Apr 032014
 

Occasionally we get inquiries from Christians who would like to buy a tallit or even wear tzitzit. In fact, I know from one of the tallit distributors I work with that Judaica stores in downtown Jerusalem sell a lot of tallits to Christian tourists. Usually they sell inexpensive synthetic (acrylan) tallits which presumably are bought more as a souvenir and maybe for very occasional use.

Sometimes I have a hunch that an email inquiry is coming from a Christian. For example, this message:

I’m looking for a tallit that’s sewn like a shirt. Would you help me? I’m still a novice, but I’m learning.

To be honest, I’m not really clear what type of shirt he is referring to. We do sell tzitzit t-shirts, but presumably he has something very different in mind. It turns out his guru is a certain Kirt Schneider, who has never gone to yeshiva, but claims to be a rabbi. He was born and raised Jewish, but somewhere along the way turned to Christianity.

According to Rabbi Tuvia Singer, so-called Messianic synagogues like the one Schneider leads are essentially “a form of consumer fraud. They blur the distinctions between Judaism and Christianity in order to lure Jewish people who would otherwise resist a straightforward message.”

Rabbi Singer, 45, who studied at Mir Yeshiva, hosts a radio talk show and heads Outreach Judaism, an organization that counters efforts by Messianic Jewish groups aiming to convert Jews. He says Messianic Jews and Jews for Jesus and Messianic Jews often leverage today’s “deep interest” among some Christians to delve into the shared roots of Judaism and Christianity.

“I welcome the Mormon who knocks on the door representing himself honestly as a Mormon,” says Rabbi Singer. “But are you going to have ‘vegetarians for hamburgers?’ or ‘Buddhists for Muhammed’? What sense does that make? It’s the same with Jews for Jesus.”

“Judaism teaches the righteousness of all nations, that all have a place in the world to come. One does not have to be Jewish to be right by God,” Rabbi Singer said. “The notion of Christianity, the fundamental teachings of church fathers, is that if you’re not a Christian, you’re not saved. The fundamental teaching of Islam is that if you’re not Muslim, you’re lost. The fundamental teaching of Judaism is that God loves all mankind, that every human being is created in the image of God. The Jew has a special role in the world that is unique. We’re here to be a light to the world. That is our mandate. But we do not have a closer relationship to God than the gentiles do.”

I’m a bit undecided on how to approach the question of Christians who want to wear a tallit or tzitzit. The topic is discussed in halacha in a more general sense (see Rambam, Hil. Tzitzit, 3, 9), but may be less relevant for this specific issue. I have discussed the matter with eminent rabbis and found there is some room to provide tzitzit to Christians, under certain circumstances. My question is whether it’s a good idea. For example, if I were to sell tzitzit to a clergyman who heads a Messianic synagogue, could I be aiding and abetting him in leading Jews astray?

Several years ago I discovered a tzitzit order I received would be going to the head of a Messianic congregation. I wrote to him as follows:

I regret to inform you that I will not be filling your tallit katan order. After taking a glance at what Beit Shalom is all about, I’ve decided I cannot contribute in any way to individuals active in such an organization.

I sense that you are earnest in seeking out Hashem, but have been unable to set aside certain ideas that are clearly anathema to Torah and to the open revelations in Egypt and on Mt. Sinai. At the same time I am confident that eventually you will set aside that mode of thinking and fully accept the yoke of Heaven, whether as a righteous adherent to the Seven Noahide Laws or as a Jew. If you are honest in your search, Hashem will show you the proper path.

You should receive notice of a full refund within 48 hours.

I don’t know whether that was a very intelligent approach to deal with the situation, but it turns out that apparently my message was directed from Above and had a very positive outcome:

B”H

Ben,
Thank you so much for saying these words to me back in July. I’m happy to tell you I’ve rejected those ideas and am beginning my search to convert to Torah Judaism. I’ve started a blog to talk about me rejecting Christianity/Messianic Judaism and turning to Hashem.
I’d appreciate your davening for me, my wife and son as we are facing a great deal of adversity because of this decision.
Recently I recounted this exchange to a prominent Jewish blogger, who wrote to me, “I’m glad this worked out the way it appears to have worked out, but I wouldn’t be so sure that this approach will necessarily be effective again in the future.” I think he’s probably right.

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