"Suddenly, the music swelled again as the worship team led the gathering in a contemporary version of a very ancient creed: 'We believe in the crucifixion; we believe in the virgin birth; we believe in the resurrection, and that He is coming back to earth!'… the worship team kept singing: 'Make me a house of prayer.' These were the same words that Jesus cried out upon his final, triumphant entry to Jerusalem: 'For my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations,' (Isaiah 56:7)."
- Charisma Magazine's report on the opening event of the 2015 ICEJ Feast of Tabernacles: One Simple Declaration: 'We Believe'
"As a nation, Israel remains in rebellion against Jesus of Nazareth and this factor has more to do with her present struggle than we are prepared to admit! (Matt23:37-39) (Luke19:41-44) Jesus is a Jewish Messiah and the only way of salvation. (Acts4:11-12)"
- Malcolm Hedding, ICEJ Executive Director Emeritus, Position Statements – ICEJ's Core Beliefs
As in past years, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) held its annual Feast of the Tabernacles in Jerusalem. The large evangelical worship event was hosted at the Pais Arena in Jerusalem from September 27 through October 2nd. The Arena has become a popular venue for international Christian gatherings.
The religious nature and agenda of ICEJ's Feast is frequently dismissed or reinterpreted by Israeli government officials and the press, and therefore misunderstood by the Israeli public. The result is that many Israeli Jews are perplexed as to why the Chief Rabbinate needs to issue warnings with regards to participation in Christian prayer, and the heavy missionary presence at what is perceived to be a large tourist event for lovers of Israel.
What the “Feast” Is
ICEJ's Feast of the Tabernacles is first and foremost a Christian religious event – a pilgrimage centered on the worship of jesus. The week-long "Feast" features as speakers a number of messianic and evangelical leaders who are actively involved in efforts to bring jesus to the Jews.
Contrary to press reports, the 6-day ICEJ Feast is not a "pro-Israel summit". It is clearly a christ-centered worship event. And unless Judaism's vision is to have jesus sitting on King David's throne on the Temple Mount, surrounded by humanity bowing down and worshipping him, ICEJ's Feast is far from being a fulfilment of the end of days prophecy as described in Zechariah 14- 16.
The Source of Confusion
The ICEJ expresses solidarity with Israel and is involved in numerous philanthropic endeavors on behalf of the Jewish state. However, in recent years ICEJ has become increasingly transparent regarding both its missionary intent and its active collaboration with Israel’s messianic leadership. By hosting ICEJ events, Israel is empowering and legitimizing the messianic movement in Israel and its evangelical missionary network.
Israeli messianic leader Mati Shoshani, the COO of Israel's messianic-led Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ), credits international Christians visitors for inspiring and spawning a young messianic leadership in Israel and for bringing his Jewish-born father and aunt to Christ in the late 1970's and early 80's. It's likely no coincidence that his father, missionary Oded Shoshani, has been repeatedly featured at ICEJ events, including the Feast of the Tabernacles. Since the beginnings and eventual establishment of the Christian Embassy in Jerusalem in 1980, the number of "Jewish believers in Jesus" has grown exponentially, as have the number of messianic congregations.
Many Israelis associate the ICEJ Feast with the throngs of Christian pilgrims who regularly participate in the annual Sukkot march through the streets of Jerusalem - a spectacle that mesmerizes with its colorful display of international pageantry and expressions of “love” for the Jewish state.
[Note: Christian symbols indicating an allegiance to jesus/yeshua as the "king" and "lion of Judah" are also always present among the plethora of nations' flags].
This outpouring of support-on-parade, however, does not negate the fact that that organization and its affiliates are actively collaborating and networking with missionary entities whose intentions are to strengthen a firm base of "messianic Jews" in Israel. It must be remembered that evangelical Christians are dedicated to missionary outreach efforts and their faith-based activities and mode of worship is not a private matter to be held in cloistered houses of worship.
Several months before the Feast, JewishIsrael was reviewing the ICEJ promotional materials and noted that at least half of the evangelical personalities scheduled as speakers for the 2015 Feast were and continue to be actively involved in encouraging or directly supporting the messianic missionary movement in Israel.
JewishIsrael sent its concerns to the Chief Rabbinate after meeting with Jewish leaders on this issue at the Jerusalem municipality. Some excerpts from that report are available in Hebrew.
