In the past few years, we have witnessed increasing support for Israel by Christian Evangelicals. They view the establishment of the State of Israel as the miraculous fulfillment of the vision of Prophets in the Bible. The Jewish nation returns to its land, the soil yields its produce, “For the Lord shall comfort Zion: He will comfort all her waste places; and He will make her wilderness like Eden and her desert like the garden of the Lord (Isaiah 51:3).” They see the settlements and vineyards and are deeply moved, for behold, the fulfillment of the prophecy: “And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them” (Isaiah 65:21). “And I will bring back the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink their wine; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them” (Amos 9:14). While many countries support the Arabs out of economic interests, or out of fear, or due to false beliefs, the Evangelicals are clearly on our side. Their point of view is very important, for they are a significant component in America, which is presently the strongest country in the world.
However, for many Jews, the question arises: How should we relate to Christians who suddenly have become our friends? For nearly two thousand years, they persecuted the Jewish nation, murdered, plundered, expelled, coerced us to convert to Christianity, and suddenly they love us? Can we believe them? And what do we do with what the Rambam (Maimonides) wrote, that Christianity has the status of idol worship?
Notice and Disclosure
In order to be above suspicion, and so I can write my opinions without any personal interests, I hereby promise, God willing, not to accept for myself, or for Yeshiva Har Bracha, donations from Christian friends of Israel. In the past, without my knowledge, a representative of the Yeshiva obtained a considerable donation from Christian lovers of Israel. After they had already agreed to donate, it would not have been polite to refuse. Nevertheless, we are searching for ways to contribute an equal amount of money towards positive activities amongst the Gentiles.
Attitude towards Israel
Apparently, everything is dependent on the attitude towards Israel. The most severe sin of Christianity was its denial of God’s choosing Israel to be His Chosen Nation, and all the prophecies of Redemption spoken about the Jewish nation. They thought to replace Israel, and thus, caused us horrendous suffering, trying with all their might to convert Jews to Christianity. This is why the Sages amended the ‘birkat Ha’minim’ (the blessing on the heretics), or as the Rambam wrote (Laws of Prayer 2:1): “They would cause anguish to Israel, and incite them to turn away from Hashem.”
It is no accident that the litmus test in this world for morality, truth, and faith – is the attitude towards Israel. Faith was revealed in the world by the Jewish nation, through Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaacov, the Exodus from Egypt, and the receiving of the Torah. Since then, God reveals Himself to the world through the events of Israel, in kindness and in judgment, in reward, punishment, and consolation, as written in the Torah and the Prophets.
Change in Recent Times
In recent times, we have witnessed significant changes in the attitude towards Israel. Our return to our Land, and our establishment in it, our eternal existence despite the murders and the Holocaust, the creation of the State of Israel, the prospering agriculture, standing up to our surrounding enemies – all this aroused significant questions and new ideas within them. Some of them hated us even more because, according to their understanding, our very existence here in Israel contradicts their faith, and under various pretexts, they always support our enemies. In contrast, today there are quite a few who believe, to some extent, that Israel is the Chosen Nation, who must return to their land, settle it, and occupy themselves with Torah and mitzvoth. They see it as a privilege to help fulfill the prophecies in the Bible.
That being the case, when it comes to Christians who believe that God chose Israel and that all of the good prophecies should be realized within Israel, and they are not working to convert us, God forbid, rather, to strengthen us – then all the severe things mentioned about Christians do not apply to them. On the contrary – great corrections are being made by them, they are righteous Gentiles, and God will reward them.
I recently met a Christian American, Tommy Waller, and I asked him: ‘If a Jew were to come to you and ask, what’s better: to be a Jew or a Christian, what would you say to him?’ He replied: ‘I would tell him to be a Jew.’ ‘Although,’ he added, ‘I didn’t always think that way. At first, all Christians want everyone to be Christian, but this position stems from ignorance.’ To his regret, people are publicizing things against him that he said in the past. After having visited Israel, he began to recognize the great value of the Jewish nation. He told me that he read in the Book of Isaiah (chapter 61:5): “And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien shall be your ploughmen and your vinedressers,” and he was totally filled with excitement and thought to himself, ‘Maybe I’ll get to realize this holy verse!’ He encourages people to visit Israel and help work the land, while being aware of what is said in the following verses concerning Israel: “But you shall be named, Priests of the Lord: men shall say of you, Ministers of our God…and their seed shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among peoples: all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the Lord has blessed.”
Words of Rabbi Kook ztz”l
“Concerning faiths which have diverted from the Torah, such as Christianity and Islam, the essence of their venom does not lie in their concept of divinity, which is different from what it should be according to the fundamental light of the Torah, but rather what stems from this – the obliteration of practical mitzvoth, and the cancellation of the [Jewish] nation’s hope in relation to its complete revival” (“Shmoneh K’vatzim”, kovetz A: 32).
