Thursday, February 11, 2010

The inside story of a Messianic Jew who returned to Torah: Penina Taylor

I've just finished listening to a fascinating Israel National Radio recorded broadcast hosted by Rabbi Tovia Singer where he interviewed what sounded like a very sweet and sincere women by the name of Penina Taylor.

Former ‘Messianic Jew’ Helps Jews in the Church Return

She has an incredible story of being brought up in secular Jewish home, being converted to Xtianity at University, gradually moving into "Messianic Judaism" (sic) and serious missionary activity, only to come full circle and returning to Judaism as a Shomrei Mitzvos Torah Jew. Indeed, her new book is called "Coming full circle".

A lot of what she said I had heard before such as the intentional deceptive attempts of Messianic Xtian leaders to hide Xtianity behind a mask of superficial Jewish practice. For instance, she explained how Messianic Churches were designed to look like synagogues.

But what struck me most was that in Penina's opinion, 99% of Jews who convert to Xtianity do not do so because of a verse or a revelation but because a regular person, a roommate, a work colleague or person on the street showed kindness or compassion and appeared happy. They tell the potential convert incredibly simplistic and shallow things that sound so profound that they are taken in. The next stage is to go to their church where they are surrounded by smiling warm faces who bend over backwards to offer any assistance. The convert finds an instant social network amongst fellow believers and a warm feeling inside that satisfies their emotional need for spirituality.

The vast majority of these converts never feel the need to question anything they are told. If any doubts do creep in then the Ace in hand is played; the "Hell" card. The logic goes like this. If the Xtians are wrong then the worst that will happen is you'll die and decompose after you lose consciousness. However if you have doubts or even reject their belief and the Xtian doctrine is the truth after all then you will burn in hell for eternity. Pretty frightening stuff! She explained that this keeps all but the strongest in line.

This might possibly explain why even after a Jew has seemingly won an argument against a missionary and successfully disproved a Xtian proof text, the Xtian pretends that the event never happened and just goes on to the next so called "proof text". They don't seem to comprehend that any one of the many facts that prove Yoski Poski was not the Jewish Messiah means that in fact, the game is over. There is no second round.

Coming back to her main point about Jews who convert, Penina explains that virtually all anti-missionaries who attempt to bring these lost Jews back in the fold use confrontational techniques such as intellectual discussions of verses that disprove their Xtian faith. However, they ignore the strongest motivation keeping these lost soles in the church or in their messianic synagogues and that is the love and support they get from that group.

Torah Judaism may have the Emes on its side and perhaps is the only religion that can actually be proved by logic and intellect. However, perhaps, due to 2,000 years of persecution and Golus, we sometimes find it difficult to be warm and welcoming to strangers in our community and do not pay enough attention to fellow daveners.

Take a simple example. Someone is given a kavod of say opening the Aron Kodesh or Hagba'ah or even an Aliyah. When they return to their seats, how many of us make that effort to wish the guy a "yashar koach" and shake his hand? Some shuls make an effort. Most don't. When strangers appear in shul, how much effort is made to give them a smile, a simple Shabbat Shalom / Goot Shabbos or ask them where they are from? If someone does speak to them it's more than often to inform them that they are in someone's seat and that they should move!

I know people are tired on Shabbos and prefer to have a shmooze with their friend or concentrate on perfecting their davening and I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that. What I am saying is that we must make a greater effort to acknowledge others in shul. To warmly shake the guy's hand as he passes by and wish him a yashar koach is not going to kill you and may even keep that Jewish family alive for another generation. Am I exaggerating or being over dramatic? I don't think so. If you believe that talking should be kept to a bare minimum in shul then wait until after the tephila or at the Kiddush to greet a new face.

This applies perhaps even more when it comes to the youth. If a teenager has just finished leining the Parsha or reading Haftorah or has received any kavod, I believe that the minyan should make a big fuss of him. We must send all the youth the message that they are not only welcome and appreciated but that they are very very precious and important to us. They after all are our future.

I admit that I got annoyed with one of the gabaim a few weeks ago who I notice repeatedly neglects to wish people "yashar koach". I find the lack of effort to shake people's hands very frustrating. One of the gabbai's responsibilities ought to be to make people feel welcome.

Again, I know that I am generalising and that there are some very friendly shuls out there. Anyone who knows me should not take this as a criticism of my own shul which I believe is pretty good when it comes to welcoming guests. However I unfortunately have experienced too many very unfriendly shuls to realise that this is a real problem.


Ann said...

Although having friendlier shuls would always be nice I don’t see the connection between friendlier people in shul and missionaries.

Missionaries don’t go looking for customers in shuls.
They go to places where unaffiliated Jews mingle, e.g. campuses of colleges and universities, non-Jewish schools with Jewish pupils , social gatherings etc..

They are looking for the Jews who know little if anything at all about their own heritage and offer them warmth and friendship together with indoctrination.

What we need are more groups of Aish and Chabad who work very hard to counteract these missionaries. They are right there on the campuses and offer warmth, friendship, food, fun , parties, fascinating lectures and shiurim and a whole framework of activities.
But we need a lot more of them as they are outnumbered by the missionaries.

But I’m afraid I don’t think that saying Yashar Koach in shul, however nice it may be, is going to have any effect on lessening the effectiveness of the missionaries.

Anonymous said...

Shavua Tov Ann:-
The point of Mordechai's blog is to say that it is the unaffiliated Jew who happens to be in shul on a one off basis and because people are unfriendly or ignore him (or her), (s)he will not return and is easier prey for more "friendlier" non Jewish groups.

You bring an example of groups on campus, but this is only relevant for students. For young working people in the diaspora often the only framework is the local Jewish community.

Anonymous said...

The Curmudgeonly Israeli Giyoret says:

I could never see the logic in Pascal's so-called wager. They are wrong, they are just plain wrong, their religion goes against the logic with which G-d created the world, ergo their religion goes against G-d, chas veshalom. I often think of the Indian chief who, when offered baptism as the conquistadores prepared to burn him alive, declined the offer, saying he feared he might go to heaven and meet there only Xians.

But, nebech, Judaism doesn't really offer anything concrete to all those non-Jews out there. As one of my kids once marvelled, "Wow, there sure are a lot of goyim in chutz'laretz" (outside of Israel). They have souls, they see that life is more than just the surface, and if they want ritual or fellowship, they're basically stuck with "the low-priced spread".

One of the weak points in "selling" Judaism is that it requires a lot of background information that that takes effort to acquire. Like the study of physics and microbiology, kiveyachol, it adds immeasurably to one's understanding and appreciation of G-d's creation, but most people who don't have it handed to them on a plate are likely to assume it's not worth the effort.