Among the many annoying emails and messages received from missionaries are those trying to convert me with such pithy comments as: "Jewish sounding name" (usually claimed to be a Rabbi or Orthodox Jew) became a Christian, so shouldn't you become a Christian, too?"
Why is it that missionaries think that "testimonies" by various formerly secular Jews would be persuasive in convincing Jews that they "know something" hidden from the rest of us Jews? Jews who become Christians tend to do so for one of a few reasons:
Furthermore, the Jews who of their own volition who become Christians tend to do so based on some personal "revelation" -- which the T'nach itself warns us time and time again to beware of! Personal revelations of "seeing" Jesus or Mohammad or whomever are a test from G-d, and He tells us this in the Torah. This warning is found in many places, but is shouted loud and clear in D'varim / Deuteronomy 13: "The entire word that I command you, that shall you observe to do; you shall not add to it and you shall not subtract from it.  If there should stand up in your midst a prophet or a dreamer of a dream, and he will produce to you a sign or a wonder,  and the sign or the wonder comes about, of which he spoke to you, saying "Let us follow G-ds of others that you did not know and we shall worship them!"  do not hearken to the words of that prophet or to that dreamer of a dream, for HASHEM, your G-d, is testing you to know whether you love HASHEM, your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul.  HASHEM, your G-d, shall you follow and Him shall you fear; His commandments shall you observe and to His voice shall you hearken; Him shall you serve and to Him shall you cleave."
Yesterday a Catholic began trolling me on my Gmail account -- bringing up first Rabbi Israel Zolli who was chief Rabbi of Rome (originally from Poland / Ukraine area) who became a Catholic after World War II. After Mussolini’s fall in 1943 the Nazis took over Rome, Zolli and his family went into hiding with a Catholic family saving his own skin, but leaving the Jews he supposedly led to the fate of the Nazis. The Jewish community of Rome was about 10,000 in 1943. The Germans deported 8,564 Jews from Italy, Italian-occupied France, and the islands of Rhodes and Kos, most of them to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Of the 8,564 deported only 1,009 survived.
Zolli and his family were safe -- they had run away to the safety of the Vatican, leaving the Jews to fend for themselves -- to live or die at the hands of the Nazis.
To make matters so much worse, Zolli didn't even destroy the synagogue registers making it easy for the Nazis to get a list of all the Jews in Rome! The Wikipedia article about Zolli says that “this list was used when they were gathered, deported, and murdered”.
In other words Zolli was not only an apostate but an immoral man who saved his own skin but did nothing to save his "flock."
It would have been easy for him to destroy the Synagogue records (or even take them with him into the Vatican) but he left the Jews of Rome to rot, to be deported to Nazi concentration camps. When the war ended Zolli tried to reclaim his position as the leader of the Jews of Rome. . . Needless to say he was rejected, and that is when he became a Catholic, claiming to have had a vision of Jesus on Yom Kippur no less!
Update 3/20/2020. In 2016 I wrote that the troll emailed me about a relative "new comer" to Catholicism named Jean-Marie Élie Setbon. Recently I received an email telling me:
"Setbon left Catholicism to join J4J and then left them too. Today he is no more a Christian, and last Purim he joined a Jewish mishte with his sons who are learning in an Orthodox yeshiva and his daughters, also in a Jewish institution."
I have not been able to confirm this message, but hope it is true. Setbon has a YouTube channel in French. I don't speak French, but the comments seem to indicate that Setbon is still Christian and the videos are as recent as this week -- so I do not know if he has made t'shuvah and returned to Judaism or not... Here is what I wrote in 2016:
Setbon (French) did not grow up in an observant home. From his own book (Amazon) "Jean-Marie Élie Setbon, the son of non-observant French Jews, was first attracted to Jesus when he saw a crucifix at a young age. He hid a crucifix in his room and contemplated it often, even though he knew his family would be hurt and angry if they ever caught him.
"Seeing the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur from his apartment window, he was drawn to the church, where he found himself powerfully pulled toward Jesus in the Eucharist. After several years of surreptitiously attending Mass, he resolved to convert to Catholicism in spite of the scandal it would cause, but G-d had other plans. . .
