Bad Timing, Poor Judgment , and "That Jew Died For You," a Jews for Jesus Film

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Today is another “See What I Mean Sunday” and therefore time for a visionary posting on the Interfaithfulness blog. Today is also Yom HaShoah, that terrible day in the Jewish calendar when we pause to commemorate the unthinkable, the indescribable, the unprecdented–the slaughter of six million Jews, including 1.5 million babies and children as a function of state policy under the Third Reich.

Yesterday I visited a local Conservative synagogue for the Bar Mitzvah of a friend’s son. There are nine survivors of the Shoah at this shul.  I have read the memoirs of one, and those of her husband, both of whom endured a level of suffering and loss such as I have never imagined in my worst nightmares. She survives, in her nineties. Graceful, fragile, still trusting the God who her father taught her would not in the end abandon his people. I said to her yesterday, “I know that tomorrow will be difficult for you,” refering to Yom HaShoah. Somehow she managed a smile of gratitude for the thought, and kissed me on the cheek.

I think this was an appropriate encounter between a Yeshua believer and a survivor, especially considering the timing. However, I fear that not all approaches are as sensitive as they should be.

I have been reluctant to share the following letter. I have known the recipients for about forty years. We used to work together. I was, once upon a time, one of the founders of Jews for Jesus, and their director, Moishe Rosen mentored me in significant ways when I was in my late twenties and early thirties. Yet, we came to a parting of the ways 25 years ago, and now we are in some significant areas decidedly different from each other.

This is impotant to point out, because in the public eye, “Messianic Jews” and “Jews for Jesus” are often synonomous. But thinking this way is like assuming that all Jews are Hasidim. Only people who know nothing of the realities on the ground would say that all Jews are Hasidim . . . or that all Messianic Jews and Jews for Jesus are the same.  No, although we hold certain facts in common, we are very different. And to both Jews for Jesus and Messianic Jews like me, the differences are important.

Unknown-1Recently someone told me about this film,That Jew Died For You, produced by Jews for Jesus. See http://goo.gl/4942IV.  I was at first reluctant to watch it, because some of these differences upset me and I don’t enjoy being upset. Then I felt obliged to watch it, since it would be in the public eye, and as I said, the public often misimagines Jews for Jesus and Messianic Jews like me as the same. I needed to see the film as a matter of professional responsibility. I did. And then I wrote the following letter to my old friends.

I will say by way of preface, that I am sure they meant well in what they did. These are not bad people, but, in a sense, “They need to get out more,” that is, they are too steeped in an environment that ratifies and justifies their way of looking at things. This can be a danger for all of us, you know.  But even the best intentions can blind us to the collateral clumsiness and inappropriateness of what we do.  This is one of those cases.

And because this film is going to get a lot of publicity, I owe it to myself, to Interfaithfulness, to the Messianic Jewish movement, to the Jewish people, and to you, my readers, to make some distinctions.

So I am sharing this letter with you. It is not meant to sling any mud, so please, in your comments refrain from doing so. The recipients are the Executive Director and Media Director of Jews for Jesus.

 

 Dear David and Susan,

Making this film was a most unfortunate choice. I don’t know who made the decision to go ahead with this, but it can only damage the reputation of JFJ and reinforce people’s worst views of the organization and by implication of the Messianic Jewish movement and the gospel.

I don’t know if you can undo the damage you have done already, not the least, to Jews for Jesus, but it is considerable even if you don’t feel it yet.

Did you run this idea past people who are NOT in the JFJ camp, people not already loyal to the way Jews for Jesus does things? Did you beta test this with focus groups?  It would have been a good idea.

To capitalize on the Jewish people’s most tender wound in order to make a point for the gospel is a VERY insensitive choice. To do this in proximity to Yom HaShoah is far worse. For example, there are survivors of the camps who have lost so many loved ones, and go through such agonies at this time, remembering what is impossible to describe. This film adds to the pain.  It is an exercise in non-communication to create the message “this Jew died for you” at a time when people are remembering six million who died themselves, including 1.5 million children, and for many, not just people who died, but family members and loved ones. In the minds and hearts of survivors and their families, what good did the death of Jesus do for these? Did he die in their place? No!  This is the day that we mark that these people themselves died!  People’s response would be, “If only SOMEONE had died instead of my brother, my sister, my children, my father, my grandfather, my mother. . . etc.”  Yom HaShoah is the very worst occasion to speak of Jesus’ vicarious atonement for the Jewish people, and to speak of his being wounded for our transgressions, as if Jews went to the ovens for their own, but he was prepared to go in our place!  When I worked with Jews for Jesus I was taught to equate getting a reaction with success. This is a most unfortunate equation. You will get much reaction to this film. But consider this: some reactions are well-deserved backlash.

