By Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 21, 2010; B07
Moishe Rosen, 78, a Jewish-born Baptist minister who founded the controversial evangelistic group Jews for Jesus, died May 19 in San Francisco. He had prostate cancer.
Jews for Jesus, founded in 1973, is the largest and most visible part of the Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Christian movement, which holds that Jews can recognize Jesus as the messiah and still retain a Jewish identity. The group has offices in 11 countries, including Israel, and employs more than 100 missionaries worldwide.
Mr. Rosen said he modeled his evangelical efforts on Vietnam War protests he saw while living in the San Francisco area. Jews for Jesus spread its ideas via street theater performances and printed pamphlets with catchy titles such as "On the First Day of Christmas My Rabbi Gave to Me . . . " and "Jesus Made Me Kosher."
Adherents handed out millions of copies on street corners and college campuses and at shopping malls and airports.
"[W]e must believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths the Lord Jesus in order to be saved," Mr. Rosen wrote in a statement posted online at the time of his death. "There are no shortcuts."
That message infuriated most Jewish leaders, who saw Mr. Rosen's evangelism as an assault on their faith. Leading Jewish groups launched efforts to counteract the efforts of Jews for Jesus and similar groups.
"What they are attempting is spiritual genocide," Philip Abramowitz of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York said in 1995 of the Messianic Jewish movement. "They want to see Judaism destroyed as an entity."
Martin Rosen was born April 12, 1932, in Kansas City, Mo., and was raised in an Orthodox synagogue in Denver. He adopted his Christian beliefs in 1953, the same year his Jewish-born wife converted.
"It wasn't because I thought Christianity was nicer than Judaism," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1985. "Nor was it because I wanted to renounce my birthright, as many have said. Basically, I accepted Jesus because, after searching the Scriptures, I found Him to be true."
Estranged from his parents after he declared his beliefs, Mr. Rosen moved to the East Coast to study theology at New Jersey's Northeastern Bible Institute. He was ordained a Baptist minister in 1957, led Hebrew Christian congregations and worked for 17 years for the American Board of Missions to the Jews, with the aim of attracting converts.
He led Jews for Jesus from 1973 until 1996, when he stepped down as executive director. The next year, he was named a "Hero of the Faith" by the Conservative Baptist Association.
He wrote numerous broadsides, articles and books, including "Christ in the Passover" (1977) and "Witnessing to Jews" (1998).
Survivors include his wife of 60 years, Ceil Starr Rosen of San Francisco; two daughters, Lyn Bond of Skokie, Ill., and Ruth Rosen of San Francisco; a brother; and two grandchildren.
Mr. Rosen was willing to go to court to defend what he said was his right to free speech and brought lawsuits to hold interfaith Seders and distribute religious literature.
"You can take from me everything but my Jewishness and my belief in God," he once said. "You can say I'm a nuisance, a Christian, out of step with the Jewish community, but you can't say I'm not a Jew."