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Friday, December 26, 2008

Rabbi Riskin defends himself

Posted by Ellen W. Horowitz

(below is a response by Rabbi Riskin to my post:
Did you hear the one about the Jewish Knight, the Pope, the Rabbi, and Jesus?

Dear Rabbi Riskin,

Thank you for your thorough response to my blog posting. I will certainly post your entire response, as well as link it to the original piece and send it out to my email lists.
I find your explanations to be unsettling and l will continue to take issue with your stand on Christian-Jewish dialogue and relations, as well as continue to seek the advice of, and have my writings on this issue reviewed by respected rabbinic authorities.

With regards to point three, I urge you to reconsider your relationship with the Cavalry Tabernacle Church of Cranford NJ, as they are connected with and sponsoring Dugit Messianic Ministries in Tel Aviv - an organization working hard to convert Jews.
Please go to the "missions" section of the Calvary website at
You will find the second listing under "our missionaries" is Avi and Chaya Mizrachi of Dugit in Tel Aviv
To see Dugit in action, please view the follwing video:
I've attached the most recent brochure of Pave the Way Foundation in which your endorsement is prominently featured.

Again, thank you for taking the time to respond.

Shabbat Shalom and Hanukah Sameach.
Ellen W. Horowitz

Sent: Thursday, December 25, 2008 9:43 PM
Subject: from Rabbi Shlomo Riskin

To Ellen Horowitz et al,

It is my understanding from Yaffa Ganz that you would be glad to reprint, as well as, send out my response to issues raised on "Ellen’ Horowitz’s blog" to your entire list. I greatly appreciate your willingness to do this. While I welcome honest and sincere criticism to stands that I take, the entire picture of opinions and quotes should always be taken within the context it was expressed. Below, you will not only find my response to the subjects mentioned in the blog, but my fundamental positions that I hold firmly to.


I – Ellen's first quote

Ellen Horowitz suggested to her readers that they sit down before reading her following choice quotes lest they plotz. She quoted me as saying "the Christians have told the whole world about the god of love and peace, and they did it by picking up the ball that we Jews dropped 2,000 years ago".


This is an accurate statement, and lies at the very root of the reason for our Center for Jewish Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC). G-d initially elected Abraham and his descendants to present the religion of ethical monotheism to the world, or at the very least the seven Noahide laws. At the very time of Abraham's election, G-d informs him "All the families of the earth shall be blessed through you" (Gen. 12:3), and all of our prophets speak of the Holy Temple from which Torah will go forth to the entire world (Isaiah 2 and Micah 4).

Even Maimonides legislates that it is incumbent upon the Jewish people even to coerce the rest of the world if necessary to accept the Noahide laws (Mishneh Torah , Laws of Kings 8,10) Indeed, in the unexpurgated versions of Maimonides' text of Mishneh Torah as transmitted by Rav Kapah in his Yemenite version, we find the following quotation:

But the thoughts of the Creator of the Universe can never be grasped by human beings, since our ways are not His ways and our thoughts are not His thoughts. All of these words of Yeshua the Nazarene and of that Yishmaeli who came after him were only in order to prepare the road for the king Messiah and to perfect the entire world to serve G-d together…. how so? Since already (through them) the entire world has been filled with words of messianism and with words of Torah and with words of commandments; and these concepts have spread to the furthest islands and to many nations whose hearts are not yet circumcised and they (the Nazarene and the Yishmaeli) have carried and given over these concepts as well as commandments of the Torah… (Laws of Kings 11, 11-12)

The fact remains that during the Second Commonwealth and until the Hadrionic persecutions, after the abortive Bar Kochba rebellion, Jews were avid proselytizers. Judaism was indeed a charismatic religion with a core tenet to spread the Torah to the world. Josephus writes a great deal about this, insisting that throughout the Roman Empire wherever there were heavily populated Jewish areas, the overwhelming majority of Gentiles were not working on the Sabbath, were eating kosher food and fasting on Yom Kippur.

In addition to prominent proselytes like Onkelos, Avtalyon, Ben Bag Bag and Ben Heh Heh, both Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Akiva were traditionally said to have come from converts. It is important to also take note of the Mishnah in Avot: "Be among the students of Aaron: love peace, pursue peace, love all human beings (briyot) and bring them close to Torah." Apparently our Jewish missionary activity stopped during the period of the Hadrianic persecutions when it became forbidden for us to convert others.

