Thursday, April 10, 2008

Rabbi Riskin responds, and so do I

Posted by Ellen W. Horowitz

I gotta start cleaning for Pesach, but this issue is also pressing :
Batya’s husband has posted a response by Rabbi Riskin to my posts at

I also received that response from Rabbi Riskin, and Rabbi Riskin’s office has been very considerate in trying to arrange a time for me to discuss my concerns. In the meantime, below are Rabbi Riskin’s points, followed by my comments:

Rabbi Riskin: For the last five years I have been involved with some major evangelical groups on many different levels; never during those years was there any kind of missionary activity which they initiated, certainly not with me, but neither with any other Jews in Israel or the Diaspora.

My comment: I can understand that you have not been personally targeted by the groups that you work with, but how can you speak for “any other Jews in Israel or the Diaspora”? Would you be willing to name those various groups?

Rabbi Riskin: The Jewish people is facing an existential battle for our lives against Islamic Fundamentalism, which is fast taking over Europe and is slowly becoming more and more vocal and visible in the United States. This is the most critical threat facing us a people and facing the entire free world - and there are only less than thirteen million Jews against over a billion Moslems. And there are at least a billion and one half Christians

My comment: The few against the many is certainly nothing new for us Jews. It’s been that way since time immemorial. Why is the numbers game so important now? Is this “the last crusade” - a final epic battle between religions? It’s that apocalyptic and absolutist Christian fundamentalist reading of the map which may alienate so many would-be Zionist Jews from the Land of Israel camp (it may also be a factor in turning off many non-evangelicals who would otherwise take an intellectually moral stand with Israel). It feels strange to them. There is a critical global security threat for sure, and Israel stands on the brink of a, G-d forbid, nuclear confrontation. But if we inextricably fuse our security crisis in Israel to a greater global religious conflict, then we restrict our ability to act unilaterally as an independent nation under threat. Do we need to base our calculations along distorted religious lines –the vast majority of those Christians would not come to our aid, neither are they pro-Israel evangelicals. However in a serious crisis, those righteous Gentiles who take a truly moral stand with Israel – regardless of religious affiliation – will come to our aid. Shouldn't we be presenting our case in intelligent, grounded terms?

Rabbi Riskin: Yes, for close to 2,000 years the church has spewed anti Semitic hate and its only interest in the Jews was either to kill us or convert us. Open your eyes ! This is not the situation today ! The evangelical community in USA are the staunchest supporters of Israel and especially of settlement Israel, they believe in us and our right to be where we are. And if they believe that at the time of the resurrection we will convert to Christianity, I respect their right to that belief; I believe that in the Messianic age all the Christians will convert to Judaism, and I say this vocally. The Nature of our relationship is not eschatological theological debate.

My comment: Rabbi Riskin, I beg to differ with you, as the facts on the ground are telling a different story:
a) This month the World Evangelical Alliance launched a major campaign calling for renewed efforts at Jewish conversion. They took out full page ads the New York Times and other major newspapers. That organization claims 420 million evangelicals in 128 countries

b) Missionizing of Jews in Israel and abroad has reached epidemic proportions - and is having a devastating effect. The Jerusalem Institute of Justice claims 15,000 “messianic” Jews and 120 congregations in Israel (that’s up from 7000 in 2005),7340,L-3521856,00.html

c) Rabbis like Shmuley Boteach are being called upon to engage in public theological debate by evangelical institutions (granted Shmuley likes the PR, but still the fact that there are Jews being called to defend their faith through public debate with Christian clergy is disturbing and reminiscent of other tragic incidents in our history which started out as friendly interfaith discussions).

d) There are major Anti-Semitic accusations (blood libels? ) against the Orthodox community by the Baptist, Anglican, and Messianic evangelical churches. Without evidence, they are publicly accusing Orthodox Jews of attempting to murder a Pastor's family in Ariel. And Pat Robertson"s CBN News network which is directed by a member of Pastor Hagee's executive board is giving air time to libelous charges against the Jewish community.

