No, not all religions or all religious people “taste of crazy,” but the ones who do really stand out. Consider:
A well-known, though already controversial, Israeli rabbi recently released a video encouraging his followers that Messianic Jews sharing the Gospel deserve the “death penalty.”
-Israel Today Staff, October 25,2015
“Rabbi Threatens: Messianic Jewish Evangelists Deserve Death” Israel Today
I found the link to the above-referenced news article at yesterday’s edition of the Rosh Pina Project. It’s a little bit terrifying that this Rabbi makes such public statements and teaches at a yeshiva. Unfortunately, his opinions can add fuel to how many Christians, at least covertly, feel about Jewish people and Judaism.
I don’t know how popular Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi’s opinions are, either here in America or in Israel. I hope he’s something of an “edge case” and doesn’t represent mainstream religious Jewish thought. Yes, I know that the idea of Jews “believing in Jesus” pretty much goes against what normative Judaism is able to accept, but the whole “death penalty” thing seems over the top.
While it would be easy to start saying bad things about the ultra-Orthodox or just Rabbis and Rabbinic authority in general, it’s important to remember that “loose cannons” can exist in just about any religious environment.
Steve Anderson, the anti-Semitic pastor of the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona, denies the Holocaust in a video he posted to YouTube last week, claiming that the millions of Jews who were gassed and burned in ovens simply died of hunger and disease due to forced labor and war.
-from “Anti-Semitic Pastor Steve Anderson Promotes Holocaust Denial” blog.adl.org, June 1, 2015
We like to believe that “the Church” has come a long way since the “bad old days” when they used to torch volumes of Talmud, Torah scrolls, and burn the occasional synagogue to the ground. There’s even been some recent talk about a partnership between Christianity and Orthodox Judaism. But that doesn’t mean that all Christians and all Jews are on board with this.
Anderson goes on to say:
Anderson warns that the “real Holocaust” for the Jews will occur if they don’t accept Jesus as the Messiah. He says, “The real burnt offering is going to be when all of these Jews that don’t believe in Jesus Christ go to hell for eternity. That’s the oven that they ought to be worried about.”
So this Baptist Pastor has his own idea of a “death sentence” for Jews who don’t accept Jesus, he just figures Jesus is going to be the executioner. I find this disturbing because this “burnt offering” he proposes, in his eyes, would include my Jewish wife. I’m glad his church in Tempe, Arizona is far away from here.
But while Anderson is “gunning” for all Jews who don’t believe in Jesus, Rabbi Mizrachi has a more specific target:
Mizrachi was referring specifically to Eitan Bar and Moti Vaknin, the Israeli Messianic Jews behind the One For Israel project that exists primarily to share the Gospel via the Internet.
In one of their more recent videos, Bar and Vaknin exposed several of Mizrachi’s false teachings regarding Yeshua and the promises about Messiah.
Mizrachi warned that “if they dare to speak up again, these two clowns, I will strike them down.”
That’s a pretty bold statement. I suppose Rabbi Mizrachi could have just been blowing smoke, but I think Bar and Vaknin took the threat seriously.
The irony in all this is that, even though Mizrachi and Anderson would consider each other mortal enemies, they have some things in common. They both believe they are sincerely serving God in calling for (in one way or another) the destruction of those they believe are opposed to God. They are both Holocaust deniers (amazingly enough), and they both aren’t afraid to go on record saying some pretty inflammatory things.
I suppose scary or crazy people can be in any religion, even as Rabbis and Pastors.
By the way, I found Anderson just by Googling “anti-semitic pastor” and his name was returned at the top of the list. I’m sure there are others, maybe many others, most of whom don’t publicly admit to their opinions. For all I know, there may be plenty of Rabbis who covertly agree with Mizrachi but for the sake of peace don’t give voice to their thoughts.
It’s enough to make you want to give up on religion altogether.
That’s why I have to believe that these two individuals are somewhat rare. I have to believe that most Rabbis and most Pastors don’t desire the destruction of Messianic Jews and non-believing Jews respectively.
But even if most or all of them did, that doesn’t change God. Some Christians like to say that “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.” I completely disagree. Christianity in its various forms is just as much a tradition-driven religion as the numerous branches of Judaism. Where the relationship comes in, at least from my point of view, is between the individual and God.
I suppose I could say “between the community and God,” but the community isn’t responsible for your “walk” with the Almighty, you are. That people like Pastor Anderson call themselves “Christian” in no way obligates me to agree with any of their nonsensical notions.
If I were stuck on the proverbial desert island with the means to survive in the long haul, and my only companion were God, I wouldn’t give men like Mizrachi and Anderson a second thought. I probably still shouldn’t. After all, I don’t depend on either of them for my ability to connect (or disconnect as the case may be) with Hashem.
