Last week, several prominent rabbis organized a protest against Christian worshipers near the Western Wall. Dozens of Orthodox Jews clashed with police while protesting against a group of Christians participating in “Pentecost 2023 – A Global Day of Prayer for Jerusalem and the Nations,” chanting “Missionaries go home!”
If an Orthodox protest against Christians is surprising in light of the growing alliance between Evangelical Christians and observant Jews today, it’s another reminder that despite decades of positive developments, Jews are still traumatized by centuries of Christian persecution.
In recent decades, Evangelical Christians have become Israel’s strongest supporters. Though most secular Jews are wary of their friendship, a growing number of Orthodox Jews and institutions have carefully and cautiously developed relationships based on a common foundation of shared values.
Ohr Torah Stone established the Center of Jewish Christian Understanding and Cooperation in 2008, and this past April, World Mizrachi hosted the panel, “From Antisemitism to Ohr Lagoyim,” featuring two Orthodox Jews and two Evangelical Christians, at their World Orthodox Israel Congress. Most recently, Yeshiva University launched a new program in Hebraic Studies designed for Christians with the Philos Project, a Christian organization.
Some voices in the Orthodox community have rejected all contact with Evangelicals, warning repeatedly and loudly that Christians who support Israel are primarily interested in saving Jewish souls. At the recent protest, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Aryeh King said, “Missionary terrorism is as dangerous as Islamic terrorism!”
At Israel365, we navigate these rocky waters by recognizing the potential pitfalls and dangers and proceeding with caution. Nevertheless, we firmly believe that cultivating authentic friendships with Christians who align with our values is essential to fulfilling our role as an Ohr Lagoyim, (a light unto the nations), which will bring immense strength and pride to the State of Israel.
Christians, like Jews are remarkably diverse. There are more than two billion Christians in the world and thousands of denominations; without a doubt, many Christians remain hostile to Judaism and the Jewish people. In recent years, however, many have begun to rethink their relationship with Israel and the Jewish people.
Many Christians recognized the atrocities of the Holocaust as the culmination of millennia of Christian antisemitism and replacement theology, while the astounding birth of the State of Israel and its incredible growth and success chipped away at replacement theology from the opposite direction. If God had truly rejected Israel, why would He perform miracles on their behalf? The astounding number of biblical prophecies fulfilled over the last 75 years, was evidence that God had not broken His covenant with the Jewish people after all.
This radical change in Christian teaching regarding the Jews has taken place over a relatively short span of time. “Half the world’s Christians belong to churches that have recently affirmed that God’s election of the Jewish people is irrevocable,” writes Kendall Soulen of Emory’s Candler School of Theology in the introduction of his 2022 book, Irrevocable. “This endorsement represents a seismic shift from the Christian past.”
Most Israeli Jews only know of Christians through antisemitism
THOUGH MUCH of global Christianity has undergone a dramatic shift in its attitudes toward the Jewish people, most Israeli Jews are only familiar with the long and brutal history of Christian antisemitism. In fact, most Israeli Jews don’t know any Christians or have few opportunities to interact with members of the largest religion in the world.
At the same time, most Christians live in places without any meaningful Jewish presence. Even when Christian tourists visit Israel, they primarily visit Christian holy sites and rarely have meaningful encounters or conversations with Jews. As a result, millions of Christian Zionists appreciate and support the State of Israel, but with little understanding of the Jewish people themselves – a perfect recipe for mutual distrust and misunderstandings.
To bridge this gap, Israel365 nurtures deeper friendships between Christians and Jews who share so many values, in order to channel those relationships into healthier support for Israel.
Over the years, Israel365 has developed relationships with courageous Christian leaders who have publicly disavowed proselytizing Jews, earning the ire of many Christians, but the respect of many Jews. Christian leaders like Lars Enarson, a prolific Bible teacher and prayer leader chip away at the animosity that many Orthodox Jews feel toward Christianity. Enarson has said publicly, “The Jewish people should be guarded, protected, and supported by the church, not proselytized.”
Similarly, my good friend Tommy Waller, whose message on Youtube – “Fellow Christians: Stop Stealing Jewish Identity” – has over 13,000 views, told me that he fully understands the Orthodox protests in the Old City. “Even as a Christian, I feel the protesters’ anger. Why? Because I personally know Jews murdered by terrorists – terrorists who were paid with American tax dollars. I know people facing persecution for the crime of being Jewish. The story has not changed for almost 2000 years. We can change the story – but first, we Christians must change our Messianic vision. ’Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’” (Zechariah 8:23).
Recently, I had Shabbat dinner with Pastor Paula White, who, as spiritual adviser to president Trump, had a direct hand in many decisions that have directly benefited every Jew in the world, including moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. Reflecting what many Christian Zionists believe today, she said, “You don’t have to know Christians to be a good Jew, but to be a good Christian you have to know the Jews.”
Given our painful history, it is understandable that many Jews do not trust Christians. Nevertheless, there is a growing movement of experienced Orthodox rabbis and teachers who recognize the great importance of building bridges with the millions of Christians throughout the world who turn to Israel and the Jewish people for wisdom and inspiration.
The Christian prayer event in the Old City and the protest against it represent a setback in our communities’ efforts to overcome centuries of mistrust. Nevertheless, with all the ups and downs, we are making progress. It will take time, but the day will come when Jerusalem will become the spiritual center, when the Holy Temple will once again become a “house of prayer for all nations.”
We long for the day when “the nations 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 Tzion, the word of Hashem from Yerushalayim” (Isaiah 2:2,3).
The writer, a rabbi, is the founder of Israel365 and the editor of The Israel Bible, which are both dedicated to strengthening relationships between Jews and Christians in support of Israel. He can be reached at RabbiTuly@Israel365.com.