Michael Flanagan, Former Baptist Minister in Palestine Texas, now Yitzchok Abrams, Becomes an Orthodox Jew

Original Source: THE JEWISH WEEK, pages 26-27, April 16, 1999

For the most part, the wedding at the Marlboro Jewish Center in Bensonhurst was a typical ultra-Orthodox affair. The tall, bearded groom, Yitzchok Abrams, wearing a black suit and black homburg, articulated the traditional Hebrew-incantation “harey at mekudeshet li betaba’at zu. ( [Which means in English: ] Behold, you are consecrated to me with this ring according to the law of Moses and Israel. )

He placed the gold wedding band on the seventh finger (the forefinger of the right hand) of his brown-wigged, veiled bride, Rivka, and shattered a cloth-covered glass with his right foot to a crescendo of hundreds of “mazel tov”s.

What is uncanny, however, is that 32 years ago, this same pair, born gentile, were wed # to each other # in a Chrstian ceremony. That union was interrupted when, in an astonishing leap of faith, they converted to [Orthodox] Judaism # an act, which according to Jewish Law, invalidates their previous nuptials.

As news of the rare conversion spread, Orthodox rabbis and groups encouraged Yitzchok Abrams to share the saga of his spiritual odyssey with the Jewish community. At a Flatbush reunion of Camp Shoroshim alumni # mostly young immigrant girls from Russia who attended Yeshivah and their counselors # Abrams confronted his whispering audience with,

“Were you kids born Jewish? Well, I wasn’t, but I converted.”

He went on to unwind the wondrous tale of his search for truth and for personal identity.

Abrams was born Michael Flanagan, the son of a Salvation Army minister.

In the ’80s, after Abrams graduated from the Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary and the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, both in Texas, Abrams pastored several Baptist pulpits in that state.

**UPDATE 2016-09-19 – after receiving notification that Mr. Abrams/Flanagan never attended the above seminary, I crossed out the line. RH ***

Gradually, he and his wife, Janice (now Rivka) began to harbor misgivings about the (Greek) Testament, which they perceived as

“fictitious, for lack of a better word”.

Abrams taught himself Hebrew in order to scrutinize the (Greek) Testament as against the (Tanach) and found irreconcilable discrepancies, such as, for example, “virgin birth”.

Or a verse in Psalms (22:17), which in Hebrew means,

“For dogs have encompassed me; the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me; like a lion [they threaten] my hands and feet,”

 

an “alteration intended by the Church to make Jewish Scriptures appear Chrstological (referring to Jsus).”

Exposing his findings in lectures on comparative religions fostered the support of dozens of would-be proselytes, whose faith in Chrstianity had long since waned and who were potential candidates for a lifelong Jewish commitment.

But he alienated numerous others. By 1993, when the Southern Baptist Convention resolved to reel in Jews to Chrstianity, the former minister, who drew 200 worshipers on a Sunday, was preaching an alternative course that estranged the many who “could not handle it.”

“My congregation began to dwindle away,” said Abrams, “because I was bringing out the Jewishness in scriptures.”

His Jewish inclinations had intensified when his supporters led the minister to a local lecture by Rabbi Tovia Singer, of Outreach Judaism, a Monsey, NY-based movement to counter [deceptive] evangelical Chrstians who target Jews for conversion.

The rabbi, who was later to become one of the convert’s most trusted mentors, was on a speaking tour in the South. Abrams purchased Rabbi Singer’s “Let’s Get Biblical,” an inspiring series of 18 scriptural analysis
tapes that reject Jsus as the messiah and expose missionary misinterpretations of the Hebrew Bible.

Overawed by what he heard on the audio cassettes, Flanagan rallied for Torah, fasted and feasted as a Jew, resigned his ministry at the Hillcrest Baptist Church in Palestine, Texas and prepared for the pivotal plunge, while his parents implored him to return to Chrstianity and his “senses”.

Viewing the small Chrstian town of Palestine as a far cry from a holy land for aspiring “Righteous Gentiles”(the Torah epithet for pious converts), the Abrams, their two adult sons, grandchildren, daughter-in-law and Rivka’s mother (who left her devout Chrstian husband) liquidated their real estate and resettled in Flatbush.

There, under the aegis of a chasidic rabbi (who requests anonymity), they formally adopted Orthodox Judaism along with the surname Abrams #- after Abraham, the Biblical patriarch and the world’s first convert [to Judaism].

Yitzchok and Rivka took their names from Isaac and Rebecca.

“It’s remarkable, said Abrams. “When the rabbi asked each of us separately to choose Hebrew first names, without having collaborated previously, we both chose the names of this biblical couple.”

Warmly received into the ultra-Orthodox Flatbush community, Yitzchok went to work for an accounting firm and Rivka for a Jewish organization.

Their younger son enrolled in a yeshivah in Israel and their small grand-daughter in a girls’ yeshivah in Borough Park. They declined to name the yeshivahs.

The Abrams attribute their smooth sail through conversion, remarriage and the travails of daily living to their Brooklyn rabbi.

“We’re very fortunate to have found this chasidic rabbi,” said Yitzchok. “We rely on his counsel and do everything he says.”

When, prior to conversion, the rabbi discussed circumcision, immersion in mikvah and total commitment to Torah, they eagerly complied, as they did when he ordained a 90-day prenuptial separation required by Jewish Law to ascertain, in the event of pregnancy, if the newborn was conceived before or after conversion.

“We weren’t allowed to live in the same apartment of to be alone for three months prior to the wedding,”

says the soft-spoken Texas bridegroom, who prides himself on following Jewish tradition to the letter of the Law.

“I don’t know what came first,” says Rabbi Singer, who participated in the wedding ceremony, “if my lecture and my tapes inspired him, or he was already turned on and just needed a little more convincing.”

Rabbi Herbert Bomzer, who teaches a class for converts, considers Abrams case particularly noteworthy, considering the couple’s deep involvement in the world of Christianity.

“Their souls stood at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given, somehow got lost in the course of history and had to return to the Jewish people,”

said the rabbi, a professor of Talmud and Jewish studies at Yeshivah University and author of “The Chosen Road” (Shengold Publishers). http://www.israelsjudaica.com/InfoPage. … 0884001873

The next phase in their lives, the newly-reweds say, will be living together as Jews # with not just four sets of pots and pans (for meat and dairy, and two for Passover) # but a whole new set of do’s and don’ts. But since an unshaken conviction and an agonizing concern about being ultimately answerable to a “higher authority” precipitated their aboutface, they feel more than adequately prepared to meet the challenges ahead.

“This is the way we’ve chosen to live,”

said Yitzchok Abrams, concluding his lecture to the girls.

“It’s called Kiddush HaShem, when you sacrifice your life for the Creator.”

Article source: http://www.kosherjudaism.org/phpbb/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=923

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Rafi’s Comments:

I’ve been meaning to write a blog post on him for a while, but didn’t have all the facts. The ministry was located in Palestine, Texas. One day a member came to him with a tape from Jews for Judaism, which in turn had him ask questions, then realize that he was in the wrong faith. He, his wife and children all converted. He and his family made Aliyah and moved to Israel.

Also, from the article comments, his brother Patrick also converted and married Jewish. Patrick now goes by the name Akiva Abrams.

Finally, from what people commented, he may have led some sort of group, but which schools he attended is as of now up in the air.

 

Additional Sources:

http://www.isjl.org/history/archive/tx/palenstine.html

http://religion.wikia.com/wiki/Michael_Flanagan_(former_minister)

 

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