Tzvi Fishman
Tzvi Fishman INN: TF

In the Torah, in the prophecy of Bilaam, Israel is described as a nation which shall dwell alone. This, however, does not mean that Israel is to keep itself isolated from mankind. As Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi explains in his classic treatise of Jewish Faith, “The Kuzari,” Israel is the “heart of the nations.” Like the heart which sends life to all other organs from its central location in the body, Israel too is the source of the spiritual life of the nations, and often times physical blessing as well.

A new book, “Lighting Up The Nations: Jewish Responsibility Towards the Nations Today and in the Messianic Era,” sheds great illumination on this theme. A collection of essays written by a wide variety of scholars. Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh writes about, “The Fourth Revolution in Torah Learning.” An article by Rabbi Amichai Kohen focuses on “Gentiles Studying Kabbalah and Chassidut.” A fascinating case study by Rabbi Dr. Yakov Nagen examines a new fad in China – the learning of Kabbalah.

The book includes a deep dive into the implications of the eventual reunification of the Ten Lost Tribes with the rest of Am Yisrael, and a look at how the Third Temple is relevant for all of humanity, not just the Jews. And there is an extensive look at Biblical verses which emphasize the idea that the eventual universal worship of the One True God of Israel appears over and over throughout the Bible and in Jewish prayer.

I spoke to the editor of the book and one of its authors, Dr. Rivkah Lambert Adler, Ph.D. I ask her if she discusses other aspects of the Torah when she addresses non-Jews.

“Personally, I answer any question a non-Jew asks me about Torah. Most of the time, they ask about Biblical passages or Jewish ritual/Jewish practice, especially around holiday observances. Sometimes they ask for book recommendations on a topic of interest. Some of my colleagues even teach them Kabbalah and Hassidut.”

In a nutshell, for you, what is the book’s main message?

“Along with my previous book, ‘Ten from the Nations,’ the book shines a light on something happening in the world with which most Jews are unfamiliar. I call the phenomenon a Torah awakening among non-Jews. ‘Lighting Up The Nations’ is intended to remind Jews of our Biblical mandate to share the Oneness of God, and the universal wisdom of the Torah, with anyone who is seeking truth and an honest path to God. The prophets Yeshayahu and Zechariah teach that all of humanity will eventually come to know, understand and believe that there is but one true God. Hashem assigned us the task of sharing that knowledge with the rest of the world.”

Why is that important now?

“For the past 2,000 years, we have been preoccupied with shielding ourselves from vicious attempts to forcibly convert, banish or murder us. During these long and bloody centuries, it was neither safe nor smart to share the universal wisdom of Torah with the world. As a result, most Jews have completely forgotten that God charged us with teaching others about Him. Today, we are living in a revolutionary era. Millions of non-Jews are turning to the Jewish people, exactly as Zechariah told us they would, and asking us to teach them about God and His Torah. Each contributor to this book explores what this new reality means for the Jewish people, both today and in the Messianic Era.”

How did you get involved with this Torah awakening among non-Jews?

“In 2002, a man from Nigeria reached out to me by email and told me that he was from the Igbo tribe. He explained that his people are descendants of the ancient Israelites and he was trying to find ways to reconnect. Over the next dozen years or so, non-Jews would regularly contact me because they were looking for a Jewish connection. Generally, people had a question about Judaism and were looking for a Jewish person to ask. When foreigners continued to send me questions

I wondered, “I’m hardly the only Jew on Facebook. How did this person or that one decide to reach out to me specifically? Then, around 2015, it became clear that Hashem had been preparing me all along. Because around 2015, I started meeting non-Jews in Israel who knew more knowledgeable about Judaism than most non-Orthodox Jews.”

Who were they? Why did they come to Israel?

“They came to Israel seeking Hashem from all over the world. The ones with which I am personally most familiar come from English-speaking countries or else they speak English well enough to communicate with me. In Lighting Up The Nations, I published an 18-stage taxonomy that I created to describe the various stages of their spiritual journeys. Most of the Torah-aware non-Jews I have met come from Christian backgrounds. Some still identify as Christians and some no longer do. They aren’t all the same. Their motivation to connect to Israel and to visit (pre-COVID-19) comes from a few related ideas.

"I think the most significant is that, once they actually read Hebrew scriptures, they see clearly that God kept His promises to return the Jewish People to the Land. They come to visit Israel because they understand that God has a special relationship with the Children of Israel. I saw their great interest as part of the world’s redemption, part of the messianic process leading to the full and final Geula.

“As my involvement with these inspiring non-Jews increased, it became clear that they were desperately in need of Jewish teachers. The problem was, most Jews had no idea they existed and generally had a deep mistrust of all non-Jews, especially people with a Christian background. Even so, gradually, things were starting to happen. A small group of Torah Jews, mostly in Israel, were starting to respond with various initiatives. I was involved in a few projects to help educate non-Jews from a Torah true perspective, not to encourage them to convert, but to teach them what God and His Torah has to say to them specifically as non-Jews.

Isn’t it against halakha to teach Torah to non-Jews?

“It is not a simple matter to conclude that it’s assur to teach Torah to non-Jews across the board. That’s a gross oversimplification. One of the contributors to Lighting Up The Nations, Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum, offers an extensive halakhic analysis of the different categories of non-Jews and how the halakhot of Torah study and Shabbat observance applies to each of them. In addition, in a classic essay republished in Lighting Up The Nations, Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh refers to Torah study for Gentiles as the ‘Fourth Revolution in Torah,’ a revolution whose time has come.

Why are you spending so much time teaching Torah to non-Jews when there are so many Jews who are so distant from Jewish tradition?

“There are already tens of thousands of Rabbis and Jewish educators available to teach Jews at every level. In addition, responding to interested non-Jews does not preclude also teaching Jews. I don’t know anyone in the field who only teaches non-Jews. We teach whoever wants to learn what we have to share.”

Many missionaries are infiltrating the Jewish community. Aren’t you concerned about the harm missionaries cause to the Jewish people?

“The kinds of non-Jews I work with and write about, those who are genuinely seeking Emet from the Jewish People, cannot be painted with the same brush as dangerous missionaries. Yes, they both come from Christian backgrounds, but conflating them would be like concluding that a secular American Jew is basically the same as Rav Kanievsky because they’re both Jewish.

Where can people get your books?

Lighting Up The Nations was just published by Root Source Press and is available on Amazon in hardcover, softcover, Kindle and PDF editions. I’m presently working on a revised and expanded edition of “Ten From The Nations.” The 2017 version is available on Amazon.

Lighting up the Nations book cover
Lighting up the Nations book cover Tzvi Fishman