Judaism: Report

Enemies or Allies?


I: The Changing Climate of Jewish Opinion

II: Insult & Injury

Policing Christian religious belief

Silencing Christian prayer

Silencing Christian political activity

Defaming Christianity

III: Understanding anti-Christian Enmity

American versus European Christianity

The evolution of Christianity

Evangelizing the Jews

Judaism and liberalism

IV: Anti-Christian Animosity: Is it Smart?

V: Anti-Christian Animosity: Is it Jewish?

Mind-reading: a Jewish value?

The meaning of Jewish friendship

Modesty and honor

Christianity through Jewish eyes

VI: What Is to Be Done?






Modern Problems, Ancient Solutions: No. 4 in a Series of Pamphlets




Enemies or Allies?

Why American Jews Should Learn To Stop Worrying And Love Conservative Christians




David Klinghoffer

Toward Tradition

(a Jewish organization that promotes cooperation between Jews and conservative Christians)






I: The Changing Climate of Jewish Opinion


American Jews seem lately to have learned a hard but important lesson. Or at least they seem to have begun to learn it. In the recent crisis that erupted in Israel and spread to Europe—terror bombings, the incursion into the West Bank, worldwide condemnation of the Jewish State for defending itself, anti-Semitic attacks in France and elsewhere—the Jews of the United States woke up to the blessing of political friendship with America’s conservative Christians.


In the spring of 2002 it seemed the entire world was against Israel—all the world except for America. Even in America itself Israel had enemies, including academics, liberal journalists, and left-wing ethnic activists. These men and women could detect no moral difference between suicide bombers who murder Jewish civilians, on one hand, and Israeli troops on the other, who in the hope of protecting civilians root out potential suicide bombers and those who arm them. America’s Jews, who by habit have overwhelmingly identified themselves as secular liberal Democrats, could not help noticing that their customary ideological partners seemed coldly disposed to Israel in its fight for life. They also could not help noticing that other Americans whom the Jews were accustomed to thinking of as antagonists—conservatives, especially conservative Christians—were calling passionately for President Bush to stand by Israel and to allow the Jewish State to defend itself.


The paradox was nothing new. For ten years Toward Tradition has been calling on the Jewish community in this country to embrace Christians, despite theological differences, as moral allies. For even longer, Christians have stood ready to join with Jews to restore the moral culture in this beloved land. It was only the Jewish community that stood aloof. Now it seems that Jewish opinion is beginning to shift.


In this pamphlet we will argue that this shift, now that it has begun, must be encouraged to proceed, to widen and deepen. We will argue that a certain Jewish hostility to conservative Christians, which we will document, is neither particularly smart as a survival strategy in a non-Jewish country, nor is it an authentically Jewish response to Christian fellow citizens. Along the way, we hope to explain where this tendency of Jews to bristle at Christians in public life actually comes from. And finally we intend to show why it is in the interest of Jews and Christians to think of themselves as civic partners in the great project of renewing American civilization.


Let’s start by substantiating our initial claim that the climate of Jewish opinion has indeed begun to change in the manner Toward Tradition has advocated. A tentative, delicate, yet unmistakable warm front is advancing from the Jewish community toward its Christian neighbors.


Media reports about this development have been increasingly noticeable and surprisingly positive. The New York Times ran a front-page story touting the ideological partnership of Evangelical Christian Gary Bauer, a former Presidential candidate, and Jewish conservative William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, the two men united by a common passion for securing the safety of Israel. And Bauer wasn’t alone. Other conservatives joined him in pressing Israel’s case: Rush Limbaugh and the editorial staff of the Wall Street Journal, conservative journals like National Review, conservative representatives and senators without major Jewish constituencies, but with major conservative Christian constituencies, like Reps. Tom DeLay and Dick Armey, both of Texas, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Sen. Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas, and Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri before he became Attorney General. DeLay, for instance, has denounced the Palestinian Authority as “a holding company for terrorist sympathizers” and called for giving Israel $27 billion in additional aid to help fight its battle against terrorism. The Times headline admitted—and for the New York Times it was a kind of admission— “Israel Winning Broad Support from U.S. Right.”1 The key word there is “broad.” Remember, these aren’t Jewish neoconservatives we are talking about. Gentile conservative journalists—like the Irish Catholics Michael Kelly or Sean Hannity—can’t be charged with favoring Israel out of ethnic loyalty.


Another Times story the very next day chronicled some of the changing attitudes among American Jews shocked by worldwide antipathy to Israel. It quoted a 34-year-old Jewish lawyer in Chicago, Max Rovner, who said he’s rethinking his Democratic loyalties: “ ‘I had never felt any connection whatsoever to the Christian Right, but here they are, staunchly, 100 percent behind Israel,’ Mr. Rovner said, echoing comments heard across the country. ‘Alan Keyes, the folks on Fox News Channel, Newt Gingrich—I disagree with all of these people constantly. I’m not going to become a conservative because of this, but I have more regard for the lonely fight these guys fight.’ ”2


On the Fox News Channel web site, two days later, a story went a step further, asserting that “Jewish Voters Gravitating Toward the GOP.” Such a voter, Bennett Zimmerman, was quoted as saying, “The Republican leadership has been standing up for Israel. The Christian Coalition, which is part of the Republican Party, stands up constantly for Israel. I think it’s a matter of saying that on many key issues I agree with them.”3


In the Jerusalem Post, columnist Jonathan Rosenblum has predicted “a reorientation of traditional thought patterns for American Jews,” who he feels may soon realize in what strange company they find themselves as loyal Democrats. While Jews support Democratic presidential candidates by majorities in the neighborhood of 80 per cent, Republicans are much more sympathetic to Israel. When polled by Gallup, two-thirds of Republican voters indicate that they favor the cause of the Jewish state, while Democrats favor that of the Palestinians by 54 percent. Among Americans who call themselves conservatives, 59 percent favor Israel, compared to 59 percent of liberals who feel more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.4 This dawning realization could result in a loosening of the powerful, quasi-tribal association of Jews and Democrats. As Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations told the Washington Post, thanks to the present Republican administration’s support of Israel, “President Bush has certainly gained greatly with the Jewish community across the board….He is someone who understands what Israel is up against.”5


While sympathy for Israel is widespread among conservative Republicans, politically and theologically conservative Christians have been most consistent and passionate of all. The Christian Coalition is far from the only such organization to be seen vigorously defending Israel’s right to exist in safety. At an April 15 rally for Israel on Capitol Hill, Jews were joined by Christian Zionists from groups like International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) and Christians for Israel. As the Evangelical magazine Christianity Today has noted, “The real story in the last 20 years is the founding of scores of small, grassroots, pro-Israel organizations that rarely get into the headlines. They exist to educate and mobilize their local Evangelical community to support Israel in the current crisis.” These groups include Bridges for Peace, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, whose “Project Ezra” supplies new immigrants to Israel with food, home and kitchen wares, and school supplies; and Christian Friends for Israeli Communities, in Colorado Springs, which seeks to offer “solidarity, comfort, and aid” to Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. For these organizations, most located in the middle and Southern regions of the country (Arkansas, Atlanta, Houston), the ICEJ serves as an umbrella group, regularly attracting 1,500 ardent supporters to “International Christian Zionist Congresses.” At the 1998 conference of the group Voices United for Israel, Israel’s then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared of the primarily Evangelical audience, 3000 persons in a Washington, D.C., hotel ballroom, “We have no greater friends and allies than the people sitting in this room.”6


We’ll return later to a detailed review of the motivations of these pro-Zionist Christian groups. For now it is enough to pause and observe that their philo-Semitism goes beyond supporting Israel: many actively want to learn from Judaism the meaning of their own faith. Organizations have been multiplying that seek to inspire Christians to return to their Judaic roots; these groups include the Restoration Foundation in Atlanta, advocating “the restoration of all believers to their rightful heritage in the Judaism of the 1st-century church”; Hebrew Ministries in Houston, which proposes that Christians observe the Sabbath on Saturday as Jews do; and First Fruits of Zion Ministries, in Jerusalem but with an American following, which likewise advocates Saturday Sabbath-observance as well as observance of the laws of kosher food preparation. Here in western Washington State, Christians gather each year at Ocean Shores, a resort city on the Pacific Coast, to observe the festival of Sukkot, complete with dwelling in temporary booths or “sukkot” and waving palm branches and citrus fruits as per Jewish tradition. Jews who hear of such goings-on may at first suspect an attempt to lure religiously uneducated Jews to embrace a version of Christianity concealed behind Jewish decorations—a shamefully dishonest tactic pioneered by “Jews for Jesus.” But the folks at Ocean Shores don’t mean to convert any Jews: there are no Jews in Ocean Shores. (As Toward Tradition’s Rabbi Daniel Lapin has quipped, “I’m less concerned about Christians who perform mitzvot [commandments] like wearing a prayer shawl and praying to God than I am about Jews who don’t.”) Indeed some philo-Semitic Christian groups have pointedly disavowed proselytism: Ted Beckett of Christian Friends of Israeli Communities has a policy of expelling from his group any church that seeks to convert Jews.


So it goes. We are aware of no comprehensive study of this phenomenon, but the anecdotal evidence is striking. The mohel, or ritual circumciser, in a large Midwestern city reports that a great proportion of his business comes from Christians, who want their sons not only to be medically circumcised but to have the mark of Abraham, the brit milah, on them. The Wall Street Journal notes a Passover Seder celebration, combined with a rally for Israel, attended by 1,200 Christians in Huntsville, Alabama.7 When one Toward Tradition staffer told an investment adviser at his bank in a Seattle suburb that he was researching a biography of Abraham, using Jewish traditional sources, the investment adviser said, “Oh, you mean the Oral Tradition.” Explaining that the pastor of his nondenominational church had been lecturing about the Oral Torah, he eagerly pressed for details of what could be learned from this esoteric source. A scruffy young man sent to install cable TV in the same TT staffer’s home volunteered that he had been learning Hebrew in his Christian prayer group. “Shalom!” he said before departing.




II: Insult & Injury


We have said that some Jews are starting to awaken to the blessing of having Christian allies. Will this awakening persist? There is reason to be concerned. As we shall see, hostility to Christianity runs deep in the world of the major Jewish organizations. Before seeking an explanation for this hostility, we need first to document it. This bristling enmity is expressed in many different ways, but for simplicity’s sake we can break down these expressions into four categories: 1) policing Christian religious belief; 2) silencing Christian prayer; 3) silencing Christian political activity; and 4) defaming the role of Christianity in history.


Policing Christian religious belief


This is the most serious offense of the Jewish organizations. In the Middle Ages, Christian censors compelled Jewish communities to edit their holy books—the Talmud, the Siddur (prayer book)—removing passages considered objectionable by the Church. In our day, the roles are reversed: Jewish leaders threaten Christians with the charge of anti-Semitism, and the public humiliation that follows from being tarred in this way, if the latter refuse to edit their own beliefs to suit Jewish sensibilities. In recent years, groups like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Simon Wiesenthal Center have been aggressive policeman. Thus, for instance, cartoonist Johnny Hart was denounced for his syndicated B.C. comic strip of Easter 2001 which suggested—by a symbolic transformation of a menorah into a cross—that Christianity has replaced Judaism as God’s main vehicle in the world, a theological position that Jews will of course disagree with, but one that is fairly standard in Christian theology. Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center connected this “slander” to “blood libels, pogroms, and … the Holocaust.”8 In other words, simply holding a basic Christian belief is tantamount to condoning genocide.