At that time, JewishIsrael did not review every speaker listed, but rather focused on those whose activities we are familiar with. For example:
Dr. Jürgen Bühler is an ordained minister who presently serves as Executive Director of the ICEJ. He is active with King of Kings messianic community at the Clal Center in Jerusalem and calls for and endorses the growth and expansion of the messianic missionary community in Israel and offers a platform for their leadership.
Rev. Juha Ketola has served as a missionary in more than 30 nations around the globe. He presently serves as the ICEJ’s International Director. Ketola claims that the ICEJ's "core" mission is to let the world know of "the return of the lord jesus", and to spread that news from Jerusalem to the nations. Ketola openly collaborates with messianic, missionary leaders in Israel.
Cindy Jacobs is considered a "respected prophetess" in the evangelical world. With regards to Israel in 2015, Jacobs has announced that:
"This is the time for the harvest of the Jews to begin. Bold witness will arise from believers in both the Jewish and Arab sectors."
[Note: "Harvest" refers to harvesting of souls. "Witness" relates to missionary activity via testifying one's belief in jesus].
Jacob's website, Generals International, features articles which call for the financial support of "Messianic Jewish and Arab-believing staff" [in Israel] and "to pray for much revelation of Jesus on the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem, and across the Middle East."
Peter Tsukahira is an evangelical pastor and citizen of Israel who been instrumental in establishing and leading messianic congregations in Haifa such as Kehilat HaCarmel Or HaCarmel Ministry. Excerpts from his teaching, The Restoration of Israeli Missions:
"In our day we are witnessing not only the historic return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel but the rise of indigenous Israeli congregations worshipping Jesus in the very land where He once walked…Today, in the modern state, a remnant of Israeli believers are worshipping Yeshua (Jesus) and bringing the power of His Spirit back home to Israel after almost two thousand years. Among the steadily growing numbers of Jewish believers are individuals and families who are called to go...to the Muslims, to the Hindus, to all the nations. These Israeli missionaries have received the mandate and mantle of Abraham and they are humbly joining their Gentile Christian brothers and sisters who have thus far carried the work of world evangelization…"
Jane Hansen serves as President/CEO of Aglow International – a world-wide evangelical community with 200,000 members. She supports and collaborates with messianic missionaries in Israel. In her own words:
"I would say the understanding of our commitment to Israel continues to unfold and become more focused as we unite with Messianic Jews in the land. They are the tender shoot of believers in Yeshua that is growing in accord with scripture related to the return of Jesus in Matthew 23:39.
This year, the reality of Romans 11:17 was expanded as we realized that as Christians, we aren’t only there in a supportive way “for” the Jewish people. As grafted-in-ones, we are there “as” them. We are not replacing them as a nation, but are certainly coming alongside them in a way that is deeper than just being there “for” them…
Asher commented on the fact that we had been grafted in saying, ‘Remember, you are no longer a Gentile and now all of the promises given to the Jews are yours.’”
Morning after Yom Kippur at the Chief Rabbinate's Office
The day after Yom Kippur, JewishIsrael was called to a meeting at office of the Chief Rabbinate with a representative from Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
At that meeting we presented additional concerns and developments regarding key evangelical personalities who were scheduled as main presenters at the ICEJ Feast.
What JewishIsrael found particularly alarming was that the ICEJ's popular speaker, Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, sits on the newly formed board of directors and advisors of Fellowship of Israel Related Min..., an organization founded by KKCJ's Wayne Hilsden and comprised of the most comprehensive and aggressive team of evangelical missionary leaders which JewishIsrael has ever come across. FIRM’s team members have had their sights on Israel and the Jewish people for quite some time.
Among FIRM’s board members are missionaries JewishIsrael has exposed in previous reports, such as Jonathan Bernis, Jack Hayford, Mitch Glaser, Erez Soref, Myles and Katherine Weiss, Don Finto, Eitan Shishkoff, and Raleigh Washington.
The new endeavor in Hilden's own words is "openly identifying with and supporting messianic Jewish believers".
