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Monday, November 17, 2008

Risking a Thrashing

Scanning 'The Times of India' over breakfast yesterday I was struck by how similar the concerns and interests are all over the world... but the little differences remind one that you are abroad.

For example, the headline "Mob thrashes pastor in Bhayander" immediately caught my eye. 

First of all, the word 'thrashed' has been so completely co-opted by sports writers and color commentators in the US that I had to actually look it up to see what it really meant off the field of play. 

It turns out that 'thrash' means "to beat soundly with or as if with a stick or whip".  Yikes.

So, reading on in the Times of India article:

"Around twenty men suspected to be from the VHP barged into  the prayer hall of a Christian sect at Bhayander at 12:30PM on Saturday, stripped the pastor and thrashed him after accusing him of converting people"

Now, I'm not a fan of violence (mob or otherwise), and I certainly don't take lightly the idea of a religious leader being publicly stripped and flogged because of his beliefs.  But as a Jew, that penultimate word in the article made me reserve judgment for a moment. 

There are literally dozens of religious groups operating in Israel today who are actively working to proselytize Jews.  Yes, it is illegal for them to do so... but they are quite adept at tip-toeing along the boundaries of legality with semantic hair-splitting ("It's not a prayer meeting, it's a party!  With free food and drink and lots of people your age... why don't you stop by?"), and the penalties make a slap on the wrist seem severe by comparison. 

Considering how we have faced centuries of organized predation and forced conversions, it bothers me to think about well-meaning missionaries coming to the Jewish State for the sole purpose of trying to pick off the strays and stragglers of the dwindling herd known as the Jewish people.

So, returning to the topic at hand... yes, it is the little differences, like the use of the word 'thrash' in its proper context, that remind me that I'm not at home.  But by the same token, I have to admit that I wouldn't mind seeing those guilty of trying to convert my Jewish brothers and sisters stripped and thrashed by Israeli mobs. 

Throughout our wanderings, Jews have been powerless to defend ourselves.  And when faced with a choice between death or apostasy... many have chosen death.  So now that we have our own country it galls me to think of groups planning trips, allocating budgets and setting up Israeli offices... all with the sole design of stripping even more limbs from small, fragile tree of my people.

Perhaps we could learn something from this Indian mob.  Yes, they were arrested for their attack, but the modest legal penalties that exist, both in India and Israel, for proselytism is hardly a deterrent when placed alongside potentially 'saving a soul'.  Maybe it's time the world realized that the price of a Jewish soul may very well be the kind of medieval corporal punishment that was previously reserved for the Jews who refused to convert.

OK, I knew that I'd be risking a thrashing when I wrote this piece... but based on two emails I just received, I should offer the following post script:

I know that there are many non-Jewish readers of treppenwitz, and I'm sure some of you will have been disturbed by this essay.  I am very pleased to be able to give a glimpse of my Jewish/Israeli world to people of other religions and nationalities.  But if you were truly bothered by this post, perhaps you should honestly ask yourself... 'Am I a birdwatcher who is genuinely interested in the beauty and habits of those I observe?  Or am a simply interested in bagging a game bird for my collection?'

It really is that simple.

Posted by David Bogner on November 17, 2008 | Permalink


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I'm generally not a fan of the "slippery slope" argument; I don't see the world in black and white, and I think that one can take steps towards solving a problem, or protesting a wrong, without violence or extremism. I don't want Christian missionaries trying to convert Jews. I think it's wrong, and I wish they'd stop. But ...

Last Purim, in Ariel, a Purim gift basket was sent to the Ortiz family, who are Christian missionaries. It was opened by their 15 year old son Ami, who was badly injured -- shrapnel embedded in his body, including his eyes and lungs; second & third degree burns; the amputation of a couple of toes. In essence, he was "thrashed".

Calls for violence, even against people who we despise, are neither appropriate, nor, sadly, needed.

To broaden the discussion a little if I may: If Israeli Jews are drawn towards Christianity (or the Kabbala Center, or Indian gurus, or yogic flying, or any other foolishness) then fundamentally it's our fault. By our I mean any of us who are observant, whether dati leumi, chareidi, chassidic, yeshivish, modern orthodox, or whatever.

Look, it's a simple marketing question. If we want people to turn towards Judaism, do we show people the beauty, fulfillment, and happiness of living an observant Jewish life; or do we spend time explaining how bad the "other guy" is?

Coca Cola sells more soda by saying "Coke tastes great" than by saying "Pepsi sucks". If what we have is good enough, and presented well enough, then Christian missionaries will go out of business here in Israel without any need for violence.

Posted by: Andy Levy-Stevenson | Nov 17, 2008 8:53:41 AM

Whoa, David. You hit the nail squarely on the head (to use a metaphor that's related, if only slightly, to thrashing).

Missionaries make me want to scream. And I have done that on occasion. Once, at two of them right in the middle of the street when they tried to hand their dreck to an elderly man in a wheelchair. I was pretty calm when they tried to hand it to me, but seeing them hand it a man who couldn't talk back to them made my blood boil. I let loose and didn't care who heard me as long as they took themselves off, which they did.

That doesn't beat the story of my friend's great-grandmother, though, who lived in Ottoman-era Palestine but was exiled to Alexandria by the Turks during World War I. When a missionary came to her door, she chased him down the street with a broom.