The ADL, meanwhile, has savaged Rev. Jerry Falwell for asserting that the anti-Christ will be a Jew; denounced New York Knicks players Charlie Ward and Allan Houston for repeating the New Testament’s assertion that the Jews killed Jesus; smeared conservative activist Paul Weyrich for saying “Christ was crucified by the Jews”; and attacked TV personality Kathie Lee Gifford for suggesting the same thing. The idea that Jesus was crucified at the behest of the Jewish community or its leaders of his time is particularly offensive to antidefamation groups. (Though it should be noted that no less an authority than the great 12th-century sage Maimonides, in his “Letter to Yemen,” frankly acknowledges that the Christian Bible’s account on this point is not far from the truth.) When Texas governor George W. Bush let slip in an interview his thought that only believers in Jesus go to Heaven, while everyone else goes to Hell—a familiar Christian principle—he was leapt upon by the ADL, whose national director, Abraham Foxman, later accepted Bush’s apology and reformulation of his belief. As we shall see later, in other instances as well Mr. Foxman has functioned as unoffi cial chief representative of the Jewish community, a Jewish Pope, accepting or denying requests for forgiveness from Christians wishing to repent of their offensive beliefs.


On various occasions, Jewish organizations have sought to regulate the Catholic Church in its choice of candidates for sainthood, brandishing the charge of insensitivity if the church fails to heed what is presented, by implication, as the will of American Jewry. Once again the ADL and Simon Wiesenthal Center have led the way, opposing the beatification of Pope Pius IX (due to his actions in the mid 19th-century Edgardo Mortara affair, in which an Italian Jewish boy was abducted and raised as a Catholic), the canonization of Edith Stein (a Jew who converted to Catholicism and died at Auschwitz—“a step toward Christianizing the Holocaust,” an “unnecessary problem,” said Mr. Foxman9), and the beatification of World War II-era Slovak bishop Msg. Jan Vojtassak (an “avowed anti-Semite,” according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center10). We don’t mean to imply that any of these people is worthy of sainthood or beatification or canonization or anything else—merely to suggest that whether Catholics choose to honor them is the business of that church, not of American Jews, unless Jews are prepared to give the Catholic Church a say in whom Jews regard as tzadikim (outstandingly righteous individuals). Imagine Catholic censors paging through the Talmud to make certain that none of the great sainted rabbinic sages ever said anything objectionable to non-Jews. Common sense would suggest this isn’t a door which it is in the interest of the Jewish community to throw open.


The Christian belief that most disturbs Jewish groups, however, is the belief in proselytizing Jews. Evangelical Christians are not called “Evangelical” for nothing: persuading others to accept Jesus is at the heart of their faith. Their motivation is one of love: they love their faith and wish to share it with others, to “save” non- Christians from what any sincere Christian must regard as a lamentable alienation from God. It is true that among many Catholics and Protestants, winning over a Jew to the Christian faith is regarded as an achievement worthy of special celebration—more so than winning over a member of any other ethnic group. After all—let us be frank—the fact that the Jews in Jesus’ time did not for the most part accept the principle Christian claim—that the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus—has troubled Christian minds down through the centuries. When a Jew today can be persuaded to become a Christian, this seems to validate the Christian message in a very special way. Hence the attentions paid by the Southern Baptist Convention to winning Jewish converts by hiring one missionary with this assignment (in 1996) or by conducting a campaign of prayer (as in 1999). But while any believing Jew would have to regard the conversion of a Jew to Christianity as an occasion of sadness and as a loss to the Jewish people, the fact is that we live in an open society with a free market in ideas. The openness of American society is one reason that Jews have prospered here. It seems only fair that if Christians seek to share their faith with Jews, providing this is done without coercion or deception, Jews should respond by strengthening their own faith, rather than by accusing and complaining.


Yet in dealing with Christian proselytism, accusation and complaint are precisely the avenues that some Jewish leaders have favored. Once again seeking to police Christian religious belief, the ADL decries Christian evangelical efforts as an “insult to the Jewish people,” cites the Holocaust as forming the “backdrop” to such “intolerance,” and pronounces itself “offended and outraged.”11 The Holocaust, it sometimes seems, is the “backdrop” to much that Christians do and say.


On a light note, we at Toward Tradition observed the controversy last year surrounding the Holy Land Experience religious theme park in Orlando, Florida, where a Jew-turned-Christian minister was using replicas of Biblical locations (the Jerusalem Temple, Jesus’ tomb) to evangelize gentiles and Jews alike. Notwithstanding that the park’s customers are mainly non-Jews and that Christian symbols are prominent (Jesus’ tomb), Rabbi Merrill Shapiro complained to CNN that it was all there “to entice Jews to make them think this is a Jewish park.”12 In fact there was no deception at the Holy Land Experience theme park, but only a very effective marketing ploy. The rabbi’s real objection was to evangelism that might interest Jews.


Silencing Christian prayer


Thus Christians are expected to apologize for upholding their beliefs—not, it would seem, a wise precedent for the Jewish community to set, given the terrible experiences Jews have had when their own faith has been policed by others. Sometimes it seems the Jewish organizations are willing to grant Christians the right of believing whatever they wish—so long as that belief is never voiced in public. We are not talking about evangelism here, but merely about articulating one’s faith when other people are within earshot—about prayer, for example. There was some Jewish grassroots discontent when the Inauguration of President George W. Bush included references to “Jesus the Christ” and “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”—but the major organizations generally held their fire, realizing that such invocations have been a feature of Presidential Inaugurations since the founding of the country. (Abraham Foxman sighed and regretted “We would have liked it to be a bit more inclusive. But on the other hand, the new President is entitled to have his moment of personal faith.”13)


The American Jewish Congress (AJC) has been perhaps the leading group seeking to keep all expressions of Christianity out of public life—to keep government religion-free, as dictated by a doctrinaire secularist rendering of what the Constitution requires. Thus in 2000 the AJC denounced South Dakota governor William Janklow for recommending to South Dakotans a “Day of Prayer for Revival, for the people of our great state to be reconciled to the Lord Jesus”—much as the AJC had slammed Governor George W. Bush the same year for declaring a “Jesus Day” (June 10) in Texas.14


The AJC’s hostility to Christian prayer in public settings was evidenced this year in a curious juxtaposition of four press releases issued in one week. Two called upon or otherwise celebrated Christian support for Israel. Two cast publicly expressed Christian faith as the enemy.


Of the former two press releases, one lauded President Bush for telling the Saudi Crown Prince “We will not allow Israel to be crushed.”15 It is of course not irrelevant to Mr. Bush’s support of Israel that he is an Evangelical Christian. The second release called on Christians to be grateful that Israel, and not the Palestinians, has control over the Christian holy sites. Of the other two statements, one savaged an Iowa school board for “open, bald, and intolerable defiance” of the Constitution. The school board’s crime? Allowing the Lord’s Prayer, a Christian prayer, to be sung at a high-school commencement.16 Another press release arrogantly “demanded” the immediate cancellation of a federally funded teacher-training program at the University of Notre Dame, whose graduates may—horrible thought!—go on to teach in Catholic schools.17


Here, then, was the AJC’s strategy: to court Christian support of Israel, while treating Christianity itself as a threat. In other words, love us, while we insult you. This does not seem a prudent approach to dealing with one’s fellow Americans. We don’t underestimate the AJC’s commitment to the Constitution—or anyway its commitment to a certain way of understanding the Constitution. However at a time of crisis, for the sake of this secular purism, is the American Jewish community truly ready to pay the price of offending, possibly alienating the best friends Israel has?


Silencing Christian political activity


This effort has, very sadly, been quite successful. On June 9, 1994, the ADL released its report The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance & Pluralism in America. Relying heavily on guilt-by-association, this was a sloppy attempt to paint politically conservative Christians as anti-Semitic authoritarians, using quotes from marginal cranks to besmirch mainstream Christian leaders, implying that figures like Rev. Pat Robertson are in league with neo-Nazis like David Duke. Fair-minded Jewish commentators rebuked the ADL at the time, calling the report “unjust” (William Kristol), “McCarthyite” (Marshall Wittmann), and generally “despicable” (Elliott Abrams). In an ad on the op-ed page of the New York Times, Toward Tradition pointed out that the report was politically motivated: “Insofar as the objections to the religious Right are honestly presented in the ADL report, they are mainly political ones: Christian conservatives advocate positions that run counter to many people’s beliefs about such issues as abortion, school prayer, homosexual rights, and the meaning of the First Amendment.” In other words, the ADL was using the false charge of “intolerance” to fight organizations whose political views it opposed—a cynical strategy. This, Toward Tradition explained, was part of a larger impulse on the part of the major Jewish organizations to portray Judaism itself as “coextensive with liberalism”—a breathtaking distortion of Jewish tradition. Most destructive of all was the insult that had been delivered to those many Christians who were passionate supporters of Israel at a difficult time in the Middle East. (What time has not been difficult for Israel?) The ingratitude and recklessness were astonishing. While various of the report’s factual assertions were refuted, obliging the ADL to apologize and recant on discrete points, the organization never apologized for the document as a whole. On the contrary, National Director Abraham Foxman continued to back the report as “accurate and fair.”18


The strategy—one of intimidation through fear of having one’s reputation defamed—has worked well for the Anti-Defamation League. Christian political activists have been intimidated. Of course there are other factors at work, but the Christian Coalition—a powerful grassroots organization in the early 1990s—has since assumed a much lower profile. Many Christian pastors have become reluctant to engage with public policy issues and have infl uenced their congregations to turn inward, instead of struggling to confront the power of political secularism which they once regarded as a threat to America’s future.


Because Christian leaders have been so effectively quieted, the anti-defamation groups have been less active in this area in recent years. Still, whenever a pastor is found to have voiced an objectionable opinion in a political context, however indirectly, even in private, even if the comment was uttered decades earlier, the Jewish organizations still go into immediate attack mode, reminding Christians of the power that groups like the ADL still wield to silence those who offend them. A recent episode involving the Rev. Billy Graham is a case in point. Graham has been a generally apolitical person, despite his friendship with most of the recent American Presidents, including the current President Bush. He has also been a remarkably strong friend of Israel and of the Jewish people. Yet when it was found, thirty years after the fact, that in 1972 he uttered some distasteful sentences in the office of President Richard Nixon, to the effect that Jewish media power had a dangerous “stranglehold” on American culture and politics, the punishment came swift and vicious. After the ADL denounced the “chilling and frightening” sentiments and the Wiesenthal Center invoked the Holocaust, Graham apologized, simply and sincerely. But the ADL’s Mr. Foxman rejected the apology, which he rudely called “mealy mouthed.” The 83-year-old Graham, in fragile health and now reduced to groveling, amplified and expanded upon his words of repentance. At last satisfied, Mr. Foxman “accepted” the new apology, once again acting as unofficial representative of all American Jews.19


There is a Yiddish word that captures the attitude of so many Jewish leaders in dealing with their Christian counterparts: it is startling chutzpah.


