I write a lot about Jews, our history, our beliefs and the issues that face us. I do so, among other reasons, because I want my readers to understand the significance of the Jewish experience in the formation of the most basic principles of western civilization. I want my readers to comprehend that Jew hatred is an age-old mutating virus that poisons every society that it infests. I also want my readers to recognize a modern miracle: More and more Christians are manifesting a deep love for Israel and the Jewish people and this growing miracle has no discernible or tangible reason for occurring (after all, it is a “miracle”).
Since moving to the South, I have come to know a great many serious and believing Christians. Coming from New York, a Jew such as myself could go through his entire life without more than a glancing encounter with Christians who actually take their religion seriously. I now live smack dab in the middle of the buckle in the Bible Belt and it has been a “revelation” (you should excuse the expression). Down here, I have been amazed at the number of Christians who are dedicated supporters of the state of Israel. These are people who sincerely believe that as Christians they are religiously obligated to love the Jewish people — and they gladly do so. They often cite G-d’s words to Abraham in the text of Genesis 12:3: “And I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse; and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”
The secular media often paint the picture of Christian support of Israel as a doomsday Armageddon scenario directly out of the Book of Revelation, but in very rare exceptions that perception is far from the truth. If one truly engages with Christian Zionists, he would learn that each of them has taken a unique journey to the point where Israel has become an active calling in their lives. Some grew up in a household that prayed for Israel simply because “G-d said so.” Others, who came to belief in G-d later in life, experienced a “divine download” that motivated a love for Israel. Others gradually came to it through study and regular worship which, for them, made it almost inevitable that Israel and the Jewish people would become a central part of their belief system. Each of these individuals is in a continuing process of sorting out what this calling looks like and where it is going, often without the slightest knowledge of Christian/Jewish history.
My attempts to share these stories with secular Jews are often greeted with disbelief. It is hard for them to digest that most Christians who love the Jewish people are acting without ulterior motive. They suspect that their support stems from an overweening desire to convert all Jews to Christianity. Of course, it is a tenet of Christian faith to provide everyone with the “news” of Jesus, but their support of Israel and the Jewish people is not contingent on conversion and they themselves would say that no one can make anyone believe in Jesus. However, we live in a unique period when, for the first time in 1900 years, Christian support for Israel is making its way into the mainstream of Christendom. There is simply no frame of reference or precedent for this phenomenon. And convincing secular Jews of this “new” fact is almost as hard as convincing them to vote for Donald Trump (you get the picture).
Putting aside the difficulty of explaining Christian Zionism to secular Jews who simply identify with Judaism as a cultural experience without any faith in G-d or in Judaism as a faith, it is even harder for many committed Jews to accept the miracle of this growing phenomenon. There is usually little social communication between Christians and observant Jews. Besides the still raw wounds of the past and the suspicion that it is a part of a proselytizing plot, I think most Orthodox Jews view Christianity as medieval Catholicism and, hard as it is to believe, they are simply unaware of Christianity’s development, not only within the Protestant movement but also of the huge theological shift within the Catholic Church itself.
The foundation of Judaism is the covenant between Man and G-d. The Hebrew Bible, the Torah, actually sets out two covenants: The first was between G-d and Abraham, as set out in Genesis 12 in which G-d promises Abraham: “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great” (just as an aside, it is interesting to note that nowhere in the narrative does G-d explain why he chose Abraham over all others. He simply tells Abraham “you are my guy.”) The manifestation of the covenant between G-d and Abraham is the circumcision of all Jewish males.
The second covenant was sealed at Sinai. It was a two-way deal, brokered by Moses. G-d says to the Children of Israel (re-constituted at that very moment as the Jewish Nation), “I choose this nation to be my messengers of Torah light to the world.” In return, the Jewish Nation undertakes “Whatever G‑d says, we will do and we will obey.”
This is a fundamental and unique difference between Judaism and all other faiths. As stated by Tzvi Freeman of Chabad, in every other religion, you belong because you believe. In the covenant between G-d and the Jewish people, you believe because you belong. Judaism is both a religion and a national identity (Exodus 6:7). To be included in G‑d’s covenant with the Jewish people, believing and doing are not enough. You are part of that people. If your mother is Jewish, you are already in that covenant. There is no exit. If your mother is not Jewish, and you convert according to Jewish law, you are equally included in the covenant and you are also in for the duration. No exit. It is more than mere belief. It is belonging. The child of a Jewish mother becomes a member of the Jewish nation at the moment of birth. The converted individual accepts membership in the Jewish Nation and the Jewish Nation accepts the individual as an equal member. In common parlance among Jews, a fellow Jew is an “M.O.T.” — a Member of the Tribe.
Most Christian Zionists recognize that without Judaism there would be no Christianity. Christianity began as a Jewish sect but filed for divorce early on. It was a messy divorce.
“Replacement theology,” which holds that the original covenant between G-d and the Jews has been replaced or superseded with a new covenant through Jesus, started as an argument between the divorcing factions. This doctrine has caused unimagined Jewish misery down through the centuries. The basis for this insidious doctrine is the idea that G-d’s abandonment of the Jewish people and the eradication of His covenant with them was their punishment, as evidenced by the loss of sovereignty by the Jewish people over the land of Israel that had been promised to them in perpetuity and the resultant exile from their land — the diaspora.
Each individual Jew was deemed guilty of deicide. It was these doctrines that colored Christian-Jewish relations for almost two millennia. However, within the past 100 years a completely new paradigm has arisen. A growing Christian remnant is increasingly identifying with the nation of Israel (I use the word “remnant” because, despite its rapidly growing numbers as evidenced by the organization CUFI, “Christians United for Israel,” that growing number is but a small fraction of the Christian population of more than two billon people worldwide). I believe that this phenomenon is far more than mere accident. It is a genuine modern miracle.
At Sinai, we Jews were collectively tasked with the obligation of “speaking” to the Nations, the “goyim” of the world (the Hebrew word “goyim,” the plural of “goy,” taken by many as being a pejorative, actually means “nations”). That obligation is not a command to proselytize others to become Jews (which we are prohibited from doing), but rather we were instructed to act as conduits between G-d and humanity. We are to act as partners with our fellow inhabitants of this Earth. We were instructed to let all humanity know about the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and to follow the basic tenets of morality outlined in the Bible. We cannot carry out our obligation as set forth at Sinai without having as partners the other nations of the world.
The fascinating phenomenon is that, for the first time in 1900 years, more and more Christians are stepping forward as our partners. Why now? I believe that this is a manifestation of the continuing miracle that is the rebirth of the state of Israel; I can think of no other explanation. Christian support for Israel and the Jewish people is a modern miracle and it is an extension of the miracle of modern Israel as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy for the first time in the 2000 years since the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Christians are increasingly acknowledging that the source for their support for the Jewish nation is the Hebrew Bible. They are visiting Israel in rapidly expanding numbers. These Christians are recognizing that it is a miracle that they are privileged to witness the Jews return to the land and for it to flourish so spectacularly against all odds. Christians are affirming and strengthening the miracle with every plane ticket and every visit to the Holy Land.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is one of the most prominent rabbis in the modern Orthodox world. In 1983, he moved from New York to Efrat, a beautiful city just outside of Jerusalem in the Judean Hills. As Chief Rabbi of Efrat, Rabbi Riskin has exerted a profound influence upon the worldwide dialogue between Christians and Jews. In 2008, Rabbi Riskin established the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC), the first Orthodox Jewish institutional response to Christian Zionism. There are no debates on the core doctrines of Christianity. It is the Hebrew Bible that becomes the platform for religious dialogue and helps Christians to grow in their own faith by understanding its origins. Not only do Christians from all over the world flock to CJCUC in Jerusalem to study the Hebraic roots of their faith, but the Center’s staff travels around the world, speaking in churches and synagogues about the need for a Jewish-Christian alliance rooted in faith and biblical values.
I recently mentioned the Center to the minister of a very prominent church in Charleston. His reaction was electric. He knew nothing of Rabbi Riskin or the CJCUC, but as we spoke, he grew excited at the idea of including the Center as part of a trip to Israel that he is planning with the members of his church. This minister and so many others like him are a part of this miraculous wave of Christian supporters of Israel and the Jewish people. They have become willing participants in this modern miracle of participating as partners in furtherance of G-d’s covenant with the Jews.
After two thousand years, the establishment and extraordinary success of the state of Israel and the increasing support of Bible-believing Christians for the Jewish people is a manifestation of the covenant that emanated from Sinai between G-d and the Jewish people and proof if any is needed that we truly live in miraculous times. I invite my readers to contact the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation and to plan a visit Israel. You can be part of the miracle.