I completely subscribe to Professor Huntington's position in his path breaking work The Clash of Civilizations. We are in the midst of the fourth world war, a religious struggle between the free world (which believes in a G-d of love compassion and peace, the G-d of the 24 books of Tanach which are accepted as sacred by Judaism and Christianity) and the world of fundamentalist Islam which believes in a god of will, world domination and jihad. I see the present day rapprochement between Christianity and Judaism after almost 2,000 years of enmity as one of the critical signs of the fateful times in which we are living and a strong ray of light through the darkness emanating from Iran, Al Quaida, Hezbollah and Hamas.

A sea change has occurred during these last several decades. Christians are sincerely trumpeting the call that G-d remains faithful to His initial covenant with Israel, and that the Biblical prophecy is continually being fulfilled through the people of Israel living in its covenanted land. I do believe that together we must champion the belief in our joint G-d who created the world and promises eventual redemption to a fragile and fragmented world on the brink of disaster.


II – Ellen's second quote

Ellen Horowitz further cited:

"Nekrutman assured his guests that he wanted them to feel comfortable and even urged them despite being in a synagogue 'pray in Jesus' name, don't leave Jesus at the door'"


David Nekrutman serves as the Executive Director of CJCUC. When lecturing to Christian groups, he begins by telling the audience that he is an Orthodox Jew who does not believe in the divinity of Jesus or in the sacredness of the Christian canon. What makes our dialogue possible is that we pray to the same Father and our expressions of faith are rooted in the covenant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The major view of most poskim such as Rav Yaakov Emden and the Shach say that dialogue between both faiths is possible since Christian Trinitarian doctrine looks upon the trinity as a belief in one God, not three separate god-heads. Therefore, there is a unity with the trinity. Of course, Jewish belief does not subscribe to this theology and in our talks with Christians we make it quite clear that any individual who accepts the divinity of Jesus can ipso facto never be considered Jewish. Retaining Jewish identity at the same time believing in the supreme core doctrine of Christianity is heretical to both faiths. You are either Jewish or a Christian. There is nothing in between.

Christians believe that theirs is the perfect revelation to which ultimately everyone will convert. We, as Jews, also believe that Judaism is the perfect revelation to which ultimately everyone will convert. We make the above points very clear in our discussions with Christians, even stressing that any Christian sect who presents a raison d'etre to convert Jews as a specific mandate is bordering on spiritual anti-Semitism, because they are saying the Jewish soul in its present state can not be “saved”. We understand that part and parcel of Christian identity is spreading the gospel to everyone, but there are ways to do this. Coming to Israel under guise of supporting the Jewish people and the Land and distributing missionizing material is not only unlawful, religiously dishonest and offensive. CJCUC does not dialogue with Jews for Jesus or any Messianic entities.


III – Ellen's third charge


Ellen Horowitz then writes the following: "His embrace of evangelicals becomes problematic when an organization under his auspices appears to be the recipient of significant funds which were raised at a CUFI sponsored event held at a missionary training center which is affiliated with an actively proselytizing Tel Aviv Messianic Outreach Center"


Christians United for Israel (CUFI) does not evangelize Jews. Pastor John Hagee, the founder and leader of this movement, has dedicated his cleric career in serving Israel without ulterior motive – and has even been strongly criticized by many evangelical pastors because of his belief that Jews as Jews have a share in heavenly reward and eternity. The churches which belong to CUFI have special "Nights to Honor Israel", wherein they talk about the importance of the land of Israel for the Jews and the world, encourage political support and raise funds to help the poor in Israel.

Let it be stated on record that in the last two years, we have received the sum total of less than $50,000 from these Israel nights, with none of that money going to our Ohr Torah Stone Institutions but rather to a special loving kindness fund which feeds poor Jews and Palestinians who live near Efrat. The particular evening which Ellen speaks of was held in the Cavalry Tabernacle Church headed by Pastor Clem Salerno in Cranford N.J. The Church may very well have donated to other Christian operations which send out missionaries; however, to the best of my knowledge they do not at all have as a central goal of missionizing Jews. Churches are by there very nature involved in sending out pastors whose job is to spread the gospels; my interest is to try to get these churches to support Israel unconditionally and without specifying any mission to the Jews. If I were to discover that any who I have a connection with whose raison d'etre is converting the Jewish people, all ties with them would be severed.


