Now there arose new rabbis in Israel who knew not the Rav…

Recently Jewish Israel met with noted scholar Rabbi Hershel Schachter , Rosh Yeshiva at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University.

Rabbi Shachter reaffirmed our understanding of the late Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik‘s position proscribing interfaith discussions, dialogue, debate and worship. Those guidelines which Rabbi Soloveitchik (known affectionately as “the Rav” - the title which will be used throughout this article) set forth some 46 years ago remain relevant today and still stand as the halacha on interfaith relations for the Modern Orthodox world.

And yet a number of rabbis and Torah observant leaders are engaging in interfaith activities and forging theologically-based alliances which appear to be challenging basic Jewish tradition and are out sync with those guidelines set by the Rav.

Jewish Israel reviews current events with evangelical and messianic Christians and asks, “would the Rav approve?”

(the following is part 1 of a series)

An historic and joyous interfaith Tisha b’Av

Seems the messiah arrived in Washington, D.C. just in time for Tisha b’Av. Accounts in the Jewish Star Times, on the CUFI website, and on Facebook use terms like “historic”, “joyous“ and “very uplifting” to describe Tisha b’Av on Capitol Hill.

Reportedly a minyan of Jews read dirges with myriads of evangelical Christians. Rabbis Shlomo Riskin, Pesach Lerner, and Arye Sheinberg were present, as was Israeli Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren and Pastor John Hagee.

Rabbi Riskin, a former student of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s, describes the event like this :

There’s a meeting we announced — where we would sit in the ground on Capitol Hill and recite Eicha, the book of Lamentations, and the dirges, just as we would in our local synagogues. We invited the members of Congress and the Senate and members of Christians United and we had a very large attendance…Pastor [John] Hagee was in attendance and it was for me, a very uplifting and very warm prayer service in which we felt the friendship of the Evangelical community profoundly.

Mike Cohen, strategist, activist and “Honorary Chaplain”* was on Facebook with a number of enthusiastic comments (sampling below):

“This was real history! “ “Eicha/Lamentations - A dozen True Torah believing Jews and 1,200 Christians mourn the Temples together after 2,000 years. Rabbi Aryeh Sheinberg of San Antonio, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat, Pastor John Hagee, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, David Brog (Christians United for Israel) Rabbi Pesach Lerner (National Council of Young Israel)…” “It was, ironically, the most joyous Tisha B'Av you could imagine. Too many emotions to put down on paper... “

*[note: Following the CUFI convention Mike went to New York to receive honorary membership in United Chaplains of New York State.]

Pastor Hagee’ was no less elated in his account posted on CUFI’s Scripture of the Week (excerpt):

“Following prayer we were invited by Rabbi Scheinberg and several other Orthodox rabbis to join them in observing Tisha B’Av…Nearly 1,000 Christians and Jews, including the State of Israel's Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, sat on the floor and were led in the reading of the book of Lamentations. This event was a first in the history of Christianity! It was a moment of divine unity! …”

We are obligated to cry on Tisha B’Av and there is no limit to our mourning. The day presents us with an opportunity for profound introspection and a chance to express national grief. It's an intimate and unique Jewish experience, with numerous laws governing our conduct with non-Jews on that day. Did this uplifting interfaith prayer service break Jewish tradition and cross halachic boundaries?

A new Christianity, a new Jewish law?

In this recent video which is being used on a promotional site for a mega-church pastor, David Nekrutman, Executive Director for Rabbi Riskin’s Center of Jewish-Christian Understanding & Cooperation(CJCUC),manages to discuss the subjects topping the Rav’s do-not-discuss blacklist…

In a letter to the Rabbinical Council of America in November 1964 Rav Soloveitchik wrote,

“…We are, therefore, opposed to any public debate, dialogue or symposium concerning the doctrinal, dogmatic or ritual aspects of our faith vis a vis “similar” aspects of another faith community. We believe in and are committed to our Maker in a specific manner and we will not question, defend, offer apologies, analyze or rationalize our faith in dialogues centered about these “private” topics which express our personal relationship to the God of Israel. We assume that members of other faith communities will feel similarly about their individual religious commitment.

We would deem it improper to enter into dialogues on such topics as:
1) Judaic monotheism and the Christian idea of Trinity.
2) The Messianic idea in Judaism and Christianity.
3) Jewish attitude on Jesus.
4) The concept of the Covenant in Judaism and Christianity.

[note: the list goes on to enumerate 6 additional topics]

We don’t know what David the Jew gained from this conversation, but the pastor manages to get the Jew to talk about jesus, the trinity and the Torah as an incarnation. In addition Nekrutman makes mention of a “new” and “different” Christianity from a “Jewish law perspective”.

Last time Jewish Israel looked (and we look every day), Christianity was still defined as “a religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as presented in the New Testament.” And as far as we know, “the central tenet of Christianity remains the belief of Jesus as the son of god and the messiah.” From a “Jewish law perspective” it would appear that Christianity as a faith remains unchanged, and off limits to the Jew.

The Nekrutman – Lasalle Vaughn video may give us some insight as to why the Rav deemed it “absurd” to “speak of the commensurability of two faith communities which are individual entities."

The accommodating attitude demonstrated by David Nekrutman in the video seems to validate the Rav’s concerns. While Nekrutman does try and draw definitive lines between faiths, he is forthcoming, compromising and conciliatory to an uncomfortable degree.

Rabbi Riskin is adamant that the Rav was opposed to theological debate only. But Dr. David Berger of Yeshiva University begs to differ:


“Rabbi Soloveitchik worried that theological dialogue would create pressure to “trade favors pertaining to fundamental matters of faith, to reconcile ‘some’ differences.” He argued against any Jewish interference in the faith of Christians both on grounds of principle and out of concern that this would create the framework for reciprocal expectations…It is precisely friendly theological discussion and not religious disputation that generates these dangers, all the more so when the discussion is formalized as a theological encounter not between individuals but between communities.”

Part 2 , 3 , and 4 cover the Israeli government’s partnering with missionaries, as well as Orthodox rabbis who organize and attend worship ceremonies in the name of Jesus, who lecture at messianic congregations, and who send other mixed messages.

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