I've been repeatedly approached by Jews for Jesus guys near the campus of UCLA. The pamphlet that they hand out alleges that "Messianic Jews" are Jews who believe that Jesus was the Messiah. That didn't make sense to me. I would label a person "Christian" if they believed Jesus was the Messiah. But my friend claimed there are a great number of Jews who believe that Jesus was the Messiah – yet do not consider themselves Christians. I had never heard of this.
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
No matter how disconnected a Jew may be from Judaism, he is still likely to be appalled by the idea of worshipping Jesus. And that poses a great problem for Christian missionaries seeking to convert Jews.
Given this, some missionaries got the idea to try a backdoor tactic. They invented "Jews for Jesus," which uses a whole lexicon of Jewish-sounding buzz words in order to make Jesus more palatable to Jews.
For example, members of Jews for Jesus don't go to church, they go to a "Messianic Synagogue." Prayer is not held on Sunday, but on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. They say that by accepting JC, you're not converting to Christianity, you're instead becoming "a fulfilled Jew." The New Testament is called "Brit Chadasha" (Hebrew for New Covenant). It's not the cross, it's "the tree." Not baptism, but "the mikveh." Not a communion wafer, but "matzah." Congregants wear a tallit and kippah, and bring a Torah scroll out of the Holy Ark – just like every other synagogue. After all, they proudly proclaim, Jesus himself was a Jew!
These missionary campaigns are well-funded and relentless. Jews for Jesus has been spending millions of dollars in print and radio advertising, and has run a campaign of banner ads in New York City subways and on major web sites. If you see one of these ads, you should write a letter of protest to the host organization.
It is the responsibility of all Jews to take a stand. Comedienne Joan Rivers started screaming on the air after a commercial for Jews for Jesus aired on her radio show. The ad featured two Jewish men arguing over whether JC is the Jewish messiah, while the Jewish song "Hava Nagillah" played in the background. "Do not proselytize on my show," Rivers ranted. "I was born a Jew and I plan to die a Jew. How dare you advertise on my show. I find this disgusting, I find this offensive, and I find this ridiculous!"
Jews for Jesus is a subversive organization. The missionaries' approach to ensnare unsuspecting people includes quoting Torah verses out of context and gross mistranslations. These deceptions are most successful with Jews who have no knowledge of their own Jewish heritage. In Russia, for example, where Jewish education had been suppressed for 70 years, missionaries sponsor "Jewish revival meetings," where a tallit-clad clergyman asks throngs of unsuspecting Russian Jews to "accept Jesus into your heart." The sad thing is that tens of thousands of Jews (including an estimated 50,000 in Israel today) have fallen for this falsehood.
Ironically, Jews really could be called "Messianic Jews." One of Maimonides' classical "13 Principles of Faith" is: "I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may delay, nevertheless I anticipate every day that he will come." In a sense we are all "Messianic Jews" – expecting the Messiah to gather the Jews back to Israel, usher an era of world peace, and reestablish the Temple. Though Jesus achieved none of this.
There are two excellent organizations which counteracts missionary activities and have succeeded in attracting "converts" back to Judaism. You can find them online at www.jewsforjudaism.org and www.outreachjudaism.org.
I see that my marriage ketubah says it is worth 200 zuz. What is the equivalent of 200 zuz in American dollars?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Let's see: In the Passover Haggadah we sing about "the goat my father bought for two zuzim." So I guess your ketubah is worth the equivalent of 100 baby goats.
But seriously: The rabbinic sources say that a Zuz [Dinar] is the equivalent of 3.5078250 grams of pure silver. This was established at the time of the Second Temple Era and is practiced today.
According to that figure, 200 zuz comes out to 701.565 grams of pure silver. This is equivalent to 24.7466 ounces of pure silver. At $30 US per ounce of silver, the total value of 200 zuz is approximately $750.
There is nothing that prevents the husband from increasing the sum specified in the Ketubah to beyond that demanded by the strict letter of the law.
(sources: Bechoros 5, with Tosfos; Baba Basra 90a, with Tosfos; Maimonides - Laws of Shekalim; Igros Moshe - EH Part 1:101; Sefer Mesoras HaShekel)
My friend's child was recently killed in a drive-by shooting (he was an innocent bystander) and she is so angry at God for taking him away. Can you offer a suggestion for how she can process this, because I don't want her to carry this anger around with her forever.
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
I've seen much suffering, and it seems to me that the key is "attitude." How people deal with it depends on what attitude they have. I have seen people whose attitude was of anger or hurt to such an extent that they never got beyond a particular event - which then became the defining moment of their lives. In a certain sense, life stopped at that particular moment.
On the other hand, I've seen people go through the most horrendous things, but their attitude was a positive one of believing in an ultimate good, of asking how I can learn and grow from this. It is incredible to see the inspiration they gave to others, and how they moved on with their lives. The contrast is vast between these two attitudes. Living with the concept of a good God is so much more uplifting and gives a person the ability to remain joyful and hopeful, and have the strength to go on and fight.
Some people who have suffered tragedies have found a degree of solace by setting up a fund or organization to help others, in memory of the departed one. This enables them to channel some of the great emotion into an area that offers a degree of comfort. See for example, the response of Seth and Shari Mandell to the brutal murder of their son.
People sometimes say they can't believe in God because the world is so full of suffering. But I have found that people who say that are rarely involved in working to alleviate the world's suffering. Those who are involved in healing the world's suffering rarely talk like that. When your life revolves around yourself, the world is a cold, sterile and unfriendly place. When your life revolves around giving to others, you feel how wonderful it is to be alive.
Bart Stern, a Holocaust survivor, told me of the time a man in Auschwitz was robbed of his daily ration of bread. Because of the starved and emaciated state of concentration camp inmates, this was tantamount to a death sentence. Bart gave the man some of his own bread.
He told me, "The many thousands of dollars I've given to tzedaka since then is nothing compared to that one piece of bread."
Bart had nothing to spare, but he nevertheless found the ability to give. Perhaps because of that, he was one of the gentlest and happiest men I ever knew. Auschwitz didn't make him bitter. It made him better.