I have friends who are great at debating missionaries. They have chapter and verse at their command, by heart, and can demolish all their arguments in seconds flat. I'm not a great debater, though, so I use a different tactic. I tell them: "All your pretty words don't hide the fact that you want me to adopt a faith that preaches that God will send all non-believers to Hell after they die. My religion says that the righteous of all faiths have a place in the World to Come. Between the two, I think my religion's view of God is much kinder. I'll stick with it, thank you very much."

Posted by: Rahel | Nov 17, 2008 9:03:29 AM

Andy: I don't think for one second that David is actually advocating violence against anyone. I think, rather, he is lamenting the "wink and nod" attitude toward the problem of missionary activity.

There seems to be an unspoken, yet tacit, attitude of, "the mental approach is harmless. No one is being harmed physically, and who are we to tell people what to think."

While there is some concern with physical safety, society seems less inclined to consider spiritual safety.

It seems to me that David is simply musing out loud (though not in a politic fashion) how he wishes that the world were such where our own government, as well as those who seek to "prune our living tree" might place equal value on the sanctity of spiritual life as they do on our (collective) physical welfare.

Posted by: zahava | Nov 17, 2008 9:51:10 AM

Zahava: Knowing David personally, I agree with you 100%.

But I can only say that because I know him ... when the article is read "cold" the message is pretty overt.

Posted by: Andy Levy-Stevenson | Nov 17, 2008 10:33:39 AM

Andy Levy-Stevenson ... On this we are in complete disagreement. When it comes to religious coorsion, 'why can't we all just get along' is not an answer. To continue my nature analogy, you are advocating making the weak and slow members of our herd stronger so they are less vulnerable to predation... while I am saying that the predators must be made to understand that there will be a terrible price paid for every member of our herd they try to pick off. 'Kiruv' is an internal Jewish matter and unrelated to this discussion. Yes, it is harder to entice an educated, observant Jew into converting to another faith... but even the most secular or uneducated (two things that I am not in any way relating to one another) Jew has the right to be left to live out his or her life as a Jew... unmolested by missionaries. In a perfect world the legal penalties for proselytizing would be severe enough to act as a deterrent to missionaries. But failing that I am not against violence in defense of every last Jew. If you read about the Hindu organization I linked to above, they started out as an ideology-driven, non-violent organization to defend Hindus from religious coercion and discrimination at the hands of invading Muslims and Christians. But as you see, they are not afraid of using violence when all else fails. The case you cite about the bomb sent to the missionary family is tragic in the extreme. But if this family was indeed involved in trying to pick off the weak members of our 'herd', then they should have been arrested and deported long before violence became necessary to deter them.

Rahel... While I agree with you, it seems you have fallen into the trap of feeling that it is incumbent upon us to walk around with the tools to defend ourselves from missionaries. I say that missionaries have no right to walk among us trying to convert us. If the law won't/can't deal with them then it should not come as any surprise when extra-legal means are employed.

zahava ... Sweetie, while I appreciate you trying to 'take my case', I think if you read my reply to Andy you will see that I am quite clear about what I meant.

Andy... No, you read my meaning correctly. One of the great things about finally having a state is that we don't have to be walled up in a ghetto to survive the onslaught of the outside world. An observant Jew can live in complete freedom as can the most secular Jew. How those two groups can coexist without treading too heavily on each other's toes is another matter altogether... but non-Jews coming to Israel for the express purposes of trying to convert Jews is as much an act of war as a missile fired over our borders. There are those among us who want to explain away the missiles and provide reasons why we shouldn't respond violently. You are providing the same rationale for the internal attacks that are no less dangerous to our survival as a people.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Nov 17, 2008 10:43:03 AM

David, I'm sorry if I wasn't clear. I do indeed feel that the law should deal more severely with missionaries and I'm disappointed that it doesn't. And while some friends of mine do walk around with anti-missionary defense tools, I don't. I have nothing but a verbal broom that can get pretty loud at times. It would be nice not to have to use it.

Posted by: Rahel | Nov 17, 2008 1:26:40 PM

Not crazy about the herd analogy, as I consider myself part of a people, not of a herd, but be that as it may...

1. From your post, I am not clear where you draw the line between "coercion" as you see it and freedom of speech? Could you clarify? For example:
a. If I am sitting at a cafe on Ben Yehuda, should a missionary be prohibited by law from handing me an information leaflet about his/her religion? Or a copy of his/her scriptures?
b. Does it matter if the flyer comes from the local church, the local mosque or the local yogic flying center?
c. If the flyer states that the party is in fact a prayer meeting with free food, and I can make my own choice about whether to go?

Posted by: Mich | Nov 17, 2008 2:17:02 PM

"The case you cite about the bomb sent to the missionary family is tragic in the extreme. But if this family ..."

To paraphrase Jerry Maguire, you lost me at "But".

Posted by: Andy Levy-Stevenson | Nov 17, 2008 3:13:37 PM

I agree with you about the dangers of missionaries. Groups like Jews for Jesus and Messianic Jews use lies and deception and they are growing in numbers in Israel and across the world. It is these evangelicals who are a great threat, in my opinion, to Israel.

Part of the problem is some Jewish groups like Republican Jews, happily accept money from evangelicals. While some evangelicals may support Israel just because it is the righteous thing to do, there are too many who hope to see Jews convert.