Last February, JewishIsrael published a report which focused on FIRM and the new and disturbing trend of very public and orchestrated collaborations between prominent Christian Zionist leaders and renowned missionary and messianic leaders. But it is not just Torah observant leadership in Israel which is expressing concern. Several months ago secular pro-Israel columnist Diane Weber Bederman threw a spotlight on FIRM and its missionary leadership in columns that appeared in the Times of Israel and CIJ News.
The open participation of Samuel Rodriguez in such an endeavor is of great concern because he is a powerful preacher with political clout who serves as President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), representing millions of evangelicals and 40,000 US churches. Rodriguez has also been a featured speaker at the White House.
Last month, Michael Freund's regular column in the Jerusalem Post, Fundamentally Freund: Rallying Hispanics for Israel, praised Rodriguez:
Prominent Latino leaders such as the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez and Pastor Guillermo Maldonado have been outspoken in their love for Israel, inspiring many to stand with the Jewish state and pray for her well-being."
The obvious problem for Jewish activists and political leadership is to find a way to encourage and nurture an ethical alliance with evangelicals which offers political, philanthropic and popular support without sanctioning of missionary endeavors in the Jewish State. Unfortunately, for the last forty years Israel’s leadership has categorically failed – if not totally ignored – to address this crisis.
It was obvious from JewishIsrael’s meeting in the Office of the Chief Rabbinate that some of our rabbinic leaders are trying to hold the line on the missionary challenge despite resistance and objections from the Foreign Ministry and other government bodies.
At the meeting, JewishIsrael presented its objections to Mike Evans being scheduled as ICEJ's Feast speaker for Israeli Guest Night. In the late 1970's and early 80's, Evans headed the list of serious missionary threats to Jewish youth on college campuses by an emergency task force of major North American Jewish organizations. At the time Evans bragged about the numbers of Jews he brought to Jesus. JewishIsrael notes that Mike Evans apparently did not appear at the Feast's Israeli Guest Night. We do not know if this was due to our protest to a representative of the Foreign Ministry a week prior to that event or for other reasons.
Last year, the 2014 Feast's Israeli Guest Night involved the preaching to 300 IDF soldiers by Robert Stearns. Among other things, Stearns' preached about the Jewishness of Jesus. The event was organized by Doron Schneider an employee of the ICEJ and a messianic leader in Israel. At the time, JewishIsrael excerpted the video of Stearns and the IDF and made that information available to the public, rabbinic, and counter-missionary sources. We ran follow-up reports, issued clarifications, and sent a letter to the editor of the Jerusalem Post. JewishIsrael is pleased to see that thanks to Yad l'Achim, action was taken on this matter as reported on Israel National News (INN), IDF Bans soldiers from Taking Part in Missionary Events.
"Please understand that the handing out of any tracts has been prohibited"
In JewishIsrael's meeting at the Office of the Chief Rabbinate, the Foreign Ministry representative was quite adamant that the Christian Pilgrims would not be proselytizing at the Feast. Indeed ICEJ instructions for the Sukkot march clearly state that, "the handing out of any tracts has been prohibited."
Limiting the definition of missionary activity to street proselytizing is inaccurate and disingenuous. It is imperative that the problems inherent in ICEJ's activities and of evangelical missionary influence in Israel be examined through a wider and more candid lens.
The Chief Rabbis Raked Over the Coals
The Israeli press was merciless, describing the Chief Rabbinate as attacking, blasting, besmirching, and accusing "pro-Israel" Christians of missionary activity. JewishIsrael notes that a number of those columnists and sources leveling criticism at the Chief Rabbis have interests which quite possibly clouded their objectivity on the matter at hand.
Tamar Pileggi, a columnist for the Times of Israel, penned the report "Rabbinate: Boycott ‘dangerous’ pro-Israel Christian event". The writer chose to underplay the Feast as a pilgrimage of Christian worship, as stated in the ICEJ description, and instead portrayed the Feast as an event which "draws thousands of evangelical Christians who celebrate the organization’s declared unshakable bond with Israel." Pileggi went on to juxtapose rabbinic censure and concerns of missionary activity with the philanthropic support that ICEJ gives the State of Israel.
JewishIsrael is not questioning Pileggi's journalistic credentials, but her reluctance to honestly address the Chief Rabbinate's concerns could have something to do with her father, David Pileggi, being an active missionary leader in Israel and serving as rector of the Anglican Christ Church in Jerusalem. The church houses messianic congregations and in David Pileggi's own words, "was built to be a home for Jewish believers in Jesus" and continues to encourage "witnessing" to the Jews and to carry the message of "Jesus is the Jewish Messiah".