"My mother never celebrated Jewish feasts and fed us ham and pasta like any other French mother. At home, there was not a single Jewish book or object."
Note a few things. Seton says he was:
So he says he went from being non-observant to an "ultra-orthodox" Jew. No observant Jew would EVER use the term "ultra-orthodox" ergo he played at being observant but had little to no education. Uneducated is uneducated even if he played at being observant.
Per his own story he moved to Israel (Kibbutz) became observant (but it seems, not educated) but was still fascinated by Christianity. He married, had seven children, his wife died and then he falls into the trap G-d uses to test to see if people will truly be faithful to Him. "G-d, is testing you to know whether you love HASHEM, your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul.  HASHEM, your G-d, shall you follow and Him shall you fear; His commandments shall you observe and to His voice shall you hearken; Him shall you serve and to Him shall you cleave." D'varim / Deuteronomy 13:4.
Seton failed this very basic test of his faith. Per a book where he discusses his life and conversion to Catholicism Seton says that he had a mystical experience -- a vision of a deceased Catholic Cardinal (Lustiger). He goes so far as to say “I was illuminated. At last! In one instant I had become ready to throw away the Jewish Law.”
Return to D'varim / Deuteronomy 13:2-5: "[This is what you must do] when a prophet or a person who has visions in a dream arises among you. He may present you with a sign or miracle, and on the basis of that sign or miracle, say to you, 'Let us try out a different god. Let us serve it and have a new spiritual experience.' Do not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. G-d your L-rd is testing you to see if you are truly able to love G-d your L-rd with all your heart and all your soul. Follow G-d your L-rd, remain in awe of Him, keep His commandments, obey Him and serve Him, and you will then be able to have a true spiritual experience through Him."
Interesting engouh, Zolli (the rabbi from Rome) also claimed to have had a personal revelation. In 1917, when he was 36 years old, Zolli had the first in a series of mystical visions of Jesus. He claims to have based his conversion to Catholicism on these personal visions of Jesus. . . Again - a bit crazy perhaps, or perhaps being tested by G-d (as per D'varim / Deuteronomy 13:2-5:) and failing that test?
Folks -- people from all religions claim personal revelations. Mohammed claimed to have them. Joseph Smith claimed to have them. Insane people in mental hospitals claim to have them. Jerusalem in modern times is full of people who think they are Jesus (it is called "Jerusalem Syndrome"). Don't believe me that people of ALL religions (and some they make up on their own) are based on personal revelations? Just do a quick "Google" search.
Personal revelations mean NOTHING.
Again -- read D'varim / Deuteronomy 13:2-5: -- G-d is TESTING you to see if you are going to be led by your own heart to idolatry or if you will follow His Torah.
If only Seton had read the words of the Torah and observed them, rather than leaping from secular Judaism into (as he says) one form of Jewish observant life to only drop it for yet another. . . to then reject both not truly understanding Judaism at all for the idolatry of Catholicism.
Amazing how Jewish so many converts to Christianity have limited to no true Jewish education and always have some sort of individual "rapture" like emotional experience. The Torah warns us to not be swayed by personal visions and revelations -- all religions except for Judaism are based on personal revelations, yet converts like Setbon all desert G-d for their own personal visions. He claims to been given a semicha by a French yeshiva (thus making him a rabbi) but how could he claim that and make a statement such as this: "Jewish prayers are so codified that there is no place for spontaneous prayer. . . There is no filial relationship, no simple heart-to-heart with G-d."
This is totally false!
Totally, completely and utterly false!
D'varim / Deuteronomy 11:3 tells us to serve Him with all our heart!
How can Seton claim to have been a religious Jew, a rabbi no less, and not know this very basis of Judaism???
As the Chabad website puts it so well "Anytime you share whatever is on your heart with your Creator—whether praising, blessing, kvetching or requesting—you are davening. It could happen at any time, at any place, as long as it comes from the heart’s genuine concerns and the mind’s awareness of a higher presence."