Hanukah will be here in a little over a month. One of the lessons taught is that assimilation into Greek society was a great threat.

I do not think violence is the way to go. I do think the efforts of Outreach Judaism should be supported.

Posted by: shira0607 | Nov 17, 2008 3:29:35 PM

Well, the problem I have with this post is that it greatly oversimplifies the problems in India. Yes, there are some Christian groups that are doing dubious conversions. But in a lot of places in India, including the town where my extended family lives (I live in the US), the mayhem that is taking place is misdirected. My family's Catholic, and they do not do conversions in that town, where Catholics have been living for centuries, although certain evangelical groups do. Regardless of that, Hindu fundamentalist groups have not differentiated between the two denominations, and have gone in to Catholic churches, beat nuns and priests, threatened families at the local Catholic schools, etc. They have burned down historical churches. And they have done all this with the overt cooperation of a very corrupt police force.

Yes, I agree with your views on coercive conversions. But what you're missing is that India has become more and more Hindu fundamentalist as time goes on, at the expense of the plurality it once enjoyed. What you read in the papers may not necessarily be true. And that even if parts of the story are true, there might be a lot more going on. The Indian press is not neutral. And things are so corrupt over there at every level of government that even if you were involved in the incident, you might be confused as to what's going on. And what's been going on recently is that Hindus are trying to get rid of all other religions. Period. And what they view as "conversion" activities are very very loosely defined - ie - providing charity schooling to children from untouchable castes, or medical care to poor people who suffer from AIDS, with no proselytizing or Jesus talk of any sort involved.

Posted by: regular reader | Nov 17, 2008 4:31:37 PM


I think you own the "birwatchers" on your blog an apology. I have no wish to "bag a game bird."

I voted for McCain in part because I felt he would more capably handle defense issues in sensitive parts of the world, including the ME.

(I know -- silly me -- most Jews actually went for Obama. But my heart was in the right place.)

How a religion deals with apostasy says a lot about that religion. I fear you may have said more than you really wanted to.

Posted by: Everett | Nov 17, 2008 5:24:54 PM

I have never been a friend of missionaries. I have little to no patience for being told that G-d insists that I try to convert you. So I haven't any problem with saying that while I am not a fan of violence there are times where the thought of a good thrashing makes me smile.

The problem is that so many of those on the other side of the fence don't get it. They may understand intellectually what has happened to the tribe, but they don't get the emotional end of it.

They just don't have the background. To be clear I think that a lot of them do, but there are enough who just shrug their shoulders and say that it is narishkeit that it concerns me.

Posted by: Jack | Nov 17, 2008 6:08:34 PM

You didn't seem very concerned about this when you all but ignored comments pointing out that Sarah Palin's church gave an audience (more than once) to the founder of the Jewish for Jesus, the most prominent missionary group.

Thank G-d 3/4 of all American Jews and millions of others voted against that ticket.

Posted by: Stacey | Nov 17, 2008 8:04:48 PM

I will always consider non-missionary religions like Judaism, Hinduism, and even Wicca superior to imperialistic religions like Christianity and Islam, for the simple reason that condemning someone to Hell for eternity just for their "incorrect" beliefs is immoral. And I don't believe God is immoral. Actions count, not what "club" you belong to.

Posted by: Alan | Nov 17, 2008 9:11:32 PM

Other than disliking preacher-types, especially missionizing ones, I do not have a problem with missionaries and attempts to convert.

But I do have a problem with successful conversions.

It is one thing to be curious, it is something else entirely to be susceptible because of ignorance of one's own faith, or societal pressure (also a polite way of saying "threats and force").

Most missionaries I have met have been unsubtle and amharetzish to the nth degree. So I am always surprised when they succeed. And disappointed by the person who thus expanded his ignorance-base and demonstrated how shallowly rooted the previous 'loyalty' actually was.

Posted by: At The Back of the Hill | Nov 18, 2008 12:47:11 AM

Count me among the religious Jews who think that if Judaism can't survive Jews being exposed to other faiths, even having other faiths enthusiastically presented to them, then Judaism's survival is wildly overrated. I agree with Everett (and I thank him for his vote for McCain). The Israeli law against prostletizing says something very weak and defensive about Judaism in Israel, as does the gov't support of and control of the rabinate. It seems to me you can't be a light onto the nations if you're affraid they'll convert your children.

Posted by: Albert | Nov 18, 2008 1:04:30 AM

Wow. The post left me nearly speechless. I don't pass judgment on it for Israelis, but for an American (as I am), such an attitude defies belief -- and is completely antithetical to pretty much all of American values. Yikes.

Posted by: JDS | Nov 18, 2008 6:30:59 AM

David, what you're promoting is nothing short of vigilantism. It's one thing to say that missionaries are aiming at the soul of the Jewish people, which is despicable, and there should be much, much harsher punishments enacted and enforced against them. But you're very fond of pointing out what is and isn't appropriate in a democracy, and by your own guidelines what is appropriate is lobbying the government for stronger measures against those who proselytize. Rahel's tactic of defending a potential victim of missionaries to prevent the verbal assault is also appropriate, just like any one of us would hopefully defend someone, using whatever means necessary, against a physical attack while it is happening. But this is exactly the difference between residents of a community who do anything they can to a terrorist they catch in their town...and a mob from the same community going out and committing violent acts of revenge because they are tired of being terrorized and hope to deter it in the future. While the latter behavior in certain circumstances is unfortunately quite understandable, it is not excusable. In fact, I believe you yourself condemned it with the following words:

"But IMHO anyone who uses a gun for anarchy... to terrorize, destroy property or instill fear instead of as a last resort to save a human life... deserves to lose his/her gun (and the right to carry it). Anyone who puts themselves in the place of the police and/or army is not deserving of protection from either of those forces."

