(This is Part 4 of our series "Now there arose new rabbis in Israel who knew not the Rav")
From November 2nd through 11th, the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus (KCAC) is holding the Third Jerusalem Assembly with their partners, Covenant Alliances. In addition to being run by notorious missionaries (see below), Covenant Alliances prominently features a statement of faith on their website, which claims they are a part of the KCAC and that Christians share a common religious heritage and are joint heirs to a common spiritual destiny with the Jews. All of this and more is accompanied by a large seal of the State of Israel:
None of this seems to bother KCAC Chairman MK David Rotem and KCAC Director Josh Reinstein, who are pictured advertising the upcoming event with Pastor David Decker, the President of Covenant Alliances.
Decker, the son of a Baptist preacher, is a messianic kingpin in Israel. He made "aliyah" as a covert evangelical missionary and proceeded to set-up a church and messianic congregations in the Jewish state. His children continue in their father's missionary footsteps, with Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ) attorney Mike Decker doing all he can to ensure that the "messianic Jewish movement" gains full legitimacy and acceptance in Israel.
A sampling of other Covenant Alliances missionaries partnering with the KCAC and scheduled as featured as speakers at the Jerusalem Assembly include Christine Darg, whose missionary targeting of Jews and attempts to usurp an Orthodox synagogue for Christian worship has been the subject of numerous Jewish Israel reports. Then there's Roy Kendall, who can be heard bragging on tape about how he, as a KCAC member, led Christian worship at the Knesset at the behest of a rabbi. Roy goes on to remind the congregation he's addressing that, “when a Jewish person accepts yeshua (jesus),it means the savior, it means salvation. It doesn’t change him from being Jewish, it completes them - because they found the messiah they are looking for.”
In June of 2009 Hillel Fendel of Arutz 7 asked KCAC director Josh Reinstein about Kendall and his claim of being an elected Caucus member. Reinstein responded as follows:
“I know who he is, and he may have attended some of our events, but he is not affiliated with us, and by definition of what we are, he can’t be a member. We don’t work with individuals, but rather with governments and organizations for the purpose of gaining political support. To associate with us a particular missionary who might have snuck into Israel is ludicrous.”
Well, he's a featured speaker at your event now, Mr. Reinstein.
Caucus Feigns Innocence
Despite obvious and very public evidence of their involvement with missionaries who both target the Jewish people and bolster a messianic presence in Israel, the current and former leaders of the KCAC persistently deny cooperation with evangelizing parties:
· "I would just add that I have made it clear to all the Christians with whom I cooperate personally and publicly, and I repeat this here, that if they attempt to missionize amongst Jews, I will have nothing to do with them, and they in fact comply with this. If they are interested in disseminating the Bible the way they see it, there are enough idol-worshippers amongst whom they can do this…” (MK Benny Elon in a Knesset speech / 2004)
· “ The Christian Allies Caucus, a Knesset lobby group that aims to further ties between the Israeli government and the Christian world, refuses to work with the messianic Jewish community on the grounds that it actively seeks to convert Jews. ‘We believe they work against the interests of the State of Israel.” (Knesset Caucus Director Josh Reinstein in Haaretz/2006)
· “We at the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus as well, do not hide our refusal to cooperate with Christians active in missionary work amongst Jews.” (Knesset Caucus Chairman Benny Elon in the JPost/ 2007)
· He [Benny Elon] noted that as far as missionaries are concerned, in addition to the antipathy shared by all Caucus members, the Caucus is legally bound to refrain from all connections with missionary groups in order to have NGO status. (Arutz 7/ 2008)
· Rotem [Chairman of the Caucus] brushed aside ongoing concerns among some Jews - especially in the haredi community - that forging connections with Christians encourages proselytizing, noting that the caucus's guidelines bar any connection with missionary groups (Jerusalem Post/2009)
Nevertheless, missionary connections have been pursued by the KCAC. In 2004, former Chairman of the KCAC, Rabbi Benny Elon, was even so bold as to encourage groups of Christian missionaries to try and convert Muslims, which elicited an "halachic" response and no –confidence motion from Arab MK Abdel Malek Dehamshe :
“I don't know if Minister Elon is aware of this, but the Jewish Halacha forbids trying to get Moslems to change their religion... You are wearing a kippah [yarmulke] and you are a rabbi and you are the son of a man who taught me - and I thank him for that - Jewish Law, among other things. How did you not learn this from your father or in the Beit HaMedrash [yeshiva study hall]?”
From its inception, under the direction of Rabbi Benny Elon, the KCAC has pursued a theologically-loaded "Judeo-Christian alliance" and partnered with evangelizing Christians, like those affiliated with Covenant Alliances.
According to Knesset Ethics Committee records, while serving as an MK between June 2006 and October 2008, Benny Elon travelled abroad often and almost exclusively for Evangelical causes. These trips were sponsored by organizations founded by or affiliated with known missionary personalities - with Covenant Alliances hosting many of the trips.
The J-C Word
Last January, Rabbi Benny Elon and members of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus addressed over 1000 pastors in India in an event sponsored by Covenant Alliances. The press release managed to get "Judeo-Christian values", "Judeo-Christian bond", and "Judeo-Christian religious and ethical values" into 2 short paragraphs.
It's disturbing that the KCAC continues to push the "Judeo-Christian " phrase, especially after radio show host Janet Parshall - who resigned as co-chairwoman of the Caucus' Judeo-Christian Womans " Summit - made the Christian understanding of the term perfectly clear in a letter to the Caucus Summit organizers:
"Judeo-Christian values have no meaning apart from Scripture… the proclamation of the Good News [the gospel of jesus christ] is the ultimate Judeo-Christian value”.
Based on their missionary activities, it would appear that the KCAC’s partner, Covenant Alliances, concurs with Parshall's definition.
Indeed, the "About us" section of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus web site refers to "Our common heritage" and surprisingly includes the following Christian history lesson:
'The history of Christians in Israel begins with the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. After the death of Jesus, the early Apostolic Church remained Judeo-Christian until around 130 CE. Since then, the local church has been gentile in composition. It was undivided until the early Ecumenical Councils."
Enter Rabbi Soloveitchik
The term "Judeo-Christian" is commonly used in reference to Western civilization and values. But Evangelicals and Messianic Jews infuse the concept with an added spiritual dimension that amounts to a theological fusing of Christianity with Judaism. And it's this blurring of lines, in combination with unchecked missionary activity which currently threatens the nature of the Jewish state.
In his 1964 essay "Confrontation", which established halachic guidelines on interfaith relations for the Modern Orthodox world, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik ("the Rav") noted that "people confuse two concepts when they speak of a common tradition uniting two faith communities such as the Christian and the Judaic." He called it "absurd" to speak of the "commensurability of two faith communities which are individual entities." He wrote that we are not to relate to any other faith community as "brethren" even though "separated." And it is instinctual and necessary for us Jews "to recoil and retrace our steps" when we feel uncomfortably close to losing our status as a totally independent faith community.
In a letter to the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), the Rav included in his list of topics deemed "improper " for interfaith dialogue, "the Messianic idea in Judaism and Christianity" and "the concept of the Covenant in Judaism and Christianity."
Rabbi Aryeh Klapper refers to the phrase ‘Judeo-Christian tradition’ as having been the Rav’s bete noire:
“He [the Rav] is of course opposed to debate, but he is also opposed to dialogue that blurs distinctiveness, that seeks to build theological community and blur distinct identity. His bete noire in this regard is the phrase ’Judeo-Christian tradition’.”
Now for an inverted version of everything the Rav said, go back and read this portion of the Covenant Alliance’s Statement of Faith:
"We believe that Christians and Jews are joint partakers in a common religious heritage born of covenant, and that we remain joint heirs to a common spiritual destiny which finds ultimate completion under the kingship and authority of the Jewish Messiah when He, in that day, fulfills God’s promises to His people as found in the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants."
Is it wise for the Jewish state to be promoting a Judeo-Christian agenda ? Does encouraging a theological, covenantal relationship with passionate Christians put the foundations of Judaism at risk?
An article written by Rochel Sylvetsky of Arutz 7 indicates that former Knesset Christian Allies Caucus Chairman Benny Elon was well-aware of the of muddy nature of the evangelical-Israel relationship, and admitted to having made mistakes on the missionary front.
"This blurring makes the Knesset’s Christian Alliance Caucus’ activities very difficult, and as MK Benny Elon, the present Caucus chairman, said, “this means we constantly have to check and double-check, that sometimes we make mistakes. When we discover them, we stop contacts to the people or groups involved.”
Stop right there. Admitting mistakes is a step in the right direction, but based on the Third Jerusalem Assembly missionary line-up of speakers, nothing has changed.
Respect and Suspect
In contrast to The KCAC’s promotional material, which is heavily infused with a "Judeo-Christian" and "biblical" agenda, the web site of a new sister caucus, the International Israel Allies Caucus Foundation (IIACF), is bereft of theological terminology.The partners are members of other nation’s parliaments, who have actually done something positive for Israel. The IIACF, also the brainchild of Rabbi Benny Elon, has defended Israel on recent matters, such as the flotilla and Goldstone events, in European forums and parliaments. The organization's members do not appear to be active evangelists or supporters of messianic endeavors in Israel, but rather approach issues from a strictly moral standpoint.
However, it is concerning that IIAFC does remain closely affiliated with the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus and organizations like the Christian Embassy (ICEJ). It should be noted that earlier publicity on IIAFC, like the 2009 gala brochure was infused with a definite "Judeo-Christian" religious quality and language and featured missionary personalities like Robert Stearns and another "gospel-spreading" entertainer.
There are also some unconfirmed and disturbing reports concerning IIAFC'S new building, located in Jerusalem, on Nablus Road, across from the American consulate. Some are claiming that the property being used by the IIAFC was intended for Jewish pioneering endeavors. But that's not the focus of this report.
Nevertheless, it seems that Rabbi Benny Elon is being more careful with this IIAFC venture than he was when instituting the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus.
The IIACF Declaration of Purpose speaks of "moral and ethical bonds that unite Jews, Christians, and people of faith worldwide" and that " the Ten Commandments and the Hebrew Bible, or Torah, have served for three thousand years as a cornerstone of Western civilization and serve today as the moral foundation for societies around the world."
The language used here appears to be more sensible and in keeping with Jewish guidelines for interfaith cooperation than the bible-thumping "Judeo-Christian" fare we have been served over the last several years.We can only hope that lessons have been learned and that this new face is indicative of a healthy about-face in the way Jewish leaders approach interfaith relations, and that it's not a politically correct guise for another "Judeo-Christian" theological endeavor. This change in presentation is something Jewish Israel has persistently called for.
Jewish Israel would like to remind our rabbis, politicians and community leaders that some of Israel's very best Gentile friends and articulate and effective defenders, such as the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and Senator Henry ("Scoop") Jackson, kept their religion to themselves and took a grounded, moral stand with the Jewish State.
The question remains as to whether or not the members of Knesset involved with the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus have the integrity and courage to honestly distance themselves from Covenant Alliances and other missionary affiliated groups and personalities, and will they adopt and adhere to guidelines which will put their house in order and uphold Judaic values.
The Rav Series