Anti-Semitism, Missionaries and “Passion” Film

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I, as many in the Jewish community, am very concerned about the upcoming Mel Gibson’s “Passion” film. Personally, I’m more concerned about all the talk about stepped-up missionary activity than I am about anti-Semitism that may come as a result of the film. What do you feel should be the response to that issue, and how can we effectively fight it to protect our children and other unsuspecting Jews from that missionary activity?

Maurice

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Dear Maurice,

With all that’s going on in Europe and on university campuses in this country, I don’t think one should be concerned about the anti-Semitic side of this. 

But to address your question about the proposed missionary activity, I have always had the opinion that the key way to fight this is not head-on, rather through increased Jewish education. A missionary has little chance of success when dealing with a proud, educated Jewish teen or adult. 

(In one book of Jewish humor, a cartoon strip shows a missionary trying out his books and arguments on a Chassidic Jew, who finally asks the missionary if he’s on Kamikaze duty today?!)

A colleague of mine related a conversation he had with a friend who works in a special government division of the treasury where he was trained to identify counterfeit bills. My friend asked him if he spent a lot of time examing counterfit money. The government agent explained that the training did not consist of examining bills which were counterfeit. The key training was to focus upon bills which were real; spending so much time with the real thing, inculcating into himself the feel, texture and details of the real thing lent itself to immediately recognize a fake.

I think this is an appropiate, poignant illustration of how we need to train our children – and adults – in our Judaism to combat the danger of missionaries. Rather than putting our main focus on fighting missionary activity directly when it becomes a threat to uneducated Jews, I feel we would have a much more fruitful result with our time and effort to train our people to know well the beliefs and heritage of our people. If our people will be well trained in the real currency of our faith, its teachings deeply engrained upon the psyche of every Jew, then when they are faced with with counterfeit currency it will readily be exposed as a fake.

Let us view this time as a wake-up call to redouble our efforts to build a much more committed, proud and knowledgeable Jewish community, one in which missionaries will realize the futility of their efforts. Like the Hasidic Jew in the comic strip, missionaries have a scant chance of swaying a Hasidic Jew to his teachings; if he continues he may as well be on Kamikaze duty!

If you would like, please contact me for a list of books that address specific questions posed by missionaries as “proof” of their arguments. The easiest read, and most practical, is The Real Messiah by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, available through any Jewish bookstore. However, any Torah study strengthens a Jew’s resolve to preserve their heritage.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried

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