And that’s the beauty of it. No matter how many religious “nutjobs” there are in the world, they don’t speak for me and they have exactly zero impact on what God thinks of Christians and Jews relative to Moshiach or anything else.
I can only hope and pray that God will protect anyone Mizrachi and Anderson have influence over.
Last year, I called the association of Easter and Passover a collision, although I did urge Hebrew Roots and Messianic people not to throw Christianity under a bus for celebrating Easter as their most Holy day.
However, this year, I’m getting nervous. No, I’m not feeling anxiety about Passover or even Easter, but about how the status of the state of Israel is changing. A few days ago, The Jewish Press published an op-ed piece called “Obama Declares War on Israel”. Unfortunately, they’re not wrong. American President Barack Obama’s negative attitude toward Benjamin Netanyahu and his recent victory in winning the election in Israel, coupled with Obama’s disastrous policies toward a near-nuclear Iran, indicate that the relationship between the U.S. and Israel is at its weakest point ever.
We are about to join the ranks of those nations who are enemies of Israel, and we know from scripture that all the nations that will go up against Israel in war will be defeated by God, and their survivors will be compelled to pay homage to Israel and her King.
Almost bumped a Jewish kid crossing the road. He didn’t look b4 crossing but I still would hav felt so bad in my german car!
South Africans know how to recycle like Israel knows how to be peaceful.
Fortunately, according to the story, he suffered a strong and immediate backlash for his comments. However, his tweet in response was hardly repentant:
To reduce my views to a handful of jokes that didn’t land is not a true reflection of my character, nor my evolution as a comedian.
So far, I don’t find him particularly funny.
I’m just listing two examples of a much wider body of information indicating how the world is continually turning away from the nation of Israel and is being willing to victimize Jewish people up to and including murder. Even American Vice President Joe Biden publicly admitted that Jews in this country can only rely on Israel and not on the U.S. As anti-Semitism continues to rise in our nation, are we going to start looking like Europe in how we treat our Jewish citizens?
It may not be too soon for American and European Jews to start making Aliyah. That gives the statement “Next Year in Jerusalem,” which we say at the conclusion of every Seder, a new and poignant meaning.
It’s not just President Obama who has declared war on Israel and the Jewish people, it’s the entire world.
Yesterday, Derek Leman posted (or re-posted) a blog called Passover, Resurrection, Constantine which is a fabulous history of how Easter came to be in the Christian religious calendar.
In the second century, the congregations of Yeshua-believers were dissociating themselves from Jewish origins. Ignatius of Antioch famously said, “It is monstrous to talk of Christ and practice Judaism” (Letter to the Magnesians 10:3). The Jews had been in two wars with Rome (66-70 and 130-132 CE). Yeshua-believers, who had originally been seen as a sect of Judaism, had originally been protected under Roman law — free from obligation to show devotions to Roman gods and Caesars under the Jewish exemption — by being regarded as Jews and proselytes to Judaism. Now being Jewish carried with it the worst social stigma possible in Roman society.
But a controversy arose between the main congregations and some Asian bishops (the Roman province of Asia, in modern Turkey). Specifically Polycrates, claiming to be keeping up the practice handed down to him from Polycarp, kept a fast (vigil) until the 14th day of the month (apparently the Jewish month, Nisan) and then held a feast (likely a Passover Seder). But the other congregations at this point held a vigil on Saturday followed by a feast on Easter Sunday. The people in this dispute like Polycrates, who kept their feast on the 14th day, were called Quartodecimanists (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quartodecimanism).
They were some of the last hold-outs, Yeshua-followers who kept some of the Jewish customs of the early believers. There would be philo-Semitic (Jewish friendly) Christians well into the fifth century (as Chrysostom preached sermons against them). But in the second century such friendliness with Judaism was already well on its way to being considered a departure from true faith.
I think we still suffer under the legacy of those days and, even in the secular world, Jews and Judaism have historically endured the disfavor and displeasure of the people of the nations (to put it mildly).
Recently, the Sojourning with Jews blog posted a missive called One New Man-ity challenging the traditional Christian belief that God’s “Old Testament” particularity toward Israel was replaced by a “New Testament” universalism that exchanged the Jewish people for the Church. As a non-Jewish wife married to a Jewish husband, she defines the Gentile role in relation to the Jewish people thus:
God also says He will discipline His people and that they will be scattered out of the land and suffer terribly from the nations for a very long time. They will “dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar….” But “Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.” Hosea 3:4-5. Other places say He will rescue Jacob from “hands that were too strong for him.” I juxtapose that with Jesus saying his followers are to love and care for even the least of his brothers and so, I see that I have a calling of my own and the overarching purpose is to love God, and my neighbor as myself.
