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[KH: Execllent 7-part series on Jews explained by a Jew]
By Dennis Prager
Years ago, on a flight to Louisville, Ky., the woman seated next to me asked what brought me from Los Angeles to Louisville.
“I will be giving a lecture,” I responded.
“To whom?” the personable middle-aged woman asked.
“To the Jewish community,” I responded.
She then proceeded to engage me in a discussion about Jews, and it became apparent that she believed Jews wielded great influence in society. So I decided to ask her a question:
“There are almost 300 million Americans. How many of them do you think are Jews?”
“Fifty million,” she replied.
When I told her there are 6 million Jews in America, she thought for a moment and said, “Hum . . . they must all live in Kentucky.”
Love them or hate them, respect them or loathe them — and most people have at least one of these reactions — of all the world’s groups, none receives as much attention, including hatred, as the Jews. And this has been true for thousands of years.
Yet, for all their fame and notoriety, Jews are little understood. In fact, it may be said that those who do not understand Jews fall into two groups: non-Jews and Jews.
So, after a lifetime immersed in Jewish life — an involvement that includes nearly every aspect of Jewish life from the religious (Reform, Conservative and Orthodox) to the secular (Jewish federations, Israel and Soviet Jewry activism) — and after 25 years of speaking to people of all backgrounds on the radio and in lectures, I feel ready to attempt the daunting but significant task of explaining Jews.
With this first column of the year, I inaugurate a series of columns titled “Explaining Jews.” Last year, 25 of my 50 weekly columns were devoted to “The Case for Judeo-Christian Values,” and I came to realize the significance of exploring one topic in depth alongside columns on the immediate issues of the day.
Subjects to be addressed will include:
Readers’ additional questions and reactions are encouraged.
Let’s begin with the most basic question: Are Jews a religion, an ethnicity, a people, a nation, a culture?
The most accurate answer is all of the above. And that confuses both Jews and non-Jews because there is no other major modern group that falls into all these categories.
Christians, for example, constitute a religion but not a nation. One is a Christian by virtue of affirmation of a faith. In order to be a Christian, one has to believe some Christian doctrine.
On the other hand, Americans are a nation, not a religion, and there are, therefore, Americans of every religion and of no religion. As is true of other nations, one is born an American by virtue of one’s parent(s) being American. No affirmation of American faith is necessary. One can be an American and hold no American values or love for America.
Jews are Jews in both the above ways. One can become a Jew solely by affirmation of the Jewish religion (just as one can become a Christian by affirmation of Christianity) or solely by being born to a Jewish parent (originally the father, through most of Jewish history the mother, in Reform Judaism today the father or the mother).
That is why there can be atheist and secular Jews — just as there can be atheist and secular Americans even though the country’s values are Judeo-Christian. But that is also why any person in the world, no matter what race, ethnicity or religion his or her parents are, can become a member of the Jewish people through religious conversion.
That is also why there can be self-hating Jews — people born Jewish who devote their lives to harming the Jewish people — because no one born a Jew can be read out of the Jewish people. It’s probably a good thing. But not always. As we shall see.
By Dennis Prager
To understand Jews, one must understand that most Jews are not religious.
This is true even if our definition of “religious” is minimal, i.e., observant of any specifically Jewish religious laws, attends synagogue once a month or even declares a belief in God.
According to a 2003 Harris Poll, “Only 16% of Jews go to synagogue once a month or more often”; and regarding belief in God: “Protestants (90%) are more likely than Roman Catholics (79%) and much more likely than Jews (48%) to believe in God. Religious affiliation here includes many people raised as members of a religion or religious group, regardless of what they practice or believe now.”
Why most contemporary Jews are irreligious, given that the Jews gave the world the Bible and introduced humanity to the God of monotheism, is a fascinating subject. It is also a vital subject given the role that secular Jews — such as Marx, Freud and Einstein — have played in forming the modern world.
One reason was traditional (Orthodox) Judaism’s inability to keep most Jews religious once Jews were free to leave the ghettos and shtetls (small Jewish towns or villages throughout Eastern Europe) in which most Jews lived.
The only Jewish religious alternative was a new Jewish movement called Reform Judaism, begun in Germany in the beginning of the 19th century. But with all the good intentions of Reform’s founders to stem the departure of Jews from Judaism, Reform retained little that was distinctively Jewish. It dropped kashrut (the Jewish dietary laws), Hebrew as the language of worship, Jewish peoplehood, opposed the return of Jews to Israel (Zionism), and allowed moving the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.
By the mid-19th century, some Jews broke away from Reform and founded Conservative Judaism, in order to “conserve” Jewish religiosity without being Orthodox.
While Reform and Conservatism appealed to many Jews, a deeply religious, God-centered alternative to Orthodoxy that can keep Jews religious has not yet arisen.
And why did most Jews reject Orthodoxy? Over the course of thousands of years, a combination of anti-Semitism and Orthodox Jewish law — one of whose primary purposes was to keep Jews separated from the non-Jewish world — kept Jews in isolation. And when any group has little or no interaction with other groups, its intellectual life begins to atrophy. This was not only true in Orthodox shtetls; it is a problem in much of the Islamic world today as well as in the secular liberal university.
Therefore, once Orthodoxy was exposed to the light of freedom, it had few rational or convincing responses to the modern world’s challenges. Faced with the choice between science, Mozart, personal liberty and great literature on the one hand, and Orthodox isolation on the other, the choice for nearly all Jews was obvious.
And that brings us to a second reason for many Jews’ irreligiosity. Jews decided that the secular world of the arts, the university and celebration of reason — a world devoid of religion — was the world for Jews to work for. Secular Jews are still believers in the Enlightenment (despite the anti-Semitism of Voltaire, the father of the Enlightenment, and despite the anti-Semitism of secular Europe).
Which brings us to the third reason. Along with their rejection of Jewish religiosity, Jews also feared and loathed their Christian neighbors’ religiosity. European Jews had suffered for centuries from religion-based (especially European Christian) anti-Semitism. For example, Jews were tortured to death on a charge of “desecration of the host,” which essentially meant being murdered for allegedly torturing a wafer. Christian anti-Semitism in Europe ensured that virtually no Jew would feel sympathetic to religion generally, let alone Christianity specifically. Therefore, when European culture began warring on Christianity, many Jews completely identified with the anti-religious warriors. Those warriors were the men of the Enlightenment, the self-righteous title the anti-Christians gave their movement.
Thus began the now centuries-old Jewish association of secularism and anti-religiosity (especially Christianity) with what most Jews deem is good for Jews. That America’s Christians have founded the country that has provided the most blessed place in which Jews have ever lived — and that many Christians are now the Jews’ best friends in a world that has more anti-Semitism than at any time since the Holocaust — has not changed many Jews’ belief that the anti-religious, especially those trying to weaken Christianity’s influence, are the Jews’ natural allies.
A fourth reason for Jews’ alienation is the huge percentage of Jews who attend university. A major aim of the university is to influence students toward secularism and away from the Judeo-Christian value system that America’s values have largely been based on.
Fifth and finally, Jews have suffered a great deal throughout history, culminating in the Holocaust. This has further reinforced Jews’ alienation from God and religion.
Given Jews’ influence in America, itself the most influential society on Earth, their alienation from and hostility to religion and to Judeo-Christian values, the greatest value system ever devised and the one based on the Jews’ own Bible, is a tragedy. But if this irreligiosity is to be undone, it must first be understood.
By Dennis Prager
On Jan. 21 in Paris, a gang of Muslims intent on kidnapping Jews kidnapped 23-year-old Ilan Halimi. Reciting verses from the Koran in phone conversations demanding money from the family, they ultimately rejected the money and tortured Halimi to death. They kept him naked for weeks while they cut him up and finally poured flammable liquid over his skin and burned him alive.
When Jews read this story, they see themselves as Halimi and think that such a thing could happen to them somewhere in the world today and somewhere in the world at any time in the past.
If you want to understand how Jews think and behave, you must first understand how large antisemitism and the Holocaust loom in the psyche, emotions and minds of the vast majority of Jews.
It could not be otherwise.
While ethnic, racial, religious and national hatreds are as old as mankind, none has been as universal and as deep as hatred of Jews.
Jew-hatred was given the name “anti-Semitism” only in 1879 by a German anti-Semite named Wilhelm Marr. The term is entirely misleading since it has nothing to do with “Semites.” Jews may be Semites, but so are Arabs, and antisemitism never meant hatred of Arabs, only of Jews. That is why many contemporary writers, including my coauthor (Rabbi Joseph Telushkin) and I in our book “Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism,” do not spell the word “anti-Semite,” but rather as one word without a hyphen — “antisemite.”
Jew-hatred or antisemitism has been so deep that tens of millions of people have equated the Jews with the devil and many more have desired that the Jews be erased from the Earth. Such an attempt was made only one generation ago in what is called the Holocaust (or Shoah, the Hebrew term). This was the German Nazi attempt to murder every Jewish man, woman and child, which resulted in the murder of two out of every three Jews in Europe.
To give an idea of how many Jews have been murdered for being Jews, all one needs to do is look at population statistics. Scholars estimate the population of the Roman Empire at about 60 million at the time of Jesus. According to the dean of Jewish historians, Professor Salo Baron, at that time Jews comprised about 10% of the population. That means that 2,000 years ago there were about 6 million Jews. It is also estimated that at that time, the world’s population was about 200 million.
Today the world’s population is over 6 billion. While the world’s population is about 30 times larger than 2,000 years ago, the Jewish population has barely doubled. Had Jews been left alone to procreate at the same rate as others, there would be about 180 million Jews in the world today. Moreover, even the 6 million number for the Roman empire represented a huge loss of population due to extensive killing of Jews in the 12 centuries from their inception.
It is true that Jewish population losses have been also due to assimilation, but this assimilation was itself overwhelmingly a result of persecution — forced conversions, desire to lead a far safer life as part of the majority culture, etc. In fact, because of the Holocaust, there are fewer Jews today than there were 100 years ago.
One can now understand why the Passover Haggadah — the special prayer book for the Passover Seder meal, first written about 2,000 years ago — contains this famous statement: “In every generation there are those who rise against us to annihilate us . . . “
As a result, Jews are probably the most insecure group in the world. This may come as a surprise to most non-Jews since Jews are widely regarded as particularly powerful. But Jews’ power and Jews’ insecurity are not mutually contradictory. In fact, Jews’ power derives in large measure from their insecurity. The stronger the Jews’ influence, Jews believe, the less likely they are to be hurt again.
Fear of being hurt again is the major reason most identifying Jews are so protective of Israel. First, they fear that without Israel, Jews are far more vulnerable to another outburst of antisemitic violence. And this has been true. Israel, for example, was Soviet Jewry’s great defender (along with America and Diaspora Jewry) and the place to escape to. Only a very strong Israel, Jews believe, can prevent another Holocaust. Second, Jews believe that Arabs and other Muslims want to do to Israel and its Jewish inhabitants what the Nazis did to the Jews. And given the Palestinians’ desire to destroy Israel, the Iranian regime’s repeated calls for the annihilation of Israel, and the number of Muslims who chant, “Death to Israel,” this fear is entirely warranted.
Fear of being persecuted and even murdered solely for being a Jew resides in just about every Jew’s psyche. It helps to explain Jews’ preoccupation with Israel; Jews’ preoccupation with teaching the world about the Holocaust; Jews’ fear of Christianity — most Jews are taught about European Christian antisemitism at a very young age and link Christianity to the Holocaust; and even Jews’ near-religious commitment to liberalism, which most Jews see as the best guarantor against antisemitism. An increasing number of Jews are rethinking the latter two conclusions as a result of Christian treatment of Jews in America and Christian support for Israel and because of the lack of such support on the Left. But whatever one’s position on these matters, the fact remains that fear of pogroms, torture, expulsions and mass murder shapes most Jews’ psyches and politics.
By Dennis Prager
Among the most frequently asked questions about Jews are: Why are Jews overwhelmingly liberal? Why are so few religious?
One column in this series has already dealt with the question of why Jews are secular. Before answering the question of why Jews tend toward the Left — and before proceeding with any of our analysis of Jews — it is necessary to understand the various groups that comprise the Jewish people.
In the most general sense, Jews fall into two categories: those who identify as Jews and those who do not (or do so only when forced to do so by outsiders). The latter may be called “non-Jewish Jews,” a term coined by an early 20th-century Jewish radical, Isaac Deutscher, to describe himself.
The non-Jewish Jew is someone who is born to a Jewish parent but who chooses not to identify with either the Jewish community or Judaism. Such a person is not necessarily hostile to Jews; but these Jews often play an important role in society. Examples are the many college professors who have Jewish family names but who do not identify in any way with the Jewish community or religion. As we shall see when attempting to explain Jewish liberalism and leftism, their lack of identity — often complemented by an antipathy to American national identity — helps explain most of their social and political views.
I do not include among non-Jewish Jews those people who are born Jewish and convert to another religion, such as Christianity. These are Christians who happen to be born Jews, not non-Jewish Jews.
The second category of Jews consists of Jews who do identify as Jews — meaning that they identify with the Jewish community or with Judaism or with both.
Among identifying Jews are secular Jews and religious Jews.
An identifying Jew can be a secular, even an atheistic, Jew. Indeed the founders of the modern state of Israel were secular Jews, men and women whose entire being was suffused with Jewish identity, but who were completely irreligious. They strongly believed, as did the founder of modern Zionism — the completely secular Theodore Herzl — that the Jewish people needed to live in their homeland just as the French or English needed to live in their countries.
Given that the basis of Jewish peoplehood and identity is religious — Abraham became the first Jew by virtue of his belief in the one God; Moses is a thoroughly religious figure who brings the Jews to the borders of a divinely promised land, Israel; and the entire founding history of the Jews is contained in a religious work, the Hebrew Bible — the notion of a secular Jew identifying as a Jew is intellectually inconsistent. But that has not mattered to the many Jews who dropped Jewish beliefs yet remained committed to their Jewish identity and to the welfare of the Jewish people.
For some Jews, Jewish identity is so strong that no matter what their religious views, they wish to continue to identify as Jews. This is not only true of secular identifying Jews. At the other end of the religious spectrum are a small number of Jews who convert to Christianity and who also do not wish to relinquish their identification as Jews (thus calling themselves “Messianic Jews” and “Jews for Jesus” rather than “Christians”).
Finally, among religiously identifying Jews, there are three major religious denominations — Reform, Conservative and Orthodox. Roughly speaking, the Orthodox believe in the divine origin of both a Written Law (the Torah) and an Oral Law (found in the Mishnah, the earliest part of the Talmud). They do not believe these (or, for the most part, rabbinic) laws can be changed. The Conservative movement believes the laws should be observed but that Conservative rabbis can change laws, and it does not affirm the divine authorship of Scripture. The Reform movement does not believe in the divine authorship of Scripture, does not believe that any of the laws (except universally ethical ones) are binding, and regards every Jew as an autonomous unit who accepts from Judaism only what is meaningful to him/her. Sometimes, the distinction between Reform and secular Jews is not obvious.
Among the reasons it is so important to understand these types of Jews is this: The great majority of Jews who affect the world are either non-Jewish Jews or Jews with minimal Jewish identity, and very rarely have Jewish religious faith or religious values. That is why all talk about “Jewish control” of Hollywood or of media or of anything else is meaningless. A disproportionate number of powerful figures in these professions and in academia may have been born to a Jewish parent, but most of them have no Jewish identity and they surely do not work on behalf of any Jewish interest. When was the last pro-Israel movie made, for example?
However, given the influence of non-Jewish Jews on society — in the arts, the university, the media — it is fair to say that a Jewish revival among Jews is in both the Jews’ and humanity’s interest.
By Dennis Prager
The most frequently asked question I receive from non-Jews about Jews is, why are Jews so liberal?
The question is entirely legitimate since Jews (outside of Israel) are indeed overwhelmingly liberal and disproportionately left of liberal as well. For example, other than blacks, no American group votes so lopsidedly for the Democratic Party. And the question is further sharpened given that traditional Jewish values are not leftist. That is why the more religiously involved the Jew, the less likely he is to be on the Left. The old saw, “There are two types of Jews — those who believe Judaism is social justice and those who know Hebrew,” contains more than a kernel of truth.
In no order of importance, here are six reasons:
1. Judaism is indeed preoccupied with social justice (as well as with holiness and personal morality), and many Jews believe that the only way to achieve a just society is through leftist policies.
2. More than any other major religion, Judaism has always been preoccupied with this world. The (secular) Encyclopedia Judaica begins its entry on “Afterlife” by noting that “Judaism has always affirmed belief in an afterlife.” But the preoccupation of Judaism has been making this world a better place. That is why the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) is largely silent about the afterlife; and it is preoccupied with rejecting ancient Egyptian values. That value system was centered on the afterlife — its bible was the Book of the Dead, and its greatest monuments, the pyramids, were tombs.
3. Most Jews are frightened by anything that connotes right wing — such as the words “right-wing” and “conservative.” Especially since the Holocaust, they think that threats to their security emanate from the Right only. (It is pointless to argue that Nazism stood for National Socialism and therefore was really a leftist ideology. Whether that is theoretically accurate doesn’t matter; nearly everyone regards the Nazis as far Right, and, therefore, Jews fear the Right.) The fact that the Jews’ best friends today are conservatives and the fact that the Left is the home of most of the Jews’ enemies outside of the Muslim world have made little impact on Jews’ psyches.
4. Liberal Jews fear most religion. They identify religion — especially fundamentalist religion and especially Christianity — with anti-Semitism. Jews are taught from birth about the horrors of the Holocaust, and of nearly 2,000 years of European, meaning Christian, anti-Semitism. They therefore tend to fear Christianity and believe that secularism guarantees their physical security. That is what animates the ACLU and its disproportionately Jewish membership, under the guise of concern with the Constitution and “separation of church and state” (words that do not appear in the Constitution), to fight all public expressions of Christianity in America.
5. Despite their secularism, Jews may be the most religious ethnic group in the world. The problem is that their religion is rarely Judaism; rather it is every “ism” of the Left. These include liberalism, socialism, feminism, Marxism and environmentalism. Jews involved in these movements believe in them with the same ideological fervor and same suspension of critical reason with which many religious people believe in their religion. It is therefore usually as hard to shake a liberal Jew’s belief in the Left and in the Democratic Party as it is to shake an evangelical Christian’s belief in Christianity. The big difference, however, is that the Christian believer acknowledges his Christianity is a belief, whereas the believer in liberalism views his belief as entirely the product of rational inquiry.
The Jews’ religious fervor emanates from the origins of the Jewish people as a religious people elected by God to help guide humanity to a better future. Of course, the original intent was to bring humanity to ethical monotheism, God-based universal moral standards, not to secular liberalism or to feminism or to socialism. Leftist Jews have simply secularized their religious calling.
6. Liberal Jews fear nationalism. The birth of nationalism in Europe planted the secular seeds of the Holocaust (religious seeds had been planted by some early and medieval Church teachings and reinforced by Martin Luther). European nationalists welcomed all national identities except the Jews’. That is a major reason so many Jews identify primarily as “world citizens”; they have contempt for nationalism and believe that strong national identities, even in America, will exclude them.
Just as liberal Jews fear a resurgent Christianity despite the fact that contemporary Christians are the Jews’ best friends, leftist Jews fear American nationalism despite the fact that Americans who believe in American exceptionalism are far more pro-Jewish and pro-Israel than leftist Americans. But most leftist Jews so abhor nationalism, they don’t even like the Jews’ nationalism (Zionism).
If you believe that leftist ideas and policies are good for America and for the world, then you are particularly pleased to know how deeply Jews — with their moral passion, intellectual energies and abilities, and financial clout — are involved with the Left. If, on the other hand, you believe that the Left is morally confused and largely a destructive force in America and the world, then the Jews’ disproportionate involvement on the Left is nothing less than a tragedy — for the world and especially for the Jews.
by Dennis Prager
Some recent news items about Jews aiding enemies of the Jews:
Last week, professor Noam Chomsky went to Lebanon to speak at the headquarters of Hezbollah. As described by the BBC, not a media friend of Israel, “Hezbollah’s political rhetoric has centered on calls for the destruction of the state of Israel,” and Hezbollah has been “synonymous with terror, suicide bombings and kidnappings.” The terror group’s views on the need to annihilate the Jewish state are identical to those of Hamas and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Chomsky announced his support for Hezbollah and its need to be militarily strong.
Also last week, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi from Vienna, a member of a Jewish sect called Neturei Karta, went to Stockholm to meet with a Palestinian Hamas official to help raise funds for Hamas. Hamas is, of course, dedicated to annihilating Israel, as is Neturei Karta, an Orthodox Jewish fringe group that believes no Jewish state should exist unless founded by God. It therefore supports Palestinian and other Muslim groups that murder Jews in Israel.
In March, a group of five Neturei Karta rabbis from Britain and the United States went to Tehran to lend their support to the Iranian regime in its calls for the annihilation of Israel. The group said nothing about the Iranian regime’s repeated denials that there was a Holocaust.
This week, the University of California at Irvine Muslim Student Union is sponsoring a series of lectures under the heading, “Holocaust in the Holy Land” and “Israel: The Fourth Reich.” Featuring activists committed to Israel’s destruction, its lead speaker is a Jew named Norman Finkelstein, a professor who devotes his life to attacking Jewish communities and Israel. Also appearing is Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss from the above-mentioned Neturei Karta.
Tony Judt, a widely published New York University professor, recently wrote that “Israel, in short, is an anachronism,” and should therefore cease to exist. The Jews of Israel should live under Arab/Muslim rule. Note that of all the countries of the world, Judt — who the Jewish newspaper The Forward identified as “raised in the heavily Jewish East End section of London by a mother whose parents had immigrated from Russia and a Belgian father who descended from a line of Lithuanian rabbis” — has advocated the disappearance of one country, the Jewish one. Why, for example, does Judt not write that Pakistan, a Muslim state carved out of India, is an “anachronism”?
Jews siding with the Jews’ enemies or even actually fomenting Jew-hatred has a history that long predates Chomsky, Finkelstein, leftist Jewish professors and the Neturei Karta. Karl Marx, though baptized a Christian, was the grandson of two Orthodox rabbis but wrote one of the most anti-Semitic tracts of the 19th century, “On the Jewish Question.” In it he wrote, among other anti-Semitic charges, that “Money is the jealous god of Israel, beside which no other god may exist.”
How is one to explain these Jews who work to hurt Jews?
I think the primary explanations are psychological. As I wrote in a previous column, it is almost impossible to overstate the pathological effects of thousands of years of murder of Jews — culminating in the Nazi Holocaust, when nearly all Jews on the European continent were murdered — have had on most Jews.
It is not coincidental that Norman Finkelstein’s parents went through the Holocaust or that Yisroel Dovid Weiss’s grandparents were murdered in the Holocaust. But even Jews who lost no relatives in the Holocaust fear another outbreak of anti-Jewish violence, and given the Nazi-like anti-Semitism in the Muslim world today, that is not exactly paranoia.
One way to deal with this is to side with the enemy. Consciously or not, the Jew who sides with those dedicated to murdering Jews feels that he will be spared. He becomes the “good Jew” in the anti-Semites’ eyes. How else to explain the visit of a Jew named Noam Chomsky to Lebanon to support Hezbollah or the fact that Chomsky wrote the foreword to a French book denying the Holocaust? How else to explain Norman Finkelstein telling cheering German audiences that the Jewish state is morally the same as the Nazis? How else to explain rabbis visiting Tehran to extol the Holocaust-denying regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran that seeks to exterminate Israel?
The other psychological explanation is related. The Jew — specifically the radical Jew — who sympathizes with Jew-haters wishes to announce to the world that he is not really like other Jews. While the other Jews are moored in provincial Jewish ethnic or religious identity, he is a world citizen who no more identifies with the Jews’ fate than with the fate of Iroquois Indians.
The prevalence of Jew-hating Jews would be no more than an interesting study of psychopathology were it not for one additional fact: All these Jews (except for the fringe Neturei Karta rabbis) also hate America. And they do the same damage to this country — aiding the enemies of America just as they do the enemies of the Jews.
by Dennis Prager
Imagine someone saying that he seeks the destruction of Italy because he regards Italian national identity as racist. Further, imagine that this person constantly denies being anti-Italian, because he does not hate all Italians, only Italy and all those who believe Italy should exist.
Now substitute “Jewish” for “Italian” and “Israel” for “Italy” and you understand the absurdity of the argument that one can be anti-Zionist but not anti-Jewish.
Among the many lies that permeate the modern world, none is greater — or easier to refute — than the claim that Zionism is not an integral part of Judaism or the claim that anti-Zionism is unrelated to antisemitism.
In order to understand why, it is first necessary to explain Zionism and anti-Zionism.
A modern secular movement called Zionism was founded in the 19th century, but the belief that Jews belong in Zion (the biblical term for Jerusalem) is as old as the Jewish people. See Part One of this series, “Explaining Jews,” for a discussion of why Jews are a people and not only a religion.
Starting in 586 B.C., with the destruction of the first Jewish state, Jews were already Zionists in that they fervently prayed to return to Zion. While the movement known by the specific name “Zionism” is modern, the movement of Jews returning to Zion is more than 2,500 years old. That is why the claim that Zionism — the return of the Jewish people to Zion — is not part of Judaism is a theological and historical lie.
Judaism has always consisted of three components: God, Torah and Israel, roughly translated as faith, practice and peoplehood. And this Jewish people was conceived of as living in the Jewish country called Israel. One can argue that the modern state of Israel was founded at the expense of Arabs living in the geographic area known as Palestine (there was never a country or a nation called Palestine); but that in no way negates the indisputable fact that Zionism is an integral part of Judaism. Nor does the fact that some Jews who have abandoned Judaism are opposed to Zionism, nor that a tiny sect of ultra-Orthodox Jews (Neturei Karta) believe that only the Messiah can found a Jewish state in Israel.
When anti-Israel Muslim students demonstrate on campus chanting, “Yes to Judaism, No to Zionism,” they are inventing a new Judaism out of their hatred for Israel. It would be as if anti-Muslims marched around chanting, “Yes to Allah, No to the Quran.” Just as Allah, Muhammad and the Quran are inextricable components of Islam, so God, Torah and Israel are of Judaism.
But, one might argue, even if Zionism is as much a part of Judaism as any other part of the Hebrew Bible, the modern Jewish state of Israel has no right to exist because it displaced many indigenous Arabs, known later as Palestinians.
Before responding to this, it is crucial to understand that this argument — that Israel’s founding was illegitimate — is completely unrelated to anti-Zionism. An intellectually honest person who believes Israel’s founding is illegitimate would still have to acknowledge that Zionism is an inseparable part of Judaism.
But the argument that Israel is illegitimate because its founding led to 600,000 to 700,000 Arab refugees is as anti-Jewish as is anti-Zionism. Virtually every country in the world was founded by displacing some of the people who had lived there, and many of those countries did far worse to far more people than Israel did. Therefore, anyone who calls only for Israel’s destruction had better explain why, of all the states on earth whose founding was accompanied by the displacement of others, only the Jewish state is illegitimate.
Take Pakistan, for example. Unlike the Jewish state of Israel, which had existed twice before in history, there was never a country called Pakistan, nor was there ever any other independent Muslim country in the part of India that was carved out to create Pakistan. Moreover, if the Jewish state of Israel is illegitimate because it created 700,000 Arab refugees, why isn’t the Muslim state of Pakistan, which created more than eight million Hindu refugees, illegitimate?
The answer is obvious. When people isolate the one Jewish state in the world for sanctions, opprobrium and delegitimizing, they are doing so because it is the Jewish state. And that, quite simply, is why anti-Zionism is simply another form of Jew-hatred.
You can criticize Israel all you want. That does not make you an antisemite. But if you are an anti-Zionist or advocate the destruction of the Jewish state, then let’s be clear: You are an enemy of the Jews and of Judaism, and the word for such a person is (SET ITAL) antisemite (END ITAL).
I assume that the type of person who reads columns such as this one has wondered at one time or another why, for thousands of years, there has been so much attention paid to Jews and why, today, to Israel, the one Jewish state.
But how do most people explain this preoccupation? There is no fully rational explanation for the amount of attention paid to the Jews and the Jewish state. And there is no fully rational explanation for the amount of hatred directed at Jews and the Jewish state.
A lifetime of study of this issue, including writing (with Rabbi Joseph Telushkin) a book on anti-Semitism (“Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism”) has convinced me that, along with all the rational explanations, there is one explanation that transcends reason alone.
It is that the Jews are God’s chosen people.
Now, believe me, dear reader, I am well aware of the hazards of making such a claim.
It sounds chauvinistic. It sounds racist. And it sounds irrational, if not bizarre.
But it is none of these.
As regards chauvinism, there is not a hint of inherent superiority in the claim of Jewish chosen-ness. In fact, the Jewish Bible, the book that states the Jews are chosen, constantly berates the Jews for their flawed moral behavior. No bible of any other religion is so critical of the religious group affiliated with that bible as the Hebrew Scriptures are of the Jews.
As for racism, Jewish chosen-ness cannot be racist by definition. Here is why: a) The Jews are not a race; there are Jews of every race. And b) any person of any race, ethnicity or nationality can become a member of the Jewish people and thereby be as chosen as Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah or the chief rabbi of Israel.
And with regard to chosen-ness being an irrational or even bizarre claim, it must be so only to atheists. They don’t believe in a Chooser, so they cannot believe in a Chosen. But for most believing Jews and Christians (most particularly the Founders who saw America as a Second Israel, a second Chosen People), Jewish Chosen-ness has been a given. And even the atheist must look at the evidence and conclude that the Jews play a role in history that defies reason.
Can reason alone explain how a hodgepodge of ex-slaves was able to change history — to introduce the moral God-Creator we know as God; to write the world’s most influential book, the Bible; to devise ethical monotheism; to be the only civilization to deny the cyclical worldview and give humanity belief in a linear (i.e., purposeful) history; to provide morality-driven prophets and so much more — without God playing the decisive role in this people’s history?
Without the Jews, there would be no Christianity (a fact acknowledged by the great majority of Christians) and no Islam (a fact acknowledged by almost no Muslims). Read Thomas Cahill’s “The Gifts of the Jews” or Paul Johnson’s “A History of the Jews” to get an idea about how much this people changed history.
What further renders the claim for Jewish chosen-ness worthy of rational consideration is that virtually every other nation has perceived itself as chosen or otherwise divinely special. For example, China means “Middle Kingdom” in Chinese — meaning that China is at the center of the world; and Japan considers itself the land where the sun originates (“Land of the Rising Sun”). The difference between Jewish chosen-ness and other nations’ similar claims is that no one cares about any other group considering itself Chosen, while vast numbers of non-Jews have either believed the Jews’ claim or have hated the Jews for it.
Perhaps the greatest evidence for the Jews’ chosen-ness has been provided in modern times, during which time evil has consistently targeted the Jews:
— Nazi Germany was more concerned with exterminating the Jews than with winning World War II.
— Throughout its 70-year history, the Soviet Union persecuted its Jews and tried to extinguish Judaism. Hatred of Jews was one thing communists and Nazis shared.
— The United Nations has spent more time discussing and condemning the Jewish state than any other country in the world. Yet, this state is smaller than every Central American country, including El Salvador, Panama and even Belize. Imagine if the amount of attention paid to Israel were paid to Belize — who would not think there was something extraordinary about that country?
— Much of the contemporary Muslim world — and nearly all the Arab world — is obsessed with annihilating the one Jewish state.
In the words of Catholic scholar Father Edward Flannery, the Jews carry the burden of God in history. Most Jews, being secular, do not believe this. And many Jews dislike talk of chosen-ness because they fear it will increase anti-Semitism; they may be right.
But it doesn’t alter the fact that the obsession with one of the smallest countries and smallest peoples on earth, and the unique hatred of the Jews and the Jewish state by the world’s most vicious ideologies, can be best explained only in transcendent terms. Namely that God, for whatever reason, chose the Jews.
by Ben Shapiro
Dear American Jews,
I write to you as a charter member of the tribe. I’m not only Jewish, I’m religious. I’m married to an Israeli girl (she’ll receive her citizenship next year and she is a proud soon-to-be American). I go to synagogue regularly, keep kosher, keep the Sabbath.
American Jews, I have one request of you: please pull your heads out of your posteriors.
I mean that in all sincerity. Your continued support for Democrats and an administration that is openly anti-Semitic is a disgrace. Your embrace of a party that seeks to hamstring Israel in the name of a wholly fictitious Middle East peace process is contemptible. Your loyalty to a president who consistently sides with Palestinian and Iranian mass murder-supporters is disgusting.
Your backing of a man who has spent his life surrounding himself with the worst anti-Semites America has to offer — Jeremiah Wright, Rashid Khalidi (former Palestinian terrorist spokesman), Louis Farrakhan (“I don’t like the way [Jews] leech on us”), Samantha Power, Robert Malley, to name a few — is nothing short of reprehensible. Rahm Emanuel’s presence in the Obama cabinet doesn’t ameliorate Obama’s anti-Semitism — it just provides it convenient cover. Al Sharpton wrongly called Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell “house negroes”; Emanuel is a kapo.
Even as you continue to buttress a president who seeks the destruction of your co-religionists, you demonstrate your myopia by rejecting the tea party movement and evangelical Christian Israel-supporters.
The tea party movement is your ally for three important reasons. First, it supports capitalism against the forces of socialism — and capitalism keeps America strong enough to provide Israel with a hand against its evil adversaries. Second, American Jews are, by far, the highest-earning religious group in the United States — the tea party fights for your right to keep your money. Third, the tea party stands against government overreach — and in an era when government overreach promotes anti-religious secularism, Jews must stand with the tea party.
Your rejection of evangelical Christians is even more idiotic. Evangelical Christians are the only major voting bloc preventing President Obama from breaking ties with Israel. When Janet Porter, an evangelical Florida talk show host, heard about Obama’s anti-Israel tyranny, she responded by asking her listeners to buy dozens of yellow roses to send to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office as a show of support. The price per dozen: $19.48, in honor of the year of Israel’s founding (1948). Over 14,000 flowers were delivered. Meanwhile, Adm. James Jones, Obama’s national security adviser and the man who brought Jew-hater Zbigniew Brzezinski into Obama’s inner circle, was busy telling anti-Semitic jokes before the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“But they want to convert us!” many American Jews shout. Not all Christians do. But for the rest — so what? Would you sacrifice the support of millions of good-hearted Christians because they want to discuss Jesus with you? If your own belief system is so fragile, the weakness is yours, not theirs. While you expend energy whining about Jehovah’s Witnesses who show up at your door with a Bible, Obama supports radical Muslims who would show up at your door with a gun — or, as in the case of Daniel Pearl, a butcher’s knife.
