A Jewish watchdog organization just announced that a family that had become part of an ultra-orthodox community in Jerusalem was actually operating as undercover missionaries, misrepresenting themselves as Jews, even accepting charity intended to help Jews. This case generated strong feelings of being deceived and abused while highlighting the relationship of extremes between Jews and evangelical Christians who are simultaneously Israel’s greatest supporters while perpetuating a tradition of converting Jews.
Impostors: Missionaries posing as Orthodox Jews
A family that immigrated to the French Hill neighborhood in Jerusalem was revealed to be Christians posing as Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews with the intent of working to convert Jews to Christianity. The family made Aliyah from New Jersey under the Law of Return using forged documents claiming they were of Jewish descent. The father claimed to be a Kohen (descended from Biblical Aaron), a sofer stam (scribe), and a mohel (performs ritual circumcisions). The mother claimed to be a child of holocaust survivors.
They reportedly became a part of the Haredi community in French Hill but the mother became ill with cancer. The family provided monetary, spiritual, and practical support for the family but the mother passed away from her illness before Purim. She was buried in a Jewish cemetery in a burial that followed Jewish customs. After her passing, one charity fund collected over $30,000 while another one raised over NIS 52,000 to assist the orphans and widower.
After the burial, inquiries were made into the family’s origins and it was discovered that the family name had been misrepresented and they were originally from Pennsylvania. Beyneynu interviewed the father and he admitted that his goal was to convert Jews to Christianity. He explained that he had taught about Christianity in Seattle and performed Christian weddings. He also said that he was currently employed in a health club in Jerusalem that belongs to a Christian organization where he also proselytizes to Jews.
The lies revealed
Beyneynu, a nonprofit organization that monitors missionary activity in Israel, announced on Sunday that they had uncovered documented proof that the family had misrepresented themselves for the purpose of proselytizing to Jews. The organization had been investigating the family for about seven years after the family began to proselytize on social media. When confronted by Beyneynu, the father admitted that he was a missionary targeting Jews and promised to stop his activities. The organization monitored his activities but at one point, they disappeared, moving to the neighborhood of French Hill where they became entrenched in a new Haredi community.
After their new location was discovered, Beyneynu did not pursue the investigation openly fearing they would move yet again and set up operations in a new location. The father recently began removing signs of his activity from the internet.
The Hebrew-language Orthodox news site Bhadrei Haredim reported that Beyneynu chose to expose the family’s activities now after the 13-year old daughter told her classmates about “the man receives everyone, even of you make mistakes, he will still accept you.”
Shannon Nuszen, a spokesman for Beyneynu, explained the conclusion to Bhadrei Haredim:
“You cannot blame an entire family of being missionaries unless you can verify that the story is one-hundred percent accurate through precise investigation. [A false accusation] can do damage for several generations. We have to make sure that our warnings were correct. We consulted with rabbinic authorities. We investigated their family roots and discovered the bitter truth.”
Beyneynu also issued a statement:
“There are no signs that the family has Jewish roots. If they are now claiming this is the case, the father should bring proof to the Ministry of the Interior. We do not have access to the Ministry’s files but the information that was available to us and that we uncovered shows that this is the case.”
It was reported that the grandfather (father of the father) was buried in a non-Jewish cemetery in Carneys Point, New Jersey in 2006. An obituary identified him as a member of the Friendship Mennonite Church. Members of the deceased mother’s family, a brother and sister, were discovered still living in the US.
Proselytizing is legal in Israel and missionaries of all religious groups are allowed to proselytize all citizens; however, a 1977 law prohibits any person from offering material benefits as an inducement to conversion. It was also illegal to convert persons under 18 years of age unless one parent were an adherent of the religious group seeking to convert the minor.
Spiritually sabotaging Jews serving God
But aside from the legal issues pertaining to making aliyah under false pretenses, this particular case raises issues connected to a non-Jew entering a Jewish community under the guise of being a Jew. Jewish prayer is conducted in a minyan (a quorum of ten Jewish men) and certain sections of prayer, including reading from a Torah scroll, are added when a quorum is present. Adding these sections when the requisite minyan is not present might constitute transgressing the Biblical prohibition of saying the name of God in vain.
In addition, in this case, the non-Jewish man presented himself as a sofer stam (scribe). This involves writing holy material such as a mezuzah for doorposts, Torah scrolls, and tefillin. Jewish law pertaining to these holy writings is quite demanding and even if the actual letters are written accurately, the law requires these be written by a Torah observant Jewish man. If they are written by a non-Jew, even a non-Jew who observes the commandments, they are unfit. So in this case, Jews who purchased anything written by the impostor would believe they are performing the commandments but would, in fact, not be.
