Participation in the "Woman to Woman" Conference in Jerusalem next week, sponsored by the Christian "Bridges for Peace" organization, has been banned by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. The event is set to coincide with the celebrations commemorating the 40th anniversary of Jerusalem's re-unification in the Six Day War.
A special Rabbinate committee, headed by Rabbi Simcha Kook of Rechovot, ruled on Thursday that concentration on "Judeo-Christian values" and the study of "the Jewish foundations of Christianity" are forbidden. The rabbis ruled that these efforts are actually part of a long-running campaign to bring Israeli-Jews to believe in Jesus.
Promotional literature for the Woman to Woman conference, to take place in Jerusalem from May 16-19, describes it as "Jewish and Christian women together, studying the Word [italics added] and working together to build bonds of friendship and bring comfort to the people of Israel." Each Conference day will begin with "praise and worship... in preparation for an exciting series of visits and speakers, focusing on the roles, experiences, and opportunities for Women in Israel."
Bridges for Peace is a Jerusalem-based, Bible-believing Christian organization that supports Israel and is engaged, according to its website, in "building relationships between Christians and Jews worldwide through education and practical deeds expressing God's love and mercy. It is our desire to see Christians and Jews working side by side for better understanding and a more secure Israel."
The Conference will be followed by the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus Women’s Summit, entitled, "Empowering Women through Judeo-Christian Values." The two-day event (May 20-21) will, according to the official invitation, "bring together hundreds of Jewish and Christian women from all over the globe to address the difficult issues and tragic circumstances millions of women face daily. Every component of this remarkable experience is designed to encourage and equip women to be all that God has called them to be. Together, we will come to know Him better, and we will go back to our home countries, an army of His women, empowered to change the world."
Another promotional website explains, "The Knesset Christian Allies Caucus Women’s Council Conference will focus on hardships facing women worldwide, to which solutions can be found through Judeo-Christian values. Women representatives from every country in the world will join together in this monumental forum to be trained as ambassadors who will mobilize their respective governments to promote the status of women in their home country. Through this conference in the holy city of Jerusalem, women leaders will promote Judeo-Christian values globally. Christian women leaders and members of the Israeli Knesset Christian Allies Caucus Women’s Council will chair the conference and teach in special post-conference guided tours following the footsteps of the Bible throughout the Holy Land."
The two other members of the Rabbinate committee are Rabbi Yitzchak Peretz, Chief Rabbi of Raanana, and Be'er Sheva Chief Rabbi Yehuda Deri. The committee ruled that the Woman to Woman Conference is "in opposition to Torah thought and law," and that the events organized by the Knesset Christian Caucus, Bridges for Peace and the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem "strive to create a partnership between famous Christian preachers and leaders of organizations that have worldwide missionary programs to missionize as many Jews as possible... Events of this nature have been banned in the past by Torah giants throughout the generations, and they are forbidden."
Rabbi Deri explained to Arutz-7, "We note of late the terrible phenomenon of Messianic Jews wreaking havoc and destruction in Israel by trying to bring Jesus as Messiah into Israel. With pleasantness and kindness, they bring Torah, fear of G-d and even Torah commandments - but all with one underlying theme: that Jesus is Messiah. This joins with the phenomenon of millions of Evangelical Christians; Bibi Netanyahu said about them, 'They are not just friends of Israel, they are Israel!' They want to help and support us, but they have the same goals as the Messianics. They make tremendous efforts and support us all over, and are even more right-wing than we are in some ways, and they help us with Bush, etc. - this is all true, but in the end, they have one goal, and that is Jesus. We are not on the level of early great Rabbis who were able to take the good and spit out the bad..."
MK Rabbi Benny Elon (National Union) responded with sorrow to the decision. He said that he and others like him make sure to work only with Christians who do not have missionary intentions. "We work closely with the Yad L'Achim anti-missionary organization," MK Elon told Arutz-7, "though now a competing organization - Lev L'Achim - has arisen and seems to have 'stricter' standards... It's hard for me to understand: What can be wrong about forging friendships with those who want to help us and care about us?"
Jerusalem Councilwoman Mina Fenton of the National Religious Party says that Elon's approach is very naive. "They try to do outreach in any way possible," she told Arutz-7, "but all they actually want is to infiltrate into the Jewish public in any way possible, and to blur the differences between Judaism and Christianity. That's why they have all these missions and study groups and women's groups and seminars on Christianity's Jewish roots and the like - because they want Jews to think that they can remain Jewish while still accepting Jesus."
The Knesset Christian Allies Caucus has made no secret of its opposition to missionary efforts. In fact, high-profile evangelical radio talk-show host Janet Parshall, known for her strong support of Israel, has refused to speak for the Caucus for this reason. She said she made the decision after learning that the Caucus "condemns" and does not associate with missionary groups. Parshall said she fears Israel would soon essentially say, "We'll take your aid, your support and your tourist dollars, but we won't take your Jesus."
On the other hand, Precept Ministries founder Kay Arthur - who has said, “The Jews need conversion" - is still active in the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus Women's Council.
Rabbi Deri admitted that the decision was not an easy one: "It's true that in the short run, it's advantageous to work with them - but what about the harm caused 50 years from now?... This is a hard issue, and I very much admire Benny Elon and his family - but we have to rely on the majority of rabbis, such as Rabbi Avraham Shapira and Rabbi Lior and many others..."