Take a look on YouTube and see the comments that are piling up.  You will discover that your message is not getting across, but that people are repelled, disgusted, and enraged. Paul reminds us that it is no compliment when “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”  I am afraid you triggered great animosity toward yourselves and the gospel.  Is it the gospel they are rejecting, or is it offensively poor taste? The answer is clear.

Susan, David, this was a gross misjudgment. It would be good to try and discern what you can do to reverse what will prove to be a tsunami of backlash against you, by Christians as well as Jews, and surely by many Messianic Jews with whom you are seeking to build bridges. And if the Jewish people are your target audience, you should above all be concerned with their perceptions of this action—and I think it will be very difficult if not impossible to find any Jew who regards this positively.

What were you thinking?

Years ago I decided that when I met a Shoah survivor I would never state any opinions, I had no right to speak about experiences beyond my comprehension.  I remember Moishe (Moishe Rosen, Founder of Jews for Jesus) saying that one should never ask a survivor what he or she did to survive, because they all did things they are not proud of. He recognized that some things are hands off. Unfortunately, this film ignored that wisdom.

Not everything that appears to advance the cause of the gospel is a good idea. This is why Moishe forbade JFJ to evangelize people under 18 without parental consent. He was wise: he realized it was inappropriate.  That kind of wisdom was missing in the release of this video.

It is time for damage control. It is may likely be past time.  Pubic Relations firms suggest a swift public apology in such cases, a public and unambiguous mea culpa. You should consider it.

I am afraid you damaged the cause for which you work so hard: the cause of the gospel among the Jews. This was deeply offensive. And there are thousands who will tell you so if you will just listen. Look at YouTube for starters.  That you are featuring this film on your website at this time indicates to me that you are out of touch with the fact that even offenses “for the sake of the gospel” are still offenses. And it is good to remember how inadvisable it is to place a stumbling block before people.  It appears “That Jew Died For You” is a boulder.

With fond memories, but great sadness and alarm over this.

 

Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD

24 Comments

  1. Stuart, thank you for a well-written and well thought-out letter. Your opinion was clear and excellently expressed. With your permission, may we forward this to others??

    1. Yes, certainly. I am curious as to what kinds of contacts you might forward this too, but that’s just me being nosy. I write for public consumption, so please feel free to share.

  2. Dear Stuart, the Brirish Messianic Jewish Alliance (the oldest in the world) are putting out a statement distancing ourselves from the video. Weare saddened, horrified, shocked, bewildered, sickened..
    Today when I was speaking at a church in London I was asked if we had anything to do with “that awful film”.

    I pray your own response helps to speak “emet” truth into this terrible situation.

    Personally I cannot see why we should have an image of Yeshua about to go (anachronistically!) to His death “instead of the Jewish people. This perverts the gospel. This is not the history of Shoah. Yeshuah died ONCE FOR ALL, and He died when the time was right.

    I love the fact that many of my fellow believers want to see the lost sheep of Israel brought back into the fold. But do we need to bring wolves in to help? The voice of the Shepherd needs to be heard.

    Your’s and His,
    in Yeshua

    Gerry Cohen BA. (Hons)
    Secretary BMJA

    1. Honored to hear from you, Mr Cohen, and fascinated to know of the BMJA’s stance on this matter. I have not yet seen any statements from the MJAA in the USA or from the UMJC, but expect that something of the sort will be forthcoming, Thank you for writing. Delighted for this further evidence that my blog is leaping across the Pond.

  3. Dear Stuart.. (and it’s Gerry please!!) You might like that I chose to lead worship with “At all times I will bless Him” this evening.

    The statement from the Officers of the Alliance is::

    “As the oldest representative body of Messianic Jews in the UK, we wish to disassociate ourselves from the Jews For Jesus video “That Man Died for You”.

    Portraying Jesus as an Auschwitz victim distorts both the nature of Jesus’ death and the history of the Holocaust. Many British Messianic Jews who lost family members in the Shoah are distressed by this video. The BMJA rejects such use of sensationalist imagery, preferring mature theological discussion.”

    1. Thank you, Gerry. I hope that feedback from organizations/organisations as formidable as yours will arrest the attention of the JFJ leadership that they might deeply reconsider their approach in this matter. Thank you for keeping me abreast of developments. All the best to you and your colleagues.