Now, I understand, American Jews, that most of you don’t care about Israel.
I understand that you’re more concerned about a woman’s unconditional right to abort her unborn child (which Judaism rejects) than you are about Israel. Fine. Understand that you have removed yourself from the vast river of Jewish history in favor of a chimerical morality that values libertinism over liberty.
I understand that many of you — all of you above age 70 — still think FDR is alive. He isn’t, but Jimmy Carter is.
I understand that some of you still think that conservatives and Republicans are the same folks they were during the 1950s, when they banned you from country clubs. They aren’t.
The simple fact is this: There is only one mainstream political ideology in this country that asks you to check your principles and cultural history at the door in the name of the greater good — leftism, the same ideology that virtually exterminated Judaism in Russia and Europe. While the left exploits your adherence to bagel-and-lox Judaism by appealing to your watered-down and perverted “tikkun olam” sensibilities, you are enabling your own destruction. The same people who urge you to reach out to terrorists will be the first to sacrifice you to those terrorists’ tender mercies. The same people who urge you to worry about same-sex marriage rather than religious freedom will be the first to take your religious freedoms away.
I love you, my brothers and sisters. That’s why I’m writing to you. Time is running out; the clock is winding down. Pick a side.
by Dennis Prager
If there is any group that should know the uniqueness of Nazi evil and should not want the evil of the Holocaust cheapened for political purposes, it is the Jews. Yet, there is at least a 50-50 chance that if you read or hear a public personality use Nazi imagery to describe conservatives, the person is a Jew. Specifically, a Jew on the Left.
Of course, non-Jews on the Left also compare conservatives to Nazis, and some non-Jews on the Right will sometimes compare the Left to Nazis, but there are three important differences.
First, however many or few tea party banners compare President Obama to Hitler (and such comparisons are as reprehensible as they are self-defeating), conservative public figures — such as politicians and prominent columnists — almost never compare liberals to Nazis, while public figures on the Left often compare conservatives to Nazis.
Second, among liberal Jews, the percentage that believes that Americans on the Right are just a step or two away from being Nazis seems to be greater than the proportion of liberal non-Jews who believe that.
Third, when Jews on the Left call conservative Americans Nazis, they mean it in its literal sense — they really do regard the conservatives they compare to Nazis as racists comparable to Nazi anti-Semites. On the other hand, when conservatives use the term, it is meant to signify non-democratic or dictatorial policies, regimes or individuals — e.g., Seinfeld’s “soup Nazi” or Rush Limbaugh’s “feminazis” — not as potential or likely mass murderers.
Why is this? Why do so many Jews see conservative/Right-wing Americans as Nazi-like?
The answer lies in the rhetoric of the Left and in Jews’ fears.
Leftist rhetoric routinely depicts opponents of the Left in extreme terms. Opponents of race-based affirmative action are racists. Opponents of same-sex marriage are homophobes. Opponents of illegal immigration are xenophobes, racists and engaged in Nazism (that is the word that Cardinal Roger Mahony used to describe Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration law). And so on.
But there is an additional explanation for why liberal and Leftist Jews use “Nazi” and “Holocaust” rhetoric to depict conservatives.
Jews, Right or Left, have been seared by the Holocaust. And most, if not all, believe a Holocaust could happen again — hardly an idiosyncratic belief given Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s declared aim of annihilating the Jewish state.
Where liberal and conservative Jews differ is where each group thinks the greatest danger to the Jews lies. Jews on the Left are certain that the greatest threats to Jews come from the Right. Conservative and centrist Jews believe that dangers to the Jews can come from the Left, from the Right, from Islam, from a renewal of Christian anti-Semitism, indeed from anywhere, but that at this moment, the world’s Left is far more an enemy of the Jewish people than the world’s, not to mention America’s, Right.
When liberal Jewish columnist Frank Rich of The New York Times wrote recently that tea partiers had engaged a “small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht,” he meant it. Kristallnacht (“Night of the Broken Glass”) is widely considered the opening act of the Holocaust. In November 1938, in the course of two days, tens of thousands of German Jews were arrested and deported to concentration camps; scores of Jews were beaten to death; 267 synagogues were destroyed; and thousands of Jewish-owned businesses were vandalized.
Why would a New York Times columnist use the term when talking about American tea partiers?
Because when Rich and most other Jews on the Left see Right-wing non-Jews, they see swastikas. It is an inversion of the famous scene in Woody Allen’s film “Annie Hall” in which the WASP character is depicted as seeing the Woody Allen character as a Hasidic Jew. Most American Jews on the Left — like Leftist professors on college campuses — inhabit an insular universe, where regular, let alone intimate, contact with conservatives, especially Christian conservatives, is almost non-existent.
Last week, another Jewish liberal, Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., in attacking the tea partiers, specified “white Christians” as people who fear members of all other religious and racial groups. And this past September, Grayson, referring to Congress not having passed health care legislation, said on the floor of Congress, “I apologize to the dead and their families that we haven’t voted sooner to end this Holocaust in America.” In Grayson’s view, 12% of Americans not having health insurance constitutes a “Holocaust.”
Another liberal Jewish commentator for The New York Times, Linda Greenhouse, who teaches at Yale Law School, likened the situation of illegal immigrants in Arizona to that of the Jews of Nazi-occupied Denmark. As if being deported to Mexico for illegally entering Arizona is comparable to being sent to Auschwitz for being a Danish Jew.
The liberal Jewish former-columnist of the Boston Globe, Ellen Goodman, wrote in 2007, “Let’s just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers ...”
Another Jew on the Left, George Soros, said at the Davos conference in 2007, “America needs to follow the policies it has introduced in Germany. We have to go through a certain de-Nazification process.” As Martin Peretz wrote at the time in The New Republic: “He believes that the United States is now a Nazi country. Why else would we have to go through a ‘certain de-Nazification process’? I defy anybody to interpret the remark differently.”
And Seth Meyers of “Saturday Night Live” asked, referring to the new Arizona law, “Could we all agree that there’s nothing more Nazi than saying ‘Show me your papers’?”
These are only a few examples.
Jews who compare conservative Americans — tea partiers, global-warming skeptics, supporters of Arizona’s illegal-immigrant law, former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, conservative Christians — to Nazis and the Holocaust not only smear decent Americans — who, as it happens, are far more pro-Jewish and pro-Israel than most Americans on the Left — they also cheapen the horror of Nazism and the Holocaust.
But in the closed world of the Left generally and of the Jewish Left specifically, there is an Auschwitz under almost every conservative bed.
As a Jew who has devoted much of his life to fighting anti-Semitism — from being sent by Israel to the former Soviet Union to aid Soviet Jews, to writing a book on anti-Semitism (“Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism”), to serving on the board of directors of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum — I have always found any trivialization of Nazism and the Holocaust offensive. That Jews would do this — to fellow Americans, no less — and solely in order to serve their Left-wing politics is worse than offensive. It is immoral.
Bakery owner had lost her Jewish dietary law certificate because of her faith.
JERUSALEM (Compass Direct News) – For three long years a Jewish believer in Christ struggled to keep her bakery business alive after the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the country’s highest religious governing body, annulled her kashrut (Jewish dietary law) certificate because of her faith.
Pnina Conforti, 51, finally gave a sigh of relief when the Israeli Supreme Court on June 29 ruled that her belief in Jesus Christ was unrelated to her eligibility for a kashrut certificate. While bakeries and restaurants in Israel are not required to obtain such a permit, the loss of one often slows the flow of customers who observe Jewish dietary laws and eventually can destroy a business.
Conforti said that the last three years were very difficult for her and her family, as she lost nearly 70% of her customers.
“We barely survived, but now it’s all behind us,” she said. “Apparently, many people supported us, and were happy with the verdict. Enough is enough.”
Conforti, who describes herself as a Messianic Jew, had built her Pnina Pie bakeries in Gan Yavne and Ashdod from scratch. She said her nightmare began in 2002 with an article about her in “Kivun,” a magazine for Messianic Jews in Israel.
“Soon after, the people of the Rabbinate summoned me and told me that my kashrut certificate was annulled because I do not profess Judaism,” she said.
Food prepared in accordance with kashrut guidelines is termed kosher, from the Hebrew kasher, or “fit,” and includes prohibition of cooking and consuming meat and diary products together, keeping different sets of dishes for those products, and slaughtering animals according to certain rules. News of the faith of owner of the Pnina Pie bakery in Gan Yavne spread quickly, soon reaching extremist organizations such as Yad le’Achim, a sometimes violent Orthodox Jewish group.
“They spread around a pamphlet with my photo, warning people away from acquiring products from my business,” Conforti said. “One such a pamphlet was hung in a synagogue. However, I refused to surrender to them and continued working as usual.”
Four years later, in 2006, Conforti decided to open another patisserie in Ashdod, near her original shop in Gan Yavne, in southern Israel. The business flourished, but success didn’t last long.
“A customer of mine, an Orthodox Jew from Ashdod, visited his friends and relatives in Gan Yavne,” she said. “There in the synagogue he came across a pamphlet from 2002 with my photo on it. In addition to boycott calls, I was also described as a missionary. My customer confronted me, and I honestly told him I was a believer.”
Soon thereafter the Rabbinate of Ashdod withdrew the kashrut certificate from her shop there, she said.
“Pamphlets in Hebrew, English and French about me begun circulating around the town,” Conforti said. “They even printed some in Russian, since they saw that the customers of Russian origin continue to arrive.”
The withdrawal of the certificate from the shop in Ashdod in 2006 was a serious blow to her business. Conforti decided to take action, and her lawyer appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court. Judges Yoram Denziger, Salim Jubran and Eliezer Rivlin ruled that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel overstepped its authority.
“The Kashrut Law states clearly that only legal deliberations directly related to what makes the food kosher are relevant, not wider concerns unrelated to food preparation,” the panel of judges wrote.
In response, the Chief Rabbinate accused the judges of meddling in religious affairs.
Soon after she petitioned the Supreme Court, Conforti said, the Chief Rabbinate had offered her a deal by which it would issue her business a kashrut certificate but with certain restrictions, such as handing the keys of the bakery to a kashrut supervisor at night. Conforti declined.
Tzvi Sedan, editor-in-chief of “Kivun,” said the Supreme Court verdict was paramount.
“It’s important not only for Messianic Jews, but also for every other business owner who has to suffer from the arbitrariness of the Rabbinate,” Sedan said. “But I still want to see this decision implemented fully in reality.”
At press time Conforti still hadn’t received the certificate. She was waiting for a team of inspectors from the Rabbinate to inspect the business prior to issuing her the certificate.
A Jew of Yemenite origin, Conforti said she was raised in religious family but came to trust in Christ following her encounter with a Christian family during a visit to the United States.
“There I found Christ and embraced him as my personal Savior,” she said. “I do not engage in [evangelistic] activity, but if someone starts a conversation about my faith, I will speak openly about it.”
By Burt Prelutsky
If I am asked one question by my readers far more frequently than any other, it’s why do so many American Jews insist on aligning themselves with the far left. Believe me, being Jewish myself, it’s the question I most frequently ask myself.
It’s certainly not because Jews are stupid, evil, unpatriotic or dependent on government handouts for their survival, four reasons that certainly explain why millions of my fellow Americans will eagerly line up to vote for any political crackpot so long as he or she is running as a Democrat.
Having given it a great deal of thought, I believe the explanation is to be found in the way we tend to be raised. It’s not so strange if you think about it. After all, most people are Catholics or Protestants, Mormons or Muslims, because that was the religion practiced in their homes. Well, for most Jews, liberal politics played an essential role in their upbringing. It’s why a much higher percentage of us vote for Democrats than attend synagogue regularly or keep kosher.
Furthermore, we are raised to think of ourselves as victims or at least potential victims. Considering the fact that we are often among the best-educated and most successful members of American society, it must seem odd to non-Jews to even imagine such a thing. What is easily overlooked, however, is that when a group of people have been oppressed for thousands of years, the sense of impending doom almost becomes a part of their DNA. No matter how well things are going today, tomorrow you and your friends and all of your relatives could be on your way out. And the only question is whether it’s merely out of the country or into the ovens.
As a result, Jews have an inclination to identify — some might say over-identify — with those they see as fellow underdogs. In America, those people would more often than not be blacks, Hispanics and even criminals, which helps explain the large Jewish presence and financial stake in the ACLU. The pathetic irony is that those are three groups that are among the most virulently anti-Semitic in America. But it also explains why a great many Jews — particularly those who are young, secular and on college campuses — are such vocal partisans of the Palestinians.
At times, it seems as if we exist in some surrealistic universe in which, with the notable exception of Jimmy Carter, American Christians are often more devoted to Israel’s survival than American Jews are. At the same time, many Jews feel they have more to fear from fundamentalist Christians than from fundamentalist Islamics! [KH: !!!!!]
I know what you’re thinking, ladies and gentlemen, but keep in mind I only said I’d try to explain it. I never said it would make sense.
By Burt Prelutsky
It is a peculiar thing about Jews that we seem to trust our enemies more than we do our friends. Maybe that’s because, historically, we at least had the comfort of knowing where we stood with those who openly despised us, but very often suffered betrayal from our alleged allies.
It would help explain why many of my older relatives, those who had been born in Czarist Russia and had experienced pogroms, believed in Stalin, and eagerly lapped up his propaganda. Because he was an enemy of their enemies, they foolishly mistook him for a friend. It’s simplistic, but why else would so many seemingly well-informed American Jews have enlisted in the Communist Party, swelling the ranks of Stalin’s “useful idiots”?
These days, the most consistently pro-Israel group of Americans, oddly enough, are evangelical Christians. A sane and rational person might assume that fact would be appreciated and applauded by us. By and large, however, that isn’t the case. Many of my fellow Jews don’t like or trust devout Christians. When I ask them why, they suddenly become history professors. To listen to them, you’d think the Inquisition had ended earlier this year. Frankly, when I hear them dredging up ancient animosities, I’m surprised they haven’t taken a page out of the Al Sharpton playbook and demanded reparations from Spain!
When I point out that Jews have enjoyed unprecedented freedom and prosperity in a Christian nation — namely, the United States — my friends insist that it’s not Christian. At which point, I have to laugh.
The fact that we’re not a theocracy does not make their case, no matter how loudly they may insist on it. When we say that Turkey, for instance, is an Islamic nation and that India is Hindu and that Italy is Catholic, although none of them is a theocratic state, how can we deny that America, whose population is overwhelmingly Christian — and is only 2% Jewish — is Christian?! The fact of the matter is that America has a higher proportion of Christians than Israel has of Jews.
The problem between pro-Israel Jews and pro-Israel evangelicals is that the Christians believe that, come Judgment Day, Jews will have to convert to the true faith or be doomed for all eternity. Big deal. There are millions of people who believe that Elvis is alive, that James Dean will stage a comeback as soon as the scars heal, and even that the Cubs will go all the way this year!
I have no way of knowing if Christians are correct in believing that the Messiah is coming back a second time, or if Jews are right in thinking that Jesus was a first-rate prophet, but not quite up to raising the dead. Where faith is concerned, I don’t take sides.
In case you haven’t guessed, I’m not religiously oriented. However, I’m for anything that helps people behave decently and helps them cope with all the inevitable tragedies of life, up to and including death. In my experience, anyway, most religions in America perform those functions more often than not.
Understand, I do not support Israel because it’s a Jewish state. I am on its side because it is, one, a democracy in a part of the world where democracy is as alien as barbecued pork; two, it is a staunch ally of America; and, three, for over fifty years, although it has been besieged by terrorist states and fanatical killers, it has displayed remarkable restraint. It is a restraint that, I humbly confess, I could not duplicate in my wildest dreams.
So when I hear American Jews who, as often as not, are no more religious than I, dismiss Christian sympathizers, I say to them: “So you believe one thing about Jesus and they believe another. So what? Who cares? If it makes you happy, make a bet with an evangelical, and in a million years or whenever the great Hallelujah Day rolls around, one of you will owe the other one five bucks. In the meanwhile, in a world in which Israel’s opponents out-number her supporters by at least five hundred-to-one, it’s high time you learned to distinguish between friend and foe.”
By Michael Medved (a Jew)
Many of the bitter controversies in every corner of the globe inevitably raise the same ancient question: why does the world hate the Jews?
Whether it’s the angry international reaction to Israel’s efforts to defend itself in Lebanon, or Mel Gibson’s drunken rant in Malibu, the age-old specter of anti-Semitism refuses to disappear. With only 13 million Jews in the world – less than one fourth of one percent of the earth’s population – why does this tiny group inspire such bitter, widespread and often violent animosity?
The answer is obvious to anyone who monitors anti-Semitic propaganda from all its multifarious sources. People who express hatred, resentment or fear regarding the Jews almost always focus on charges of Jewish arrogance, elitism, aggressiveness and lust for power. According to the classic logic of anti-Semites everywhere, Jews deserve harsher treatment than anyone else because they work harder than anyone else to enshrine their own superior status. This argument suggests that the only way to answer constant Jewish demands for special treatment and privilege is to impose special limitations and restrictions on their instinctive will to dominate. According to such logic, the rest of the world must work together to cut Jews down to size; only then will they function on the same plane as everyone else. As Hutton Gibson (Holocaust-denying father of the scandal-tarnished star, Mel) revealingly declared to interviewer Steve Feuerstein: “I don’t know what the Jewish agenda is except that it’s all about control. They’re after one world religion and one world government.”
This central, primeval charge that arrogant Jews seek global dominance originates from three distinct historical factors:
1- The emphasis on the “Chosen People” concept in the Bible
2- The prominence and prosperity of Jews in most nations in which they’ve established significant communities, and
3- The startling successes of the State of Israel in the mere 60 years of its existence.
These circumstances sometimes perplex even people of good will and therefore deserve deeper consideration and explanation.
I. CHOSEN PEOPLE CONCEPT
While it’s true that the Bible speaks repeatedly of a special relationship between God and the Jews, anti-Semitic agitators have always misunderstood or distorted the essential nature of that connection. According to Scripture, the Jews have been chosen for distinct responsibilities, not for unique privileges: we accept special obligations, rather than claiming special power. In Jewish tradition, non-Jews are expected to follow just seven commandments—the Noahide laws of basic morality. According to mainstream Torah teaching, gentiles who follow these rules (don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t commit gross sexual immorality, and so forth) should be judged as righteous and assumed to earn their share in the World to Come (the afterlife). God, however, expects his covenantal people to apply far more numerous and stringent commandments to their behavior – 613 commandments, to be exact – regarding everything from food, to business ethics, marital relations, and Sabbath observance.
The concept of chosen-ness, in other words, involves a significant burden rather than privileged status —a burden reflected in the common phrase, “Ohl Malchus Shamayim” or “The Yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven,” to describe the commitment of every Jew who accepts the covenant of Abraham. Moreover, Jews remain more a “choosing people” than a “chosen people” because so many non-Jews over the centuries (and particularly in recent years) have selected Jewish identity and converted to our faith. In the US, nearly 10% of today’s Jewish population of 5.2 million counts as converts to Judaism. Though we don’t emphasize proselytizing efforts in the style of Evangelical Christians, many of the leaders of the Jewish people (including hugely significant rabbis in nearly every era for the last 2000 years) have been “Jews by Choice” — those who weren’t born Jewish, but chose to join our people through an ancient, well-established process of conversion.
Finally, the whole idea of the “Chosen People” has never brought the assumption that God selected us for unusual political, military or even economic authority. The Bible suggests that the Jews will be “a nation of priests and a holy nation” — not some sort of all-conquering superpower within the Middle East or the world at large. Our tradition has always defined Jewish power as spiritual, rather than practical and worldly. No Jewish leader, going all the way back to Moses and Abraham, has ever suggested that our people should dominate the world and control other nations. The Bible specifies relatively modest borders for the Holy Land, and repeatedly mentions the much larger, far more formidable empires to the south (Egypt) and to the East (Babylonia, Assyria, Persia). Even during the glory days of ancient Israel under David and Solomon the Jewish state never achieved full control of that promised territory—let alone a world-girdling empire. At that time, as with Israel today, the Jewish people sought only to live unmolested within the confines of their own cherished land, each man “beneath his own vine and own fig tree.”
II. JEWISH PROMINENCE AND SUCCESS IN THE LANDS OF THE DIASPORA
No one can deny that Jews in the United States and in many other nations recently have achieved surprising levels of prosperity and influence but any talk of Jewish “dominance” or “control” in those societies remains the province of neo-Nazi propagandists. There is no significant industry or arena of endeavor – no, not one—in any nation in the world (outside of Israel) in which Jews outnumber or rule over non-Jews. Even the famous Jewish command of Hollywood is an ignorant myth concerning an increasingly international industry in which the prominence of influential Jews has actually decreased in the last seventy years. Most of the pioneering movie studios founded and owned by immigrant Jewish families have either gone out of the movie production business altogether (M-G-M) or else sold out to strikingly non-Jewish corporations (Columbia to the Japanese Sony Corporation, and 20th Century Fox to an Australian descendant of Presbyterian clergy, Rupert Murdoch). The two largest entertainment conglomerates in the world boast board chairmen who are African-American (Richard Parsons at Time Warner) and Arab American (George Mitchell at Disney) neither of whom are remotely Jewish. The yearly lists of Hollywood’s most influential power players, as identified by Premiere Magazine and other sources, regularly show that close to one-fourth of the movers-and-shakers are Jews—a disproportionate showing, to be sure, but hardly an indication of Jewish dominance. Similarly, the Fortune 500 list of the nation’s largest corporations features a top ten ranking that includes three oil companies with strong Arab ties and no affection whatever for Israel, as well as a car company (Ford) founded by one of history’s most outspoken anti-Semites, and a retailer run by conservative Christians from Arkansas (Wal-Mart)—but not a single corporation that was founded, run, or owned by Jews. Among the top 100, at most six (including Home Depot, Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers) could classify in any way as “Jewish companies.” With these incontrovertible facts easy to verify for anyone with access to the internet or a library, it becomes even more difficult to explain the persistent, pernicious and utterly false belief that Jews “own” or “control” most of the world’s banks, newspapers, media companies and other important instiutions. Part of the confusion involves appalling lies and misinformation: many callers to my radio show somehow believe that the Rockefellers are Jewish (they were actually German Christians who arrived in Philadelphia in 1723) or that the Rothschild family—a favorite target of anti-Semites for more than 200 years— still dominates world banking (the family’s power actually peaked in the Napoleonic era and their influence on the global economy today is either invisible or non-existent).
There is also a tendency on the part of paranoid anti-Semites to search out a few Jewish names even in areas in which Jews play minor roles in order to triumphantly affirm the myth of “Jewish control.” Consider the case of the Bush administration and the frequent, laughably absurd charge that it’s somehow dominated by Jewish “neo-conservatives” who forced the President to make war on Iraq for the sake of Israel. In truth, Jews remained conspicuously absent from positions of authority during the first Bush term: for the first time in more than 65 years (since the Presidency of FDR!) the President’s Cabinet (15 department heads in all) included not a single Jew. The true believers in a Neo-Con cabal invariably cite just two names who held sub-cabinet posts (Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense and Douglas Feith, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy) and a single civilian advisor to the Defense Department (Richard Perle, of the Defense Policy Board) who doesn’t even count as an administration employee. The anti-Semites focus on these names not because of their importance (anyone who believes that Wolfowitz and Feith secretly controlled their imperious, tough-as-nails boss, Don Rumsfeld, knows nothing about Rummy) but because they happen to be Jewish. Similarly, conspiracists like to blame Jews in the Senate for pushing us into war with Iraq, while ignoring the fact that a bare majority of the eleven Jewish Senators at the time (including such fierce anti-war advocates as Russ Feingold and Barbara Boxer) actually voted against the resolution authorizing war –at a time when nearly 80% of their gentile colleagues lined up on the other side to support the President in deposing Saddam Hussein.
To me, one of the most mystifying aspects of the stubborn belief in Jewish influence and power is the notion that our fractious, deeply divided, largely disaffiliated people somehow manages to get together to exert that authority. I’m a Jewish radio talk show host, and so is the appalling (and unfunny) Al Franken of Air America. We agree on nothing, and we’ve both managed to survive several very angry, bitter, public confrontations. Do Jew-haters believe that behind the scenes we receive the same secret memos from Jewish Conspiracy Central, or else get together in dank, shadowy rooms to study the one-hundred-year-old hoax, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”? Less than half of the U.S. Jewish population (alas!) gives to any Jewish charity, or holds membership in any synagogue, Temple, pro-Israel lobbying group, B’nai B’rith lodge, or other Jewish organization.
In this context, the almost mystical, profoundly illogical belief in “Jewish power” based on our over-representation among accountants and dentists amounts to more than a delusion; it is, in fact, a sickness.
III: ISRAEL’S SUCCESS – AND ALLEGEDLY “EXPANSIONIST” AND “IMPERIALIST” NATURE
In order to credit Islamist denunciations of an “Israeli Empire,” or worry that the perennially embattled Jewish state might indeed count as uniquely aggressive and power hungry, one must remain incurably ignorant not only of contemporary history but of rudimentary geography. The merest glance at a map reveals the incontrovertible fact that Israel remains, in every sense, a tiny nation. Egypt alone – representing only one of Israel’s twenty hostile Arab neighbors—is more than 48 times the land area of Israel. Adding together only the various Arab nations (without including other vast Islamic homelands like Iran and Afghanistan and Pakistan), the Arabs control well over 300 times the area of the New Jersey-sized Jewish state. In other words, even before President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran succeeds (God forbid) in his plan to “wipe Israel from the map,” 99.7% of the Arab lands are already free of Jews.
Moreover, for nearly thirty years, Israel has been shrinking and retreating – not expanding – hardly the behavior of an aggressive empire bent on world domination. After capturing the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza and the West Bank in a defensive war in 1967, Israel returned the vast Sinai to Egypt in 1978, agreed to the establishment of a Palestinian State on most of the West Bank and Gaza in 1993, vacated its security zone in Lebanon in 2000, abandoned Gaza entirely in 2005 and, under the current Prime Minister, committed to moving out of nearly all territory in the West Bank in the near future. In retrospect, some of these moves look like horrible policy mistakes, but they unequivocally indicate that there is no basis at all to suggest that Israeli aggression accounts for contemporary anti-Semitism.
The establishment of the modern Jewish state wasn’t a cause of Jew hatred, but a response to Jew hatred—not only in Europe, but throughout the Islamic world where some 800,000 Middle Eastern and North African Jews were driven from their ancient communities and found new homes in Israel. None of Israel’s eight major wars has been about a Jewish lust for new territory. All of them have been about a beleaguered nation’s ceaseless attempts to make its citizens secure from murderous attack in the distinctly limited area of their ancestral homeland. Every Arab child in Lebanon, in Gaza, and in the West Bank could sleep sweet, undisturbed slumber as soon as tomorrow night if the adults once-and-for-all gave up their long-standing project of driving the Jews out of the Middle East.
Contrary to anti-Semitic presumptions, Israel has never demanded special privileges of any kind, but yearns (and bleeds) only for the same rights other nations enjoy: to live undisturbed beside its neighbors without unceasing attack by terrorists, militias and, occasionally, major armies. Montenegro, the newest member of the family of nations after a referendum this year, won independence and worldwide recognition despite the fact that more than 45% of the electorate opposed bringing the nation into existence, and only a bare majority claims Montenegran (as opposed to Serbian) nationality. More than 80% of the residents of Israel are Jewish, and they have fought tenaciously for their nationhood for nearly sixty years. The desire for peaceful borders and acceptance from fanatical neighbors hardly amounts to an Israeli demand of privileged status, but the refusal to grant that recognition reflects the classical attitude of the anti-Semite: that Jews indeed deserve different treatment from all other nations on earth but in a negative, hostile and, ultimately murderous sense.
In conclusion, none of the three obsessive fears of Jew haters—the “Chosen People” concept, Jewish prosperity in the Diaspora, and Israel’s success (so far) in nation-building and self-defense –demonstrates in any way a push for world conquest or superior standing for the children of Abraham. How, then, can we understand the imperishable belief that Jews function as an arrogant, imperious, overbearing people? In a few words, that resentment stems in truth from the age-old Jewish refusal to abandon our separate identity, our irreducible distinctiveness through the millennia. My friends Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin provide the most compelling exposition on this dynamic in their invaluable book, Why the Jews?, recently reissued.
In any event, the logic becomes most accessible when considered in personal, intimate terms. If a small group among your neighbors refuses invitations to worship in your churches and mosques, to eat the food you prepare in your homes, to marry your daughters, to embrace your nationalisms, or to share your enthusiasm for the ultimate, universally applicable perfection of your Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Catholic, Islamic, Nazi or Communist worldview, then it’s all but certain you will resent the members of that stubborn group – and assume that they exclude themselves from elements of your society due to an innate, obnoxious sense of superiority.
For Jews who try to remain faithful to the old covenant, there’s no choice about the unyielding refusal to assimilate and disappear—and no surprise at the angry reaction in much of the world. After all, the Bible repeatedly predicts that response. This realization doesn’t make it any easier to cope with anti-Semitism, but it does make the eternal hatred comprehensible. No matter how inconvenient or unpopular, we get our marching orders from the commandments—including the crucial and celebrated injunction to choose life, for ourselves and our people.
JERUSALEM (AP) — To David and Ayala Milstein, their son Omri was Jewish from the moment they adopted him as a 7-week-old baby from a Uzbekistan orphanage and brought him home to Israel.
“From the second we adopted him, from the second we took him into our home — he was our son as if he were born to us biologically,” David Milstein said. “So he is a Jew.”
But in Israel, the determination of Jewishness is far more than personal.
Orthodox rabbis refused to convert Omri to Judaism unless the Milsteins, who are secular, agreed to follow an Orthodox lifestyle, and the government has refused to recognize his conversion by non-Orthodox rabbis.
The Milsteins and another Israeli couple filed suit this week in Israel’s Supreme Court to force the government to recognize their children as Jewish.
That recognition affects whether a person can marry or even be buried in Israel, where the Orthodox establishment controls marriage, divorce and death proceedings.
It “means the world,” said David Milstein. “I’m trying to picture him at the kindergarten, and other children saying he’s not a Jew. We want him to live as a normal child.”
The lawsuit is part of a much larger struggle over the role of religion in a democracy that also happens to be the Jewish state.
The fallout from that struggle spreads far beyond Israel’s borders, resonating most strongly in the United States, where 90% of American Jews belong to movements not recognized as legitimate in Israel.
Last month, a bill to invalidate conversions by non-Orthodox rabbis inside Israel passed the first of three readings in parliament.
Although the bill addresses only conversions inside Israel, it outraged thousands of Reform and Conservative Jews in the United States who provide Israel with political and financial support.
“The message is: You’re second-class Jews,” said Rabbi Amiel Hirsch, executive director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly assured American Jews that his government would not do anything to affect their status.
“I won’t hide my desire to find some kind of solution that ... will not cause problems with world Jewry and American Jewry,” he said Thursday. “It’s a very hard thing.”
But religious parties, who won a record 23 out of 120 parliament seats last year and comprise about one-third of Netanyahu’s governing coalition, say they want to expand the bill to include overseas conversions as well.
And Reform activists in Israel say cases such as the Milsteins’ belie Netanyahu’s assurances.
“It is simply a false statement,” said Rabbi Uri Regev, director of the Israeli Reform movement’s Religious Action Center. “There is a general onslaught on Reform and Conservative conversions, whether done in Israel or overseas.”
The plight of the Reform and Conservative movements draws little attention in Israel, where most Israeli Jews are secular and most of those who are observant are Orthodox.
Like most Israelis, the Milsteins had never had any contact with non-Orthodox Judaism before they turned to Reform rabbis to convert their son. There is no Reform synagogue in Beersheba, where they live.
“People don’t know what Reform is about,” David Milstein said. “The Orthodox are making it look like a big circus, not like a religious movement.”
Although the Milsteins now support the Reform movement, the issue for them is how much influence the religious should have over their daily lives.
When they brought their son to Israel last fall, they took him to the Orthodox rabbinate in Beersheba to be converted.
“How do we know the biological father wasn’t a murderer?” the rabbi asked them.
Another rabbi told them he was willing to convert Omri, but only if the Milsteins agreed to raise him according to Orthodox Jewish law —including sending him to religious schools, keeping the Sabbath, and observing Jewish dietary laws.
When the boy was six or seven, the rabbi said, the rabbinate would check to see if the Milsteins had kept their promise. If not, he warned, Omri’s Jewishness could be revoked.
“We don’t believe in this kind of enforcement,” Milstein said. “And we don’t think that we want to bring him up this way.”
On the advice of a Reform rabbi, the couple took Omri to London, where he underwent conversion — including a ritual immersion —before four Reform rabbis.
In Israel, the Interior Ministry registered Omri as Israeli, but refused to list him as a Jew — leaving blank the space for nationality that appears on every Israeli’s ID card.
The matter of conversions by people who make quick trips overseas to get them is under examination and “not acceptable at the moment,” Alisa Inbari, a ministry spokeswoman, told The Associated Press.
Ministry officials told the Milsteins that Omri would be registered as Jewish eventually, once the conversion law was sorted out.
But the Milsteins were not placated. What if the law changes and he is not recognized as Jewish?
“They don’t have the right to tell me and my husband how to be good Jews,” said Ayala Milstein. “We did it according to the law.
“They don’t have any right to tell us what to do with our little son.”
ROME — The Roman Catholic Church criticized itself over its past relations with Jews Friday when a prayer in a Good Friday service led by Pope John Paul II said Jews had been “crucified by us for so long.”
The prayer, read by a speaker, came during the traditional and hauntingly evocative Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) service around the ruins of Rome’s ancient Colosseum, where Christians were slaughtered during the time of ancient Rome.
The prayer recounted the Biblical story of the crowd in Jerusalem shouting “Crucify Him!” when Roman governor Pontius Pilate asked what should be done with Christ.
It then answered what appeared to be a silent rhetorical question about responsibility for Christ’s death.
“Oh no, not the Jewish people, crucified by us for so long...not the crowd...not them, but us, all of us and each of us (crucified Christ), because we are all assassins of love,” the prayer said.
The prayer went on to say that all people were responsible for the follies of this century, including “the ashes of Auschwitz, the ice of the Gulags,” the killing fields of Asia and the massacres of central Africa.
The Catholic Church officially repudiated the notion of collective Jewish guilt for Christ’s death in 1965 in a document drawn up by the reformist Second Vatican Council.