Defaming Christianity


A recurring theme among some self-appointed Jewish spokesmen has been the alleged responsibility of the Christian religion for the death of millions of Jews in the Holocaust. Never mind that the leading Nazis were devoted opponents of Christianity, none more so than Hitler himself. This view insists that because the Catholic Church has a long history of penalizing Jewish religious expression and of tolerating the murder of Jews for practicing their faith, it follows that in orchestrating the world’s most egregious act of genocide, the anti-Christians in the Nazi leadership were acting from deeply programmed Christian-inspired impulses. Historian Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, author of Hitler’s Willing Executioners, has sought to blame all anti-Jewish violence on Christianity, writing (erroneously) that “the mass-murdering of Jews began in 414 [C.E.], when the people of newly Christianized Roman Alexandria [in Egypt] annihilated the city’s Jewish community.”20 In fact, a murderous anti-Semitic pogrom had been perpetrated in Alexandria in 66 A.D., killing 50,000 Jews, when the city was still pagan.21 But, again, never mind the reality that anti-Semitism predates the spread of Christianity, as accounts of anti-Jewish furies in the ancient Near East, found in the Hebrew Bible, also amply attest.


A most unfortunate expression of this anti-Christian grudge—what else can one call it?—received attention in 1998. Six infl uential American Jews asked the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., to consider discontinuing a film that was being shown as an introduction to the museum. Entitled Anti-Semitism and using quotes from Hitler and Martin Luther, the film blamed the Holocaust on Christianity. The six Jews, including Toward Tradition Board member Michael Medved, pointed out that the film’s thesis isn’t historically tenable. Their earnest concern not to needlessly alienate Christians who visit the museum was greeted with hooting derision by the literary editor of The New Republic. In a widely read attack, Leon Wieseltier said “these conservatives,” these “fools,” had uttered a view that was “ignorant and indecent.” He seethed with anger at the “Christian churches, in Germany and elsewhere.”22 Concerning Wieseltier, the Catholic journalist and theologian Richard John Neuhaus has written that he is among “those…who make no secret of their contempt for Christianity.”23 Whatever Wieseltier’s true attitude may be (one can’t always confidently say from the writing of a highly polemical author), the whole affair—from the film to the New Republic editor’s reaction to the protest against the film—sent a most unfortunate message to Christians: that some Jews do indeed look on that religion with unconcealed hostility.


So too has the building indignation directed at the Catholic Church for its refusal to expose and repudiate a pope, Pius XII, who held that office during the Holocaust and may or may not have looked on that event with egregious unconcern. About Pius, the historical record is unclear. Several books have been published in recent years damning his failure to help save Jews and attributing the failure to anti-Semitism. On the other hand, a reputable Jewish historian, Rabbi David Dalin, has exonerated Pius, calling him nothing less than, “genuinely and profoundly, a righteous gentile.”24 The question of Pius and his deeds is one that can safely be left to the professors to debate. What should worry us, again, is the way this historical question has been used by a few Jewish polemicists to bludgeon the current Catholic Church—a church which, as we’ll see in a moment, has lately done much to foster an appreciation among its fol- lowers for Jews and Judaism. Once more, our attention is drawn to The New Republic, whose editorial staff at the top level is about half Jewish, including the literary editor and the editor-in-chief. When a magazine like that runs a 25-page cover story attacking Pius as well as the Church, which “still has anti-Semitic elements embedded in its doctrine and theology,” under the snide headline “What Would Jesus Have Done?,” as TNR did in January 2002, one can only say that the implications for Jewish-Catholic relations should have been more carefully considered than they were.25 Noting various instances of sloppiness and inaccuracy in the article, one scholarly Goldhagen critic speculates on the intentions of The New Republic’s editors, who he reasons must have been so “anxious to vilify Catholics, their Church, and Pope Pius XII” as to neglect their editorial responsibilities and fail to quality-check Goldhagen’s work.26 Is it truly in Jewish interests to be seen relentlessly attacking a beloved figure of this church when, whatever he may have done right or wrong, the dead are long dead and nothing anyone might say about Pius is either going to bring them back or save any future Jewish lives? On the contrary, it would seem that, for a tiny minority like the Jewish people, retaining the friendship of the Catholic Church is a concern that should trump that of any basically academic controversy.




III: Understanding anti-Christian Enmity


Since its founding, Toward Tradition has sought to point out to the American Jewish community those occasions when Jewish leaders and organizations have treated the American Christian community with inappropriate hostility. We have spoken in many public forums, taken out newspaper ads, published magazines and pamphlets, authored articles in other publications, and issued press releases. Our statements have elicited various reactions, but one of the most consistent has been an anguished question from Christians. They want to know, given the warmth and support they have offered to Jewish fellow citizens and to the State of Israel, why the organized Jewish community responds with hostility?


We need to understand some of the gaps in awareness that explain this seemingly irrational anger among American Jews toward Christians. It arises from five misapprehensions, as follows.


American versus European Christianity


Obviously, the chief reason that Jews have regarded Christian institutions with apprehensiveness is the history of anti-Jewish persecutions that, over the centuries, were either initiated or tolerated by the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. Indeed, the historical experience of the Jewish people is so spattered with blood, littered with grotesque anti-Semitic libels, weighted down by memories of organized humiliation and forced conversions, that sensitive American Christians have understood why Jewish attitudes have seemed colored by fear. Yet some important distinctions need to be made which, in the American Jewish community, including in its scholarly division, are sometimes overlooked.


A recent opinion piece in the New York Times, by Brown University anthropologist David I. Kertzer, will illustrate. Professor Kertzer wrote bitterly of the recent explosion of Arab anti-Semitism and traced its origins to “the historical role of Christianity in promulgating such hatred.” Pointing to the infamous “blood libel” (charge of Jewish ritual murder) and the so-called “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” (alleging a Jewish plot of world conquest), anti-Semitic staples once promoted by Catholic priests in France and Italy and even by the Vatican itself and now embraced by the Arabs, he concluded that “what is going on in the Muslim world today has its roots in the Christian past.”27


Such blanket references to “the historical role of Christianity” and to “the Christian past” are unacceptably sweeping. Though this is forgotten, there is no such homogenous entity as “Christianity.” The first distinction that needs to be made is between Protestantism, on one hand, and Catholicism and Orthodoxy on the other. While the originator of Protestantism, Martin Luther, became a fiery anti-Semite when Jews, who he expected to rally to him, proved uninterested in his teaching, Protestantism as a cultural force in Europe has overall been a force for tolerance. There is no record of pogroms in Protestant countries. It’s true that Germany’s north is largely Protestant, and Germany gave the world Nazism. But Nazism, as we’ve already noted, was itself viciously anti-Christian.


America, of course, is one of the historically Protestant Anglophone countries in which Jews have prospered as nowhere else. This leads us to our second, still more crucial distinction, that between American Christianity and Christianity in Europe. Kertzer gestures to Henry Ford and Father Charles Coughlin, two American anti-Semites, as evidence that “Christian America” shares the blame for promoting Jew-hatred. But Ford and Coughlin are not representative Americans. On the contrary, in this blessed land, the most enthusiastically Christian in the world today, Jews have been tolerated, protected, indeed coddled as in no other place ever in the history of the Diaspora. While one can point to limited patterns of discrimination—Jews excluded from certain upscale law firms and accepted only in limited numbers at some Ivy League colleges, patterns that fall short of breaking one’s heart and that are long discarded— America is the Garden of Eden for Jews compared to any country you can think of, including the modern Jewish State. To be a Jew here, at whatever moment in American history you consider, from 1776 onward, has been safer and more comfortable than to be a Jew in the State of Israel at any moment in that country’s history from 1948 to today. The foremost rabbinic sage of our time, Rav Moshe Feinstein, called the United States “malchut shel chesed,” the “Kingdom of Kindness.” Insofar as America’s strong Christian culture has contributed to this wondrous regime of tolerance and generosity, American Christianity is simply not to be associated with the European version. To run the two together is a gross historical error, and a most ungracious insult to American Christians.


The evolution of Christianity


The Jewish community holds fast to memories of painful interactions with Christian neighbors, memories hark-   ing back to Europe decades, even centuries ago. But times change. The perception that some Christians still think of Jews as “Christ killers” or of Judaism as a hidebound, dead religion has contributed to Jewish animosity. In reality Protestant and Catholic attitudes have evolved dramatically.


We have already discussed the extraordinary philo- Semitism of Evangelical Protestantism as it has unfolded in America. It would seem there is something about the soul of our country that has produced this remarkable circumstance of a kind of Christianity that, in many of its quarters, looks on Jews and Judaism with passionate unconcealed admiration.


It has also been argued that there is something inherent in the idea of Protestantism itself that has led Fundamentalist Christians in the direction of increasing philo-Semitism.28 None other than Martin Luther planted the seed of this evolution. He created a religious system that, unlike Catholicism, insisted on “soul competency”—that is, the ability of any believer, however modest in his learning, to pick up the Bible, read it through, and understand its meaning. This is in sharp contrast with the Roman Catholic assumption (shared by Judaism) that the Bible is cryptic in many ways and requires the assistance of an interpretive tradition to understand what it is really getting at.


When Protestants began to look at the Bible without the infl uence of the Catholic Church and its traditions in the foreground, they needed to grapple anew with a challenge the Catholic Church has already dealt with. The Christian religion is based on a book comprising two parts, the Bible’s Old and New Testaments. In great detail, the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible sets up a faith for the Jews consisting of truths conveyed in laws, laws which have a spiritual meaning but also a literal application. The New Testament or Greek Bible presents a belief structure that carries forward many themes from the earlier book but that in other ways creates a tension with Hebrew Scripture. Above all, the status of Jewish law is exalted in the Old but restricted to a metaphoric function in the New Testament.


There are three ways to deal with this tension between   Old and New. Option One, advocated historically by the Catholic Church, regards the New Testament as modifying the apparent meaning of the Old, which assumes an inferior role, as do the people of the Old Testament, the Jews. Option Two regards Old and New as separate but equal: parallel covenants respectively for the Jews and the Gentiles. A Third Option, halfway between One and Two, also sees the Old and New Testaments as equally true and valid, with the proviso that the New Testament reveals that Jews, to be saved, must accept the divinity of Jesus. It is this Third Option, an earnest attempt to uphold the entire Bible as Truth, that has become the standard approach of American Fundamentalism.


How American Christianity became philo-Semitic is, then, easy to see. In its inception, Protestantism was, like Luther himself, affected by the culture of anti- Semitic European Catholicism. As it developed as a separate faith, however, it freed itself of old prejudices, and the seed that Luther planted grew and fl ourished. Protestants read their Bibles without the shaded glasses of Catholic tradition to disturb their vision. They perceived that, far from a degraded people, the Jews were in fact God’s most favored nation and always would be so, as the plain text of the Bible clearly describes them.