  4. Here is a quote from a British believer regarding this Youtube video and JFJ:

    “I tell you, they make it so difficult for other messianic ministries trying to reach out to the Jewish community. They have such a bad reputation by now that whenever I confess to be a Messianic Jew, I need to add hastily that ‘no, I’m not working for Jews for Jesus’.”

  5. Shalom Stuart, I plan on sharing this with colleagues in ministry and on Facebook. No worries about being nosey, brother.

  6. Yet again J4J shooting themselves in the foot! Is it any wonder Jewish people are turned off by their methods? Where do J4J stand in helping the Jewish people practically, especially in Eastern Europe where anti Semitism is on the rise?

  7. Pingback: Messianic Rabbi Stuart Dauermann Responds to Jews for Jesus “That Jew Died For You” Video |

  8. Pingback: Stuart Dauermann responds elegantly to controversial J4J video | Anna Wikmann

  9. Amen, Stuart!!!

    As I have become more and more involved in a rich, progressive, and growing Jewish community, I become more and more aware of the irrelevance of Jews for Jesus as an organization. They are stuck in 1970s ways of thinking about the Jewish community and are ignorant of many things, including the commemoration of the Shoah. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this post and for making an honest effort with David & Susan!!!

    Yasher Koach!
    -Malka

    1. Although the effort may not always be appreciated, I think we do a service to Jews for Jesus by giving respectfully expressed but honest feedback on these matters. I thought twice and then twice again about first sending this letter as an email, and then posting it as I did on my blog. But I felt that these things needed to be said, that a retraction or public apology by Jews for Jesus would have been SO powerful and arresting, and remains, sadly, appropriate. I also felt that I needed to remind people unaware of nuances and variations of various kinds that not all of us who are Jews who honor Yeshua as Messiah would produce or favor such a film. People needed to know, and I needed to say what I did as respectfully as I could. All the best to you, Malka. Your parents are getting better with age . . . and perhaps their children too 🙂

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    Together Fighting Hatred and Intolerance

    April 28, 2014 By Guest Contributor 0 Comments

    By Rabbi Dr. Bernhard H. Rosenberg

    I am the son of Holocaust survivors. Most of my family perished in the Holocaust, either in the crematorium or shot dead on the street. I am still deeply disturbed by the tattooed number from Auschwitz on my father’s arm and remember my mother looking twice her age from her experience at the camp. Like many children of Holocaust survivors, I never had grandparents. I became a rabbi as a concept of never again. I vowed that I’d do everything in my power to stop evil and to make certain that people who are like the Nazis, demons that they are, would never succeed.

    Before Easter a video called “That Jew Died for You” was released from the group Jews for Jesus. The video has garnered over a million views on YouTube and sparked some very hateful conversation. When I viewed the video, I recognized it as a movie of compassion. Indeed the said purpose of “That Jew Died for You” was to reshape views of Christ and His relationship to the Holocaust, presenting a positive image of hope and salvation instead of despair.

    The video depicts a powerful scene set at the gates of the Auschwitz concentration camp as a line of Jews awaits their fate. The Nazi guards at the front of the line decide who will go to the work camp and who will go to the death chambers. Toward the end of the video, Jesus, carrying a cross, comes to the front of the line and is sent by the guards toward the death chambers. I am not a stranger to this subject having just authored a new book The Holocaust as Seen Through Film, one of the many books that I have written with a Holocaust theme.

    I do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah but I do believe he was a Jew. I am completely non-judgmental with regards to anyone’s religious observances. I don’t judge anybody because I did not go into the clergy for religion’s sake. I went into clergy for humanity’s sake. There are not too many Holocaust survivors’ kids around that think the way I do.

    I do not agree with those who are attacking the video showing Jesus carrying a cross and being sent to the showers from the gates to Auschwitz. If Jesus were at Auschwitz he would have been murdered just for being a Jew. If anything the attack on this video bolsters Jews for Jesus, which I’m sure was not the intent of those critics. I think that the purpose of the video was to show that indeed Jesus was a Jew; whether you accept him as the Messiah is up to you. LET ME STATE CLEARLY: I DO NOT ENDORSE JEWS FOR JESUS OR THEIR BELIEFS. But I think their intent was not to harm our Jewish people but to depict Jesus as the observant Jew he was. The historical Jesus was a devout Jew.

