The Missionary Training Manual for the Jewish Proselyting Program (1979)

The following is a notice that appeared as “Missionary Discussions for the Jewish People,” Ensign, Apr. 1979, 72–73:

The Missionary Department has announced the recent implementation of new Missionary Discussions for the Jewish People.

The three new discussions were written in response to President Spencer W. Kimball’s declaration in the April 1975 Regional Representatives Seminar that the Jewish people “must hear the gospel; they must accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Master, and that day, I think, cannot come until we, the witnesses of Jesus Christ, get busy and present the message to them.” (Missionary Training Manual: For Use in the Jewish Proselyting Program, 1978, introduction)

After a brief review of Old Testament prophets, the first discussion introduces Joseph Smith as a modern prophet and discusses both the Book of Mormon and prayer.

The second discussion traces Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah and then shows how Jesus Christ fulfills them.

The third discussion applies Old Testament prophecies to the apostasy that occurred after the deaths of Christ and his apostles, and then introduces the message of the restored gospel.

After they receive the three special discussions, Jewish contacts are taught just as other contacts are. The missionary plan recommends that for the next meeting with the family, the missionaries choose one of the standard discussions, and that during the process of teaching the family, all of the concepts in the discussions be taught.

Included with the discussions are a flipchart and six tracts: A Message to Judah from Joseph by President Ezra Taft Benson, The Greatest Message of Our Time, What is the Book of Mormon?, The Messiah, Apostasy and Restoration, and We Have Found the Messiah.

Also accompanying the discussions is a supplement, the Missionary Training Manual: For Use in the Jewish Proselyting Program. This supplement has been prepared to help missionaries understand Jewish people and to teach them effectively without offense. It includes such helpful information as a history of the Jewish people, results of a survey of modern Jews, definitions of Jewish terms, and instructions on contacting Jewish people.

All missionaries called to serve in an area with a heavy concentration of Jewish people will receive specific orientation at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. Then the mission presidents in each mission determine which missionaries will learn and use the new discussions.

I happened to be on my mission at the time, and I received these materials. As far as I could tell, this program was almost completely unsuccessful, and before long was shelved.

I used to have copies of the three special lessons and six special tracts, but I have since lost them. But I do still have in my possession the MIssionary Training Manual. It’s actually a pretty useful little booklet. Its focus isn’t on proselyting but on understanding. As a young man with little exposure to Judaism, I actually learned a lot from it.

Section One, “One of a City,” is six pages and is a fairly remarkable little essay where you imagine that you have grown up in a Jewish home, and it describes the religious culture you would have experienced along the way, including such things as your bar mitzvah, wedding, sabbath observances, etc. The idea is to give some sense of what it is like to be Jewish and observant.

Section 2 is “A Condensed History of the Jewish People.” This starts with origins and distinguishes terms like Semites, Hebrews, Israelites, Jews, and Ephraimites. There is a section on Old Testament history, a long section on the development of Jewish scripture, another long section on the Diaspora, and finally a shorter section on Zionism.

Section 3 is a “Dictionary of Jewsih Terms.” This eight-page glossary defines over 130 terms. Humorously, a substantial minority of the terms defined are traditoinal Jewish foods (the first page features bagel, blintz and borscht).

Section 4 is a “Religious Survey of Jewish People.”

The most explicitly missionary section is the final one, Section 5, “Referrals and Fellowshipping.”

One problem with the booklet is that it is not dated. So a Jew who encounters it today would assume it relates to a current program without realizing that the proselyting effort that gave rise to it was short-lived and unsuccessful.

Anyway, I think a lot of our members would benefit from materials like this, without the overt missionary emphasis, but simply to increase our understanding of the faith of others.

Comments

  1. Julie M. Smith says:

    I’m pretty sure that these are the materials that Rose Marie Reid helped develop, although perhaps there was more than one iteration of this program?

  2. I think LeGrand Richards was pretty involved. I do love the emphasis on understanding. Can you imagine how helpful that would be for all the cultures that our missionaries interact with?

    This is a pamphlet that I once found that must be part of the set. It is dated 1976:

  3. I served in NYC 1978-80. I think our mission had been used to test the discussions before they were released more widely. Before I arrived, there had been a whole zone of missionaries scattered through the mission who were trained to teach the Jewish discussions. By the time I arrived, that zone had been dissolved, and the Jewish-trained missionaries had been assigned to the regular geographic zones. I began learning the pilot Jewish discussions from my first companion. Out of sensitivity for the Jewish investigators, the missionaries were instructed to not wear their name tags and to avoid mentioning Jesus for the first discussion. In fact, it became common in my mission to not wear name tags at all when tracting, especially in Jewish neighborhoods.

