Friends, Foes, and Charvona

When the afterglow fades, we will still be left with plenty to daven for on Purim. Why, then, do we act so stupidly when help is proffered?

Many of us, this writer included, thought that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to Congress was moving, inspiring, and effectively spoke to American hearts as much as to Jewish ones. (Apparently some Arab and Iranian ones as well.) We hope that, BEH, he may have had some impact, although the initial reactions lined up according to predictable political and ideological positions. However optimistic we may be, at the end of the day we are still somewhat short of an appearance by Moshiach.

Anti-Semitism is skyrocketing. Jews are leaving Europe in droves, caught between a resurgent right and a steady torrent of Jew-hatred piously chanted in thousands of mosques and madrassas and spread through television and social media . BDS campaigns poison the minds of a next generation of leadership. Jihadists urge the faithful to exterminate the Jews, and we are told to take comfort in the Pew finding that only 22% of the Muslim world supports them. (That is more than the total population of the Axis powers before WWII.) Iran also looks to eradicating the Jewish state, but doesn’t have to rely on blunt knives. According to last spring’s ADL global survey, only a third of the world’s population believes that the Holocaust has been described accurately, which is not much more than the 30% who believe that “Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust.” The historical alliance with the Democratic Party may be in tatters, as close to five dozen (including Jewish Democrats) boycotted the Prime Minister’s speech. The boycotters include the lion’s share of the Black Congressional Caucus, possibly indicating the end of another long-standing strategic alliance.

We could use some friends, you would think.

Interestingly, we have tens of millions of them. But too many of us ignore them at best, and abuse them at worst.

There was push-back against the no-shows of the Black Congressional Caucus. At a press conference at the National Press Club, organized by the Center for Urban Renewal and Education, the Rev. Dexter D. Sanders of the Rock Center for Transformation in Orlando, Florida was one of several speakers who thundered their indignation. “The thing to me that makes no sense is why the Congressional Black Caucus has teamed up with this current administration against Israel….I’m saying you have gone against Israel when you decide to protest the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu….That is a slap in the face to the people of Israel, and not only that, it’s a slap in the face to G-d. And not only that, it’s also a slap in the face of all Bible-believing African-American people in this country.”

There is only one major source of non-Jewish support for Israel left in the world, and that is among Christians. They have been there for Israel since well before the establishment of the State of Israel. Eddie Jacobson’s intervention notwithstanding, Christian phone calls to the White House in support of recognizing the state-to-be swamped Jewish ones. In the decades that followed, in every crisis that Israel faced, Christian support (especially, but definitely not limited to, the Christian right) was there in force. In the most anti-Israel countries of Scandinavia, there are pockets of people who vocally challenge their own government, and they are almost always Christian.

If I had to guess, Bibi’s beginning and ending the speech with Biblical references and a heartfelt “G-d bless America” took into account the mindset of American Christians.

How do we react? Scarcely a week goes by without some clergy in Yerushalayim being spat at by people from different groups, all of them frum. [1] The defacing of a Christian seminary last week – days before Bibi’s visit! – was a headline on CNN. A few months ago, I sat with the Custos (i.e. the Pope’s point man in regard to Catholic holy places) and listened to him mournfully tell me that he understood where Jewish antipathy was coming from historically, and could accept that. But how, he wondered, could you live side by side with a not-insignificant Christian community to whom you extended an official welcome, and make no attempt whatsoever to learn who they really are, or what they are really about?

You would think that American Sniper had become the all-time favorite of the frum community. In real life, the hero befriends a troubled vet at the request of that vet’s mother, who then turns his gun on him and a friend at a shooting range, killing both. Even though most of us haven’t seen the movie, and many of us don’t view any movies at all, we treat our friends the same way. The gunman at least entered an insanity defense; some of us don’t even realize that we are insane.

Of course, very few people engage in hostile activity directed at Christians. Far more widespread, however – and potentially more damaging – is a refusal to acknowledge that not all Christians think and act the same, and that tens of millions actually like Jews! In all parts of the Jewish world, we find people who are trapped in a time warp. This includes not just right of center Orthodox, but Dati Leumi, and even secularists. (After all, for too many non-observant Jews, none of the Rambam’s thirteen qualify as a fundamental of faith – only a rejection of Christian belief!) They regard every overture by Christians not only with suspicion, but with contempt, as if it were a truism that if you scratch the surface of every Christian, you will find an anti-Semite poised to steal our souls. When people like Robert Stearns of Eagles’ Wings bring thousands of Christians to Yerushalayim each fall (to comply with what we ourselves read in a haftorah about the nations of the world coming to acknowledge G-d at the holiday of Sukkot), and speak forcefully about their roots being in Judaism, critics turn on them. They point to the Jewish references as stealth missionizing, rather than pushback against the Palestinians who have been working overtime in recent years to decouple Judaism from Christianity.