Thus, in North America, where Puritans established their commonwealth as an experiment in radical Protestantism, there arose a culture of philo-Semitism. America has seen in its own history a replaying of the sacred history of the people Israel. This was evident even before the country was founded. Just as Israel fl ed from Egypt to establish a godly society in Canaan, the first Americans fl ed from England to establish a godly society in Massachusetts. Both groups were called “separatists”—as the word “Hebrews,” “Ivrim,” can fairly be translated. When they celebrated Thanksgiving for the first time, in 1621, the Pilgrims imagined it as a kind of Yom Kippur, a day of repentance, prayer, and fasting. The legal codes of colonial Massachusetts and Connecticut were based explicitly on the legal framework of the Five Books of Moses. Sir William Bradford, second governor of the Plymouth colony, observing that   Hebrew was the Lord’s own language, introduced his History of the Plymouth Plantation with passages in Hebrew. Early American preachers, Cotton Mather (1663-1728) and Increase Mather (1639-1723), were students of Hebrew and used it in their writings, citing learned Jewish sources including the Talmud and Midrash, Rashi and Maimonides. Benjamin Franklin recommended as the seal of the United States a portrait of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea with the motto “Rebellion to Tyrants Is Obedience to God.” The Liberty Bell at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall is inscribed with a quotation from Leviticus, “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof ” (25:10). American towns were often named for Old Testament localities: Bethel, Goshen, Pisgah, Hebron, Jericho, Salem, Zion. In the 18th century, several Yale graduations featured an oration in Hebrew, and the seals of three early American colleges—Yale, Columbia, and Dartmouth—included Hebrew mottos or other allusions. In 1759, the first president of King’s College (later Columbia), Samuel Johnson, recommended Hebrew as “a gentleman’s accomplishment… as soon as a lad has learned to speak and read English well, it is much the best to begin a learned education with Hebrew, the mother of all languages.”29


American Christian Zionism is, too, a lot older than today’s Christian Coalition. In the 18th century, the great preacher and revivalist Jonathan Edward declared that God, true to His word, would return the Jews to the Land of Israel.30 From theory to practice, by 1891 the evangelist William Blackstone was seeking a way to persuade the American government to make such a state a reality. In this sense, Christian Zionism precedes the Jewish version: the date of the first Zionist Congress, led by Theodore Herzl in Switzerland, was six years later, in 1897. Evangelicals greeted the 1917 Balfour Declaration with delight. Mainline Christians of the liberal denominations were less cheerful—foreshadowing their unsympathetic reception two decades later of reports from Germany of anti-Jewish persecutions, later developing into genocide, which they tended to dismiss as Jewish propaganda. Once again, Evangelicals took the Jewish side, and received these reports with alarm.31


American Evangelical Christians have, in fact, had little if anything to repent for vis-à-vis Jews. It’s true that, as pious adherents of the plain Biblical text, disinclined to explain away passages that do not square with modern sensibilities, Fundamentalists and Evangelicals still hold that Jesus was rejected and killed by the Jews of his time. Other negative impressions American Jews may have of Evangelical Protestants are the product of historical memories of other times, other places, and other peoples, combined with a simple lack of familiarity that works in both directions. America’s chief Jewish communities have tended to cluster in a handful of large cities where Evangelicals are relatively thin on the ground. Conversely, Evangelicals tend to live in the parts of the country—rural areas, the South—in which Jews are not heavily represented. One might speculate that many of these Christians idealize the Biblical Jew without having a strong grasp of what modern-day Jews are like.


Historically, the Catholic Church has been much less friendly to Jews—but again the reality today is radically different from what too many Jews think it is. One will sometimes hear an older Jewish American recall being taunted in childhood as a “Christ killer” in the roughand- tumble streets of New York or Chicago, where Jews lived side-by-side with ethnic Catholics. In its attitudes toward Jews and Judaism, the Catholic Church has been evolving through the past century. Refl ecting in 1926 on the earlier Catholic reform movement called Modernism, the ex-seminarian Aime Palliere wrote that “all the reforms at present within Christianity are really tending toward Judaism.”32 A bit premature! Yet Palliere was, in a sense, prophetic.


We earlier described Option One for dealing with the tension between the Old and New Testaments: this was to relegate the Hebrew portion of the Bible to an inferior position in relation to the Christian Scriptures, and hence to regard God’s covenant with the Jews as defunct. This was approximately the historical position of the Catholic Church—but the Church has unambiguously abandoned it. Catholics now teach Option Two, in which the Jewish and Christian relationships with God are separate but equally valid—a remarkable departure from traditional doctrine. The 1965 document Nostra Aetate spelled out this new teaching, which has continued to be articulated and allowed to unfold. In 1985, the Vatican clarified its view of those portions of the New Testament that cast Jews in an unpleasant light: they are now to be understood in their historical context, and not accepted at face value. The next year, Pope John Paul II spoke in the Rome Synagogue and intoned his famous words, “You are our dearly beloved brothers and, in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers. … It is not lawful to say that the Jews are repudiated or cursed. … The Jews are beloved of God, who called them with an irrevocable calling.” Jewish professionals involved in Jewish-Catholic dialogue are well aware of these astonishing departures, which have been transformed into everyday curricula in Catholic schools and seminaries. As Rabbi James Rudin, director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee, has said: “Theologically, we’ve resolved everything with the Catholics.”33


This year, the Church took what must be seen as the final step—short of disbanding as a Christian institution: in a document called “The Jewish People and the Holy Scriptures in the Christian Bible,” the Church admitted that the “Jewish messianic wait is not in vain.” In other words, the Roman Catholic Church repudiated the view that in rejecting Jesus, the Jewish people rejected their Messiah—a doctrine at the very heart of the New Testament.34


It goes without saying that neither Catholics nor Evangelical Protestants or any other Christians would today think of asking Jews to alter doctrines at the heart of Judaism. Yet Jews have demanded this from the Catholic Church—and got what they asked for! Seen in this light, some of the anti-Catholic attacks we reviewed earlier seem miserably ungracious, or perhaps just ignorant.


Anticipating Armageddon


Jewish critics of Evangelical Christianity offer the objection that its support of Israel is motivated by end-of-the-world scenarios derived from Biblical interpretations, not by love of the Jewish people. These Christians merely want to see the Jews back in Israel, it’s said, so that Armageddon can proceed, as Christ returns to earth and a portion of the Jews convert to Christianity. Thanks for the support, a Jew might say, but, actually … no thanks.


In his important 1997 book Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in a Christian America, Elliott Abrams addressed this suspicion, which one often hears. First of all, whatever Christian motivations, it is in the interest of Jews and Israelis to nurture Evangelical Zionism. American Christians are vigorous tourists, visiting the Holy Land in huge numbers—about a quarter million yearly. More American Christians travel to Israel each year than do American Jews! Israel can use the money. Abrams makes two additional, intuitively obvious points. If it’s all right for Jews to support Israel out of religious motivations, why is not all right for Christians to do so? And isn’t it actually a fine thing that their good will arises from faith in the Bible? That good will should then be highly durable. It would seem so, to be sure, given the insults American Evangelicals have had to endure from American Jews.


But, in any event, we would argue that the importance of the Armageddon scenario as a motivation for Christian support of Israel has been greatly exaggerated. In a valuable 1998 article in Christianity Today, Professor Timothy Weber wrote a comprehensive scholarly summation of the theological enthusiasm for Israel among American Evangelicals. He traced it to a recondite style of Biblical interpretation called dispensationalism— the details needn’t detain us here—a variation on another system of interpretation called premillennialism. Many other writers—such as academics who read Evangelical literature—have taken the same tack in explaining Christian Zionism. If you stop reading tracts and talk to real live Evangelicals, however, you get a different picture. The Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians we have worked with at Toward Tradition over the years, as colleagues and as supporters who send us letters and emails, do not waste time sitting around imagining the end of the world. Neither do the Christians we have spoken to in the course of regular daily interactions, friends and neighbors, not theologians or writers of tracts. They love Israel and wish to see it defended because of their Scripture-based belief system.


They point to Genesis 12:3, God’s promise to Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.” Anyone who takes the Bible seriously will have a hard time reconciling this verse with any position other than support of Israel and of the Jewish people.


Evangelicals and Fundamentalists feel the plain text alone is enough to give them the Word of God, without intermediary traditions. Read this way, most of the Bible—the Hebrew part—is quite simply the story of a love affair between God and the Jewish people. It is a stormy love affair but one that, when the book is finished and the Gospels commence, has not been extinguished. A straightforward reading of the Bible suggests that God still loves the Jewish people, and Evangelicals have absorbed that love.


There is no reason for Jews to keep refusing to take these Christians at their word. Writing in the Los Angeles Times recently, in a very powerful summary of his own reasons for supporting Israel, Ralph Reed, former leader of the Christian Coalition, commented simply that “there is no greater proof of God’s sovereignty in the world today than the survival of the Jews and the existence of Israel.”35 The American Jewish community should believe Mr. Reed when he says that’s why he is so devotedly pro-Israel. Though, to be accurate, he does mention one more pragmatic reason for wishing to see Jews in control of the Holy Land. Reed notes that before 1967, when Israel gained control of the Old City of Jerusalem along with the West Bank, Christian access to holy sites was limited. Today, Israel has opened all these Biblical places to all who wish to trample their ancient stones. This alone is a good reason to support Israel, and one that Jews should be able to identify with. At Toward Tradition we have been speaking with and exchanging letters with our Christian members for a decade, asking why they continue to support Israel despite the hostility that comes from the Jewish community. Their responses are illuminating. No one talks of Armageddon, though they do speak of the Bible. Clyde Norwood writes to us that “I, an American Christian, support Israel because I believe the Bible teaches that Jews are indeed God’s chosen people.” M.I. Garcia says,


“For my part, as a Christian, my support of Israel stems from my gratitude toward the Jews. You gave us the Law, the prophets, and our Messiah. Our debt to you is unpayable. The very least we can do is support Israel as she defends herself.” Tom Curvin of Atlanta, raised as a Southern Baptist and currently a practicing Catholic, recalls growing up and hearing “again and again from the pulpit and in Sunday School that the Jews are God’s chosen people, and that God promised the Jews a land of their own, in Israel. That belief was never, or almost never, linked to end-times theology in our church. Israel is not simply a means to an end for Christians.” His mother, a “devout Southern Baptist,” is “stunned at the suggestion that Christians like her revere and defend Israel only out of a desire to hasten Armageddon.”


The fact that Christians read the Bible explains a lot. The revival of anti-Semitism in Europe has brought much grief to America’s Jewish community, and to our Christian fellow citizens as well. 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? Why does this Christian nation so overwhelmingly favor Israel, while Europeans regard the Jews there as wretched interlopers on Palestinian? Perhaps the answer is to be found in the Bible—specifi cally 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 great medieval Torah commentator Rashi, drawing on an ancient midrash which seems prophetic, teaches that this is to provide a response to critics who call the Jewish people “thieves” of land. 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 confl ict: 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 Quran. 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 confl ict: that of the Quran, allied with the believers in no God, violently challenging the civilization of the Bible, of Christianity and Judaism. In such a world, it makes little sense for Jews to question Christian motivations for supporting Israel. Let the American Jewish community, instead, be grateful—or, at very least, a bit more gracious.


