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Q and A with Fr Flader: Have many Jews become Christians in our time?

Fr John Flader
Fr John Flader
Fr Flader is an American-born priest who arrived in Australia in 1968. A former director of the Catholic Adult Education Centre in Sydney, he has written Question Time for The Catholic Weekly since 2005. Submit your question here. Fr Flader blogs at fatherfladerblog.com.
The effort of Jewish converts to bring other Jews into the Church has a long history, going back to the very beginning of the Church. Photo: Unsplash

Dear Father, I was delighted to read your column on the conversion of Jews, including in our own day. Are there many Jews becoming Christians these days?

Roy Shoeman, in his book Salvation is from the Jews, explains that in recent decades there have been many Jews becoming Christians, seeing it as the fulfilment of their Jewish faith.

Shoeman’s book was published in 2003, so 20 more years have passed and the number has increased substantially since then.

The effort of Jewish converts to bring other Jews into the Church has a long history, going back to the very beginning of the Church.

We should remember that Jesus himself was a Jew, having been circumcised eight days after his birth, presented in the temple 40 days after his birth, taken to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover every year by his parents, and going to the synagogue on Saturdays.

But he was also the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah, whose mission was to bring Judaism to its fulfilment in Christianity.

In the prophecy of Jeremiah, God says: “My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray” (Jer 50:6).

The Jews understood that the Messiah would come to gather those lost sheep and lead them to good pasture.

Jesus, who fulfilled the prophecy, called himself the good shepherd and he said to the Canaanite woman: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 15:24). His first mission was to preach the Gospel to the Jews.

Jesus instructed his apostles too to, “go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Mt 10:6-7).

The apostles were, of course, Jews who discovered that Jesus was the Messiah. They spent their lives preaching that truth, first to their fellow Jews.

On the very day of Pentecost, St Peter preached to the thousands of Jews gathered in Jerusalem for the feast, telling them that “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).

That very day three thousand were converted and baptised, and a few days later the number had risen to five thousand (cf. Acts 2:37-41; 4:4).

St Paul, at first a fervent Jew and Pharisee, wrote to the Romans that he would be willing to give up his own relationship with Christ in order to convert his fellow Jews

“I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh,” St Paul wrote.

“They are Israelites, and to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed for ever” (Rom 9:2-5).

In the 16th century, when the printing press was invented, Jewish converts translated the New Testament into their native languages of Hebrew and Yiddish to help Jews discover the Christian faith.

In 1808, Joseph Frey founded the London Society for Promoting Christianity among Jews. In 1824, Rabbi Michael Alexander became the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem and he established a training centre for Jewish Christian missionaries.

In 1893, in Britain, David Baron founded the missionary organisation Hebrew Christian Testimony to Israel.

In more recent times, in 1913 Arthur Kuldell founded the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America, and 20 years later Leon Levison founded the International Hebrew Christian Alliance.

In 1965 Carmelite Jewish convert Fr Elias Friedman began what would become the Association of Hebrew Catholics and in 1976 Redemptorist convert Father Arthur Klyber founded a community of Jewish Catholics called the Remnant of Israel.

In the Protestant denominations converts in similar groups are known as Messianic Jews.

Shoeman estimates that before 1967 there were only a few thousand Jewish Christians in the U.S., but by the mid-1970s Time magazine put the number at over 50,000. In 1993 the number had grown to 160,000, with some 350,000 worldwide.

In 2013 a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found there were about 1.6 million adult Jewish Christians in the US, most of them Protestant.

This is a very significant number, especially compared with the approximately 7.5 million Jews in the country at that time.

So yes, the number of Jews converting to Christianity is large. And growing.

The Catholic Weekly wishes to congratulate Fr John Flader on 900 columns! We thank you on behalf of all Catholics around Australia and the world who have been informed, entertained and edified by your work. Ad multos annos!

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