    The pilot discussions instructed the missionaries to close their prayer “in the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” the theory being that that is another name for Jesus. The first discussion included a “prayer dialog” similar to the one used in the regular discussion, in which the investigator was instructed in prayer and encouraged to pray about Joseph Smith as a prophet. The original flipchart page for the prayer dialog also instructed the investigators to close their prayer in the same manner. When the final discussions came out, the prayer dialog and the instructions to missionaries had been modified to have them pray “in the name of the Lord.” I think the original manner of prayer was probably perceived as being a little too blatantly playing to the Jewish audience. In addition, printing out the full name “God” on the flipchart might be seen as disrespectful by some Jewish people.

    Eventually, I learned the Jewish discussions, more or less, but I think I taught the first discussion perhaps 2-3 times, and I think the second maybe once. I still have the discussions and the flipchart pages.

    J., I think the pamphlet you illustrate predates the Jewish program, and was not officially used as part of the discussions, although it was still in general use at that time.

  4. David Clark says:

    If anyone remembers, did the discussions read the Tanak in terms of traditional Jewish interpretation, or was the interpretation standard Christian fare? I have to think that if it was the latter then any Jewish investigator would have smelled what was up a mile away. Or did anyone ever teach all three discussions?

    Also, out of curiosity why were Jews targeted, if anyone knows? Why not atheists, agnostics. Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics etc.?

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    LF, yes, that pamphlet was not one of the six specific tracts that went with these discussions, but it was still current at that time and would have been in the mix (and probably influenced one of the tracts that went with the program).

    David Clark, my feeling was that the actual proselyting materials, for all the attempts at sensitivity, were, as you say, something a Jewish investigator would have seen coming a mile off. I think they were doomed from the get go. Part of the problem is that proselytism is inherently offensive to Jews, no matter how hard you try to pretty it up.

    The Jews were specifically targeted for this program as a result of comments SWK made at the Regional Representatives seminar in April 1975. He quoted 2 Nephi 29:5 to the effect that we have forgotten the Jews, and he commented that that passage applied to us, that we have, in some degree at least, forgotten them. So “they must hear the gospel, they must accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Master, and that day, I think cannot come until we, the witnesses of Jesus Christ, get busy and present the message to them.”

    (Thewe remarks are quoted in the Introduction to the manual, and they were also quoted in a letter from my MP accompanying the materials when I received them.)

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Julie, I think Rose Marie Reed’s work with LeGrande Richards was more in the 1950s. That work no doubt established a foundation for the late 70′s program, but this was a separate initiative from the prior Richards-Reed efforts.

  7. I just now briefly reviewed the Jewish discussions. The first discussion does go to some pains to present the Joseph Smith story and the Book of Mormon in a Jewish context. The “missionary helps” on the left-hand page go to some length to provide information on Jewish understanding of the Old Testament. How successfully all that was done would be better judged by someone who is Jewish, but to my ear, there was at least a reasonable attempt to avoid overt Christian content. The general focus of the first discussion is that Joseph Smith follows in the tradition of the Jewish prophets.

    The second discussion is another story. As soon as you start reading Old Testament scriptures about the Messiah being born in Bethlehem, the Jewish investigators will know immediately what’s coming, if they didn’t before. My opinion was (and still is) that it would have been much preferable to simply and directly testify of Christ at the beginning of the second discussion (if not before) and then review Old Testament prophesies of Christ if the investigator is still receptive. It just seems a little odd to expect the Jewish investigator to sit through a long discussion about the Messiah being born of a virgin in Bethlehem, under a new star, that his hands will be pierced, and that he will be resurrected, and then mention Jesus as if “Mr. Cohen” didn’t see that one coming a mile away.

    By the way, the discussions are copyrighted “1977, 1979.” I take that to indicate that the earlier date is for the pilot discussions that I mentioned before, and the later date is for the final version that I have.

  8. Great stuff, folks. Thanks.

  9. FWIW, L. Tate’s biography of LeGrand Richards states (pp. 270-72):

    One of the things [President Kimball] did not long after he became President was to call Elder Richards to his office and ask him to review what had been done to carry the gospel to the Jewish people. Brother Richards experienced a great thrill as he told of his sincere earlier efforts. “He took my book, Israel, Do You Know? so he could reread and discuss it. I told him a little about the different cities where we’d set up the work and what had been said to me when I had asked what program we were going to have for teaching the Jewish people, but was told to discontinue it. President Kimball was interested and wanted the work to go forward, so I gave him all the information I had.”