Evangelizing the Jews


Related to the concern that Evangelicals cheer for Israel only in the hope of witnessing Armageddon is the worry that Christian warmth is all a tool for a dark “agenda”: converting Jews. A wide range of Jews, from the commonsensical Elliott Abrams to the fevered Alan Dershowitz, regard Christian evangelism directed specifi cally at Jews as loathsome and fearsome. Abrams writes, “Every Jew finds such activities deeply offensive and not a little frightening.” Dershowitz has opined that “an explicit campaign is under way, by the Christian Right, to establish Christianity as the official religion of America,” to “convert Jews, or, at the very least, to relegate them to second-class status.”36


While there is no such “explicit campaign,” the reality is that Evangelicals would like to convert the Jews. But really they would like to convert everyone—including nominal “Christians” whose faith is merely ornamental. That is why they are called Evangelicals. However there is no evidence whatsoever that this wish, born of love of God and of one’s fellow man, includes even the vaguest inclination to use force or intimidation. The method of American Christians is to employ sweet persuasion— period. Even in this, however, their efforts have been quite modest and limited. We’ve already observed the consternation aroused in the Jewish community when the Southern Baptist Convention hired one missionary to convert the nation’s 5.8 million Jews. An earnest Evangelical might well ask if his community is living up to its Christian calling to spread what is taken to be God’s word. That question, of course, is their business, and not Toward Tradition’s.


The American Jewish concern, and resentment, at the idea of evangelism can be traced to the early 1970s. In 1967, Christianity Today published an infl uential editorial calling for a massive effort to rally congregations across the country to proselytize—not only to Jews but to all non-Christians and lapsed Christians. The Rev. Billy Graham and a group of fellow pastors were greatly taken with the idea of such a national crusade, and they agreed to commence such an effort by 1973. The evangelical drive gathered the members of 200,000 congregations, including some Catholic dioceses, in a campaign of Bible education, media appeals, and door-to-door missionary work. The American Jewish community was roused to fret at what it saw as a grassroots effort with potentially grave ramifications for Jews unwary enough to be led astray down Christian paths. The worry at this prospect has not abated since.


But there are a number of reasons not to be concerned or feel indignant about Christian evangelism. First, the number of Jews who convert to Christianity is minimal compared to the number lost to no religion at all—to secularism. As one distinguished Orthodox observer, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, wrote in 1973, commenting on the evangelical project, “…for every young boy or girl that converts to Christianity, there are over a hundred lost to Judaism in any number of other ways. An alarming and growing majority of our youth is being claimed by intermarriage, assimilation and general alienation.”37


What held true then is still true today. While the Anti-Defamation League assails Christians merely for praying that Jews convert, the Jewish communal establishment sees little threat in the blandishments of secularism, of “general alienation.” It’s also worth noting that those Jews who do become Christians nowadays are almost without exception Jews who had received no introduction to the life and faith of traditional Judaism: they had never seen a committed Jewish existence modeled for them.38 For this, Christians certainly can’t be blamed. Among leaders of the Jewish community, inspiring Jews to take Torah seriously has not been a priority. Many adults and young people are spiritually famished, and the Jewish establishment has invested little of its vast resources in feeding them. Strangely for a people thought to be obsessed with education, this establishment holds Jewish education in low esteem, a fact refl ected in the inadequate scholarships made available to students and in the pathetically stingy salaries awarded to teachers in Jewish day schools. Perhaps the Jewish community should be grateful to, or anyway shamed by, Christians for doing what Jews—so busy with other matters considered more urgent, like building multimillion-dollar Holocaust memorials—choose not to undertake.


Second, even when Christians do engage in overt proselytizing, even if they focus specifically on converting Jews, there is an easy response at hand, overlooked by anguished community leaders who prefer vilifying Christians supposedly hell-bent on sharing their faith. This defense consists of three words. The words are “No, thank you.” Because American Christians are by and large a wonderfully polite group of people, they are stopped in an instant by these three words. And if the words are spoken with gentleness and a smile, as they should be, the conversation may then proceed to topics more likely than theology to result in agreement: business, sports, the news, the weather, life. In our many rewarding interactions with Evangelical Christians, we have on rare occasions found ourselves in a position that called for us to say “No, thank you.” It works. The friendliness and warmth are not dispelled when a Christian realizes a Jew is not open to being witnessed to. This is a strong indication that Christian warmth toward Jews and Israel is not simply a front for proselytizing.


A third, generally unspoken reason Jews have no right to feel indignant has to do with the myth that Judaism forbids proselytizing. You hear this myth invoked all the time by way of praising Jewish tastefulness and restraint. Sometimes, the implicit lesson seems to be that Judaism takes a laissez faire attitude toward other people’s faiths: “Whatever they want to believe is fine, so long as our rights aren’t impinged on.” This interpretation of Jewish tradition is very popular with those Jews and others who feel that there is no one Truth, that all “truths” are equally legitimate.


It is true that Torah rejects the idea of seeking to persuade gentiles to become Jews. This, however, doesn’t mean that Judaism, in its classical expression in the Talmud and other works of rabbinic literature, rejects all proselytizing. In his summation of Torah thought, the Mishneh Torah, all derived from the Talmud and other rabbinic sources, Maimonides lays down the law on this matter. Jews are understood by Jewish tradition as a priestly nation in relationship to the rest of the world.


Just as, in the Torah’s description, the Levitical priesthood ministers to the lay folk of the Jewish people, the Jews in turn are meant to minister to, lead and teach the world’s people. This is the function of acting as a “light to the nations,” as the prophet Isaiah said. The faith to be practiced by the non-Jewish peoples is not Judaism, but a spiritual ethos—not a formal religion, exactly— designated as “Noachism,” the faith of the children of Noah (that is, of humanity). This ethos, thoroughly described in the Talmud’s tractate Sanhedrin, overlaps with many aspects of Christian and Muslim worship and morality, focusing on pure monotheism and six other categories of ethical injunctions.39


In fact the Torah’s attitude toward the spiritual commitments of non-Jews is anything but casual or liveand- let-live. As Maimonides clearly states, the Jewish obligation is to bring non-Jews under the spiritual wings of Torah—not as Jews, but as “children of Noah.” Christians and Muslims may or may not qualify as Noachides, but without a doubt modern-day tree-worshipping “pagans” and other religiously unaffiliated gentiles would—in Maimonides’ view—be subject to very strong methods of persuasion.40


Of course, in today’s world, the Jewish people is in no position to strong-arm anyone. But this mitzvah (religious obligation), following from the Jewish love of God and of humanity, remains obligatory even now to the extent that it may be carried out. While Jews can’t compel non-Jews to accept the principles of Noachism, Torah does oblige them to use methods of gentle persuasion to proselytize on behalf of a culture of monotheistic religious faith and public morality. Three millennia ago, when the Jewish people arrived at Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, the Torah records God’s words in commissioning them: they are to serve as a “mamlechet kohanim,” a “kingdom of priests.” On this verse, the classical Torah commentator Sforno explains that being the priestly nation means “to instruct all of mankind to call in unison on the Name of the Lord and to serve Him with one accord.”41 In this sense, Judaism is indeed an evangelical religion—a fact that can’t be made to go away by observing that, in practice, Jews don’t proselytize. Christians who evangelize are merely doing, on behalf of their understanding of God, what Jews have long said they themselves are supposed to do but fail to carry out. When Jewish groups attack them for their commitment to spiritual outreach, Christians might consider pointing this out.


Judaism and liberalism


The final misapprehension that contributes to Jewish hold of many Jewish minds equates Judaism with liberalism. Because the most enthusiastic Christians tend to be the most conservative, theologically and politically, those Jews who are under the sway of this myth may regard conservative Christianity as the Enemy precisely because it is conservative. We saw this dynamic at work in the ADL’s notorious 1994 report on the Christian Right. In a free country, Jews committed to a liberal political philosophy should do their best to persuade other Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish, that their approach to governance is the wisest. They should not seek to sell their philosophy as “Jewish.”


This is simply a matter of truth in advertising. If any modern American political philosophy is compatible with Judaism, it’s conservatism. On issue after issue— from abortion and public standards of sexual morality to taxes and welfare and even national defense—Toward Tradition has argued that Torah, if compelled to choose between liberal and conservatives approaches, would come down on the side advocated by conservatives. There is a seamless unity that knits together the conservative positions on a wide variety of topics. Take a seemingly pragmatic issue like taxes. What is the purpose of reducing taxes or halting their growth? Conservatives advocate low taxes not because we peevishly want to see library hours reduced or teachers’ salaries capped. We embrace tax cuts because we share a vision of the public good that has as its focus private individuals doing useful things with their own money, rather than the government seizing that money and doing things that may or may not be useful. In other words, taxes pose the most serious question that divides conservatism from liberalism: is the individual morally responsible, or is the state?


This conservative emphasis on individual moral responsibility is derived ultimately from the Hebrew Bible, which phrases its commandments in the secondperson singular. Individuals, not states, are commanded to do right. By contrast, liberalism emphasizes state moral responsibility. In the liberal understanding it is the state that, for example, cares for the needy. This, incidentally, has the attraction of letting individual moral actors off the hook. Obsessed by the role of morality in individual lives, Judaism is a conservative religion. Jews who deny this, and who use “Jewish” values as a cudgel to threaten conservative Christians, must not know much about their own professed religion.


Fortunately, in the Mideast crisis of this year, many Jews came to see the importance of such moral clarity, and welcomed it. The more obtuse observers of the confl ict in Israel saw no moral distinction between Palestinian terror bombers and Israelis defending their own lives from those same terrorists, and condemned Israel while excusing the Palestinians. American Christians saw the distinction immediately, and demanded that President Bush allow the Israeli people to defend themselves. Will this inspire serious refl ections in the Jewish community on the compatibility of Judaism, with its insistence on clearly defined standards of right and wrong, and liberalism, with its adjunct philosophy of moral relativism? Let us hope so.




IV: Anti-Christian Animosity: Is it Smart?


We hope it’s becoming clear that the American Jewish tendency to antagonize Christians, predicated as it is on five misunderstandings by Jews about Christians and about Judaism, isn’t smart. But the problem here is more than simply intellectual. The challenge goes beyond correcting misapprehensions. In real, practical terms, this Jewish antagonism sets the stage for genuine danger.


We have said that America is the most generous, gentle, forgiving, and indulgent host nation that the Jewish people, in the whole history of the Diaspora, ever has known. There appears to be something native in the Anglo-Christian culture in which the American republic grew up that disposes it to friendliness with Jews. We’ve suggested that the American version of Christianity accounts in large part for this cultural disposition.


But it doesn’t really matter why you think America has been such a blessed haven for its Jewish community. Whatever that reason may be, and surely it is multifaceted, everyone can agree that American philo-Semitism must not be taken for granted.