But Friday was believed to be the first time the concept was repudiated at a Good Friday service in the Pope’s presence commemorating the crucifixion.
Catholic-Jewish relations were also the subject of a “Passion of the Lord” service in St Peter’s Basilica attended by the Pope earlier on Friday.
“There was a deicide (killing of a God) but we know that not only the Jews were responsible, but all of us,” Father Raniero Cantalamessa, official Preacher of the Pontifical Household, said at that service.
“Let’s make a bonfire of our hostilities. Let’s destroy them before they destroy us,” Cantalamessa said.
Last month, the Vatican issued its controversial document on the Holocaust, called “We Remember, a Reflection on the Shoah.”
The document was an apology for individual Catholics who failed to help Jews persecuted by the Nazis. But it fell far short of satisfying some Jewish leaders.
At the Colosseum procession the Pope, looking tired, held up a cross for only two of the 14 “stations” that recall events between Christ’s arrest and burial.
This has been the practice since 1994, when the Pontiff broke his leg. The cross was carried at other points in the service by seven faithful from the Philippines, Italy, Burundi, Argentina and China on a wet and stormy evening.
Good Friday was the second of four days of ceremonies culminating on Easter Sunday that will be a test of the frail Pope’s stamina.
On Saturday night, the Pope will preside at an Easter vigil mass in St Peter’s Basilica.
On Easter Sunday, the most important day in the Christian liturgical calendar, the Pope celebrates a mass in St Peter’s Square to commemorate Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
The Pope will deliver his twice-yearly “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message and blessing at noon on Sunday when he sends his best wishes to the faithful around the globe in a multitude of languages.
In the past, hundreds of thousands of people have packed St Peter’s Square and the surrounding area for the Easter service, which is transmitted live around the world.
By David Klinghoffer
Jewish establishment has learned a lot about recently, but we can stand to learn more.
For years, the Christian Right supported Israel with more passion than many Jews could muster. But rather than thank Christians and seek to deepen that support, groups like the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Congress, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center acted as private police agencies, rooting out any hints of Christian “intolerance.” Intolerance was defined as expressing certainty either about moral matters (homosexuality, abortion) or about certain theological questions (like, “Who goes to Heaven?” or “Who killed Jesus?”).
When Christian leaders committed “intolerance” they could count on being publicly humiliated by the likes of Abraham Foxman of the ADL or Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Wiesenthal Center.
This pattern persisted even into the recent crisis in Israel, when pro-Israel sentiments among Christians were clearly what was behind the pro-Israel tilt among congressional Republicans and in the White House.
Then, amazingly, something changed. You began to see media report after media report about Jews, in the establishment and at the grassroots level, who had been, simply, overwhelmed by the feeling of gratitude. Apart from America, the whole world was against Israel. And here were these customary bogeymen, these Christian right-wingers, for whom even an Abe Foxman couldn’t help feeling a certain warmth. In New York’s Jewish Week, it was reported that Foxman approached and thanked — yes, thanked — pro-Israel Christian politico Gary Bauer, though he stipulated that he would continue to oppose Bauer’s conservative domestic agenda.
Now we have the latest development. Yechiel Eckstein is a Chicago rabbi whose group, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, raises money from Christians for Israel and for impoverished Jews elsewhere in the world. (Last year, more than $22 million.) With fanfare from the New York Times and a full-page ad in the Washington Post, Rabbi Eckstein has retained the services of political consultant Ralph Reed to be the Christian cochairman of “Stand for Israel,” a new group for Christian Zionists.
Christian-Jewish cooperation is suddenly the idea of the moment. All of which is a most welcome improvement on the previous state of affairs.
Yet something further needs to be learned about graciousness, and about friendship. It’s wonderful that Abe Foxman is now Gary Bauer’s pal. But what does friendship really mean?
Being a friend to another person or to a group of people is different from using them, however amiably. This fact, often overlooked, is stamped into the language of the Jewish soul: etymologically, the Hebrew word for friend, chaver, is a variation on the root that means “obligation.” That is, to be a friend is by definition to feel obliged. It means you have to give as well as take.
This should be of interest to Jews, but also to Christians, who may feel emboldened to start asking for something back.
At a minimum, Christians can reasonably ask that groups like the ADL, the American Jewish Congress, and Wiesenthal Center lay off a bit. In exchange for their vital support of Israel, at least until the Mideast crisis has subsided, let Foxman et al. declare a moratorium on bashing Christians.
If they’re feeling bolder, let Christian conservatives ask that the Jewish establishment reconsider its programmed loyalty to every whim and prejudice of the Democratic party. They might mention that the Jewish religion itself lines up naturally with a conservative way of thinking about politics — emphasizing individual rather than state moral responsibility, giving a prominent place to religious values and symbols in public institutions, two themes that are in evidence on almost every page of the Hebrew Bible.
All this is a matter of learning and expressing graciousness. That’s the ethical reason Jews might want to consider giving to Christians just as we receive from them.
For a lengthier treatment of the moral grounds for transforming the way the Jewish community deals with Christians, in the form of a free pamphlet, call up the organization I work for, Toward Tradition, at 800-591-7579, or send us an e-mail with your address at email@example.com.
Our pamphlet deals as well with a more pragmatic consideration, which I’ll mention here just because it’s amazing that the Jewish community, so devoted to Israel, is also so unaware of its own self-interest.
American Christians love Israel because they revere the Hebrew Bible. So far they haven’t been deterred by the experience of being kicked around by Abe Foxman & Co. So far! But could there be a limit to Christian patience? That is a question to which, for the sake of Israel, a nation dependent on American favor, let’s hope we never have to find out the answer.
— David Klinghoffer is editorial director of Toward Tradition and author of The Lord Will Gather Me In.
By DANIEL LAPIN
We live in amazing times, both terrible and wonderful. Terrible because we have seen American and Israeli lives threatened in new and horrible ways by Islamist fanatics. Wonderful because, as a consequence of this horror, we have seen something else, no less surprising: American Jews are waking up to the blessings of friendship with conservative Christians.
The steadfast support for Israel of Evangelical Christians — led by President Bush and Texas Republican Reps. Tom DeLay and Dick Armey — has engendered a sea change in American Jewish opinion. Innumerable media reports have spotlighted Jews who are rethinking their previously hostile attitudes toward Evangelical Christians. These Jews have decided that, after all, they welcome Christian support of Israel.
The signs of evolution come almost daily. Recently, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, graciously sought out conservative Christian leader Gary Bauer to thank him for supporting Israel — although Foxman added that he would continue to oppose Bauer’s conservative domestic agenda. Now Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, who raises millions of dollars for Israel from Christians, has retained the help of Christian politico Ralph Reed to create a new group, “Stand for Israel,” as a venue for Christian pro-Israel activism.
To anyone who appreciates the importance of friendly feelings for Israel on the Christian Right, all this is most welcome. And yet, what does true friendship mean for a Jew? In Hebrew, the word chaver, or “friend,” is built upon the root chov, which means “debt” or “responsibility.”
To be a friend, therefore, is not merely to receive benefit. Friendship carries with it a debt, a responsibility to be not only a taker but also a giver. Now that we Jews are ready to accept the support of pro-Israel Evangelical Christians, we must also be ready to shoulder the responsibility of moral indebtedness.
At very least, we have an obligation to desist from thinking of ourselves as the parole officer for the Rev. Billy Graham, who was recently humiliated for offensive remarks made long ago. We should also stop acting as the watchdogs over Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and many other Christian leaders, all of whom are devotedly pro-Israel and who are guilty of nothing more than frankly stating their religious beliefs, some of which we as Jews do not hold.
Perhaps it is also time to reconsider the automatic Jewish loyalty to every item on the platform of the Democratic Party. Let us rethink the politics of what it means to be Jewish. Let’s consider what our own Torah says it means to be Jewish. Conservative Christians pursue a politics of faith and virtue — seeking, among other things, to giving a prominent place to religious expression and values in public institutions. They will tell you they arrived at this political outlook by reading the Hebrew Scriptures, where faith is indeed not just a matter of private devotion.
One often hears that Christians have an “agenda.” Yes, they do. And it happens to be, at a profound level, a Jewish agenda. That is, if you regard the Hebrew Bible, as explained by oral tradition, as a Jewish document.
Admittedly I myself have an agenda. For a decade I have been arguing that conservative Christians are the natural allies of the Jewish community. I have emphasized that if you get to the know Evangelical Christians personally, you will find that they love Israel because they read the Bible from page one, as we do, and not because they are obsessed with Armageddon, as the media suggests.
You don’t have to be a conservative to see that we live in amazing times. New ways of thinking may be what is called for.
We Jews are just getting used to the idea of accepting the hand of Christian friendship. Soon, I believe, we will be ready to think seriously about what we wish to give back.
Rabbi Daniel Lapin is the president of Toward Tradition, a national alliance of Jews and Christians.
By Rabbi Daniel Lapin
The shocking revival of anti-Semitism in Europe has brought much grief to America’s Jewish community, and to our Christian fellow citizens as well. President Bush reacted to recent events with the heartening statement that “We reject the ancient evil of anti-Semitism, whether it is practiced by the killers of [Wall Street Journal reporter] Daniel Pearl or those who burn synagogues in France.” Commentators have sought an explanation for the seemingly unkillable hatred, practiced as street violence by youthful Arab hoodlums in European cities and looked upon with indifference by the European elite, a hatred sparked by Israel’s attempt to defend herself from Palestinian terrorists.
A question that doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone is this: Why does such vile enmity wrack Europe, while America not only remains free of it but persists in standing by Israel in the present clash with the Palestinians? Why do Americans so overwhelmingly favor Israel, while Europeans regard the Jews there as wretched interlopers?
The answer is to be found in the Bible — specifically in the first words of Genesis: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Everyone knows the Five Books of Moses are concerned with defining the laws that govern Jewish life. Why then does the Torah begin by recounting the Creation of the world? Why not start like any other legal code, launching directly into a recitation of laws?
The Midrash prophetically teaches that this is to provide a response to critics who call the Jewish people “thieves” of land, as Europeans and Palestinians do today. One message of Genesis 1:1 is that “All the earth belongs to the Holy One, Blessed Be He. He created [Israel] and bestows it upon whoever he chooses.” The verse is like the opening clause of a deed of ownership: The land of Israel is Jewish land because God made the earth and can divide it up among the nations as He wishes. Anyone who accepts the text of the deed will accept the Jewish claim on the land.
So we see why Christians are so sympathetic to the Jewish side in this painful conflict: It is because they revere the Bible. And America, quite simply, is the most enthusiastically Christian nation on earth.
Muslims, on the other hand, disdain the Bible and revere the Koran. Secularists disdain all Scripture. And Europe is now a secular land, having shed its former Christian faith.
It may be attractive to think of Christians, Jews, and Muslims as forming one great “Abrahamic” civilization, linking all believers in the One God. But the truth is that today we are witnessing two distinct religious civilizations in conflict: that of the Koran, allied with the believers in no God, violently challenging the civilization of the Bible, of Christianity and Judaism.
In Belgium and England, Italy and Ukraine, Greece and Holland, Germany and Slovakia, most especially in France, Arabs and post-Christians join together in reviling the Jews of the land of Israel, and by extension Jews everywhere. Synagogues burn. Cemeteries are desecrated. School buses and soccer teams are assaulted. Rabbis are beaten and knifed. And newspapers and political leaders look on, either denying that it is anti-Semitism or running editorial cartoon demonizing Israel, suggesting, as one member of the House of Lords told a writer for the London Spectator, “The Jews have been asking for it.”
Meanwhile, in America, Christians rally alongside Jews — as they did in large numbers at the marvelous April 15 rally for Israel on Capitol Hill — pleading that the Jewish state be allowed to defend her civilians. It is no coincidence that President Bush — who told the Saudi Crown Prince “We will not allow Israel to be crushed” — is himself an evangelical Christian. In America, Irish Catholic journalists like Sean Hannity and Michael Kelly put some blasé Jewish Americans to shame with their passionate support of Israel. Indeed, American Jews seems at last to be waking up to the blessing of friendship with America’s Christians.
For ten years the organization I serve, Toward Tradition, has been calling on American Jews to recognize who our friends are. One could not think of a better time than the present to do so, and to express gratitude.
— Rabbi Daniel Lapin is the president of Toward Tradition, a national coalition of Jews and Christians.
Should I tell my Jewish friends about Jesus?
The gospel is good news for all people. Christians must therefore learn to separate as much as possible the gospel message from the cultural vehicles through which it comes. It is tragic when an individual or group rejects the Lord Jesus on the grounds that Christianity is the religion of Western whites, and more so when such a rejection is justified by a thoroughly inadequate presentation of the gospel. Much Jewish resistance to evangelism, at least in North America, can be attributed in part to a widespread (and accurate) perception that among Jews that they are losing their distinctiveness to the wider Gentile culture. Given this fear, it is important to remember that Christians are called to bear witness to the saving work of God in Jesus. We are not called to make people Baptists, Anglican or evangelicals, much less Gentiles.
Jews remain God’s chosen people and they continue to have a role in God’s saving plan. The core of the gospel is that God has chosen to bless the entire world through a particular people (the Jews) and indeed through a particular Jew (Jesus of Nazareth).
If this is true, why have Jewish people generally rejected Jesus as Messiah? The apostle Paul wrestles with this very question in Romans 9‑11. He answers that Jewish unbelief has led to the salvation of the Gentiles and will persist until “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11: 25). Paul’s hope for his people is ultimately eschatological—because of the promises God made to Abraham and his descendants in the past, in the end all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26‑27). For now, we Gentile followers of Jesus are but branches grafted into a Jewish tree.
Christians must recognize the injustices that have been perpetrated by Christians against Jewish people throughout Christendom. For centuries, Jewish refusal to believe in Jesus has been interpreted by Christians as a licence for confiscation of property, expulsion from countries, even torture and death. We must acknowledge that the Holocaust happened in a culturally Christian civilization and that although Nazism was arguably a more pagan than a Christian movement, the majority of Christians in Germany, Poland, France and elsewhere did nothing to stop the bloodshed. This history ought to make Christians very careful when bearing witness to our Jewish friends. Each word spoken or written will inevitably be judged in its light and ought therefore to be chosen deliberately, even cautiously.
Should you tell your Jewish friends about Jesus? Absolutely! To refuse to bear witness is, in effect, to question the authenticity of your own Christian commitment. The first Christian evangelists were Jews. At the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), they decided that the message of Jesus was to be brought to the Gentiles also. Today our positions are reversed. May God help you to respond with as much wisdom as they did then.
Tim Perry is assistant professor of theology at Providence College in Otterburne, Manitoba. Please send your questions to: FaithToday, Ask a Theologian, M.I.P. Box 3745, Markham, ON L3R 0Y4 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By David Klinghoffer
Smokers try to quit smoking and often fail. Alcoholics try to quit drinking and likewise often fail. Jewish anti-defamation groups try to quit defaming Evangelical Christians, but old habits die-hard.
On the question of what attitude to take toward conservative Christians, the intensifying crisis in the Mideast has opened many Jewish minds. Some minds, however, remain tightly shut. The point can be expressed simply: To survive, Israel needs America. And the present Republican administration and Congress support Israel mainly because their Christian constituents demand it.
A year ago, the most prominent Jewish organizations were united in viewing the so-called Christian Right as the chief threat to Jewish interests. Today, even Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, once a foremost Christian-basher, admits that “the need for Evangelical support is overwhelming, consistent, and unconditional.” Yet not all the Jewish anti-defamation groups see it this way. Among the top three — the ADL, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and the American Jewish Congress (AJC) — the AJC perceives no connection between ensuring Israel’s safety and cultivating the good will of Christians.
That’s the only conclusion to be drawn from a recent fundraising letter from AJC president Jack Rosen. Reminding supporters that “we are all focused on the war against terrorism in Israel and the U.S. fight against terrorism abroad,” Rosen points out that in America too we have “religious extremists… If you and I are not vigilant, the Religious Right may be able to achieve in this country what our men and women in uniform are fighting overseas: a government where those who do not share their religious views are, in effect, second-class citizens.” In other words, while the tactics differ, Christian conservatives seek for their faith what al Qaeda seeks for Islam: total domination.
Which is a total fiction, of course. Rosen immediately denies that he means to “equate the Religious Right in America with the terrorists abroad” — having made just that equation in the preceding sentence.
Let’s assume this isn’t just a cynical attempt to incite paranoia for profit ($100 for “Century Club” membership in the AJC, $1,000 for “Lifetime”). Evident from the group’s website is an enmity toward Evangelicals that can’t be faked: in a press release charging that “Protestant Evangelical Christianity permeates” a federally funded jobs program in Texas; in another attacking an Iowa school board for including a recital of the Lord’s Prayer at a school graduation, thus “advanc[ing] the Christian religion.”
For Jews, the question posed by the developing relationship with these Christians is both moral and practical. Christians ask for nothing in return for friendship. But morally, Jews owe them something. The alternative is to be content as users of the good will of others — an unattractive position to find yourself in. At a minimum the Jewish community needs to revise patterns of charitable giving, and stop sending checks to groups that preach resentment of Israel’s best friends.
Practically, considered solely in terms of self-interest, American Jews have been accustomed to viewing secular liberals as our allies. If voting records are any guide, this perception also needs to be revised. In May, the U.S. House and Senate voted on symbolically charged resolutions of solidarity with Israel. Both passed over objections from the secular Left. In the House, 21 voted against, of whom 18 were Democrats. In the Senate, 2 voted against, both Democrats.
The old idea zealously adhered to by the American Jewish Congress — Republicans and conservatives, bad; Democrats and liberals, good — is not only outdated. It is not only counterproductive. When you consider that Israel’s future hangs in the balance, the addiction to anti-Christian rancor seems positively insane.
— David Klinghoffer is editorial director of Toward Tradition and author of The Lord Will Gather Me In.
By Nissan Ratzlav-Katz
Last Thursday, a delegation of leaders of the conservative American grassroots organization, the Christian Coalition, rode a bus in Jerusalem. A simple act, yet one that symbolized support and commitment to Israel more than the most emphatic declarations made overseas. You see, the bus they rode was no tour bus; it was Egged bus number 20. It was the same line that an Arab suicide bomber rode that very morning, killing eleven people on their way to school and work, and injuring more than 50. The same delegation, led by Coalition president Roberta Combs had also visited Hebron the previous Tuesday, to publicly show their support for the Jewish community in that ancient city following the Friday-night terrorist ambush that claimed 12 Israeli lives. To paraphrase, the Christian Coalition delegates put their bodies where their money has been going.
Unlike among most liberals — even Jewish ones — these supporters of Israel do not distinguish between Jews living in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza and those living on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. Ron Nachman, the mayor of Ariel — in Samaria — once explained to a Jerusalem Post reporter that “groups of evangelical Christians came to Israel expressly to participate in tours of the West Bank, ‘the Land of Promise.’ Many groups, he said, come straight from Ben-Gurion Airport to the Eshel Hashomron Hotel in Ariel.”
As I have personally come to learn, there are a lot of Israeli flags flying beside American flags outside of churches and many pastors sporting “I Stand With Israel” t-shirts, nowadays. As expressed in a letter published in the Jerusalem Post, by Victor Mordecai, an advocate of Jewish-Christian alliance, “I saw Christians, whites, blacks, Hispanics and native Americans crying tears of love and repentance for Israel.... I have visited and spoken in over 300 churches and groups of all denominations. I have hugged and kissed tens of thousands of Christians who sincerely love us.” A Tarrance Group poll recently revealed what many Israeli politicians have long known, conservative Christian support for Israel is overwhelming — almost ten percent stronger than among the general American population.
In addition to general support for Israel, and specific affinity for the Biblical lands of Judea and Samaria, Christian Zionism expresses itself in encouraging aliyah — Jewish immigration to Israel. A group called Christians for Israel is operating a project called Exobus, assisting Jews from the former Soviet Union to come to Israel. As the organization’s website puts it: “It is more than just a humanitarian project — it is a divine calling for the Church to assist the Jewish people in their physical return and restoration of the land of Israel.”
Nor is that all, an organization called the International Christian Chamber of Commerce (ICCC) is active in promoting Israeli businesses and bolstering the Israeli economy. The chamber held its most recent board meeting in Tel Aviv, and Israel Line, a publication of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, reported that in June the organization sponsored “an international business conference in Jerusalem in which 400 businessmen from 40 nations met with representatives of Israeli companies... the Manufacturers Association, the Israeli Export Institute and the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce.” According to the ICCC, more than 1,000 meetings were conducted during the two days of the conference. The ICCC also allows Israeli companies to list their products and services for free on its international online business matching service, reports Globes, an Israeli financial newspaper.
In response to this unbounded support, some Jewish columnists have expressed misgivings, or outright hostility, when it comes to the Christian right’s pro-Israel stance. Their main concern is a supposed “anti-Semitism” ingrained in the very theology that pushes those Christians to support Israel. As Gershom Gorenberg put it in an article in the Jerusalem Report: “conservative evangelicals’ ‘love’ for Israel is rooted in their theology. Following classic Christian anti-Jewish doctrine, it sees Jews as spiritually blind for rejecting Jesus. But it also regards Israel’s existence as heralding the end of days — when Jews will die or at last convert and Jesus will return.” More bluntly, Josh Ruebner, one of the founders of the Washington-based group Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel (JPPI), called the alliance between Christian evangelicals and American Jews in support of Israel “repugnant,” saying, “Most of the right-wing elements which make up the Christian Coalition are truly anti-Semitic at heart.” They earn that epithet because they “believe that Jewish souls cannot go to heaven and that Jews will have to be converted before the end of days,” Ruebner told a Religion News Service reporter last month.
The Christian belief that Jews will ultimately convert is no different than the Jewish idea that false theologies will ultimately be recognized for what they are. While such beliefs may not sit well with irreligious people of all communities, as long as believers do not coerce others, they remain a theological difference of opinion. As Mr. Mordecai put it in his aforementioned Jerusalem Post letter to the editor, “Do they want us to become Christians? Yes, because they do love us, and it is part of their Christian faith.... Does this make the Christians our enemy? As a Torah loyalist and mitzvah observant Jew, I think not... The Christians are merely loyal to their faith, the faith in the same God of the Jews, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They believe in the same Bible.”
Furthermore, while end-times theology may play a role for many in their support for modern-day Israel, the primary motivating force for such support is the Biblical covenant with the Jews, rather than a future promise of conversion. Evangelist Jerry Falwell, in a videotaped message to last month’s Washington, D.C. Christian Coalition conference, said, “I have believed in and supported the Abrahamic covenant that God blesses those who bless Israel and curses those who curse Israel.” Similarly, material produced by John Hagee Ministries, which donates funds to finance Jewish immigration to Israel, lists seven reasons for Christians to support the Jewish state. First on the list is the verse from Genesis (Gen 12:3; 27:29; Nu 24:9) referred to by Falwell: “And I will bless them that bless thee and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all nations of the earth be blessed.” One of many other reasons-all from the same sources: the instruction in Psalm 122, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, they shall prosper that love thee.”
Dr. Arthur F. Glasser, Dean Emeritus at the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, cited another, more secular reason in his own treatise on evangelical support for Israel. He writes, “So then, why should evangelicals particularly support Israel? In the first place, anything that concerns the Jewish people should be their concern. This arises in part from the massive indebtedness of all people everywhere to them. What people anywhere in the earth can honestly say that they are not indebted to the Jews for their contributions to world culture? These contributions touch every aspect of human society and individual enrichment.”
In contrast, there’s the following little tidbit: Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel was recently in the news when Israeli immigration authorities refused entry to a nine-person U.S. congressional-staff delegation co-sponsored by JPPI and American Muslims for Jerusalem (AMJ). The AMJ is a project sponsored by the American Muslim Alliance (AMA), the American Muslim Council (AMC) and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), among others. CAIR grew out of the Hamas in 1994 and two of the three founding directors of CAIR occupied senior positions in the Islamic Association for Palestine, a front group for Hamas. In 1998, at a rally in Brooklyn cosponsored by CAIR, one speaker referred to Jews as “descendants of the apes.” Similarly, the AMA held a convention at which Holocaust revisionist literature was circulated. The AMC, meanwhile, spends its time and money routinely declaring that Hamas “is not a terrorist group” and has hosted a speaker who praised suicide bombers, urging support for such “martyrdom operations.” The AMC’s deputy director, Issa Smith, told the Los Angeles Times on January 24, 1991, “Often we say that we are not against Jews, but against Zionists, those who had the goal of creating a state run by Jews.”
All of this, apparently, did not qualify as “repugnant” in the view of JPPI’s Josh Ruebner, unlike the Christian right’s support for Israel. It may be that the JPPI acted hastily, out of ignorance, in allying itself with such organizations, but did they even question their erstwhile allies about the Koranic verse which states (from Sura 5:51), “Believers, take neither the Jews nor the Christians for your friends”? Or about the Moslem teaching (Hadith, Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 4, Book 52, No. 177), “Allah’s apostle (Mohammad) said, ‘The Hour [of the end of time] will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say. “O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him.”‘“? What of that bit of “end-time theology”? Isn’t that at least a little “repugnant” to Ruebner?
I don’t believe that left-wing groups like JPPI even consider it worth their effort to get worked up over real, visceral anti-Semitism, which is all too prevalent in today’s Moslem world. Rather, what is behind their feigned concern is that, according to the JPPI website, the organization “calls upon Israel to end its brutal military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem... supports the Palestinian people’s right to exercise self-determination... supports the evacuation of [Jewish] settlements... recognize[s] the [Arab] refugees’ right of return...” All of which is in contradistinction to the firm belief held by many on the Christian right that, in the words of Senator James Inhofe (R., Okla.), “Israel is entitled to that land.”
— Nissan Ratzlav-Katz is opinion editor at www.IsraelNationalNews.com
One of the best kept secrets of the past half century, at least for many people, is the radically changed relationship that has been growing between Christians and Jews in North America and Europe. The publication of Dabru Emet, a Jewish statement on Christians and Christianity, on Sept. 10, shows how seriously that radically changed relationship has been taken by the four Jewish theologians (of which I am one) who worked for almost five years to draft the statement, and for the 150 or so Jewish religious leaders who initially signed it. So, what is new about many Christians that some Jews think a Jewish response is required? And, why has the statement already elicited criticism from some other Jews, although praise from others?
Like any significant public statement, Dabru Emet (from the Biblical phrase “speak the truth to one another” in Zechariah 8:16) is a response to something important. As the preamble to the statement makes clear, significant Christian Churches, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, have “expressed remorse about Christian mistreatment of Jews and Judaism.” For most of the past 2,000 years, Christian teaching about Judaism has characterized it as a religion that should have given way to Christianity as its logical successor, and that the Jews are, therefore, a great impediment to God’s salvation of the world. Many Christians have believed the covenant between God and the Jewish people, although rooted in the Old Testament and never refuted by the New Testament, was broken when the vast majority of the Jews refused to accept Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, let alone as the son of God. Needless to say, during much of the time Jews and Christians have shared, Jews have regarded Christianity as a teaching it must protect itself from and continually argue against. Indeed, it seemed Christians had a much bigger problem with Jews than Jews had with them, since Christians wanted to absorb the Jews into their Christian identity, whereas we Jews simply wanted Christians to let us retain our own distinct identity. Perhaps that is why even today some secularized Jews seem to think not being a Christian is all they need to do to retain a Jewish identity, as if Judaism were nothing but the antithesis of Christianity.
Nevertheless, much of the new Christian teaching about Judaism sees this type of Christian theology as not only wrong but dangerous, indeed just as dangerous for Christians as it obviously has been for Jews. As the great Christian theologian, Karl Barth, powerfully argued: If God broke His promise never to nullify His covenant with the Jews, how can the Church believe that God will not do the same thing to Christians? This view has led many Christians to realize that Christian denigration of Jews and Judaism, what is called “the teaching of contempt,” is not only wrong by the criteria of democratic tolerance of religious diversity, but that it is even more wrong by the criteria of Christian faith itself.
It is inevitable that Jews had to respond to this important new development, one that has seen theory become translated into beneficial action by many Christians. The decline of anti-Semitism among most Christians is solid evidence for that. It would be rather odd if Jews only reacted to negative threats from outside but remained silent when improvement from outside is obvious, even though never complete. (What human effort ever is?) Furthermore, since the change in Christian teaching has been so explicitly theological, the Jewish response to it has to be theological too, or else it would appear religiously shallow by comparison. The statement demonstrates that Judaism is concerned with belief and not just practice, and that theology, which is the formulation of belief, is very much part of the Jewish tradition. Without the tradition of Jewish theology, Jews would have nothing authentically Jewish to say to Christians as Christians. Jewish-Christian communication could, then, only be conducted in the type of secularist atmosphere where Jews and Christians (and all other religious believers) have to pretend they have no faith at all, or that their faith is publicly irrelevant.
What has happened in history that led to this sea change in Christian attitudes, and which has led to this radical Jewish response? The answer to this question is the same as the answer to the question of why the statement has already drawn public criticism from some Jews. In one word: the Holocaust. The Holocaust not only has caused Jews to rethink Judaism, it also has caused Christians to rethink Christianity. It is obvious why this has been the case with the Jews, but why has it been the case with the Christians? First, there is the fact, which the statement must acknowledge, that traditional Christian anti-Judaism was effectively used by Nazi ideology in its murderous results. However, most Christians do not consider themselves Nazis, abhor murder, and genuinely want to eliminate the type of Christian teaching that could be so easily used by Nazis or any other murderers. Second, there is also the fact Nazi ideology was anti-Christian, that genuine Christians were already being killed along with Jews, and that Christianity itself was marked for elimination had the Nazis been victorious. Jews must recognize, therefore, that this Christian reaction to the Holocaust is an act of true repentance to be applauded and encouraged. It is a Christian recognition that the ultimate object of Nazi hatred was the God of Israel, the God of the Bible whom both Jews and Christians serve.
But this is precisely the point of greatest controversy, since despite the Christian contribution to Nazi ideology, the statement says “Nazism is not a Christian phenomenon,” and that “Nazism itself was not an inevitable outcome of Christianity.” In other words, authentic Christians, despite their theological difference with the Jews, have been fully able to resist Nazism and thus rediscover their commonality with the Jews and feel a new solidarity with us. As such, Christians as Christians do not have to be enemies of the Jews. Because of that assertion (which we knew would be controversial), some Jews think the statement is too easy on Christians and Christianity. However, if one thinks Christianity is the cause of Nazism, then Christians have the horrible choice of either becoming enemies of the Jews or renouncing Christianity.
We, the authors of the statement, do not believe this is true. We believe Christians can be fully faithful to Christianity and recognize its significant commonalities with Judaism, recognize Judaism’s difference from Christianity, and do so without attempting in any way to eliminate the Jews and Judaism along with us. When that is the case, Jews can very much lessen our historically justifiable fear of Christians. By so doing we can then re-emphasize that tradition of Jewish thinking that sees Christianity as a valid religious option for non-Jews, which Jews can in truth respect. (The volume Christianity in Jewish Terms published in conjunction with the statement, spells out in detail what that Jewish tradition is.) That is why the statement insists Christians worship the same God as do the Jews (differently, to be sure), derive their authority from the Hebrew Bible (reading it differently, to be sure), and that many Christians have understood the valid attachment of the Jewish people to the land of Israel (the land promised to us in the Hebrew Bible, which is the Christians’ Old Testament).
Furthermore, not only do we believe this new, improved relationship will not encourage assimilation or conversion out of Judaism, but we believe when Jews understand both what we have in common with and what differentiates us from Christians and Christianity, this will lead to a more intelligent understanding by Jews of what it means to be a Jew in today’s world, and a renewed commitment to remain fully Jewish in it. Today’s world is one in which we Jews are a significant part, like it or not.
The nomination of Senator Joseph Lieberman for the vice-presidency of the United States has been coincidental with the publication of our statement. We didn’t plan it that way, but it certainly helps. That is because Senator Lieberman, an explicitly believing and practising religious Jew, has made his Judaism a matter of public identification, and he has been explicit in his respect for Christianity, the majority religion in the United States. We think that without the changed climate of Christian opinion to which our statement responds, Senator Lieberman would not be able to be what he is in public, and that being what he is would not have been so well received by so many authentic Christians.
Like any public statement, ours invites the responses of others, both Jews and Christians, both positive and negative. Indeed, our statement reflects a conversation already in progress.
David Novak holds the J. Richard and Dorothy Shiff Chair of Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto.; A copy of the statement is available on email@example.com.
As an Egyptian Jewish refugee, I celebrate Passover with special meaning. Passover is a time to commemorate the Jews’ liberation from slavery in Egypt in 1,300 B.C. and return to freedom in Israel. At my family seders in Cairo in the 1940s, we felt as if we represented the enduring memory of that exodus. Little did we know that we would soon experience our own exodus from Egypt as a result of racism and oppression.
On Passover it is a Jewish tradition that, in retelling the exodus story, we should feel as if we ourselves experienced persecution and exodus from Egypt. I hope that this year we also remember the modern exodus of Middle Eastern Jews, one million of whom fled their homes in Arab countries between 1940 and 1980.
Jews are the oldest-existing indigenous group in the Middle East. While our communities long predate the Arab conquest of the region in the 7th century, our contributions to modern Arab states are immense. Sasson Heskel, a Baghdadi Jew, was Iraq’s finance minister in the 1930s. My relative Mourad Bey helped draft the Egyptian constitution in the 1930s. (Not many Egyptians know that a Jew helped draft their constitution.) And Layla Murad, the great diva of Arabic music and film, was also an Egyptian Jew — our own Barbara Streisand.
But even as child, I understood that Jews were second-class citizens. Signs in the street read: El yahud kalb el arab, “The Jews are the dogs of the Arabs.” At school, my best friend Menyawi turned to me and said with a half-smile, “One day, all the Jews will have their throats slit.” An older Muslim man advised that if I was threatened in the streets, I should say: Ana Muslum, M’wahed billah, “I am a Muslim and believe in one God.”
Despite the hatred in the air, my family was successful. In 1950, as a teenager, I attended a British prep school in Cairo that boasted prominent alumni such as King Hussein of Jordan and Columbia professor Edward Said (who never writes about how his Jewish classmates were expelled from Egypt). But I never got the chance to graduate.
In 1952, Egypt’s new nationalist leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, began arresting Jews on trumped-up charges and confiscating their property. My uncle and cousin were arrested and a warrant was issued for my father. My family happened to be traveling in Europe, and my father said: “We’ll never return.” My uncle chose to remain, and, following the 1967 war with Israel, was thrown in an Egyptian concentration camp for three years, along with hundreds of other Egyptian Jews.