According to the historical record, if all Christians had understood this, there would have been more to stand in-between the Jews, and the nations that repeatedly sought their blood.
As far as I’m concerned, she is definitely “preaching to the choir.”
Passover and the Week of Unleavened Bread commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from under the harsh slavery of Egypt and God, through Moses, leading His nation to Sinai to establish them as the head of the nations, giving them His Torah.
People think they are free when they throw off the yoke of the Torah. However, unless one has the revealed wisdom of the Torah, he is at risk at becoming a “slave” to the fads and fashion of his society. Slavery is non-thinking action, rote behavior, following the impulse desires of the body. Our job on Pesach is to come out of slavery into true freedom and to develop a closer relationship with the Almighty!
What has kept the Jewish people free and united them as a people for over 3,500 years when an entire world continually tries to destroy them, is cleaving to God’s Torah and maintaining their Covenant distinctiveness from the nations around them.
Passover, for the Jewish people, is a time to celebrate freedom, not just from slavery and tyranny, but from the spectre of annihilation, assimilation, and dissolution.
Several days ago, my wife and I were discussing the sad state of America and how our President seems all too willing to throw Israel to Iranian wolves. In a fit of pique, she said she’d consider giving up on the U.S. and making Aliyah.
A momentary surge of joy welled up in me at the thought, but I realize she wasn’t making a serious suggestion. According to my spouse, Israel is looking for younger families to make Aliyah, not a couple approaching retirement.
But this made me realize that while I would hate leaving my children, my grandchildren, and my parents behind, it’s more important to me to support the Jewish nation and the Land of Promise than to tolerate my own country, which seems to be in a moral and ethical nosedive destined to crash and burn at the conscience of the King.
The weight of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic hate weighs heavily upon my shoulders as I contemplate this year’s seder, just a day away as you read this (and as I consider Easter as well). But if I have faith in God at all, then I know what He has promised Israel, to be the head of all the nations, to be a Land of everlasting peace and prosperity, will come to pass. And not all the Barack Obamas, Trevor Noahs, or anyone else can stop Him from ushering in the Messianic Era and blessing the Jewish nation of Israel.
At my family Seder tomorrow night, when we all declare “Next Year in Jerusalem,” may that “next year” come soon. May it come soon for all Jews living in the diaspora and for all those who love them.
Freedom is the responsibility to fill our lives with meaning.
It is prohibited for a gentile to study Torah, and if he does so, he is [deserving of death] (see Sanhedrin 59a). A Jew is not allowed to teach him Torah, so as not to be the vehicle by which the gentile sins. What, then, is being added to this ruling in our Gemara from the verse in Tehillim?
According to ” ז ט we can say that the study of Torah which is prohibited for a gentile is the in-depth and careful study of its profundities. This includes the intricate aspects of Torah taught by Moshe to the Jewish people. However, the study of a simple listing of guidelines of Jewish law and general halachos would not cause a gentile to be liable for death. A Jew is, therefore, not in violation of עור לפני for exposing a gentile to such information. Our Gemara teaches that this is still prohibited, nevertheless, based upon the verse in Tehillim.
“Teaching Torah to a gentile”
from “Distinctive Insight” for Ghagiga 13
Daf Yomi Digest for September 21, 2014
Published by the Chicago Center for Torah and Chesed
Disclaimer: I suspect I may be misunderstanding the above-quoted text and it’s source. If anyone can offer clarification, I’d appreciate it. I can only base the following on my current understanding.
I suppose I take it for granted that I can read and study my Bible. I also take it for granted that all of the contents of the Bible, including the Apostolic Scriptures, are Jewish books, written by Jewish authors for Jewish readers. It was only with the advent of the New Covenant era which has yet to actually arrive, that large numbers of Gentiles were taught the Jewish scriptures as part of the grafted-in population of non-Jews into the First Century C.E. Jewish religious stream originally known as “the Way”.
Of course the prohibition cited in the above-quoted text didn’t exist at that time, at least not in a formal or written manner (and probably not at all as far as I know) and in fact, we see there was some expectation that the Gentile disciples of the Master were expected to learn and study Torah under the authority of Jewish teachers:
For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
–Acts 15:21 (NASB)
I interpret this rather cryptic verse to mean that the Gentiles, though by legal decision (Acts 15) obligated to observe only a subset of the full yoke of Torah incumbent on a Jewish disciple, were nevertheless to hear Torah read in the synagogue on Shabbat and most likely to learn and study Torah with their Jewish teachers and mentors. Such an informational background would be absolutely necessary if the Gentiles, especially those recently having been pagans (as opposed to the God-fearing Gentiles who regularly attended shul) were to make any sense at all of the teachings of the Master and to comprehend how the New Covenant blessings allow for the redemption of the people of the nations through God’s redemption of all of Israel.
