Hospital History in the Holy Land: a Proactive Jewish Response to Christian Missionary Activity

Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, is celebrating their centennial anniversary. Hadassah and other Jewish medical foundations and facilities were founded, in part, as a proactive response to Christian missionary hospitals which during Turkish and British rule were fiercely dedicated to converting Jews in Eretz Yisrael


JewishIsrael feels it is especially timely and relevant to review some hospital history of pre-state Israel because today evangelical missionaries are increasingly involved in fundraising for medical facilities, "adopting" Israeli hospitals, influencing medical ethics positions and are being employed as medical caregivers in the Jewish state.  Unfortunately, unlike the productive counter-missionary response of the past which led to the establishment of cutting-edge independent Jewish alternatives, today's modern state of Israel is embracing evangelizing entities and becoming progressively more dependent on donations from those sources.


A painful walk down memory lane

The words "London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews" are prominently engraved in stone at the front entrance of what was the English Mission Hospital in Jerusalem.  Jews who passed through those gates knew that in exchange for superb treatment they would be exposed to a hefty dose of the gospel or worse. It was reported at the founding session of Hadassah in 1912 that the "price of admission" to the English missionary hospital "was the agreement of mothers to baptize their babies upon departure."  The reported word in the streets of Jerusalem was, "at the English Mission Hospital a Jew will step in with a fever and step out cured of both his fever and his Judaism".


The missionary situation was so alarming in the mid-nineteenth through early twentieth century that rabbinical leaders at the time adopted extremely strict measures to prevent the Jews in Eretz Yisrael, especially in Jerusalem, from seeking treatment at the missions hospitals. Due to the severe lack of adequate Jewish medical facilities, the seemingly draconian rabbinic directives must have caused an excruciating dilemma for the Jewish community. The situation is documented in depth in the report "Missions and identity formation among indigenous populations in Palestine" by Hebrew University professors Ruth Kark and Dr. Shlomit Langboim. Excerpt:


"According to Bartlett (78-83) the main thrust for conversion of Jews was their precarious economic condition but many of them, surreptitiously maintain being Jewish. The Jews were very suspicious of the British, Prussian and English missionary schools. They were not prepared, even when facing illness and death, to forsake their father's faith. Sir Moses Montefiore and Barron Meir Rothschild opened Jewish Hospitals and schools to compete with the missions. (Zimmerman, 8-13 in Ben-Arieh, I; Frankl, 198 [67]).


Grayevski dedicated a whole pamphlet to the struggle of the Jews against the missions. One of the means used was the banning (herem) of those using the missionary schools and hospitals. People were excommunicated, and were not allowed to pray in a minyan or be buried in a Jewish cemetery. (Grayevski). In 1845 the Chief Rabbi Avraham Gagin and the Sephardi and Ashkenazi rabbis declared a ban on the hospital opened by MacGowen in 1844. Jews were not permitted to use it, and merchants were instructed not to supply the hospital with kosher meat. This was effective at first, but hunger and epidemics led thousands of the Jerusalem poor to ignore the ban.”



While some Jews reportedly continued to frequent the missionary hospitals, it is noteworthy that rather than scoff at or ignore the rabbinic decrees and appeals, concerned activists, philanthropists and medical professionals from across the religious and political spectrum responded to the challenge by establishing viable Jewish alternatives. In addition to founding hospitals, clinics and medical professionals, the solution included building housing for Jews outside of the Old City Walls, where they could escape the ravages of disease and the subsequent treatment provided by missionaries.


It is well documented that Shaare Tzedek Hospital, B'nai B'rith-Sha'ar Zion Hospital, Misgav Ladach and Meir Rothschild Hospital predated Hadassah's hospitals and were all established as a response to Christian missionary facilities and services. It should be noted that these Jewish hospitals had a policy of offering medical care to all without religious, racial, or social discrimination (and we may add, without proselytizing). 


It was understood by rabbinic leaders, early Zionist pioneers and the pillars of the Diaspora Jewish community that missionary activity presented a very real threat to the Yishuv and to Jewish self-preservation. Christian-run hospitals were reportedly seen as the most successful vehicles for conversion:


"The missionaries used a variety of methods to draw the Jews of Palestine closer to the Christian faith. Primarily they tried to expose them to the Christian scriptures, establishing a book depot, where texts sacred to Judaism and Christianity were available for sale or distribution. Converted Jews were employed in this repository to read the New Testament to passers-by in their own language. A secular school was also set up for the purpose of influencing the children of the Jewish community, and through them reaching their parents. Members of the Society exploited the fact that Jewish youngsters received only religious instruction in their communities by offering them the alternative of a free and wider education.


But the institutions that proved most successful in terms of religious conversion were the hospitals of the London Society. The Society's leaders were well aware of the poor standard of health among the Palestinian Jews and of the total lack of any Jewish medical facilities. In the early stages of their missionary activities, they had sent physicians to their mission stations, opening dispensaries for the sale and distribution of medicines, and clinics to provide first-aid services. Once the mission stations were well established and the medical needs of the local population were properly assessed, hospitals were built in Jerusalem and Safed. The deep gratitude felt by Jewish patients towards the missionaries who served in the medical institutions made them far more receptive and willing to become familiar with the Christian scriptures. Occasionally medical treatment was made conditional upon listening to sermons and studying the New Testament." (The Medical Activities of the London Jews' Society in Nineteenth-Century Palestineby Yaron Perry and Efraim Lev)


According to data from the book of baptisms of Christ Church in Jerusalem, during the years 1839–1914, "only 432 Jews were converted to Christianity in the Jerusalem station of the London Jews Society". However in 1914 the London Society was also making a larger claim that some 5000 Jews had converted via their world-wide missions since the society's inception in 1809*.


*[NOTE: CMJ  ("Church's Ministry Among Jewish People" aka "London Jews' Society" aka "the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews" ) is the global mission of the Anglican Church and continues to this day to evangelize Jews in Israel and the Diaspora.]


Despite the Jewish efforts and growing alternatives, the Christian hospitals often offered better services and cleaner facilities. Yet as the Yishuv entered the 20th century, followed by Ottoman rule yielding to British Mandate, the rabbis continued to hold the line and insist that Jews avoid the missions hospitals at all costs. At a JewishIsrael presentation last year, Rav Dov Lior, the Chief Rabbi of Hebron and Kiryat Arba, relayed how Rav Avraham Isaac HaCohen Kook had issued a ruling against accepting monies from Christians at a time when there was terrible hunger in the land of Israel. Even for medicine, Rav Kook forbade Jews taking money from Christians or going to a Christian pharmacist for help, because Rav Kook understood the costs involved.


Because rabbis and community leaders kept the threat of missionary activity on the national Jewish agenda and guarded the impoverished, uneducated and sick among their people, the Christian missions hospitals in pre-state Israel met with relatively little success among the most vulnerable sectors of Jewish society. 


By the end of the nineteenth century the Jews of Eretz Yisrael had medical choices and alternatives.  According to Dr. Yaron Perry, head of Haifa University's  Land of Israel studies Department, "Jerusalem itself, at the end of nineteenth century, could offer its inhabitants the services of more than a dozen medical institutions". 


Nevertheless, disease, filth and crowded conditions continued to plague the holy city. This is when Hadassah women came to the rescue.


Hadassah's counter-missionary history

There is no question that the poverty, hygiene and dire medical needs of the Jewish population living in Eretz Yisrael were of primary concern to women like Henrietta Szold who served as Hadassah's first president. Szold and other founding Hadassah members made trips to Pre-state Israel in 1909 and came back with reports which would inspire concrete proposals leading to the founding of the organization in 1912 and eventually a series of cutting edge medical institutions. 

In 1914, Jessie Sampter, a leading educator for Hadassah from its inception, founded Hadassah’s School for Zionism in New York. The intention of that institution was to train Jewish women as speakers in the cause of Zionism, and "to help counter some of the work of Christian missionaries".  Indeed, six year later, in 1920, Ms. Sampter was living in Eretz Yisrael and she reported the following in her book, "a Guide to Zionism":


"Attempts to proselytize among Jews have met with so little success that of late missionary efforts have been directed almost exclusively toward the Moslems".


It is hard to say how much of an influence Hadassah's activities had in directly affecting the declining hospital missionary enterprise in Eretz Yisrael at that time.  Certainly the introduction and promotion of hygiene, professional staff, and services helped make Jewish medical faculties competitive with those of the Christian missions.  It is worth reviewing Hadassah's timeline to see the remarkable activity of those early years.  But there was also World War l and the once aggressively proselytizing English Mission Hospital was used by the Ottoman army for wounded soldiers, and in 1917 the British Mandate officials turned it into a headquarters.


Hadassah came on the scene at a time when the missions' hospital heyday was apparently waning, but the missionary threat was clearly on the mind of the organization's founders at its inception. One can't help but notice that the numerous academic papers and publications of the meetings and history which led up to the establishment of Hadassah, consistently document the missionary challenge. The following is a mere sampling, including a recent article from this year which alludes to the problem:


"I often think of the particular challenges that met the first two nurses, Rachel Landy and Rose Kaplan. With distinguished careers, they arrived in 1913 to the impoverished Ottoman Jerusalem. Their first goal was to win the confidence of skeptical Jerusalemites who suspected, not without reason, that these outside experts were missionaries." (Barbara Sofer, Hadassah MagazineAugust 2012)


“Her talk highlighted the lack of maternity services: the only hospital in Palestine at the time was run by Christian missionaries who insisted on baptizing the babies born there. Szold also described  the high rate of disease among children…" (The Whole Wide World, Without Limits: International Relief, Gender Politics, and American Jewish Women, 1893-1930 by Mary McCune).


"Like Gratz before her, Szold pointed out that Jewish relief efforts would save destitute Jews from conversion by Christian missionary nurses." (Encyclopedia of Women And Religion in North America)


"In 1909 when the Baltimore-born Henrietta Szold visited the country there was not the slightest semblance of a modern sanitary system…Unemployment, poverty, squalor, malnutrition, and unsanitary homes were omnipresent. The four hospitals in Jerusalem that were under Jewish auspices lacked the most basic medical equipment and none of them possessed a maternity ward. For the Jewish poor it was often a matter of bearing children on heaps of rags in a basement, or in a missionary hospital where the price of the service might be conversion." (For mother and child: Hadassah in the Holy Land, 1913 through 1993, Dr. Manfred Wasserman, Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 02/1993)


 “Owing to the lack of Jewish maternity institutions, Jewish women were forced to go to the missionaries, and large numbers of Jewish babies were baptized without the knowledge of their mothers.” (The Canadian Jewish Chronicle -  July 9, 1920)


If it weren't for those missionaries: gratitude, jealousy or sadism?

Contemporary Jewish and Christian revisionist historians have found a way to "fix" bad feelings about missionary intentions and activities by placing an emphasis on the positive contributions the evangelizing enterprise made to the development of Eretz Yisrael in the way of education, charity, technology and medicine. Among Jewish academics this is something that we see in the writings of Yaron Perry and Ruth Kark, among many others.   


“In 'forcing' the Jews to look to their own needs, the missionaries added another cornerstone to their pioneering efforts which, directly or indirectly, encouraged the process of revitalization of the Holy Land since the beginning of the nineteenth century.” (Abstract for article, "The British Hospital in Safed", Yaron Perry 2002).

While one cannot discount, diminish, or fail to document, the very real gains and lessons learned from a difficult period in history, it is perhaps a bit pathological for Jews to thank their spiritual oppressors who aggressively pursued them with conversion until they were "forced" to find alternatives. 

Today, Christian sources like CMJ put a "Christian Zionist" spin on their nineteenth century efforts to offer "salvation with medication" to the Jews. However, to hold conversion over an impoverished community in exchange for treatment and to then take credit for the accomplishments the oppressed community achieved when they resisted those efforts is nothing less than sadistic. Surely universal human nature and the tendency to react and find solutions when under pressure or faced with distressful situation, is not a feather in Christendom's cap.

The Rev. David Pileggi, rector of CMJ's  Christ's Church in Jerusalem  gave this rendition to Ha'aretz when describing the Conrad Schick Library, which sits on Christ Church grounds in Jerusalem, and was started in the 19th century by the missionaries of "the London Society for the Promotion of Christianity Among the Jews" (today CMJ) . Excerpt:

"Pileggi says the library's niche is 19th-century Christian involvement in the Holy Land, the Christian contribution to Jewish and Palestinian nationalism, and to the Zionist enterprise. But how did the missionaries contribute to Zionism? The question brings Pileggi back to the old glass slide of the hospital ward, explaining that missionaries spurred "Jews to open their own hospital." He explains the irony thus: 19th-century Jerusalem Jews patronized the Christian hospital, which was the only one in the city when it opened in 1844. However, Jewish community leaders eventually forbade them from using the hospital for fear it would lead to their conversion to Christianity. But the crying need for medical care in the overcrowded Jewish Quarter of those days had to be met, and so 10 years later, the Rothschilds sponsored the first Jewish house of healing."


Following the opening of the London Missionary hospital in Jerusalem in 1844, the Jews reacted by opening their own hospital which evoked the following response by the director of the missions' hospital:

"Dr. Macgowan, director of the Mission Hospital wrote that, 'every friend of Israel would rejoice that Christian benevolence had provoked such a charitable jealousy among them'." (British Missions to the Jews in the nineteenth century, Yaron Perry and Elizabeth Yodim, 2003, page 82).

The concept of "provoking a Jew to jealousy" comes from the new testament (Romans 11:11) and remains a fundamental motivation for evangelical and messianic sects.

Jews swing into action with creative solutions for reasons of self-preservation, compassion, to correct an injustice in this world, or for the betterment of society. "Jealousy of Christianity”has never been the inspiration behind Judaism's emphasis on acts of charity and kindness.   

In fact, Christian missionary activity is provocative and throughout history has caused Jews to seek alternatives and creative solutions where they can be free to live as Jews without the harassment, psychological pressure, or material inducements attached to proselytizing or other acts of "Christian love".  

That was the case until very recently…


Déjà vu?  Yes and a very big no 

When reading about Christian missionary activity of years gone by, there are striking similarities when compared with the evangelizing tactics used today. But the reaction among today's Jewish leadership stands in startling contrast to the historic norm. 

Throughout Jewish history, Christian missionary overtures, whether friendly or more aggressive, were seen as an existential threat to Jewish continuity. Rabbis and community leaders, who were engaged in fundraising and well aware on the dire needs of the Jewish community, nevertheless stood in the gap to prevent apostasy and spiritual assimilation. The concept of "respect and suspect" ruled the day.  As a result, a cohesive Jewish community took care of their own and developed remarkably efficient, effective, and renowned charitable institutions.


Many of today's Jewish community leaders who are charged with both fundraising and keeping Judaism's fences intact are engaged in an unprecedented no holds barred embrace of evangelizing entities. As an example one can watch Pastor John Hagee deliver a blank check to the leaders of United Jewish Communities (UJC) for The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas. The podium is adorned with a cross within the Star of David. The check is blank because a generous donation from the missionary Daystar Television Network is forthcoming. JewishIsrael has run a number of reports on Daystar and their programming, which features a full line up of messianic Jewish/Christian "rabbis", offers instructions on how to convert Jews to Jesus and has "pro-Israel" figures who engage in the desecration of  Torah scrolls.



Shamelessly defending and soliciting missionaries: Assaf Harofeh Hospital to "the rescue"


Back in 2006, there was an outcry by the Israeli public to cancel Daystar's missionary programming in Israel. Daystar received a license from the Communication ministry and announced plans to broadcast "into every home in the land of Israel 24-hours-a-day, 7 days a week, preaching the gospel 100% of the time." At the time, Pastor John Hagee appeared on Daystar and exclaimed “It’s just all I can do to keep from getting up and dancing…It’s a joy and it’s a dream come true. If we are able to preach the gospel [in Israel] without reservation... it’s a major breakthrough…” Hagee noted that the Bible “talks about the gospel going forth from Jerusalem, and if this is in fact the announcement that the gospel can go forth without any limitations, without any editing and so forth... This is a first.”


The Israeli protest against Daystar's license was successful at the time. However Daystar petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice against what it called "a severe violation of freedom of expression and freedom of Religion". Certain Israeli institutions, which were benefitting from the missionary network's on-the-air fundraising, apparently came to the rescue of Daystar. This according the media files of the missionary Caspari Center in Jerusalem which cites the Jerusalem Post and Teva HaDvarim, as their sources:

"Institutions such Asaf HaRofeh Hospital, the Netanyah Academic College, and other bodies who have benefited largely from Christian Zionist contributions have rallied to the support of Daystar on the grounds that ’whoever doesn't watch the programs - doesn't have to.’"

 Daystar now owns a studio on Mt. Zion, where they broadcast the gospel message 24/7 from Jerusalem and raise funds for projects such as Israel's  Assaf Harofeh Hospital's Trauma Unit. Of course their messianic missionary programming continues to promote "Christians and Jews in a single faith"

JewishIsrael has posted a sampling of the disgrace. One missionary organization emphasizes that, "donations transferred to Assaf Harofeh were given in the name of Jesus". Another recent ministry update reports on a fundraiser for Assaf Harofeh in which the pastor of the ministry gave the opening prayer. On the very same page the same pastor boasts of the ministries' successful efforts to convert an elderly Jewish man.  Cholow is regularly pictured with missionaries such as David Decker and Christian "rabbis" like Ron Aaronson.


Medical tourism in Israel - because “jesus heals”?!?!?!

Today Orthodox Israeli entrepreneurs comfortably sport their kippot and use missionary stations like Daystar and CBN to market their wares.  And the Christian market is apparently ripe for medical tourism in Israel.

With a view of the church buildings on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion in the background, Torah observant Stuart Katz of encourages Christians to come to Israel "to cure themselves in the land where jesus performed so many miracles." When asked by Knesset Christian Caucus Director Josh Reinstein (who hosts a show on Daystar) as to why people would choose to have their medical procedures in Israel rather than at home, Katz has a rather incredible answer - and Israel's cutting edge medical facilities, services, care and accommodations do not make the cut:

"First and foremost Israel is the holy land –the one and only – and anyone would rather come and have the healing process done in the land where jesus himself healed."


Christian caregivers take “prayer walks” through Israeli Hospitals

There appears to be a more visible and organized presence of Jesus believing hospital workers in Israel.  Israel's Healthcare Believers Fellowship boasts of 300 members and holds regular meetings in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Tiberias and Haifa.  Part of their activities involve holding organized prayer walks to "intercede for the staff and the patients" with the hope that, "Yeshua [Jesus] will take hold of the place…” Christian staff from hospitals throughout Israel make their presence felt via these prayer walks in emergency rooms, women's health centers and internal medicine and pediatric departments. The Healthcare Believers Fellowship newsletter reportscite activities involving Hadassah Ein Kerem, the Rabin Medical Center, and Assaf Harofeh Hospitals.  Although not overt proselytizing, it would seem that this type of very public Christian prayer activity in Israel's medical facilities, which is led and conducted by hospital workers, constitutes missionary activity and presents a bit of an ethical problem for the hospitals allowing such events.

Three year ago JewishIsrael ran a report on missionary targeting of the elderly and disabled in Israel. At that time we interviewed a number of counter-missionary experts who confirmed that missionary activity is widespread among home caregivers as well as volunteers in hospitals, rehab centers, and institutions for the developmentally disabled.

Pressure from all sides

Beyond the problem of missionary activity, accepting funding and support from Christian sources can get complicated when those sources try to interfere by exerting pressure and attempt to influence Israel in the areas of medical ethics and even halacha. 

This writer penned an oped for the Jerusalem Postin 2008 after a group of Pro-Life Christian Republican Congressman met with Shas Party officials, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and others in order to bolster Israeli legislative efforts in the battle against abortion. 

Certain Baptist watchdog groups have been known to question fundraising efforts for Israeli hospitals because of abortion policy.  Pastor John Hagee, a recipient of Hadassah's Henrietta Szold award, stopped contributing to Hadassah hospitalafter that institution started performing abortions.

In a bizarre case, Orthodox Rabbi Yehuda Levin of the Rabbinical Alliance of America appealed to fundamentalist Christian leaders to exert pressure on Israel and to use their power to influence the Jewish State's policies on abortion and other issues.

While liberal abortion regulations may be problematic in the Jewish State, neither America's pro-life nor pro-choice camp position represents the complex and compassionate Jewish approach to the issue. Jewish law does not sanction a total ban on abortion, nor has it ever endorsed abortion-on-demand. It is essential that evangelical parties understand that Israel is a unique nation, with uncommon obligations, and that the Jewish people are certainly entitled to ensure religious continuity, to seek moral clarity and to formulate legislative solutions for our own people in our own way.

Stranger than fiction: a haunting and revealing conclusion


Getting back to Hadassah's history, their annalsrecord another time when Jews were "forced" to run to the English missionary Hospital in Jerusalem. In May of 1948 Hadassah Hospital on Mt. Scopus was under siege and could no longer accept patients. So an alternative was found in downtown Jerusalem at the Anglican missions hospital:

"Quiet negotiations took place so that ten beds were set up for maternity cases and the site became known as Hadassah “A.” A century earlier, Jews in Jerusalem were running away from the mission hospitals; now they were running back into them."


More recent, but perhaps equally ironic, is a report in the Jewish Weekly from August 2, 1996 which states that "two Hadassah chapter leaders in San Antonio, Texas, acknowledged their belief in Jesus as the messiah.”   This from an organization founded, in part, to counter the Christian missions in Israel.


The Anglican Christ Church has an interesting take on the their CMJ site with regards to whether or not their nineteenth century mission to the Jews of pre-state Israel failed:

“While those on location in Jerusalem certainly knew better, it is true that some in Britain naively believed that by establishing Christ Church many Jewish people would quickly become followers of Jesus. It is often pointed out that only 600 Jews were baptized despite the vast effort and great expense. Yet, the many Jewish believers who worked for the LJS (and Christ Church in particular) were instrumental in the creation of the messianic Jewish movement, a framework that allowed them to be followers of Jesus while retaining Jewish identity and practice. That movement is now independent and does not rely on any Christian church or organization. Today, hundreds of thousands of Jews around the world are committed disciples of Jesus while retaining a Jewish identity and connection to Israel. Considering this, it may be somewhat hasty to declare the work of Christ Church a failure.”


Indeed, CMJ may not be far off the mark.  JewishIsrael has been monitoring the statistics and the trend is disturbing, if not alarming.  

In 2011 the Baptist Press reported the following:

"Now there are an estimated 150 Jewish [messianic] congregations around Israel meeting in different languages. The number of believers is estimated to be around 20,000, growing exponentially from 1948 when 12 Jews who believed in Jesus could be counted, to 1987 when there were 3,000 and 1997 where there were 5,000."


More recently the US State Department made a startling adjustment to their estimates of the number of "messianic Jews" in Israel. From 2008 – 2010 the State Department's International Religious Freedom Reports consistently reported "a small but growing community of approximately 10,000 Messianic Jews" in Israel. The 2011 report puts that number at 20,000. We don't know if the sudden 100% increase of epidemic proportions is real or if it's the result of evangelical sources feeding the State Department mythical numbers. Either way, it is a matter of great concern as those stats are likely to stick and continue to grow, and to be used as a means of influencing and changing the face and nature of the Jewish state.

But the most disturbing, dangerous and unprecedented development is that our own Jewish leaders have lost their ability to discern, draw lines and uphold borders for Israel and the Jewish people.  For that, there doesn't seem to be an immediate cure in sight.



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