The fact is that after the Holocaust, many Christian denominations changed the way they looked at Jews and how they taught about them. There are many millions who grew up without ever hearing an anti-Semitic thought. There are many for whom the State of Israel not only is the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy (and not just a vehicle for some expected mass conversion of Jews), but a living example of an American spirit they see on the wane in the US. There are those for whom attending a model Pesach seder is de rigueur, and others who believe that thousands of years of association with G-d’s word means that they can be relied upon to contribute spiritual insight into contemporary issues.

To be sure, there is a huge amount of anti-Semitism left in dozens of denominations. (There are some philo-Semites of sterling quality in the same denominations.) There are large numbers of people who work assiduously to convert us, overtly and through subterfuge. (There are also huge numbers who have been convinced that the best marketing they can do for what is dear to them is to live righteous lives.) We have to be cautious, and never naïve.
But we should not be tone-deaf to the genuine voices of friendship [2] and respect that abound in our times, for reasons only HKBH knows. Perhaps it is part of a Divine midah keneged midah that Hashem has taken parts of the very belief system that persecuted us for close to two millennia, and turned it into a protective agent.

And if none of this analysis were true, we should still have seen ISIS’ mass beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya as a turning point. The banner read, “A note in blood to the nation of the cross.” Millions of American Christians (plus many Copts and Assyrians whose relatives were being crucified in Iraq) understood the link between that event and the terrorist attack on the Paris kosher supermarket. This could be an additional turning point for many Jews and Christians, who now understand just how closely they are paired in a war against Jihadist Islam.

There are not too many Torah figures who are familiar with these realities, but I have sat with a few who get it. One, with whom I spoke in the last year, volunteered without prodding that those who distance our Christian friends “have no Ahavas Yisroel.” He was that certain about the need, bederech hateva, to stimulate and maintain the friendships. R. Yoel Schwartz, shlit”a, of ITRI, has stated that keeping Christians in Israel’s corner is a matter of sakonas nehashos.

Purim is coming, and not a day too soon. We need the reminder that HKBH is with us in galus. We should also remember a character in the Purim story who hated Mordechai almost to the very end, but then had cause to switch allegiance, and acted decently at a crucial moment. We end Shoshanas Yaakov with a rousing zachur latov for Charvona, regardless of his motivation. Even if you reject my finding of genuine Christian respect for Jews, should we treat tens of millions of Charvonas differently?

[1] It is not true that the most right-wing are not responsive to the problem. They may be ineffective, and deep-seated attitudes to non-Jews in general certainly contribute to the problem, but they have responded. Here is a translation of a letter issued on Badatz stationery some six years ago, provided by Rabbi David Rosen, one of the most experienced intermediaries Jews have in dealing with Christians at high levels:

Recently repeat complaints have been heard on the part of non-Jews from other religions regarding assaults and insults with which irresponsible youth have harassed them in the city and in particular in the vicinity of Shivtei Yisrael St.
Aside from the Desecration of the Divine Name involved in this which is a very serious sin indeed, such provocation of gentiles is forbidden by our rabbis and may also heaven forbid lead to tragic consequences for the Jewish community at large, May the Ineffable One have mercy.
We thus call on all who are in a position to act to end this shameful phenomenon through means of persuasion, to rally forward as soon as possible to eliminate this blight, so that our camp may be one of peace.
And may the Holy One Blessed be He spread His tabernacle of mercy, life and peace over us and all Israel and all Jerusalem; and we wait for and look forward to the coming of our righteous messiah speedily in our days, amen.
Signed this day by the ecclesiastical court of justice, here in the holy city of Jerusalem.

[2] See Netziv, Bereishis 33:4

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10 Responses

  1. Shmuel Burstein says:

    Thank you, Rabbi.

    Indeed. After centuries of forced conversions, pogroms, and murders religiously motivated (at least in part) by malicious libels, it is hard for many of us to appreciate the genuine reality of very large numbers of sincere Christians who wish the Jewish People well; who work and who pray for our safety and security.

    One small story (of several) that illustrated this for me.

    On my first visit to the USHMM, in the 1990’s, I met with a fairly young man who was the head of cartography for the museum. He explained that after learning the history of the Holocaust, horrors inflicted by many whose religion was Christianity, he vowed to dedicate years of his life to Holocaust Memory.

