A minor furore erupted over the forthcoming opening of a Jews for Jesus missionary centre in Hendon.
Voices have been raised from the community, clamouring the missionaries should “pack up shop and leave” and calling on people to protest against their presence in such a strong Jewish area.
There is no doubt that Jews for Jesus is a source of heresy, empty sloganising and irritation. Its message is theologically skewed and an insult to both Judaism and Christianity.
It is propagated at street level by a motley mixture of crackpots and social misfits, many of whom are not even Jewish. I have personal knowledge of this, since I have on many past occasions engaged Jews for Jesus adherents in challenging conversation and this is invariably the impression I have received. And I have just read one of the missionaries’ latest leaflets, entitled ‘If it looks like a duck…’ You would need to have the mind of a three year-old to be taken in by it.
Jews for Jesus is incapable of accepting or unwilling to accept a fundamental reality. Jews say the Messiah is yet to come and Christians say he has already been, in the person of the founder of their religion.
There is absolutely no way of reconciling this dichotomy and any efforts to do so can only lead inevitably to controversy and conflict. The answer to the problem is to let people get on with life observing their respective religions and the Almighty will take care of revealing the ultimate truth when it is judged the time is right.
For all its evils, I am far from convinced that setting up Jews for Jesus as a cause célèbre and campaigning to drive it out is the correct approach, first because unless there is a valid objection on, say, planning grounds, such a campaign is bound to fail.
Secondly, like all cults, the organisation craves the oxygen of publicity. By demonising it publicly it and parading it in the press as a baddy while its members come across looking meek and demure, we are affording it just the PR boost it wants.
It would be useful to know how many innocent Jewish people have been influenced and ‘converted’ by these missionaries.
Granted, if it is one it is one too many.
In America and, shockingly enough, in Israel, they are more of a force to be reckoned with. However, I am sure the overwhelming majority of Jews in Britain, religious or not, regard Jews for Jesus as a pathetic joke and treats the organisation them with the disdain it deserves.
There is also an important political aspect. Outside a strictly Torah-run society, banning people owing to their religious views can be a hazardous weapon and goes against the Jewish grain.
If people propagate racial hatred or incite violence, prosecution or indeed banning is an appropriate remedy. There are already enough laws on the British statute book to tackle this, some of which have been rightly invoked against extremist Islamic groups. Jews for Jesus cannot in all truth be placed in this category.
Yes, Jews for Jesus promotes views that are religiously provocative. So too in the eyes of orthodoxy, does reform and liberal Judaism, whose clergy preach many concepts that are halachically and biblically false, even immoral.
Unlike Jews for Jesus, those movements influence thousands of Jews worldwide, in a way that has irrevocably divided our people and damaged the fabric of Jewish identity.
Shun their leaders and refute their arguments we may, but protest against their existence in wider society we would not. Tolerance is the foundation of democracy and for Jews in this imperfect world democracy is surely the best system available.
Throughout the ages, anti-Semites have sought to undermine Jewish practices and prevent us practising our religion. Such forces are no less threatening today, with campaigns against shechita, brit milah and faith schools.
Aside from the lies and hypocrisy that underscore such campaigns, our most powerful counter-argument is that they fundamentally infringe our religious freedom.
In a democracy, Jews for Jesus, for all its ignorant nonsense, is likewise entitled to that freedom. If we, as right-minded Jews, try to deny this fact, we risk becoming less credible in the non-Jewish world when we claim such entitlement for ourselves.