In 1943, 80,000 Jews lived in Egypt. In 2003, fewer than 50 remain. In 1300 B.C., the Israelites were forced to flee Egypt so fast that their bread didn’t have time to rise. In the 1950s and 1960s, Jews were forced to flee Egypt so fast they didn’t have time to pack their bags.
This pattern of intimidation and expulsion has been repeated in countries throughout the Middle East: in Morocco, Libya, Syria, Iran, Yemen, and Iraq. Arab governments have forced hundreds of thousands of Jews from their lands through laws and waves of pogroms. The American Sephardi Federation estimates that Arab governments confiscated tens of billions of dollars in property and assets from fleeing Jews.
Some fled to Europe and America — like Vidal Sassoon, from Iraq, or Jerry Seinfeld’s mother, from Syria. But the majority returned to Israel, where today more than half of the population is Mizrahi — the descendants of Jews who fled the Middle East and North Africa in the 20th century.
But Arab governments today do not retell the story of Jewish flight from Egypt. I recently checked in to a hotel and struck up a conversation in Arabic with the Egyptian woman working behind the counter. Astonished to learn I fled Cairo as a teenager, she said: “I didn’t know there were Jews in Egypt.”
Today, hatred of Jews is stronger than ever. I see it in the Arab media, school curricula, and of course the mosques. Just a few months ago, Egyptian television ran a 41-part series based on the anti-Semitic myth of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The same hatred that drove us from our homes now fuels suicide bombings and lynchings, and the challenge before us is to stop this racism once and for all.
As we recall the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, we should not forget the modern exodus of Jews in the Middle East. This Passover is a time to commemorate these lost Jewish communities and seek justice for the victims of the Forgotten Exodus. When Arab governments recognize their role in turning nearly a million Jews into refugees, peace will at last be possible.
— Joseph Abdel-Wahed is the former chief economist of Wells Fargo Bank and cofounder of JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa.
By Paul M. Weyrich
The Bush reelection campaign plans on making a real effort to reach out to the Jewish community in this year’s election. There is good reason to think that, in the short-term, a substantial shift is taking place within the Jewish community post-9/11. An equally important question is whether social issue conservatives can do more to reach out to a community that stands to be a strong and effective ally for decades to come.
There is good reason to believe that President Bush stands to do better with the Jewish community - one of the strongest constituencies for Democrats dating back to the New Deal - in this election.
Many Jews, particularly young Jews, appreciate President Bush’s strong support for Israel. As the Commander in Chief of our nation’s armed forces, the President’s wholehearted commitment to waging the War on Terrorism is also highly regarded. Even many liberal American Jews fully recognize that when Osama bin Laden and his gang of terrorists say they have lined up America and Jews in their sights; it is not an empty threat.
When the President met last fall with the outgoing Malaysian Prime Minister Mohathir Mohammad, he made clear that Mohammad’s comment that “Jews run the world” was “wrong and divisive” and that the Prime Minister’s words stood squarely against what the President knows and believes to be true.
An equally important shift with long-term implications for social conservatives in America is the growing constituency of Orthodox Jews. Some sociologists will argue that the growth of Orthodox Judaism is hard to measure. But as intermarriage takes its toll among the ranks of more secular Jews, the Orthodox movement is giving shape to the future of American Judaism.
Orthodox Jews argue that their movement is growing, particularly with those younger Jews who find themselves disaffected from the move toward secularism in society and want to renew the traditions and lifestyle of their grandparents. Orthodox Jews have a higher birthrate than secular Jews or those who belong to liberal denominations. This is why they are likely to become the dominant voice of American Judaism for decades to come.
Orthodox Jews place great importance on the value of family life, and because of that they should be important allies of socially conservative Catholics and Christians. Orthodox Jews value the sanctity of life and will be much more likely to oppose abortion than liberal or secular Jews. Orthodox Jews want their children to receive a traditional religious education and therefore favor school vouchers. They place value on the traditional form of marriage and do not favor “gay marriages.” They understand the importance of being able to recognize God in the schools and in public.
Orthodox Jews are clearly at odds with the decline of values in our country as shaped and reflected by the mass media. In cities, it is not so easy to escape even if you watch what your children read and listen to and watch. Even the posters and billboards and magazine covers at news racks feature near-pornographic photography.
The trend toward a more assertive and growing Orthodoxy suggests that the defining movement of Judaism in the coming decades will be a reversal of what represented the dominant thinking of American Judaism throughout much of the last century. The Orthodox Jews, at this point, appear unlikely to be a majority of Jews but they will be a most influential and growing minority.
As Binyamin Jolkovsky, Editor and Publisher of Jewish World Review notes, “The concerns and lifestyles of Orthodox Jews are in many ways carbon copies of conservative Christians and evangelical Christians.” He says Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have a strong following among younger Orthodox Jews. “You can go into yeshivas and hear Rush on the radio. He speaks to their concerns.”
Most often, the Orthodox are thought of residing mainly in New York City, and many do live there. (Hassidim are considered to be Orthodox Jews, but the denomination is much broader.) Orthodox Jews live in nearly every major American city - Los Angeles, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago - and many are leaving New York City for the lower cost of living that can be found in New Jersey.
Conservative Christians and Orthodox Jews have worked well together in the past. Within the last year, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations added their voice in support for school choice in Washington, D.C. and to retain support for the continued legal definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.
Unfortunately, conservative Jews and conservative Christians often come together to work on some selected issues, then go their own separate ways. A stumbling block between the Jewish community, particularly those on the Left, and religious conservatives has been missionary activity by Christians aimed at Jews. However, this could easily be an issue that looses impact if Orthodox Judaism attracts Jews who currently identify with more liberal values. Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb of the Orthodox Union has stated: If a Jewish family is strong, if it emphasizes Jewish traditions and values, the chances that young people in that family will seek to leave the Jewish community diminish.
Jeffrey Ballabon, the Founder and President of the newly formed Center for Jewish Values, suggests on a posting on his organization’s web page that “As Jews become more knowledgeable about their traditions, and those traditions become a part of their self-understanding, it will be harder and harder to maintain that there are Jewish imperatives to sacrifice the value of an unborn child’s life on the altar of ‘reproductive rights,’ or to demand that all lifestyles stand on equal footing with the nuclear family, or to block parental involvement in education so that government teachers can stay employed.”
Ballabon’s organization is promoting the ideals of family values and limited government to the Jewish community, including the Orthodox.
If there is a challenge to social issue conservatives who are Christian, it is to work harder and in a more concerted manner with the Orthodox community in the years to come.
Clearly, the safety and security of Israel is one issue in which both conservative Christians and Orthodox Jews both share a strong interest. The fight to reclaim American institutions and our national mindset from the grip of liberal secularism is an equally important battle and one which we will often share common ground.
Jolkovsky, for one, urges much stronger joint efforts and continuous communications between the leaders of conservative Christian organizations and Orthodox Jewish groups. “Christian conservatives could do more to reach out to Orthodox leaders and inform them about what’s going on and to work in tandem, “ he said.
Whatever share of the Jewish vote is won by President Bush this year, an equally important, long-term struggle is taking place for the soul of American Judaism. The Orthodox can help many young Jews discover a richness and meaning in tradition and a relationship with God that has been missing for too many young men and women in recent decades. But more than that, a resurgent Orthodox community working with conservative Christians can help our country to regain its moral bearing in the next few decades to come.
One of the few “movements” that the mainstream media have yet to praise and promote is the evangelical movement in America. Despite the dramatic growth in the number of people who consider themselves evangelicals, commentators and critics have routinely disparaged the theology and practices that are the heart of evangelicalism. Instead, criticism has become increasingly harsh, as some take aim at the perceived social, political and diplomatic consequences of the growing influence of the movement.
Many opponents of Israel have found fault with evangelicals’ strong support of Israel, and believe that President Bush has been too supportive of Israel because of the importance of his evangelical electoral base. Conversely, many American Jews who are concerned about the survival of Israel have been enlightened about the impact new friends in the Christian community can have on foreign policy. While the speculative impact on American policy of the growth of the evangelical movement has received much attention, the astounding growth rate of foreign evangelical communities has been under the radar screen. Yet the astounding growth rate of these communities may have dramatic consequences for Israel.
Over the last few years, the friendship and support once shown for Israel by Western Europeans seem to have evaporated. Europe has seen the boycott of Israeli goods and Israeli employees, harsh and one-sided media criticism of Israel, extreme diplomatic pressure on Israel to force it to make concessions to the Palestinians, and the continual funding of Palestinian groups tied to anti-Semitism and terror. One now infamous poll of European attitudes is a potent barometer: Israel was judged to be the biggest threat to world peace.
However, fundamentalist European Christians seem to be organizing to help Israel overcome these problems. Recently, the Chicago-based International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) convened a meeting in Jerusalem of European Christian leaders with their counterparts from Australia, Canada, Israel and America to draft plans to help Israel. Amongst the groups represented were Germany’s Evangeliscghe Allianz and Christians for Israel in Holland. Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein of the IFCJ stated that “the objective of the meeting is to reach out to our friends in the pro-Israel Christian community in Europe. We want to invigorate them and send them back to their communities with new ideas for how they can help Israel.”
On the more overtly political front, the European Coalition for Israel was recently formed. Fifty representatives from nine nations came together to form what one wag termed “a pro-Israel lobby alongside the European Parliament”. As new nations in Eastern Europe are soon to join the EU, efforts are being made to gain friends there. While one Israeli noted that “the pro-Israel Christian coalition is still small, because Europe is today secular by definition” he also feels that the religious conflicts raging in the world will lead more Christians to view the Jewish people and the Jewish state as part of a shared Judeo-Christian heritage under attack.
This view is echoed by Malcolm Hedding, the executive director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, who has stated that his offices are being flooded with thousands of e-mails from all over the world who support efforts to help Israel. He proclaimed to Israelis that “the eyes of the Christian world are upon you”. He stated what is almost axiomatic in the current climate, “Christians are better positioned to defend Israel than Jews because if a Jewish person speaks out, people are inclined to assume that he is biased. But if someone from the Christian community speaks out on behalf of Israel, it has greater clout”. As one reporter commented, “Once such a sentence would have sounded like a threat; now there are those who would see it as a political promise”.
The evangelical movement has been very active in the Third World, or as Paul Freston, an evangelical in Brazil has called it, “the Two-Thirds World,” since two-thirds of the world’s people reside in lesser-developed nations. While Europe struggles with a birth rate that has fallen below replacement levels, population growth still occurs in most nations of Asia, Africa, and South America. The growth of Christianity will be paced by its growth in these areas of the world, and such growth has been healthy.
People in these lands have found that the leftist “liberation theology” popular among some Catholic priests there has not met their religious needs. A similar schism has also developed due to the increasingly loose moral codes in the churches of the Western world (for instance, the granting of religious leadership to gays). Missionary efforts by evangelicals have found fertile grounds among the disaffected legions.
The IFCJ’s Rabbi Eckstein has been expanding his outreach movement to Latin America, which has a fast-growing evangelical movement. In a speech he delivered to a mutlti-denominational audience recently he noted that in Chile, a nation once entirely Catholic, thirty percent of the population is now evangelical Protestant. In some of these nations, such as Argentina and Brazil, a substantial and well-organized Jewish community exists, that can partner with evangelical groups in support of Israel. While conjectural, there are no apparent blocks to such an alliance. Since most of these nations are now democracies, people will be free to petition their governments to support Israel.
One of the more significant developments that could affect Israel is the startling growth of Christianity in China. When Christians were persecuted under Chairman Mao, a widespread clandestine network of “house churches” sprang up. Most were evangelical in nature and were quite successful in increasing their memberships.
A new book, Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity is Transforming China and Changing the Balance of Power by David Aikman provides the most in-depth account of this history and a prophetic view of its future impact. He notes that many intellectuals and business leaders have had contact with the Western world and have been influenced by this exposure to become Christians. Furthermore, the evangelical churches have provided a degree of emotional warmth and support that many have found appealing. Aikman, in an interview for the National Review, stated that Christians in China are pro-Israel and:
[I]f Christians began to fill positions in China’s foreign ministry, strategic think tanks, and even within the government as a whole, China would become far less opportunistic about supporting any Middle Eastern group that happened to be critical of, or hostile to, the U.S. In addition if China ever became open enough to be willing to permit Chinese missionaries to travel overseas, it would probably be supportive of efforts of Chinese missionaries to evangelize the Islamic world, especially the Arab Middle East. This of course, would render China far less popular in the Muslim world as a whole and thereby more likely to try to be “even-handed” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Aikman also believes that Chinese Christians will be pro-American and supportive of America’s support of Israel. Since China is one of the world’s most powerful and populous states, and occupies a permanent Seat on the Security Council of the UN, this scenario has hope for Israel. Aikman sees South Korea as a precedent for how China might change in the years ahead. Though Christians are not a majority in South Korea —perhaps amounting to one-third of the population — Christians fill very important positions throughout society and government. In many ways this self-organizing experience was both a result of and a promoter of modernization, and could be a model for China’s experience ahead.
In response to a question from this writer, George Mamo of the IFCJ, noted that South Koreans have shown continued support for Israel by continuing to travel there (in record numbers) despite the travails of the recent years. Undoubtedly the growth of the technology industries in these nations (and their nations’ defense needs) will nourish additional bonds of friendship that should provide some measure of solace for Israel in the years ahead.
Supporters of this rapidly emerging development might want to consider the importance of evangelicals to Israel’s security. Since many of these efforts are being promoted by American evangelicals, care must be taken to avoid damaging the ties Jews have with evangelicals here. The recent controversy over Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ” seems to provide a telling case in point. While many Jewish Americans expressed concern over possible anti-Semitism in the movie, such pressure did not stop the movie from being distributed, and may have helped it achieve huge audience numbers. Yet, in a poll of Evangelicals by the IFCJ, only two percent blamed Jews for the death of Jesus, and it is a fair assumption that among them this blame did not carry down two thousand years. More than eighty percent blamed all of humanity. They took away from the movie that evil exists and must be defeated by the good.
Instead we should concentrate on recognizing the commonality of Jews and Christians and understand that we share a Judeo-Christian heritage which is the foundation of Western Civilization. This civilization is now under attack by the malignant forces of radical Islam. This is the true evil that must be defeated.
Q&A by Kathryn Jean Lopez
David Klinghoffer, former literary editor at National Review has a new book just out — Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History — which, as you can imagine from the title, has gotten a little attention already. With Jesus on the mind this Holy Week, National Review Editor Kathryn Jean Lopez (a Catholic) chatted with her former office neighbor (an orthodox Jew) about his book, his claims (he tells Lopez: “Had more Jews accepted Jesus, Mel Gibson today might be praying toward Mecca.”) and goals.
National Review Online: David, you’ve got chutzpah. What were you and your publisher thinking publishing a book on the necessity of Jews rejecting Jesus so close to Easter?
David Klinghoffer: It’s not chutzpah. I’m just trying to answer the Big Question when it’s most on Christian minds. On Easter, Christians recall the death and resurrection of Jesus, his saving death, as they believe. The question is, Why don’t Jews understand that they also need the gift of unmerited grace that came with that death? The quickest answer is that Judaism has always understood that we received such a gift, but 1,300 years before Jesus died, at Mt. Sinai. The Christian offer of salvation through Christ’s death is an offer of a gift we already had in exchange for giving up the unique grammar of our relationship with God through the mitzvoth, or commandments. I also hope that my book will remind believing Christians of the most important thing we have in common: a belief that there is such a thing as religious truth in the first place. That idea is under attack from the secular left. In this sense, my book is a battle cry on behalf of both Jews and Christians.
National Review: You’re not a Biblical scholar. Why are you wading in such deep waters?
Klinghoffer: Because most professional Biblical scholars don’t believe in religious debate. The ones at secular universities mostly don’t believe there’s such a thing as religious truth — so what would the purpose be in debating? They believe in “dialogue” — that namby-pamby word, smacking of relativism, designating the activity where professors sit around talking to each other. So it falls to me, a journalist.
National Review: How can the whole of Western Civilization rest on the rejection of Jesus?
Klinghoffer: Because the earliest Christian church was initially hobbled by insisting that new converts adhere to Jewish law — keep kosher, be circumcised, etc. For an adult man to be circumcised was a bummer, let me tell you. The decision was made, however — at a church council in Jerusalem in 49 — to jettison Jewish law as a requirement for new Christians. This was done at the apostle Paul’s insistence, and he explains in Acts that since the Jews were rejecting his presentation of Jesus as savior and messiah, the Christian message would now be taken to the gentiles. Dispensing with Jewish practices like circumcision made this possible. Had the Jews not rejected Paul’s preaching about Jesus, the church likely would have held on to those laws. Had it done so, the church would have remained hobbled, and could hardly have become the world-bestriding institution it is today. Jewish Christianity would have remained a sect in Judaism, and probably would have died out along with other such sects in 70 when the Temple was destroyed by Rome and the Jews scattered. In that case, there would be no Christian civilization, and, among other things, no America as we know it — a country whose founding was deeply influenced by Christian faith. There is a possibility that we would all be Muslims. Had more Jews accepted Jesus, Mel Gibson today might be praying toward Mecca.
National Review: If Christians are so wrong, how can we be indispensable to God’s plan?
Klinghoffer: God’s plans unfold in unexpected ways. Christians are right, in Jewish eyes, in many respects — most notably in bringing the God of Israel to the attention of the world. They have done a much better job of that than we Jews are doing.
National Review: You are grateful for Christianity and at the same time reject it — how does that gel? Don’t you ever want to convince your Christian friends they’re wrong and need to reject Jesus?
Klinghoffer: It’s a paradox, but history is full of paradoxes. Far from wanting to convince Christian friends they’re wrong, I want to do my bit to strengthen their faith. That’s one of the beauties of debate: it forces you to look again at your beliefs, at their sources, and refine your thoughts about ultimate questions. My faith has been strengthened and sharpened immeasurably by debating with Christians and others who don’t see things as I do.
National Review: Our friend Father Neuhaus makes the case that you may have a numbers problem — that the majority of Roman Empire Jews may not have rejected Jesus. Would that change things?
Klinghoffer: Fr. Neuhaus seems to have skipped the page where I say my book could more accurately — but less concisely — have been titled, “Why Those Jews Who Rejected Jesus Did So.” No one knows how many Jews became Christians in the first centuries of the Christian era. Why they did so isn’t the question people are curious about.
National Review: You’ve been tough on the likes of the ADL for the grief they gave Mel Gibson and his Passion. Why has that been important for you?
Klinghoffer: Because the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman is — alas! — the most respected voice in the Jewish community, at least judging from the way he’s covered in the media. This is such a tragedy because it gives the world the mistaken impression that the most important moral message the Jews have to share concerns the rooting out of purported anti-Semitism. That’s not what Judaism is about. Judaism is about bringing the God of Israel to the attention of humanity. It’s so dismaying that the Foxmans of the world have hijacked the meaning of our faith. That’s why I never miss a chance to rebut the ADL, especially when they’re tarring an innocent man like Gibson.
National Review: Speaking of The Passion, you talk a little about the villainy of the Jews in the movie, and note, for the record, that Jewish leaders did, as a matter of fact, kill Jesus. But then you have a discussion of how Gibson relayed that in the film. It seems to me what may be lost in the discussion over “the Jews’” culpability is that for a lot of the folks watching that movie as a bit of a religious exercise, the culpability was on the viewer. In other words, Kathryn watched that movie thinking, “I killed Jesus,” not “Look what ‘the Jews’ did.” Is that lost on the non-Christian?
Klinghoffer: First, let me emphasize that no one knows exactly how Jesus died. The Talmud and Maimonides seem to support the Gospel’s account in some respects — and that’s why it’s unfair of the ADL to tar Gibson as an anti-Semite for taking the Gospel’s position on what brought about the Crucifixion. If Gibson is an anti-Semite, so is Maimonides. What seems mostly likely is that Jewish priests — whom Judaism regards as having become thoroughly corrupt by this time, the ADL of their day if you will — handed Jesus over to the Roman authorities, who crucified him. As for the second part of your question, the theological meaning of the Passion story indicts all of mankind. But nowhere is that indicated in the movie. So if non-Christians don’t pick up on the theological subtlety, it’s not surprising.
National Review: What would you say to those who might argue you’re unnecessarily causing religious tension through your book? “Why the Jews Rejected Jesus” — I mean, do you have to remind us? Don’t you just drive us further apart, when, in the end, we do pray to the same God?
Klinghoffer: On the contrary, it’s not healthy for any relationship to sweep under the rug a question as big as this, a question that one side wonders about. The Christian-Jewish friendship is stronger than ever before, not least among conservative Christians and Jews. Further strengthening our friendship requires airing not only the issues on which we agree but also the ones on which we disagree.
National Review: In your book you air some dirty laundry — some pretty bad things Jews say about Christians. Is there any point in that, too? Aren’t you just going to give more ammo to Anti-Semites? And to Jews who are prone to hate Christians — or might be after reading your book?
Klinghoffer: Not about Christians — about Jesus. The anti-Semites already know these things, as a quick search of the Internet will reveal. I hesitated about disclosing some of this troubling material, but a) it wouldn’t have been an honest history of the Jewish-Christian debate without it; and b) in all fairness it pales in comparison to the things Christians have said and written about Judaism and Jews over the centuries. Just as recording the history of mean things Christians have said hasn’t made the present blossoming of a Jewish-Christian alliance impossible, I’m not worried about the impact of making known a few brief and cryptic Talmud passages.
National Review: You complain a lot about St. Paul, but, in the end, isn’t he a scapegoat of sorts for the fact you just don’t buy Jesus’ shtick?
Klinghoffer: I don’t complain about Paul, though I do show that it’s unlikely that he was what claimed to be — namely, a disciple of that era’s great rabbinic sage, Gamaliel. It seems doubtful that Paul could even understand Hebrew — his citations from the Bible are always from the problematic Greek translation, the Septuagint. He writes about Jewish spiritual life as an outsider, as someone who never experienced it. As I show, Jesus rejected the foundation of Jewish tradition — the Oral Torah, which explains the cryptic text of the Five Books of Moses, the Torah — but Paul rejected not only that but the structure built on top of that foundation, the Torah itself.
National Review: Besides maybe converting us, what would you like the Christian reader to get from your book?
Klinghoffer: I don’t want to convert you, Kathryn, and I know I couldn’t do so no matter how I tried. People believe what we believe for reasons that transcend argument. We believe because we have a certain kind of relationship with God, a certain spiritual experience. The arguments come later. What I want to do for the Christian reader is satisfy your curiosity. Jews, especially those who like me work and socialize with committed and conservative Christians, are asked why we don’t share their faith in Jesus. Or Christians wants to ask, but stop themselves. The question is meant sincerely and seriously. It deserves an answer.
National Review: …And the Jewish reader?
Klinghoffer: Michael Medved quipped that the only things all Jews can agree on is that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah. He’s right and it’s sad because, as I said, Torah is about so much more than who was or wasn’t the Messiah. It offers the opportunity of experiencing God through the mitzvoth, the commandments. What’s also unfortunate is that while all Jews agree about Jesus, very few understand even that minimal belief — they don’t know what the Messiah means, or what’s at stake in the question of who that Messiah will be. My book tries to raise Jewish awareness about these questions.
National Review: Could you have just titled the book “How the Jews Saved the World”?
Klinghoffer: Either that or, “How the Jews Gave Us the World We Know.” Or simply, “Thank the Jews.”
National Review: Will your next book be lighter?
Klinghoffer: Depends on what you consider light! I’m working on two books for Doubleday now. The first will be, “Broken Tablets: The War on the Ten Commandments.” The second will be, “Why God is a Republican: An Honest Look at the Politics of the Bible.”
National Review: God’s a Republican? What will the Reverend Al Sharpton say?
Klinghoffer: What I mean by that is if you look at the top 20 political issues today, as I will in this book, it turns out there’s much stronger support in the Bible from the conservative side in almost every case. The reason has to do with the question of whether people are morally accountable for their actions. The conservative view assumes we are free and responsible, which liberals don’t. That same assumption undergirds the Bible everywhere. How else could God issue us commandments?
National Review: Is God a Christian? Oh…nevermind, David. We best not go there!...
As the fate of Terri Schiavo was decided and then carried out, the enigma of Jewish liberalism came again to the fore. What accounts for Jews whose idea of dying “with dignity” included this incapacitated Florida woman being dehydrated to a state of living mummification like the ghoulish images of Nazi death-camp survivors?
Jewish Democrats in Congress and the Florida legislature led the rushed struggle to fend off efforts to save the brain-damaged woman. Meanwhile, I had a chance to personally gauge Jewish sentiment when Seattle’s largest Conservative synagogue graciously invited me to speak on an unrelated subject — my new book, Why the Jews Rejected Jesus, which acknowledges the cultural contributions of Christianity.
In the Q&A period, the synagogue’s rabbi asked what contributions I had in mind. When I mentioned the campaign by Christians to rescue Terri Schiavo from being killed by her husband — Michael, who claimed she’d want it this way — the crowd reacted with a sharp intake of breath, shocked murmurs as if I’d said a kind word about the Spanish Inquisition.
To add to the sense of values gone topsy-turvy, Mrs. Schiavo’s ordeal was climaxing over the festival of Purim. Parallels with the Purim story, the Biblical book of Esther, leap out at you. In both, a vigorously determined personality (Haman, Michael Schiavo) seek to take the life of an innocent or innocents (the Jews, Mrs. Schiavo) with the aid of a high government official (King Ahashuerus, Judge Greer) while the people (Persia’s Jews, America’s Christians) weep, fast, and don sackcloth. Simultaneously, a protagonist (Queen Esther, Governor Bush) closely linked to the head of state contemplates intervening.
The mystery of why Jewish liberals feel as they do about Mrs. Schiavo’s case was underlined by a concurrent news story — about the California judge who reportedly spoke to prosecutors in death-penalty cases about excluding Jews from juries because, “No Jew would vote to send a defendant to the gas chamber” — the memory of Nazi gas chambers being too vivid to allow it.
So, Jews would freely permit a woman who did nothing wrong to be diminished to the condition of a death-camp victim, while they could never do so to a person who committed a grievous crime. Call in the psychologists.
By way of explanation, a theory recommends itself, one that I have heard before from radio commentator Dennis Prager among others.
It is that Jewish liberals are misshapen by centuries of being humiliated by Christians. Today, though we live in the most Jewish-friendly country in history, it’s as if we’re still back in medieval France or Germany. Whatever Christians favor — the death penalty, saving Terri Schiavo, curbing abortion, whatever — we must reject out of self-respect.
I was not sold on this theory until I received a mass e-mail from the Jewish Federation here in Seattle. A stolidly conventional communal group, the Federation has got the idea in its head of promoting homosexual dalliances. The e-mail celebrated the launch of “Bashert” (the Jewish term for a divinely fated romantic relationship), a Federation program “seek[ing] to create a fully welcoming and inclusive Jewish community for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Jews.” Bashert’s inaugural event would feature as a speaker the assistant rabbi of the Conservative (which in Jewish parlance means “liberal”) synagogue whose members had been so disturbed by my thanking Christians for trying to preserve Terri Schiavo’s life.
Is it a coincidence that our Federation was seized with enthusiasm for homosexual matchmaking just as the gay-marriage issue was roiling Christians? The latter disapprove of gay marriage, so we promote gays hooking up. Never mind the powerful stance our own traditional religion in fact takes against homosexual intercourse — as it does against dehydrating people to death, aborting them, or granting life to murderers.
Now wonder Christian and Jewish conservatives become impatient with Jewish liberals. Yet, the latter deserve not condemnation but compassion.
One of the penitential prayers associated with Purim laments how the Jews of Esther’s time once partied in the palace of their foe, King Ahashuerus, enjoying “the feast of the one who abhorred them.” America’s Christians certainly don’t abhor Jews — affection mixed with puzzlement are the themes of their feelings — but there is certainly a tension between our two faiths. They regard us as critically wrong on a vital point, namely in our attitude toward Jesus, and vice versa.
For this reason, to rejoice without reservation at their feast must leave a Jew a little uneasy, which is one reason I wrote my book, detailing in a positive way the Jewish position about their savior. However, to deny our own religion — by failing to protest the killing of Terri Schiavo, for example — to save the honor of that very same religion seems the height of incoherence.
— David Klinghoffer is author of Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History. His website is www.davidklinghoffer.com.
By Jackie Mason & Raoul Felder
If Jews know better than anybody else what kind of an unbalanced mind it takes to produce the sickness of prejudice, why do they so comfortably practice it themselves by making a special target of prejudice any member of the Republican Party, especially if he is recognized as a far-right Republican? Somehow Jews have all always been enraptured by the words “liberal” or “Democrat.” We convinced ourselves that the word “liberal” and “Jew” is a package made in heaven, ordained by God like a marriage, consecrated till death do us part. Love may be blind, but does it also have to be deaf and dumb — which it must be for Jews who can’t recognize the contempt many liberals have for them.
The story of Harry Truman is a perfect example. Jews are still blinded from the reality of Harry Truman’s real character, and possessed of a romanticized version of his love for the Jewish people. Whenever a Jew opened his mouth, the story of Truman’s Jewish partner in the haberdashery business came flying through his teeth, blinded to the fact that Truman not only found Jews distasteful and repulsive but even thought of his Jewish partner as a burden he had to bear because he couldn’t find any gentile in town who would trust him with his cash. It is a historical fact that Truman never invited his partner to his home, never even asked him if he was happy or healthy; he only cared if his hand could move enough to sign a check.
The vulgarity of the language with which Truman reacted to Eddie Jacobson’s pleas for the recognition of Israel would add up to enough filthy words to produce five pornographic movies. Most Jews are familiar with this story, but even if you could identify and prove every word of it they would still be too blind to believe it. But as inconceivable as the Jewish love affair was with President Truman, love was never more blind than in Jews’ persistent worship at the altar of Franklin D. Roosevelt. In this case their love was not only blind, it defied reason. Hitler was determined to kill the Jews, but many Jews needlessly died because Roosevelt totally ignored their plight and in some cases he even helped Hitler. When Jews were fleeing the death chambers in Germany towards the borders of America, it was the heartlessness of Franklin D. Roosevelt that forced them back to their destruction. Whenever Jews in America were aroused about Roosevelt’s callous indifference to their fate, he reacted like a mindless robot who couldn’t see them or hear them, as if the murder of the Jews was comparable to killing cockroaches in the kitchen. He found the persistence of the Jewish complaints so obnoxious that in an uncontrollable rage he even attacked Robert Morganthau, his Jewish secretary of the treasury, yelling that the Jews should stop complaining because he felt that the Jews should thank God that they are allowed to live here without suffering the fate of the Jews in Germany.
Why has the history of the basic anti-Semitic driven inhumanities of Presidents Roosevelt and Truman had no effect on the Jewish love affair with the Democratic Party? Why do they ignore the contempt of these Presidents for the lives of Jews? Obviously it is because Jews worship the Democratic Party as the crusaders for the underprivileged. And because the Jew spends his life fighting for acceptance and respect by making more and more money so that he can introduce you to a parade featuring the longest boat, the most modern kitchen, the most marbled toilets, the deepest swimming pool, the most foreign carpet, the biggest house with the highest ceiling, he is tormented by a guilt-ridden conscience which taught him that a good Jew does not spend his life pursuing greed and opportunism, and that a selfish life is a wasted one. Because a Jew is always struggling to overcome his fear of worthlessness, he spends his time finding ways to prove that he not only has a big fortune, but that he has an even bigger heart. That is why when he gives to charity, he gives it to hospitals that will put his name on it. He becomes a member of a club where there are special events where his charity will be announced. He joins a temple where a Rabbi will give him a special seat where the Holy Torah stands beside it. His main ambition is to become rich enough to give so much to charity that he will be asked to be the main speaker at a dinner in his honor, where pictures of him will be taken all night so he can look at them the rest of his life to remind himself that he only made money because of his compassion and selfless devotion to humanitarian causes and not for himself.
To avoid any connection with his materialistic values he has to reject and even hate the Republicans. To think of any connection with a far-right Republican will frighten him more than a firing squad in Saudi Arabia. That is why when the far-right Republicans dedicate themselves to fighting for the survival of Israel and even have to overcome Democratic Party opposition to what they consider the Biblical God-given right of the Jewish people to the possession of the Holy Land, instead of being met with appreciation and applause the Republicans are met with suspicion as though they were building a smokescreen for their basic anti-Semitism. Finally, because of their blind, deaf, and dumb love for the Democrats, the Jews have achieved a lopsided self-destructive direction and married into a party that cares little or nothing about the Jews here or in the State of Israel.
Dennis Prager [Kwing Hung: a Jew]
In discussing the Christian-Jewish divide over the Mel Gibson film “The Passion of the Christ,” I explained that Jews and Christians were watching two distinct films. Christians were watching Christ suffer for their sins, and Jews were watching Jews kill Christ. Jews were wrong to assume Christians would leave the theater with hostility toward Jews, and Christians needed to appreciate how many Jews had been murdered because of the charge of “Christ-killer.”
We now have another example of unfounded Jewish (and liberal) fear of conservative Christians — and another example where Christians need to try to understand, not just react defensively toward, these fears.
Dr. James Dobson, head of the conservative religious group Focus on the Family, has been widely quoted — and condemned — for comparing embryonic stem cell research to Nazi death-camp experiments.
But he did not do so.
On the Aug. 3 broadcast of his Focus on the Family radio show, Dobson said:
“ . . . people talk about the potential for good that can come from destroying these little embryos and how we might be able to solve the problem of juvenile diabetes. . . . But I have to ask this question: In World War II, the Nazis experimented on human beings in horrible ways in the concentration camps, and I imagine, if you wanted to take the time to read about it, there would have been some discoveries there that benefited mankind. You know, if you take a utilitarian approach, that if something results in good, then it is good. But that’s obviously not true. We condemn what the Nazis did because there are some things that we always could do but we haven’t done, because science always has to be guided by ethics and by morality. And you remove ethics and morality, and you get what happened in Nazi Germany.”
It should be clear to any honest reader that Dobson was not morally equating embryonic stem cell research to the hideous Nazi medical experiments on human beings (mostly, but not only, Jews). If he did, I would join the chorus of protesters. Only a moral fool would compare what Nazi doctors did — such as exposing men and women to prolonged radiation of their genitals, slowly freezing naked men and women to death, or putting a person into a decompression chamber to watch his eardrums burst — to medically experimenting on embryonic cells that have no self-awareness, no feeling, no capacity to suffer, and no loved ones who suffer. As Dobson himself put it to me on my radio show: “In the case of killing embryos there is no suffering, no grieving victims, and so they’re not the same, obviously.”
