by Sharon Alen
Born in 1945 at Beth Israel Hospital in New York City, with my Hebrew name Sura Rifka and raised in an observant Jewish home, I grew up knowing who I was within the Jewish Community. From the moment my mom lit the Shabbos (Sabbath) candles on Friday evening until one hour after sundown on Saturday night, there were certain rules and regulations that we followed. They did not make us feel constricted or oppressed. It was our way of showing our love, our respect, and our devotion to God. Of course, my mother kept a kosher kitchen where only kosher foods were permitted. We observed all the Jewish holidays. My brother and I attended Hebrew School.
As a young adult, I married a man from a similar Jewish background. We had a daughter, whom we named Elisa. When she was only a few years old, we divorced. Elisa had an allergy problem that was worse during the damp winter months. Moving out of state seemed like a step in the right direction. We moved to Los Angeles and after that we moved south to Orange County. I started to work in an office owned by a man named Ron Allen. He was to become my husband.
Business Was His Religion
When Ron and I first met, he knew I was Jewish and that I was raised in an observant Jewish home. All I knew about Ron’s religious background was that he was a Protestant. He never mentioned Jesus, the New Testament, or church. If he had, I would have run in the opposite direction. Apparently, he hadn’t been to church since he was a teenager. Religion was the furthest thing from Ron’s mind; business was his religion. As Ron got to know our Jewish traditions, he embraced them as his own and eagerly participated. Because of Ron’s warm and loving ways, my parents welcomed him into the family. We were active in Chabad and became attached to the rabbi, Mendel Duchman, whom we admired and respected. Duchman was successful in renewing peoples’ interest in the Jewish lifestyle. His wife Rochel was warm, caring, and knowledgeable. Ron and I knew right away that this was where we belonged.
Converting to Judaism
A few years after Ron and I were married, our discussions about his converting to Judaism turned serious. I knew that our future together could be impaired if Ron refused. Having a Jewish home and raising Elisa Jewish was foremost in my mind. The importance for me of being an observant Jew is underscored by a story from the Talmud about Rabbi Yochanon Ben Zakkai. This Rabbi, who was such an eminent and renowned Torah scholar, wept on his deathbed, because he was afraid to come before the King of Kings. This ensured me that we should do whatever is necessary to ensure our future fate and to be deemed worthy of heaven. So I knew that only a kosher conversion would do. As part of any Jewish conversion, the study of Jewish life, history, and ethics is vital. Ron was exposed to Yiddishkeit (Jewish lifestyle) in our home. I told Ron about the three ceremonies that would be required. I explained that males needed to be circumcised, and it would also be necessary for him to be immersed in water in a mikvah. The third ceremony is the renouncing of a person’s prior beliefs before a Beit Din (council of rabbis).
It’s So Pagan!
Ron agreed to all the ceremonies but the last one. He said he just didn’t think he could renounce Jesus. I was horrified! My husband had never mentioned Jesus, hadn’t been to church for more than 30 years, and had never used the words “Christian,” “Christ,” or “New Testament.” Here we were leading a Jewish life -we helped to build the synagogue, our home was used by the Jewish community, our daughter was attending Hebrew Academy- and my husband was telling me he couldn’t renounce Jesus! I was so upset. I said to my husband, “This is crazy. You’re such a smart and logical person and such a successful businessman. How can you believe in something so pagan?” And then in the midst of my horror came this calming thought: “I’ll just begin to read the Jewish Bible and in no time at all I will be able to show my husband the Scriptures that will prove to him that Jesus could never have been the fulfillment of the Jewish Bible.” I knew that everything God wanted His Jewish people to know about His Jewish Messiah, so that we Jews would recognize Him when He would come, would be in the Tanakh.
Jesus in the Bible
That morning as my husband went to work and my daughter to school, I began to read my Bible. I prayed to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to show me the truth and to help my husband become a Jew. I started at page one, “In the beginning,” and continued to read page after page. This went on for days, for weeks, and then months. I was amazed at what I found written within the pages of my Jewish Bible concerning the Messiah; where He would be born, how He would live His life, the miracles He would do. The Bible also speaks of His suffering and death. It frightened me because what I read sounded very much like what I heard said about Jesus. Whoever may be wondering if Yeshua (Jesus) appears in the Jewish Bible need only read the many passages concerning the Malach Ha Shem, The Messenger of the LORD. By carefully studying the passages concerning His appearances and how He conducts Himself, one can only deduce that this is no mere created being. He speaks as God and accepts the worship that can only be given to God Himself. And He carries in Him the ineffable name of God, the Tetragrammaton, in Hebrew, the Yud Hay Vav Hay (Exodus 23:21). In addition, Yeshua, Jesus’ Hebrew name, means “salvation.”
God has a Son
I learned that the ancient Jewish writers recognized that there are two pictures of the Messiah depicted in the pages of the Jewish Bible. They even had names for them: Moshiach Ben Yoseph (Messiah, son of Joseph), the suffering servant Messiah, and Moshiach Ben Dovid (Messiah, son of David), the Messiah who would come as the conquering hero. In Proverbs 30:4 I found that God has a Son: “Who was it that ascended into heaven, and came down again? who gathered the wind in his fists? who bound the waters in a garment? who set up all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son’s name, if thou knowest it?”
