Beliefs Ethics Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

The top four Jewish worries about Christian Zionism

View from Dominus Flevit church located on the Mountain of Olives on the old part of city Jerusalem.
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View from Dominus Flevit church located on the Mountain of Olives on the old part of city Jerusalem. Israel.

Is Christian Zionism good for the Jews?

Not every Jew thinks so.

In fact, Christian Zionists make many Jews crazy.

Why?

Worry # 1: Jews believe that Christian Zionists believe that all Jews need to be back in the land of Israel before Jesus can return.

Except it’s not true.

I once asked Ralph Reed, the prominent conservative activist and founder of the Christian Coalition, about this.

“Rabbi, I’ve been in church every Sunday of my life and I have never heard such a thing. It’s not the last book of our Bible [Revelation, which speaks of the end of days]; it’s the first book of your Bible. It’s Genesis 12. ‘Those who bless you I will bless, and those who curse you I will curse.’ And, Rabbi, we want that blessing.”

Some evangelical Christians believe that the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 is part of the countdown towards redemption.

But many Jews believe the same thing. Check out the Jewish prayer for the state of Israel. It says that the state of Israel is the “beginning of the flowering of our redemption.”

And what if Christian Zionists believed that all of the Jews have to be back in the Land at the time of the Second Coming?

I’ll worry about that when the time comes.

This is the fiftieth anniversary of the march on Selma. Do you think that everyone who marched there had the same conception of what happens to the soul, and what the final days of human history would look like?

Do you think that Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel agreed on those topics?

It didn’t matter who was going to heaven or who was going to hell.

For American blacks, segregation was hell on earth. Put your theology into a folder and put it into a drawer. There was worldly work to be done.

Worry #2: Christian Zionists are far more conservative than Jews on most issues, especially gay marriage.

True. Some Christian Zionist leaders have made offensive statements – on all sorts of topics. Jewish leaders have hardly been reticent in condemning such statements.

Offensive stuff aside — do we need to agree with everyone on everything all the time?

Think of it this way. American Jews work extensively with black leaders. Do you think that they all agree with liberal Jewish views on, say, gay marriage? (Spoiler alert: they don’t). But we march with them, and we work with them to heal society. We put those differences aside for a greater good.

In the same vein, some mainstream Protestant denominations have become aligned with anti-Israel movements. And yet, we march with their pastors, participate in interfaith Thanksgiving services, and we build Habitat For Humanity houses with them.

If you want a perfect friend, you will never have a friend.

Worry #3: Christian Zionists want to convert Jews to Christianity.

Actually, no – conversion is not on their agenda. They believe that God has an eternal covenant with the Jewish people.

As a Christian Zionist leader said at the AIPAC conference last week (in front of a standing-room only crowd): “We’re not planting seeds [of conversion]; we’re just trying to break up the pavement.”

What’s the “pavement?”

It is the hardened relationship that has existed between Jews and Christians for two thousand years. Christian Zionists are ashamed of that terrible history. They want to do everything they can to heal it. Pushing for conversion would not be helpful, and they know it.

That said: many Christian Zionists really don’t understand Jews, or Judaism. They tend to think that Judaism ended with the last page of the “Old Testament.” They have no concept of rabbinic literature – Talmud, Midrash, etc. They don’t really understand how contemporary Jews live their lives.

The good news is: They want to learn. They can only do so if they are in conversation with “real” Jews, talking about “real” Judaism.

Worry #4: Christian Zionists tend to have right-wing views on Israel.

Yes – and this is where their theology becomes a problem.

If you take the Bible literally, then you will also tend to take the biblical map of Israel literally as well. And that means: don’t give up an inch of land – even for peace. Pat Robertson actually said that Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke and that Rabin had been assassinated because they had pursed peace that would “divide God’s land.” This comment goes beyond offensive; it is actually obscene.

Excuse me, Rev. Robertson (and others): don’t crush me with that bear hug. Those are eighteen year old Israeli kids standing at checkpoints, wondering if that Palestinian woman is really pregnant, or is she carrying a bomb. Those are not your children or grandchildren. Stop being so brave with Jewish kids and Jewish lives!

Israel is not a football team that we cheer on from the stands: “Hit ‘em again – harder, harder!”

Christian Zionism has a long and fascinating history. Shalom Goldman has written a wonderful book on the topic. Two British Christian Zionists – Lloyd George and Arthur Balfour – made Israel possible.

Johnny Cash was a Christian Zionist. He and his family visited Israel five times. He recorded an album of inspirational hymns about Israel and made films about his journeys to Biblical sites.

Christian Zionists are not going away. Some people estimate that there are 75 million evangelicals in the United States. Their churches are bursting at the seams (so maybe God has, in fact, blessed them). Ninety percent of those churchgoers are pro-Israel. They give money to Israel. They visit Israel.

Do they believe everything that Jews believe – about faith, scripture, and life? No.

They are, after all, evangelical Christians.

Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, atheists – they don’t agree with us on much of anything.

But we talk with them.

It’s time that Jews – especially liberal Jews – do the same thing.

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.

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