Sounds to me that we are in a state of “shmad” in Eretz Yisrael and the Diaspora. I discussed this very issue with my rav last week. When asking him to define the term shmad –conversion, he said it actually means spiritual destruction, and then he gave me the following stunning example from Megillat Esther (7:4):

Esther refers to three types of destruction: "The Jews were sold to be destroyed, slain, and exterminated”. The first term, “destroyed”, relates to spiritual destruction. Esther puts spiritual destruction at the top of the list – before physical destruction.

So while some of us are busy counting the centrifuges in Iran, others are looking at the destruction taking place in within our borders. I think we need to have an awareness of the full picture – and unfortunately rampant missionary activity by evangelicals is a part of that picture.
Rabbi Riskin: Rav Soloveitchik spoke to and lectured Christian theological groups . His first address on the Lonely Man of Faith was presented in a Catholic University in Boston (I believe it was St. Johns) He was against theological debate on religious issues in which we are not respected equals in the eyes of the Christians. So am I. However, I do not believe he would be against our relationship today on behalf of world peace and against Islamic Jihad.

My comment: So why is it that the majority of poskim refrain from interfaith prayer banquets, events, and debate in both Israel and America? What did the Rabbinical Council of America issue a statement in 2006 reaffirming the Rav’s psak on this matter? And why is it that the Chief Rabbinate uses this very psak in their ruling against Jewish participation in the Christian Feast of Tabernacles events in Jerusalem?

To be continued…


Batya said...

I am very proud that my Shiloh Musings is the internet forum for Ellen's excellent and important writing about the dangers of Christian missionaries and more.

I think it very naive of Rabbi Riskin to think and write publically that just because they wouldn't dare try to debate him about theology, they don't try it with less knowledgeable Jews.

Ellen, I wish to thank you for making us all aware of the dangers and not being afraid to post them.

Anonymous said...

I substantially agree with Ellen. Jews are feeling very threatened - in a sixty-years-ago sort of way - and are reaching out to 'any friends we might have.' Actually, those friends and 'friends' are reaching out to us more, as they sense our vulnerability.

The US Admin and many pro-Israel people are happy to paint the current nightmarish situation - because it is that - as a straight-on religious war between Islam and everyone else. Jews feel that we are the #1 target for the Islamists (which is debatable), and feel overwhelmed. They see right-wing American Evangelicals and other Evangelicals state repeatedly that Christianity is the ultimate target. Many of these same people not only make bold statements on behalf of Israel, they clearly expect Israelis and Jews to concur.

Of course, much of this logic and chain of reasoning is/are based on accepting that 9/11 was just that, an announcement of Islam's renewed campaign to destroy 'the West', and Christianity and Judaism along with it. While many Jihadists are clearly motivated along such general lines, this ignores the long relationship between Western nations and Islamist groups. I'm talking primarily - but not only - about the US and Britain. Our 'friend' Brzezinski aimed to stir up Islamism, and enlisted the help of S Arabia and Pakistan to do so. He said so, as Ellen and others have quoted. There is evidence that 'a little Islamism would be good to help provoke and/or end the USSR'...

So the formation of al Qaeda as a kind of Saudi-Pakistani-American tool within the geopolitical context has to be considered. The relationship between Saudi Royals, so called, and the Bin Laden clan, and American 'royalty' can't be ignored, right down to the Bush family. And then you have the Balkans, where people like Jared Israel have done some astonishing research. A woman called Julia Gorin has written extensively about how the Western media demonized Serb nationalism, and ignored the many links between US/NATO policy and the Islamic forces in Bosnia, Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia.

So what is the war all about? It is going on on many levels. It seems to me that lack of Jewish/Israeli self-confidence, carelessness or ignorance in learning about events, and fear mingle to produce a kind of desperation along the lines of:

"You want to be our friends. Okay!!"

...followed by little examination of what that friendship means. So folks like Ellen are doing a very important service.