    The President was very attentive and thanked him for his report. Then, with typical energy and directness, he reactivated the program. It was April 3, 1975, when President Kimball spoke at the Regional Representatives Seminar, saying, “We are neither Greek nor Italian, nor Mexican, nor Jew. We are all Latter-day Saints-brethren and sisters-just fellowmen with the same overpowering responsibility.” He then told of his long-time concern for the Jews and said that he “hadn’t quite understood why the work had been discontinued.” He continued:

    This does not mean a proposed mission to Jerusalem. it means that we go to New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and the other cities and spread the gospel to the Jews as we do to the Lamanites, as we do to the Gentiles, and give them an opportunity to hear the gospel… and that day, I think, cannot come until we, the witnesses of Jesus Christ, get busy and present the message to them.

    I remember a period of time when some special effort was given by Elder LeGrand Richards and others of his associates to the convincing of the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. I believe some progress was made, but the work was discontinued. I quote from Elder Richards: “When all the facts are known and fully understood, the descendants of Judah will realize that Joseph fed his father, Jacob, and his eleven brothers and their families from the granaries of Egypt during the period of famine that saved their lives. That gift is not to be compared with what the descendants of Joseph have to offer the descendants of Judah at this time.” [LeGrand Richards, Tract, "The Mormons and the Jewish People," p. 6.] (Report of Regional Representatives Seminar Proceedings, pp. 5, 21-22.)

    On November 20 of the same year a Jewish Mission Task Committee (JMTC) was organized by the Missionary Committee of the Church. Jewish converts Philip A. Rennert, Ron Zeidner, and Harry L. Glick were called to make a thorough study of all pertinent source materials, the first of which was Elder Richards’s Israel, Do You Know? They then conducted an extensive survey by means of a questionnaire to be used with Jewish converts and Jewish nonmembers. From these interviews they developed a status report, a summation of mission plans for Jewish people, and the resulting training material for missionaries and mission presidents, investigator discussions, and related flip-charts. These they reported to President Kimball in May 1976.

    Another report went to the President on July 12 expressing the feelings of the JMTC members. “Since the day of our assignment,” it read, “we have been impressed with the urgency of the Lord’s missionary program to his people. With his continued help it will be completely operational in a very short while.” Soon after that, the work commenced in cities containing major Jewish populations.

  10. I’d also note that Mauss’s All Abraham’s Children briefly discusses the pilot programs in NYC (under Mission President Thomas B. Neff) and other eastern cities (pp. 179-180).

  11. To refresh my memory, I just thumbed through my old mission weekly reports and newsletters. (Yes, I am a packrat, why do you ask?) As best I can determine, I taught the first Jewish discussion three times during my mission. One was to the mother of a member, another was to a young (early 20s), mostly secular woman in Queens, and the third was to a couple in New Jersey we met tracting once near the church between Sunday School and Sacrament meeting. As far as I can tell from the reports, I never taught the second or third discussions. As best I can remember, the first discussion was fairly well received, but never well enough received to go on to the more challenging second discussion.

    There were a couple of mission bulletins in early 1980 in which the mission president exhorted us to focus on the Jewish program, learn about the Jewish people, and pray for investigators. One newsletter refers to a series of zone conferences focusing in this topic and recommends some scriptural passages. Another newsletter a few weeks later mentions the detail that “Harry Glick, a Jewish convert” was “one of a committee of three called to prepare the Missionary Discussions for the Jews.” It also lists some information about the topic similar to what Kevin mentions from the manual.

    So the program was being pursued at least as recently as 1980.

  12. Justin (#10), that sounds correct. My first companion who had the original pilot discussions was a “Neffite,” but president Neff had left by the time I arrived.

  13. As a “victim” (I use the term lovingly since I joined the church) of the Jewish Missionary Program in the early 1980s, I thought a lot of it was kind of dumb. The main problem is that all these materials (which I also have as well as Rose Marie Reid’s materials) is that they missed two main issues when talking to Jewish people. One was the very, very strong cultural identity plus the aversion to Jesus Christ. Those of us who were raised Jewish, were taught our whole lives that Jesus was not the Messiah. Thus, all the evidence to the contrary would never convince someone who has been taught that all their life until they receive their own spiritual witness. The other issue was that the Church is so very, very different than organized Jewish congregations, that is hard to even compare. The last point is that Jews would naturally resent anyone who said to them that we are the same as you. We are also of the House of Israel. That does not compute. And to expect young missionaries to get the subtleties was asking a lot. BTW, the program was pretty much a failure.