IV - Ellen's final quote


"And prominently featured in the center right of Pave the Way foundation's brochure is Rabbi Riskin's endorsement of that organization. But wait. It was three years ago, in late October of 2005, that Rabbi Riskin's office told this writer that Rabbi Riskin would request that his name be removed as a sponsor of Pave the Way foundation due to the organization's efforts to get Israel to give control to the Vatican of the room above the traditional burial site of King David. I guess Rabbi Riskin has since changed his mind, as the updated literature once again sports Rabbi Riskin's endorsement of the Pave the Way foundation."

I am not and never was a board member, officer or endorser of the Pave the Way foundation. I did mail a letter of gratitude for his invitation to meet with Pope John Paul II with other organizational leaders. It was this letter that was prominently featured in the foundation’s brochure. When I heard that the foundation was trying to get Israel to give control to the Vatican of the room above the burial site of King David, I clearly voiced my objection to those efforts. I consider Gary Krupp a good and sincere friend – one who I respect but with whom I do not always agree.


In regard to reviewing the Papacy of Pope Pius XII, Krupp has done extensive research in this area. I sent David Nekrutman to attend the symposium sponsored by Pave the Way Foundation in September of this year. He debriefed me of the events that took place and mentioned that his own judgments on the Pope were changed. Nekrutman originally thought that Pope Pius XII was indeed a Nazi collaborator and the documents shown at the symposium counter that claim. I have voiced to him as well as to others that I believe the jury is still out until the documents in the Vatican files are all properly studied and interpreted. Yad Vashem is the premiere Holocaust institution in the world and will deal with these issues according their own protocols and standards.


I do believe in Jewish-Christian dialogue especially during these fateful times. There will be those who will disagree with me about this issue, and they have every right to do so. In my relationships with Christians, I have found that we have much more in common than what separates us - such as the sanctity of our shared Biblical Scriptures (the 24 books of the Bible) as well as in a G-d of love, morality and peace. Thus far in our relationship, I have found more Christians (many thousands) being moved to accept more and more Jewish practices and even coming closer to our theological views than the other way around.

Sincerely,

Shlomo Riskin

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Rabbi riskin refers twice in his explanation of ellens second quote. "that any indivdual who excepts the divinty of Jesus can ipso facto never be considered Jewish" isn't that close to messianic belief that Jesus was the messiah please calrify can one accept Jesus as messiah be Jewish.His definition I think blurs lines of distinction

Ellen said...

According to Rabbi Kravitz of Jews for Judaism, "the messianic movement push this [the messiah] line and intentionally avoid mentioning that they believe Jesus is God incarnate and part of the Trinity. Messianic Jews and evangelical Christian believe in foreign concepts that trace to ancient paganism. This is the real dividing line, not whether Jesus is simply a Savior. Idolatry verses pure monotheism ultimately defines a loyal Jew."

Rabbi Riskin seems to blur a lot of lines. I posted his response as promised, but I really haven’t had a chance to examine it in depth (I’m not sure that I want to).

At first glance, it is confusing though – especially when he expounds on the oneness of threeness. But I was never really good at math or theology, and the concept of the trinity is really irrelevant to me as a Jew.

A Jew who has embraced Jesus as lord and savior has obviously abandoned recognized and traditional Jewish faith. And a Christian can play with Jewish objects, rituals, texts, and mitzvot, but his belief in Jesus will prevent him from becoming a Jew. There is simply no room for Jesus in Judaism.

I believe Christians and other faith communities remain perpetually confused, intrigued, and challenged, because being a Jew transcends all conventional definitions of religion and nationality -and remains elusive for them.

Anonymous said...

Ellen wrote: "At first glance, it is confusing though – especially when he expounds on the oneness of threeness. But I was never really good at math or theology, and the concept of the trinity is really irrelevant to me as a Jew."

Riskin was explaining the Christian position - why Christians claim to be monotheists, while at the same time believing in the doctrine of the Trinity.