Your last response to Andy completely misses the point, in that it equates the response of a nation or a society with the response of a bunch of individuals. We consider it unfortunate but acceptable for a democratically-elected government to build an army and sent it out to violently defend an imminent threat to its constituents' well-being, but barbaric and criminal for a group of people to send warriors to violently protest their treatment instead of acting within the framework of law. Remember?

I deplore missionaries. Regrettably, I think their activities do need to be protected under the blanket of free speech in the U.S., because of the nature and purpose of that right in this country. In Israel, which has a very different national raison d'etre, I think it is correct and just that proselytizing should be prosecuted. Prosecuted, though -- not persecuted. I'll call back another statement of yours:

"I cannot, and will not, contemplate one single mitigating reason why a citizen of Israel should have his life threatened because of words and ideas he/she expresses, publicly or privately. Full stop." Does the qualifier "citizen of Israel really make or break that sentence?? Doesn't "human being" do just as well?!

Posted by: Alisha | Nov 18, 2008 6:41:56 AM

Although I find proselytizing *extremely* distasteful in general, and particularly against Jews, I think giving a nod to physical violence against non-violent missionaries, who are not using threats or coersion against Jews, will sent entirely the wrong message both to the missionaries and to the Jews themselves (I'm not even talking about the rest of the world, which will use such outbursts of mob violence to further vilify Israel). To the missionaries, it will show that Jews are uncivilized and unruly and that their religion is that of violence, rather than a strong ethical code and learning. In fact, it will only reinforce religious zeal as has happened in Roman times when Christians were persecuted en masse, and which only made them stronger. I don't think I have to tell you why it's a horrible message for the Jews. (It's not ok to beat up on Arabs who present actual physical danger, but it's ok to beat up on missionaries who CAN be countered with words and other non-violent means?) Of course, if someone is trying to convert you by force, you have every right to defend yourself physically, but that's an entirely different issue.

Posted by: Irina | Nov 18, 2008 7:14:42 AM

Count me among the religious Jews who think that if Judaism can't survive Jews being exposed to other faiths, even having other faiths enthusiastically presented to them, then Judaism's survival is wildly overrated.

That is a very naive and idealistic view that I wish we could live by. It'd be great if we could rest comfortably knowing that the missionaries were making a simple sales presentation that people could say yes or no to.

The reality is far different. They use lies and distortion to convince people to buy their product. They spend millions of dollars on organized campaigns to convince our children, our family and our friends that somehow we got it wrong.

And we both know that there are many Torah observant Jews who send their children to yeshivot not just to see that they get a solid Jewish education but to help try and shield them from negative influences, such as missionaries.

Furthermore as Stacey said it is important to note that many of us were well aware of the relationship that Sarah Palin had with these groups. We're quite thankful that the correct decision was made to keep her far away from the POTUS.

I have often said that it would be quite telling to see what would happen if millions were spent on targeting the children of the missionaries. How would they react if they knew that there were organized campaigns to try and convince their children to convert.

Posted by: Jack | Nov 18, 2008 8:00:00 AM

I completely agree with shira0607. We and Evangelicals don't share the same agenda whatever they like to make us think.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Nov 18, 2008 12:32:16 PM

I have a bunch of friends who are Christians, and I have heard them state clearly and in cases quite publicly that they are not here to proselytize Jews but to bless and support them.

I am not commenting here on missionaries, but I'm afraid that people paint others with too wide a brush, and I for one think that is not positive.

Posted by: Gidon Ariel | Nov 18, 2008 1:36:43 PM

I was not going to post, but decided that as a member of the Treppenwitz reading family i had to chime in and join my voice to those scratching their heads at your logic.
If the best defense agianst missionaries is to say that any Jew has a right to practice as he wishes, I agree with you. But if you are saying, and I think in part you are, that there is an inherent right for a Jew living in a Jewish state not to be exposed to ideas and religions that compete against Judaism, and that using harsh Sate measures like deportation and imprisonment to enforce that right is the best or at least one of the main defenses of it, than I question the value and ideas of the religion you seek to defend, and I question the understading of the search for God of those who call for such measure.
The fight over missionizing is a fight of ideas. It will be lost or won only in that realm. If you need the cops to keep your spritiual life safe, you might as well have been eating at McDonaalds all these years.

Posted by: jordan Hirsch | Nov 18, 2008 11:55:47 PM

I have been reading this site for quite a while now and always found it interesting but I must say that this last post and most of the comments are very disturbing.

As an Australian I find it strange and disturbing that the one people & religion who have suffered more from religous intolerance than any other in the world now practice that intolerance in their ancient homeland. Religous oppression is the same wherever it is practised be it Saudi Arabia or Israel, if you don't like Christian missionaries trying to covert Jews that's fine but how can you call for stronger laws to punish these people for their religous beliefs?