When I finished reading my Bible, I was confused and frightened. The thought came to me, Sharon, how dare you think that you could interpret the Bible by yourself, as if you knew as much as a rabbi. But then I would think about the passages I read where God told the children of Israel to come and hear His Word for themselves (Deuteronomy 4:10, 11:1820, 4:29, and Jeremiah 29:13). I knew I couldn’t stop there. There was too much at stake. How absurd it was to think that a man the Gentiles call Jesus Christ could be a Messiah for the Jews. So I said to myself, “Sharon, you must have missed something!” I remembered that the rabbis say, “You cannot understand the Bible without the Jewish Commentaries.” So I bought several commentaries, like the Soncino commentaries, and the latest Jewish commentaries called The ArtScroll Tanach Series by Mesorah Publications. And as I read the commentaries, the more I wanted to read. I also brought home texts from the Babylonian Talmud, the Encyclopædia Judaica, Midrash Rabbah, Mishneh Torah by Maimonides, Targum Onkelos, Targumim Jonathan, The Messiah Texts by Raphael Patai etc. On and on I studied, hoping to find the key to destroying the thought that this goyishe messiah is the “real thing”, The Jewish Messiah. During the next few months, my home library increased. And my fears multiplied proportionately to the amount of books I accumulated.
Not To Worry
To this point I had studied in private. Only my family knew what I was reading. But the time had come for outside help and so I called Mendel and Rochel and asked them to come to my home. I showed them my books. I told them that when I read my Bible, I saw Jesus. I asked Mendel to help me. Mendel said, “Not to worry.” He had just the man for me, a professional who works with people like myself. I felt grateful and relieved that I was going to get the help I needed and the answers I so desperately wanted. Two nights later I received a phone call from Rabbi Ben Tzion Kravitz. I gave him a little background about my research and explained how it began. He listened and told me not to worry. He even mentioned a videotape he possessed of people who had renounced their faith in Jesus and he would bring it with him when he came to my house. When the rabbi arrived, I introduced him to Ron, who then retired to the upstairs where he spent the day working. Ron remained at home, because it was not appropriate for the rabbi and I to be alone. For the next ten hours, the rabbi and I discussed the Bible, Jewish history, and tradition.
“Too far gone” to be helped
After many conversations, the rabbi suggested I talk to someone else. He recommended Gerald Sigal in Brooklyn, New York, author of The Jewish Response to Christian Missionaries. Mr. Sigal said that the genealogy of Jesus was faulty because, in Judaism, no women were ever included in the Jewish genealogies. I was puzzled by this statement for I had recently read the long list of genealogies in First Chronicles in Historical Records of the Jewish Bible and women are mentioned in those records. Our conversations continued for some time until Mr. Sigal told Rabbi Kravitz I was “too far gone” to be helped. Rabbi Kravitz was upset with me and accused me of not really wanting to know the truth. The rabbi didn’t understand I was desperately seeking the truth and would go to any lengths to find it!
A short time after this, I received a phone call from Rabbi Duchman. He told me about an internationally known deprogrammer, Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet, who would be speaking soon at my daughter’s Yeshiva. I said I would attend. The night I heard Rabbi Schochet proved to be a turning point in my search for the truth. I had decided that after the program was over I would go up to the rabbi and ask him if he could help me. The rabbi’s speech centered on the generalities of Jewish home life and the problems facing the family. After the rabbi completed his talk, he asked for questions. One person asked the rabbi what he could do to protect his children from Christian influence. The rabbi stated that if traditions were respected and followed within a Jewish home, there would be less chance for a child to go astray. Another person expressed his concern about missionaries who wanted to teach his children about Jesus. The rabbi reiterated the value of having Jewish traditions in the home, but also stressed the importance of sending our children to Jewish day schools and Yeshivas. The third question came from a man who asked what he should do when his child comes home asking him about Scriptures with which he as a Jewish parent is not familiar. At this point, Rabbi Schochet grabbed the sides of the podium and shouted to the audience, “Never under any circumstances does a knowledgeable Jew ever turn to That Man!” (“That Man” being a name that Jews call Jesus when they don’t want to say His name.) I felt the rabbi was talking directly to me so I raised my hand and asked: “Rabbi, what do you tell someone like me who knows Yiddishkeit, follows Judaism, has a Jewish home, and yet, when I read the Jewish Bible, I see That Man?” With so many Jewish families and rabbis in the room, my question hit like a bombshell. For the next hours we discussed Yiddishkeit, Jewish customs, the Bible, and other subjects. When midnight approached, the rabbi was anxious to close the meeting, so he said what he considered to be the words that would show me and all the others in the room why Jesus could not be the promised Messiah. He shouted to the audience that Jesus committed blasphemy from the cross. Then in an angry, mocking tone, the rabbi quoted Jesus saying, “My God, my God, Why hast Thou forsaken me?” I was horrified at Rabbi Schochet’s tone of voice and accusation that Jesus had committed blasphemy. I told him that Jesus could have made that statement for example in a plaintive voice or in a pleading or beseeching voice. But Schochet refused to see my point of view. I found it amazing that in his anger, he apparently forgot that the statement Jesus made on the cross was first said by our own beloved King David in Psalm 22. And would any Jew dare to say that David committed blasphemy? That night I told my husband and daughter, “I have no more doubts ... Jesus is my Jewish Messiah.”