Organizers of the upcoming Christian-Jewish events in Jerusalem say no missionary activity is involved; Israel's Chief Rabbis say they will review a ban on participation in the events ordered by a Rabbinate subcommittee.
MK Rabbi Benny Elon met with Israel's Chief Rabbis Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar today, regarding last week's controversial ruling by a Rabbinate subcommittee. The three-rabbi subcommittee, presented with evidence of wide-scale missionary activity throughout Israel, banned participation in two Christian-Jewish events planned for later this month in Jerusalem.
However, Elon - who works closely with Christian Zionists in advancing Israel's political interests - offered to present the Chief Rabbis with evidence that might change the picture. The rabbis agreed, and a meeting on the matter is set to be held in a matter of days.
Elon, who heads the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, told Arutz-7, "We are very careful not to work with missionary organizations - and they well know this. In this case, however, I believe the rabbis simply did not have the right information."
The Chief Rabbinate Council committee of municipal chief rabbis - headed by Rabbi Simcha Kook of Rehovot, with the participation of Rabbi Yitzchak Peretz of Raanana, and Rabbi Yehuda Deri of Be'er Sheva - ruled that the "Woman to Woman" conference sponsored by Bridges for Peace, and the "Empowering Women through Judeo-Christian Values" event of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus Women’s Summit both "stand in opposition to Torah thought and law."
The ruling added that the two events "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."
Reactions were quick to arrive. Sondra Oster Baras, Director of the Israel Office of Christian Friends of Israeli Communities and a Board Member of the Women's Council of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, explained that Bridges for Peace (BFP) "does not engage in missionary activity and [its chairperson Rebecca Brimmer], personally, has an exemplary record in that regard." Baras noted that while some rabbis "oppose any activity between Jews and Christians, there are many others who are quite supportive."
Josh Reinstein, of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, agreed: "BFP is against missionary activity... It is hard to fathom that there are Jews who are willing to meet with our enemies, yet not with our friends."
BFP head Brimmer herself, speaking on IsraelNationalRadio and later contacted separately by Arutz-7, also said that her organization has no missionary objectives - though she stopped short of condemning all missionary activity outright. Asked by IsraelNationalRadio's Jeremy Gimpel if the organization's good works on behalf of Israel are just a cover for missionary objectives, she said, "You've known me for 4-5 years. Have I tried to change you into a Christian?"
Gimpel: "Absolutely not - but I want you to say it on the air. I want everyone to hear the President of BFP say that she is absolutely against missionary activity, that this is not what the organization stands for."
Brimmer: "That is not - BFP is not a missionary organization, we are an organization that is trying to bring relationships and reconciliation between two people who have been at odds for 2,000 years and who both love and serve the same God and who both read the same Bible. I think it's a sin against God for us to be always at odds and hating one another, and I think we need to change that."
Later, Arutz-7 asked her about promotional literature for the BFP event that speaks of "Jewish and Christian women together, studying the Word..." Ms. Brimmer agreed that this might be misleading, and said that the description is inaccurate. "Basically," she said, "we have a small conference of about 30 Christian women from abroad, with no Jews signed up, nor did we attempt to invite them as participants. What we did was to invite Jewish women to come and share with the Christians how they think - because if we're going to overcome anti-Semitism, then we need to get to know one another."
(The reference is to the Woman to Woman event; the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus summit is a larger affair - two days of sessions in a Jerusalem hotel on issues such as abuse of women, the lack of women's rights in various countries, Judeo-Christian ethics, women as leaders, and more.)
Sitting Together, or Teaching?
Ms. Brimmer was asked to elaborate: "Do you see this as a way of simply showing Christians that Jews don't have horns - or is it that the Jews will actually teach the Christians, such as is described in Zechariah 8:23, which states that 'ten [Gentiles] will take hold of a Jew by his cloak and say, 'let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you'"?
"I can accept both formulations," she responded. "Most Christians are totally unaware of the riches they can learn from the Jews. In some ways, Christianity has been removed from its source... But we're certainly not getting Christians to become Jews, that's for sure."
Blurring the Lines
The Rabbinate council is concerned, however, that while specific groups are not involved outright in missionary work, the "blurring of the lines" will lead to danger in the future. "Bonds of this nature and the search for Judea-Christian values, and the study of the Jewish foundations of Christianity are forbidden and must be condemned," the ruling states.
Following the conversation with Ms. Brimmer, Arutz-7 asked one of the signatories, Rabbi Yitzchak Peretz, whether the ban included teaching the Christians. His response: "Participation of any sort is forbidden, because the Christians' ultimate goal is to convert Jews and we cannot give this legitimacy."
A senior member of the Yad L'Achim anti-missionary organization told Arutz-7 that though BFP and others are not actively involved in missionary work, "we must be very vigilant. Whether they are active or not is not the question; they can still be supportive of evangelizing Jews even though they do not actively do it. There are some issues on which we can work with them, and some that we cannot. It has to be done with careful judgment... For instance, to talk of 'Judeo-Christian' values - there is no such thing. This is a concept that arose in the West. There are some values that they adopted from us, and others that they distorted."
Rabbi Yitzchak HaLevy of the Yesha township of Karnei Shomron said (before learning that the Chief Rabbis planned to review the ruling) that though he would not take a public stance in opposition to the Chief Rabbinate, "I don't think that we have to fear these organizations that much. The bottom line is that their spiritual influence here is very small. It's true that belief in a trinity is pure idol worship, but I don't think we have to fear that they will make inroads with this nonsense." He agreed that in the city of Ariel, Christian influence is not insignificantly felt.
Jerusalem Councilwoman Mina Fenton, who met with the Rabbinate committee, feels the missionaries' influence must not be under-estimated. She says that various volunteers throughout the country provide food packages and other help to many needy families, providing "spiritual counseling" as an added bonus. In addition, she told the rabbis, there are some 10,000 Messianic Jews in 100 communities around the country, and another 3,000 Jehova's Witnesses, all of whom are active in various ways in "spreading the gospel."
"The goal of all the groups," she feels, "is to blur the differences between Jews and Christians, to show the Jewish roots of Jesus, and to show that we believe in the same things - thus making it easier for the actual missionaries to come in for the kill."
Not every Christian wishes to missionize Jews, most agree. Women-in-Green co-founder Ruth Matar remembers fondly the Christian family that adopted her as a little girl during the Holocaust and constantly told her never to forget that she was Jewish and that what she heard with them at church was not "for her." Similarly, many feel, many Christian Zionists today love Israel with no ulterior motives.
On the other hand, as Sandra Oster Baras writes, "Make no mistake. Most Christians do believe that Jews need to accept Jesus. That is their religion. [But our] goal in building relationships between Jews and Christians is... to develop ways to cooperate and work together for the benefit of Israel and the Jewish people, despite our religious differences. We will not cooperate with anyone who is involved in missionary activity targeting the Jewish people. We will, however, continue to cooperate with anyone who wants to help the Jewish people and is willing to set aside his missionary agenda."
Opportunity - or Danger?
"For us," says Baras, "it is an opportunity to help Israel that we dare not ignore." Others say it is a danger that we dare not ignore.
---- Sites related to the missionary debate: ----
* Outreach Judaism (includes 25 hours of free audio downloads)
* Jews for Judaism