Christians are being beaten & killed in many parts of the world for their beliefs, surely they can be tolerated in the birth place of Jesus.

Posted by: Wild Colonial Boy | Nov 19, 2008 7:05:42 AM

Jordan Hirsch: Wow. I don't think we've ever agreed on anything before now! If this doesn't get Trep to rethink his position, maybe nothing will. But if anything unites pinko socialist bleeding hearts (a label I toss at you strictly with tongue in cheek) and religious libertarian pro-war wackos like me, it's that squashing speech based on content is a very bad idea. JDS is on to something. Putting freedom ahead of almost every other principle is uniquely American.

Posted by: Albert | Nov 19, 2008 7:10:36 AM

"perhaps you should honestly ask yourself... 'Am I a birdwatcher who is genuinely interested in the beauty and habits of those I observe? Or am a simply interested in bagging a game bird for my collection?'" -- Trep

Finally, a post I feel I am expert enough on upon which to comment! A goy-centric post!

Thrash away, angry mobs. Those driven by allegiance to Someone more unspeakably awesome than mere people will not be deterred, much. Illegality, on the earthly level, doesn't even do the trick -- and I have friends among those people. If I recall aright, Trep, most Jewish forms of faith, from Orthodox to Reformed and beyond, do not really consider preaching (for conversion) central, let alone subsidiary. That puts you (unless, indeed, you converted from some other more assertive faith) -- if I AM remembering correctly -- in a position similar to myself as usual when I am visiting your blog and trying to stay underfoot.

I wouldn't dast prevent you from having an opinion on the matter, however, and publishing it for as far and wide as you wish.

And therein, perhaps, lies a bit of irony.

But, though I am not the "thrash" my apparent opponent type, I really can't decide for everyone whether they are thrashers or not, or why.

I will state that for you -- on your side -- the "observe" versus "bag" analogy is probably very satisfactory. But, speaking as well as I can for those I know, without actually asking them now, or being them, I can reliably convey to you that, to my friends, such an analogy would be fruitlessly nonsensical, a little like me saying improvising in Jazz music is either "observing the music of past greats, and playing them note-for-note, or merely randomly moving one's fingers around the instrument and hoping, like a monkey typing, something intelligent emerges."

Just a peek, for you, to the other side. Please note that I have not expressed either approval nor disapproval for my friends' beliefs, because I respect their autonomy, as I respect yours.

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Nov 19, 2008 7:14:34 AM

haha -- read, "trying NOT to get underfoot" in the last post, although the Freudian slip may be telling -- !

PS -- JDS does hit the "American" thing on the head, which I often have trouble with, but plege allegiance to, as those are the rules by which the USA plays.

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Nov 19, 2008 7:24:02 AM

Another thought.

It seems the issue boils down to this question. Would you rather (a) risk your (let’s assume adult) children converting to another religion or (b) live in a society in which those attempting to convert your adult children were punished by law? For me (a) is the obvious choice. The answer to (even aggressive) proselytizing by Christians to Jews should be (i) making the case for Judaism to our kids (ii) being less suspicious and more welcoming to converts to Judaism (iii) finding the humility to realize that we have no better route to Truth than persuasion and that adults find different paths to G-d and (iv) borrowing a page from Christians and enthusiastically offering Judaism as a welcoming alternative to those seeking a religion.

In nine days we Americans will celebrate G-d’s bountiful blessings in allowing a band of pilgrims to settle on this continent so that they may worship Him freely. The nation they founded was the first to grant equal rights to Jews. Perhaps this issue is at the heart of the divide between Jews in Israel and those in the Diaspora. Israel guarantees Jewish continuity. America guarantees only freedom. When the Second Temple was built, Jews were free to return to the Holy Land from Babylon, but most didn’t. Since 1947 Jews again have been free to return, but most have remained in the Diaspora. It’s tough to compete with freedom.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Posted by: Albert | Nov 19, 2008 7:38:47 AM

I am not sure if it a conscious or subconscious denial that the majority of commenters have adopted in overlooking the difference in "freedom of speech" and "Proselytizing." Further, I am particularly confused as to why so many of you have adopted the rather strident idea that David is suggesting that Jews in Israel not be exposed to other religions, or worse, that you think he is advocating persecuting those of other faiths.

There is quite a difference between being taught about (or exposed to) other faiths, their practices, and their rituals and being targeted for conversion -- particularly when the former is (hopefully) being done to foster understanding and increase knowledge and the latter is being done in an attempt to eliminate other belief systems.

Those who engage in proselytizing are not involved in simply educating others about their belief system. Rather, they are actively engaged in a converting others to said belief system. While you might argue that this behavior falls within the legal boundaries of "free speech," you can not argue that the framers of the US Constitution intended for proselytizing to be an accepted social behavior -- a good portion of American immigrants (throughout history) arrived at her shores with the specific purpose of evading such pressures, and "separation between Church and State" is an attempted safeguard against such advances.

Further, those who engage in proselytizing approach their targets with the specific intent of imposing their ideas upon them. This is not necessarily the free exchange of ideas.

Israel is home to Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddists, and a myriad of other faiths/practices. No where in his post has David suggested an intolerance to those practicing something other than Judaism. Rather, he has stated his disgust with the notion that the practice of trying to convince Jews to abandon their faith to embrace another should be tolerated, and he has mused as to why when other cultures feel so protective of their own, why we are so reluctant to protect our own.