Jews speak to G-d from our hearts constantly -- for Seton to deny this shows a complete ignorance of the most basic parts of Judaism! This man who apparently jumped from secularism to one form of Judaism to another and then to Catholicism (apparently always having been attracted to Christianity per his own words) knew absolutely nothing about the religion he decided to leave behind for his emotional "vision" of a dead cardinal.
Mental illness perhaps? Ignorance, surely -- ignorance of the Torah, the very heart of Judaism.
Why are people led to desert Judaism, swayed by their own emotions? The Torah tells us that G-d tests us all, and that we are tested to see if we will follow our own hearts, our own inclinations -- or will we remain faithful and loyal to G-d?
D'varim / Deuteronomy 11:16: "Be careful that your heart not be tempted to go astray and worship other G-ds, bowing down to them."
D'varim / Deuteronomy 29: "Perhaps there is among you a man, woman, family, or tribe, whose heart strays this day from HaShem, our G-d, to go and worship the deities of those nations. Perhaps there is among you a root that produces hemlock and wormwood. 18. And it will be, when he [such a person] hears the words of this oath, that he will bless himself in his heart, saying, "I will have peace, even if I follow my heart's desires,". . .19. HaShem will not be willing to forgive him; rather, then, HaShem's fury and His zeal will fume against that man, and the entire curse written in this book will rest upon him, and HaShem will obliterate his name from beneath the heavens. 20. And HaShem will separate him for evil. . ."
and perhaps most important of all D'varim / Deuteronomy 13: "The entire word that I command you, that shall you observe to do; you shall not add to it and you shall not subtract from it.  If there should stand up in your midst a prophet or a dreamer of a dream, and he will produce to you a sign or a wonder,  and the sign or the wonder comes about, of which he spoke to you, saying "Let us follow G-ds of others that you did not know and we shall worship them!"  do not hearken to the words of that prophet or to that dreamer of a dream, for HASHEM, your G-d, is testing you to know whether you love HASHEM, your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul.  HASHEM, your G-d, shall you follow and Him shall you fear; His commandments shall you observe and to His voice shall you hearken; Him shall you serve and to Him shall you cleave."
Seton seems to have been a secular Jew who jumped in the deep end without ever truly understanding Judaism. As the prophet Hosea wrote "My people has been eliminated for lack of knowledge; for you have spurned knowledge and I will spurn you from serving Me; and as you have forgotten the Torah of your G-d, I too, will forget your children." Hosea 4:6.
The stories of Christians who left it behind to convert to Judaism are the opposite of the Jews who join the church. I listed quite a few former priests, nuns, ministers, etc. who chose Judaism in this blog post.
To the trolls out there: please do not bombard me with stories of those who desert Judaism as if it is some kind of "proof" that Christianity is true. Either do some research on your own, or ask me questions about them -- but those who "preach" at me will be blocked. Judaism is the only religion based not on personal revelations, but on national revelation. G-d spoke to the entire nation (3 million people) and made a contract with us Jews -- warning us that any other religious experience we did not know at Sinai was false and not to be fooled by them. D'varim / Deuteronomy 4:32-33 "You might inquire about times long past, from the day that G-d created man on earth, [exploring] one end of heaven to the other. Has there ever been anything like this great thing or has anything like it been heard? Has a people ever heard the voice of G-d speaking from the midst of the fires as you have heard, and survived?"
The bible tells us clearly that no one can die for our sins. We are each responsible for our own actions. Read D'varim / Deuteronomy 24:16 "Fathers shall not die [through the testimony] of their sons, and sons shall not die [through the testimony] of their fathers, since [in any case] every man shall die for his sins."
G-d's judging of us is done as a father correcting his child -- in the hope that the child learns and becomes a better person.
"The wicked shall give up his way, and the man of iniquity his thoughts, and he shall return to HaShem, Who shall have mercy upon him, and to our G-d, for He will freely pardon." Y'shayahu / Isaiah 55:7.
"Do I desire the death of the wicked? says HaShem G-d. Is it not rather in his repenting of his ways that he may live?" Y'chezkel / Ezekiel 18:23.
When G-d judges us, He does so with mercy. As King David once said "let us fall now into the hand of HaShem; for His mercies are great; but into the hand of man let me not fall." Shmuel 2 / 2 Samuel 24:14.
