The Delicate State of Jewish-Christian Ties – opinion
By Rabbi Pesach Wolicki | June 2, 2023
“Christians persecuted by Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem!” “Orthodox Jews spit at Christian worshippers near Temple Mount!” “Violence against Christians. The true face of Israel.”
These are just a few of the social media posts that went viral this past Sunday, accompanied by footage of Orthodox Jews aggressively protesting a Christian worship event held at the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
The event, billed as Pentecost 2023: Global Day of Prayer for Jerusalem and the Nations, attracted Christians from a wide variety of ministries and organizations. The primary purpose of the event was prayer for Israel, for the peace of Jerusalem, and for the world. The Jewish protesters, led by prominent religious Zionist leader Rabbi Zvi Tau and Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Aryeh King, came to speak out against Christians who seek to proselytize to Jews in the land of Israel. And in fact, one of the stated goals of Pentecost 2023 was the launch of “a decade of evangelism.”
For Christians worldwide, the behavior of the protesters is evidence of Jewish hatred of Christianity and intolerance of the freedom of Christians to worship in Jerusalem. For those Jews who support the protesters, the threat of Christian missionary activity actively targeting Jews warrants the outrage on display by those Jews who disrupted the Christian event.
Before we get into the despicable actions of the protesters, let’s be very clear. Any and all attempts to convert Jews to Christianity are unacceptable if there is to be any positive progress made in the Jewish-Christian relationship. At Ohr Torah Stone’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, a disavowal of any such motives or activity is a precondition for dialogue and cooperation.
Most Christians are largely ignorant of the history of Christian anti-Semitism and fail to understand the suspicion felt by most in the Jewish community. Our position is that Christian cessation of efforts to convert Jews to Christianity is an essential baseline for a mutually respectful relationship between our faiths going forward. To try to pull Jews away from Jewish faith and toward Christianity is to attack the Jewish people and the Jewishness of the State of Israel.
Thank God, most major Christian Zionist organizations are openly opposed to missionary activity directed at Jews. In fact, the leaders of these organizations are frequently criticized within the Christian world for refraining from proselytizing. These Christian Zionist organizations were notably absent from Sunday’s event.
At the same time, Pentecost 2023 lists among its organizers and partners several prominent ministries that do support or actively engage in efforts to preach Christianity to Jews in Israel. While much of the content of the event was prayer for the State of Israel and the peace of Jerusalem, in a number of the speeches as well as in advance promotional materials, references to the goal of the Jewish people accepting Jesus were carefully worded, but not concealed.
I point this out not to justify the aggressive behavior of the protesters, but to raise the larger issue of the delicate state of the Jewish-Christian relationship and the damage that results from a lack of nuanced understanding on both sides.
As for the protesters, while peaceful protest is a democratic right, their behavior was shameful and damaging to the Jewish people. Spitting, harassment, and scuffling with security personnel does nothing to improve the Jewish relationship with the nations of the world. It is nothing less than a desecration of God’s name. The responsibility for the negative perception of Israel in general and of Torah observant Jews in particular, resulting from Sunday’s protest rests squarely on the shoulders of Rabbi Tau and his partners. While we agree in our unequivocal opposition to missionary activity in Israel, peacefully speaking out, handing out leaflets, or praying opposite the Christian event, would all have been more effective and acceptable responses. Instead, the leaders of the protest chose to rile up the youth of their community to behave in a violent manner designed to cause maximum damage to the Jewish people, and, it appears, to their own cause.
The irony of the events of this past Sunday is that the greatest beneficiaries of the ugly behavior of the Jewish protesters are the Christian ministries who organized the event. Had there been no violent protest, the Christian worship event would have gone on with little attention outside the usual light coverage from Christian media for events of this nature. Instead, Pentecost 2023 made headlines and went viral on social media, all due to the unruly and violent actions of the Jewish protesters.
To be clear, by protesting in the manner they did, Rabbi Tau, Deputy Mayor King, and their followers gave the Christian ministries behind Pentecost 2023 the greatest gift. In Christian culture, being harassed and spat at for publicly displaying one’s faith is one of the highest honors one can achieve. For Christians, such “persecution” is only a sign that they are doing what is right in the eyes of God. I have no doubt that the ministries that organized and sponsored this event will use every bit of footage and coverage of the protests in their upcoming fundraising campaigns. A significant increase in funds flowing to organizations dedicated to missionary activities in Israel may well be the main accomplishment of the protesters.
Over the past few decades, there has been much progress made in the Jewish-Christian relationship. This work takes sensitivity, nuance, and care. We must not allow events such as Sunday’s to undermine what has been accomplished.
Increasing numbers of Evangelical Christians are learning to have a respectful relationship to Jews and Israel, with no conversionary agenda. So, while we repudiate and distance ourselves from those who attempt to undermine Judaism with their missionary work, we must embrace and encourage those who are truly our friends.
To my Christian friends I say, study the history of Christian anti-Jewish doctrines and behavior. Be sensitive to Jewish identity. And most of all, for our relationship to continue to grow and thrive, respect our faith and our covenantal relationship to the God of our fathers without trying to change who we are. Otherwise, this friendship is no friendship at all.
Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is Executive Director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC)
Read this article on the Jerusalem Post website