Like a number of OU products, this one was stamped “parve”. The one page document which made its way across my desk is entitled: Working in Coalition with Evangelical Christians. And, according to reports, it is one of a number of resolutions which is expected to be approved at this week’s Orthodox Union Convention in Jerusalem.
It is clearly an American document, and it sort of reads like “Diaspora Jewry’s First Amendment in praise of Evangelicals”. The statement endorses shared values regarding religious liberty, support for parochial schools, tax policies, attitudes on same-sex marriage, and physician assisted suicide; while “agreeing to disagree” on issues like stem cell research and matters related to reproductive health policy. Modern Orthodox American rabbis are certainly intune with American culture and headlines.
But one wonders if Orthodox Union rabbinic leaders read Israeli papers, or if they are in sync with those matters concerning their Jewish brethren in Israel.
Those OU members who did manage to peruse their morning Jerusalem Post, on the eve of the conference, should have picke d up the hint that something is terribly amiss in the holy land when headlines reported that Birthright now finds itself in the position of having to screen out Messianic Jews (JPost, November 26). And that a messianic attorney for the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, called the screening practice “blatant, ridiculous discrimination” and “a shame.”
That fundamentalist Christians now have a political, legislative, economic, cultural, philanthropic, and religious foothold in Israel – as well as property holdings – should have piqued the interest of any rabbi concerned with Jewish continuity. Missionary activity is running unchecked in the Jewish state and the spiritu al integrity of the Jewish people is in jeopardy due to a lack of ethical accountability, legislation, and rabbinic guidelines vis a vis our relationship with impassioned Christian leaders and organizations whose very raison d’etre is and remains evangelism.
These matters should surely be of the utmost concern to Jewish leaders and yet I don’t see the OU addressing the halachic implications of accepting Christian monetary donations, or placing limits on Christian involvement in Israel’s political decision-making and legislative process. Nor has the problematic issue of the evangelical quest for a “Judeo-Christian” union been broached by our spiritual leaders. The Jewish people are at a loss over whether or not to attend evangelical-sponsored joint prayer sessions and theologically-loaded events.0 And laws pertaining to avoda zara are rarely addressed by our rabbinic authorities. Basic halacha with regards to real estate purchases and conducting business with gentiles in Eretz Yisrael fails to make the rabbinic agenda, and many rabbanim steer clear of any debate having to do with freedom of religious expression versus prohibitions against spreading the gospel, and the need for counter-missionary legislation in Israel.
Without rabbinic guidance and consensus the Torah observant Israeli and Diaspora public don’t have an inkling of how to approach or avoid the growing Hebrew Christian and apostate Jewish community which sees Jesus as their lord and savior, and who want recognition as a legitimate community in Israel. All Orthodox rabbinic leaders should be up in arms over aggressive attempts to change the Law of Return in order to accommodate messianics.
A vague statement that “many non Orthodox American Jews and their organizations have consistently questioned the advisability of working in coalition with Evangelicalsâ€¦due to disagreement on other matters” is included in the resolution, but the OU statement fails to elucidate on what those “other matters” are – although they hint that they are political or theological in nature. I can tell you that one of those “other” concerns has to do with the evangelical’s overt missionary agenda.
Another difference of opinion may be over the territorial integrity of Jerusalem . But with regards to Jerusalem, surely Orthodox rabbis â€“ even American ones â€“ should have some sense of Jewish history. While numerous n ations, empires, and crusaders have all valued and attached themselves to Jerusalem for political, territorial or religious purposes; without a respect for Judaism that support is worthless, detrimental and destructive to the Jewish people. And as long as numerous evangelical groups continue to see the Land of Israel as fertile ground for “harvesting souls”, while simultaneously “supporting” us, then one has to question their level of respect for our faith and for our people.
In the final paragraph of the statement, OU does indeed express an awareness “of the desire of some Evangelical Christians, as a matter of faith, to spread their religion to Jews”, and the OU claims they will “remain vigilant to the dangers this presents to Jewish continuity”.
However, by relegating this concern to the end of a resolution replete with words of appreciation and gratitude to evangelicals, it takes on the status of=2 0a mumbled afterthought. It would have been far more appropriate and effective had the Orthodox Union had the gumption to place this matter of concern at the top of their agenda â€“ after all Jewish continuity is the priority.
Perhaps the most unsettling part of the OU statement does come at the beginning. OU uses the legacy of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik z”l to defend their partnering with evangelical groups. It appears that the Rav did indeed, as the statement claims, encourage working “in partnership with all people in the service of human welfare and rights” while proscribing theological interfaith dialogue. However the current relationship being nurtured with evangelicals is inevitably replete with religious, biblical and eschatological discourse and theme. And this cooperation is often couched within the context of “preserving our Judeo-Christian heritage” â€“ something the Rav utterly rejected. It’s worth asking ourselves whether or not evangelical exclusivity has actually hindered the message of a universal striving for morality which Rav Soloveitchik did encourage, and whether or not it contributes to the alienation of non-Orthodox Jews from their Orthodox brethren.
Rav Soloveichik’s legacy is that of a genius who did not skirt weighty matters nor treat them superficially. His writings and halachic rulings are absolutely profound. The OU resolution on working with evangelicals is bereft of a spirit of soul-wrestling and introspection â€“ and the Rav loved to wrestle. He was hardly parve.
Even Rav Soloveitchik’s halachic essay on interfaith dialogue was entitled “Confrontation”, and not “accommodation”. Indeed one wonders if OU’s feeble and evasive stand on the missionary threat facing Israel would be deemed as an insult to the Rav who back in November of 1963 joined the halachic giants of his generation and penned a no-nonsense protest to then Prime Minister Levi Eshkol:
We the undersignedâ€¦shuddered at reports of missionary activity in the Holy Land, which threatens our survival as one people in the Land and in the Diasporaâ€¦ We turn to the Prime Ministerâ€¦to bring to an end by legislative means the duplicity of the missions which wean Jews away from their faith.”
The Orthodox Union’s statement abounds with “feel good” declarations on religious freedoms and American values, but it is simply too comfortable, lacks backbone, and is not intune with the reality on the ground here in Israel.
UPDATE: I was informed last night (motzei Shabbat) that the OU resolution which is the subject of the below article, and was scheduled for approval at last week’s convention in Jerusalem, has been withdrawn and is under reassessment due to new information being brought to light. This decision followed a flurry of activity including several private meetings with key figures from the Orthodox Union, as well as intense lobbying efforts by the newly formed grassroots movement “Jewish Israel” (their public awareness online portal will be launched next month). They can be contacted at info@JewishIsrael.com, or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.