Joe Friedman was raised in a family that was proud of their ancestry and devoted to their Jewish community and way of life. But even though Joe spent much of his life as a devoted Jew, practicing rabbinical rules and trying to earn favor with God, something still seemed to be missing.
After attending a cult meeting, Joe was so unsettled by the cult’s depiction of Jesus, he decided to read a Christian Bible for the first time… and had no idea what God was about to do.
The following is a summary of the podcast interview above with Joe Friedman. Many more details are included in the original podcast episode and we encourage you to listen.
Growing up Jewish
Joe Friedman grew up in Philadelphia attending a Jewish school where he was taught the complicated system of rules surrounding Judaism.
Joe, like many other Jews, gave lip-service to being a devout Jew, but actually looked for technical loopholes to avoid many observances. The degree to which he followed the various rules found in the Torah and Talmud depended on who else was around.
For instance, Jews were not supposed to use electricity on the Sabbath, but Joe’s family would routinely watch TV anyway. They would quickly turn off the TV, though, if they heard a knock on the door, in case someone more devout were to show up.
The laws of Judaism were so burdensome that Joe (and many other Jews) would use a “heter”, an official “loophole” allowing them to get around rules which were particularly inconvenient. Despite the fact they weren’t supposed to use electricity on Sabbath, Joe and his family would simply reach up to stretch their arms, “accidentally” hitting the light switch and turning on the light.
As he became an adult, Joe always considered himself a good person because he felt he did well keeping the various required rules. He never thought of his life holistically but instead evaluated himself based on isolated actions – keeping the Sabbath, not eating leaven on Passover, etc.
Although Joe dutifully followed the Jewish Law, there were times when he felt the Jewish faith didn’t quite add up.
One time, he heard Genesis 6 being read in synagogue. It said all men were evil in their thoughts continually, and Joe wondered, “What’s different now?” He also wondered who had decided that prayer would replace sacrifice after the temple had been destroyed? Why wasn’t that actually written down in the Bible anywhere?
And there were inconsistencies at Joe’s Jewish school. Some days he would be taught in one classroom God created the world. Then he would walk across the hall and be taught the world evolved by chance in his science class. Yet none of the teachers at his Jewish school bothered to address the inconsistency.
Definitely Not Christianity
Joe felt Judaism didn’t quite hold together, but he didn’t think any other religion would either.
One thing he knew for sure: Christianity and Jesus were dangerous. Jews associated Christianity with assimilation, something that was shameful in their culture. And the name “Jesus” was literally bitter on their tongues since it was used as a slur among Jews.
So, in the end, Joe held onto Judaism, not so much because he believed in it but because he believed in the importance of preserving the Jewish national identity.
Living in Israel
Joe eventually married another Jew, Shoshana, who was even more devout than he was and who had attended Jewish seminary. Together, they had three children, and then decided to pursue a shared dream. They packed up their family and moved across the globe to Israel.
Joe and Shoshana had high hopes for their move, but it wasn’t long before they became disenchanted with Israel, its people, and even the Jewish faith itself.
Because almost everyone living in Israel was already Jewish, they didn’t have to work as hard to keep their Jewish identity unique from the surrounding culture (unlike in America). Accordingly, there was no longer social pressure to observe as many rabbinical rules as there was when they lived in the U.S.
Jews could claim they were being “good Jews” just because they lived in Israel. This bothered Joe and his wife because it seemed so hypocritical to behave as though God was more pleased with someone based solely on the geographical region where they lived and didn’t actually care about all the ceremonial laws they used to observe in America.
On top of this, the laws in the Israeli justice system began to feel oppressive, and they felt the government was corrupt.
Abandoning Their Faith
Within 18 months of moving to Israel, Joe and Shoshana had become so burned out they decided to move back to the United States. They made the intentional decision to become “secular” and started telling their children that they didn’t even believe in God.
Joe and Shoshana thought they were done with religion of any sort. But God had other plans, and, despite their unbelief, they were about to encounter Jesus through a most unlikely set of circumstances.
Homeschooling & Mormons
Back in the states, Joe and Shoshana ran into problems right away with their children’s education. They didn’t want their children to be behind if they ever chose to move back to Israel, and they found the public school system to be unsatisfactory.
It was the search for a good education alternative that began a unique chain of events in the Friedman’s life that only God could have orchestrated.
Joe and Shoshana chose to homeschool their children, and they were trying to find ways to make sure their kids had a community of friends. When Shoshana mentioned this to their neighbor, who happened to be a Mormon, the neighbor invited the Friedmans to attend her Mormon ward, saying it would be a great place for the kids to make friends.
At first, Joe and Shoshana were completely against the idea. Even though they had become secular, they still wanted nothing to do with Jesus. But, after a few months of their neighbor inviting them, they decided to give it a try. Maybe their kids would make good friends there, and they figured they could fake their way through the services.
The first service they attended, however, proved to be completely life-altering.
Who is Jesus?
As Joe and Shoshana sat through the Mormon Sunday School, they were presented with Mormon beliefs and they became increasingly offended by the teaching, particularly by what they heard about Jesus. They knew very little about Jesus, but they knew He was definitely not who the Mormons said He was.
Joe and Shoshana were so disturbed by the teaching that, after the service, they immediately drove to a Barnes & Nobles and purchased their first Christian Bible. They had to find out who Jesus was. That evening, they sat down together to begin reading.
Answers from Jesus
Joe and Shoshana decided to begin reading the first book that appeared in the Christian portion of the Bible, the Gospel of Matthew. Unbeknownst to them, this was the gospel written specifically for a Jewish audience. For people just like themselves.
What Joe and Shoshana read surprised them. Jesus seemed to be directly addressing the double standards and hypocrisy of the Jewish Law that had always puzzled them before. They had been skeptical of Jesus, but the more they read, the more they found themselves cheering for Him, especially in portions of Scripture in which He would rebuke the Pharisees.
As they read, the Holy Spirit illuminated and softened Joe and Shoshana’s hearts. Both came to feel as though what they were reading was alive, just like the Torah. It was like they had discovered a sequel to their favorite book.
Within a few days of beginning to read the New Testament, Joe told Shoshana it had to either be true or the greatest hoax ever. Still, they weren’t sure what to do with it. Or what to do with Jesus.
But when Joe and Shoshana came to Matthew 13 and the parable of the sower and the seed and the different soils, Joe felt Jesus was talking about him. Suddenly, Joe spoke out loud the words that had been forming in his heart: “I believe.”
Through tears, Joe and Shoshana both prayed that night to accept Jesus.
Joe Friedman, the Lost Lamb
A few days before Joe’s conversion, he had taken one of his daughters on a camping trip. Laying there in his tent, he had prayed and asked God, “If You are real, reveal yourself to me.” Around this same time, his daughter had gone to a sleepover party and lost one of her favorite stuffed animals, a little lamb.
A few days after his conversion, Joe took his other daughter camping. As he crawled into his sleeping bag that night, his feet brushed against something soft. Joe reached down into the sleeping bag and pulled out the lost little lamb of his daughter.
God beautifully illustrated exactly what had happened to Joe; Joe, the lost lamb, had been found by God.
Joe and Shoshana were overjoyed by their newfound faith, but not everyone felt the same way. Sadly, both of their families felt hurt and betrayed by their decision and limited contact with Joe and Shoshana to almost nothing.
When Shoshana updated her Facebook account showing she was a Christian, many close friends and family members “unfriended” her. She even received threats.
But Joe and Shoshana have used those experiences of rejection to help them more closely identify with others who have been rejected as a result of their conversion to Christianity, particularly former Muslims and Catholics.
The Word Alone
Joe and Shoshana’s story highlights the power of God’s Word to change a person’s heart. It’s also a powerful reminder that God is not limited in how He can save people.
The Friedmans have a unique journey. They were devout Jews following the law but were ultimately burned out by the hypocrisy of the man-made rabbinical rules. But after Joe and Shoshana abandoned their Jewish faith, God used a cult, Mormons no less, to cause them to open a Christian Bible for the first time.
God then guided them to the Book of Matthew, the gospel written specifically for the Jews. And that is where God found his 2 lost lambs.
No human ever witnessed to Joe and Shoshana. It was the Bible, the very words of God that drew them. The Bible, and the Bible alone.
It’s a great illustration of Hebrews 4:12 which says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Joe recommends “Questioning Evangelism” by Randy Newman as an evangelism resource. Randy Newman happens to be another Jew who found Christ, but the book itself is useful for evangelizing people from all backgrounds.
Below is a photo of Joe before his conversion.
Key Bible Passages
Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Romans 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
Matthew 13 (the parable of the sower)