Here in Israel, there have been huge commotions generated by some segments of the secular community when it is perceived that religious Jews might be trying to teach secular, public school kids anything having to do with Judaism. It is sad that this same outrage is not generated when external pressures are exerted on them....

Like many commenters, I am uncomfortable with the notion of employing violence as a means of combating this problem; however, unlike the majority, I am not able to view proselytizing as a "right" nor as a component of "free speech." It is insidious to insist that we should tolerate proselytizing because it is "merely" a free exchange of "ideas." It isn't. Proselytizing is an attempt to eradicate other belief systems and to impose conformity. Simply put, proselytizing is antithetical to the idea of "choice."

Posted by: zahava | Nov 19, 2008 9:04:13 AM

And then there are the non-Jews who read Treppenwitz who believe in Judaism- Bnei Noach. Why on earth anyone listens to Christians who proselytize is beyond me.

Posted by: Alice | Nov 19, 2008 3:15:56 PM

Zahava is correct when she points out that people are being targeted. This is not a simple case of someone coming approaching you and asking if you'd like to take a pamphlet home to read.

This is about millions of dollars being spent to create salesmen and sales collateral for the explicit purpose of converting others. In fact it is not hard to point out that the proselytizers are not tolerant of other beliefs.

They can smile and say that it is ok for you to believe otherwise, but that ignores their belief that failure to assimilate leads to hell.

Let me be clear. I do not believe that violence should be used. And I do not believe that the majority are bad people.

But that doesn't mean that they are not wrongheaded, misguided and intolerant. I won't apologize for being irritated about being a target. I won't apologzie for saying that it is wrong.

Posted by: Jack | Nov 19, 2008 4:59:47 PM

Zahava, I do not think your observations are bad ones, but I would draw different conclusions than you as to how to handle them.
But in the case of Secular Israelis, keep in mind that the Socialist origins of Medinat Yisrael were in part also a way of escaping the Religious intolerance and monolithic communal standards of Jewish life in Europe. Their aversion to having religous standards reimposed is just a mirror of your objection to missionaries. You or I may feel it is unjustified or unnecessary, but they obviously don't. And come on, you know as well as I do just what a bad case the Israeli Rabbinical establishment makes for a healthy, positive, inclusive brand of Jewish observance.

Posted by: jordan Hirsch | Nov 19, 2008 5:17:39 PM

Zahava: What? Proselytizing is speech. Being “actively engaged in a converting others to said belief system” is speech – speech you and I don’t like. (Unless I don’t understand what you’re talking about and it involved kidnapping or battery, but I assume those things are illegal.) But I don’t want to use the gov’t’s monopoly on force to squash speech I don’t like.

You also seem to be confused about some foundational American ideas. “You can not argue that the framers of the US Constitution intended for proselytizing to be an accepted social behavior”. This has nothing to do with what is accepted social behavior. This has to do with what is against the law. I don’t care if missionaries are socially stigmatized. I think it’s outrageous that they be arrested. The separation between Church and State limits the gov’t from proseltyzing, not individuals.

Jack: People are being targeted? For what? How? Threats I assume are already illegal, right. So I assume we’re not talking about someone saying “Convert or we break your son’s knees.” If by targeted you mean “people ignorant of or disenchanted with Judaism are selected for compelling messages about Christianity that I think are false” then that’s just speech you don’t like.

I’m one of the craziest right-wing Jews I know and you defensive Jewish isolationists are making me sound like an ACLU lawyer. Krikey!

Posted by: Albert | Nov 19, 2008 5:29:12 PM


I know it is easy to try and marginalize someone else by trying to paint them as being crazy. Notice that I didn't resort to calling anyone names. Don't have to say that you have paranoid fantasies that need years of therapy or that you are a right wing lunatic. You did that for me. ;)

You asked about threats so let me address that. They aren't using a physical threat, but a spiritual one. I happen to think that it is shameful to try and bully someone into changing by telling them that they risk eternal damnation.

I never said that they shouldn't be able to speak or that we need to kick their asses for doing so. I said that I disagree with it. I said that I think that it is wrong to use distortion and spiritual threats to try and convert people.

Perhaps you think that it is ok to allow people to try and pick off the weaker members of the flock. Maybe you consider it to be natural selection. I happen to disagree. I happen to think that it is incumbent upon us to say that this is not acceptable and that we think that their tactics are wrong.

I happen to think that it is not being isolationist or defensive to say that we find it distasteful and offensive. Doesn't mean that the religious wackjobs can't keep running around doing it. Doesn't mean that they need to worry about their safety.

It just means that we're going to try and see that they play it fair and honest.

Like I said earlier, most of them would be incensed if the tables were turned. I noticed that a lot of the cries about Obama being a secret muslim came from the same crowd that fund these missionaries.

Kind of a curious disconnect.

Posted by: Jack | Nov 19, 2008 7:46:31 PM

Jack: I think we're talking past each other.

Forget whether these activities are shameful, distasteful and offensive. Should it be illegal? Simple yes or no question.

I think adultery is shameful, distateful and offensive. I don't want to live in a society that has a law against it.

I'm happy with applying social stigma. I'm opposed to applying the law.

