WIN EXCLUSIVE: Missionaries in Israel avoid legal problems by using children to evangelize

“Those who enable evangelical Christians to be here understand that they are going to be spreading their tentacles, evangelizing sons and daughters, and they’re just hoping it’s not going to be their own children.”

By Atara Beck, Senior Editor, World Israel News

Efforts by evangelical Christians to convert Jews in Israel have become widespread in recent years, and these missionaries have apparently achieved significant “success.”

When the State of Israel was established, there were approximately 30 Jews who had converted to Christianity in Israel. Shannon Nuszen, a former evangelical missionary and founder of Beyneynu, a non-profit organization that monitors missionary activity in Israel, says that now there are close to 200 missionary congregations across the country with an estimated 30,000 members altogether.

Most recently, a missionary who was fined thousands of shekels last year after aggressively proselytizing to Jewish children has ramped up his efforts to convert Israeli Jews to Christianity, according to reports in the Israeli media last week.

Australian national Andrew Scott Lewis, who identifies as a “Messianic Jew,” was found to have used his children for his conversion efforts throughout southern Israel, asking them to approach other youngsters at playgrounds and post missionary flyers on recreational equipment.

It was believed that upon being discovered, he returned to his native country after being pressured by his community to leave, but it was later discovered that he has resumed his activities in the north.

Anti-Missionary advocacy group Yad L’Achim is asking the public to keep their eyes open for him and contact their emergency hotline if spotted.

Rabbi Tovia Singer, founder and director of Outreach Judaism, a Jewish counter-missionary organization, discussed the issue of missionary activity in Israel with World Israel News (WIN).

“These evangelical missionaries are targeting the very young and the very old,” Singer said.

“In Israel, there is no law preventing these fundamentalist Christians from evangelizing the elderly, and they exploit that. But there are laws banning them from converting those who are minors.”

Children evangelizing children

“About 30% of Israeli citizens are under 18 years old, so in order to circumvent Israeli laws and reach the children, they pass out tracts in the schoolyards and they have children evangelizing other children. There’s no law preventing that,” Singer explained.

Nuszen agrees with Singer. “Targeting the vulnerable is their modus operandi – the very young, and the very old,” she told WIN.

Lewis “uses his own children to get around the law, because the law [against missionizing minors] refers only to an adult converting a minor,” she said.

Furthermore, “the messianic community boasts of rapid growth, from 15,000 members to 30,000 in just five years, and doubling the number of congregations and organizations dedicated to converting Jews to Christianity.

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“Christians have ramped up their efforts and are targeting vulnerable communities more than they have in the past. The Christian community sees much of the political situation in Israel and around the world as fulfillment of prophecy, and therefore believe the return of Jesus is imminent. The final piece of this process is the conversion of all Jews to Christianity,” Nuszen, who understands the tactics well, explained.

“Israel is a country with tremendous respect for religious freedom. Every major religion is represented in Israel, but Jews who have been hunted and preyed upon for conversion for centuries have a natural sensitivity when it comes to these aggressive efforts. This is about respecting our right to remain Jews, and live safely in our own country without being preyed upon. Honesty and respect is what we’re calling for in this relationship with Evangelicals,” she said.

‘A very serious danger’

“It’s frightening in how well ensconced these missionaries are in Israeli society and how well they’re received,” Singer warned.

“This is a very serious danger, and I’m seeing more and more young people who are getting involved in these groups because they’re encountering these evangelical missionaries, whether they’re from Australia, the U.S., Canadian missionaries who are well entrenched here in the country. And the only way to respond to this is through education.

“I’m alerting the Israeli community and Jewish communities worldwide about the dangers of these missionary groups. And here in Israel these evangelical Christians – they’re not Catholics who are doing this, they’re not mainline liberal Christians, but they’re the pro-Israel Christian Zionists who are well received by government officials and they’re making their way into the country, getting visas that others are unable to secure in order to evangelize Jews.

“They’re doing this because they believe that the conversion of the Jews uniquely is what will bring about Jesus’ second coming. Half the world’s Jewish population lives in Israel, so they’re targeting us in a very serious way.”

WIN: You mentioned the importance of Jewish education. How do you explain a movement among nationalist Orthodox Jews who believe that in order to be a Light Unto the Nations, it’s important to teach Torah to Christians and even establish yeshivot for them? Is this dangerous?

Singer: “This is a very strange twist on Christian Zionism and Jewish evangelism. All the missionaries involved in converting [Jews] are what’s called premillenial dispensationalists, but they’re Christian Zionists, a movement that began in the 19th century in the U.S. by a British preacher.

