A Christian Embassy video features Rabbi Shlomo Riskin using language that some Jews charge is theologically problematic. Speaking later with Israel National News, Rabbi Riskin retracted part and explained the rest.
The video, circulated by the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem (ICEJ), shows Rabbi Riskin – a highly-respected Orthodox rabbi and scholar who founded the city of Efrat in Gush Etzion and is now its Chief Rabbi – speaking of the “grafting” of evangelical Christianity onto Israel and "resurrecting" G-d.
"When Jesus wakes up in the Resurrection of the Dead, he’ll look around and ask, 'What’s this Sunday business – the Sabbath is on Saturday!"
On the video, Rabbi Riskin says, “We are meant to pray together. In Isaiah Chapter 56, the prophet speaks of the Holy Temple… Isaiah says, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.’ And this is the dream, vision and end-goal.” At this point, he is cut off, and his talk then continues with this: “G-d is asking from the Jewish People to fulfill our covenant… an eternal, irrevocable contract. The party of the first part, as it were, is G-d Himself. The party of the second part is the Jewish People, but not only the Jewish People. Because as Romans states quite clearly, certainly the evangelical Christian community has grafted itself upon the covenant.”
After a brief interlude by ICEJ Director Malcolm Hedding emphasizing the spiritual gifts that the Jews have given the world, Rabbi Riskin is seen saying, “It’s critical that we join hands.” At that point, on the backdrop of two hands coming together, one holding a Jewish star and the other holding a cross, the rabbi states, “and it’s critical that we resurrect G-d in this generation.”
Fusion of Faiths? Resurrecting God?
JewishIsrael.com – a website that “takes a critical look at Israel’s alliances with Fundamentalist Christian groups, and provides a platform for ongoing monitoring and pro-active responses to evangelical missionary campaigns targeting Jews for conversion” – takes strong issue with Rabbi Riskin’s appearance. The site reports and analyzes the video, and asks, “When a prominent Anglo Israeli Orthodox rabbinic leader cites the new testament’s concept of a fusion of faiths, and then proceeds to call for the need to ‘resurrect god’ in a promotional Christian evangelical (ICEJ) video, how is the Torah observant community supposed to react? How will that declaration be perceived by fervent Christians, and how will that ambiguity (heresy?) effect and reflect on the Jewish community?”
Contacted by Israel National News, which alerted him to the exact content of the video, Rabbi Riskin immediately retracted the word “resurrect.” He said, “It was definitely the wrong choice of words and I should have not said it. I do recall, however, explaining afterwards – and this part was not shown on the video – that we have to rescue G-d, so to speak, from fundamental Islam. Both Judaism and Christianity believe in a G-d of compassion and peace, as opposed to militant Islam.”
“My principled position in talking with Christians,” Rabbi Riskin said, “is that we have a common belief in a G-d of love, peace, and compassion. As Jews, we have to position ourselves as speaking to the world once again, just as the prophets did, against the god of Jihad. It is our obligation to preach to the entire world at least the 7 Noachide commandments – as Maimonides ruled (Law of Kings 8,10) – which Christians essentially accept (even if not as Noachides), but which fundamentalist Muslims clearly do not [the seven laws include a ban on murder – ed.] This is what we have in common, against the Muslims. Our friendship with the Christians is crucial in our fight with the Muslims.”
Asked about his use of the word “grafted,” Rabbi Riskin said, “This is their word, their way of saying basically that they do not believe in replacement theology. By saying they are grafted onto our tree, they are affirming that the Jews are still G-d’s Chosen People… It is true that they believe that in the end of days, Jews will convert to Christianity. But we believe differently – that in the end, they will come to believe in Judaism, what Maimonides calls the ‘true religion.’ Until then and in the meantime, we have this common goal that we can work towards together.”
“Keep in mind that many Jewish-legal decisors say that Christian belief in a trinity is not idol worship, because it’s three-that-is-one. For Jews, of course, this is idol worship, but not for Christians.”
Asked about the “joining of hands” on the video, Rabbi Riskin said, “I simply meant that we must join together in friendship, not in religious belief at this point. I always tell Christians and messianic Jews that one cannot accept the divinity of Jesus and remain Jewish.”
INN: “Is not Christian belief the opposite – that Jews must accept Jesus, and that they must do what they can, directly or indirectly, to bring that about? How can you cooperate with this?"
Rabbi Riskin: “I once spoke before a very large ICEJ convention in Jerusalem, and I told them: ‘I think I know your theology pretty well, and I think it is this: Right now, you’re not out to proselytize Jews. Right now, you believe we should be good Jews, and come to Israel to live, and then there will be what you call Armageddon – a war of Jews and Christians versus the Moslems. The Jews and Christians will win, then there will be a resurrection of the dead, and then you believe that all the Jews will be converted to Christianity. I told them that of course I clearly can’t accept this, but in any event, it will be a few hundred years before this all happens, and so in the meantime, since you’re not out to convert us now, we need all the friends we can get.’ They all applauded with great enthusiasm.
"‘However,’ I continued, ‘I want to emphasize this: Our sources say that Redemption will follow Repentance. Yes, there will be a Resurrection of the Dead, and Jesus may very well be among those who will be resurrected; he was basically a religious Jew. But when he wakes up, he’ll look around and ask, 'What’s this Sunday business – the Sabbath is on Saturday! And what’s this Easter stuff – it should be a regular Passover seder! And why are you eating bacon and eggs, when the Torah forbids pig meat?' And so what will happen is that there will be conversion – but in the other direction.’ This time, there was no applause – just silence.”
Times of Messiah
In conclusion, Rabbi Riskin said, “I will not cooperate with any Christian group or person that I learn is taking active steps to proselytize Jews. But I can say that in any event, what I’m seeing is the opposite; I don’t see that the groups that I’m dealing with are converting Jews, but rather many of them are coming close to keeping more of the Torah. I truly think that when we look at the extent of that phenomenon, it seems that these truly are times of the Messiah.”