We have observed that religious cultures change. On the American scene, the Jews of this generation have lived through a time of extraordinarily rapid change in the attitudes of Protestant and Catholic churches. Non- Jewish attitudes can change in a way that favors Jews. And they can change in a way that does the opposite. The past decade in America has also been a time of great Jewish confidence. Often, that confidence has shaded over into arrogance, especially when it comes to dealing with conservative Christians, Evangelicals and Fundamentalists. Some 43 percent of Americans identify themselves as “born again” Christians. And that’s not including the mass of religious and conservative Catholics who may not think of themselves as “born again” but who love their Church and resent attacks on their beloved spiritual leaders. By contrast, Jews make up 2.2 percent of all Americans. Common sense suggests that such a tiny minority would be well advised to avoid antagonizing its numerically formidable neighbors. Jews have lived at ease in America. Nothing guarantees they will continue to do so.


Why do we say this? Our intention is not to needlessly scare anybody. Nevertheless, prudence bids American Jews to take heed when an avuncular, pro-Israel Christian like Pat Robertson warns them of this peril. Against the background of Jewish protests at the presence of Carmelite nuns at Auschwitz, protests that turned abusive, Robertson commented that “a strident minority within a minority of 5,000,000” promotes the “systematic vilification, weakening, and ultimate suppression of the majority view of society.” He meant American Jews. He continued that this could “enrage and alienate” Christians, leading to “a Christian backlash.”42


That was in 1989. It was to head off such a tragic possibility that Toward Tradition was founded in 1991. In the years since then we have had innumerable conversations and exchanged innumerable letters and emails with Christians around the country. We can report that the hurt feelings engendered by Jewish enmity are widespread and deep. Again, some citations from this correspondence may be instructive. Rebecca Wright tells us that, “as a Christian who holds Jews and Judaism in highest respect as the chosen people of God, I find this [Jewish hostility] bewildering. In a gentile world, the truly committed Christian is the best friend that the Jew will ever find.” Joe Frodsham of Medford, Oregon, agrees: “I have been a very strong supporter of Israel and the Jewish cause because of my very strong Christian beliefs. Yet time and time again my Christian beliefs and the right to practice them have been brutally attacked by the Jewish community. I am tired of Jewish people attacking Christians while we ardently support Israel and the Jews’ right to exist as a nation. They fight for our destruction and we fight for their liberty. Is there something wrong with this picture?” Another correspondent, A. Finnery, points out, “Jews cannot ask for solidarity with Christians without offering the same level of solidarity to them. Many Christians love Israel but they are not stupid, they know when they are just being used for political gain.”


In Christian thought, patience is an important virtue. But does this mean American Jews can feel free to test the patience of American Christians? The more aggressive Jewish leaders say they are just seeking to protect the Jewish community, and other minorities, from “intolerance,” and to defend their vision of the First Amendment. When Toward Tradition’s Rabbi Daniel Lapin questioned the American Jewish Congress and its statements about Christians, whom the organization accused of violating the “wall” between church and state in the area of public education, the AJC’s Jack Rosen responded through a UPI reporter. He said, “Upholding the Constitution is not denigrating Christianity. If anyone, including Jews, had used religion in such a manner in the public schools, we would have been equally and forcefully as critical.”43


Genuine tolerance and freedom of religion are wonderful values and they explain why Jews have found America such a hospitable environment. We wonder, though, if the Constitutional purism advocated by some Jewish leaders—along with their extremism in defining “intolerance” as any thought or speech that sets clear moral boundaries—may not end up undermining the very hospitality all Jews wish to protect.


It is especially troubling that some Jewish groups continued to police Christians on these issues throughout the recent crisis in the Mideast, when Christian pro-Israel sentiment emerged as more crucial to the Jewish state’s survival than ever before. If a Christian “backlash” against Jews domestically seems less than an imminent danger, a more immediate worry is the future exhaustion of Christian support for Israel. The U.S. is Israel’s best friend largely because the American Christian community wills it to be so. And we have seen that it is not only Evangelical Protestants who love Israel. Many American Catholics too have absorbed much of the ethos of American Protestantism, including a sympathy for Israel not always in evidence at the Vatican itself. If Jewish anti-Christian antagonism persists, will these Christians continue to demand that America remain Israel’s staunch defender? The most passionate Christian supporters of Israel may, due to their religious principles, be willing to endure any level of abuse heaped on them. But one can imagine the less fiercely committed at last getting fed up with their Jewish critics, and simply going quiet on the Israel issue. Were this to happen, the consequences could be very unpleasant. For the sake of Israel, if for no other reason, the Jewish organizations should consider softening their customary stance toward Christians.


Recently, to some extent we have seen certain Jewish leaders do exactly this. Gary Rosenblatt, editor of New York City’s infl uential Jewish Week, wrote a powerful and clear-eyed appreciation of Christian Zionism, concluding on a note of graciousness: “All of which reminds us to show hakarat ha’tov, gratitude and honor, to those few friends—all too few—willing to step up for Israel in its time of need.” Rosenblatt even notes the recent conversation he had with a newly enlightened Abraham Foxman, who told of bumping into the Christian leader Gary Bauer and thanking him for his efforts on behalf of Israel. Said Foxman: “I told [Bauer] we will continue to disagree on other issues but I appreciate his voice on Israel.”44 Indeed lately there have been all sorts of small signs that some of the most Christian-bashing Jews have been inhaling doses of common sense. Thus Leon Wieseltier delivered a startling essay in The New Republic testifying that it’s time for American Jews to stop being so paranoid about anti- Semitism: “We are the luckiest Jews who ever lived. We are even the spoiled brats of Jewish history.”45


However as we noted earlier in this pamphlet, the pattern of denigrating Christians is so engrained that maintaining this level of appropriate gratitude and common sense may not come easily to the Jewish establishment. It will need to be reinforced from the grassroots, especially by those Jews who fund organizations like the ADL.




V: Anti-Christian Animosity: Is it Jewish?


Gary Rosenblatt speaks of the virtue defined in Torah terminology as hakarat ha’tov, which means showing gratitude to those who benefited us. There are other reasons for amending Jewish attitudes about Christians, reasons that go beyond the pragmatic consideration that antagonizing Christians poorly serves Jewish self-interest. There is the Torah’s own perspective for us to deal with. It’s true that the Jews who have been most vigorous in opposing the public expression of Christianity tend to be secularists who don’t regard their own religious tradition as authoritative. Most of the biggest Christianbashers in the Jewish community are somewhat less than fervent believers in the faith of Torah. They probably wouldn’t find the Torah’s view on these matters to be particularly relevant. Still, even among many religious Jews and Jews who may not be observant but who still respect Jewish tradition, there is a current of distrust, of worry that Christians may have a secret “agenda.” These Jews need to understand that their anti-Christian animus is neither smart nor Jewish.


Mind-reading: a Jewish value?


As should be clear by now, almost every Jewish accusation against American Christians presumes that they are concealing foul intentions in fair words. This is the often-discussed supposed Christian “agenda.” Recall again the statement of Alan Dershowitz that “an explicit campaign is under way, by the Christian Right, to establish Christianity as the official religion of America,” to “convert Jews, or, at the very least, to relegate them to second-class status.” Professor Dershowitz surely meant to say that the supposed campaign to turn America over to the Inquisition is implicit not explicit, because—with the possible exception of one or two lunatics holed up in a bunker in Montana—no Christian has publicly advocated any such thing. Their intentions must be secret— very secret. Sometimes we at Toward Tradition can only shake our heads in amazement at the paranoia of certain Jewish spokesmen, all but equal in their venom to the anti-Semites of Saudi Arabia and Egypt who today are busily disseminating the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” As an example, consider the rantings of the editor of the newspaper serving America’s third-largest Jewish community, Joseph Aaron of the Chicago Jewish News. In a column admonishing those Jews who lately have reconsidered their former distrust of conservatives, especially conservative Christians, Mr. Aaron vents his hatred. Of House Majority Whip Tom Delay of Texas, a major supporter of Israel with a major Christian constituency, Mr. Aaron writes “He is a major creep, … whose values are not our values, … a vicious, unbending, intolerant ultra-conservative in the worst sense of those words.” (As opposed to being vicious, unbending, etc. in the best sense of those words.) Of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, he warns: “Remember, please, that the Evangelicals support Israel because it’s an important piece in their End of Days scenario. Having the Jews back in Israel is a vital prerequisite for the return of you-knowwho. And once he comes back, guess who either joins up or burns in hell for all eternity?


“They may be our friends now, but it’s not because they love the Jewish state or the Jewish people. It’s because they need Israel and the Jews to get to where they really want to go, which is a place that doesn’t welcome Jews.”46


In this fevered vision, what Christians say and what they do—love Israel, love Jews, support Israel, and support Jews—counts for nothing. People like Joseph Aaron are confident that, based on little or no personal contact with Evangelicals (so one confidently assumes) but rather only on critical reports in the media, they have got Christians all figured out. They know what Tom DeLay and Revs. Robertson and Falwell are really thinking.


Jewish Americans like Mr. Aaron assume they can read Christian minds. And Torah rejects mind-reading. In the Talmud, one finds the philosophy of Jewish jurisprudence as developed by the rabbis, whose scholarship still informs authentic Jewish values on all matters. It is implicit everywhere in the classical Jewish sources dealing with courts and law that men and women may be judged based on their actions, never on their thoughts. What humans can evaluate are actions alone. Even if you feel that you know exactly what somebody is thinking, it doesn’t matter. From your perspective, which is not God’s, it matters only what he does.


What Christians do is fight for Israel’s right to exist and to defend herself. They do nothing to harm Jewish interests domestically or internationally. Nor do they voice any intention to do harm. As the (Jewish) journalist David Frum has pointed out, even if Christians like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell were to assume political power at the highest levels, an extremely unlikely prospect which they are making no moves to pursue, their most ambitious hope would be to return America to the way it was, morally, in the 1950s. American Jews, we recall, seemed to survive the 1950s fairly well.


In short, there are no Torah grounds for regarding American Christians as anything but the good friends and neighbors they purport to be.


The meaning of Jewish friendship


There are, however, Torah grounds for reconsidering the political posture of America’s Jewish community in its relation to Christians. We earlier cited the comment of the ADL’s Abe Foxman: “I told [Christian political leader Gary Bauer] we will continue to disagree on other issues but I appreciate his voice on Israel.” This appears to be the prevailing attitude among those prominent Jewish spokesmen who have decided recently to acknowledge the blessing of friendship with Christians. While they may express gratitude to Christians for supporting Israel, there is no thought to giving anything in return. Indeed, like Foxman, they serve notice that they intend to persist in opposing any political agenda based on a reverence for traditional values: this is the essence of their liberalism. The ADL and others have indeed made progress, learning to say “thank you,” and they are to be congratulated. However true friendship is a two-way street. As Rabbi Lapin points out, the Hebrew word for friend, chaver, is built on the root meaning “to be obliged.” Friendship means mutual obligation. When one “friend” only gives and the other only receives, that is merely a case of one person using another, a morally distasteful situation.


What can Jewish organizations and leaders offer to Christians? In return for support of Israel, the Jewish community should reconsider its customary opposition to the political philosophy advocated by Christian conservatives. Especially when we consider that conservative views of the kind held by many Christians also follow naturally from Jewish tradition, the message is clear. It is time for Jewish leaders to rethink their loyalty to secular liberalism.