  14. David Clark #4

    Why not the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

    Because 75% of all missionaries had already self-selected the JW’s as their pet population. And, we already had our “Black Bible” resource.

  15. To understand how this program might have looked to Jews, consider how Mormons feel about evangelical groups that focus on reaching out to Mormons. Not the obnoxious, garment-waving groups that protest our conferences and pageants, but the groups who act more civily, with an apparently sincere concern for our souls. In the end, even the best-intentioned groups are ultimately trying to tear down the essence of our religious and cultural identity and replace it with something almost, but not quite, similar.

  16. Armand Mauss says:

    Please forgive the immodesty in citing my own work, but Chapters Five and Six of my book All Abraham’s Children, covers the history alluded to in these comments and answers most of the questions that commentators raise here. For the three major missionary efforts among American Jews during the 20th century, see especially the pages starting with 172.

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for coming by, Armand. There’s nothing immodest in pointing us in the right direction to get the background; it is much appreciated!

  18. Out of sensitivity for the Jewish investigators, the missionaries were instructed to not wear their name tags and to avoid mentioning Jesus for the first discussion. In fact, it became common in my mission to not wear name tags at all when tracting, especially in Jewish neighborhoods.

    I find this pretty shocking. I was asked to do this when I was part of a “Chinese District” on Australia that catered to the people my Mp referred to as Orientals. We were told that because our investigators were mostly Buddhist, we should teach a first discussion that focused on family instead of Jesus appearing to Joseph Smith. The idea was that they’d feel the spirit so much, when you sprang Jesus on them they’d be easily sucked in to Christianity.

    As you can imagine, it didn’t work to well and I had the district quietly switch to the first discussion everyone else was teaching after about a month.

  19. jjohnen–I served in Japan and we explicitly taught a pre-discussion before getting to the regular six (’96-’97). We focussed on Heavenly Father. We also had a 2.0 that we taught before the second discussion that was all about Christ, in my experience, it took a whole visit, so the regular second discussion was, in essence, our fourth meeting. In Japan, nothing works particularly well, but for reasons that probably are not mostly about the discussions themselves.

    RE: the Jewish discussions
    I live in a very Jewish area, and my interest is piqued on how my local missionaries tract here now. I’ll have to ask. I can think of only a handful of Mormons I know who have converted from Judaism. While that is not a great number, the individuals I know happen to be some of my favorite people.

    I dream of a Sunday School class that studies other religions. I think our group ignorance of world religions is quite shocking. Oh man, I need a break from Alma Sunday School discussions!

  20. Thomas Parkin says:

    I’ve been thinking about some of the comments, here.

    It really reinforces again to me that you can’t manipulate a person into feeling the Spirit. You can’t set them up mentally for gotcha moments. Manipulation is really a subtle form of compelling. It is a way of trying to navigate around their agency. It is something that will in itself have a strong tendency to cause the Spirit to withdraw. I’ve discovered that with my wife. I see it with the missionaries I work with – they often seem to believe that if they can create the perfect environment and say the exact right thing that their investigator will be _bound_ to feel the Spirit.

    I think all you can really do is approach people with as much pure honesty as you can, being as completely open about your intents, as well as your beliefs and experiences as is possible. And then if they are in a place where they can take that bait, they can take some first steps into a larger world. And if not, then we still have to do everything we can to remain friends.

    It is strange, but even though I would have been a deacon at the time this came out, I recall that it caused a small stir in my vicinity. The church really is learning, collectively every bit as much as individually.

    ~

  21. jjohnsen, I’m not sure what part of that you find particularly “shocking” or why. I guess I find it a lot less shocking than ignoring Jewish sensibilities altogether while charging in waving crucifixes and singing Onward Christian Soldiers. It doesn’t seem so unreasonable to have an initial conversation about about Jewish and LDS concepts of prophets before broaching the more sensitive subject of Jesus.

    When tracting a Jewish home, we identified ourselves as representatives of the “Mormon faith.” I would imagine most people we contacted would know that we identify ourselves as Christian, but I would also think that they would generally prefer not to have Jesus shoved in their faces. Whether or not the manner of introducing Jesus in the second discussion was effective is another question, but I don’t think leading with Jesus is the best choice if you want to have a religious conversation with Jewish contacts.

