(Religion) (Politics)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Jews, Evangelicals: Strange Bedfellows

Jews, Evangelicals: Strange Bedfellows
by Tom Tugend, 2 February 2010

As portrayed in the striking documentary “Waiting for Armageddon,” these supporters are Christian Evangelicals who are neither rural hicks nor ranting fanatics.

What they hold in common is an unshakeable faith that every inch of Israel/Palestine belongs to the Jews. “They want the Muslims to be evicted by the Jews, the Jews to rebuild the Temple of Solomon and then Christ to return and trump everyone,” one analyst explains in the film.


But, the support comes with a theological price tag. At the end of days, after the final battle between good and evil on the plains of Megiddo in northern Israel, they believe, the Jews will either see the light and accept Jesus Christ, or die.


In pre-screenings, “Armageddon” encountered warm receptions by Evangelical audiences. Jewish viewers were more contentious, reflecting a continuing split in the community’s attitudes toward Evangelicals, with “pragmatists,” including most Israeli leaders, arguing that powerful Christian support is needed now, and let the ultimate future take care of itself. Many other Jews, however, view the prospect of being loved to the point of extinction with considerable foreboding.

"...of the ultimate theological price attached to Evangelicals’ unswerving support of Israel"

There's no price tag for Jews. If the Evangelicals believe Jews will be damned and not availed of the Rapture, then they'll believe it whether or not the Jews and/or Israelis form a friendship with the Evangelicals. Whether or not Jesus is indeed G-d, etc. etc., is not affected by whether Jews and/or Israelis form a friendship with the Evangelicals.

In other words: theological and eschatological beliefs and facts are not affected by the friendship (or lack thereof) between Evangelicals and Jews.

Therefore: there is no sense in Jews' withholding friendship from Evangelicals based on the beliefs of Evangelicals. Friendship costs the Jews nothing - if the Jews are damned to hell, or if the Evangelicals believe Jews are damned to hell, a friendship with the Evangelicals (or the lack thereof) will not affect this.

Furthermore, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik clearly and unequivocally teaches that Jews must not begrudge the Christians their eschatological beliefs. After all, Judaism holds by its eschatological beliefs just as dearly as the Christians hold by theirs, and Jews thus have no right to criticize the Christians. We may disagree, but that disagreement must be respectful and acknowledge the dignity of Christianity and the right it has to hold its own beliefs, free from coercion and pressure by Jews who begrudge Christians their freedom of religion and conscience.

In Rabbi Soloveitchik's words, in his essay Confrontation:
[E]ach faith community is unyielding in its eschatological expectations. It perceives the events at the end of time with exultant certainty, and expects man, by surrender of selfish pettiness and by consecration to the great destiny of life, to embrace the faith that this community has been preaching throughout the millennia. Standardization of practices, equalization of dogmatic certitudes, and the waiving of eschatological claims spell the end of the vibrant and great faith experience of any religious community. It is as unique and enigmatic as the individual himself. ... The small community has as much right to profess its faith in the ultimate certitude concerning the doctrinal worth of its world formula and to behold its own eschatological vision as does the community of the many. I do not deny the right of the community of the many to address itself to the community of the few in its own eschatological terms. However, building a practical program upon this right is hardly consonant with religious democracy and liberalism. ... Only a candid, frank and unequivocal policy reflecting unconditional commitment to our God, a sense of dignity, pride and inner joy in being what we are, believing with great passion in the ultimate truthfulness of our views, praying fervently for and expecting confidently the fulfillment of our eschatological vision when our faith will rise from particularity to universality, will impress the peers of the other faith community among whom we have both adversaries and friends. I hope and pray that our friends in the community of the many will sustain their liberal convictions and humanitarian ideals by articulating their position on the right of the community of the few to live, create, and worship God in its own way, in freedom and with dignity.

So liberalism and libertarianism and democracy all dictate that Jews must respect the freedom of conscience of Christians, and their right to believe as they desire. Of course, the Christians must do the same for Jews, and I will frankly admit that I will wholeheartedly advocate a prohibition of all Christian missionary activity in Israel. But as long as the Evangelicals do not missionize in Israel, I welcome a hearty and vital friendship between them and Jews.

(See also the symposium and many papers responding to "Confrontation", here. The basis consensus of all these papers is that Rabbi Soloveitchik's "Confrontation" did not forbid all interfaith dialogue, but only dialogue by rabbis who were not sufficiently Orthodox, who might concede certain aspects of Judaism for the sake of gaining favor with the Catholics. Also, Rabbi Soloveitchik was afraid of rabbis who would insist the Catholics on their part make concessions to please the Jews. It was not interfaith dialogue that Rabbi Soloveitchik opposed, but rather, it was dialogue by those who lacked either self-confidence and/or the respect of the other, who might concede or demand concession. Rabbi Soloveitchik was afraid that rabbis might compromise on Jewish monotheism, or might insist that the Catholics compromise on trinitarianism, or some such, violating one or the other's religious conscience and liberty. The last two footnotes of Rabbi Eugene Korn's essay are insightful; Rabbi Korn notes that Rabbi Soloveitchik's position, granting dignity and respect to Christianity, implies that Rabbi Soloveitchik considered Christianity to be monotheistic and not idolatrous.)

1 comment:

YBA5763 said...

Shalom Michael,

Interesting piece. I get steamed at times at evangelicals - especially the Jews for Jesus types - but there are some valid points made in your piece. There is one thing I would like to address though...
You wrote:

"In other words: theological and eschatological beliefs and facts are not affected by the friendship (or lack thereof) between Evangelicals and Jews."

I would argue that this isn't necessarily true. For example, many Christians who think we will burn for being observant Jews are people who don't actually know any Jews. Once they spend time with Jews, learning about Judaism, and most importantly, developing friendships with Jews, I think at least in many, they can begin to have trouble believing we would be burned for not giving a nod to the guy from Nazareth. I have evangelical friends for whom this is the case; their own eschatological and/or soteriological views have changed since we have become friends, and they realize that as an observant Jew I am a lot like them, not some Jesus-bashing Christian-hating monster.

So while I may not look for opportunities to argue with evangelicals about their beliefs about the end of the world or of my status in G-d's eyes, my conduct around them as an observant Jew can cause them to rethink some of their previously-held, previously-unquestioned ideas.

kol tuv!

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