Modesty and honor


Even it weren’t true that Torah offers a clear foundation for supporting conservative candidates and ideas, there is yet another Torah-based consideration here. Judaism gives a clear picture of how God wishes His people to comport themselves toward the majority culture in the Diaspora countries. In contrast to the critical attitude one observes in practice, as Jewish groups have adopted the role of police, detecting and decrying Christian perpetrators of “intolerance,” Jewish behavior is supposed to exemplify modesty.


The humility that Jewish tradition enjoins is concisely expressed in an ancient midrash recounting a conversation between two rabbinic sages. The protagonists are Rabbi Judah the Prince, compiler of the Mishnah and the most prominent figure in the entire Jewish community in the Holy Land around 200 A.D., and his secretary, Rabbi Appas. Rabbi Judah one day asked Rabbi Appas to compose a letter from him to another leading figure of the time, the Roman emperor Antonius. Appas began to write, “From Judah the Prince to our master, Emperor Antonius…” Reading these words, Rabbi Judah took the letter and tore it to pieces. He said, “Write [instead], ‘From your servant Judah, to our master, Emperor Antonius.” Dismayed to hear his teacher refer to himself as a servant, Appas protested, “Rabbi, why do you shame your honor?” Rabbi Judah replied by asking, “Am I better than my forefather?” He explained that when the patriarch Jacob returned to the land of Canaan after years of exile and anticipated meeting his estranged brother Esau, Esau being regarded in Torah terms as the ancestor of Rome, Jacob too had described himself as Esau’s “servant”: “Thus says your servant Jacob.”47 In Jewish tradition, Esau stands not only for Rome but for the Church that would later be headquartered there.48


As the Christian era was dawning, the Midrash defined the standard for Jewish modesty in dealing with Rome and with the Church. There is no shame in this. Rabbi Judah was in no doubt as to the verity of the faith he expounded in the Mishnah. He was aware of the profound theological differences separating Judaism from all other religions of his day, including Christianity as well as the pagan religion practiced by Antonius. Yet he recognized the place in this world God has assigned to the Jewish people, and he conducted himself accordingly.


From Judah the Prince addressing Antonius, the Jewish community has come a long way. Today the national director of the Anti-Defamation League— arguably the most prominent figure on the Jewish American scene, certainly the Jewish communal leader most widely quoted in the media—addresses the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, as if he were the Pope’s parole officer.


Last year, after the Pope sat through an anti-Semitic rant by Syria’s President Bashar Assad, Mr. Foxman harangued John Paul II for the “sin of silence.” In a New York Times advertisement, the ADL pressed its demands on the Pope, who the group felt should make up for his “silence” by denouncing Assad after the fact. (As Toward Tradition’s Rabbi Lapin asked at the time, “And just what was the elderly pontiff supposed to do as Assad blathered away in Arabic—jump up, run across the stage and start strangling the guy?”49) Whether the Pope was right in choosing not to denounce Assad is not the point of interest here. It seems unlikely that Bashar Assad cares what the Pope thinks about him. What’s notable, from a Torah perspective, is the lack of modesty on the Jewish side. We saw the same tendency to high-handedness in the way the ADL’s Mr. Foxman treated another aged and infirm Christian dignitary, Billy Graham, refusing to accept a simple apology for a long ago comment spoken in private, rudely calling the apology “mealy-mouthed,” finally wresting a more groveling regret from Rev. Graham.


Christianity through Jewish eyes


We have already suggested some of the reasons that elements in the American Jewish community bristle at passionate, believing Christians. There is a final reason, perhaps the most profound. It is the Jewish attitude toward Christianity per se, as a religion.


This attitude goes beyond memories of anti-Jewish persecutions in Europe or fears about Christian visions of Armageddon. It centers on Christianity as, in faith terms, the eternal Other, a religion that split from the Jewish faith to become a powerful rival, a rival that denies Jewish truth claims and asserts, or once did, that the Jewish covenant with God has been nullified. Elliott Abrams has acknowledged with admirable frankness: “Within the American Jewish community there remains considerable suspicion, not to say hostility, toward Christianity, though there is little said about this phenomenon.” He sees this as following in part from Jewish ignorance: “While many Christian denominations now acknowledge that the covenant with Abraham endures, American Jews too seldom either know about or appreciate Christianity and its teachings.”50


Some effort has been made to address this hostility, from a Jewish perspective. A number of Jewish professional scholars have been involved in a dialogue with Christian colleagues on theological matters. (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the great modern expositor of Orthodox tradition, taught that Jewish and Christian views on key theological issues are too far apart to allow negotiation. But this is different from Christians and Jews working together on practical matters, seeking to restore the place of faith and morality in American life, which has been Toward Tradition’s entire reason-forbeing.) We certainly approve the intentions of the dialogue, which has been to reduce the level of tension between Jews and Christians, to ease the way for practical cooperation.


In September 2000, Jewish advocates of theological dialogue published an advertisement in the New York Times stating their beliefs about Christianity. Titled “Dabru Emet” (“Speak the Truth,” a citation from Zechariah 8:16), the brief document listed eight principles.


One important affirmation stated that “Nazism was not a Christian phenomenon”—an obvious truth, one might think, but as we saw earlier, not so obvious if you are Leon Wieseltier. Dabru Emet attracted support but also generated controversy, mostly among rabbis and professors. Its first principle was perhaps most controversial of all, going to the heart of what has made Christianity an object of suspicion and hostility for many Jews. It asserted that “Jews and Christians worship the same God.”51


Writing in Commentary magazine, Professor Jon Levenson responded, warning of the danger entailed in so warm an endorsement of Christianity. First of all, he said, it misrepresents Judaism, for Maimonides classified Christianity as a species of idolatry.52 Second, Levenson argued, there is peril when Jews and Christians signifi- cantly relax what has through history been a relationship of “instinctive repugnance toward each other.” For Jews, the peril is intermarriage and assimilation. Religious “communities that have largely overcome their animosity and moved to mutual respect, as Jews and Christians have done to a significant extent in the United States, must look elsewhere for such reinforcement to group identity as existed under the older and more contentious arrangement.”53


In this pamphlet we have tried to make clear that there are other perils that may follow if the Jewish community persists in nursing its resentment. It is true that when Jews and Christian hated each other, intermarriage was rare. But American Christians have already given up the “repugnance” that Christianity once fostered toward Judaism, and we don’t think Professor Levenson would really like to return to the situation that obtained during the Middle Ages. The question is whether Jews will return the favor. Threatening us with intermarriage and assimilation is not a strong argument.


American Jews already intermarry in large numbers, and already are deeply assimilated. So we are left with Levenson’s assertion that Judaism forbids us from taking a positive view of Christianity, from agreeing with Dabru Emet that “Jews and Christians worship the same God.” What does Judaism really teach about Christianity?


When seeking to arrive at the truest understanding of what Torah teaches about a given issue, it won’t do simply to give a sound bite from a famous source and leave it at that. In fact, based on sources that speak with pure authenticity from the depths of Jewish tradition as it was handed down from Moses at Sinai, it is possible to see the positive role God intends Christians to play in the world’s spiritual history.


The charge that Christianity, with its doctrines of the trinity and the incarnation, is idolatrous was forcefully addressed by another great medieval rabbi, the Provencal sage Menachem ha-Meiri (1249-1316). He wrote that when the rabbis of the Talmud spoke of idolatrous gentiles they had in mind not the gentiles he knew (that is, Christians), who were “[umot] ha-gedurot be-darkei hadatot” (“[nations] restricted by the ways of religion”) but, rather, ancient extinct peoples unbridled by any morality focused on its Source in the Godhead.54 The Meiri’s understanding is confirmed by the foremost authority on halachah (Jewish law) who ever lived in the Ashkenazic communities of Jewish Europe, Rabbi Moses Isserles (called Rama, 1530-1572). In his contributions to the standard code of halachah, the Shulchan Aruch, he states that while the Christians of his day (he lived in Krakow, Poland) included idolatrous elements in their worship, “nevertheless their intention is [to worship] the Maker of Heaven and Earth.”55 For Ashkenazic Jews this—and not the statement of Maimonides, who was Sephardic (of Spanish origin)—is the accepted view. Which is to say, when Dabru Emet asserts that “Jews and Christians worship the same God,” it is saying nothing that should be controversial among informed Jews.


Beyond this somewhat theoretical issue, there is a more stirring question. God has allowed Christianity to fl ourish—a religion that grew from the root of Judaism. What, if anything, does He intend it to accomplish? Rabbinic authorities have given various answers, most concluding that Christianity has a crucially important role to play in the world. That role is one that Jews should be loathe to interfere with. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888), the greatest exponent of modern German Orthodoxy, wrote very clearly on the subject. He described the time immediately before the Romans expelled the people Israel from their land, after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. At that time, Israel “produced an offshoot which had to become estranged from it in great measure, in order to bring the world—sunk in idol worship, violence, immorality and the degradation of man—at least the tiding of the One Alone, of the brotherhood of all men and of man’s superiority over the beast.”56 Notice the words we have emphasized, “had to” and “in order.” He means that Christianity, to serve God’s purpose, needed to become separate from Judaism. For Jews, to view this faith with repugnance means to hold God’s purpose likewise in contempt.


A more recent figure, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935) expressed a similar idea when he noted the somewhat gruesome tradition that, in the burial place of the Hebrew Patriarchs, at Machpelah in Hebron, the head of Esau was also interred. This is the “essential part of him.”57 An ambivalent figure in Jewish thought, Esau, we have seen, is associated with Rome, and with Christianity. While much of him is indeed estranged from Judaism, his head, his essence, is in accord with the patriarchs of Israel.


This brief discussion hardly exhausts the subject of Christianity as seen from the perspective of Torah. In fact, we haven’t even scratched the surface of that subject. We have suggested, however, that when some American Jews endorse the feeling of “repugnance” toward Christianity, they speak only for themselves. They reveal their own prejudices, not Judaism’s love of all those who love the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.




VI: What Is to Be Done?


Admittedly, while some Jews have indeed begun to rethink old attitudes, the habit of anti-Christian enmity will not die easily. In an article on the phenomenon of Christian Zionism, the Wall Street Journal states directly that Jews are unlikely to reciprocate the warmth emanating from the conservative Christian community. There seems to be something deeply embedded in modern secular Jewish culture that accounts for Jewish antipathy to conservatives and Christians, all vaguely wrapped in the Jewish mind under the category of that perennial Jewish bogeyman: Republicans. In the last three presidential elections, GOP candidates have in each case polled lower than 20 percent of the Jewish vote. There is, then, “little evidence Jewish voters will respond to the Republican embrace of Israel.”58


So far in this pamphlet we have cast all our statements in the negative. We have said that anti-Christian hostility from the American Jewish community arises from Jews’ not understanding Christianity or their own interests or their very religion itself. However, should American Jews choose to heed our call, if they can indeed be persuaded to correct their misunderstandings, what are they to do then?


