Moishe Rosen spends a lot of time resting now as he copes with the effects of prostate disease that metastasized into bone cancer. Last fall, he nearly died after surgery for an intestinal blockage.
Although outlasting the doctor’s prediction in January 2008 that he wouldn’t live past Thanksgiving, soon after that surgery Rosen considered hospice care. Ultimately, he rejected it, reasoning he didn’t want it until he was unable to get out of bed.
“At 77, how much longer should I live?” asks the outspoken founder of Jews for Jesus (JFJ), who turns 78 if he survives until April 12.
“Do I mind going?” he asks. “I don’t know if I’ll like the journey, but I’ll let you know when you get there.”
That humor demonstrates the wit that long ago prompted Brooklyn’s Jewish Press to declare that Rosen was obviously using Madison Avenue advertising writers. No simple evangelist could write so persuasively, the newspaper theorized.
Though the Press didn’t know it was praising Rosen, his flock of admirers has no such reticence. They know that this somewhat cantankerous guy is one of the true fathers of Jewish evangelism in the modern world.
For Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), memories of Rosen go back to 1987, when the two men stood outside the U.S. Supreme Court building. Sekulow had just completed oral arguments in defense of JFJ’s right to distribute gospel tracts at the Los Angeles International Airport.
“Moishe turned to me and said, ‘I think you’re going to be here often,'” Sekulow recalls. “I laughed because nobody was here that often, especially in those days. One out of 10,000 lawyers maybe argues a case, and that’s probably an overstatement.”
Sekulow not only secured a victory for JFJ, he has returned to the high court 13 times while serving as a thorn in the side of liberal activists.
Marveling at Rosen’s insight, Sekulow remembers later walking by a building at Second Street and Constitution Avenue. Noticing a “for sale” sign, Rosen remarked that his attorney ought to buy it. Though Sekulow scoffed, close to a decade later ACLJ did just that.
“The guy had tremendous foresight in a whole lot of areas,” Sekulow says. “And he was relentless. I never saw him take a setback as something that was going to be a permanent situation.”
Add to that toughness a pioneering spirit, says JFJ board member Lon Solomon. When the suburban Washington, D.C., pastor became a believer in 1971, he reasoned that he must be the only Jew who believed in Christ as Messiah. After all, he didn’t know any others who did.
Now if a Jew makes that decision, it is no secret that he has company. Solomon credits this shift in cultural awareness to JFJ’s overt, unashamed proclamation of the gospel to Jews.
“More than any other single person, Moishe has been responsible for putting the idea of being Jewish and believing in Jesus on the map,” says Solomon, pastor of McLean Bible Church in northern Virginia. “He has inspired several generations of young Jewish men and women to have a burden to reach their own people. He has been a marvelous example.”
For The Messianic Times editor Paul Liberman, Rosen is an inspiring figure. Back in 1986 Liberman was struggling with God’s direction for his career.
A call to Rosen prompted a personal visit from his mentor. After a long talk, Liberman asked Rosen to summarize in one sentence why he had come.
Noting his protégé’s struggles, Rosen replied, “My sentence is: I want you back in the game.” Energized, Liberman started the messianic church now led by his son before he later moved to Israel for nine years.
“To me it was a crossroads in life,” says Liberman, who until last summer was also director of the Jewish Messianic Alliance but today is back in California. “He’s always been a hero of mine. He provided a lot of energy and showed us we can evangelize Jews. He was a leader by example.”
Various adjectives apply to Rosen, whether “prescient,” “brilliant,” “outspoken” or “humble.” Others use terms such as “authoritarian,” “overbearing” and “controlling”-critics who see him as anything but kind. There were enough of the latter that in 2004 Rosen posted a letter on JFJ’s Web site apologizing to anyone he had offended.
“It’s true,” Rosen says of his aggressive nature. “Most people who are in charge of things-you will come up against them. Those are things about my personality, but it didn’t stop me from doing what I needed to do.”
Book editor Steve Lawson, who once worked under Rosen as JFJ’s director of publishing, never found the major accusations valid. He mentions the meeting where staffers discussed a negative article and Rosen remarked, “If we’re a cult, how come I can’t get you guys to do what I want you to do?”
“Everywhere I go I meet Jews who have been offended by Jews for Jesus,” Lawson says. “Nobody’s perfect. … Moishe Rosen is the first to admit it. There have been people hurt because of mistakes or something done wrong, but a larger number have been offended because of the gospel.”
When it comes to how her father will be remembered, Ruth Rosen says it will depend on the speaker’s perspective.
Currently writing his biography, the longtime JFJ editor says many will see him as the person who helped them discover God. Others will label him an eccentric and some a traitor responsible for so many Jews turning to Jesus, she says.
As for former cohorts who founded the bitterly critical organization called Ex-Jews for Jesus, Ruth Rosen hopes they understand her father’s legacy doesn’t focus on his greatness but God’s.