Anonymous said...

Correction, the Admin does not say 'It's a war with Islam', of course. They make it a war with a fringe sect within Islam; it just so happens that this is the sect that, according to them, is responsible for 911 and a host of other ghoulish events.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much, Batya.
I appreciate you giving me an opportunity to post on this forum.

And thanks for repeatedly and patiently walking me through the how-to-blog steps.

I hope to meet with Rabbi Riskin soon over this issue, so I most likely will refrain from blogging on his involvement in the evangelical world until after we meet.

Anonymous said...

Hi Larry!
It's been a very long time. we used to have some great email exchanges!

Thanks for you thoughtful and intelligent comments. I like your direction, and I plan to continue to address this issue in a very big way.

But the world situation is gonna have to wait until I clean my house for Pesach! (the Jews are a very weird people) But I'm sure my evangelical friends are pleased that Ellen will be giving them a reprieve, while I clean my freezer.

Avi said...

Ellen, I think that I may love you. ;)

We are in terrible danger from Christian missionaries. We have brought this problem upon ourselves as so many are completely ignorant of Judaism. We have brought them into our homes and communities and now we are suffering. My blog is infested with them!

Anonymous said...

Hi back Ellen,

Yes, those were the days. We all went off in different directions.

Anyways, I made it back to Israel in the end. I hope your sons are well, in every sense of the word.

Chag Sameach (also to Batya and family).


ellen said...

Welcome home, Larry!
We need people like you.

Shabbat Shalom and
Chag Sameach!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ellen.

What a crazy country, though. Now they tell me in Ma'ariv that Olmert and Barak plan a 'rotatzia' to stay in power and block the Likud. Maybe I'll visit my cousins in Emek Hahuleh soon and go up to the Golan. Let me know if you have an extra sleeping bag for a night. Lord knows Tel Aviv is not really Israel.

Anonymous said...

And a few miscellaneous comments, being as I always have these:

The entire subject is critical, not only for itself, but as it relates to the future of Israel, our security situation, identity and ability to attract Jewish immigrants. My feelings before coming back have been reinforced in the relatively short time since I've come back (though my perceptions may be skewed by residence in the Roaming Dogs, Tattoed Human and General Licentiousness of the City by the Sea):

1) Israel is in a post-Zionist mood. This is not altogether bad, as the resultant shallowness may lighten the collective mood somewhat;

2) The government is deserved. People get the government they deserve, even if it's not democratic in a true sense. That is, if you lose democracy, you probably deserve that too;

3) The situation could be worse. People here generally seem to like the country, despite protestations to the contrary. In Amerika, you find many claims of deep love for the red, white and blue, and deep pessimism about the future. For all the casual cynicism of people here, I sense an underlying optimism;

4) Such optimism flies in the face of reality, yet pessimists like Benny Morris [having just read his profiling by Horovitz in the Post] are themselves 'typical' Israelis, Dennis the Menaces who don't really mean what they say, or clobber you with the bad news and then let you know that good news might be behind it.

I was interested to read, and comment on, the latest enlightened, cough, column, by Larry Derfner on the Post, about valiant Aharon Barak and his martyrdom. I am squarely with Friedmann, and believe in, G-d forbid, democracy, in which the 'rabble' actually speaks, decides and rules. Derfner's argument for the Rule of the Enlightened Elite conjures up memories of Kibbutz (Shomrat) and Hashomer Hatzair, from which I escaped once upon a time.

I am for the rule of the rabble, and for an end to this sickening Jewish-Jewish racism by which Sephardim (whose blood I partly share) and religious people are not to be entrusted with actual participation. I don't have to get as gloomy as Tamar Yonah in her New World Order blogs to be equally disgusted by the mottos and 'morality' of the President and his absurd instructions to Israel's young. The first thing I will do, on being elected President, is to order removal of a lot of tattoos and put the Tel Aviv dogs, especially the mastiffs and Dobermans, on leashes.