Flyers distributed around Squirrel Hill advertising “Passover Worship” led by “Messianic rabbis” are the latest effort by a Christian evangelical organization to proselytize to Pittsburgh’s Jewish community.
Messianic Jews, even those not affiliated with the group, are also known by many as “Jews for Jesus.”
The flyers, distributed by the messianic City Reach Church, invited community members “to worship with Jews and Christians” at an event on April 15 at the Fourth Presbyterian Church.
Gregg Roman, director of the Community Relations Council for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, recommended that Jews not interact with the City Reach Church.
“We recommend the community doesn’t engage with them, enter into debate with them and certainly not share any personal details with them,” he said.
The April 15 event had previously been advertised for Pittsburgh Allderdice High School, but the location had to be changed because of construction taking place at the school on that date, according to Pastor Dan O’Neil of City Reach Church.
But City Reach Church holds services regularly on Sundays in the auditorium of Allderdice, said O’Neil. On most Sundays, the church attracts a group of about 30 people, seven of whom are “ethnically Jewish.”
All branches of Judaism — including Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist — have publicly rejected the Jews for Jesus movement as a legitimate expression of Judaism, said Roman.
“They are actively trying to mislead Jews with aggressive proselytization,” he said. “There is a difference between passive worship and active proselytizing. The CRC is unequivocally committed to the free exercise of religion and the rights to free speech and assembly.
“However, we firmly reject the deceptive efforts employed by groups like Jews for Jesus to misrepresent themselves through the use of Jewish symbols, Jewish music and Jewish language,” he added. “Their approach is extremely deceptive.”
Lately, the community has seen an increased aggressiveness by certain missionary groups, said Roman.
“It’s a matter of concern locally for the Jewish community,” he said. “They are misrepresenting themselves as Jews to enhance their proselytizing efforts. They try to convert vulnerable populations and target immigrants, youth and the elderly in nursing homes.”
“It is unacceptable for them to give the impression that one can be Jewish and accept Jesus as the Messiah,” he continued.
The local CRC’s effort to combat proselytization in Pittsburgh is in line with the efforts of CRC’s across the country that are doing the same, said Roman.
“This effort to mask Christianity as Judaism is no less than spiritual deception,” he said.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)