Former Israeli Ambassador to Washington and current member of Knesset, Michael Oren, was quoted throughout an article critical of the Rabbinate position while praising the ICEJ:
"I have never once encountered an instance of proselytizing by its [ICEJ's] staff. Just when Israel is grappling with the threat of economic sanctions and rising anti-Semitism throughout the world, this is the time to embrace – rather than to alienate – Israel’s Christian friends.”
The article appeared in the Breaking Israel News (BIN) website, run by Rabbi Tuly Weisz, and often containing pro-evangelical articles with little regard for concerns of related missionary activity.
Last year, following the Feast, Michael Oren participated as a keynote speaker in Robert Stearns' "Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem", an annual Christian worship event which invites Jewish participation. Other speakers at that event included known missionary and messianic leaders, such as Rick Ridings who has called for a jesus revolution in Israel among young people.
In his remarks at that event, Oren cited the birth, baptism and death of Jesus and compared Mary and Joseph to Judean settlers. He went on to speak about church silence in the face of Palestinian denial of "the Temple where Jesus taught", stating, "Temple denial is quite simply Gospel denial."
Similar remarks about Christianity's "first family" can be found in Oren's remarks to the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus (KCAC), as reported in the Jerusalem Post article, Oren: Jesus today would be a settler.
While a politician and diplomat like Michael Oren may be comfortable playing the jesus card in order to draw Christians close and solidify Israel's political policies and positions among evangelicals, Oren should certainly understand that before welcoming foreign guests to the State of Israel, it is first and foremost the role of the office of the Chief Rabbinate to uphold the Torah and to ensure Jewish continuity and the spiritual integrity of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. Raising the name of jesus is not only irrelevant, but it erodes the very foundations of Judaism.
Isi Leibler who regularly campaigns on behalf of evangelicals and against Israel's Chief Rabbinate used his regularly featured column in the Jerusalem Post to level fierce criticism at Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef:
"It is disgraceful that the Chief Rabbinate failed to verify the false allegations made against the Christian Embassy and slandered those who represent Israel’s greatest friends in the world. The chief rabbis’ churlish action shames the Jewish people, and they should apologize and withdraw their scurrilous accusations.”
JewishIsrael's Rabbinic Director, Rabbi Sholom Gold responded to Isi Leibler in a letter to the editor which was published on October 2, 2015. We close this report with the original complete text of that letter:
Isi Leibler's column of September 21, "Rabbis besmirch Christian Embassy", is inaccurate and misleading.
While Mr. Leibler cited former Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren as blessing the Christian Embassy Sukkot gathering in 1981, the situation has changed dramatically since then.
In the early 1980s, the number of "Jewish believers in jesus" residing in Israel were estimated to be in the hundreds. Today, Christian, Jewish, and international organizations are putting the figure at twenty thousand. Messianic leaders openly credit international Christian visitors for spawning this revolution, with young Israeli messianic leaders frequently appearing at ICEJ events.
Although the ICEJ expresses solidarity with Israel and is involved in numerous philanthropic endeavors, in recent years the ICEJ has become increasingly transparent regarding its active collaboration with Israel's messianic missionaries. By hosting ICEJ events, Israel is empowering and legitimizing the messianic movement and its evangelical missionary network.
It is not "misguided zealots" who have raised concerns over the ICEJ's greater agenda. Rather it is those who have worked extensively with pro-Israel Christian organizations and its leadership who are taking note of the problems and providing the Chief Rabbinate and government representatives with documentation for their review and consideration.
Since 2007, JewishIsrael.com has been urging Jewish leadership to draw appropriate red lines and issue guidelines on a theologically loaded relationship with evangelicals.
Mr. Leibler routinely uses his columns as a forum to critique the Chief Rabbinate. This time, however, he is ignoring the facts. Before welcoming foreign guests to the State of Israel, it is first and foremost the responsibility of the Chief Rabbinate to uphold the Torah, and to ensure Jewish spiritual continuity in the Land of Israel - and that includes warning Jews not to associate with missionaries and their activities, which is what the Rabbinate did.
Rabbi Sholom Gold