Missionaries in the Neighborhood
This is not the first time missionaries have passed through our community. Earlier this year, many in our community opened their doors to find a copy of the Bible as a gift. Though at least the first half of the book was very familiar and indeed was a translation of our Holy Torah, I instructed those who asked to throw it in the garbage nonetheless. The Shulchan Aruch is clear that a written or printed Bible is only as holy as the individual that wrote or printed it.
One Shabbos morning a few weeks ago, , I walked into Shul and was alerted to the presence of an unusual person in the Hashkama minyan. On the surface he appeared like he belonged, as he wore a yarmulka and tallis and held a siddur in his hand. However, once I struck up a conversation with him, it became immediately clear that, in fact, he had ulterior motives. The man began lecturing me on Jesus and what I must believe if I am to have an afterlife. Rather than engage him, I simply asked him to leave and told him he was entirely unwelcome in our Synagogue and community. After taking our tallis and yarlmulka back, I let him know that if I find out he is hanging around our neighborhood, we will do everything in our power to have him removed.
The problem or phenomenon of foreign believers seeking to “convert” us is not new. Indeed, the mishna in Pirkei Avos warns us, “Da ma l’hashiv l’apikorsim, know what to respond to heretics.” We must take this dictum seriously andbe prepared ourselves as well as prepare our children for sophisticated theological discussions that may happen on our doorsteps or in their college dormitories. However, that said, I strongly recommend not engaging missionaries should they come around again. Simply tell them, “I wish you only well, but neither I nor our community are interested in what you are selling. Please leave our community immediately.”
In Judaism, we don’t believe in missionizing or proselytizing. We welcome anyone to join our people if they sincerely accept the responsibility of an observant lifestyle and accept the tenants of our faith. However, as willing as we are to accept converts, we don’t seek them out and don’t recruit or solicit candidates.
However, there is one group that we do passionately seek to share our beliefs, our lifestyle and our heritage with – namely, our fellow Jews. If there is something we can learn from missionaries, it is the enthusiasm and devotion with which they seek to spread something they find so precious and dear. While we don’t proselytize to non-Jews, we absolutely should seek to share the beauty of Torah and the meaning of mitzvos with our fellow Jews.
Unlike missionaries who advance arguments, seek to bring proofs, and aggressively pressure their listener to accept their beliefs, we subscribe to an altogether different approach. As Rabbi Broide reminds us often, “Inspire yourself to inspire others.” Our vision for outreach is not to compel or convince, but to inspire and invite. Our mission is to educate, not to indoctrinate. Our calling is to gently and warmly expose our fellow Jews to a Judaism that is meaningful, purposeful and deeply satisfying.
As we have just concluded the holiday of Shavuos and with it renewed our commitment to the Torah, let’s remember that the greatest love we can show Torah is to share it and spread it to others and not keep it to ourselves.
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