Posted by: Albert | Nov 19, 2008 8:04:05 PM

Careful -- Jews who encourage others to stone Christians have been known to be converted themselves.

(To avoid surprises, stay off the road to Damascus.)

Posted by: Bob | Nov 19, 2008 10:53:48 PM

As I read the comments, I see the arguments presented against Christian missionaries proselytizing Jews. The Hindus are not the Jews, and their morals are not any more based in the Bible than are Muslims'. Many leaving hinduism are the untouchables, the outcasts, the very people Jesus called out to in his ministry. I would sooner convert to Judaism than to hinduism or Islam. It is interesting that the Hindus should take it out on Christians. It isn't Christians who are blowing up the trains, or the markets. It is the same enemy that is in your midst, that ought to be thrashed.

Posted by: Jewel | Nov 20, 2008 6:04:40 AM

Albert: You are correct -- I should have ended the sentence at "acceptable" and not tacked on "social behavior" -- my bad. I was not implying that the government should be able to regulate etiquette. However, I must respectfully disagree about your contention that the "separation of church and state" and related regulatory legislation are only to prevent the State from imposing religious "isms" on citizens. They also meant to prevent individual citizens from imposing their religious beliefs on other individual citizens.

For example: have you noticed that in the US it is illegal to deny someone employment based solely upon their religion? That it is in fact illegal to ask someone their faith during a job interview? That the courts view this as a violation of a person's civil rights?

Free speech is not an unlimited entity. You are not legally entitled to use speech to any of the following ends: incite violence; treason; fraud; libel and slander.... Need I go on?

The truth is, I haven't any idea on the legality of whether or not "proselytizing" is illegal in the US. And I think that determining if/how to legally define and limit such practices is an unending can of worms....


I find it very odd that people hesitate to apply the same legal standard to speech when discussing theology as they might in other situations. You think it is outrageous that someone could be arrested for proselytizing. Tell me, would you find it outrageous that someone be arrested for libel?

Proselytizing is a specific act. I am not in any way shape or form suggesting that we make theological debate, education, or simple discussion illegal. I am, however, pointing out that "proselytizing" can not be put into any of those categories. The intent is different. The results are different.

Posted by: zahava | Nov 20, 2008 10:34:09 AM

OK, Zahava, I just have to ask:
Jesus says in the New Testament to his disciples,
Mat 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Mat 28:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, [even] unto the end of the world. Amen. (blueletterbible.com KJV)

Is he advocating proselytizing or something else?

Posted by: Channah | Nov 20, 2008 6:44:06 PM

Zahava: I appreciate the civil discussion. I'll leave you with the last word. See you on another thread.

Posted by: Albert | Nov 20, 2008 7:24:49 PM

Channah, I am not a scholar of the New Testament, and feel rather unqualified to answer your question.

Posted by: zahava | Nov 20, 2008 7:40:07 PM

Albert: I very much enjoyed the discussion and hope you did as well. Also hope that see you on another thread isn't a euphemism for wore me down to the point I no longer care! :-)

Posted by: zahava | Nov 20, 2008 7:52:10 PM

I asked because the people you are criticizing believe themselves to be following this command. In saying that what they are doing should be illegal, even in the United States, you appear to be claiming that a long established Christian doctrine is not only wrong (and of course since you are not Christian, that would be unsurprising), but should be illegal. I was asking because it could that you are not objecting to the doctrine contained in those verses, but to some other behavior that does not to Christians define a missionary, thus causing confusion.

Posted by: Channah | Nov 20, 2008 8:36:05 PM

Well, are we really talking about "imposition" of belief? After all, even uneducated Jews are free to walk away from missionaries. No one has to stand there and listen. Just because the discussion is one-sided, doesn't mean that it's imposing. I'm not sure how many secular Jews wind up converting to Christianity, but I suspect that the numbers are significantly fewer than those of Jews who just go off the derech and don't practice any religion at all, or worse than that, become hostile to religion (or Judaism) as such. Let's say an atheist came in and started talking to agnostic Jews about why they shouldn't be religious at all and why Judaism is junk. Should that atheist be perceived the same way as missionaries? He'd be targeting Jews as well, most likely. (Let's face it - I doubt any such individuals would be enthusiastic going to Muslim neighborhoods and telling them why their religion is bad).

Posted by: Irina | Nov 20, 2008 9:36:25 PM

Good gracious. What do those missionaries do in Israel? Do they abduct Jews to secret places where they keep them imprisoned and brainwash them till they convert? Do they break into the houses of Jewish Israeli and torture them to make them convert? Do they show any other form of physical violence to force their belief on others? No? So what would it justify to beat them up or to send their families parcel bombs?

Posted by: reader | Nov 21, 2008 12:47:58 AM

No, the missionaries capture Jewish children and feed them Pastrami with Mayonnaise.

Posted by: jordan Hirsch | Nov 21, 2008 3:30:56 AM

jordan H. -- (shock!) feeding Jewish children "Pastrami with Mayonnaise" makes me suspicious, for you KNOW that is a horrific and blatantly false charge promulgated only by readers of the despicable "Protocols of the Elders of Minnesota."

zahava -- "proselytizing," as "targeting" Jews specifically... hmm. I certainly know of groups like that; others "target" Hindus, Russians, lost tribes in South America -- the works. I suppose, if I were in charge of such things (obviously, no one with any sense would ever let such a thing happen, for reasons that may become clear), I would advocate a "preach where permitted" sort of policy. My group would -- er -- "target" your town, let's say. But, in the event of any mass protest against same, we would respect the decision(s) of the adults in the district, or what-have-you, and move on.

