A book about Jesus by a “Messianic Jewish” preacher and author has been showing up in local mailboxes to the chagrin of Jewish recipients and the Anti-Defamation League.
Author Sid Roth claims to have mailed 125,000 copies of his 2009 self-published book, They Thought for Themselves — Ten Amazing Jews, to Jewish homes in New York, New Jersey, and several New England states.
Typical of those profiled in the book is a paralyzed Israeli man who purportedly regains his ability to walk after accepting “Yeshua” — Jesus — as the messiah.
Etzion Neuer, director of the ADL’s New Jersey office, said he has received complaints from Orthodox Jews in Essex, Ocean, and Bergen counties as well as from members of Reform and Conservative congregations in those and other areas of New Jersey.
“Although such action is totally legal, I find it deeply offensive and deceitful,” the ADL leader told NJ Jewish News.
Among the recipients were members of Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob and David, an Orthodox synagogue in West Orange.
“I received a couple of phone calls, and one of my congregants was so upset. She started reading it and didn’t know what it was,” said Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler.
“In the beginning it seems to be a religious kind of book, and there doesn’t seem to be anything not Jewish about it,” Zwickler said. “But after reading deeper, she became so distraught. It was so misleading. It presented itself as being authentically Jewish but turned out to be totally messianic.”
In a March 23 e-mail to Jewish community leaders, Neuer wrote that the ADL “has always held that a campaign to convert Jews away from their faith is a serious affront to the Jewish people.”
“First and foremost, they say ‘Judaism is not complete or is misguided.’ I think it is anti-Jewish,” Neuer told NJJN. “Of course he has the right to do this, but people like Roth deliberately blur the lines between Christianity and Judaism by mixing religious symbols to distort their meaning.”
Roth heads “Messianic Vision,” a ministry based in Brunswick, Ga., that is intended to “boldly proclaim Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.” He told NJJN that he doesn’t consider his activities misleading.
“I’m a Jew. Why would I want to convert Jews to not being Jews? The fact that one believes in the Jewish messiah doesn’t make them a bad Jew. It makes them a good Jew,” Roth told NJJN in a phone interview March 25. “I understand what they’re saying, but I think I have a very super hyper-conscience, and I don’t believe I’m being deceitful.”
Roth said he obtained mailing addresses from a list broker who provided “one million Jewish people in North America.” He declined to identify the broker.
Roth said he plans to send out “as many books as God provides the money for.”
When the book arrived in the West Orange mailbox of Sheba Mittelman, her first impression was to find out “who is this person who is giving me a gift I didn’t ask for and how did they get my name? There was no solicitation of funds that came with it — just a mailing.”
She Googled Roth, she said, “and when I found out who he was, I tossed it. It is a little unnerving because I don’t know how he got my name or my husband Stanley’s name. The text is not going to change my mind, but for people who aren’t knowledgeable, they don’t see right away where he is coming from. He is trying to cloak messianic Judaism in mainstream Judaism, and it’s not right. That is my concern.”
Rabbi Steven Bayar, of the Conservative Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn said he wasn’t aware of any congregants receiving the book.
But Bayar himself had dealings with Roth that date back 20 years, when Bayar was a rabbi at Mishkan Torah Synagogue in Greenbelt, Md.
“He wants the people who get his mailings to be freaked out,” Bayar said, “because if they’re freaked out they’ll respond, and if they respond he will get attention, and if they give him attention he will get credibility because he’ll say, ‘The Jewish community thinks I’m a threat, and if I’m a threat they’ll have to fight me.’ That is his tactic.”
David Lentz, chair of the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, said, “We are profoundly disturbed and angered that we remain targeted for proselytizing by people claiming Jewish heritage and lineage. Other Christian communities and organizations long ago gave up on similar efforts to convert us. We will withstand and overcome this challenge as well.”