The impostor also claimed to be a mohel. It is not known whether he performed any circumcisions, a brit milah, a Torah commandment performed by the patriarchs, performed by a non-Jew would not be acceptable.
In addition, the man posed as a Kohen, a Jewish man descended from Aaron the priest. The Kohanim served in the Jewish Temples are destined to work in the Third Temple, but this status also has current-day implications. Kohanim bless the congregation and are also the recipients of the ritual coins in the commandment of redeeming the firstborn. Due to the importance of the role of the Kohen in the community, families are stringent in transmitting this tradition in the family, inscribing this status on the gravestones of the male members of the family.
There has also been a general outcry on social media from people who felt they were misled when asked to give charity to the family.
Perhaps most tragically, the mother was buried in a Jewish cemetery. The implications of this from both the Jewish side and the Christian side are still unclarified.
A long history of lies
Rabbi Ron-Ami Meyers, who teaches Torah online from his home in Ramat Beit Shemesh, was serving as the rabbi of Ezra Bessaroth in Seattle when he became aware of the activities of this impostor.
“There are Messianic congregations all over the US,” Rabbi Meyers told Israel365. “Most of the people in those congregations are Christians but some are Jews. They occasionally came to our synagogue, posing as Jews, and even took part in rituals that are exclusively for Jews.”
In order to protect his congregation from this infiltration, Rabbi Meyers began to investigate this phenomenon and became aware of the French Hill impostor. He contacted Beyneynu when he became aware of the impostor’s activities in Israel.
“I don’t know how much he was active in being a Kohen, sofer, or mohel in Israel,” Rabbi Meyers said. “He mostly worked teaching martial arts but was actively missionizing in that role. In that respect, he had a lot of contact with children. The wife had a lot of influence among the Haredi women and had a lot of friends.”
“In 2019, they wanted to leave Israel and go back to the states. They raised money in the Haredi community but we discovered that the wife also raised funds on Christian missionary sites. These are organizations that you need to renew your membership. They were living a double life, living as religious Jews in French Hill but also acting as part of the Christian evangelical community.”
Proselytizing is Jew-Hatred
Rabbi Tovia Singer has many years of experience dealing with Christian missionaries as the founder and director of Outreach Judaism. He noted that the revelation sent shockwaves through the Orthodox community.
“The community is in shock,” Rabbi Singer said. “They gave so much support and now they discover that everything about them, including the mother’s story of being the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, was a lie. To add insult to injury, while receiving help from the community under false pretenses, they were receiving money from Christian missionary organizations.”
“I work against missionaries who target Jews for conversion but I am not anti-Christian,” Rabbi Singer explained. “Missionaries are making well-worn attacks on Judaism using the same old accusations. I refute these attacks.”
Rabbi Singer has millions of viewers on YouTube so his message is clearly relevant.
“My responses should be meaningful to all Christians. One of my methods is to explain the actual text, exposing the intentional mistranslations and misconceptions about the Bible. Missionaries claim the Jews hide Isaiah 53 and that it doesn’t even appear in our Tanakh and I expose this as nonsense. The truth is that the Church intentionally falsified the translation. Missionaries know Isaiah 53 but have no idea how to understand Isaiah 52 or 54 properly.””
“The missionaries are presenting views and beliefs that are mainstream in all of evangelical Christianity which has in its essence a belief in converting Jews. The Muslims are not trying to convert Jews. The Catholics, the Greek Orthodox, no other religions are trying to convert Jews. It is only the evangelical fundamentalist. Missionaries are anti-Semitic. Other anti-Semites attack the Jews as individuals or as a people but the missionaries are attacking the Jewish faith and working to erase it from the planet. They make horrible claims about the rabbis conspiring, portraying Judaism as deceitful. They are engaging in libelous hate speech. Jews are featured in every story in the New Testament but we are portrayed as the bad guys. The New Testament is a polemic against Judaism.”
“Missionaries are motivated by the belief that Judaism is a defective, godless faith. They praise Judaism while accusing us of not being saved unless we cover ourselves in the blood of salvation.
“That is what I am fighting against and it is exclusively a fight against evangelical Christians because no one else is behaving like this. But at the same time, they are the biggest supporters of Israel.”
“Ironically, the evangelicals are the most likely to convert to Judaism or become Noahide,” Rabbi Singer said. “Jews for Jesus has triggered more converts to Judaism than any other movement on the planet.”