“The key part that people didn’t expect is that although evangelical Christians were taught to evangelize Jews and support Israel, they were also taught along the way that the way to evangelize Jews is to tell Jews how Jewish it is to believe in Jesus…

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“Here’s what no one expected. Evangelical Christians then became very curious about anything that’s Jewish. They wanted to learn about the Jewish people. Prior to this, the Church was very anti-Jewish and didn’t want to learn anything about Jews. At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, there’s no Hebrew anywhere. They weren’t interested in that.

“What the Jewish evangelism triggered was an enormous interest among evangelical Christians to learn anything Jewish.”

The ‘kicker’: Christians converting to Judaism

“Here’s the kicker,” Singer continued. “There are far more Christians that convert to Judaism because of Jews for Jesus than Jews who convert to Christianity. In fact, any of the programs in Israel providing a conversion process under the rabbinate are filled with former evangelical Christians.

“So what happened,” Singer continued, “was that interest was sparked in the Evangelical Christian world to evangelize the Jews but also to learn about the Jewishness of Jesus. They then took that very seriously and began to study about Judaism –  and many thousands, I don’t know the numbers, are interested in becoming Jewish or becoming Noahides and leaving Christianity altogether.”

(Noahide Laws are a Jewish Talmudic designation for seven biblical laws given to Adam and to Noah before the revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai. While the Torah was given to the Hebrew nation, the Noahide laws pertain to all mankind.)

“What you’re reading about in Haaretz [regarding yeshivas for Christians]– and I know all of the players involved – they’re not creating something, they’re providing a service. They’re serving evangelical Christians who want to learn more about the Jewishness of their religion… Ants don’t cause humans to have picnics, but rather the other way around. They’re coming and wanting to learn more while remaining Christians.”

The result is that “two things that occur,” Singer continued “Either these Christians will convert – meaning they will become Noahides or complete a full conversion to Judaism – or they will be successful in learning about Jewish practices to the extent that they then become better at evangelizing Jewish people.

“Unfortunately, many people use all these programs that are run by Orthodox Jews to make themselves better missionaries to the Jewish people,” Singer declared. “There’s an enormous amount of homogenization that’s going around – enormous – and there are tens of thousands, the numbers could even be higher, of Christians that are fully embracing Judaism – either becoming Noahides or converting.”

However, Singer reitereated, “the people who are providing the service are providing a service for people who are very curious, and they’re not able to learn in most normative synagogues and yeshivot.

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“I know this is a little surprising. It’s one of the strangest twists in all of this. I just returned from the United States where I was lecturing. Except for my lecture in New Jersey, almost all were filled with people that were probably 80% non-Jews. That’s what’s going on. So the Jewish evangelism had an unintended consequence.”

WIN: Does this mean the evangelism isn’t as much of a threat as many assumed it was?

Singer: “Jewish evangelism poses an enormous threat to Jewish communities worldwide, and Jewish leaders are rightfully horrified by the efforts that fundamentalist Christians are engaged in to convert Jews,” Singer said. “And the number of Jews that we’ve lost to these groups – the estimates are somewhere at about a quarter of a million.

“There are, however, ancillary elements to this. This effort of Jewish evangelism does trigger an enormous amount of interest in Jews among evangelical Christians who in turn go in the other direction.”

Nevertheless, the missionary activity, Singer underscored, “is horrifying to the Jewish community because they [missionaries] are misrepresenting themselves. They are engaging in fraud – I’m taking about Jews for Jesus and missionary groups. They are blurring the distinction between Judaism and Christianity in order to lure Jews who would otherwise resist the straightforward message.

“That can’t be said of Christians who are embracing Judaism,” Singer stressed. “No one is misrepresenting our faith. I want to make that clear. But the evangelical world is in an uproar because so many of their own members are embracing Judaism.”

WIN: For many years, the Israeli government has embraced evangelicals, maintaining that they are very pro-Israel, have influenced U.S. policy to benefit the Jewish state and poured significant sums of money into the country. In your opoinion, is this the correct approach?

Singer: “Israeli leaders understandably don’t look to the European Union or the United Nations as a place where they can find support, and they know that their staunch allies are going to be 70 million Americans, one out of five Americans who are Evangels, the largest voting block in the United States. So they know that, and I understand why they seek out their support. Spiritually, they have it reverse, but they don’t have a religious mindset here.

“But the people who enable evangelical Christians to be here understand that there’s no free lunch, that they are going to be spreading their tentacles, evangelizing sons and daughters, and they’re just hoping it’s not going to be their own children.”