The rising influence of Evangelical Christians in America’s corridors of power is having a positive impact on the State of Israel on a regular basis.
US President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and Vice President Mike Pence’s planned trip to Israel are signs that Evangelicals are using their political clout to ensure America stands strong alongside the Jewish State. Another positive development is a Christian group sponsoring a Bible study session at the Knesset this week.
Believing that the Bible has essential truths to teach and should shape our societal values, many Christians are eager for government officials to delve into Scripture for practical lessons in leadership. The Schindler Society is a US-based Christian group that has introduced ongoing Bible study in the US Congress and now hopes to bring that same inspiration to the Knesset.
Pastor Jim Garlow, a member of President Trump’s faith advisory council, and his wife Rosemary Schindler Garlow reached out to MK Rabbi Yehuda Glick (Likud) about hosting a Bible study at the Knesset.
Because of the sensitive nature of Christians and Jews studying Bible together, my organization, Israel365, which serves as a bridge between Christian Zionists and Israel, was called in to collaborate on the program.
Some Jews might be skeptical of Christians encouraging Jews to study the Bible.
After all, this is a classic missionary tactic.
Christian proselytizers often open conversations with unsuspecting Jews by asking them to study Bible passages together.
Even before modern missionaries encouraged Jews to read the Bible, history is replete with sinister episodes where Jews were forced to discuss the Torah in uncomfortable public situations. These incidents never ended well for the Jews.
One of the first examples of biblical coercion was the translation of the Septuagint in the 3rd century BCE. The Talmud (Megilla 9a) records that King Ptolemy gathered 72 Jewish scholars and forced them to translate the Torah from Hebrew into Greek. The holy words of the Torah were suddenly widely available to all for the first time. Interlopers began to deliberately mistranslate certain passages to further false theologies. The resulting Septuagint (“translation of the 70”) was mourned as a national disaster for the Jewish people.
In the Middle Ages, Christians dragged Jews into disputation and debate over certain biblical passages. In a famous example, the leading Torah sage of his generation, Nachmanides, did an admirable job defending his faith, to which King James I of Aragon scoffed that never before had he heard “an unjust cause so nobly defended.”
Nachmanides was let off relatively easy from this disputation and rather than being burnt at the stake, the saintly rabbi was charged by the church with blasphemy and evicted from Spain in 1267.
A final example from the modern era is known as the Napoleonic Sanhedrin of 1807. The great statesman organized 71 Jewish notables to answer 12 questions about Judaism to determine if Jews could be loyal French citizens deserving of equal rights. The Jews were asked uncomfortable questions and forced to compromise their principles to win the approval of the secular sovereign.
Perhaps this latest effort in the Israeli Knesset is just another Christian attempt to utilize the Bible to push a foreign agenda on the Jewish people? I believe the opposite is true. The Schindler Society’s Bible study at the Knesset is different for two main reasons, and should be celebrated.
First, the organizers, the Garlows, have demonstrated their unconditional love for Israel and the Jewish people for 20 years.
Rosemary dedicated this Bible study in memory of her relative Oskar Schindler, and in the spirit of the Righteous Among the Nations, whose support for the Jewish people comes at great personal expense and with no ulterior motivations.
As Pastor Garlow explained to me, “The reason we love the Jewish people is not because of some hidden agenda. We stand with Israel because God promises to bless us if we do and since it is His plan to bring the Jews back to their homeland, we are to support God’s wonderful plan.”
Second, unlike those earlier episodes in our history, the Jewish people are no longer weak subjects of foreign rulers, but sovereign in our own state. There is nothing more natural than Jewish lawmakers studying our law in our original language in our ancient homeland. Unlike when Christian lawmakers study the English words of the King James Bible in Washington, Jewish lawmakers will be teaching the Hebrew words of King David in his eternal capital city. As far as Christian participation? According to Garlow, “the Christians are there to listen, not lead. We come as learners.”
Of course, there is nothing new about the Bible being studied in the Knesset.
Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, was an avid reader of the Bible. He wrote essays on biblical topics and hosted a Bible study group at his home. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has maintained this esteemed tradition and regularly hosts a Bible Study Circle in the presence of chief rabbis and leading academics.
The Knesset is already built on a solid biblical foundation, yet the Schindler Society is adding an important element that has not – and could not have – existed until this day. Emerging from the pro-Israel Christian community, this week’s Bible study is the fulfillment of one of the most beautiful descriptions of Jerusalem.
The Hebrew prophet Isaiah wrote that one day the Jewish people would return to their homeland and to their eternal capital.
When that day finally arrives, “all the nations shall gaze on it with joy. And the many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come, Let us go up to the Mount of Hashem, To the House of the God of Yaakov; that He may instruct us in His ways, and that we may walk in His paths.’ For instruction shall come forth from Zion, the word of Hashem from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2: 2,3).
Isaiah describes the ultimate spiritual achievement as the day when non-Jews will come to Jerusalem to study Torah.
Through the Schindler Society’s sponsorship of Bible Study at the Knesset this week, we are indeed witnessing this major historical turning point.
The author, a rabbi, is the director of Israel365, which connects Christian Zionists with Israel and strives to be a light unto the nations.
The public is invited to attend the Schindler Society Bible Society at the Knesset, but seating is extremely limited. Please email [email protected] to inquire about attending.