  22. Token Average Member says:

    I was asked which church I belong to by a Jewish acquaintance. When I said “the church of Jesus Christ” I didn’t even get to add the “of Latter-day Saints” part before he walked away muttering under his breath. I told him “well, you asked and that was the answer. We are also known as Mormons.” He got over it and we have become friends but I am sure he thought I was somehow trying rub his nose in the fact that I believed in Christ. Of course, I am not very happy when he uses the Lord’s name as an expletive and he is aware of that. It is really just a matter of mutual respect. It sounds like the training manuals you have were more an effort along that line than an effort to manipulate.

  23. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a neighbor call you a “dirty Jew” and “Christ killer.” It kind of sets up an aversion.

  24. Mr. Spector: If it’s not too personal a question may I ask what “sealed the deal” for you in joining the LDS church? I too am Jewish, and not the typical prototype of the “Jewish investigator” that various anti-missionaries like Rabbi Singer, et al, portray.

    I’ve had the benefit of complete and thorough Jewish education and am the product of an observant Modern Orthodox background…MO shul membership, kashrut observance, sunday school teacher, year in Israel as a student at Aish HaTorah, 2 more years living on Kibbutz, etc. Still, though, I’ve been drawn to learning more about the LDS faith since watching a speech given by President Hinckley on BYU-TV during a moment of channel surfing. I’ve prayed for guidance, “revelation” as some might call it, in order to help me accept Joseph Smith as a Prophet of G-d, and have received an affirmative answer.

    What’s next? I’m into my second complete reading of the Book of Mormon, delving into the Doctrines and Covenants, reading Ensign from cover to cover…and even as shallow as it might have sounded for me to say a few years ago, lurking on the LDS blogs and absorbing what I can only say is an impressive presence of great and inspiring commentary and education. I’ve never attended an LDS church service nor had contact with an Elder on a Mission.

    Though this might seem to be requisite to my further acceptance my only hesitation is that I will be treated as the “token Jewish convert,” one welcomed into the fold as long as I accept that I should ‘know my place.’ In my heart I know, or would like to hope, that that wouldn’t happen but a lifetime spent on the other side, so to speak, leaves a modicum of doubt.

    Where do I go from here?

    L’hitroat!

  25. We were still using the Jewish discussions in 1983-5 in So-Cal. I remember fondly attending Jewish temple in Mission Viejo where we met a rabbi who studied at BYU. He was tolerant of us but somewhat annoyed when we showed up to one service with six missionaries (Friday nights were always slow).

  26. Mike, if I may interject, I think that depends on where you are located. You can certainly attend church services in your area, and once you do that, getting in contact with the missionaries should be no trick at all. The local phone book or lds.org can guide you to the location of church services in your area. As for being treated like a token, I hope to heaven that would never happen, but of course there are imperfect souls in every church, so please be patient with those who are ignorant or clumsy. Let me be the first to say, Welcome!

  27. Mike,

    If you are interested I could put you in contact with a Jewish convert who teaches at BYU. Although, I believe that growing up he was raised as more of a secular Jew.

    I have never really seen any antisemitism in the church. If anything, members seem to regard Jews as special whether they convert or not. Hopefully you don’t see this as too patronizing.

  28. Mike, I’d be happy to converse with you in a more private setting. you can PM me at jspector106@yahoo.com

  29. Mike & Jeff,

    I appreciate your need to discuss these matters privately. When you are finished, please return and let us know your thoughts. Most of us have been through our own conversions and find other’s experiences usually more fascinating than our own. Being born and raised in the LDS Church, my mother’s conversion is as close as I get to such a life change. And yes, there will be many opportunties to take offense from well-meaning or simply ignorant members. On the other hand, there will be much greater and more consistent opportunities to learn from and take strength from the same members. We are all on the same path, but we are free to travel it as we wish. btw – consider this a welcome from a token half-blood Finnish-Idahoan.

  30. Mr. Spector, “rk,””MCQ,” and Teuvo:

    Thanks for the kind words and offers of support. I’ll accept the offer to report back when I’m nearing the end of my journey.

    Yasher Koach!

  31. Mike,

    You can send a note to cliff_mayes@byu.edu. He said he would be happy to hear from you.

    I wish you the best on your quest. I am glad that you are not taking things lightly.

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