A Mensch+ for Messiah

On 19th May, Moishe Rosen, the founder of Jews for Jesus, died at the age of 78 following a battle with prostate cancer. The Jewish Chronicle, no less, described him as the world’s “most famous Jewish evangelist” ( In many ways, Moishe Rosen was responsible for reinvigorating Jewish mission and for helping to put the concept of being Jewish and believing in Jesus on the map. Mike Moore remembers him.

The first time I encountered the name Moishe Rosen was in the early eighties when I was managing Weymouth Christian Books and we stocked his titles Christ in the Passover and Y’Shua, the Jewish Way to say Jesus. The second time I encountered the name was when I began working for CWI in 1984. Moishe was a CWI Council member at that time and when I picked up a copy of a Jews for Jesus newsletter lying around in the office my eyes fell on a front-page article that opened something like this: “I was handing out broadsides [JFJ’s street tracts] one time and a guy told me I was a big, fat, ugly slob. After complimenting him on his powers of observation, I asked him what he thought of Y’Shua…” Although I had never met Moishe I knew I was going to like him when I did.

Moishe was born Martin Meyer Rosen on 12th April 1932. His given Hebrew name was “Moshe” or “Moses” but he chose to be called by the Yiddish “Moishe”. In 1950 he married his high school girlfriend Ceil.] and soon after, through the influence of a Christian friend, Ceil became a believer in Jesus. Moishe began to read the New Testament and Christian tracts in order not just to understand Ceil’s faith but also to refute it. However, he eventually discovered that what he was reading was true and the result was that he too became what he called “a completed Jew”.

He was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1957 but his primary commitment was to the evangelisation of his own people and he worked as a missionary with the American Board of Missions to the Jews, later to become Chosen People Ministries. But Moishe was too radical for ABMJ. He could not be contained and in 1973 he and the mission parted company.

The late sixties and early seventies were a period of turmoil among youth in the Western world. The hippy movement claimed many young Jews subscribed to the philosophies of doing your own thing and making love not war. Some of the major spokespersons for the movement such as Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and Allen Ginsberg were Jewish but and after Moishe declared a conference that hippies “dressed like Tarzan, walked like Jane and smelled like Cheeta”, another delegate asked him how many hippies he knew. The challenge struck deep and he began to mingle among the inhabitants of New York’s Greenwich Village, distributing crudely designed tracts, which he called broadsides, produced on a duplicator in the style of late sixties underground literature. The first broadside declared: “Hey, you with the beard on your face. We think you are beautiful. God likes beards, too”.

Moishe moved to San Francisco at the time of “the Jesus Revolution” when large numbers of hippies, many of them Jewish, were “turning on to Jesus”. He and his group of youthful followers began evangelising through distributing broadsides with titles like “Jesus Made Me Kosher” and attracting large crowds through their street theatre and music. It wasn’t long before they were dubbed “Jews for Jesus”, a designation Moishe happily accepted and used to great effect.

Until Moishe Rosen and Jews for Jesus, Jewish mission was moribund. After hearing a rabbi who had been asked to address a conference state that Jewish missions were of no consequence, he decided to turn things around. And he did. Jews for Jesus has influenced every other mission to the Jewish people in some way, even Christian Witness to Israel.

Moishe was a big man in every way but like all great men he still had flaws, a fact that he himself acknowledged. In a farewell, posted on the JFJ website, he said he had probably left many things undone but that “anything done for Christ will last”. Moishe Rosen was not just a Jew for Jesus; he was a mensch for Messiah.

* A Yiddish word for a human being. According to Jewish humorist Leo Rosten, in How to be a Mensch, a mensch is "someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being “a real mensch” is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous".


Moishe’s Musings

God has a great sense of humour letting an over-aged, overweight, and overbearing person like me lead a youth movement.

Jewishness never saved anybody. Judaism never saved anybody no matter how sincere.

Being born in a Christian home doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being born in a bakery makes you a bagel.

Careless Christians vaccinate their friends against the gospel. They give them just enough of a dose that they never catch a case.

The man who knows he’s going to live for ever can afford to be patient.

To JFJ editors and writers: “Apart from God, everyone is subject to rewrite.”


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