The evangelical equation

Who is it in the American Jewish community that is so insulted at what they perceive to be, as the NY Times said, the evangelical speakers 'denigrating of the Jewish faith'?

Larry Gordon

OpEds File: Evangelical prayer session at ICEJ event, 2012
File: Evangelical prayer session at ICEJ event, 2012

Over the past two weeks, the liberal press in the United States has been focused on the relationship between Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu and the leaders of evangelical churches here, particularly around the dedication of the new U.S. Embassy building in Jerusalem. The Israeli press has also featured articles on the evangelical church and the Jewish State.

The New York Times reported the other day that sectors of U.S. Jewry are looking askance at Netanyahu’s coziness to evangelical leaders and “are troubled by some of those leaders’ denigration of the Jewish faith.”

At the Five Towns Jewish Times (FTJT), we received a letter just a few days ago in reaction to our U.S. Embassy coverage. The letter writer expressed chagrin that when Pastor Robert Jeffress invoked the name of Jesus in his prayer, Rabbi Zalman Wolowik of Chabad of the Five Towns along with Israel’s two chief rabbis, did not turn around and walk out in protest.

While the motivation of the letter writer, as well as the nature of his unease and discomfort, is understandable, the suggestion that the rabbis or other religious Jews walk out is somewhere between patently silly and extremely absurd. First of all, this was not an Israeli or Jewish event, but rather one that was clearly sponsored and underwritten by the United States at the dedication of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

The idea that the rabbis’ presence constituted a form of idol worship regarding which our halakhic books say one is to allow his or her life to end rather than be subjected to, is, according to rabbinic authorities I consulted, wholly misplaced.

For the rabbis or anyone else to protest the remarks by the Christian clergymen would have been the worst mistake representatives of the Jewish faith could have made at that moment. For his part, Rabbi Wolowik told the 5TJT that it was indeed a great and important moment and a special time for the State of Israel.

“I was watching Israel’s two chief rabbis, Rabbi Lau and Rabbi Yosef, the rabbi of the Kotel, Rabbi Rabinowitz, and numerous rabbanim from within Israel and from around the world, as well as many religiously observant Knesset members, and no one moved or even fidgeted,” Rabbi Wolowik said.

The rabbi did point out that he noticed that when singer Chagit Yaso delivered an exhilarating rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman placed a finger in each of his ears so he would not hear a female sing. That might be fine and good and important to Rabbi Litzman, but while he might have walked out of other events that featured a female singer, this was not one of those events.

It is terribly unfair to take this momentous and historic event and place the entire thing in the context of the two pastors’ remarks.
Actually, it is terribly unfair to take this momentous and historic event and place the entire thing in the context of the two pastors’ remarks. By the way, the comments by Pastor Hagee were purposely quite pareve and respectful of the moment and place in time.

“Everywhere I turned there were minyanim for Minchah,” Rabbi Wolowik observed in our conversation. “There was a Sefard and Ashkenaz minyan; there was a short Shemoneh Esrei and a long one. No one can doubt the nature and greatness of the moment,” he said.

So the question is this: Who is it in the American Jewish community that is so insulted at what they perceive to be, as the Times says, the evangelical speakers denigrating the Jewish community?

Mostly, it seems to be liberal Jews, those who voted for Barack Obama twice and for Hillary Clinton in the last election. They voted for candidates who support abortion and same-sex marriage, they support a strict separation between religion and government, and, in more instances than not, they are still in favor of creating a Palestinian state. They are uncomfortable about a united Jerusalem with the U.S. Embassy located in the city.

And they are worried and concerned that Pastors Hagee and Jeffress are “denigrating” Judaism. Please, give me a break.

It is also important to place in context what it is that led to President Trump so quickly making good on his campaign promises and actually recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the embassy to the city. Politics is certainly about ideology, conviction, philosophy, and firm beliefs. But it is also about votes and voters, and there are 80 million Evangelical Christians in the United States. The Evangelicals overwhelmingly wanted Jerusalem recognized and the embassy moved there.

It is a great thing that the president’s son-in-law and daughter, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, are Jewish, that his chief Middle East negotiator, Jason Greenblatt, is a yeshiva graduate who lives in Teaneck, and that Five Towns native David Friedman is the U.S. ambassador to Israel.

The reality, however, that may have tipped the scale in the direction of Israel, is the statistic of those 80 million Americans who are Evangelical Christians. So how about we acknowledge that criticism of speakers who did not tailor their comments to our specific liking is unnecessary and superfluous.

What Pastors Hagee and Jeffress had to say — the expression about their beliefs and convictions and the dynamic that they recognize as the purpose for the creation of Israel and the Jewish people — is essentially unimportant to the vital goals and purposes we are dealing with today.

Our holy books — specifically, the Torah — make reference unabashedly and unapologetically to supposed mighty idols that were worshipped in ancient times, such as ba’al peor and molech. They say that we in this generation cannot relate to or understand the compelling and almost gravitational pull in the direction of serving these idols. But still the Torah mentions them instead of skirting the fact of their existence.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that the Torah’s prominent reference to  these subjects of avodah zarah actually brings attention to their powerlessness and negates their importance. I doubt that this was the motivation at the embassy dedication and it should not be the intent. Neglecting the reality of Christian support for Israel and not allowing the pastors to say what they did would have assigned greater credibility to those beliefs. So who is walking out on what and why?

Just between us, the Jeffress prayer at the end of his remarks about the Prince of Peace was neither impactful nor impressive. It came and went with a big yawn. It was reminiscent of what Rabbi Meir Kahane would say when referencing the Holy Roman Empire. He would say, “It is not holy, no longer Roman, and not an empire.”

Focusing on the comments of the pastors instead of on the remarks of the rabbis, the president of Israel, the prime minister, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Ambassador Friedman, Mr. Kushner, and the recorded remarks by the president is just a pointless distraction.

I think we all know how easy it is to point out shortcomings in any argument, event, or theory, especially one of this nature. Israel and the Jewish people continue to change the world on a multitude of levels. The embassy dedication in Jerusalem was another giant step in that direction.