But of course something happened between then and now. Gentile Christianity was formed out of the bosom of the early Jewish Messianic movement and proceeded, due to many events and circumstances, to remove itself from having anything to do with Judaism. I’ve said before that the actions and mistakes made by the first Gentile Christians in the Second and Third Centuries have been carried down in some manner or fashion into the current Church such that “studying Torah” is not on any believer’s radar (although there are exceptions which I will address presently).
No doubt a great deal of apprehension and even fear among Jewish people has been inspired by the decidedly nasty behavior of the Church toward the Synagogue over the long centuries, and has only been softened quite recently due to Hitler’s Holocaust.
About 350 years ago, someone asked Rav Avraham Amigo, zt”l, an interesting question. “A notzri who is connected to the authorities has been buying our books in an effort to complete a library of all the basic Torah texts. He has also offered to pay a certain Jew to teach him Torah. It is not clear whether this is preparatory to conversion or because he is seeking a way to undermine the Jewish community. Is it permissible to teach him or sell him seforim?”
The Gadol responded, “It is prohibited to teach him, as we find in the Gemara in Chagiga 13a. However, if there is a potential threat to Jewish life involved, it is definitely permitted to teach him, as we learn from the Gemara in Bava Kama 38b. If it does not appear that there is an element of danger in this case, I forbid teaching him or selling him books. Whether he truly intends to convert is difficult to ascertain because he could endanger himself by showing an interest in Judaism as the citizen of a Catholic country. In any case, the Gemara in Gittin 85a states that conversion is not likely, and we also find many references in Shas that prove that heretics often try to capitalize on whatever little learning they do have to defame the sages and undermine the Jewish community.”
The Rav continued, “In any event, we must guard against the possibility that he will travel where he is unknown and get the confidence of a Jew on the road. The Jew will trust him because he is learned. Once he wins his confidence he may very well kill him. This is the logic of the Gemara in Menachos 43a regarding the prohibition to sell a non-Jew techeiles. If he was wearing techeiles, he could easily fool a Jew on the road and kill him for his possessions!”
“The Torah of the Jewish People”
from “Stories off the Daf” for Chagiga 13
Daf Yomi Digest
When I first read this story I thought it seemed ridiculous that homicide would be the only or primary motivation of a Gentile to desire Jewish learning. But apparently the fear originated somewhere and resulted in essentially blocking off any non-Jews from more than a superficial level of Torah study unless that Gentile person’s intent was to convert to Judaism.
This doesn’t seem very applicable today, though. I can go online and order any Jewish book that’s available for purchase from any number of Jewish or non-Jewish sellers. I can even order all manner of Judaica online including tefillin and a tallit and no one is going to require that I prove that I’m Jewish (which I’m not). Of course, accessing a knowledgable and authentic Torah scholar from which to learn and study might be a bit of a chore, especially within Orthodox Judaism, but on the other hand, I could take online classes through organizations such as the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute, and as far as I know, there’s no restriction on any class based solely on being Jewish or Gentile.
I really doubt there’s much of a chance that someone like me studying Torah, in whatever manner I’m able, will result in any physical (or any other kind of) harm coming to a Jewish person.
But notice something else.
“If he was wearing techeiles, he could easily fool a Jew on the road and kill him for his possessions!”
This statement assumes that the hypothetical homicidal Gentile being discussed not only appeared learned in Torah but that, based on a different Gemara, he could be mistaken for a Jew because he was wearing “techeiles” (which is the blue coloring originally commanded [Numbers 15:37-41] that Bnei Yisrael wear as a thread among the tzitzit on the four corners of their clothing). I have to assume that “techeiles” is another way of saying tzitzit in this instance, thus it is not only forbidden to teach a Gentile Torah but to sell him tzitzit (in modern times, probably a tallit with the tzitzit attached) as well for the sake of Jewish safety.
While in the modern era, it seems highly improbable that a Gentile would study Torah and wear tzitzit for the express purpose of waylaying and murdering a Jew for his possessions, that fear originated somewhere at some time in the past and I don’t doubt that such an apprehension “echoes” across the corridors of history and into the present day.
Ten years ago, I was sitting in our local Conservative/Reform synagogue on Shabbat. Mel Gibson’s film Passion of the Christ (2004) was about to be released in theaters across the U.S., and in the discussion was a very real fear of the consequences. Historically, after every passion play, there is a pogrom, and although our little corner of Idaho generally doesn’t see a great deal of anti-Semitism, a shared cultural and genetic fear rapidly filled the room.
While at least locally, nothing happened and the film came and went, that fear comes from somewhere and it persists.
