Jews for Jesus: Interview w/Shmuel Herzfeld

Last week, NPR’s “Heard on the Street” featured a “debate” between Jew for Jesus Larry Dubin and Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of The National Synagogue.

After listening to the clip (which you can hear here), I had a few questions for Rabbi Herzfeld, which he was kind enough to answer.

DS: You, as a rabbi, are undoubtedly extremely busy. With all your pastoral duties, you probably have to pick your “causes” and the time you spend on them very carefully. Why did you decide that fighting Jews for Jesus was worthwhile? Are they really such a threat to Jews and Judaism?

SH: The Jews for Jesus and their affiliates have 33 congregations in the Washington-Baltimore area. They are a growing movement with a lot of money at their disposal. Their goal is to convert as many Jews as possible. Their method is to attract Jews to their church by disguising their churches to look like synagogues. Are they really such a threat? I see the individuals who sit in my office and tell me that their children have been caught in the tentacles of this group. Or I see their own embarrassment as they admit that they themselves were caught up with this group. I see their pain and I get angry. A fundamental principle of activism is that we must speak out against evil.

To my mind, this group –through their deceitful and manipulative methods and through their goal of drawing as many Jews as possible away from Judaism — represents wickedness. I went out to the streets to condemn them because they are wrong. It is that simple.

jfj_huppah.jpg(Huppah at a JFJ wedding. Yes, that’s a cross in the background.)

DS: I’ve always had the sense that, as a community, we blow their influence out of proportion. But, certainly, I may be wrong. Are your grievances a matter of principle or a concern that Jews for Jesus may actually pull a large number of Jews away from Judaism?

SH: MLK said where there is injustice I shall go. If there is evil in the world it needs condemnation, otherwise we are tacitly accepting it.

Are they pulling away large numbers? Let us think about it this way. I think it is fair to say that they are spending more money on outreach to unaffiliated Jews than most synagogues in the country. (It is their mission as evangelicals.) Just look at how much they planned on spending in DC in the last few years. In NYC their influence is mitigated by the large number of synagogues—but outside of NYC where synagogues are scant, their presence as a “form of Judaism� is growing tremendously.

Posted on July 16, 2007

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