S.F. rabbi teaches how to use logic against missionaries

So you get off BART, on your way home after a long day at the office, and some guy waving a Bible in your face wants to talk Jesus. What’s a Jew to do?

There’s a new rabbi in town providing answers. Recently, as part of a series on contemporary Jewish life, Congregation Adath Israel’s Rabbi Joshua Strulowitz armed 18 participants in San Francisco with the tools needed to hold their own with a Christian missionary.

“Missionaries such as Jews for Jesus are trained to convince Jews that Jesus was the Jewish messiah. Someone who doesn’t have a strong religious background or knowledge of the Torah can be easily confused by these arguments or often can’t respond,” the rabbi said.

Jews for Jesus, unlike other Christian sects, will quote the Hebrew Bible when attempting to sway a Jewish listener. “They will try to convince you that Christianity is the fulfillment of the Jewish faith,” he said.

Through his series on Jewish learning that began in November, Strulowitz offers Bay Area residents food for Jewish thought they aren’t likely to find elsewhere. “I wanted to offer a collection of hard-hitting topics that interest Jews of all backgrounds,” he says.

The series, entitled “Meet the Jew Inside You: Everything You Wanted to Know About Judaism But Didn’t Know Who to Ask,” is comprised of 19 stand-alone sessions. Topics already covered include the Jewish perspective on love and sexuality, abortion, the death penalty and a crash course in Jewish thought. The next several class sessions will cover the essence of Shabbat, reincarnation and the afterlife, and Passover preparation. The last session takes place March 29.

Strulowitz, who arrived in the Bay Area from Houston last August, says he picked these themes because they were current, edgy and apply to people’s lives. The classes take place every Wednesday from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Adath Israel. They are free and open to the public (information: (415) 564-5665). Participants so far include Jews seeking deeper knowledge of their religion and a few non-Jews interested in conversion.

The 27-year-old rabbi knows that picking sexy topics helps pack the classroom. Not surprisingly, the most popular class thus far was on the Jewish perspective on sex and love, drawing 30 participants.

He dreamed up the missionary topic after the movie “The Passion of the Christ” was released. Strulowitz tested the topic on a class of Jewish employees at NASA in Texas and got an enthusiastic response. He chose Jews for Jesus as the exemplary missionary because of their use of Jewish text to prove their point.

“How to Respond to a Christian Missionary” took up two sessions in the series in early February. The first week, the class covered the Christian concepts of original sin, blood as atonement, the trinity and the virgin birth. In the second week, the rabbi passed out Jews for Jesus literature intended to prove the Hebrew Bible’s prediction of Jesus as the messiah.

The rabbi used logic to refute Jews for Jesus’ “reasoning.” For example, the Bible says that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (his answer: so were lots of people, including King David); would be from the tribe of Judah (and how can he be if he is the son of God?); and would be tortured to death (the Romans crucified thousands, and torture is still employed today).

He also tackled quotes that were a blatant mistranslation from the old Hebrew into the English of the King James Bible. The word for lion was mistranslated as “pierced.” So a scriptural passage referring to the Messiah, which read “like a lion were his hands and feet,” was mistakenly interpreted by Christian groups to read “his hands and feet were pierced,” according to Strulowitz.

He also explained what the Torah said about events prefacing the arrival of the Messiah, and disputed some Jews for Jesus claims about the coming of their messiah. But what about missionaries who won’t give up?

These events, some are likely to say, will happen just before the Christian concept of a second coming. To that Strulowitz simply says, “When that happens, call me.”