Ever since there have been Jews or Israelites or Hebrews, the rest of the world has been trying to kill them. Two-thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul was actively recruiting Gentiles to enter into and participate in Jewish communal and religious space as co-equals and participants in the benefits of the New Covenant blessings, however, he received a great deal of pushback from Jewish communities and community leaders, even to the point of Paul suffering injury and risking death.
And yet, there were synagogues from Syrian Antioch to Rome where Jews and Gentiles co-mingled in relative peace, studying, worshiping, and associating together, and at least for at time, it seemed to work out.
But not in the long run.
The history would take too long to relate, but the net result is that Jews learned to distrust the Gentile Christians along with all of the other Gentiles in the diaspora, and Gentile Christians for their (our) part, learned to distrust Jewish people.
Hence rulings were issued such as it being forbidden to sell Jewish books and to teach Torah to a Gentile, and the seemingly irrational fear that a Gentile would leverage Jewish learning and a Jewish appearance to do harm to a Jew.
But now we have something interesting going on.
A significant minority population of Gentile Christians are experiencing a renewed interest in Judaism, specifically Messianic Judaism. On the surface, the Messianic Jewish movement seems to be an attempt to do what Paul was trying to do; to bring Gentiles into Jewish community for the mutual study of Torah and the mutual worship of God through faith in the work of Messiah Yeshua (Christ Jesus).
But that’s not exactly what’s happening. In the days of Paul, the Way was one of many Judaisms in ancient Judea and the diaspora nations, and if Gentiles wanted to join, they had to accept Jewish authority in the synagogue. Gentiles, by definition, were the learners since all knowledge of Messiah was Jewish knowledge. Gentiles were present in Jewish community by the invitation of the Jewish community, and that community defined Gentile legal status and all of the requirements for Gentile entry and participation.
Modern Messianic Judaism, given the past two-thousand years, is not an attempt to re-create the “churches” of Paul. Gentiles have plenty of Christian Churches and a long and rich tradition to draw from. Jewish people discovering the revelation of the identity of Messiah are attempting to maintain Jewish space and community and to carve out a niche for themselves in larger Jewry, one that allows for a fully experienced and realized Jewish lifestyle that acknowledges Messiah as mediator of the New Covenant God (Hebrews 9:15) made with the House of Israel and the House of Judah (Jeremiah 31:31).
And as I said above, a significant portion of Gentiles are leaving churches and are fascinated with a wholly culturally and religious Jewish take on who Jesus is and what it really means to be a disciple of the King of the Jews.
Do you see how confusing this could get (and has gotten)? Jews who don’t want to convert to Christianity and abandon what it is to be a Jew are attempting to develop Jewish communities for Jews in Messiah, but the Gentiles are knocking at the door asking (and sometimes demanding) to be let in and to study Torah. At some visceral level, I can see the old fears kicking in among the Messianic Jews. Can they be a Jewish community if Gentiles are present? What other motivation could some of these Gentiles have for wanting entry?
Even if those fears don’t appear rational to the rest of us, it’s possible the fear, or at least some degree of apprehension, is still there and feels very real.
I don’t know any of this as absolute fact, but I find myself wondering if Jewish opposition to Gentile participation in the larger body of the mitzvot up to and including donning a tallit, laying tefillin, davening with a siddur, and the rest of those behaviors that make a person look “Jewish” (whether they are or not), might have something to do with the same spirit that inspired Chagiga 13?
I don’t know. But if there’s even a hint of that historical fear incorporated in the desire for modern Messianic Jews to have exclusively Jewish community, then we “Messianic Gentiles” might want to take another look at what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
I’m not saying it should be forbidden for Gentiles to study Torah. Far from it. I’m not saying that all Gentiles should be forbidden from having community with Messianic Jews. Far from it. I’m just saying that we should wait for an invitation to enter someone else’s house.
And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
You’re probably reading this “meditation” in the “space” between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, that very critical ten day period in Judaism when many observant Jews are attempting to shift the scales of God’s justice toward mercy. It’s also the time when the new year is unfolded before us all shiny, new, and full of potential. After Yom Kippur is Sukkot, then Shmini Atzeret, Simchat Torah, and a new Torah cycle begins on October 18th.
There have been a number of changes in my life that occurred rather abruptly and I’m looking forward to pursuing my studies with renewed zeal and anticipation. Who I study with and how we pursue the Bible and the presence of God, I don’t know yet (as I write this). As with the other changes I’ve experienced like this one, I’ll wait and see what God has in mind.
