Elul 5762 – Missionaries and Investigating Other Religions

1 Elul 5762

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky,

I have a tough situation. I work as a physical therapy aide in a clinic that is very Christian. They have some posters on the walls of some Tehillim (in English of course) etc…. Most of the people who work there are either Christian or Catholic – except for me. It doesn’t really bother me much because it’s like being in any work force where the workers are not Jewish. The therapists keep their religious beliefs to themselves. However, this past week I got into this very interesting conversation with one of the therapists about religion. It all started when one of the clients asked this therapist what part of the bible he’s up to. This carried on into a long conversation between the two about the New Testament. Since I know nothing about it, I decided to sit down and listen in on what they had to say – just to find out about the New Testament and what it really says in it. After the patient left, the therapist started to ask me questions about Judaism – about mourning for the dead, Teshuva, and about what our view on this world is (I knew that answer thanks to your Mesilat Yesharim class!!) Then he asked the big question: What do I (as a Jew) think of Yeshka (he said his full name!). I said something along the lines of that I don’t really know much about him because he’s not part of our religion, but I know that he was Jewish to begin with, and he was bad because he strayed from Hashem and pulled others along with him! He said that he doesn’t understand why Jews hate him, if they don’t know anything about him! He told me that he used to be Catholic and that that didn’t do anything for him, so he went searching to find the religion that was best for him. He tried Islam, Judaism, and he stuck with Christianity. So he pretty much knows a lot about every religion.

He told me that if I were to read of the things that Yeshka did – all the miracles that he performed, I would have to believe in him. I said well I’ve never read the New Testament, but I don’t believe that he did all those things! To which he replied, “well how can you just throw something out the window before you even give it a chance!? You never even read the New Testament!!” He was basically trying to convince me to read the New Testament and tried to “convert me”. He said that he just would hate to see a good person like me not get resurrected when Yeshka comes back! I was like, “gee thanks!!” He tried to pull that shtick of taking verses out of context and misconstruing them to be references to Yeshka and his crucification, but I disclaimed the phrase he took from Tehillim! I didn’t want to continue the conversation because it had gone far enough, but then I said that we don’t believe that G-D has three parts and that there is only one G-D and not three! He said that the Trinity IS only one G-D and that the Trinity is just three different manifestations of G-d – the earthly representative, the evil inclination and G-D Himself! That’s what we believe too to a certain extent! And a lot of the things that Christianity preaches is VERY similar to that of Judaism – almost identical! I don’t for a second question my faith in Hashem, and I don’t Chas Veshalom have a doubt that Judaism is the true religion, but what are the exact points of differentiation between Christianity and Judaism? What are the fundamentals of Christianity and how do they differ from that of Judaism? Or is this something that I shouldn’t know about because it could lead to apikorsus?

Also, now that this therapist actually tried to convert me, (looking me in the eye the whole time and spoke very sincerely), I feel awkward working with him again. I used to look up to him a lot because he’s an awesome PT, he’s really smart, and he’s made many smart decisions in his life and he’s very responsible. But now, I feel weird because of this incident – maybe he intended to have this little “talk” with me since I started working there! That’s a little scary!! How do I go about my normal business working along side him as his aide now?! I feel very apprehensive to work with him again because of this-what advise can you give me so that I can go back to work and forget about what happened?!

Thank you for your time,

Shira Barr
Darchei Binah 5762

Dear Shira,

Great hearing from you. We spoke about missionaries in JemSem before and there is a piece I wrote about them in the archives.

As far as dealing in general with non-Jewish coworkers, I have a different piece I wrote about that.

But you are raising another point – namely how much do I need to study other religions? This is a common attack people come at frum Jews with – how do you know Judaism is right? Maybe Christianity, or Islam or Buddhism is correct? Why don’t you spend time researching them first before you make a decision?

The simplest answer I heard to this question was by Reb Noach Weinberg. We all know the chazal that tells us that just before a baby is born, an angel hits him on the upper lip, leaving an indentation. The baby then forgets all the Torah it learnt in utero. But why smack him there? There are plenty of better smacking areas available on a human body? The answer he gives is that when you begin the search for the truth, the first place to start is right under your nose. You were born a Jew and that is where your efforts should be placed.

Having said that, the point still deserves discussion. I am always intrigued by people who tell me they have researched Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc. This person must possess an unbelievable mind! I have been researching Judaism for over thirty years and have barely scratched the surface. How did his person research it, I wonder? From the time of Yisro to people like Rabbi Asher Wade and Ahuva Gray, former Christian ministers who have converted to Judaism, have felt that their research on the topic revealed the truth of Judaism.

Be that as it may, if something doesn’t seem to make sense, we aren’t obligated to research it unless there is serious evidence to support it. And millions of people who believe it without knowing what they’re talking about doesn’t constitute serious evidence. There was a time when people believed in Alchemy; how much time do I need to spend searching for the mythical Philosophers Stone that can turn metal into gold?

For your own piece of mind it is probably worthwhile to read something on the subject. I suggest a collection of essays on the topic by Aryeh Kaplan that was printed as a small book entitled “The Real Messiah”. I believe it’s a fascinating work.

Whatever you do, don’t engage this fellow in religious dialogue. Refuting missionaries is not your area of expertise and it’s silly to engage in it. And if this experience opened your eyes to some of the dangers of fraternizing with Non-Jewish co-workers, gam zu litova.

There are people who have admirable work in the fields of science, music, art, business, politics and many other endeavors who also happen to be antisemitic. That you admire his abilities as a PT is fine, learn all you can. But you don’t need to admire him as a person.

Keep strong and keep learning Torah the old fashioned way. If he starts with you again, hum to yourself that old ditty “Gimme That Old Timed Religion”. As the Ramban said, all our greatest sages rejected Yushka and his religion. I don’t have to be smarter than them.

Reb Chaim Brisker was once on a train when he overheard a priest trying to convert these three Jewish peasants. The priest quoted verses and cited proofs that Yushka was the true Messiah. The simple Jews responded that they weren’t scholars, but the sages of the Jewish people had been alive in the time of Yushka and they didn’t accept him.

The priest laughed and said “Your sages! How can you trust them? The greatest of your sages, Rebbe Akiva thought that Bar Kochba was the Messiah and he was wrong!” The three unlearned Jews grew confused and didn’t know what to say. Suddenly Reb Chaim turned around and asked the priest “how do you know that Bar Kochba wasn’t the Messiah?” “It’s obvious” the priest responded. “He didn’t fulfill any of the prophecies and was killed by the Romans!”

Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky