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This man’s alleged religious conversion efforts seem far from kosher.
Rabbi Michael Elkohen, a self-proclaimed “good Jewish boy from New Jersey,” has been outed as the missionary in Jerusalem who led an alleged down-low effort to convert Jews to Christianity, according to a bombshell new report from the Bergen Record.
Born Michael Elk in southern New Jersey’s Salem County, Elkohen moved to Israel in 2006, and spent 15 years allegedly leading a bizarre double life living in an ultra-Orthodox area of Jerusalem. Not only did that include wearing a hat and growing his hair into side curls, but he was also reportedly tapped to perform bris circumcisions and even write Torah scrolls.
Elk, 42, is the father of five children and has been the subject of investigations by two missionary watchdog organizations. He’s called the allegations against him “a lie.” He’s also said that he “was born Jewish” and that, “seven or eight years ago,” he “repented” for his missionary work in the past.
“The family has been under surveillance for at least seven years,” said Shannon Nuszen, a researcher at one organization, Beyneynu, said in a statement to the ultra-Orthodox website Behadrei Haredim, in a report last week that first uncovered Elk’s alleged aims. ‘[We have been] investigating the case of a covert missionary in French Hill for many years,” but opted to go public in 2021 “due to one of the missionary’s children proselytizing in school.”
As also reported in Behadrei Haredim, Elk’s 13-year-old daughter had told a classmate that Jesus Christ “accepts everyone, even if they are wrong.”
According to the Bergen Record, the act of missionizing is allowed in Israel, but there are exceptions. For instance, there’s a ban on proselytizing to children. Elk could face charges including falsifying his identity, immigration fraud and performing ritual circumcisions illegally. In the case of Elk’s daughter, any attempts to convert a minor in Israel are illegal unless there’s parental consent.
One of the other watchdog groups monitoring Elk was Outreach Judaism — and its director, Rabbi Tovia Singer, said in an interview that Elk instructed other missionaries on where to go in Israel.
“The idea of these messianic groups is to blur distinctions in order to lure Jews who would otherwise resist the Christian message,” said Singer.
Elk and his late wife, Amanda — who said she was the daughter of Holocaust survivors and died in February of cancer — allegedly moved to Israel with forged documents and with the assistance of Morningstar Missions in South Carolina. The Record reports that Elk seems to have previously worked as a minister in Washington State and attended a Christian college named Eastern University.
Also part of his personal history before heading to Israel: admitting that he had faced a “downward spiral,” which included drinking and a failed marriage.
In Israel, Elk ran a school for Messianic Jews — and, according to the watchdogs’ allegations, wrote anonymous blogs about his work as a down-low evangelist. In a 2011 video for Morningstar Ministries, for example, Elk is seen in observant Jewish clothing and says to “stir the Jewish people to jealousy” and “bring them back to [Jesus] once again.”
Nuszen believes there are some 30,000 missionaries in Israel, as well as 300 groups driven to evangelize Jews and 200 websites that aim for conversion.