The only way to defeat missionaries is to beat them at their own game
A funny thing happened to me on the Edgware branch of the Northern Line last week.
Travelling northwards to my modest 1930s semi (named, you may recall, “Wits’ End”), I found myself confronted by a gentleman carrying a small wooden cross. Armed with this small wooden cross, he proceeded to walk the length of the carriage, christening every passenger in it by waving the cross in front of them and uttering a suitable incantation. When he reached me (I was naturally wearing my yarmulke at the time), he smiled broadly and began to intone some formula or other, whereupon (Pope-like) I solemnly made the sign of the Magen David in front of his forehead, and announced to him — and anyone else within earshot — that I had thereby converted him to Judaism (Orthodox Judaism of the Federation of Synagogues variety, naturally).
Having thus “saved” him, I naturally wished him mazeltov, and was about to take down his particulars in order to arrange a Bris Milah when I noticed that he had begun to sweat profusely. Not to beat about the bush, he made a hurried exit at the next stop, which happened (just his mazel, eh?) to be Golders Green.
I recalled to mind this strange and wondrous incident as I read of the latest antics of — what do they call themselves? — Jews for Jesus.
How concerned should we really be that the missionary group known as Jews for Jesus is undertaking yet another campaign to persuade us all that Jesus was the Messiah and that the sooner we all recognise this, and convert, the better it will be?
Look, don’t any of you get me wrong. At one level we must be concerned. The JC was surely right to point out in its leader last week that, whilst those with a strong religious identity and a robust sense of self-esteem will (by definition) be immune to the propaganda of JfJ, it is the emotionally frail and the psychologically vulnerable that may well be entrapped by this particular group.
The question is, what are we going to do about it? This question is particularly apposite because, in this country, there is no way we are going to curtail or stop the activities of JfJ or any other Christian missionary group. And here, incidentally, I have to voice my disagreement with Rabbi YY Rubinstein of Manchester, who invites us to label JfJ as “antisemitic”. I have met members of this chevrah, and I don’t think they are any more prejudiced against Jews than any other missionary group. In any case, merely categorising them as “antisemitic” or “offensive to Jews” will solve nothing.
My recipe for dealing with JfJ is altogether more subtle. I propose that — in addition to an educational programme — we sponsor the formation of a cadre of professional (accredited, even) would-be converts. To convert a Jew costs a great deal of money. We must see to it that the cost becomes prohibitive.
A hundred and more years ago, some Jewish immigrants to these shores apparently made a comfortable living by agreeing — at a price, naturally — to convert to Christianity in one town, and then moving to another to start the conversion process all over again, and so on and so on. Missionary societies actually had the chutzpah to complain about the activities of these enterprising professionals. Perhaps for this reason, the East London Observer (July 21, 1888) reported that the cost of converting a Jew was almost 30 times as much as the cost of converting a Chinaman and approximately 200 times the cost of converting an African. The game — in short — was hardly worth the candle.
With all the business and entertainment-industry expertise at our disposal, it should surely be a simple matter to train up a troupe of travelling “converts”, who could (come to think of it) infiltrate the JfJ chevrah and report back on its latest strategies and plans.
Parallel with this initiate we should put aside whatever qualms we might have and launch another, namely actively to seek out converts to Judaism, as our forebears did for centuries (in fact, the practice only died out around 500 years ago, from fear of Christian retribution). Attack is always the best form of defence, and one of the best ways of combating JfJ would be to entice its members back to Judaism.
Precisely what form of Judaism, I had probably better not say.