He immediately adds: "Of course, Jewish belief does not subscribe to this theology and in our talks with Christians we make it quite clear that any individual who accepts the divinity of Jesus can ipso facto never be considered Jewish. Retaining Jewish identity at the same time believing in the supreme core doctrine of Christianity is heretical to both faiths. You are either Jewish or a Christian. There is nothing in between."

So Riskin is certainly not espousing Christian belief, and I detect no blurring of lines. He flatly states that Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus (the sine qua non of orthodox Christianity) is "heretical."

Let me add, as a Christian, that you are incorrect in stating that Christian beliefs - such as, presumably, the Trinity - are traceable to ancient paganism. There are dubious arguments to this effect, but they do not withstand scrutiny. (Much material addressing this can be found via the search engine at www.catholic.com)

Ellen further wrote: "There is simply no room for Jesus in Judaism."

Now, it appears Riskin is saying there is room, in some sense, for Jesus in Judaism (although not in the sense of orthodox Christianity, whose view of Jesus, once again, Riskin characterizes as "heretical"). In turn, Riskin explains what he means by this by quoting Maimonides -- who, I think you'll agree, knew a thing or two about Judaism. If that's a legitimate quote, then I daresay Riskin has no small authority weighing in on his side of the question, and against yours.

Regards,

Your Friendly Neighborhood Goyische Kop

Ellen said...

Dear Anonymous Goyische Kop,

I have a Jewish kop, so it's beyond my understanding as to why Rabbi Riskin goes to such pains to explain "the Christian position - why Christians claim to be monotheists, while at the same time believing in the doctrine of the Trinity."

Not only is Rabbi Riskin considered a very "small authority" on the matter of interfaith theological dialogue, but his own Rav ruled against such encounters and that position is certainly upheld by the overwhelming majority of rabbinic leaders in Israel and the Diaspora, as well as by the Rabbinical Council of America (the RCA is the predominant Orthodox rabbinic authority in America). So those who know their Maimonides take great issue with Rabbi Riskin on this issue.

And because I adhere to the decisions rendered By Rabbi Riskin's Rav on the matter of interfaith theological dialogue, I will not engage a Goyische kop in a theological debate.

However, with regards to my original post, I would be interested to know if Rabbi Riskin and his center for theological dialogue intends to enthusiastically pursue relations with the Vatican now that a) Pope Benedict has restored to prominence the Tridentine rite - a prayer for the conversion of Jews, And b)one of the pope's top aides, Cardinal Renato Martino, called Gaza "a big concentration camp."

Seems a leading Italian rabbi accused Pope Benedict of wiping out 50 years of dialogue and Italy's chief rabbis may boycott a key Church event celebrating Judaism.

Whoa...wait a minute...Isn't Rabbi Riskin supposed to host an interfaith conference in with the Latin Patriarch in March 2009?

Anonymous said...

Ellen wrote: "it's beyond my understanding as to why Rabbi Riskin goes to such pains to explain "'the Christian position - why Christians claim to be monotheists, while at the same time believing in the doctrine of the Trinity.'"

He clearly explains why he addresses the point - to establish what makes Jewish-Christian dialogue possible, adding: "The major view of most poskim such as Rav Yaakov Emden and the Shach say that dialogue between both faiths is possible since Christian Trinitarian doctrine looks upon the trinity as a belief in one God, not three separate god-heads."

Ellen wrote: "And because I adhere to the decisions rendered By Rabbi Riskin's Rav on the matter of interfaith theological dialogue, I will not engage a Goyische kop in a theological debate."

Fair enough. End of discussion.

Regards,

- YFNGK

Ellen said...

I think we need to be intellectually honest here.

We are not discussing the the possible good that Christianity and Islam brought to the world.
Rambam, Rav Yaacov Emden, and others have a lot to say about that.

Nor is the matter of concern about whether or not Jews can dialogue with people of other faiths. Of course we can, and we must in order to conduct ourselves in this world.

The possibility of dialogue between people of two faiths is not the issue Torah scholars concern themselves with.
But they do question the value and merit of actively engaging in and encouraging INTERFAITH THEOLOGICAL dialogue and debate.
And this is the halachic line Rabbi Riskin has crossed by opening up a center for interfaith theological dialogue with Christians.