Moishe Rosen, the Jewish convert to Christianity who founded the evangelical missionary group Jews for Jesus, died on May 19 in San Francisco after a prolonged battle with cancer. He was 78. His passing presents an opportunity to reflect on the devastating effect he had on Jewish lives.
Born Martin Rosen in 1932 to immigrant Jewish parents, he was raised with a minimum Jewish education in Denver, Colorado. He converted to Christianity in 1953, at the age of 21, and in 1957 he was ordained a Baptist minister.
From 1957 to 1972 he worked as a missionary for the American Board of Missions to the Jews. After a falling out, reportedly over his controversial tactics, Rosen launched the San Francisco-based Jews for Jesus movement in 1973.
He believed “Judaism never saved anybody” and that unless you believe in Jesus you will burn in hell. This included the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
Rosen’s message personified three New Testament passages: Romans 1:16 – “to the Jew first”; I Corinthians 9:20 – “to the Jews I became as a Jew that I might win Jews”; and Philippians 1:18 – “whether in pretense or in truth Christ is proclaimed I will rejoice.”
He aggressively targeted Jews for conversion and is responsible for the loss of countless young Jews and the destruction of thousands of Jewish families. He condemned Judaism as a “false religion” and once said, “The fact is we are not practicing any form of Judaism. We are practicing Christianity.” This didn’t stop him from encouraging the use of rabbinic Jewish practices, like lighting Shabbat candles, or wearing a yarmulke, in an attempt to masquerade Christianity in the guise of authentic Judaism.
Sadly, as a direct result of Rosen’s pioneering efforts, today there are over 1,000 missionary groups targeting Jews for conversion worldwide. With an annual budget exceeding $275 million, these groups have succeeded in converting hundreds of thousands of Jews in recent decades. A recent National Jewish Population Study estimated that more than 600,000 American Jews have converted to, or are affiliated with, a religion other than Judaism, the most dominant faith being Christianity.
Both Jewish and mainline Christian clergy condemned Rosen’s aggressive and controversial proselytizing methods. In 1990 Rev. David Selzer wrote, “Jews for Jesus is another attempt to deny Jewish identity to Jews as a Christian I oppose the group.”
In her doctoral dissertation on Jews for Jesus, Juliene Lipson describes how she infiltrated the group and discovered a disturbing side to Jews for Jesus and Rosen. According to Lipson, members agreed that “full submission to the leadership of Rosen is the will of God.” She also described a meeting where “members were asked to stand, whereupon [Rosen] struck each one across the face hard enough to knock them over.”
On the website www.UsedForJesus.com, ex-Jews for Jesus staff members testify to the abusive and cult-like atmosphere within Jews for Jesus, including the above mentioned “pain training” as well as shunning of former members, rigid restrictions to personal life, and raging and intense anger. I met Rosen on three occasions and each time witnessed his inexplicable outbursts of rage.
Rosen obviously ignored the words of the Rev. Billy Graham who wrote in a 1973 press release, “gimmicks, coercion and intimidation have no place in my evangelistic efforts.”
Rosen’s authoritarian personality elicited criticism from Jews and non-Jews. University of California at Berkley professor Dr. Margaret Singer, respected as a leading authority on cults and mind control, considered Jews for Jesus a cult. This was echoed by former Jews for Jesus member Ellen Kamensky who categorized the group as a destructive cult, and told me they misrepresented New Testament passage Luke 14:26 to convince her to cut off contact from her family.
Misuse of biblical passages to prove Jesus is the messiah is a mainstay of Jews for Jesus. Their proof-texts are either taken out of context or mistranslated. In one of their pamphlets they quote a non-existent passage from the Zohar concerning the Shema, in a pathetic attempt to prove the Trinity is a Jewish concept.
This brings me to what I consider to be Rosen’s second most deceptive tactic. On page 52 of his book Share the New Life With a Jew, he instructs missionaries to not get “sidetracked with discussion on the deity of Christ.” He continues to explain that as important as this doctrine may be, “correct theology is not what will save your friend.”