As We Learned in the Torah Portion
Similarly, we learn in this week’s Torah portion that treatment of the nations is determined according to their attitude towards Israel (Deuteronomy 23:4-9): ‘An Ammonite or Moabite [man] may not enter God’s marriage group. They may never enter God’s marriage group, even after the tenth generation. This is because they did not greet you with bread and water when you were on the way out of Egypt, and also because they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to curse you…You must never seek peace or anything good [with these nations], as long as you exist. Do not despise the Edomite, since he is your brother. Do not despise the Egyptian, since you were an immigrant in his land. [Therefore,] children born to [members of these nations] in the third generation [after becoming proselytes] may enter God’s marriage group.”
Our Attitude towards Amalek
Likewise, the severe attitude towards Amalek is determined according to their behavior towards Israel (Deuteronomy 25:17-19): “Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt…” Also in ‘halacha’ (Jewish law), all is dependent on the attitude towards Israel, inasmuch as before going to war against the nations, we must first call for peace – and this is also the law concerning Amalek. If they accept upon themselves to keep the seven Noahide commandments, with faith in Hashem the God of Israel and agree to pay taxes – we cease fighting and killing them (Rambam, Laws of Kings 6:1-4, Kesef Mishneh, there). Thus, the entire reason for the severe attitude towards Amalek is because they are a nation which embodies profound hatred towards Israel.
Opinions in Jewish Law
The arbiters of Jewish law are divided on the question of whether Christianity is truly idol worship or not. According to the Rambam, Christianity is idol worship, since they believe that Jesus is god, and this has practical, ‘halachic’ significance: it is everlastingly forbidden to do business with them (Rambam, Laws of Idol Worship, 9:4). According to the opinion of Tosephot (Tractate Chulin 13b), even though they say he is god, it is only a custom of their ancestors, but in truth, they do not believe that he really is god, and therefore, it is permissible to do business with them. All this is in relation to Catholics, for they have idols. But concerning Protestants who don’t have idols, there is room to say that perhaps even the Rambam would be lenient.
Then, there is another question: Are the ‘B’nei Noach’ commanded not to worship idols in partnership? In other words, if they believe in Hashem, the God of the heavens and earth, and also include an idol in their faith, do they thus transgress the prohibition of idol worship, which is one of the seven Noahide commandments? Or, are they not considered idol worshippers, but simply mistaken in this issue? The accepted ‘halacha’ is that ‘B’nei Noach’ are not commanded concerning idol worship in partnership (Ran, Rabbeinu Yerucham in the name of Tosephot, Ra’ma, Orach Chaim 156:1).
There are some authorities who were entirely lenient, and according to their opinion, moral nations, in spite of being Catholic, since, as a rule, they believe in the unity of God, their ‘halachic’ status is that of ‘gerim toshavim’ (foreign residents), which is the highest status (Meiri, Maharitz Chiut). Those authorities who followed in their path, also wanted to be lenient in relation to the Germans, because they were a seemingly enlightened and civilized nation – until reality came and proved them wrong. Nevertheless, when it comes to those who love Israel, according to their opinion, they certainly can be considered ‘gerim toshavim’.
For even according to the opinion of the Rambam, it is unclear whether the Protestants are considered idol worshippers in partnership; it is more likely that according to all opinions, they are not defined as idol worshippers, and their status is that of fulfilling the seven Noahide commandments and, in general, monotheists.
Who is Closer to Us?
These Christians are closer to us than the secular, liberal leftists in Western countries, both in their faith in the Bible, and their ethics. Apparently, their perception of Human Rights is much more profound and meaningful as compared to the leftist view which, at times, is superficial and shallow. The leftists constantly sing the praises of Human Rights, but in practice, they support the Arabs and Muslims, who, at present, is the most discriminatory group of Human Rights in the world.
Take, for example, Martin Luther King, Jr., one of America’s greatest human and moral leaders, who was a Baptist priest (one of the Evangelical denominations), and truly expressed the values of Human Rights. He based this on Biblical faith, and similarly, was a lover of Israel. In a letter to an anti-Zionist friend in 1967, he wrote: “In the Western countries, once again it is not popular to publically express hate for the Jews. This being the case, the anti-Semite always searches for methods, ways, and new forums to dispense his poison. So, once again, he does not hate the Jews. He’s only anti-Zionist. However, my friend… there is no room for mistake. When people hurl accusations at Zionism – their real goal are the Jews.” From the walls of his prison cell, where he sat for charges on his struggle for equal rights, he wrote: “I am sure that had I been in Nazi Germany in those times, I would have helped my Jewish brothers, and encouraged them, even though it meant violating the law…”
There is still room to ask: Maybe there are some missionaries amongst our friends who want to convert us? Indeed, if such a thing is proven – they must be fought. However, as far as anyone who has not been proven to be a missionary is concerned we must return to the basic, appropriate conduct – respect and love. As Rabbi Kook said: “Love of creation…should spread to all mankind, despite all the differing opinions, religions and faiths, despite all the differences of races and climates…only on a soul rich in love of the creation and man, can love of the nation rise in all its pride and grace, and spiritual and practical greatness…”