Mendelssohn and Missionaries

The Thousand-Year View


By N.S. Palmer

How should we as Jews respond to Christian missionaries?

Many Jews see Christian evangelism as a threat. Even though staunch Christians are our strongest defenders, their motives are obvious. They believe that the return of Jews to Israel presages the second coming of Jesus, whom they wrongly identify as the Jewish Messiah and (in our view) blasphemously identify as God.

Often in our history, our Gentile supporters have assumed that if they were nice to us instead of persecuting us, we’d abandon our faith and convert to Christianity. We got that treatment a lot in 18th and 19th-century Poland, Austria, and Russia.

The German Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (1729 -1786), hailed as “the Socrates of Berlin,” had the same problem. On two occasions, well-meaning Gentiles who admired his writing publicly challenged him either to refute their Christian arguments or convert.

Mendelssohn felt he had to respond to the challenges…

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