Secular sources view history in perspectives of their own, predicated on economic, social, and political principals. By contrast, the Torah directs us to view history as the unfolding of the Divine Plan. History is the metamorphosis of man through the stages of destruction and redemption, continuing towards his final redemption in the days of Moshiach. And all such events, the redemptions and destructions, are perceived as fundamental testimony to the presence of the Almighty in this world, and are understood as experiential units in hashgachah pratis, the active force of the Hand of the Almighty. (Rabbi Mordechai Gifter; “Torah Perspectives,” pp.103-4)
Recently a number of leaders in the Protestant community of the United States have urged the endorsement of far-reaching and unilateral political commitments to the people and land of Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, citing Holy Scripture as the basis for those commitments. To strengthen their endorsement, several of these leaders have also insisted that they speak on behalf of the seventy million people who constitute the American evangelical community.
It is good and necessary for evangelical leaders to speak out on the great moral issues of our day in obedience to Christ’s call for his disciples to be salt and light in the world. It is quite another thing, however, when leaders call for commitments that are based upon a serious misreading of Holy Scripture. In such instances, it is good and necessary for other evangelical leaders to speak out as well. We do so here in the hope that we may contribute to the cause of the Lord Christ, apart from whom there can never be true and lasting peace in the world.
At the heart of the political commitments in question are two fatally flawed propositions. First, some are teaching that God’s alleged favor toward Israel today is based upon ethnic descent rather than upon the grace of Christ alone, as proclaimed in the Gospel. Second, others are teaching that the Bible’s promises concerning the land are fulfilled in a special political region or “Holy Land,” perpetually set apart by God for one ethnic group alone. As a result of these false claims, large segments of the evangelical community, our fellow citizens, and our government are being misled with regard to the Bible’s teachings regarding the people of God, the land of Israel, and the impartiality of the Gospel.
In what follows, we make our convictions public. We do so acknowledging the genuine evangelical faith of many who will not agree with us. Knowing that we may incur their disfavor, we are nevertheless constrained by Scripture and by conscience to publish the following propositions for the cause of Christ and truth.
-from the introduction to
“An Open Letter to Evangelicals and Other Interested Parties:
The People of God, the Land of Israel, and the Impartiality of the Gospel”
Also known as the “Knox Seminary letter”
found at BibleResearcher.com
A few days ago, I had a private email conversation with someone over a number of issues and the name of a well-known Evangelical Christian Pastor came up in connection with the letter I quoted above (he’s supposed to be one of the later — but not one of the original — signatories). The association wasn’t complementary and having looked up and read the letter after finishing the email dialog, I can understand why.
From an Evangelical Christian point of view, when you read the ten points listed plus the rest of this letter’s content, you probably wouldn’t bat an eye. Nothing would seem amiss in the text of the letter and you’d probably think of it as standard, Evangelical Christian doctrine.
Sadly, it is standard Evangelical Christian doctrine and thereby hangs a tale.
I’m writing this “meditation” several days before you’ll read it. I’ve set it to publish automatically early (in my time zone) on Sunday morning, when millions of Christians across the country are getting ready to go to church. Today is also Purim, the celebration that is commanded of the Jews of Ahashuerus’ ancient Persian Kingdom, ”their descendants and all who joined them…” (Esther 9:27 – NRSV).
”All who joined them” is an interesting phrase because it seemingly refers to the objects of the following statement:
In every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict came, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a festival and a holiday. Furthermore, many of the peoples of the country professed to be Jews, because the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them. (emph. mine)
–Esther 8:17 (NRSV)
I mentioned before that we aren’t quite sure exactly what that statement means except that obviously many non-Jews became strongly affiliated, perhaps even to the point of conversion, with the Jewish people. They were the ones who ”joined them” and thus they, along with all their descendants, have received a commandment to perpetually celebrate two days of Purim each year.
The descendants of the Jews in that ancient Persian land are considered today to be all Jews everywhere, but what about the descendants of the Gentiles who joined with the Jews? If they were only converts to Judaism, then their descendants are also Jews. If ”professing to be Jews” however, meant pretending to be Jewish or perhaps coming alongside the Jewish people in fellowship and solidarity, then they are something else. Modern day Iranians perhaps, since King Ahasuerus’ kingdom realm is part of modern-day Iran? Those Gentile descendants could have traveled far and wide in the thousands of years since Esther (Hadassah) and Mordechai walked the earth. Today, they could be anyone.
I don’t think I can expand the concept so far as to “command” all Gentiles everywhere to celebrate Purim (although, why not, since it’s such a fun holiday?). So assuming we’re not just talking about born-Jews and proselytes today, who joins or comes alongside the Jews today?
The most obvious answer are the Gentiles participating in the various streams of Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots. None of the Gentile populations in the numerous branches of those two movements directly claims to be Jewish (with the exception of adherents to Two-House Theology) but all have an affiliation with the Jewish people and Israel to one type and degree or another. In my little corner of Messianic Judaism, it is common to say that Gentiles have come alongside Israel, we have joined them, not as Jews, but maybe like the Gentiles in Shushan.