Dobson was not comparing actions; he was comparing ideas: namely the idea that because good may result from an immoral action, the action becomes moral.
He is, of course, right. The only question is whether this rule applies to embryonic stem cell research. On this, good people can and do differ. What good people must not do is attribute to James Dobson repugnant views he did not express.
Yet that is what the Anti-Defamation League and others have done.
In an angry letter to Dr. Dobson, the ADL national director, Abraham Foxman, wrote that it is an “offensive misuse of the Holocaust to compare stem cell research to the hideous barbarities of Nazi pseudo-science.” Foxman’s statement is entirely right, but Dobson never made that comparison. It appears that it is Abraham Foxman who owes James Dobson an apology.
Having said that, it is important to note why Jews are so sensitive (as any moral individual should be) to the cheapening of the evil of the Holocaust. It is done too often, and mostly on the Left with its frequent equation of conservatives to Nazis and PETA’s equating of barbecuing chickens with cremating Jews (“Holocaust on your plate”). It is also done on the Right when abortions are labeled “America’s Holocaust.” As immoral as most abortions are, one cannot compare the Holocaust with America’s terrible number of abortions. There is not a Jew alive now or who lived during the Holocaust who would not have prayed to God that six million Jewish unborn had been aborted rather than six million Jewish men, women and children been tortured, gassed and burned.
But Jews must not allow their desire to protect the integrity of the Holocaust, let alone their historical fear of Christianity and the Right, to blind them to the reality that their best friends today are indeed Christians and conservatives. One of whom is James Dobson, who said nothing wrong.
Amid strained relations between Mainline Protestants and Jews over the “selective” divestment policies of some churches, a group of 13 Christian and Jewish leaders vowed to strengthen interfaith efforts and advocate for peace following a joint visit to the Middle East last week.
“That Jewish and Christian leaders representing their denominations and organizations are going on this trip together is in itself a significant statement of trust and hope,” said Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, National Council of Churches USA Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations, when the Sept. 18-23 trip began, according to the NCC.
Since last year, when the Presbyterian Church USA decided to “selectively divest” from companies it viewed as propagating violence between Israel and Palestine, the long-standing relationship between Jewish and mainline Christian churches began breaking apart. The situation worsened when the Anglican Communion, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Church of Christ joined the PC(USA) in considering pulling support from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of disputed territories.
Most U.S.-based Jewish communities condemned the church policies, charging them of unfairly blaming Israel for a two-state problem. The denominations largely acknowledged the criticisms but continued implementing the policies.
While tensions remain within the two faith groups, last week’s delegation symbolized a change in attitude – at least among some Jewish communities – to work together with mainline groups “to seek peace even when there are disagreements on specific policies and solutions.” The delegation included representatives from the PC(USA), ELCA and the UCC.
“A trip that started from many different places has brought us closer together in hope and faith,” a statement from the delegation read. “While there were many difficult moments, our trust in each other deepened. We sustain hope and faith in each other as agents of peace. We affirm hope and faith in our two religious communities as partners and advocates for a two-state solution.”
Through the statement, the delegation promised to deepen engagement with each other at the local level, work together for peace in Israel and Palestine, urge government officials to work out a negotiated peace settlement, and jointly support those in the Middle East who are working for a two-state solution to the conflict.
“On this day, we together affirm our partnership with God in bringing about justice, compassion and peace,” they stated.
The Jewish and Protestant leaders who made this journey represent the Alliance of Baptists, American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, National Council of Churches of Christ, Presbyterian Church (USA), Religious Action Center of the Union of Reform Judaism, United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
The Anti-Defamation League, devoted to fighting anti-Jewish bigotry, is America’s most influential Jewish group. So what are we to make of the weird air of unreality in the ADL’s public statements about Christians? Consider the recent address by national director Abraham Foxman to the group’s annual meeting in which he called for a community-wide response to a growing threat.
Foxman spoke on November 3 in New York during a week when disturbing news stories were unfolding around the world. The riots across France by immigrant Muslim youths were building to a climax. These were the same youths who have been terrorizing French Jews for the past five years — assaulting individuals, firebombing synagogues, and desecrating Jewish cemeteries.
The same week, Iran’s president was refusing to back down from his call to fellow Muslims to “wipe Israel off the map.” Meanwhile in Egypt, TV viewers had just spent Ramadan enjoying a new drama series based on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the notorious anti-Semitic hoax.
If there is one religion that poses a danger to Jewish interests, clearly it’s radical Islam. How strange, then, that in his speech Abraham Foxman held up the terrifying specter of, um, American Christianity.
“Today,” said Foxman, “we face a better financed, more sophisticated, coordinated, unified, energized, and organized coalition of groups in opposition to our policy positions on church-state separation than ever before. Their goal is to implement their Christian worldview. To save us!”
Foxman warned that mainstream evangelical groups have “built infrastructures throughout the country... intend[ing] to ‘Christianize’ all aspects of American life, from the halls of government to the libraries, to the movies, to recording studios, to the playing fields and locker rooms of professional, collegiate and amateur sports, from the military to SpongeBob SquarePants.”
“‘Christianize’ all aspects of American life,” he says? This must mean that evangelical leaders want to Christianize us either by legal coercion, or by inspiration and moral example.
If Foxman means by legal coercion, his accusation is ludicrous. To take a controversial illustration that’s in the news, Intelligent Design has drawn support from Christians (as well as others) and condemnation from the ADL. One may disapprove of letting teachers acquaint public-school students with a scientific critique of Darwinism. But I.D. in the biology classroom is an entirely different thing from “Christianizing” American life — a phrase that conjures the Spanish Inquisition.
If Foxman means that evangelicals would “Christianize” by inspiration and example, he’s right. But so what? By definition, to be an evangelical means to wish to influence the culture in what Christians regard as a spiritually healthful direction. Good for them.
Broadly speaking, that direction is one that we Jews likewise have traditionally regarded as healthy and positive. Many classical Jewish sources — the Talmud, Midrash, Maimonides, and other authorities — speak of the need to bring humanity closer to the values of the One God. There is nothing exclusively “Christian” about favoring traditional marriage, lamenting the abortion culture, or defending a helpless woman like Terri Schiavo. Christians are only doing what we Jews ought to do.
So why vilify them? Historical anti-Semitic persecution cannot fully explain modern Jewish worries about Christian intentions. Surely Jews are rational enough to appreciate that we don’t live in medieval Europe, but rather in a time of unprecedented Christian philo-Semitism, especially among conservative Christians. For the needlessly heightened state of Jewish concern about evangelicals, the ADL itself is at least partly to blame. The group has done much to exacerbate Jewish concerns. But what is it that drives the ADL to stoke our fears?
Money, perhaps? Let’s be realistic. Naturally, a crusading nonprofit organization needs a bad guy to give a sense of urgency to its fundraising campaigns. And make no mistake: This particular organization’s fundraising needs are substantial. The Anti-Defamation League has more than $52 million in yearly expenses, including Foxman’s impressive $412,000 in salary and other compensation (according to publicly available 2003 tax information). That’s a lot of expenses. The pressure to find the money to feed such a budget must be intense.
For whatever reason, hyperventilating about Christians makes Jews open their wallets. The anti-defamation professionals of the Jewish community are no dummies. Nor, I believe, are they paranoid. Or cynical. True, if these well-meaning folks are directing so much attention to the wildly exaggerated menace of Christian evangelicals, I don’t see an alternative explanation to a financial one. However, this doesn’t mean the ADL leadership is corrupt.
Rather, don’t dismiss the Marxist insight that money can shape consciousness. Very possibly, a dynamic inherent in the nonprofit business molds the attitudes of those who work in this curious industry. Not cynics at all, they sincerely come to believe those things they must say to raise money.
Money, I would add, that could be far more usefully spent on other communal needs. Let’s say, on religious education, which for Jews is the best assurance of a flourishing communal life. Consider how many Jewish kids could receive a Jewish education with that $52 million, how many Jewish souls could be saved from the oblivion of assimilation. In more ways than one, the ADL’s success is our loss.
— David Klinghoffer, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a columnist for the Jewish Forward. His most recent book is Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History. His website is www.davidklinghoffer.com.
A group of Jewish leaders meets in New York this week to develop a response to the religious right, which they say is eroding civil liberties and planning to “christianize America.”
Led by Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the private meeting is set for today, said an assistant to Mr. Yoffie.
Both men were unavailable for comment Friday, and neither organization would divulge details of the meeting, including who else is attending and where it is being held.
But the meeting is the culmination of a month of attacks by Mr. Foxman and Mr. Yoffie on conservative Christian groups, starting with Mr. Foxman’s speech Nov. 3 at an ADL function in New York.
“We face a better-financed, more sophisticated, coordinated, unified, energized and organized coalition of groups in opposition to our policy positions on church-state separation than ever before,” he said. “Their goal is to implement their Christian worldview. To Christianize America. To save us.”
The chief villains, he said, were the Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family; the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defense Fund; the Tupelo, Miss.-based American Family Association; and the Family Research Council, based in Washington.
“This issue is serious enough for us to develop a strategy, and, clearly, our first task is to win the support of the American public,” Mr. Foxman said. “We also need to come together with other Jewish organizations ... and to find allies beyond our community.”
On Nov. 19, Mr. Yoffie compared the religious right to Nazis.
“We understand those who believe that the Bible opposes gay marriage, even though we read that text in a very different way,” the rabbi said. “We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things that he did was ban gay organizations.”
Criticism has been strong among conservative-leaning Jews.
“Foxman loves to whine about the religious right and how they’re destroying religious liberty in America,” said Don Feder, president of Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation.
“Is wanting to keep God in the Pledge of Allegiance Christianizing America? Is opposition to gay marriage Christianizing America? Is efforts to keep public displays of the Ten Commandments Christianizing America? If so, Moses was a Christianizer.”
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the Chicago-based International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), pointed out that evangelicals are Israel’s best U.S. friends. His group raised $44.9 million in 2004, mostly from evangelicals, for pro-Israel causes.
In 2002, the IFCJ commissioned a poll of 1,200 Americans that found that “conservative church-going Christians” had the highest rates of support for Israel (62%) among non-Jewish religious groups.
In 2002, Mr. Foxman penned “Evangelical Support for Israel Is a Good Thing” for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
But 2004 Republican electoral successes and President Bush’s faith-based initiatives have made some Jewish organizations nervous about evangelicals’ ultimate aims.
“It’s absolutely an issue,” said Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia.
“They aren’t using outright violence themselves,” he said of the religious right. “But they are one step down from people who are ready to use the coercive powers of the state to impose their own religious outlook.”
Conservative Christians and Jewish groups have united over Israel, foreign policy and the threat of Islamic terrorism, said Kristi Hamrick, spokeswoman for American Values.
“It’s common knowledge that no other non-Jewish community in the country supports Israel as loyally and generously as do evangelicals,” said Paul Hetrick, vice president of media relations for Focus on the Family.
About Mr. Foxman, Mr. Hetrick said: “He’s the same individual that said Mel Gibson’s movie ‘The Passion of the Christ’ would be a step toward creating a new Holocaust, and he was dead wrong about that.”
For a third time, a court dismissed claims in a lawsuit against Jews for Jesus prompted by a woman who complained she was defamed when the group called her a “Jewish believer” in its newsletter.
This time, Florida State Circuit Court Judge Edward Fine in West Palm Beach dismissed the entire $1 million suit with prejudice, meaning none of the claims can be re-filed.
The judge ordered the plaintiff, Edith Rapp, and her attorney, Barry Silver, to pay attorney’s fees and costs.
Judge Catherine Brunson had twice dismissed similar variations of the same lawsuit.
“Jews for Jesus is pleased to put this frivolous lawsuit behind it and move forward,” said Mathew D. Staver, president and general counsel for Liberty Counsel, which represented Jews for Jesus. “The lawsuit was a theological attack wrapped in a legal pleading against Jews for Jesus as a Christian organization, because of its outreach to the Jewish community.”
Staver said, rather than a legal pleading, the lawsuit read like a polemic against Christianity: “It was essentially a theological diatribe.”
The conflict began in July 2002 when Jews for Jesus sent a “Praise Report” newsletter claiming Edith Rapp had asked Y’shua, Jesus, to be her savior.
The report was written by her stepson, Bruce Rapp, an employee of Jews for Jesus.
His stepmother filed suit Dec. 11, 2003, after the death of his father, complaining the stated account was fictitious and that Jews for Jesus knew the account was false when it published the newsletter.
The complaint said Jewish people harbor extreme animosity towards Jews for Jesus and the group seeks the “end of the Jewish religion and the Jewish faith.”
But as WND reported, Circuit Court Judge Catherine Bruns agreed in May 2004 to a motion by Liberty Counsel to dismiss the case, which argued it was not defamatory to call someone a Christian. A defamatory statement, the group said, must be highly offensive to a reasonable person.
Simply calling someone a Christian in America is not highly offensive to a reasonable person, nor should it be, Liberty Counsel stated.
Allowing the case to go forward, the group argued, would give effect to religious prejudices by recognizing and approving the prejudices that some individuals may have against Christian organizations such as Jews for Jesus.
At the 2004 hearing, Edith Rapp’s attorney asserted that calling Edith a member of Jews for Jesus was the same as calling a Christian a member of al-Qaida or the Nazi party.
The newsletter in question was Bruce Rapp’s recounting of his visit with his father and stepmother, “Edie,” before his father died.
It read: “Edie began to ask me questions about Jesus … when I asked her if she would like to ask God for forgiveness for her sins and receive Y’shua she said yes! My stepmother repeated the sinner’s prayer with me – praise God!”
The newsletter included a prayer request urging prayer for “grace and strength for new Jewish believer Edie and salvation for her husband, Marty.”
Let’s embarrass Iran’s evil regime. During this festive season, let’s light some Hanukkah candles in front of their embassies.
In Jewish tradition, Hanukkah is the festival of lights, because it celebrates the survival of the Jewish people against the onslaught of a tyrannical regime that denied them the freedom to practice their faith freely. Under the leadership of a priestly family, the Jews rebelled and fought against their oppressors. Eventually, they managed to gain back control of Jerusalem’s Holy Temple, which their enemies had turned into a pagan shrine where pigs — that most unholy of animals in Jewish tradition — were being sacrificed to pagan gods. Having smashed the idols, so the story goes, the revolt’s leaders sought the oil necessary to light the Temple’s candelabra, in order to re-consecrate the sanctuary. This they only found in small quantities, enough to last a day, but well short of the minimum eight days needed to prepare the oil in conformity with the needs of worship. And here’s the miracle: The tiny oil quantity, meant to last for just a day, kept the lights on for the full eight days.
The Hanukkah lights thus symbolize the triumph of light over darkness, of hope over despair, and of freedom over tyranny. In remembrance, Jews light candles for eight days, starting from one candle the first night and adding one candle each day, to show how freedom’s light, and the hopes it feeds, grows from strength to strength.
This symbol makes Hanukkah not only a Jewish holiday. The triumph of liberty over tyranny, through the resolve believers who refuse to bow to a brutal regime is the story of America’s Founding Fathers and of their ethos of freedom. Their pursuit of religious freedom brought them to unwelcoming shores. There, despite the odds, they eventually built a free society, where belief, however outlandish and deviant from established church doctrine, would never again become ground for persecution. Americans should therefore find no difficulty identifying with Hanukkah lights. Though a Jewish tradition, their message is universal, a powerful reminder that tyranny can be defeated and freedom restored.
Americans fought for their freedom long ago. But freedom should know no boundaries; and tyranny should be given no quarter. A tyrant rules over Iran today and his mad quest for nuclear weapons is now matched by a murderous rhetoric against the Jewish people and the state of Israel. Despite placing its genocidal designs and its quest for the tools to achieve them in the plain light of day, the decent nations of the world have so far done little to dissuade Iran. With Iran so close to completing a nuclear fuel cycle and with its arsenals now acquiring new and longer-range missiles, the threats of its leaders may soon become more than just bellicose verbal abuse.
Yet, there is little sign that the international community will act. Forget military action, forget sanctions: Even the highly symbolic idea of launching a ban on Iran’s soccer team from next year’s world cup, though gaining momentum in Europe, has so far been dismissed by FIFA (the international football association in charge of the tournament).
So here’s an idea that ordinary citizens can adopt as a reminder to governments that in the end, for any hope to survive, we need freedom to triumph over tyranny. This year, Hanukkah coincides with Christmas. On December 27, the third night of Hanukkah, Hanukkah candles should be lit in public ceremonies across the streets, in front of Iranian embassies around the world. Jewish communities should organize a lighting ceremony in all those capital cities where Iran has an embassy, and in New York it should be done in front of the U.N. building, right beside the Iranian flag. According to Jewish law, anyone can light the Shamash, the candle that is used to light all others. Prominent leaders with bipartisan support should be invited to perform this symbolic act to reaffirm the light of freedom over the darkness of tyranny. And other public figures should endorse this initiative as a message to the Iranian authorities.
The idea was recently launched by two London activists, and is already gaining support and sympathy elsewhere. Rome may soon follow, and so should other capitals of Europe and the Western world.
Since the free world’s leaders remain unwilling to give a strong and decisive answer to Iran’s tyranny, ordinary citizens should perform this simple gesture of defiance, which for centuries Jewish families and communities across the world have done. This is a reminder that in the end, despite the odds, the light of freedom must, and therefore can, triumph over the darkness of tyranny.
— Emanuele Ottolenghi teaches Israel studies at Oxford University.
[KH: Emergent Church is non-orthodox]
Emerging Christian and Jewish leaders from across the United States will meet to exchange ideas and debate the meaning and practice of community in their respective faiths.
Synagogue 3000 (S3K) and Emergent will host a forum on Jan. 16-17 at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley, Calif. The conference draws religious leaders from both faiths from large cities across America including Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
“We have so much common ground on so many levels,” said Brian McLaren, a prominent Emergent Christian theologian who has met with S3K three times in the past. “We face similar problems in the present, we have common hopes for the future, and we draw from shared resources in our heritage. I’m thrilled with the possibility of developing friendship and collaboration in ways that help God’s dreams come true for our synagogues, churches, and world.”
Leading clergies in mainstream synagogues will explore the relationship between the established congregation and emerging groups, with a particular focus on unaffiliated Christians and Jews who are not attracted to conventional congregations.
S3K Senior Fellow Lawrence A. Hoffman emphasized the importance of building strong religious identities through conversation across faith lines.
“We inhabit an epic moment,” he said, “nothing short of a genuine spiritual awakening. It offers us an opportunity unique to all of human history: a chance for Jews and Christians to do God’s work together, not just locally, but nationally, community by community, in shared witness to our two respective faiths.”
The meeting has historic possibilities, observed Emergent-U.S. National Coordinator Tony Jones.
“As emerging Christian leaders have been pushing through the polarities of left and right in an effort to find a new, third way, we’ve been desperate to find partners for that quest,” he said. “It’s with great joy and promise that we partner with the leaders of S3K to talk about the future and God’s Kingdom.”
S3K Director of Research Shawn Landres concurred.
“We hope to learn from their experiences and also to build bridges by engaging and challenging one another,” he said.
Speakers include: Dr. Ryan Bolger, Fuller Theological Seminary; Dr. Steven M. Cohen, Hebrew Union College; and Dr. Clark Roof, University of California.
Any reference to “Jesus Christ” during a prayer at a government meeting is “unconstitutional.”
That’s the opinion of the Jewish defense group the Anti Defamation League which is urging a Florida community to adopt a policy banning sectarian prayers making reference to any specific deities.
“If invocations are done, they have to be, according to (a 1983) Supreme Court decision, such that they do not advance any particular faith or belief,” ADL spokesman Andrew Rosenkranz told the Palm Beach Post. “The reason being, you try and make as many people included as possible so that nobody feels that they’re being left out of any particular prayer.”
The New York-based ADL is focusing its attention on Wellington, Fla., where the issue of inclusiveness came up at the suggestion of a councilmember last year.
Local clergy have been permitted to recite prayers at the start of village meetings, and some reportedly mention Jesus Christ by name.
Rosenkranz wrote Mayor Tom Wenham, saying the allowing of Jesus’ name “sends a clear message of exclusion to citizens not of that faith.”
Presbyterian minister Tim Christenson recently changed his prayers at meetings to remove the name of Jesus, first out of respect for other faiths, and later by request of the mayor. The Post reports Christenson has since reversed his position and will once again utter Christ’s name during his invocations.
Despite the objections of the ADL, the Florida-based Liberty Counsel says it would be unconstitutional to have a policy restricting prayers.
“Essentially what they’re (the ADL) wanting is for the government to get out a censor pen and determine what’s sectarian and what’s not,” Mathew Staver of Liberty Counsel told the paper. “He’s wanting to require them be a theological, doctrinal board of review.”
“The city council members are not theologians,” he added. “They’re politicians.”
by Jeff Jacoby
There was no mistaking the sense of occasion when the Catholic archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, delivered his first address to the city’s Jewish community last week. Hundreds came to hear him, including the heads of Boston’s leading Jewish organizations, rabbis from every Jewish denomination, and media secular and sectarian.
The cardinal didn’t say anything controversial or unexpected. No one imagined he would. He expressed strong support for Catholic-Jewish cooperation, emphasized Christianity’s Jewish roots, and spoke feelingly about the Christian obligation to fight anti-Semitism. All familiar themes. So why all the attention and interest?
After all, it has been more than 40 years since the Catholic Church adopted Nostra Aetate (“In Our Time”), its landmark declaration condemning anti-Semitism and repudiating the centuries-old teaching that Jews were eternally cursed for the death of Jesus. It has been 20 years since Pope John Paul II embraced Rabbi Elio Toaff in the Great Synagogue of Rome and extolled Jews as the “elder brothers” of Christians. Over the last few decades, Catholic-Jewish dialogue and reconciliation have become such prominent features on the religious landscape that anyone who came of age in the 1970s or later could be forgiven for assuming that Catholic anti-Semitism had always been limited to the crackpots on the fringe.
That’s true even in a city like Boston, which in the 1930s and ‘40s was intensely anti-Semitic -– so much so that by 1943, violent attacks on Jews and vandalism of Jewish property were reported to be “an almost daily occurrence.” Mayor James Michael Curley called Boston “the strongest Coughlin city in America” — a reference to Father Charles Coughlin, the Jew-hating Michigan priest who broadcast his poison over the nation’s airwaves and whose anti-Semitic paper, “Social Justice,” was hawked on the steps of Boston’s Catholic churches.
Today, that entrenched Catholic anti-Semitism has all but vanished, swept away by the revolution that Nostra Aetate launched.
In a city where priests once refused to condemn the beating of Jews, Catholic clergy now go to great lengths to promote interfaith understanding. Boston College, a leading Catholic university, is home to the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning, which is committed to nurturing relationships between Christians and Jews that are based “not merely on toleration but on full respect and mutual enrichment.” On the website of the Boston Archdiocese is a wealth of material on Catholic-Jewish relations; one recommended resource is an online study guide to “Nostra Aetate” prepared by the Anti-Defamation League — a Jewish organization with which the archdiocese has an active partnership.
This change in the church’s attitude toward Jews has been extraordinary, and O’Malley made a point of underscoring its theological significance — and permanence. “It is for us Catholics a part of our response to God,” he said. “Hence there can never be a question of retreating from Nostra Aetate.”
But, he acknowledged, not everyone has gotten that message.
He told a story from his days as a young priest working with immigrants in Washington, D.C., when some members of the Anti-Defamation League came to see him about anti-Semitism in the Hispanic community. Impossible, O’Malley told them. These immigrants came from remote villages in El Salvador and most of them had never met a Jew. They would have no reason to think ill of Jews. “I assured the men that they were barking up the wrong tree, and sent them off with a don’t-call-me-I’ll-call-you.”
A few days later, at a meeting with parishioners to make plans for Holy Week, O’Malley was dumbfounded when one man proposed to celebrate Holy Saturday with la quema del judio — the burning of the Jew. “Although Spanish is almost my first language,” he recalled the other night, “I had him repeat the phrase two or three times, such was my disbelief and horror.” In many Central American villages, it turned out, there was a custom of marking the day before Easter by hanging an effigy of Judas and blowing it up with fireworks: the burning of the Jew.
O’Malley vetoed the proposal. Then he called the ADL and asked for help in educating his parishioners. The result was a Passover seder conducted in Spanish, to which everyone in the parish was invited on Holy Thursday following the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
“The whole community was fascinated to see the connection between the seder meal and the Eucharist,” O’Malley said. “After that, no one ever asked again to burn any Jews.”
Remarkable as the transformation of recent decades has been, it will take more time than that to scrub away the stain left by the 1,900 years that preceded them. Against the long sweep of Christian history, and the even longer sweep of Jewish history, the 40 years since Nostra Aetate have been but a brief, blessed moment. It is too soon to take it all for granted. Too soon to be nonchalant about the teaching of brotherhood that replaced the teaching of contempt. That is why Cardinal O’Malley’s speech commanded such interest. And why the finest thing about it was that none of it came as a surprise.
by Rabbi Daniel Lapin
The Jewish High Holy Days begin this Friday evening with two days of Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year and end 10 days later with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that what God thinks of us is far more important than what we think of God. Thus it follows that Rosh HaShana, literally the head of the year, is the time when God judges all humans. Rosh HaShana’s solemn role of affirming that God indeed does judge us, makes one of its central themes, laughter, difficult to understand.
Is laughter indeed the motif of this most solemn day? Traditionally, we Jews search for the meaning of the day within the Torah portion designated for public reading on that day. On Rosh HaShana, Chapters 21 and 22 of Genesis are read; they chronicle the birth and early life of Abraham and Sarah’s son, Isaac, history’s first born Jew. Even from conception, laughter surrounds his life. In fact, out of the 13 Scriptural references to “laughter,” nine occur in the context of Isaac’s life. His name means “he shall laugh” and it is the name that God instructed Abraham and Sarah to give him after they had laughed about his birth. It must have seemed a comic thought to a 90-year-old woman that she and her 100-year-old husband would become first-time parents.
Ancient Jewish wisdom requires us to blow the shofar (ram’s horn) 100 times on Rosh HaShana in a complex sequence of notes composed to sound just the way crying or laughing sounds. (From another room, deprived of visual clues, even mothers often fail to distinguish whether a child is crying or laughing.) With the laughter meaning of Isaac’s name as well as the laughing sounds of the shofar all integrated by the day’s reading of the Torah portion, Rosh HaShana is not only the day of judgment, it is clearly also the day of laughter. There must be some way of integrating our understanding of both the joy of laughter and the solemnity of judgment.
Laughter is one of the distinctions that humans enjoy over animals. What makes us laugh? People laugh at things that violate a sense of how things ought to be. A pompous mayor who slips on a banana peel is funny. A vagrant who falters and sprawls on the sidewalk just seems sad.
Likewise, a sexual innuendo that provokes howls of laughter among school boys and titters among stockbrokers, elicits yawns of indifference from hardened prison inmates. The dirty joke assaults notions of human refinement, thereby causing laughter. To the depraved, however, it is not a dirty joke, it is reality.
The only reason that we laugh at cartoons of talking animals is because of our underlying conviction that only humans were given the gift of speech. A joke can only be funny in the context of a fixed framework which it contradicts.
The paramount project of secular liberalism is to utterly obliterate most rules and fixed frameworks. In the absence of any system of inviolable, religiously based absolutes, there are no unthinkable acts to perform; there are few rules to violate. In a world in which everything floats, humor has nothing solid to thrust against.
To the dismay of secular parents raising Godless children, their offspring will probably find humor one day only in the absurdity of their parents’ Godless lives.
The laughter and joyfulness that permeate the family life of religious Americans springs from the presence of Biblically inspired discipline and structure. Conversely, the grim seriousness with which the secular liberal seems to go about the business of life springs from the absence of absolute values. (One cannot help but recall the famous joke that reflected feminism’s humorlessness: How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer: That’s not funny).
Since jokes are only funny if they contradict a preconception, and all preconceptions are becoming banned, many genres of jokes are vanishing from our national repertoire. The political correctness doctrine banishes humor and laughter entirely because humor presupposes an existing standard. If nothing is absolutely good and nothing is unthinkably bad, nothing can be funny. Clearly one of the goals of secular liberalism is to eliminate most existing standards. The unintended consequence will be the dreary and somber atmosphere that was characteristic of life behind the old Iron Curtain. Secularism, and its sequel, socialism, work together to banish laughter from the world.
Jewish tradition has it that Abraham, through his renowned kindness, attracted thousands of devotees to Judaism. Yet, a full three generations later, by which time the world’s Jewish population ought to have reached large numbers, the Bible (Genesis 46) indicates a total Jewish population of merely 70 souls.
The great transmitters of the Oral Torah explain that Abraham had focused on the Almighty’s capacity for unrestrained love and compassion. Isaac, the icon of Rosh HaShana, introduced an awareness of God’s firm hand into Jewish culture. Many of the disciples drawn by Abraham’s gentle nature were later repelled by Isaac’s unpopular emphasis on law, leaving a core following of only 70.
Yet it is precisely the structure of law that defines boundaries and allows humans to live among one another. Ancient Jewish wisdom in chapter three of Ethics of the Fathers, exhorts “Pray for the welfare of legal authority—without it, men would destroy each other.” The origin of legal authority and its best validation is the model of Divine authority. For this reason, civil authorities like kings would often head the Church too. They were aware that their acceptance of God’s authority made it more logical for citizens to accept their’s.
In other words, my children are more likely to obey my rules and later, society’s too, if they grow up watching me accept God’s rules. Children of parents whose vehicles sport bumper stickers that read “Question Authority” will grow up doing just that. They will also become rather hard to live with.
We humans are by nature reluctant to submit ourselves to a higher authority. Showing how treasured human moments like laughter depend on that submission, helps persuade us that civilization depends upon allowing God to judge us. That is the paramount message of the High Holy Days and accounts for its laughter motif.
by William Kristol
“How odd / Of God / To choose / The Jews.” Thus the British journalist (and communist) William Norman Ewer, in the early part of the last century. The reply came from Cecil Browne: “But not so odd / As those who choose / A Jewish God / But spurn the Jews.”
Browne’s riposte may have won the poetic exchange. But Ewer’s anti-Judaism prevailed in the next decades in Europe. Buried there after World War II, hatred of the Jews flourished for the rest of the 20th century in the Middle East. Is anti-Judaism now enjoying a broader revival? It would seem so.
University of Chicago political science professor John Mearsheimer came to Washington late last month along with his sidekick, Stephen Walt of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Speaking to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, they attacked the “Israel lobby” (of which they claim I am a part) for its pernicious deeds, and singled out several Jews who served or serve in the Bush administration. These Jews, they explained, have special “attachments” in the Middle East. Their attachment? Their religious belief—Judaism. Bigotry now has an academic cachet.
Some of the activists at Moveon.org, the political organization that raises millions for Democratic candidates and generates support for left-wing policies, had a curious reason for cheering the Democratic primary defeat of Sen. Joe Lieberman. As Robert Goldberg reported in the Washington Times, after one Moveon member celebrated the defeat of “Jew Lieberman,” 95% of those who responded to the post on the Moveon website expressed their approval.
Meanwhile, over in Europe, Norwegian writer Jostein Gaarder, author of “Sophie’s World,” announced in Norway’s leading newspaper, the Aftenposten, the end of Israel: “There is no turning back. It is time to learn a new lesson: We do no longer recognize the state of Israel . . . . We must now get used to the idea: The state of Israel in its current form is history. . . . Fear not! The time of trouble shall soon be over. The state of Israel has seen its Soweto. . . . May spirit and word sweep away the apartheid walls of Israel. The state of Israel does not exist. It is now without defense, without skin. May the world therefore have mercy on the civilian population.”
Mr. Gaarder’s distaste for Israel seemed to be based on his dislike of Israel’s policies, his revulsion against the God of Israel (“an insatiable sadist”), and his anger that, “for two thousand years, we have rehearsed the syllabus of humanism, but Israel does not listen.” It’s not clear who that “we” has been for two thousand years. But since Israel has only existed since 1948, it is presumably the Jews, not merely, Israel, who have not listened. (It was, however, generous of Mr. Gaarder to call for mercy for the Jewish civilian population.)
And then there’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—bidding fair to be the most powerful leader in the Islamic world. Mr. Ahmadinejad has called, of course, for the “the elimination of the Zionist regime” and “the destruction of Israel.” He wants Israel eliminated because he wants Judaism eliminated (Christianity will take longer). Javier Solana of the E.U. and Kofi Annan of the U.N. are eagerly paying him court. Will Mr. Solana or Mr. Annan stand up in the presence of Ahmadinejad and denounce Jew-hatred? No.
Jews are under attack. And no one seems much concerned. Liberal Jews are more concerned about Mel Gibson than Mr. Ahmadinejad. The mainstream Jewish organizations have played the “anti-Semitism” card so often that it has been devalued. Much of the world is in denial about the jihadist threat. No one wants to be alarmist. This is, in a way, understandable. There are two large Jewish communities in the world. The Jews of America prosper in comfort and security. The Jews of Israel have been able to defend themselves. It’s not 1938 again.
But the jihadists are on the move. Recently, in Gaza, kidnapped journalists Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig were forced to “convert” to Islam before being released. What would have happened to them if they had been Jewish? And, incidentally—if they had refused to “convert,” as some Jews and Christians have in the past—what would have happened then?
Both the spokesperson for the Southern Baptist Convention and Jews for Jesus ministry point to the Bible as the reason why a recent national poll found that the majority of the South believes God gave Israel to the Jews.
“The reason that 7 out of 10 evangelicals believe that God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people is simply because it is stated as such in the Bible, and evangelicals believe the Bible to be God’s Word,” wrote SBC vice president for convention relations, Dr. Kenyn Cureton, in an email to The Christian Post last week.
Cureton noted that he expects the number to be higher among Southern Baptists.
Late last month, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a survey that found 56% of those in the South believe that God gave Israel to the Jews. An even higher number (69%) of white evangelical Protestants subscribed to this belief.
Jews for Jesus spokesperson, Susan Perlman, referenced Romans 11:29 which says “the gifts and his call are irrevocable” and concluded, “therefore so must our support for the survival of Israel be irrevocable.”
She further noted that political and humanitarian efforts have failed to bring lasting peace to the region and the only hope for peace is in Jesus.
“Only when Palestinians and Israelis can say to one another, “I love you in Jesus’ name” will the whole world take note and see the power of the gospel,” stated Perlman in a written statement last week.
However, she pointed out that, “As God’s people, committed to peace, we must demonstrate that loving Israel does not mean hating Arabs.”
David Brickner, executive director of Jews for Jesus, also highlighted biblical support that God gave Israel to the Jews.
In a newsletter last year, he wrote, “God’s promise of the Land was based on an eternal covenant He made with Abraham, a covenant He never revoked.
The Southern Baptist Convention is the nation’s largest denomination with over 16 million members headquartered in Nashville.
Jews for Jesus is an international ministry seeking to share the Gospel with the Jewish people with branches in eight major U.S. cities.
If the latest FBI hate-crime statistics are any indication, of the 1,314 verified offenses motivated by religious bias, 68.5% were anti-Jewish.
Only 11.1% were anti-Islamic, despite claims of rampant anti-Muslim bigotry in the U.S. by groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations.
Across the board, hate crimes in the U.S. dropped last year by 6%, according to the 2005 FBI report release last week, although violence against people based on their race accounted more than half of the reported incidents.
Police nationwide reported 7,163 hate crime incidents in 2005, targeting victims based on their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and disabilities. That was down from 2004, when the FBI reported 7,649 incidents.
The vast majority of hate crimes in both years were motivated by race, according the reports, which detailed the data based on so-called “single-bias” incidents. That means the crime was motivated by only one kind of bias against the victim, according to the FBI.
Race-based criminal activity accounted for 54.7% of hate crimes last year, up slightly from 52.9% in 2004, the FBI found.
Another 17% of hate crimes in 2005 targeted victims for their religious beliefs, and 14.2% for their sexual orientation.
Victims were assaulted in more than half – 50.7% – of the hate crime cases against people. Six people were murdered and another three were raped in reported hate crimes last year. The rest of the victims, or 48.9%, were intimidated, the report shows. The FBI also looked at hate crime incidents that targeted property, with 81.3% of cases resulting in damage, destruction or vandalism.
Sixty percent of the known offenders in 2005 were white, and 20% were black, the report showed.
The data was collected from police agencies across the country, representing city, county, state, tribal and federal law enforcement agencies.
The Conservative Jewish movement is poised to redefine its position on the moral status of homosexuality, especially as related to the ordination of homosexual rabbis and the blessing of homosexual unions.
A panel of rabbis will meet December 5 and 6 in New York City in order to establish the movement’s position on the moral status of homosexuality. But, strange as it may sound, the movement may adopt positions instead.
Here is how The Washington Post explains the situation:
“I think the committee is deeply divided — like the rest of society is divided, like our movement is divided,” said Rabbi Joel H. Meyers, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the main association of Conservative rabbis. “But the tension has grown to the point that the committee is hard-pressed to give some clear guidance to the movement.”
Clarity, however, may not be forthcoming. Rabbi Avis D. Miller of Washington’s Congregation Adas Israel said the “rabbinical scuttlebutt” is that the panel — the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards — will approve two conflicting answers, one upholding the status quo and one calling for change.
Two answers? This is possible because it only takes six of the 25 rabbis to establish an authoritative interpretation.
Some openly celebrate the possibility:
If two or more contradictory answers are accepted, “that will be the strongest statement for America, because everything in America spiritually and religiously seems to have become political, and the way you know it’s political is that it’s either ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ “ said Irwin Kula, a Conservative rabbi who heads the New York-based National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
“In a genuine spiritual tradition, ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are both living options. . . . Both sides are right, and we’re not used to that, because in a political reality, only one side can be right,” he said.
Get this straight — the movement may well decide that homosexual behavior is simultaneously sinful and sinless, shameful and honorable, legitimate and illegitimate.
Note that Rabbi Kula describes the presence of a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as evidence that a position is “political.” In his words, “the way you know it’s political is that it’s either ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Would the rabbi apply this to all moral questions?
Thankfully, Moses did not come down from the mountain with a list of ten “yes and no’s.” With one of the most pressing moral issues of our times at stake, Rabbi Kula’s approach is to offer no answer at all.
Oddly enough, The Los Angeles Times reports that one of the most influential rabbis on the panel will propose banning some male homosexual practices, while allowing others.
The Conservative movement in American Judaism emerged in the early twentieth century with an approach that stands between Orthodoxy and Reform Judaism. The central theme of the Conservative movement is the embrace of both modernity and tradition. The issue of homosexuality will test the plausibility of that proposal.
Rejecting the suggestion that the movement adopt two contradictory positions, Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser argued:
The proposed changes would result in legal incoherence, unprecedented even in our famously pluralistic movement. A “movement” in which certain relationships are treated simultaneously, by some as worthy of sanctification — and by others as violating biblical norms of the most profound gravity — evinces doctrinal anarchy, inviting ridicule from outsiders and dismissive contempt from those who seek our guidance.
Rabbi Prouser is absolutely right. A morally serious movement cannot treat a serious moral question in this manner. Most importantly, it cannot act as if the Bible does not answer the question.
At the cultural level, the decision of Conservative Judaism to normalize (some or all) homosexual behaviors will add momentum to the larger movement to normalize homosexuality in the culture.
At another level, the debate within Conservative Judaism should alert Christians to the fact that similar proposals are now found in some denominations. Just allow two positions on this controversial question, they argue. The church must answer “no” clearly and boldly. Not on this question — and never when the Bible speaks so clearly. When the Bible speaks, “yes” and “no” are not both “living options.”
NEW YORK – Jewish talk show host Rabbi Tovia Singer released a new website Tuesday as part of an outreach program that specifically negates the Christian mission group Jews for Jesus.
Singer’s New York-based Jewish organization, Outreach Judaism, focuses on counter-missionary efforts, and its new site particularly singles out Jews for Jesus because of the multi-million dollar evangelistic campaign that the group ran last year.
Last year’s “Behold Your God” campaign was run in commitment to the Jews for Jesus’ nine core values, the first being to have “direct Jewish evangelism as a priority.” Such statements have angered many Jewish people who do not like being targeted for conversion.
On the new website put out by Outreach Judaism, Singer, radio host for Israel National Radio, offers a free, exhaustive library of information regarding Jews for Jesus’ multimillion dollar worldwide missionary campaigns, including a point-by-point audio response to their plans to convert Jews to Christianity.
However, Jews for Jesus disagrees with this negative label that Singer and other Jewish leaders have placed on them.
“The anti-missionary Jewish community uses the word ‘target’ to describe what we do,” explains Susan Pearlman, spokeswoman for Jews for Jesus. “It’s a pejorative word. It has a negative connotation, and we don’t see the Jewish community as a target in any way.”
Normally, Jews for Jesus have focused its evangelism on Jewish centers such as Manhattan. Yet last year, the ministry engaged in a 65-city tour where they spent $18 million. This included any city that had more than 25,000 Jews living in it.
In New York, the organization handed out more than 80,000 copies of a Jesus film that was translated into Yiddish. The movie was put into Hassidic homes in Brooklyn, Queens, and Monsey, N.Y.
The group also distributed 1 million tracts and collected information from over 5,000 people.
In addition, Jews for Jesus began to expand their ministry to Holocaust survivors, using the testimonies from Christ believers who had been in the camps and lived.
Singer and others have looked at these efforts negatively. “Jews for Jesus has launched a deceptive campaign to convert the most susceptible segments of our community to their ranks,” said Singer in a statement.
According to their marketing materials, Jews for Jesus exists, “To make the messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide.” This makes the message of the evangelist group seem forced upon Jews.
“This spiritual war against the most vulnerable members of our community is deeply troubling, and cannot go unanswered,” explained Singer in his statement.
“Lots of people have ignored the message of the gospel, because it hasn’t been explained to them in a way that they can understand, and they feel very comfortable going about their way not having to address the issue,” explained the Jews for Jesus spokeswoman. “It’s an important enough issue that people need to know, and then have a decision to accept or reject. That’s what we mean by unavoidable.”
After assessing Singer’s new website, Pearlman said it was “more of the same from them” – another way to feed his business.
“I think that the fact that Jews for Jesus is effective in bringing the message of gospel to the Jewish people is something he wants to use as a motivator to donate to his organization and stop us from whatever we do,” she expressed.
“It’s a financial thing. We’re his meal ticket.”
By Dennis Prager
What do Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky, Noam Chomsky and George Soros have in common?
They were/are all radicals, born to Jewish parents, had no Jewish identity and hurt Jews (not to mention non-Jews).
George Soros, Chairman of the Open Society Institute, speaks at a forum sponsored by the New America Foundation in Washington September 13, 2006. Soros discussed “the age of fallibility, the consequences of the war on terror”. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES)
The term “non-Jewish Jew” is generally attributed to the Jewish historian Isaac Deutscher, who wrote an essay by that name in 1954. The term describes the individual who, though born a Jew (Judaism consists of a national/peoplehood identity, not only a religious one), identifies solely as a citizen of the world and not as a Jew, either nationally or religiously.
Once the walls of Jewish ghettos broke down and European Jews were allowed to leave Jewish societies, many Jews became non-Jewish Jews. In most cases, either they or their children assimilated into the societies in which they lived. However, a small but significant percentage became radicalized. They came to loathe “bourgeois,” i.e., traditional middle class, values and Judeo-Christian society; Western national identities (though they generally supported anti-Western national identities); and they particularly loathed Jewish religious and national identity.
Karl Marx, the grandson of two Orthodox rabbis (and, to be entirely accurate, son of parents who converted to Christianity), wrote one of the most significant anti-Semitic essays of the 19th century, “On the Jewish Question” (1844). In it one finds such statements:
“Money is the jealous god of Israel, beside which no other god may exist. . . . The god of the Jews has been secularized and has become the god of the world. . . . The social emancipation of Jewry is the emancipation of society from Jewry.”
Leon Trotsky, born Lev Bronstein, may be regarded as the intellectual father of Russian, later Soviet, Communism. He along with Stalin and three others fought to succeed Lenin as leader of the Communist Party after Lenin’s death in 1924. In 1920, when Trotsky was head of the Red Army, Moscow’s chief rabbi, Rabbi Jacob Mazeh, asked him to use the army to protect the Jews from pogromist attacks. Trotsky is reported to have responded, “Why do you come to me? I am not a Jew.” To which Rabbi Mazeh answered: “That’s the tragedy. It’s the Trotskys who make revolutions, and it’s the Bronsteins who pay the price.”
Noam Chomsky has devoted much of his life to working against America and Israel. He is alienated from the very two identities into which he was born. Indeed he has vilified both his whole life. To cite but one example, he traveled to Lebanon to appear with Hizbollah leader Sayyed Nasrallah and lend his support to a group that is committed to the annihilation of Israel and is officially listed as a terrorist organization by the United States.
George Soros is the fourth example of an individual born Jewish who has become a radical world citizen who is alienated from America and from his Jewish origins, and damages both.
As described by Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief of The New Republic, “George Soros is ostentatiously indifferent to his own Jewishness. He is not a believer. He has no Jewish communal ties. He certainly isn’t a Zionist. He told Connie Bruck in The New Yorker — testily, she recounted — that ‘I don’t deny the Jews their right to a national existence — but I don’t want to be part of it.’”
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, writer Joshua Muravchik reported that Soros has publicly likened Israel to the Nazis.
Of course, Soros supports Palestinian nationalism, but that is a consistent feature of radicals — anti-Jewish and anti-American nationalisms are good, Jewish and American nationalisms are bad. Thus, as reported in the Jerusalem Post, “Soros and his wealthy Jewish American friends have now decided to aim their fire directly at Israel . . . to form a political lobby that will weaken the influence of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC.”
How to explain such Jews? People with no national or religious roots who become politically active will often seek to undermine the national and religious roots of others, especially those in their own national/religious group. It is akin to the special animosity some ex-Catholics have toward the Church. Non-Jewish Jews are far more likely to work to weaken Christianity in America than Jewish Jews, especially religious Jews. Religious Jews celebrate religious Christians.
Jews with no religious or national identity do not like Jews who have those identities, and Americans who have likewise become world citizens do not much care for Americans who wave the American flag.
Just as chauvinism — excessive and amoral nationalism — can lead to nihilism, so, too, the absence of any national or religious identity can lead to nihilism. The radical non-Jewish Jew loves humanity, but hurts real humans, especially his own.
A Christian guest speaker at a Boston College event titled “Understanding Christian Support for Israel” spoke to attendees about the relationship Christians have with Jews and the rift that has been created among them.
During the presentation Wednesday, JoAnn Magnuson, the Community Relations Director for Bridges for Peace, expressed her positive ties with Judaism, and how Christianity arose from many of the principals in Judaism. Yet, there is still a distinct gap between the two religions that have resulted in years of conflicts.
The presentation questioned the relatedness of Judaism and Christianity, and whether there can be some constructive links among the two practices.
“I go around trying to talk up Israel and Jewish-Christian understanding,” Magnuson said, according to The Heights, the student newspaper of Boston College.
To strengthen the resolve for unity, the speaker noted that most early Christians reported in the Gospels were indeed Jewish. She also expressed how Judaism was essential in the growth of early Christianity.
“I am motivated by the people who gave birth to my religion and my faith community,” expressed Magnuson in The Heights.
As a big separating factor, the speaker also described how early passion plays, which depict the crucifixion of Christ, in the medieval era helped bring about an anti-Semitic atmosphere in Europe that has effects still today.
Amid increased efforts among Christian church bodies to build bridges across denominational lines, there have also been many efforts by Christian and Jewish people to show the relatedness of the two religions.
In a recent feature in the March issue of The Lutheran, for example, the official magazine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America included an article about a September 2006 incident with a Jewish painter named Clara Maria Goldstein.
In it, the publication described how a Lutheran medical hospital located in La Crosse, Wis., removed ten paintings from its walls that depicted Jesus’ Jewish heritage, noting that they were controversial. The paintings were also refused from an exhibition at Viterbo University in LaCrosse.
Goldstein insisted that they were not meant to be offensive, but rather, she wanted them to connect Christianity and Judaism in a positive way.
“I’m trying to portray Jesus’ Judaism, an aspect of him many artists have left behind,” she said in The Lutheran. “The Bible says Jesus was a Jew, but no one wants Jesus painted as a Jew.”
Goldstein, a former Catholic from Nicaragua, noted that she wanted to simply share Jesus’ message of love. By showing the background of Jesus’ life, she could in some way create some common ground for Christianity and Judaism.
“Judaism is the loving religion that Jesus piously practiced for himself,” added the painter in The Lutheran. “His parents, family, friends and lifetime followers were all Jewish people who loved him and mourned his death.”
Despite such efforts, the fact remains that it will still be difficult to completely unite Christians and Jews perfectly, but Magnuson urges everyone to do their best.
“[We are] situated in a Catholic university,” concluded the guest lecturer in The Heights, “[and we] need to have the goal of peace foremost in [our] minds.”
By Michael Medved
When it comes to the issue of gay marriage, the Jewish Theological Seminary blinked and gave way to society’s shifting mores. So one must ask the question: Should we guide religion, or should religion guide us?
The ongoing battle over redefinition of marriage threatens to shatter a long-standing, popular approach to personal faith and biblical morality.
For several generations, most Americans have embraced what could be described as the Goldilocks attitude toward religion: affirming faith choices that seemed not too soft but not too hard, not too hot but not too cool. Majorities viewed easy-going moderation and comforting compromise as the religious path that counted as “just right.”
Conservative Judaism — the “middle branch” of the ancient faith — always exemplified the “Goldilocks” orientation with its emphasis on the “sweet spot” between stringencies of Orthodox observance and the anything-goes adaptability of Reform. But just before Passover, the Conservative movement’s flagship institution, The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), announced a controversial decision highlighting the painful contradictions of middle way religions.
Following the findings of an expert panel filed last December, JTS signaled its intention to accept openly gay candidates for the rabbinate and to raise no objection to their involvement in same-sex commitment ceremonies. For a movement that still stresses time-honored standards of Sabbath observance and kosher food, this represents a stunning break with tradition. A spiritual leader proudly, publicly promoting consumption of pork would never fit in with the Conservative rabbinate, but this same denomination now will sanction rabbis who call unblushing communal attention to their personal practice of sexual relations that the Torah describes as “abomination.”
Following the written word
For more than a hundred years, The Jewish Theological Seminary and Conservative Judaism have prided themselves on honoring biblical and Talmudic texts, while applying more flexible principles of interpretation than their Orthodox colleagues. Unfortunately for today’s leaders, there is little wiggle room on biblical insistence on male-female marriage. Not only does Leviticus (part of the Torah that’s sacred to all Jews) specifically prohibit lying “with a man as one lies with a woman” (18:22) but the description of the very first marriage (between Adam and Eve) makes clear that the ultimate union of two souls requires partners of opposite genders. When the Torah (Genesis 2:24) says a man will “cling to his wife and they shall become one flesh,” it’s not just referring to an emotional or erotic relationship, but the unique ability of a male-female couple to fuse in the creation of children.
Religious liberals in Christian as well as Jewish denominations call it hypocritical to focus on biblical definitions of marriage or sanctions against homosexuality, while readily disregarding so many other rules from Scripture. Despite Old Testament references, they note, most people don’t marry multiple wives today, or employ slave-like indentured servants in our homes, or avoid eating shellfish. But the Bible merely permitted polygamy and indentured servitude in certain circumstances, never commanding those practices for everyone. In Jewish law, male-female marriage, on the other hand, is a mitzvah — an obligation, a commandment. And to this day, Conservative Judaism still doesn’t sanction shrimp.
As recently as 1992, the committee of leading Conservative legal scholars found that Jewish law clearly prohibited same-sex commitment ceremonies and admitting homosexuals to rabbinical seminaries, but public pressure — not some startling discovery of ancient text — forced adjustment to 21st century trends. Arnold Eisen, chancellor-elect of The Jewish Theological Seminary, declared: “The decision to ordain gay and lesbian clergy at JTS is in keeping with the longstanding commitment of the Jewish tradition to pluralism.
Pluralism means that we recognize more than one way to be a good Conservative Jew, more than one way of walking authentically in the path of our tradition.”
In other words, he now embraces moral relativism in its modern-day “let’s not be judgmental” garb and abandons the traditional role of religion to command or at least suggest clear standards for human behavior and intimate relationships. Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, justified this new direction by suggesting that Conservative Judaism couldn’t survive without it. “A movement that wants to attract a younger generation of disaffected Jews had no choice but to make this decision,” he told The New York Times.
Recent history in both the Jewish and Christian communities suggests he’s wrong: Disaffected young people seldom flock to watered-down versions of religious faith that lack continuity or integrity. The rapidly growing denominations are those that make demands on potential adherents and advance clear standards of right and wrong. That’s why Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity has grown while “mainline” Protestant denominations have dwindled, and why traditionalist Catholicism boasts more worldwide vitality than liberal strains of the church. Meanwhile, Mormons uphold multiple restrictions (giving up alcohol, coffee, tobacco, among other things) and yet constitute one of the fastest-growing creeds in the USA.
In Judaism, the same dynamic applies: with tepid, uncertain versions of the faith fighting a losing battle to maintain the affiliation of their young people, while the unaffiliated explore enthusiastic, traditionalist sects. No movement in Judaism has experienced anything like the explosive recent growth of the Hassidic organization, Chabad, with its 3,300 community centers miraculously appearing nearly everywhere and transforming the face of American Judaism. The Conservative movement has been losing influence during the past 40 years not because of its unbending adherence to outmoded rituals but because of its confusion, contradictions and gradual disregard of tradition.
My religious foundation
When I grew up in a Conservative Jewish home in the 1950s, my mother took pride in the dominant position of our denomination — then representing a majority of synagogue-affiliated American Jews. She looked with disdain at our Reform neighbors who ignored customs such as wearing skullcaps at prayer, and viewed the Orthodox with pity as unbending Old World relics whose fanaticism doomed them to disappearance. Despite her confidence, my mother lived to see all four of her sons leave the comfortable compromises of Conservative Judaism — one of them for a Reform Temple, and the other three of us (and my dad) for active involvement with Orthodoxy.
The marriage issue plays a decisive role in exploding moderate equivocations in Christian denominations as well as in Judaism, as evidenced by the increasingly unbridgeable gap among Episcopalians between those who want to endorse homosexuality and those who hold fast to biblical proscriptions. Denominations must choose their ultimate source of authority: looking either to religious texts or to contemporary sensibilities.
The core question remains the nature of religion itself and our relation to it. Should we challenge ourselves, or our faith traditions? Do we measure religion against personal impulses and values, or should we judge our impulses and values against religion? Should we adjust our faith to suit current trends and to enhance our comfort and convenience, or should we evaluate trends in the light of timeless teachings, no matter how unfashionable or inconvenient?
The choice is stark and, on the issue of marriage, inescapable. Talk of “pluralism” only dodges the issue, because if religion fails to provide forceful guidance on the most crucial behavioral issues of life, it offers only meager servings of lukewarm porridge. That might be good enough for Goldilocks, but it won’t nourish the spiritual seekers who desire — and deserve — more commitment and clarity.
By Dennis Prager
No reader would be faulted for thinking that the title of this column is a spoof. After all, Reform Judaism, like liberal Christian denominations, is exquisitely sensitive to women’s equality. Thus, Reform Judaism was the first major Jewish denomination to ordain women, and the first to have its seminaries discourage referring to God as “he.”
One would think, then, that the last thing the head of a movement devoted to women’s equality would endorse is the covering of women’s faces with a veil. This is one of the most dehumanizing and degrading practices that has ever been foisted on women.
That is why it is noteworthy that Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the head of Reform Judaism, in a speech before hundreds of American Muslims at the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), said: “Why should anyone criticize the voluntary act of a woman who chooses to wear a headscarf or a veil? Surely the choice these women make deserves our respect, not to mention the full protection of the law.”
In the long history of women’s inequality, it is difficult to name almost anything more anti-woman, dehumanizing and degrading than the veil. We know people by their face. Without seeing a person’s face, we feel that we do not know the person. When we read about someone in the news, whether known for good or ill, we immediately study the person’s face. One can have one’s entire body covered, and it means nothing in terms of whether we feel we know the person. But cover a person’s face, and the person might as well be invisible.
Indeed, the veiled woman is intended to be invisible. That is precisely the goal of the veil.
In light of the veil’s dehumanization of women, how could anyone, especially a rabbi on the left, say he respects a woman choosing to wear a veil?
The rabbi could offer only two possible responses.
One possibility is that he does not think the veil degrades women. But it is almost impossible to imagine any non-Muslim holding such a position. On the other hand, he did lump the veil along with headscarf, as if covering one’s hair and covering one’s face were in some way analogous. Still, it is hard to believe that the rabbi equates hiding one’s face and hiding one’s hair.
So the rabbi is left with one other explanation: that he used the word “voluntary.” But that explanation indicts him as much as does the first explanation. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of fundamentalist Muslim culture — whether in the Muslim world or in the West — knows that, given the social, religious and familial pressures on women to wear a veil, the veil is not worn voluntarily in any meaningful sense of the word.
But while the rabbi respects Muslim women who choose to wear the veil, he had words of contempt for American women who choose to dress like Lindsay Lohan. Like others on the left, Rabbi Yoffie only has standards for Westerners, especially Americans, not for other cultures. It is the left’s soft bigotry of low expectations that has often been noted.
In the rabbi’s desire to ingratiate himself with his audience, he engaged in the generations-old left-wing practice of moral equivalence. Just as during the Cold War the left regularly equated America and the Soviet Union as “the two superpowers” — which is why there was universal liberal condemnation of President Ronald Reagan’s calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire” — much of the left today morally equates American fundamentalist Christians with fundamentalist Muslims.
So before a large Muslim audience, Rabbi Yoffie singled out two evangelical Christians, Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson, and a Jew — me — as anti-Muslim. He essentially identified us as the Christian and Jewish moral equivalents of Muslims who hate Jews and Christians. That moral equivalence was as immoral as Rabbi Yoffie’s defense of the veil.
Now, as it happens, I have never uttered or written a bigoted word against Muslims, and so the rabbi did not actually quote me saying something anti-Muslim. Instead the rabbi distorted what I once wrote. He said, “How did it happen that when a Muslim congressman takes his oath of office while holding the Koran, Dennis Prager suggests that the congressman is more dangerous to America than the terrorists of 9/11?”
Here is what I actually wrote: “When all elected officials take their oaths of office with their hands on the very same book, they all affirm that some unifying value system underlies American civilization. If Keith Ellison is allowed to change that, he will be doing more damage to the unity of America and to the value system that has formed this country than the terrorists of 9/11.”
I did not say that Keith Ellison is more dangerous to America than the 9/11 terrorists. I said that Ellison’s replacing the Bible with another religious book for the first time in American history is more dangerous to American unity and to American values than the terrorists were. In fact, I feel that way about far more non-Muslim Americans, such as Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and Michael Moore. And I repeatedly noted in the same article that the issue had nothing to do with the Koran or Islam, that I would have said this about a congressman replacing the Bible with the Book of Mormon, or with “Dianetics” or any other text. The rabbi slandered me before a national and world Muslim audience.
Slander, morally equating fundamentalist Christians with fundamentalist Muslims, and respecting women who “voluntarily” wear veils: What the left has done to liberal denominations within Christianity and Judaism is a moral and religious tragedy. For example, liberal churches that regard America and Israel as villains have inverted Judeo-Christian morality. But little exemplifies the moral decay of the religious left as does its replacing Judeo-Christian moral standards with multiculturalism and tolerance. It has led to one of its leading clergy announcing that the veil is worthy of respect.
By Paul Greenberg
Last night we lit the first candle on the Chanukah menorah, for it was the first night of this minor eight-day Jewish holiday that’s become a major one over the years. There are blessings to be recited, songs to be sung, latkes to be eaten but just what does Chanukah celebrate?
Answer: A successful Jewish revolt against a Syrian empire ruled by the Seleucid dynasty of Greek kings some 2,200 years ago.
Well, not exactly. The revolt was not so much against the Syrian emperor, Antiochus Epiphanes, as against his attempt to impose Hellenistic culture on ancient Judaea.
Well, not exactly. It’s not noised about, but this now celebrated revolt against the Syrians was really something of a civil war between those Jews who proposed to adopt more of the fashionable Greek culture and those who rebelled against it. The rebels viewed its games and gods as a desecration, and fought for the old ways, the ancient practices and beliefs.
It may not be noised about in some politically correct circles, but this festival commemorates a military victory - of tradition over assimilation, of fundamentalism over modernism.
Well, not exactly. The military aspects of the struggle are scarcely mentioned in today’s celebration of Chanukah. The focus has shifted over the centuries. The very name Chanukah, or Dedication, now refers to the cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem after it was defiled by pagan rites.
After all, the holiday isn’t named for any particular battle or campaign or hero. It isn’t the Feast of the Maccabees, who led the revolt. Therefore the real theme of Chanukah is the rededication of the Temple.
Well, not exactly. The essential ritual of the holiday has become the blessing over the Chanukah lights. A Talmudic story tells how the liberators of the Temple found only enough consecrated oil to burn for one day, but it lasted for eight - enough time to prepare a new supply. We’re really celebrating the miracle of the lights.
In the glow of the candles, the heroic feats of the Maccabees have become transmuted into acts of divine intervention. The blessing over the candles recited each night of the holiday goes: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who wrought miracles for our fathers in days of old.” Miracles, not victories.
At Passover, the story of the Exodus from Egypt is told with the same moral attached: It is He who delivered us, not we who freed ourselves. Freedom is a gift from God, not men.
Chanukah isn’t even mentioned in the Old Testament. The swashbuckling stories of battles and victories have been relegated to the Apocrypha. A mere military victory rates only a secondary place in the canon. The victory is to be celebrated not for its own sake but for what it reveals.
One more violent confrontation has been lifted out of history and enters the realm of the sacred. A messy little guerrilla war in the dim past of a forgotten empire has become something else, something that partakes of the eternal.
The central metaphor of all religious belief - revealing light - reduces all the imperial intrigue and internecine warfare of those tumultuous times to mere details. And that may be the greatest miracle of Chanukah: the transformation of the oldest and darkest of human activities, war, into a feast of illumination.
There is more than a single theme to this minor but not simple holiday. One can almost trace the ebbs and flows of Jewish history, its yearnings and fulfillments, its wisdom and folly, its holiness and vainglory, by noting which themes of Chanukah have been emphasized when in Jewish history.
History may say a good deal more about the time in which it is written than the time it describes. The message of Chanukah changes from age to age because the past we choose to remember is the truest reflection of any present. When Chanukah is celebrated with pride, a fall is sure to come. When it inspires humility, hope is kindled.
If there is one, unchanging message associated with this minor holiday magnified by time, it can be found in the unchanging portion of the Prophets designated to be read for the sabbath of Chanukah. It is Zechariah 4:1-7, with its penultimate verse: Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts.
By Burt Prelutsky
Usually, when people say they’re not religious, they’re looking to pick a fight or at least start an argument. That’s probably because people who identify themselves as atheists or agnostics are often as dogmatic as Cotton Mather and have merely made a religion of their own non-belief.
In my case, however, religion simply plays no role in my life. Or perhaps I should say institutionalized religion, seeing as how I very much subscribe to the Judeo-Christian value system. It’s the reason that I’m so grateful that two sets of Russian Jewish grandparents had the guts to pack up their kids and caboodle, and move to America.
Unfortunately, they and many others like them included in their baggage several hundred years worth of religious antagonisms. In far too many cases, these fears and prejudices, although initially well-founded, have been passed along like precious heirlooms from one generation to the next.
Even among some of my friends and relatives, there are those who half-expect their Christian neighbors to start organizing pogroms any day now. They remain unconvinced that Hitler and the Nazis were pagans. And even when I point out that it was American and British soldiers, mainly Christians, who brought down the Third Reich and liberated the concentration camps, it often falls on deaf ears.
So, although I do not accept that we are all fallen creatures or that Jesus Christ died for my sins, I am thankful that I live in a Christian nation. I realize that it’s only my dumb luck to be an American. The fact of the matter is that when it comes to one’s religion, it is usually determined by geography, not by choice. If you’re born in Japan, you are likely to be a Buddhist; if you’re born in Italy, you’re likely to be a Roman Catholic; in India, a Hindu; in England, an Anglican; in Utah, a Mormon; and in New York City, a liberal.
This is not to suggest that, even in my eyes, all religions are equally valid. You’d have to be one of those non-judgmental pinheads who sound the trumpets for cultural diversity, pretending to believe that all nations, all religions and all ideologies, are equally good and equally bad. So long as Islam is around, only an idiot could seriously promote such nonsense.
Muslims are people who believe that freedom is a naughty word, who believe that women are no better than cattle, and who refer to the ninth century as the good old days. It was bad enough when they used a newspaper cartoon as an excuse to go berserk. Now they’re outraged because of a Sudanese teddy bear. These Neanderthals actually wanted to torture and execute English school teacher Gilliam Gibbons because, at the behest of a seven-year-old in her class, she named the stuffed toy Muhammad.
These simpletons seem to spend half their lives on their knees praying and the other half up in arms, looking to kill somebody for some utterly stupid reason. They are a blot on humanity, and humanity, I think we’d all agree, isn’t that great to begin with.
Imagine if Catholics were as psychotic as Islamists. Just having a little Jesus on his dashboard or a crèche in his front yard would be like signing his own death warrant.
So, even though I haven’t a religious bone in my body, I have every reason to be grateful I was born in a country in which it’s Christ’s birthday, and not Muhammad’s first slaying of an infidel, that’s celebrated as a national holiday.
NEW YORK — A passenger who left his seat to pray in the back of a plane before it took off, ignoring flight attendants’ orders to return, was removed by an airport security guard, a witness and the airline said.
The Orthodox Jewish man, who wore a full beard, a black hat and a long black coat, stood near the lavatories and began saying his prayers while the United Airlines jet was being boarded at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Wednesday night, fellow passenger Ori Brafman said.
When flight attendants urged the man, who was carrying a religious book, to take his seat, he ignored them, Brafman said. Two friends, who were seated, tried to tell the attendants that the man couldn’t stop until his prayers were over in about 2 minutes, he said.
“He doesn’t respond to them, but his friends explain that once you start praying you can’t stop,” said Brafman, who was seated three rows away. [KH: It is true; see Talmud. But he should pray in his seat.]
When the man finally stopped praying, he explained that he couldn’t interrupt his religious ritual and wasn’t trying to be rude. But the attendants summoned a guard to remove him, said Brafman, a writer who had been visiting New York to talk to publishers.
The plane, Flight 9 to San Francisco, took off without the man. It landed at its destination as scheduled, Brafman said by telephone from his home there.
Robin Urbanski, a spokeswoman for United Airlines, a subsidiary of UAL Corp. with headquarters in Chicago, confirmed the man was taken off the plane and put on another flight Thursday morning.
Urbanksi said flights cannot depart if all passengers are not in their seats, which risks a delay, and it is important that passengers listen to the instructions of the flight crew.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs area airports, and the Transportation Safety Administration, which handles airport security, said Thursday they weren’t involved in the incident.
Tension over religious faith has been boiling between two communities in Israel and recently spilled over into a shocking attack on one group of Jews by another.
In the past few months, Orthodox Jews have been responsible for a malicious bomb attack that severely injured and disfigured a 15-year-old pastor’s son, and the burning of hundreds of copies of the New Testament.
The attacks, separated by only two months, were clear signs that something had gone wrong between Messianic Jews – Jews who believe in Jesus as their savior but still observe Jewish holidays and customs – and Orthodox Jews in Israel.
From their side, Orthodox Jews have long disliked Messianic Jewish – whom many view as traitors for joining the Christian faith. But Orthodox Jews in Israel tolerated the small Christian community there as long as they worshipped quietly and kept their faith to themselves.
But tension flared when Messianic Jews began to more actively evangelize and pass out New Testaments to Jews.
Deputy Mayor Uzi Aharon, who had organized the yeshiva students responsible for the burning of New Testaments in the central Israeli town of Or Yehuda in May, had initially defended the act as a way of “purging the evil among us” and fighting those that break the law by trying to convert Jews, according to The Jerusalem Post.
Aharon, a strong anti-missionary activist, said Israel cannot allow Messianic Jews to “come into our homes and incite against our religion, and turn our children away from Judaism. That is against the law.”
He later publicly apologized for the burning of Scriptures and said it was unplanned.
Not long after the incident, in the Jewish settlement of Ariel, flyers were seen everywhere – car windshields, telephone poles, and in bus shelters – with the warnings to the local community. “Beware, these are the members of the Jewish Missionary Cult. They are baptizing Jews into Christianity,” they stated, according to Time magazine. The photo and address of Pastor David Ortiz, whose son was injured after receiving a bomb package, was included on the flyers.
As Messianic Jews and foreign Christians increasingly follow their commission and share about Jesus Christ, Orthodox Jews have increasingly pushed back in response.
Pastor David Ortiz says his family is afraid that what happened to them will happen to other Messianic Jews in Israel.
“With us, they crossed the line, and we’re afraid of it happening to someone else,” Ortiz told Time.
On March 20, Ortiz’s son, Ami, removed a chocolate from an anonymous gift box left at his door and detonated a bomb that blew out all the apartment’s windows and was heard a mile away. Doctors found over 100 pieces of metal – nails, screws, and needles – implanted throughout the boy’s body. Although Ami survived, he will need to undergo six more operations involving skin grafting and the removal of shrapnel from his eyes.
But Ami’s mother, Leah Ortiz, assures concerned Christians around the world that Christians are not being persecuted in Israel. She called what happened to her son “insanity,” not religion.
The Ortiz family, who are originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., plans to stay in Israel despite escalated violence against Messianic Jews in Israel and Ami’s injuries.
“Jesus wasn’t born in Brooklyn. He was born here,” Ortiz told Time. “We’re staying.”
There are between 6,000 and 15,000 Messianic Jews in Israel.
Following worldwide uproar, the deputy mayor who organized the Orthodox Jewish students responsible for the burning of hundreds of New Testaments has publicly apologized to Christians worldwide for the intolerant act and for any hurt feelings it might have produced.
The burning of the New Testaments last Thursday by yeshiva students was regrettable and unplanned, said Deputy Mayor Uzi Aharon of the central Israeli town Or Yehuda to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
Aharon had initially defiantly defended the students’ action when news broke out about the Bible burning. He had described their action to various media outlets as “purging the evil among us,” fighting those that break the law by trying to convert Jews, and following the “commandment.”
But by the time he spoke to The Jerusalem Post, which publishes a monthly Christian edition, he changed his tone and said he was very sorry for the book burning, that it was unplanned, and that he was unaware the event may have caused damage to Christian-Jewish relations.
“I wasn’t even on the scene when the boys rounded up all the Bibles and brought them all to one place [near the synagogue in Neveh Rabin],” Aharon claimed to the Post. “They started burning them before I got there. Once I arrived the most I could do was pull a Bible out of the fire. I put it in nylon and its now in my car. I am really sorry for the book burning, but I did not organize it, it was a spontaneous thing by the yeshiva boys,” Aharon said.
He added, “We respect all religions as we expect others to respect ours. I am very sorry that the New Testament was burned, we mean it no harm and I’m sorry that we hurt the feelings of others.”
However, the Or Yehuda deputy mayor also declared that Israel cannot allow messianic Jews to “come into our homes and incite against our religion, and turn our children away from Judaism. That is against the law.”
Aharon, a strong anti-missionary activist, admits he had initially organized “three or four” yeshiva students from the town’s Michtav M’Eliahu Yeshiva to go to apartments in a part of town with many Ethiopian Jews to collect packages recently given to them by local messianic Jews, according to the Post. The packages contained a New Testament and pamphlets, which Aharon claims encouraged going against Judaism.
The New Testament burning is the latest incident revealing escalating tension between Orthodox Jews and messianic Jews as well as any Christian trying to share the Gospel with Jews in Israel.
Bible Society in Israel director Victor Kalisher, whose organization printed the Bibles burned in Or Yehuda, responded to the incident:
“What worries me is that nobody has stood up against this,” said Kalisher, the son of Holocaust survivors, to the Post. “It seems there is a war against messianic Jews in Israel.”
Kalisher argues that Bibles are not forced on anybody or into any homes, contrary to what many Orthodox Jews claim about Christian evangelism.
“The book has never harmed anyone, you can choose to read it or choose not to read it,” he said. “If this happened to Jewish books overseas we would be screaming anti-Semitism.”
He acknowledged the increased tension between the two communities, noting bombs that have been sent to messianic Jews, “and now books have been burned.”
“This cannot be allowed to happen here,” said the messianic Jew.
Calev Myers, a lawyer representing messianic Jews in Israel, not only condemned the Or Yehuda incident, but he called it an “illegal act” and part of growing institutionalized discrimination against messianic Jews in Israel.
The lawyer is waiting to see if Or Yehuda police will open an investigation into the New Testament burning incident, but if the do not, he said he will file a petition.
“I expect the police to investigate everyone who was involved in the book burning, including those who incited the youths to the act, even if that includes Mr. Aharon,” Myers said.
“Israelis have to understand something: Messianic Jews here have strong ties to American evangelical Christians, and there are hundreds of millions of people in the world who see the burning of the New Testament as a very serious issue. The New Testament is believed in by hundreds of millions of people. It is not in Israel’s national interest to allow the burning of their holy book,” Myers said.
On a larger scale, various groups throughout Israel have increasingly tried to prevent Christians from sharing their faith with Jews.
In September, Israeli rabbis had urged Jews to boycott a massive Christian tourism event to avoid attempts to convert them to Christianity. Earlier that same year, Israel’s interior ministry officials said an evangelical pastor and his wife – who had lived in Israel for nearly 20 years – had to leave the country within two weeks because their application for permanent residency was rejected. Officials said the decision resulted from suspicion that the two were involved in missionary work, which Israel bans.
Another incident occurred in July, when the country’s cable television company pulled the plug on a major Christian TV Network, which has programs offering biblical teachings from the New Testament as well as infomercials that targets a Jewish audience with the message of Jesus.
The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, which has in the past resisted criticism of Israel, has called the burning of the Christian Holy Book “unacceptable” and “offensive to most Christians.”
By Dennis Prager
Comments about God and the Holocaust made in a sermon 10 years ago by a leading evangelical pastor, John Hagee, have received a great deal of attention. They have led to Sen. John McCain severing ties with the pastor, whose support the presumptive Republican presidential nominee had originally solicited.
Pastor Hagee, a major supporter of the Jewish people and Israel, citing verses from Jeremiah, said: “How did it [the Holocaust] happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said ‘my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.’”
I am a God-believing, Torah-believing, religious (though not Orthodox) Jew, author of a book on Judaism and a book on anti-Semitism who does not agree with this theological explanation of the Holocaust.
But the notion that God willed the Holocaust is neither anti-Jewish nor even un-Jewish. There are, after all, only two possible explanations regarding God and the Holocaust:
1. God allowed it but did not will it.
2. God willed it.
This is simple logic.
Like most other people, I find neither explanation religiously or morally, let alone emotionally, satisfying. But both are Jewishly acceptable. There is a long tradition in Judaism that collective Jewish suffering is often God-willed. On the Jewish holy days, the central prayer (the Amidah) of the Jewish service contains a paragraph beginning: “Because of our sins we were exiled from our land.”
The author of the biblical book Lamentations wrote, upon seeing the first destruction of Jerusalem and the accompanying mass slaughter of Jews: “The Lord is like an enemy; He has swallowed up Israel… He has multiplied mourning and lamentation” (Lam 2.5). And the Talmud, the holiest Jewish work after the Bible, says that that horrific event occurred because of “gratuitous hatred,” i.e., Jews hated one another for no good reason.
As Rabbi Jakob Petuchowski, one of the greatest Jewish scholars of the 20th century, wrote: “Much of the national suffering of the people of Israel was explained by the biblical Prophets in terms of punishment meted out by God to a sinful people.”
Regarding the Holocaust specifically, Ignaz Maybaum was a major 20th century Jewish theologian who identified “the Holocaust victims as vicarious sacrificial offerings for the redemption of humanity…”
We recoil at the thought of a just, good and loving God willing the mass murder of so many innocent people. But that belief is not necessarily anti-Semitic.
Moreover, the alternate view that God simply lets all this evil and cruelty go on isn’t satisfying either. Whether God directed the Holocaust or just allowed it to happen, in either case, many Jews are angry with Him for that. Anger toward God (as well as love toward Him) has a long history even among devout Jews. Petuchowski cites a medieval prayer by 12th century Jewish poet Isaac bar Shalom, who, after a pogrom, changed one word in a Jewish prayer (from “elim” to “ilmim’). As a result, “Who is like you among the gods, oh Lord” became “Who is like you among the silent, oh Lord.”
I have written my own beliefs about the reasons for the Holocaust and all of anti-Semitism in the book I co-authored with Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, “Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism” (Simon & Schuster, paper, 2003). They are, in short, that the Holocaust, like all Jew-hatred, is an inevitable result of the hatred by the evil of the world of God’s Chosen People, who introduced to humanity a morally demanding God who judges the behavior of every individual.
Whatever one’s views, however, what Hagee once said in a sermon is completely unworthy of the condemnation that it has received from critics who are obviously motivated by politics rather than by truth. Forcing the man to deny he is an anti-Semite is like forcing a kind and decent man to deny he is a bank robber.
Hagee is one of the most pro-Jewish Christians alive. No living Christian has devoted more of his life to combating anti-Semitism. He has received death threats from anti-Semites, and they have attacked his home. To accuse such a man of anything anti-Jewish renders both truth and anti-Semitism meaningless. Calling people who help Jews anti-Semitic is a gift to real anti-Semites. With no exception I am aware of, those who imply some anti-Jewish animus in Hagee do so in order to undermine an evangelical conservative and to manufacture a right-wing equivalence to the America-cursing, race-based Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
But as Bill Donohue, the head of the Catholic League, who had been very critical of Hagee for his strong criticisms of the Catholic Church — for its historical treatment of Jews, no less — said of Hagee: “I found him to be the strongest Christian defender of Israel I have ever met, and that is why attempts to portray him as anything but a genuine friend to the Jews — one for whom the Holocaust is the horror of horrors — is despicable.”
Why God allowed the Holocaust and other evils is a mystery. What is not a mystery is why some people on the left, including some Jews who care far more about the left than about Jews, smear a courageous and good Christian pastor.
by Dennis Prager
For decades most of the organized left has fought against Republicans and conservatives more than against the world’s greatest evils. During the Cold War, starting in the late 1960s, one heard little if anything from the left about the evils of Communism or of Communist societies such as the Soviet Union or Communist China. But one heard a great deal about the evils of American anti-Communists; Ronald Reagan was vilified much more than Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.
But last week, a new line seems to have been crossed. The organized Jewish left — i.e., left-wing Jewish organizations that claim to be committed to the welfare of Jews — made it clear that even in the fight against the greatest enemy of the Jewish people, the Jewish left prefers to fight what it considers an even greater enemy — conservatives and Republicans.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, who has repeatedly called for the annihilation of Israel and who denies the Holocaust, came to speak at the United Nations. The day before he was scheduled to speak, Jewish organizations across the religious and political spectrum had organized a “Stop Iran” rally at the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza across from the UN. They had invited Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and then invited Republican vice-presidential nominee Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
The intent was to maximize publicity for the anti-Iran cause, the most important Jewish concern (and arguably the most important world concern) today. With Clinton and Palin present, the world press would cover the anti-Iran rally, and the Jewish community could show the world and America that this was one cause that knew no politics — the most prominent female Democrat and the most prominent female Republican would both lend their names and prestige to this rally.
However, the moment that Clinton learned that the organizers had invited Palin, she withdrew. For Clinton, giving the other most popular woman politician in America publicity was unacceptable — even among New York Jews, one of the steadfast liberal and Democratic groups in America. The near collapse of the Stop Iran rally was of less consequence to Clinton than denying Palin a public platform.
Not many were surprised by Clinton’s action. What was alarming was the realization that for much of the Jewish left — not leftists who happen to be Jews and for whom the welfare of the Jewish people is not particularly significant, but left-wing Jews who claim to care deeply about Jewish survival — fighting Palin is of greater importance than fighting Ahmadinejad.
Left-wing Jews and Jewish organizations put intense pressure on the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to cancel the invitation to Palin. And the pressure worked.
As the liberal editorial page of New York’s major Jewish newspaper The Jewish Week put it:
“But somehow, a big-tent cause like Iran as a terrorist power seeking nuclear arms has become so politicized within our community that Monday’s rally was more about the non-presence of Gov. Sarah Palin than about the very real presence at the UN of a Holocaust denier whose goal is to destroy our way of life.”
Yet, in a rare move, publishing an entire speech that was never given, Ha’aretz, Israel’s equivalent to The New York Times in its prestige and in its liberal politics, published the speech that Palin would have given. In Israel, liberal and even many left-wing Jews know that Iran is a greater threat to Israel than American conservatives.
The Palin speech was so good it should be read by every American concerned with Israel’s survival. And it was so nonpartisan that it praised Clinton for being at the rally. To say that Palin — who has the American, Alaskan and Israeli flags in her Juneau office — is a better friend of the Jews and Israel than much of the American Jewish left sounds odd only to Jewish leftists.
But the Jewish left acts as if it fears and hates her more than it fears and hates Ahmadinejad. That is why within days of her nomination Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., announced that “John McCain’s decision to select a vice presidential running mate that endorsed Pat Buchanan for president in 2000 is a direct affront to all Jewish Americans. Pat Buchanan is a Nazi sympathizer with a uniquely atrocious record on Israel. … It is frightening that John McCain would select someone one heartbeat away from the presidency who supported a man who embodies vitriolic anti-Israel sentiments.”
Wexler’s statement was false: Palin supported Steve Forbes, not Buchanan. And associating Palin with Nazi or anti-Israel sympathies is morally loathsome, not to mention weakens the struggle against real anti-Semites.
For left-wing Jewish organizations and their supporters — as opposed to many rank and file liberal Jews — the real fight is against Republicans and especially Christian conservatives (as a community, the Jews’ best friends) more than against a nuclear Iran.
After the cancellation of Palin, a left-wing Jewish organization that was influential in opposing Palin’s appearance, an organization called J Street, on whose Board of Advisors sits the executive director of MoveOn.org, headlined on its website: “We Won!”
That is indeed the case. The Jewish left did win. Which is why the Jews and Israel lost.
Mike Huckabee, most widely known as a former Republican presidential candidate, said recently that evangelicals are more supportive of Israel than even American Jews.
In an interview with CBN News, Huckabee, who was wrapping up a trip to Israel, called evangelicals the “best friends” of Israeli Jews.
While American Jews are divided on the level of support for Israel in terms of its borders, the politician-turned-political commentator said in general he doesn’t see that “dichotomy” among the evangelical community. He says that “it’s pretty adamant” among evangelicals that “there ought to be one city (Jerusalem). There ought to be a Jewish state and it ought to be secured.”
“One of the things I find most interesting is, generally, evangelicals are so much more supportive of Israel than the American Jewish community,” Huckabee said.
But while Huckabee and other Christian Zionists claim to speak for the evangelical community, a growing number of the community’s leaders are saying that they disagree when it comes to the Israel-Palestinian state debate.
A group of 34 prominent evangelical leaders published a letter in the New York Times voicing support of a two-state solution. In the 2007 letter ad, they stated that both Israel and Palestinians have “legitimate rights” to the land.
They also said they wanted to rectify the “serious misconception” that all American evangelicals are against a two-state solution that creates a new Palestinian state.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” they stated. “We, who sign this letter, represent large numbers of evangelicals throughout the U.S. who support justice for both Israelis and Palestinians.”
Signers included Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary; David Neff, editor of Christianity Today; Richard Stearns, president of World Vision; Stephen Hayner, former president InterVarsity Christian Fellowship; and Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Fla., and member of the executive committee of the National Association of Evangelicals.
During the interview, Huckabee also criticized the Obama administration’s new cooler relations with Israel, especially its recent call for Israel to suspend construction in East Jerusalem. He called it a “reversal of policy” not only from the Bush administration, but also of U.S.-Israeli relations under the Clinton administration.
Pastor Andy Stanley has met many people over the years who said they stopped believing in God, are on the edge of losing their faith, or are just lost.
It’s not that a bad experience or circumstance pushed them away from God or caused them to doubt. And it’s not that they’re on some campaign against God and religion. But many of them just woke up one day and wondered if they really did believe.
It’s as if they just put their faith away in a box somewhere.
His short but memorable conversations with such people have prompted Stanley to launch a series on “Losing Your Religion” at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga.
According to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, 15 percent of Americans claim no religion and that statistic is apparently still rising. Also, a recent Grand Valley State University survey on the nonreligious found that most nonbelievers had a religious childhood.
It’s common to everybody to question their beliefs at some point in their life, Stanley indicated during the sermon series kickoff on Aug. 16.
“All of us ... run the risk at some point of losing our religion,” he said.
Most people, Stanley pointed out, don’t even care much about religion, the rituals and the traditions. All they want is some assurance that God exists and that God knows their name and cares about them.
“One of the reasons that religion and faith often slip away has nothing to do with God as much as it does that there is a tendency on our part to look for God in all the wrong places, to look for God in all the wrong people, to look for God in all the wrong sets of circumstances ... and in systems that make big promises,” he said.
And while looking in the wrong places, many have lost what Stanley called “the epicenter of enduring faith,” which is the idea that they need forgiveness for sin.
“If that idea ever slides off front and center or if that idea was never front and center, then I’m telling you whatever religious system you’ve chosen, whatever religious system you bought into and whatever brand of Christianity that you’ve brought into eventually you will find unfulfilling because the point that God wanted to make to the world wasn’t everything you believed up until this point is wrong. What God wanted ... and introduced in the New Testament is that every single person ... understand what it means to be forgiven of sins.”
“God says I want everyone to experience my forgiveness,” Stanley added. “What God wants ... is to restore the relationship.”
The Alpharetta pastor called people back to “the starting point” of a relationship with God because at the end of the day it’s not about a ritual, a routine, a church, a speaker or a book.
In fact, religion, oftentimes, is what gets in the way of the authenticity that people want with God, he noted. And what people need to do is strip all the “junk” – the superstitions, judgmental attitudes, legalism, and hypocrisy – that got loaded up with Christianity and focus on the person of Jesus, Stanley stressed.
“Religion’s always asking ‘who’s right?’ The better question is ‘who is Jesus?’” he noted. “Religion asks ‘what’s true?’ The better question is ‘what happened?’”
So on one note, losing your religion can be good, the prominent megachurch pastor said in his most recent sermon.
Stanley received a letter from a church attendee who is a nonbeliever. The anonymous writer is convinced he’ll never become a Christian but he stated that he’s starting to doubt his doubts about God.
Encouraging attendees and listeners, Stanley said, “If you’re on the edge ... if you have your doubts ... my challenge to you is to draw back in to the simple story and the teaching of Jesus.”
Jesus, he said, is not religion 2.0 nor is he an option to add to other religious options. Jesus is the answer to the questions that religion had been asking for generations.
Learn significance for followers of Yeshua in ‘Feasts of the Lord’
Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are not just Jewish holidays, says a new video series by a Christian teacher of Hebraic roots.
They are called “Feasts of the Lord” in the Bible and have special meaning and significance for all believers in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They were commemorated by Jesus and His apostles - and continued to be observed by Jesus’ followers in the first century even after His death and Resurrection.
Pastor Mark Biltz of El Shaddai Ministries in Washington state has produced, in conjunction with WND Videos, a compelling and exhaustive teaching series on the biblical feasts as outlined in Leviticus by Moses. The spring and fall feasts, Biltz says, were not intended only for the children of Israel — and they have special meaning with respect to the life, death, resurrection and return of Jesus.
“I believe these DVDs can profoundly increase the faith of followers of Jesus, giving them a new appreciation of who He is, why He came and what He expects of us,” says Joseph Farah, founder and editor of WND and the producer of the video series. “I think most people who view these teachings by Pastor Mark Biltz will be stunned by what they learn about the meaning of these feasts in our lives.”
For instance, is it true the Bible says we cannot know the day or the hour of Jesus’ return?
On the contrary, says “The Feasts of the Lord.” The Bible is quite specific about the day of His return - it’s just the year that remains a mystery. This misunderstanding of what the Lord said about His return is due to a simple misreading of the Scriptures - partly a result of not understanding the cultural context of the message.
The spring feasts - or appointed times - were fulfilled by the first coming of Yeshua, the Hebrew name of Jesus, which means “Salvation,” explains Biltz. The fall feasts will be fulfilled by His Second Coming - in the very near future, he relates in an engaging, informative and entertaining series of teachings you will want to watch again and again and share with your friends, relatives and fellow believers.
Biltz emphasizes that these feasts, described in Leviticus, were not intended for the Jewish people alone. He says they are meant to be observed as well as to serve as signs of the times in which we live - reminders of the greatest events of the past and foreshadowings of the future.
Biltz says much of the church is asleep - unaware of the significance of the feasts in God’s holy time clock. The feasts were not intended to be abandoned by believers after the coming of Jesus. His followers observed them in the First Century. It’s time to rediscover them again as the hour of His return approaches.
The fall feasts began Sept. 30 with the Feast of Trumpets, or Rosh Hashana. Christian believers will be stunned by the importance of this feast and all the others to follow when they view this unique teaching video by Biltz, an expert in the Hebrew roots of Christianity.
“Just as the spring feasts were the dress rehearsals for Messiah’s first coming, the fall feasts are the dress rehearsals for His Second Coming,” says Biltz.
Biltz says far from telling us not to be concerned about the time of the Lord’s return, the Bible over and over again commands believers to be “watching” - and provides some shocking and amazing hints for the discerning student.
The video series pinpoints the specific day on the Hebrew calendar for the return of Jesus. The only unknown, according to Biltz, is which year that return will occur - though he makes the case it is very near.
Biltz says most of the church is unaware of this very specific prophetic time clock offered by God to the human race in the Bible. Because of this, he believes many Christians will be surprised rather than watching with anticipation and hope, as the Bible commands.
The founder of Jews for Jesus died Wednesday, leaving behind a pre-written message to members of the ministry.
In the letter posted on the Jews for Jesus website after his death, Moishe Rosen encouraged members of Jews for Jesus to stay with the ministry, especially as they “stand on the edge of a breakthrough in Jewish evangelism.”
“Just a little more. Just another push. Just another soul - and we will have reached critical mass where we begin generating that energy that the whole world might know the Lord,” wrote Rosen, who was 78 when he died Wednesday after a protracted battle with prostate cancer.
The son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Rosen came to believe in Jesus at the age of 21 and felt a call to ministry shortly thereafter.
In September 1973, Rosen founded Jews for Jesus and, until 1996, he served as the organization’s first executive director.
“Moishe Rosen has had a tremendous influence on the field of Jewish missions, on the Church and on so many who have sought to serve God in making the gospel known,” commented the organization’s current executive director, David Brickner.
“Moishe Rosen championed the refreshing realization that one can be a Jew for Jesus while retaining one’s cultural heritage,” added Dr. Mark Bailey, president of Dallas Theological Seminary.
Aside from Jews for Jesus, Rosen was responsible for training a significant number of men and women who are leaders in the field of Jewish missions today, several as CEOs of other mission agencies.
Rosen was also a special consultant to the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization’s study group on reaching Jewish people, which met in Pattaya, Thailand, in 1980, and was one of the founding leaders of the organization it spawned - The Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism, an umbrella group for Jewish mission agencies around the world.
Rosen also authored a number of books in his field.
“In modern times, no one has championed such creative and effective ways of winning Jewish people to Christ as has our brother,” stated Dr. David Larsen, professor emeritus of preaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
In his final remarks, Rosen expressed how concerned he was by the support some believers were giving to the efforts of rabbis “who, frankly, not only don’t know Christ, but don’t want to know Him.”
“I would urge you to think very seriously before you support any ‘ministry’ that involves Jewish people and doesn’t actually bring the gospel to the Jews,” wrote Rosen to Jews for Jesus members.
He also expressed his disappointment in Jesus-believing Jews who “feel that their primary purpose is to promote Jewishness and Judaism to the Jews.”
“I hope I can count on you to show love and respect for the Jewish people, but Jewishness never saved anybody,” Rosen stated. “Judaism never saved anybody no matter how sincere. “
Though Rosen also made clear his disagreement with some of the decisions made by the leadership of his own organization after he stepped down as executive director in 1996, he said the core of what the ministry stands for is still central.
He also said the ministry has been in competent hands for many years and urged ministry members to encourage the leadership.
“The executive director and the staff need to hear that you intend to continue standing with us,” he wrote.
They gather blocks from Harvard Square to greet the Sabbath with communal prayer, their eyes winced closed, hands clapping as they sing in fervent Hebrew. The group worships in the Jewish Orthodox tradition, but it’s not traditional.
A woman leads the prayers, generally forbidden among mainstream Orthodox. The genders are separated by a white curtain, called a “mechitzah,” but it’s translucent so the sexes can see each other as they sway and sing. No rabbi leads or synagogue sanctions this service at the Minyan Tehillah, which is run by a software engineer and nurse practitioner.
The group is an “independent minyan,” and dozens of these unaffiliated Jewish worship communities have sprung up in the past decade, mixing elements of the mainstream denominations while answering to none of them. Its prayers in Hebrew, with participation of everyone present, is a hallmark of the movement, and a reaction to mainstream alternatives where such prayer is not available, or limited to a designated soloist.
Anna Schachter of Cambridge said the minyan’s dual commitment to traditional worship and egalitarianism was energizing.
“Everyone in this room, I feel I’m sort of bonded to them with this mission, this struggle, of ‘How do you live a traditional life and a modern life at the same time?’” said Schachter, 29, a public health researcher. “If there was a synagogue that had this kind of style, I would go to it.”
Ten years ago, the United States had two independent minyanim, plural of minyan. Today, there at least 70 involving about 20,000 people, said Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, who wrote a book on the independent minyanim, “Empowered Judaism.”
“There is a mass of young people, taking hold of their Jewish identity, and willing to put in the volunteer time and effort to build a community that expresses their values,” Kaunfer said. “That’s extremely hopeful and significant.”
The number involved is a small percentage of the estimated 5.2 million Jews in the U.S. But Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, said the movement is driven by the most devout and educated Jews, and its ideas on worship, prayer and what defines a community will inevitably cross into mainstream practice.
“What happens in American Judaism over and over is that the margins influence the mainstream,” Sarna said. “I don’t expect many of the independent minyanim themselves will be long lasting. But I think we will look back and say that they had long-lasting influence.”
In Jewish law, a minyan is a quorum of at least 10 people (10 men in the Orthodox tradition) that is required to read the Torah or say certain prayers. But a minyan is commonly defined as any community that comes together to pray.
The independent minyanim have formed primarily in urban areas, including New York, as far south as Atlanta, and west to San Francisco and Los Angeles. Sarna said with the middle of the country largely untapped, the movement will grow.
Meg Lederman, a member of a minyan in Brookline, said a major draw of the worship is as a link to her Jewish past.
“It’s nice to be in a room where you’re filling up the whole room with meaningful words,” she said. “It’s both the connection to the people in the room and really a connection to Jews across time and space.”
The growth of independent minyanim is similar to the grassroots “havurah” movement in the 1960s and 1970s, which organized outside the synagogue with heavy emphasisis on lively prayer and including women. But Kaunfer said a key difference is that the havurah movement wanted to replace Jewish institutions, while independent minyanim aim merely at gaps that have appeared in Jewish life.
Many members are in their 20s and 30s, either single or with very young children, and part of a demographic that has developed as people postpone marriage and children, Kaunfer said. Jews in this group tend to be urban, mobile and unsatisfied by typical synagogue offerings, which are generally aimed at older adults or parents with school-aged kids, he said.
Group members are often highly educated in Jewish tradition — 40% are graduates of Jewish day schools. They seek the deep spiritual connection found in traditional prayer that the Orthodox practice, Kaunfer said, but they also want women to be more involved in worship, as in the Conservative and Reform denominations. So they’ve decided to lead their own services.
Some independent minyanim meet in synagogues, and members are active in them. But the decentralized movement has grown largely without the denominations, whose leaders say they welcome such committed groups of young people, an elusive demographic.
“These are exactly the kind of people we want and need in the community because they’re going to be the leaders of the future,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. “The fact that they don’t always find a place in the synagogue is something that obviously is troubling to me.”
Orthodox Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, first vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, said he was “thrilled with the energy and the interest.” But he added the groups’ search for relevance in ancient tradition has led to violations of it, such as with women’s role in prayer. Rabbis, he said, have always been crucial in maintaining tradition.
“We are troubled with the change in tradition,” Goldin said. “We believe there are ways to find relevance and meaning without these radical changes.”
Their self-governing nature means independent minyanim differ in style and emphasis. For instance, Lisa Colten, co-founder of a minyan in Charlottesville, Va., said her minyan’s service, held in a friend’s living room, stresses interaction between parents and young children that she wasn’t finding at the local synagogue she attends.
Colten, 35, said the group isn’t interested in changing tradition, just in sharing a kind of worship they realized they could create themselves.
“We don’t feel like we’re captive to the choices that are handed to us,” she said. “That’s very different than previous generations.”
By Joseph Telushkin
“What is hateful to you, do not do unto others. That is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary.” This is the most famous teaching of Hillel. What makes this teaching so extraordinary is that it was offered to a Gentile seeking an on-the-spot conversion. Teachings, stories, and legal rulings of Hillel can be found throughout the Talmud; what many of them share is his emphasis on ethical and moral living as an essential element in Jewish religious practice. After offering that concise summation of the Torah’s contents, Hillel adds the injunction to “now go and study,” and then converts the seeker to Judaism. For Joseph Telushkin, this is not a metaphor but a model. Faced with unprecedented levels of intermarriage and assimilation, and with the interest of so many unchurched non-Jews in Jewish teachings, Judaism today is in need of the sort of openness that Hillel championed 2,000 years ago. The most prominent religious leader in the Land of Israel during the reign of Herod, Hillel may well have influenced Jesus, his junior by several decades. In a provocative analysis of the evolution of both Christianity and Judaism, Telushkin reveals why, over the ensuing centuries, Hillel’s teachings began to be ignored in favor of the stricter and less inclusive teachings of his rabbinic adversary, Shammai. This bold new look at an iconic religious leader—the first to cite the ethical concept of tikkun olam (repairing the world) as a basis for making modifications to Jewish law—is certain to generate passionate discussion and debate.
Why Jews Are Not For Jesus? (100913)
Rabbi Telushkin answers your questions
From Judaism’s perspective, Jesus did not fulfill the messianic prophecies and therefore is not regarded as the Messiah. The best-known of the prophecies concerning the messianic days is that “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4). Since world peace must accompany the Messiah, and world peace (or, for the past 2,000 years, anything remotely approaching it) has not come, clearly the Messiah has not come either. In addition, Jewish tradition teaches that the Messiah will enable the Jews to lead a peaceful and independent existence in Israel. This, too, was not achieved by Jesus. One of the greatest rabbis of the Talmudic era, Akiva, believed that the second-century Jewish warrior Bar Kochva was the Messiah, and that he would fulfill in particular the messianic mission of restoring Jewish sovereignty. But when Bar Kochva’s revolt against the Romans failed, Akiva recognized that he could not have been the Messiah (even though he was still regarded as an essentially righteous person).
Though it has been apparent for almost 2,000 years that the messianic days of peace have not arrived, Christians still assume that Jesus was the Messiah. How do they explain this? By arguing that there will be a Second Coming, during which Jesus will return to Earth, and fulfill the messianic functions originally expected of him. For Jews, however, this argument is unconvincing, since the idea of a Second Coming is nowhere found in the Hebrew Bible (what Christians refer to as the Old Testament). This idea seems to have been unknown to Jesus as well, since the New Testament cites him as telling his followers that some of them will still be alive when all the messianic prophecies will be fulfilled (see Mark 9:1 and 13:30). I would guess that the idea of a second coming was formulated by later Christians to explain Jesus’ failure to fulfill the messianic prophecies. In short, from Judaism’s perspective, to call someone who does not bring about the messianic era the Messiah does not make sense.
English Canadians have some of the most open attitudes toward Jews and the Holocaust, while French Canadians are among the least open, according to a new public opinion poll of attitudes in four countries.
The poll, commissioned by the Association for Canadian Studies and released exclusively to Postmedia News, found that only 34% of French-speaking Canadians felt Jews shared their values compared to 73% of English-speaking Canadians.
The survey, conducted in Canada, the United States, Spain and Germany, revealed that roughly half the respondents in each country believe prejudice toward Jews is a problem in their society.
The release of the poll results comes as parliamentarians and experts from more than 40 countries are in Ottawa for a conference organized by the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism.
Germans were the most likely to say that prejudice against Jews was a problem in their society with 56% citing it as an issue. They were also among the most likely to say that Jews shared their values and 84.7% said they had a good knowledge of the Holocaust.
By comparison, 48% of Spanish respondents cited prejudice against Jews as a problem in their society, but only 39% said Jews shared their values. They were also the least likely to say they had a good knowledge of the Holocaust.
Jack Jedwab, executive director of the association, says the poll results tend to show that the amount of contact respondents have with Jews and how much they know about the Holocaust tends to have a direct impact on the way they view anti-Semitism.
“I think this poll demonstrates quite convincingly that there is a correlation between Holocaust knowledge and greater empathy around the problems of anti-Semitism and around shared values,” said Mr. Jedwab, whose mother survived the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War.
“People with greater Holocaust knowledge seem, to a greater extent, to feel that their social distance from Jews is reduced. They know Jews better.”
Mr. Jedwab said that also helps explain the Canadian results.
The poll indicates that 51.3% of English Canadians felt prejudice toward Jews was a problem in Canada, compared with 44.7 of French Canadians. The results suggest a similar divide when it comes to knowledge, with 85.1% of English Canadians citing good Holocaust knowledge compared to 61.1% of French Canadians.
If French-speaking Canadians are less likely to feel that Jews share their values it is in part because many of them have less contact with members of the Jewish community, Jedwab said. Those who do come in contact with those who are Jewish are more likely to say that Jews share their values, Jedwab said.
In the United States, 47% of respondents said they felt prejudice against Jews was a problem. Nearly three-quarters of American respondents also said they had a good knowledge of the Holocaust.
The poll also found that Black and Hispanic respondents were more likely to say that anti-Semitism was a problem than were white respondents.
The results are based on polling by separate public-opinion research companies in each country.
In Canada, Leger Marketing polled 1,707 respondents online between Aug. 31 and Sept. 4.
In the U.S., the poll of 1,048 respondents was conducted by the Opinion Research Corp. between Aug. 30 and Aug. 31.
Leger Marketing and Online Research Corp. do not give margins of error for online polls, but a Canadian poll of 1,707 respondents has a theoretical margin of error of 2.37% 19 times out of 20 and the U.S. poll would have a margin of error of 3.9% 19 times out of 20.
In Germany, the poll of 1,000 respondents, carried out by Produkt + Markt Marketing from Sept. 4 to Sept. 10, has a margin of error of between one and five%.
In Spain, the poll of 1,052 respondents was carried out by TNS Global from Sept. 16 to Sept. 20 and has a margin of error of 3.5%, 19 times out of 20.
Many people in the Republican Party wonder why the majority of Jews continue to vote Democratic. The last time Jews preferred a Republican Presidential candidate was 1972. Not even in 1980, when the clearly anti-Semitic Jimmy Carter was running against Ronald Reagan, or when George W. Bush was running for re-election in 2004 after proving himself the best friend of Israel ever to inhabit the White House, did the majority of Jews cast their ballots for a Republican. I have spent most of the last ten years attempting to change that pattern in hand-to-hand combat with the left. And yet despite my battle scars, I was still frustrated and enraged over a recent set of events that only confirmed how profoundly challenging it is to enlighten Jews who vote for Democrats.
Last month, a prominent temple in Los Angeles decided to open its doors to the four candidates running for Governor and U.S. Senate in California. Knowing that they would never get a debate between the respective parties, the temple invited each candidate to address the audience (both members and the surrounding community) in separate forums, believing that an opportunity to speak to a large audience of Jews would both benefit the candidates and promote the Temple’s mission of educating the public. The temple asked influential members of the congregation (of which they have many) to contact the campaigns and extend their invitation. Meg Whitman, the Republican candidate for Governor, was the first to accept, followed by Carly Fiorina, who was running for the U.S. Senate. The Jewish press reported that Barbara Boxer declined the offer, and Jerry Brown’s campaign claimed that they never received a formal invitation; a statement known to be categorically false.
Once the first event with Meg Whitman was announced, there was a deluge of complaints from Democrats at the temple. If Whitman was coming, why not Brown? Ignoring the fact that Brown turned down his invitation, they attempted to suppress Whitman’s appearance. To its credit, the temple worked hard to promote the series – always making sure to remind its members that all four candidates were invited, and that the Whitman forum was merely the first one – but the complaints keep coming. To be fair, some of the kvetching died down when people were informed of the process, but several Democrats continued to be shrill and adamant: if Brown was not coming, then Whitman should not be allowed to speak.
Despite the behind-the-scenes discourse, the Whitman forum was wonderful: more than 800 people attended. It was held with a spirit of civility and decorum appropriate for a synagogue sanctuary. But the relentless whining of partisan Democrats took its toll on the temple leadership. They chose not to promote or publicize the next event, for Carly Fiorina. The only notice to the membership appeared in the temple bulletin. When I related this story to a churchgoing friend, he wittily replied with words of wisdom from his pastor, “If you want to make sure no one sees it, put it in the church bulletin.”
The attack on simple fair-mindedness was aided and abetted by other elements of the Jewish community. The Jewish Federation, the umbrella organization for the community, pulled out of involvement and conveyed that information through their Vice-President, a former staffer for Democratic Congressman Howard Berman. The Jewish Journal (formerly owned by the Federation and supposedly now “independent”) did a hatchet job reporting on the Whitman event which further chilled the Temple from promoting the Fiorina event.
The efforts were countered by the hard work of many and equally by the likes of Dennis Prager, who agreed to moderate the forum. Dennis helped publicize the event by promoting it on his radio show. The end result was over 1,000 people showed up to hear – and interact with – Ms. Fiorina. On the day of the Fiorina event, Jerry Brown was speaking in black churches in Los Angeles. There was no commensurate effort to invite Republican candidates to these events, and, of course, there was no outcry from partisan Democrats or friends in the press about him being there without an equal Republican opportunity.
The relentless effort by Jewish liberals to suppress the speaking opportunities of their political adversaries – behavior that is both shameful and un-American, and which violates the most fundamental principles of the Jewish community – is, regrettably, a constant theme of the left. This disgraceful incident points to an undeniable truth: there is a structural deterrent to even having a chance to present a competitive argument to the Jewish Community. Some live in denial of the fact that for the past 50 years, the Democratic Party has horribly misrepresented the interests of Jewish Americans, especially on the core value of our educational system.
They deny the fact that almost all of the Anti-Israel elements within America are not only found on the political left which are also major stakeholders and figures in the Democratic Party. They tell us we should support Jewish candidates despite the fact that none of them had the courage to stand up to President Obama while he was trashing Israel and its Prime Minister until Senator Chuck Schumer did after 18 months.
I now have a clearer picture of why our job has been so difficult. All we want is a fair, honest and open debate. There is a reason they don’t want to have it. They don’t have a winning case.
In 2008, Obama grabbed 78% of the Jewish vote. Even the most wildly optimistic polling today shows that Obama’s support remains high among Jews. It’s a result that Republicans simply can’t understand — why do so many Jews continue to support a president who has shown time and again that he stands against the State of Israel? Why the reflexive lever-pulling on behalf of a man who appoints anti-Semites to positions of high power, attends a virulently anti-Semitic church for 20 years, and sees Israel as the cause of the West’s conflict with the Muslim world?
The answer is deceptively simple: the Jews who vote for Obama are, by and large, Jews In Name Only (JINOs). They eat bagels and lox; they watch “Schindler’s List”; they visit temple on Yom Kippur — sometimes. But they do not care about Israel. Or if they do, they care about it less than abortion, gay marriage and global warming.
That prioritization is critical in understanding the Jewish vote. The same polls that report high levels of support for President Obama show that 94% of American Jews said that if Israel “no longer existed tomorrow,” it would be a tragedy (this means, by the way, that 6% of Jews should be automatically discounted as self-hating or insane) and that 77% of Jews believe that Israel should refuse to negotiate with a Hamas-backed Palestinian Arab government. The only way to reconcile that high level of support for Israel with a high level of support for an anti-Israel, anti-Semitic administration lies in the fact that all voters have priorities, and that Israel is not these voters’ highest priority.
Which is why they are known as JINOs.
Being Jewish is not like being black or Asian or Hispanic. It comes with certain attendant ideological responsibilities. There is no logical or inherent connection between skin color and liberalism or conservatism — melanin has no political playbook. Jewish identity, however, does. There is more to being truly Jewish than being born into a Jewish family, just as there is more to being Christian than being baptized.
Being truly Jewish requires allegiance to basic Judaic principles; the first and foremost of which is identity with the Jewish people and its enlightened national aspirations. In the Tanach (the Jewish canon, including the Old Testament, the Prophets and the Writings), when Ruth converts to Judaism, she states, “Your people will be my people and your God my God.” The connection between Jews and the land of Israel is the running theme of the Old Testament. Any Jew who does not take these principles seriously — more seriously than global warming or affirmative action, for example — is a JINO.
And voting for Obama is a violation of those principles. Obama’s speech last week implicitly blaming Israel’s failure to surrender its security for the radical terrorism of the Islamic world threatens Israel ideologically; his call for Israel to return to the pre-1967 borders as the basis for negotiation endangers Israel’s survival on a practical level, cutting the State to 9 miles wide and handing over the strategic high ground to enemy forces; his suggestion that a Palestinian state be “contiguous” by definition slices Israel in half; his failure to recognize the incoherence of the so-called “right of return” destroys Israel demographically.
Obama has backed the Muslim Brotherhood revolts throughout the Middle East and toppled Israeli peace partners in the process; he has appointed advisers who openly call for placing American troops on the ground in Israel to stop Israeli military action; he has allowed the United Nations to castigate Israel routinely while ignoring Palestinian terrorism on a daily basis. Obama is a man who used his Passover message to stump for the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Arab Spring. Seriously.
Simply put, Obama is an enemy of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. And any Jew who votes for him betrays his or her brothers and sisters at home and abroad. By definition, a vote for Obama is a vote against the truly Jewish part of Jewish identity. There is a reason that the observant Jewish community votes overwhelmingly Republican — they vote on Jewish principle.
Why bother exposing JINOs for what they are? First, it helps non-Jews understand the dynamics of the Jewish community — it is not monolithic, and much of it is not authentically Jewish. Second, it acts as a shaming mechanism for those Jews who throw away Jewish principle in pursuit of back-slapping from their liberal buddies. And they should be ashamed of what they do. They are the moral equivalent of Jewish Neville Chamberlain voters in 1939. They must understand that their votes have consequences.
Jewish identity is about more than ethnicity. Boiling it down to a propensity for “Seinfeld” cheapens the experience, the history and the bond of Judaism itself. Being Jewish means something. And if it means anything, it means that voting for Barack Obama immediately places you in opposition to the Jewish people.
By now, the threat facing Christianity in its birthplace has become depressingly clear. Christians represented 30% of British Mandate Palestine in 1948, while today their share in Israel and the Palestinian Territories is estimated at 1.25%. The risk, as the Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, has put it, is that the Holy Land is becoming a “spiritual Disneyland” — full of glittering rides and attractions, but empty of its indigenous Christian population.
French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Interreligious Dialogue and formerly Pope John Paul II’s top diplomat, offers another evocative image: The Christian centers of the Holy Land as “archeological and historical sites, to be visited like the Colosseum in Rome … museums with entrance tickets, and guides who explain the beautiful legends.”
This decline in the Holy Land is part of a broad Christian exodus all across the Middle East. The reasons are also well known, and fairly obvious:
· The Israeli/Palestinian conflict, which affects Arab Christians just as much as Arab Muslims;
· Economic instability and lack of opportunity;
· Rising Islamic fundamentalism, today compounded by fear that the promise of the Arab Spring could give way a winter of insecurity and theocratic regimes;
· The fact that Christians in the area are disproportionately better educated and more affluent, and thus stand a better chance of getting out. As one observer has said, in the Middle East frustrated Christians emigrate physically, while frustrated Muslims emigrate ideologically.
Yet even when the big picture is familiar, its details still pack emotional punch.
Raphaela Fischer Mourra is the daughter of a German father and a Palestinian mother, born and raised in Bethlehem. In 2000, at the age of 15, she lost her father to an Israeli missile attack as he raced to rescue their neighbors; she tearfully describes him as “the first Christian martyr of the Second Intifada.” Samer Makhlouf, a 35-year-old raised in a Christian village on the West Bank, was arrested by Israeli troops at the age of 15 for tossing a stone in frustration. He was detained for four months, he said, interrogated and tortured, and still bears the marks of the experience, both physical and emotional. Another young Palestinian Christian, Jacoub Sleibi, says his family is forced to haul water to their home in Bethlehem, while fresh water flows abundantly through nearby Israeli settlements.
To make the point that no one has a monopoly on pain, there’s Rabbi Daniel Sperber of Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, who over the years has found himself scraping bits of bone and skin out of burned Israeli tanks in order to make DNA identifications, calling it the sort of tragedy “that has touched every Israeli family.” His own children have been afraid to get on the school bus, he said, worrying that it might blow up – illustrating, as Sperber puts it, that “we also have our agony.”
These were among the voices at a two-day conference on the fate of Christians in the Holy Land in London this week, cosponsored by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols. Held at Lambeth Palace, the spiritual headquarters of the Anglican Communion, the event brought together some 90 church leaders, politicians, activists and media types to raise what Williams described as “literate, compassionate awareness” of the Christian plight, and to galvanize action.
The summit seemed to offer three main contributions:
· A crystallized form of the rationale as to why the Christian world should care;
· A survey of open questions;
· A set of concrete ideas about how to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land.
Retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., and Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona, were the American prelates at the gathering, while Tauran was on hand for the Vatican. (As a footnote, McCarrick is “retired” only in the technical sense. At 81, he logs more miles as a trouble-shooter and promoter of dialogue than anyone else I know; while he checked into our hotel he let me flip through the pages of his passport, which has to be one of the most used travel documents I’ve ever seen.)
* * *
The argument as to why we ought to care about Christians in the Holy Land boiled down to two points: First, their survival is critical to Christianity’s identity; second, it’s a key to peace in the region, and therefore to peace in the world.
Williams made the first case.
“Christianity is an historical religion,” he said. “At its center is a set of events that occurred in a particular place and at a particular time. It is not open to Christians to say that Christianity is whatever they choose it to be. We are responsible to what happened in the Holy Land two millennia ago.”
A Christian witness in the place where these events occurred, Williams said, is therefore “no small thing.”
“It would be a form of Gnosticism if we were to say that the Christian presence in the land of Our Lord does not matter to us,” Williams argued, calling such disregard a way of “cutting ourselves loose from history.”
(The depth of that history, by the way, was memorably captured by Zoughbi Zoughbi, a Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem: “My great-great grandmother,” he quipped, “was the babysitter of Jesus.”)
Beyond an antidote to Gnosticism, Williams said, the Arab Christians of the Holy Land make another contribution to Christian identity: They remind us that at its origins, Christianity is an “exotic Eastern religion … not bound up with Western culture.”
In typically wry fashion, Williams observed that Christianity was not born “in Europe, or even on the shores of North America … which is quite good for us all.” It is, therefore, as alien “to the Capitalist West as it is to the Far East.”
That point, Williams said, is vital to the “specificity of Christian faith” and its “authenticity.”
In terms of the importance of Christianity in the Holy Land to hopes for peace, speakers repeatedly stressed that although Christianity have a small sociological footprint, it is, in the words of Tauran, “a minority that matters.” Churches operate a vast network of schools and universities, hospitals, and social service centers, and individual Christians make key contributions to business, politics, and arts and culture.
Several observers also insisted the presence of Christianity keeps alive the notion of the Holy Land as a pluralistic space in which tolerance, democracy, and respect for human rights are essential – and, conversely, the disappearance of Christianity would send the wrong signal about the future direction of the region.
In that sense, the presence or absence of a flourishing Christian minority is a bellwether for the political and cultural health of the society.
Perhaps the most compelling form of that argument came from Lubna Alzaroo, a young Palestinian Muslim who currently attends Bethlehem University, an institution sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers. Raised in Hebron, Alzaroo said her family can trace its roots in the area back 1,500 years.
In the mid-1960s, Alzaroo said, Hebron had a small Christian community, but today it’s entirely disappeared. (There’s a Christian elementary school, she said, but its student population is entirely Muslim.) As a result, she didn’t actually meet a Christian until she was 18 years old, and that encounter came during a study program in the United States.
It’s not a coincidence, Alzaroo said, that Hebron is considered the most religiously conservative city in the Palestinian Territories, and thus an incubator for more radical and militant currents.
“Part of the reason is the lack of pluralism,” she said. “The more isolated they become, the more they think their way is the only way.”
Given the link between the presence of Christianity and the plausibility of a democratic and tolerant Palestine, Alzaroo offered this dramatic warning: If Christianity were to disappear, she said, “It would have ramifications as catastrophic for the Palestinians as the Nakba in 1948.”
(“Nakba” is an Arabic term, roughly meaning “disaster,” which Palestinians use to refer to their displacement following the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.)
* * *
Making the case for concern, of course, is the easy part. Knowing what to do is far harder, in part because the situation is maddeningly complex. One consensus was that any intervention in defense of Christians in the Holy Land, and, more broadly, in favor of peace in the region, cannot come off as partisan – i.e., biased in favor of one party to the conflict or the other.
Twal, who is himself a Jordanian, put it this way: “The only authentic pro-Israeli position is one that’s also pro-Palestinian and pro-peace.”
Beyond that call for balance, at least three recurrent tensions ran through the discussions at Lambeth Palace – open questions which drew differing answers, depending upon who was speaking.
1. What’s the impact of Israeli policy on Christians?
Samer Makhlouf, a Latin Catholic and executive director of “One Voice” in Palestine, a grassroots movement that brings together young Palestinians and Israelis to promote peace, said that of the four problems facing Christians in the Holy Land, the first three are “occupation, occupation, occupation.”
Makhlouf described Israeli military and security policy, which Palestinians capture with the term “occupation,” as “the father of all the problems in the region.”
Over and over, Palestinian Christians insisted that the main factors fueling their exodus – political discrimination and a sense of second-class citizenship, lack of economic development and employment, restrictions on their freedom of movement, and so on – are fundamentally the result of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, rather than explicit discrimination against Christians.
One frequently cited difficulty involves access to Christian holy sites. Palestinians living in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem hold different residency cards, and they cannot move from one place to the other without special permits. It can be virtually impossible for a Christian in Bethlehem, for instance, to travel to Jerusalem to worship in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. (That’s true even if a permit is granted, many speakers said, since Easter coincides with the Jewish festival of Pescah, when a security lockdown is imposed.)
As Mourra put it, “It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a Palestinian to go to Jerusalem.”
Residency policies can have a devastating impact on families. Reportedly, there are some 200 Christian families living apart today, split between members in the West Bank and members in Jerusalem.
Hana Bendcowsky, a Jewish Israeli affiliated with the Jerusalem Centre for Christian Jewish Relations, warned of hardening Israeli attitudes towards Christianity. A 2009 survey, she said, found that 18-29 year old Israelis hold more negative views of Christians than older generations.
At root, she said, Jews in Israel have a hard time thinking of themselves as a majority. They see tend to see the Christians in their midst not as an embattled minority, but a “doubly threatening majority” – part of both the Arab world and the Christian West.
There was also an undercurrent of frustration at the London meeting about negotiations which have lingered since 1993 over the “Fundamental Agreement” between Israel and the Vatican, which among other things was supposed to regulate the tax and legal status of church properties in Israel. The terms of the agreement have never been implemented by the Israeli Knesset, and in the meantime, Israeli has declared certain important Christian sites, such as Mount Tabor and Capernaum, to be national parks, overriding Christian control.
As one speaker put it, those acts seem part of an Israeli policy of creating “facts on the ground” that unilaterally reshape negotiations.
During a plenary session at the end of the gathering, a recommendation surfaced that church leaders should urge Israel to act – and should also urge the Vatican to keep up the pressure. The fear is that if Israel ignores its deal with the Vatican, it erodes public confidence in the possibility of a negotiated settlement to anything.
On the other hand, several speakers noted that as the lone genuine democracy in the region, Israel has a track record of giving minorities, including Christians, a better break than they find elsewhere. Some argued that Christianity is actually doing comparatively well inside Israel itself.
Sperber said that more than 50,000 Christians have recently settled in Israel from the former territories of the Soviet Union, and adding to those numbers are other émigrés from the Balkans and from Asia, especially the Philippines. As a result, he said, “the churches are full in Tel Aviv and Haifa,” and he sees the same thing in Jerusalem.
Sperber said there is also a “tremendous upsurge” in Christian pilgrimage in Israel – so much so, he said, that his neighbors often find it difficult to get out of their houses because their narrow alleyways are stuffed with Christian tourists.
In fact, Sperber said, there is “a renaissance of Christian activity in the state of Israel.” He added that Israel is one of the few countries in the Middle East where the Christian population is growing, and where Christian institutions enjoy state support.
Bernard Sabellah, a Palestinian Christian academic and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, offered a different take.
There were roughly 35,000 Christians in the territory of Israel in 1948, he said, while today the number is 110,000. Given the natural rate of demographic increase over a half-century, he said, the Christian population today should be 150,000, which means that there are a “missing” 40,000 Christians in Israel. Moreover, he asserted, a recent survey of young Christians in Israel found that 26% want to leave – the same percentage as in the Palestinian Territories.
As a result, Sabellah said, for Christians, “the state system is not a blessing from the Israeli government.”
2. What to make of the Arab Spring?
Nowhere in the Christian world does one find a more positive treatment of secularism than in the Middle East. In the West, secularism is often the bogeyman of the Christian imagination, because it’s identified with declines in religious faith and practice and in the impact of traditional moral values. In the Middle East, Christians generally see secularism as a survival strategy – the only viable alternative to corrupt authoritarian regimes on the one hand, and Islamic theocracy on the other.
Reflecting that psychology, considerable enthusiasm coursed through the Lambeth gathering about the Arab Spring, and the vision of pluralistic, democratic, and participatory societies which seem to animate its young protagonists.
“The recent Arab Spring of youth in the region is spreading,” Twal said. “Sooner or later, with violence or peacefully, it is coming. No regime is immune to these events.”
The Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani, said the Arab Spring demonstrates that “the people are demanding to be heard,” and that as Arab Christians, “we join our Arab brothers and sisters.”
Sabellah said the Arab Spring reflects the reality that the majority of Arabs want to live “in an open, preferably secular, democratic society.” That’s especially true, he said, for Christians.
“I have no problem with Islam, but I want to be a citizen, not a tolerated minority by a gracious act of Israel, or Assad, or Abu Mazen, or the King of Jordan,” he said.
“Citizenship” was a key theme throughout the meeting, seeming to capture a distinctly Arab Christian vision of secular society. Zoughbi once again put the point in pithy fashion: In the Middle East, he said, “We don’t need liberation theology. We need liberation from theology.”
Yet some Christians cannot help but feel ambivalent about the Arab Spring, wondering if it will really deliver on those heady promises.
“I look at it with great hope, but also great worry and fear,” Makhlouf said. “If it means greater democracy and more free societies, that’s very promising. But the future is not clear … What’s next? Is it the Muslim Brotherhood? More Islamic regimes in the region?”
Others echoed those sentiments.
McCarrick said he recently returned from a trip to Gaza, where he met both with young people and with some of the elders. While the youth expressed frustration about the lack of movement and the difficult of obtaining visas, he said, the elderly voiced deeper worries.
“They’re afraid of Hamas, and they’re afraid of the Arab Spring, what it might mean for the government there,” he said.
Likewise, conservative British MP Tony Baldry said he recently visited Egypt, where he met with both Coptic and Catholic leaders who “are not optimistic” about the Arab Spring. Christian leaders in Egypt, he said, worry that “by next year, the Muslim Brotherhood will be in control of the military” – with potentially threatening consequences for the country’s Christian minority.
Harry Hagopian, a Jerusalem-based representative of the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate and also an advisor to the Catholic bishops of England and Wales on the Middle East, put it this way: “The Arab Spring is bringing down walls, and sometimes kicking up dust.”
To the extent there was a consensus, it might be expressed this way: There’s much to applaud in the Arab Spring, but it’s also naïve, as Baldry put it, “to think that every change is necessarily for the better.”
3. Is political advocacy or grassroots effort the way to go?
Repeatedly, speakers at the Lambeth event said that politicians, both inside and outside the Holy Land, appear incapable of resolving the region’s problems. There seemed little confidence in a new outburst of sensibility.
Indeed, there was a palpable sense that politics is driving the region towards a new cycle of disaster – with the potential for a new Intifada, or a new war in Lebanon, or new conflict between Al-Fatah and Hamas. Several speakers even raised the prospect that in Gaza, Hamas is coming to seem a “moderate” force up against even more radical currents of Islam.
Though it wasn’t much discussed, participants were obviously conscious of the likelihood of a September vote on Palestinian statehood in the General Assembly of the United Nations, and the prospect that it too could unleash new conflict.
As a result, some suggested that the right approach to aiding Christians is to focus on bottom-up, grassroots initiatives, ignoring the bleak political landscape.
“We are not sitting by the wayside waiting for politicians or anyone else to create a path to peace,” Dawani said.
He pointed to a number of concrete efforts launched by Christian leaders, including a new joint project in Jerusalem between the Anglican and Catholic churches intended to give young Christian families access to decent housing. A wide range of similar initiatives, either already under way or in the planning stages, were floated over the two days.
On the other hand, several speakers insisted that one cannot simply throw in the towel on the political process – especially given the obvious linkage between the specific plight of Christians and the broader Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
“The greatest single thing Christians worldwide can do [to help believers in the Holy Land] is to encourage a two-state solution,” said Stephen Colecchi, director of the U.S. bishops’ Office of International Justice and Peace. He argued that the drive to work locally, and on a small scale, must be “held together” with broader political advocacy.
Robert Edmunds, chaplain to the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, said that many grassroots initiatives amount to “band-aids,” and that “if we don’t encourage the government of Israel to cut a deal, we’re going to be putting on band-aids for a very long time.”
Edmunds insisted he’s not opposed to such projects: “Band-aids are important,” he said. “They keep you from bleeding to death.” Yet until there’s a broad political solution, he said, the grassroots approach risks ending in “words and good will” that don’t fundamentally change the realities on the ground.
In the end, the approach that seemed to prevail was “both/and” – small-scale initiatives as a form of confidence-building measures, while continuing the pursuit of a political game-changer.
In terms of how to do effective advocacy, Sabellah stressed the importance of a limited and pragmatic agenda.
“Lofty dialogue will get you nowhere,” he said. “Let’s not waste effort.” He suggested a narrow focus on practical matters such as residency, housing, and freedom of movement, which could be resolved even in the absence of a comprehensive peace deal.
* * *
Towards the end of the meeting, an effort was made to identify concrete ideas that would be of help to Christians in the Holy Land, and which could be achieved not in a far-off speculative future, but in the here and now.
A sampling of those proposals follows.
* * *
Here’s one final reflection, on the ecumenical significance of what happened in Lambeth Palace this week.
Williams and Nichols were genuine co-chairs of the event. It was not a typical ecclesiastical summit, where the VIPs issue a few words of greeting at the beginning and then scuttle off to other appointments. Williams and Nichols sat together on the dais throughout, introducing speakers and listening carefully, then offering reflections of their own. They also held a joint press conference at the end, presenting everything as a common reflection and plan of action.
For anyone conscious of the strained past (and, for that matter, present) of Anglican/Catholic relations, it was an impressive display of partnership. In particular, the event seemed to rebut fears that recent turbulence caused by creation of a Catholic ordinariate to welcome ex-Anglicans would somehow shut down the relationship.
Williams and Nichols did everything possible to strike an image of common cause. During a brief press conference at the conclusion of the event, a British reporter asked for comment on a pending visit to the U.K. by American pastor John Hagee, known for his staunchly pro-Israeli views which, in the eyes of some, buttress extremist positions inside Israel.
Nichols fielded the question, conceding that he’s never heard of Hagee, but saying that “I would trust the intelligence of people in this country to judge his remarks appropriately,” and then added: “He seems to have a very different approach than we do.”
The “we” in that sentence, of course, was himself and Williams.
No doubt, the growing divide between Anglicanism and Catholicism on a well-known canon of issues – including women priests and women bishops, homosexuality and same-sex marriage, and the whole question of ecclesial authority – has made structural reunion more difficult. But if this week in London proved anything, it’s that those differences do not have to prevent the two churches from working together on other matters, and in a spirit of real friendship.
[John L. Allen Jr. is NCR senior correspondent. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.]
John Allen’s column, “All Things Catholic,” is posted to NCRonline.org.
Rebecca Wald is “100% Jewish.” She celebrates the high holidays, her children attend Hebrew school, she lights candles on the sabbath and she was married to a “100% Jewish” man under a chuppah at a traditional Jewish wedding.
But unlike most Jews, from the most secular to the ultra-orthodox, she did not circumcise her son. She has never attended — will never attend — a bris, the age-old ceremony where a Jew trained in circumcision (a ‘mohel’) removes the foreskin of an eight-day-old Jewish boy as a sign of his covenant with God.
“All of the babies I saw growing up — whether cousins or the kids I babysat — were circumcised, and it seemed like that was the way things were supposed to be,” said Ms. Wald, who in December launched Beyond the Bris, a website for Jews who question circumcision. “It took having a son, who is intact, for me to really accept how normal [the uncircumcised penis] is.”
The South Florida mom is among a growing and vocal minority of Jewish “intactivists” who are challenging the 4,000-year-old ritual because, they say, the procedure inflicts unnecessary pain without any health gains, causes long-term psychological harm, hinders sexual function and pleasure, and strikes at the core of consent. They say there are Jewish women who silently pray they will not bear a son, and that the question, ‘When’s the bris?’ is too presumptive.
Ms. Wald has not yet told her young son about her decision — she did not want to disclose his age. “Like many Jewish parents of intact sons, we’re not thrilled to publicly discuss the status of our own children’s sex organs,” she said — but said she assumes he will “at some point” learn about it.
“I imagine he’s going to be thankful that we spared him from this mutilation,” said Ms. Wald, adding that had she been born a boy, her “forward-thinking” parents would not have circumcised her.
Beyond the Bris has attracted more than 9,000 visitors from 89 countries in the past eight months, chiming into the burgeoning chorus of like-minded Jewish groups such as Jews Against Circumcision, the Jewish Circumcision Resource Center, the Israeli Association Against Genital Mutilation, and the Israel-based group Kahal.
Intactivist organizations like these have existed for years — one of which was criticized as anti-Semitic for its comic series called Foreskin Man, with characters such as Dr. Mutilator and Monster Mohel. But this latest slew of opponents is unique in that they are led by people whose own religion demands circumcision.
In the Book of Genesis, God told Abraham he would provide him with children, land, and a promise to be his God forever. In return, God said: “Every manchild among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.”
Jews today know circumcision as Mitzvah 612, the second-most important of 613 commandments behind procreation. Even the least observant of Jews — even those who do not keep kosher, obey the sabbath, go to synagogue on Saturdays, or those who marry a gentile — still obey commandment 612. In accordance with Jewish law, they publicly appoint a shaliach, or agent, to perform the surgery.
Some do so because they believe it is integral to the boy’s covenant with God, some do so out of tradition, some do so without question. Some do it because it is a physical marker in a private place that symbolizes their Jewish identity. Still others do so for what they consider health or esthetic benefits.
For Susanna Garfein and her husband, Ross Goldstein, circumcising their son Bram in Baltimore, Md., this summer was first and foremost a matter of faith. It was also a matter of religion, tradition, and health — there are studies, they pointed out, that show circumcision lowers the chances of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.
“Our practice and our love of Judaism is something we want to pass along to Bram, and this is the first ritual to begin that process,” Ms. Garfein said in a telephone interview with her husband on the line, too.
“It’s not an act of violence,” Mr. Goldstein added, before his wife finished his sentence: “It’s an act of love.”
Fewer and fewer American sand Canadians are joining Bram in being circumcised: Canada’s Public Health Agency says the rate of infant circumcision had dropped to 32% in 2006 from 47% in 1973. In three short years in the United States, hospital circumcision reportedly fell to 32% in 2009 from 56% in 2006, although the Centers for Disease Control said that number was not definitive.
The latter rate does not include Jewish bris ceremonies, which are often done in the home, making it difficult to know whether the number of Jews who circumcise is shrinking. Beyond that, the discussion around circumcision is still mostly taboo within the community.
One thing, though, is clear: The Jewish anti-circumcision movement is growing louder.
Three Jews were on the committee that led the recent (failed) bid to have circumcision banned in San Francisco, CA.
It was a Jewish filmmaker, who moved with his orthodox family to Israel when he was 13 and is now married to an orthodox convert, who created the controversial 2007 film Cut: Slicing Through The Myths of Circumcision. Now that the subject has traction, he was contacted by Abe Haim, a coordinator with intactivist group The Whole Network, to collaborate on a 30-city North American screening tour.
It was a Washington D.C.-based rabbi, who considers himself a secular humanist, who said he has never been busier with alternative ceremonies for newborn boys, which are called a Brit Shalom or ‘covenant of peace’ and which is similar to the baby-naming ceremony for infant girls.
“There is a growing number of people who have a cultural sense of Jewish identity,” Rabbi Binyamin Biber said. “There is also a growing movement to focus on the body as something good and natural, and therefore not in need of alteration.”
And it was a Jewish author, who circumcised her two sons simply because she never thought not to, who last fall published the first fiction book on the controversial question: To circumcise, or not to circumcise?
“I wanted to argue against circumcision in a way that couldn’t be dismissed as overly emotional, incendiary, or anti-Jewish,” author Lisa Braver Moss said, referring to her research of Jewish texts for the book The Measure of His Grief. “It was through railing against circumcision that I found deeper meaning in being Jewish.”
They say neither they nor their sons are any less connected to God — or any less Jewish — than Jews who choose to circumcise.
“If the Jewish identity comes down to whether or not you have a piece of skin on your penis, then that’s a very sad thing for the Jewish people,” Ms. Wald said, pointing out that a child is Jewish if he or she is born to a Jewish mother.
“There are no religious consequences of not being circumcised — the boy could still have a bar mitzvah, for example,” echoed Eli Ungar-Sargon, the Jewish filmmaker whose tour starts in Los Angeles in September, with stops in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver in October. “The consequences are imagined and invented. They’re not actual.”
He said there has been a “cultural shift” since his film launched four years ago, and said the issue “caught fire” with Lloyd Schofield’s attempt to ban circumcision in San Francisco this year — a ban he supports in principle.
“I can’t oppose legislation against this because I think it’s a travesty that so many kids are being harmed on a regular basis with the complicity of the medical establishment,” said Mr. Ungar-Sargon, who is himself circumcised but says he does not blame his parents for partaking in what he calls a form of “social violence.”
Actor Mario Lopez last fall became an accidental champion of the intactivist cause when, on his reality show about becoming a father, he said he would not circumcise his child if he happened to have a boy.
“I don’t think God makes mistakes, and it’s not an optional part,” the intact Catholic star later said on the Wendy Williams show. Plus, he said, he would want his son to “be like” him.
Mr. Goldstein, Bram’s father, scoffed at the suggestion put forth by some intactivists that Jewish fathers selfishly want their son to have the ‘same equipment’ as them, and said neither he nor his wife ever questioned whether or not little Bram would have a bris.
The bris, also known as a brit milah, was on July 4, eight days after Bram’s birth on June 27. They, like many Jews, chose a physician-trained mohel to do the circumcision. Dr. Steven Adashek had come highly recommended in the Baltimore community for his personality and demeanour. It was an added bonus that the doctor used a local anesthetic, they said.
Bram did not cry and the procedure took 40 seconds. But for other babies, whose circumcision is performed by a rabbi mohel, the base of the foreskin is not frozen.
Dr. Adashek has done upward of 5,000 circumcisions, 1,500 of which were performed on Jewish babies at a bris. The rest of the circumcisions were done on Jews and non-Jews alike in the hospital.
“I am often asked whether I circumcised my two boys, and what I say is, ‘I have many chances to scar my children as they age, so I’ll pass on this one and appoint an agent,’ “ he said of his two sons, now 19 and 22.
He explained that a circumcision alone, in the absence of a brit milah ceremony, does not fulfill the religious requirements of Mitzvah 612. That poses a problem for a circumcised man looking to convert or for a circumcised man planning to marry into an orthodox family.
And so mohels like Dr. Adashek perform what is called a hatafat dam brit — a covenant ceremony where a small 30-gauge needle is used to make a mark on the remnants of the old foreskin. Just three months ago, Dr. Adashek performed a hatafat dam brit on a 79-year-old man who is in the process of converting so he can someday join his daughter in the Jewish cemetery, where she was buried after she herself converted.
Ms. Wald, for her part, said the decision of whether or not to circumcise should be left with men themselves. She said it should not be up to the parent to prescribe a procedure that, she believes, would have diminished her son’s sexual sensitivity.
“I want my son to have a fully functioning penis,” she said. “If he ever decides that — for whatever reason — he wants to be circumcised, then that will be his choice.”