In times past, we have sometimes offered advice on witnessing by publishing a “What do I say when they say?” column. We’ve also invited our readers to submit their questions in that form.
As Moishe has mused over one reader’s questions, he revised the format slightly in order to give a more meaningful answer. So, instead of “What do I say . . .” we’ll look at “What should I understand when my friend says . . .”
Question: What should I understand when my atheist friend says he’s a Jew?
Answer: Understand that, to your Jewish friend, being a Jew is a lot more than accepting a bundle of doctrines that describe belief. In fact, for most Jews, being Jewish has a more ethnic sense: it has to do with belonging to a certain people rather than believing in God.
Rabbis explain that Judaism is a religion of deed rather than a religion of creed: Jewish people are taught that what you do is more important than what you believe.
Question: What should I understand when my Gentile friend, who attends a synagogue, says he’s a Jew?
Answer: This Gentile friend could be under the same misapprehension as you might have been regarding your Jewish friend’s announcement that he’s an atheist. Your Gentile friend may think that being a Jew is a matter of declaring a set of beliefs. After all, one becomes a Christian by confessing Christ openly, so they may feel there is a Jewish equivalent by which they can identify. The fact of the matter is that most Jewish people would be suspicious of those who want to — and think that they can — be Jews just by saying so. Of course, people have a right to identify themselves in whatever terms they want. Still, when a person says they’re a sofa, you’d better not try to sit on them. They might take offense.
Question: What should I understand when my friend, who was raised in a supposedly Christian family, says that she has converted to Judaism (Kabbalah)? Now she’s very anti-Christian.
Answer: This is sad. You probably want to say what I would want to say: “Wake up! Join reality!” Or, “No matter what you believe, Jesus is still the promised Messiah in fulfillment of the Old Testament and the New Testament.” That’s what I want to say to her. But she’s already predisposed herself to reject that.
Gentiles regularly convert to Judaism; they usually do it because of marriage. But some go through a search. I think that I might ask a leading question that would cause her to think: “When did you discover Christianity to be untrue?” I think that you’ll find that there was a process that began with doubt, and that doubt was fed and strengthened by someone.
Let me say that a Christian should always be kind. A Christian should always treat a person as though their profession is sincere. A Christian should understand that many people think that they have experienced Christ, and then turned away. But so far as I’m concerned, once you’ve tasted the goodness of God, it would be impossible to turn away and say that something else was true.