Then it’s obvious that we non-Jews who are in some way among Jews in Jewish communities (or primarily Gentile communities who affiliate with Jewish or Hebrew practices in the case of Hebrew Roots) are, along with the Jews, commanded to celebrate Purim. And again, as I said before, I think there are excellent reasons for all Christians everywhere to celebrate Purim as well.
But obviously not all Christians will agree with that statement. Probably most Christians won’t agree with that statement, and certainly the original and later signatories of the aforementioned open letter would absolutely not agree with me.
I was tempted to go over each point of the letter and write a rebuttal, but since that letter has been around since 2002, plenty of other rebuttals already exist, including an article at pre-trib.org and the Rapture Ready discussion forum (not that I’m likely to agree with all the points or perspectives of either population, but I do want to illustrate that not all “normative” Christians go along with the Knox Seminary letter).
Just a few days ago, as I’m writing this, Tim at the Onesimus Files blog, wrote a short but powerful article with accompanying links in support of Israel as remaining in God’s promises and refuting that the Gentile Church has replaced “earthly Israel” as the “spiritual” or “new Israel.” A day or so later, Judah Himango at his blog Kineti L’Tziyon wrote Purim: 5 unusual lessons for Yeshua’s disciples (and for those of you who may not know, “Yeshua” is the original Hebrew name for “Jesus”).
I don’t always agree with either Tim’s or Judah’s perspectives on certain things, but we do agree that God has not done away with the centrality of Israel in God’s prophetic, Messianic promises, and that the non-Jewish people of the world must come alongside the Jewish people by becoming disciples of “the King of the Jews,” who came once as Yeshua ben Yosef and who will return in power as Yeshua ben David, and through the worship of the God of all, the One God, Israel’s God.
I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
–Genesis 12:3 (NRSV)
That’s God speaking to Abram (later named Abraham) and blessing him with an eternal blessing that applies to all of his descendants through Isaac and Jacob who today are the Jewish people. God not only promises to bless the nations who bless Abraham and his descendants and to curse those who curse them, but He inserts a veiled promise that all the families, the nations of the earth shall be blessed by Abraham’s seed, Messiah.
Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.
–Galatians 3:16 (NASB)
So we non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah come alongside Israel through Messiah, the seed of Abraham through whom the entire world will ultimately be blessed.
We can say that those people who are not Jewish and who have not come to faith in Jesus Christ have no obligation to observe Purim. However some atheists and agnostics and people of other religions do “bless” or support the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state and who think well of the Jewish people, though it’s popular in secular society worldwide to refer to Israel as an “apartheid state” and to demand a boycott of Israel’s products and services, thus bringing themselves under a curse (they don’t believe the God of Israel exists and thus that the curse exists, but the Messiah hasn’t returned yet).
But are any authentically believing and faithful Christians under the same curse?
Bad Christian theology regarding the “Holy Land” contributed to the tragic cruelty of the Crusades in the Middle Ages. Lamentably, bad Christian theology is today attributing to secular Israel a divine mandate to conquer and hold Palestine, with the consequence that the Palestinian people are marginalized and regarded as virtual “Canaanites.” This doctrine is both contrary to the teaching of the New Testament and a violation of the Gospel mandate. In addition, this theology puts those Christians who are urging the violent seizure and occupation of Palestinian land in moral jeopardy of their own bloodguiltiness. Are we as Christians not called to pray for and work for peace, warning both parties to this conflict that those who live by the sword will die by the sword? Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can bring both temporal reconciliation and the hope of an eternal and heavenly inheritance to the Israeli and the Palestinian. Only through Jesus Christ can anyone know peace on earth.
-from point ten of the Knox Seminary “open letter”
This is in direct contradiction to God’s giving the land of Israel to the Jewish people in perpetuity (see Genesis 15:18 and 17:8 … also see ”The Bible on Jewish Links to the Holy Land” at Jewish Virtual Library).
To Challenge Evangelicals To Take Responsibility To Help Resolve the Conflicts in Israel-Palestine By Engaging With the Teaching of Jesus on the Kingdom of God.
That sounds very nice, except under About Us/Manifesto, one of the twelve points listed states:
Any exclusive claim to land of the Bible in the name of God is not in line with the teaching of Scripture.
I have no idea how any Christian who reads and understands the Bible can make such a statement, but I said before that recent news articles report Evangelicals pulling away from supporting a Jewish Israel. Sadly, it actually makes sense for Evangelical Christians to turn a cold shoulder toward Israel and the Jewish people. It took Hitler’s ghastly Holocaust to shock the Christian church out of centuries of anti-Semitism and supersessionism, but World War Two ended nearly seventy years ago, and if I know one thing about human beings, we’re very shortsighted and of limited memory.
Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.
It seems that even those who (probably) do know the history of the Holocaust are (unfortunately) destined to repeat it as well, at least to the degree of denying that Israel is a Jewish state in accordance to the promises of God, and agreeing that it is not only reasonable but Biblical to carve up Israel into Israel and “Palestine.”
I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse…
I find it ironic that the image in the banner at the CaTC homepage quotes Matthew 6:10, ”Your Kingdom Come.” I can only imagine that the folks at Bethlehem Bible College and the other CaTC supporters and allies believe that when God’s Kingdom comes upon the return of Jesus, the way they, and the folks who signed the Knox Seminary open letter, view God’s Kingdom lines up with the complete elimination of Jewish possession of Israel. The fact that point nine of the open letter states, The entitlement of any one ethnic or religious group to territory in the Middle East called the “Holy Land” cannot be supported by Scripture. In fact, the land promises specific to Israel in the Old Testament were fulfilled under Joshua,” is, to me, a clear indication that the letter’s writers and signatories have no idea what God has promised Israel or what “Thy Kingdom Come” means.
I realize that makes me sound arrogant beyond belief. All of the signatories are Pastors and theologians with doctorate degrees up the wazoo, and I’m just one guy with no doctorate degrees and just a heck of a lot of chutzpah (and with chutzpah in mind, I invite anyone who agrees with the Knox Seminary letter and/or CaTC’s mission to watch The First Fruits of Zion episode Thy Kingdom Come for a bit of illumination).
I know it seems strange to say that there are Christians, well-known Christian Pastors even, who could be cursed by God because these well-known (and probably lots of not well-known) Christians believe ”the land promises specific to Israel in the Old Testament were fulfilled under Joshua,” and that ”bad Christian theology is today attributing to secular Israel a divine mandate to conquer and hold Palestine.” Really. They should just join the BDS Movement and be done with it. I bet they’re big fans of Roger Waters’ vile opinions on Israel.
If these Christians are banking on ”He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved,” (Mark 16:16) they should remember Jesus also said:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’”
–Matthew 7:21-23 (NRSV)
Remember the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). I used to think it was about being judged by how we do or don’t show kindness and compassion to others, especially strangers, but a year or so ago, I heard an alternative interpretation from a teacher at the church I attend, that Jesus is specifically addressing those Gentile believers who did not care for the disadvantaged, the hungry, thirsty, or naked of Israel, the Jewish people.
I really hate to say this since I know it will hurt a lot of people’s feelings and make a lot of Christians mad at me, but the only conclusion I can pull out of all of this is that the “Spirit of Haman” not only roams the Islamic mosques and madrassas (seminaries) but that “Spirit” can also be found in some of our churches and seminaries. It breaks my heart to say that because there are a lot of good people in the church who indeed to love Israel and believe it is for the Jews only, but the evidence has been mounting that much of Christianity is turning away in the “Spirit of Haman” and bringing upon themselves the curse promised in the Abrahamic covenant, and the curse of Haman and his ten sons.
I wish I could have written a light, comedic “meditation” for today as a celebration of life and joy, but I discovered I’m not a comedy writer. I’m just a voice in the wilderness calling the churches of the nations back from where they’ve wandered off, pleading with them to repent of their ways, begging them to return to God before it’s too late.
John was a prophet in the wilderness and he called many Jews back to repentance in his day. I’m just a guy with a blog and I’m no prophet at all.
My friend Dan Hennessy is building an educational venture using “smart technology” to inform secondary and college-age students about the Holocaust. He’s developed a slogan for this “underground operation:”
“Education is resistance. Support the resistance.”
Humans have a strength that cannot be measured. This is John Connor. If you are listening to this, you are the resistance.
Like the scattered remnants of humanity all but decimated by the machines in John Connor’s fictional future world, I’m just a man alone or among a small group of partisans, fighting against a much larger and imposing force. But, like those celluloid (though movies aren’t on celluloid film anymore) resistance fighters, I’m just listening to a contraband radio set, so to speak, listening to words of freedom that have been all but forgotten, cherishing allies that have been thrown under the bus of “Christian political correctness.”
But I can hear a voice and because I’m listening, I am the resistance. Learn about Purim. Learn why the Knox Seminary open letter and Christ at the Checkpoint are tragically wrong about what the Bible says. I did so by becoming a student of Messianic Judaism but that’s not the only way. Become part of the resistance by blessing Israel and not cursing it, for surely we will all be judged by how we have treated Christ’s “little ones.”
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.
–Psalm 137:5-6 (NRSV)
And I say with some irony, Chag Sameach Purim. Have a joyous Festival of Purim.
"When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness." -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman