Commentary Magazine


Topic: Messianic Judaism

Jews for Jesus and Santorum

Rick Santorum’s already minimal chances to win Jewish votes in November just got a tiny bit smaller. Politico reports that the GOP presidential candidate spoke in 2010 at a conference of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, a group whose adherents claim Jewish identity while also professing belief in the divinity of Jesus. Santorum picked up $6,000 for the speaking gig that went unnoticed at the time but now must be considered a minor embarrassment for the former senator.

Messianics, like the better-known group that calls themselves Jews for Jesus, are ardent supporters of the Jewish state and wanted Santorum to speak at their event because of his pro-Israel views. But Christians who may be puzzled by any Jewish resentment about his appearance need to understand two things about this controversy. The first is that the only one thing upon which virtually all Jews — no matter where they stand on the religious or political spectrum — agree on is that belief in Jesus makes a person a Christian rather than a Jew. There is also a strong consensus that Messianic groups are engaging in deceptive practices when they seek to proselytize Jews to join them. Therefore, any connection with such groups is bound to be seen as controversial.

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Rick Santorum’s already minimal chances to win Jewish votes in November just got a tiny bit smaller. Politico reports that the GOP presidential candidate spoke in 2010 at a conference of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, a group whose adherents claim Jewish identity while also professing belief in the divinity of Jesus. Santorum picked up $6,000 for the speaking gig that went unnoticed at the time but now must be considered a minor embarrassment for the former senator.

Messianics, like the better-known group that calls themselves Jews for Jesus, are ardent supporters of the Jewish state and wanted Santorum to speak at their event because of his pro-Israel views. But Christians who may be puzzled by any Jewish resentment about his appearance need to understand two things about this controversy. The first is that the only one thing upon which virtually all Jews — no matter where they stand on the religious or political spectrum — agree on is that belief in Jesus makes a person a Christian rather than a Jew. There is also a strong consensus that Messianic groups are engaging in deceptive practices when they seek to proselytize Jews to join them. Therefore, any connection with such groups is bound to be seen as controversial.

It should be specified that Messianics are as free as any other Americans to believe whatever they wish and to practice their faith as they see fit. But almost all Jews view Messianic campaigns to target them for conversion to Christianity — which are integral to the beliefs of these groups —as insidious efforts to undermine their survival as a community.

Part of this stems from demography. After 2,000 years of persecution that culminated in the Holocaust, any endeavor that seeks to further diminish the number of Jews is not taken lightly. Even more to the point, the long history of forced conversions to Christianity has left a foul taste in the mouths of Jews even if such memories have little to do with contemporary spiritual competition. Either way, it must be understood that the visceral distaste that the overwhelming majority of Jews have for the Messianics is not to be taken lightly.

It should also be understood that during his years in the House of Representatives and the Senate, no member worked harder to be a friend to the Jewish community than Santorum even though he never won a majority of their votes. While he was out of office, Santorum relied in part on speaking fees to support his large family and no one is alleging that he did anything unethical or improper here. Nor can he be accused of actually engaging in any proselytizing of Jews on the Messianics’ behalf.

Due to his conservative social views, Santorum had little chance of taking advantage of Jewish dissatisfaction with President Obama’s policies toward Israel. Jewish conservatives already inclined to back Santorum will probably understand that he meant no insult to the Jewish community so it’s not likely that this will cost him any votes. But this story won’t do anything to increase their numbers.

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