Some see this as sensible, others as cowardly. I tend to err - and see it as an error -- on the side of "my religion is personal," but being American will tend one to err in that direction, I think. It's the whole "freedom of religion" thing.

Irresistably, I am always a little -- curious? I suppose is the word -- about how one can be seen as a Jew, despite being a full-blown ATHEIST (see, for popular example, Freud), whereas converting to another RELIGION is disastrous. Isn't... and here again, I profess only the analogous (very imperfect) knowledge of the religious gentile -- isn't "converting" to rejection of G-d very much a worse thing?

I only ask because those very, very few friends I have, who are Messianic Jews, are rather poignantly sort of looked-down-upon from both sides, as a "sideshow" faith. And I think that has to be, for them, taxing on some level.

Finally, I never, ever worry about the extinction of the Jews and all that is Jewish. I am of the opinion that G-d would let the world end before He would let that happen. To that end, however, if there's anything I can ever do to support Trep and his, feel free to ask. But not necessarily because you're Jews. More because, through reading the blogs, I have grown to be rather fond of your tribe. ;o/

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Nov 21, 2008 5:32:25 AM

Zahava: Hahahaha! That's exactly what I meant by "see you on another thread".

Jordan Hirsh: Pastrami with mayonaise?! I've heard worse. I've heard that some of the Jewish kids are given cucumber sandwiches on triangles of white bread. Sometimes they're sent outside to play without a sweater. The barbarity is unimaginable.

Posted by: Albert | Nov 21, 2008 6:17:31 AM

Gasp! Pastrami with mayonnaise, and cucumber sandwiches too! That asks for revenge. No less than pasta and beans with centaury tea!

Seriously: Do they really target children?

Posted by: reader | Nov 21, 2008 3:06:45 PM

In light of the comments that followed mine, I wanted to amplify.

Albert may have given up, but his original comments were thoughtful and, to me, spot on. It's clear that he and I, and some others, share a worldview that isn't shared, even remotely, by many of the other commenters here -- especially the ones from Israelis (the ones here; not all, obviously, or even most; I suspect not, given that this blog reflects only a segment of Israeli society, and not nearly the majority; but you tell me.) That worldview, which I'll call the Treppenwitzweltanschauung, is entirely alien to the dominant worldview of the Anglo-American tradition. Again, I do not pass judgment on (some) Israelis for thinking that "the weak and slow members of our herd" (as Treppenwitz put it) need protection from proselytizers for religions other than Judaism, though it does reflect an astonishing paternalism, and tendency to infantilize, that is, again, alien, and abhorrent, to the Anglo-American tradition.

So although I won't get in to the details of that Israeli point of view, I will comment on the Israelis' characterization of American attitudes towards proselytizing. Their comments bespeak a stunning ignorance, probably the way that my comments would if I presumed to opine on the specifics of the Talmud or Maimonides. I am incapable of doing so intelligently, and the comments here confirm that some commenters are fundamentally ignorant of American law or tradition.

Just to clear up certain misconceptions, among many, of Zahava (who, I gather, is Mrs. Treppenwitz), from her later post (because she clarified herself).

Zahava writes that "However, I must respectfully disagree about your contention that the "separation of church and state" and related regulatory legislation are only to prevent the State from imposing religious "isms" on citizens. They also meant to prevent individual citizens from imposing their religious beliefs on other individual citizens." Wow: that is completely and absolutely wrong. The religion clauses in the First Amendment, like all the rights in the Bill of Rights, protect citizens ONLY against the government, and not against "imposing beliefs on other citizens." Zahava writes, "have you noticed that in the US it is illegal to deny someone employment based solely upon their religion? That it is in fact illegal to ask someone their faith during a job interview? That the courts view this as a violation of a person's civil rights?," but that is not really true -- it applies only to employers of 15 or more; it doesn't apply to religious employers (e.g., a synagogue would not have to hire a muslim as a rabbi); and, more fundamentally, it rests on the Commerce Clause and has nothing to do with the Religion Clauses. I don't want to get in to the nitty-gritty of constitutional law, but the short of it is that Zahava is absolutely wrong: the Constitution does NOT regulate private behavior.

Zahava then writes, "The truth is, I haven't any idea on the legality of whether or not "proselytizing" is illegal in the US." She is, I gather, born American, which makes this rather surprising, but the answer is that "proselytizing" is not, and never can be, and never will be, "illegal."

She writes, "You think it is outrageous that someone could be arrested for proselytizing. Tell me, would you find it outrageous that someone be arrested for libel?" Yes. Yes, Albert and I (correct me, Albert, if I'm wrong) would find it outrageous, not to mention unthinkable that someone be arrested for libel. The criminalization of libel is per se unconstitutional, and it is not and cannot be a crime in the US to libel someone.

Anyway, I don't mean to pick on Zahava, but her comments struck me as particularly uninformed, especially coming from someone who (I assume; if I'm wrong, correct me) was educated in American schools. She doesn't understand, or know much about, American law or history, and I wanted to correct the record.

Posted by: JDS | Nov 21, 2008 5:28:55 PM

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