Yet many missionaries will grasp onto the Jewish concept that "the death of the righteous atones" and try to equate this concept to "Jesus dying for your sins." For example, Michael Brown's Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus Volume 2, page 156 - 157 goes to great pains to equate the death of the righteous atoning with Jesus' death being an atoning sacrifice.
Since the bible forbids anyone dying as a sacrifice for the sins of another (again, note D'varim / Deuteronomy 24:16) what does it mean when Jews say that "the death of the righteous atones"?
It certainly does not mean, as Christians insist with Jesus, that G-d required (let alone wanted) the death of Jesus to somehow wipe out the sins of OTHER people! Read T'hillim / Psalm 116:15 "Grievous in the eyes of the L-rd is the death of His pious ones."
The Christian concept of vicarious atonement is completely foreign to Judaism. Yet, it is at the very heart of Christianity which says there is no atonement without believing in Jesus. While some Christians think repentance is part of their atonement (not all do), the primary requirement is to "believe" in Jesus as dying for your sins.
Jews say that repentance (being truly sorry for what you did) is at the heart of atonement. G-d forgives those who turn to Him and seek forgiveness (both from those they wrong and G-d) and to try to not repeat the sins. Atonement is an ongoing process througout our lives -- and it is for a reason. Only through making mistakes, getting up and learning from them, do we grow in knowledge, wisdom and holiness.
Do you see why no one else can do it for you?
When man repents, G-d forgives.
Read Bamidbar / Numbers 35:33 "And you shall not corrupt the land in which you live, for the blood corrupts the land, and the blood which is shed in the land cannot be atoned for except through the blood of the one who shed it."
Thus Jesus' blood could not atone for anything -- human blood corrupts the land!
Read D'varim / Deuteronomy 24:16 "Fathers shall not be put to death because of sons, nor shall sons be put to death because of fathers; each man shall be put to death for his own transgression." and M'lachim / II Kgs 14:6 "But the sons of the assassins he did not execute, as it is written in the book of the Torah of Moses, which the Lord commanded saying: "Fathers shall not be put to death for sons, nor shall sons be put to death for fathers, but each man shall be put to death for his own sin." and Yirmiyahu / Jeremiah 31:29 [30 in Christian Bibles] "But each man shall die for his iniquity; whoever eats the unripe grapes- his teeth shall be set on edge." Along with these read Y'chezkel / Ezekiel 18 and T'hillim / Psalm Ps 49:7 -- all state clearly that we are responsible for our own sins, no one can die for your sins and human blood (sacrifice) is forbidden -- human blood corrupts the land.
Which brings us back to -- if no one can die for your sins and vicarious atonement is forbidden what DO Jews mean when we say that the death of the righteous atones? The Talmud, Moed Katan 28a, says: "The death of the righteous atones [for the generation]”.
The examples of B'reshit / Genesis 9:5-6 and Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:5 show that a key belief of Christianity -- that you have to have faith in Jesus to have your sins forgiven -- are rejected by those two examples, and so many others. There is no concept of "belief" in the T'nach or rabbinical writings that even comes close to a core belief of Christianity -- belief in Jesus for atonement.
To read more on this topic Mesora has an interesting article entitled "Atonement: Jesus Dying for Sins vs Death of the Pious Atoning." Also read "The Rabbinic Concept of the Death of the Righteous Atones" by R' Moshe Shulman. In the latter the Rabbi makes one more excellent point on which I will close this blog post: "There is another issue of significance that needs to be kept in mind when looking at the Rabbinic teachings. This is the distinction between ‘national’ sin and individual sin. The idea of national sin appears throughout the prophets and the basis for it is found in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 where God says that he will punish the nation if they sin and do not follow His commandments. This involves the suffering of the nation and eventual exile from the land of Israel. Individual sin, on the other hand, effects the individual alone in this world and also the next.
What I believe will become obvious after examining these passages is that with regards to individuals and the death of the righteous, we are dealing with atonement, in the normally understood manner, which is type 1 above; and that under specific circumstances an individual’s sins are atoned for. With regards to Israel and its national sin, it is atonement as in the 2nd type, where it has to do with the suffering of Israel as a community."