Let us return briefl y to that enigmatic Biblical figure, Esau. We have already touched on the scene in Genesis in which Jacob prepares to reunite with his brother. As the Bible tells the story, when the two estranged brother at last met again, “Esau ran to greet him and they embraced and he fell upon his shoulders.”59 On this verse, a towering Torah commentator, Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (called Netziv, 1817-1893), offers an important exegesis: “They both wept. This comes to teach that at this time Jacob also was roused to love Esau. So it shall be in future generations that when the seed of Esau is roused through a spirit of purity to recognize the seed of Jacob…, then we too should be roused to recognize Esau for he is our brother.”60 Writing in Russia amid pogroms, the Netziv was clarifying the prophecy encrypted in the Bible’s account of the brothers’ meeting. In the future, Esau, the Church, will recognize Jacob, the people Israel. At that time, Jacob should respond in kind, for “he is our brother.”


It would be hard to imagine a more powerful statement in favor of the Jewish community desisting from supporting those organization and leaders who needlessly harass Christians. The promised recognition, of Jacob by Esau, has largely been achieved. But the obligation that Torah places on Jews is not merely negative—it is not simply to desist from harassment. The Netziv is suggesting a positive obligation: to embrace our “brothers” in the Christian community.


This does not entail minimizing profound theological differences. That would mean betraying the tradition from which this promise of brotherhood arises in the first place. It can only mean joining with Christians in projects that emphasize what Jews and Christians share, projects of the kind that Toward Tradition has advocated since its inception ten years ago.


The two faiths share not theological beliefs but moral values. They equally value the sanctity of life and of the family, the rule of law, the freedom to worship, the blessings of security, the dignity of property, and the holiness of work. All these values have been under attack, and not by Christians.


As this pamphlet was being written, the news carried a story from San Francisco State University. The campus has been in the vanguard of the morally relativistic multicultural movement, which the Jewish community has often vigorously supported. The fruits of that support fell from the trees on May 7, 2002. At a rally for Israel in the university’s plaza, Jewish students were confronted by an angry mob of pro-Palestinian counter-demonstrators. The Jewish students were surrounded and threatened. The multicultural mob yelled, “Hitler didn’t finish the job,” and “Get out or we’ll kill you.”61 There were, we can be certain, no Evangelical Christians among the threatening pack. The lesson, we hope, was brought home at least to these Jewish students: moral clarity is good for the Jews; moral relativism is not. It really is that simple.


We were struck recently by a comment of Eugene Fisher, ecumenical director for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. He was speaking of the new, revolutionary Vatican teaching that the Jewish wait for the Messiah has not been in vain. He said, “Jews are already with the Father. We do not have a mission to the Jews, but only a mission with the Jews of the world [emphasis added].”62 Protestants and Catholics alike stand ready to work with the Jewish community to advance the moral well-being of this country that has blessed us all with prosperity and freedom.


This too is a mitzvah, of which Rabbi Hirsch again wrote powerfully and clearly: “It is … Israel’s duty, a duty imposed by God and no less holy than all the others, in whatever land they dwell, not only to fulfill all the duties which the laws of that land explicitly lay down, but over and above that, to do with thought, word, and deed everything that can contribute to the weal of that nation.”63


Even now as the crisis in the Middle East subsides, to be replaced on the front page of major American newspapers and at the top of the nightly television news broadcasts by other more domestic matters, and Christian support of Israel seems less a matter of dire importance, this duty remains. In America, conservative Christians have set it as their goal to work for the moral welfare of the nation. American Jews do not have a mission to those Christians, but rather a mission with them.


The alliance of Jews and Christians that Toward Tradition has sought to assemble for more than a decade would refl ect—in Jewish terms—the essence of friendship, of what it means to be a true chaver. Remember that to be a chaver, a friend, means to recognize that you not only receive: you are also obliged to give. Seldom have American Jews appealed to American Christians in vain. The Jewish community appeals to them for sup port of Israel’s security, and that support is generously given. Hakarat ha’tov, true gratitude, is more than a pretty sentiment: it is a call to action. What Christians deserve in return is support for their own conception of an America governed with a reverence for tradition and morality—a conception they arrived at by studying the Hebrew Bible, which calls for the very same thing. The ominous Christian “agenda” one hears referred to isn’t so much conservative as it is, well, Jewish.






1 Mitchell, Alison, “Israel Winning Broad Support from U.S. Right,” New York Times, April 21, 2002, p. A1.


2 Wilgoren, Jodi, “Unusually Unified in Solidarity with Israel, but Also Unusually Unnerved,” New York Times, April 22, 2002, p. A10.


3 See http://www.foxnews.com./story/ 0,2933,51070,00.html.


4 Rosenblum, Jonathan, “Is American Jewry Ripe for Realignment?,” Jerusalem Post International Edition, May 10, 2002.


5 Edsall, Thomas B., “GOP Eyes Jewish Vote with Bush Tack on Israel,” Washington Post, p. A7.


6 Weber, Timothy P., “How Evangelicals Became Israel’s Best Friend,” Christianity Today, October 5, 1998.


7 Hamburger, Tom and VandeHei, Jim, “How Israel Became a Favorite Cause of Christian Right,” Wall Street Journal, May 23, 2002, p. A8.


8 See http://www.wiesenthal.com/social/ press/pr_print.cfm?ItemID=863.


9 See http://www.adl.org/presrele/vaticanjewish_96/ 3248_96.asp


10 See http://www.wiesenthal.com/social/ press/pr_print.cfm?ItemID=3233.


11 See http://www.adl.org/presrele/ChJew_31/ 3472_31.asp; http://www.adl.org/presrele/ ChJew_31/2761_31.asp; and http://www.adl.org/ presrele/ChJew_31/3463_31.asp.


12 See http://www.cnn.com/2001/TRAVEL/NEWS/ 02/05/christian.themeparkt/index.html.


13 See http://www.jewishsf.com/bk010126usjesusinaug.shtml.


14 See http://ajcongress.org/pages/ RELS2000/NOV_2000/nov00_02.htm.


15 See http://ajcongress.org/pages/RELS2002/ APR_2002/apr02_05.htm.


16 See http://ajcongress.org/pages/RELS2002/ APR_2002/apr02_06.htm.


17 See http://ajcongress.org/pages/RELS2002/ APR_2002/apr02_04.htm.


18 See http://www.washington-report.org/ backissues/0994/9409063.htm.


19 See http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/ newscontent.php3?artid=5854.


20 Goldhagen, Daniel Jonah, “What Would Jesus Have Done?,” The New Republic, January 21, 2002, p. 21.


21 See Shafer, Peter, Judeophobia: Attitudes Toward the Jews in the Ancient World (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard, 1998).


22 Wieseltier, Leon, “Washington Diarist: Epistle to the Hebrews,” The New Republic, February 9, 1998, p. 42.


23 Neuhaus, Richard John, “Whatever You Do, Don’t Mention the Jews,” First Things, May 2002, p. 61.


24 Dalin, David, “Pius XII and the Jews,” The Weekly Standard, February 26, 2001, p. 39.


25 Goldhagen, p. 45.


26 Rychlak, Ronald J., “Goldhagen v. Pius XII,” First Things, June/July 2002, p. 37.


27 Kertzer, David I., “The Modern Use of Ancient Lies,” New York Times, May 9, 2002, p. A31.


28 An independent scholar and a longtime associate of Toward Tradition, Roy Neal Grissom, steeped since childhood in the culture of American Fundamentalism, has aided us in understanding this phenomenon.


29 For a celebration of America’s Hebrew roots, from which most of this material is drawn, see Lapin, Daniel, America’s Real War (Sisters, Ore.: Multnohmah Books, 1999), passim.


30 Blumhofer, Edith, “The Power of Prophecy,” Wall Street Journal, May 10, 2002, p. W13.


31 Abrams, Elliott, Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in a Christian America (New York: Free Press, 1997), p. 68-69.


32 Palliere, Aime, The Unknown Sanctuary: A Pilgrimage from Rome to Israel (New York: Bloch Publishing, 1985), p. 182.


33 For an excellent summary of evolving Catholic beliefs, see Abrams, pp. 39-46.


34 See http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/ newscontent.php3?artid=5649.


35 Reed, Ralph, “We People of Faith Stand Firmly with Israel,” Los Angeles Times, April 21, 2002, p. M5.


36 Both citations from Abrams, pp. 80, 64 respectively.


37 Kaplan, Aryeh, The Aryeh Kaplan Reader (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1985), p. 54.


38 Interestingly, the converse isn’t true. Gentiles who convert and become Jews very often come from highly educated and committed Christian backgrounds.


39 For a review of the theory of Noachism, see Benamozegh, Rabbi Elijah, Israel and Humanity (New York: Paulist Press, 1995, first published 1914).


40 For details of what this would mean, see Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 8:10.


41 Sforno on Exod. 19:6.


42 Abrams, p. 91.


43 See http://www.upi.com/view.cfm?StoryID=07052002- 024517-6385r.


44 Rosenblatt, Gary, “Waking Up to the Right,” The Jewish Week, May 17, 2002, p. 7.


45 Wieseltier, Leon, “Hitler Is Dead,” The New Republic, May 27, 2002, p. 19.


46 See http://www.chicagojewishnews.com/archives_ articles.jsp?id=21611.


47 Genesis Rabbah 75:5; Gen. 32:5.


48 See Rashi on Gen. 36:43.


49 See http://www.towardtradition.org/press/ openseasononjews51401.asp.


50 Abrams, p. 94.


51 The text of Dabru Emet is available online at http://www.icjs.org/what/njsp/dabruemet.html.


52 See Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Avodah Zarah 9:3.


53 Levenson, Jon D., “How Not to Conduct Jewish-Christian Dialogue,” Commentary, December 2000.


54 See ha-Meiri’s Talmudic commentary, Beit ha-Bechirah, on Avodah Zarah 38b.


55 Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 156:1.


56 Hirsch, Samson Raphael, The Nineteen Letters (New York: Feldheim, 1995), p. 126.


57 Kook, Abraham Isaac, The Lights of Penitance, Lights of Holiness: The Moral Principles, Essays, Letters and Poems (New York: Paulist Press, 1978), p. 339.


58 Hamburger and VandeHei, p. A8.


59 Gen. 33:4.


60 Netziv on Gen. 33:4.


61 Radler, Melissa, Jerusalem Post, “Anti-Semitic Riot at San Francisco State University,” May 16, 2002.


62 See http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/ newscontent.php3?artid-5649.


63 Hirsch, Samson Raphael, Horeb (New York: Soncino Press, 1962, originally published 1837), p. 462.




Toward Tradition is proud to offer this pamphlet, one of a series titled “Modern Problems, Ancient Solutions.” In this series we apply the insight that has guided Toward Tradition from its inception: that the wisdom of the Hebrew Bible and its traditional interpretation is as applicable today as it was three millennia ago when the Torah was revealed at Sinai. (Hence our logo, the peaks of Mt. Sinai, adapted from David Roberts’s lithograph.) The problems American society faces are modern in the sense that they take modern forms, but under various guises they in fact have been around as long as there have been human beings. As new problems arise, we intend to address them and propose solutions informed by ancient truths. In short, we will allow Torah to confront the world.




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