of money in an inexpensive place where there aren't many Jews left anyway). The group spent only $20,000 in Israel, and no expenditures are listed for the United States or Western Europe.
The Jews of the former Soviet Union, cut off from practicing their religion first by the Holocaust, then by the Communists, are among the least educated about Jewish belief and practice. Ethiopian Jews suffered under the Communist regime there as well. Messianic Jewish Bible Institute is piggybacking on a century of persecution to reach the low-hanging fruit of Jewish identity.
And now, they have a former American President to give them a boost.
Rob Eshman is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of the Jewish Journal. You can find him at Twitter @foodaism.