Jewish Evangelism Then and Now part 2

In the mid 1950s, a group of Dallas Theological Seminary students undertook a survey of missions to the Jews to ascertain who was employed in the field, where they were employed and the nature and character of their work. They surveyed North American missions and evangelistic agencies in the United States and Canada, and also listed missionaries sent by the North American agencies from foreign countries, mostly Israel and South America.

I have forgotten much of what was recorded in that survey, but I remember that the total number of missionaries was 365. It should be noted that most mission boards in this survey counted a husband and a wife each as missionaries, even if the wife was not formally employed. This was not true of the American Board of Missions to the Jews, also known as Beth Sar Shalom and now known as Chosen People Ministries. In the mid-1950s they were, by far, the largest of the Jewish mission organizations and listed some 65 staff.

New York City had by far the most people employed in Jewish evangelism but Chicago came in a strong second. Curiously, there were also workers in places like Des Moines, Iowa; Portland, Oregon, and many other cities with lesser Jewish populations. Some of these cities had more personnel than the larger Jewish centers.

The DTS survey did not include certain key factors such as where each missionary had been born. The European-born missionaries to the Jews generally had more by way of language skills and a better education than those born in America. With the rise of Hitler, certain missionaries to the Jews throughout Europe moved to Great Britain and the United States; these were the more experienced, better educated missionaries. There also was a big difference between the younger staff and the older staff in shaping the character of missions.

In those days there was a strong tension between Jewish and Gentile types of missions. Believe it or not, some mission organizations actually boasted that they had no Jews on staff! Harry Bucalstein, a dear friend, brother and fellow minister, told me that he had been employed as a secretary by Nathanial House in Chicago. In the course of typing the resolutions of their Board of Directors, Harry was stunned to discover that the board had resolved never to have a Jewish Christian as their director! Harry was a student at Moody Bible Institute at the time. He really needed that job, but as soon as he finished typing the resolution, he also typed his resignation.

I am pleased to say that most of the tension between Jewish and Gentile missions no longer exists.

Missionary Minds

Most of the older missionaries were fluent in Yiddish, even though some who lacked a Jewish background learned the language after they became missionaries. Most Jewish missionaries had a working knowledge of Hebrew from being raised in the Jewish religion, and they made use of it to tell of the gospel.

The missionary ranks of that generation included numerous scholars of Hebrew and Scripture. Two of the many who deserve mention are A.J. Kligerman and his illustrious son-in-law, Arthur Kac. Together, they contributed numerous scholarly articles and very effective books. Many Christians know the name Jacob Joczs, but comparatively few know of his brother, Paul Yates. Paul Yates was a student of rabbinics and Scripture, but most of all he was a superb general missionary in the San Francisco Bay Area for some 40 years. Then there were Morris Zutrau, Moses Gitlin and dozens, if not hundreds, of others who could be mentioned. But the last in that line of rabbinical scholars who were effective for the gospel was the beloved Rachmiel Frydland. He was a brilliant yeshiva (school of higher Jewish education) student who came to faith just before the Germans marched into Poland. These European-born Jews argued effectively from Scripture, as well as from Jewish sources such as the Talmud and Responsa, to make the case for Jesus.

Others were not yeshiva trained but still embodied Jewish spirit, such as Fred Kendal and Immanuel Gittell. The archetype of the scholar/missionary would be David Braunstein Sr. of Chicago. He conducted two divergent missions and pastored what would now be called a messianic congregation.

These were the nobility of Jewish missions, God’s captains, but He also had His privates, corporals and a few sergeants.

Women in the Missionary Ranks

At any given time, there were probably more single women missionaries in Jewish Evangelism than there were men. The female missionaries of that generation did not fit the stereotypical caricature of stern prudishness. They generally wore nice clothes and their hairdos were not especially severe; they went about their work looking like business people. It was just about 1955 when the American Board of Missions to the Jews decided to furnish automobiles to all of its missionaries. Some of the single women did not know how to drive and it was up to the brothers like myself, who had the time, to teach them and take them for their driver’s license examinations.

Nevertheless, if women were partners in mission, in those days they were treated like junior partners. For example, Hilda Koser built a work in Coney Island that had 200 people, almost all Jewish, worshiping with her on Sunday mornings. Yet this body couldn’t be called a congregation or its worship a church service. Instead, it was called a Sunday school. And though Miss Koser was quite a capable teacher and a rousing preacher, she was not the principal teacher at the Sunday service which she had built. The service featured Dr. Henry Heydt, a Gentile scholar and the former president of Lancaster School of the Bible.

The attitude of the mission leaders of that day seemed to be, Women can do work of which they’re capable in the mission, as long as they know their place.”

Stay tuned for more on the changing world of Jewish evangelism as we continue our series, Jewish Evangelism—Then and Now.


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