    I witnessed Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ in Manhattan when it first came out and there was an uproar—there was a fear that it would create a lot of anti-Semitism because of the way that Jesus is persecuted and victimized. The fact is that Jesus, at least the spiritual Jesus, was supposed to die and be resurrected and that did happen in this film. It was not the Jews that killed Jesus; rather it was Pontius Pilate and the Romans. In fact, if you saw that picture, you would see that the Roman soldiers did the floggings. Many people do not understand history at all.

    I have taught Holocaust studies for most of my life on the high school and college level. When I discuss the Holocaust and God, I share many possible views. In truth, after having written numerous books on the subject I don’t have an answer. I cannot in good conscience believe that the Jewish people were punished, because if I believe that, then I would not be a rabbi, and probably would be an atheist. One and a half million priceless Jewish children were murdered. What was their sin? The answer I give myself and others is that mankind caused the Holocaust, not God. It is the only answer I can live with.

    I believe that it was the teachings of the Church, not Jesus, that allowed Hitler to spread his ideology of hatred for the Jews. I am happy that the teachings of the Church regarding the Jewish people have changed. A special thank-you to the Christians who support the state of Israel.

    The bottom line is that Jesus’ message was not to hate the Jews, but to love all humanity, and he would certainly not say that one should hate his own people. Instead of hatred in the world, there should be love. And if that was the message Jesus communicated, then that was an outstanding message for all of mankind. During this period of Easter and Passover, as well as the remembrance of the Holocaust, may love conquer evil and may we together fight hatred and intolerance.

    Rabbi Dr. Bernhard H. Rosenberg

    Congregation Beth-El

    Edison, New Jersey

    Rabbi Rosenberg received his ordination and Doctorate of Education from Yeshiva University in New York. He also possesses A.A., B.A., M.A., and M.S. degrees in communication and education. Jewish Theological Seminary presented him with his DD in May 2010. He taught Holocaust and Genocide Studies graduate courses at Rutgers University, and currently teaches communications and public speaking at Middlesex College. Rabbi Rosenberg appears frequently on radio and TV and has published eight books and hundreds of articles about the Holocaust. His most recent book is The Holocaust as Seen in Film with Bibliography.

  11. Pingback: UMJC and Others Respond to Recent J4J Video | Yinon Blog

  12. There may be those who believe I am being used by Jews for Jesus or Christian groups by allowing by article to be published. My answer is simply I seek a world where I and my family, 4 children and so far 7 grandchildren can observe Torah and mitzvoth, the 5 books of Moses and the commandments. I seek a world where instead of fighting each other we can love and help each other. As an observant Jew I WILL LIVE AND DIE OBSERVING Jewish law and so will by children and grandchildren. The message of peace, shalom, is a message of comfort. That is my blessing for all of us. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

    1. Thank you so much for writing Rabbi Rosenberg. I stand entirely with you in your aspirations and your intended message. You are truly one of the disciples of Aaron, “loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and bringing them close to Torah.”

  13. I am more on the fence on this one as a Messianic Jew. I was not super impressed with the quality of the video, it did not look at all “real” to me, and until the Nazi says, “Just another Jew” I did not see much point to it. But it did suddenly have a point, and a good one. I understand that many Messianic Jews feel it is offensive, and I suppose to a rabbinical Jew (Non Messianic? What is the right term?) it is VERY offensive, as is almost any mention of Yeshua. But I recall that Yeshua himself was gravely offensive to the Jewish establishment of His day and I wonder if telling the truth this way doesn’t have some value. To me, the real answer would be, does this cause Jews to think about Jesus, and/or think about Jesus in a new way? If the answer to any degree is yes, then the offense is worthwhile. Israel NEEDS to honor its Messiah.

    1. It is easily demonstrable that just getting a Jew to think about Jesus in a new way is no justification. Suppose a Jewish believer in Jesus went to the funeral of a Jewish friend’s mother. After she is lowered into the grave, he turns to his friend and says, “You know, if you would only come to believe in Jesus, you would not go to hell like your mother did!” His alleged theological point in no manner removes the stain of his outrageous conduct!!! I do not care how “sincere” and “Loving” and “theologically correct” he may think himself to be. His behavior was outrageous. Similarly, you need to evaluate this film by its timing, and by the perceived social location of the communicators. By the latter point I mean this: Adolph Eichmann spoke Yiddish to Jewish prisoners. That he spoke Yiddish was obscene, because Yiddish is the heart langauge and a precious, intimate bond for Jewish people. His social location makes his conduct outrageous. Simmilarly, the propriety of the film must be evaluated on the perceived social location of the communicators. In no sense is the message its own justification when these other factors are not considered.

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