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By Steven Miller Moishe Rosen, who died Wednesday at age 78 was founder of Jews for Jesus, an organization bent on converting Jews to Christianity.
Christian convert from Judaism who became a Baptist minister, Mr. Rosen
insisted that Jews could keep their cultural identity while accepting a
new religion. But Jews for Jesus became a lightning rod for criticism.
Many Jews resented the attention and declared the idea of a "Jewish
Christian" to be an oxymoron. Many in the public thought the group's
swarms of young evangelists clad in identical T-shirts, encountered in
airports or on street corners, were cult members.
by critics, Mr. Rosen kept up a cheerful front while building an
organization that today claims to have a presence in 22 cities in 11
has a great sense of humor letting an over-aged, overweight and
overbearing person like me lead a youth movement," Mr. Rosen once said.
Rosen encouraged his converts to keep their traditions by converting
Passover into a Christian holiday and the Bar Mitzvah into a Christian
coming-of-age ceremony. He wrote tracts with titles such as "Jesus Made
Me Kosher;" a band called "Liberated Wailing Wall" used to play at the
in an orthodox household in Denver, Colo., Mr. Rosen was the son of a
scrap-metal dealer. He converted at age 21 to evangelical Christianity
and his parents disowned him.He attended a seminary in New Jersey and
was ordained a Baptist minister in 1957.
same year, he joined the American Board of Missions to the Jews, an
evangelical organization, which eventually put him in charge of its
mission in San Francisco. Although he professed a conservative faith
that included biblical inerrancy and premillenialism—the idea that Jesus
will be returning soon—Mr. Rosen came to favor a form of outreach more
suited to the 1960s San Francisco youth scene.
the mission board became uncomfortable with him, Mr. Rosen in 1973
founded his own organization, Jews for Jesus, with its headquarters in
San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district.
I came out here, the people doing the best communicating were the
anti-war activists," Mr. Rosen told the San Francisco Chronicle in 1996.
them, he began distributing homemade tracts illustrated with his own
scratchy drawings. His first pamphlet was titled "A Message from
Squares," using the slang for someone uncool.
Rosen was an effective preacher, and given to pithy sayings such as "An
atheist who is looking for God is like a hooky player looking for a
truant officer" or "My boss is a Jewish carpenter." He could also be
blunt. "Jewishness never saved anybody," he wrote in a statement on the
Jews for Jesus website.
the same time, he sought to assure Jews that they were not betraying
their culture by embracing Jesus—something many Jewish leaders rejected.
" 'Jews for Jesus' are dishonest. They are hypocrites," write Elie
Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and Jewish commentator, in a 1988 essay.
"They do not even have the courage to declare frankly that they have
decided to repudiate their people and its memories."
group grew quickly, but so did the controversies it generated. Mr.
Rosen sometimes welcomed the publicity garnered by its various legal
scrapes. He was a fan of Saul Alinsky's book "Rules for Radicals," and
he boasted to the Washington Post of having been arrested in seven
different airports and "clubbed, manacled, and thrown down a staircase"
for his efforts.
Moishe Rosen came into a city there was either a revival or a riot,"
said Vernon Grounds, president emeritus of the Denver Conservative
Baptist Seminary, in a statement.
Jews for Jesus began evangelizing Jews in Israel, in the former Soviet Union, and also Russian immigrants to the U.S.
group won't say how many people it has converted, but a spokesman
estimated that it has had "hundreds of thousands" of conversations with
potential converts. Converts are normally referred to evangelical
churches within their own communities, much like those garnered in Billy
Rosen retired as executive director of Jews for Jesus in 1996. In a
final farewell posted after his death his organization's website he
cited a New Testament verse about how no man knows what Heaven is like.
"I have a big curiosity, and now I know," Mr. Rosen wrote. _________________________________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________________________________