    He left his flourishing business for at least two years, passing up the extra income he would have otherwise handsomely enjoyed, to work as a salaried employee. He asked in sincerity that when I expressed professional courtesy for the maps he provided (for free) I not mention his name. Out of hakaras hatov I did not honor his request. Dewey, I am still grateful to you today.

  2. Aaron says:

    “We could use some friends, you would think” and that is exactly why PM Netanyahu speech was so misguided. A speech will not stop Iranian centrifuges from spinning – especially when the speech essentially rehashes claims that are all already well known – but a speech in the US congress that very publicly undermines the policy of a siting US president and his administration will help ruin a relationship that Israel desperately needs and has worked so hard to nurture. Portraying the President as naive and worse is an act of brazen chutzpah and unparalleled audacity. It is hardly “moving, and inspiring,” and should not “resonate with American hearts” or “Jewish ones”.

  3. Raymond says:

    I feel ambivalent about this subject, because of the way that even philosemitic Christians have turned Jewish theology upside-down. It annoys me how they seem to see JESUS everywhere, even though he is really nowhere.

    Nevertheless, when it comes to social policy, I see very little difference between the positions taken by conservative Christians and Orthodox Jews. Think, for example, of such hot button issues as abortion and gay marriage. And whether any of us would like to admit it or not, the fact is that there already is another World War going on, this time with conservative Christians and traditional Jews on one side, and the islamoNazis and their Leftist enablers on the other side.

  4. Bob Miller says:

    1. It appears that more American Christians are capable of disengaging from their toxic tradition of antisemitism than are Muslims around the world from theirs. This, of course, excludes some major “mainline” Christian denominations that are set on evicting the Jews from Israel. Christians, or at least nominal Christians, outside the US seem to have made less progress overall.

    2. Aaron’s comment above is as if he never heard or read Netanyahu’s actual speech. The truth needs frequent, emphatic restatement as an antidote to Obama’s happy lies.

  5. DF says:

    Interesting. I thought your article was heading towards a denunciation of the verbal attacks on Christians coming from Reform clergymen, and instead, it ends up denouncing a shameful spitting attack from Charedi extremists Which, once again, shows that reform and charedi extremists – though still our brothers – are mirror images of one another, each of them a distorted picture, in their own way, of the complete picture of Judaism and tradition working hand-in-hand.

    In any event, you are, of course, correct. Any of us who work side by side with Christians know full well how genuine their love of Israel and the Jewish people is. The majority I have met see orthodox Jews, in particular, as brothers in arms with them against a society slouching towards Godlessness. Some – though by no means all, as you wrote – may arrive at that love via a theological route different than ours, but so what – it makes no practical difference, whatsoever. And why can’t the dictum of מתוך שלר לשמה, בא לשמה apply to non-Jews also?

    In this regard, as in everything else, it is essential to bear in mind a sense of proportion. A minority is just a minority. How much did we read of how the speech would “poison” Israel’s relationship with America, and yet the House was packed to the gills with upwards of 90% of the entire US Congress, cheering wildly. The legacy press no longer, if it ever did, reports the truth. In the same vein, attacks from certain Jews or even segments of Jewry, loud or visible though they might be, are not representative of the majority. Some of the older generation probably find it impossible to see past the paradigms of their youth, but for most of us 50 and under, the Christian boogeyman of the past is gone.

  6. Steve Brizel says:

    I saw American Sniper-if you want to understand the tactics employed by the common enemy of American troops in Iraq and the IDF in Gaza -see this powerful movie-which has realistic war violence and language , as well as scenes of how SEALs train.

  7. dr. bill says:

    excellent article. regardless of whether or not you thought Netanyahu should have spoken, he did an admirable job making it harder for the administration to go for a “bad” deal. personally, i wish he adopted more of henry kissinger’s brilliant testimony before congress, but perhaps it would have been too harsh. unfortunately, kissinger was spot-on.

  8. One Christian's Perspective says:

    I was extremely pleased that PM Netanyahu chose to come to our nation and to speak before Congress. He was eloquent, passionate with grace, discerning in wisdom, compassionate in his view of Israel’s need to survive and the world as well. He spoke from the heart and with wisdom and his words flowed out of his mouth with perfect clarity imparting knowledge. I was especially pleased with the turn-out of members of Congress who listened and gave him standing ovations – mostly all. I was embarrassed at the scowls of some who seemed to want to protect one person rather than an entire nation. I am glad he spoke with such clarity and conviction to the American people who are not always best informed by our leaders.
    The security of Israel is vital because they are and have been an ally of our nation. Their people are also our people. The spate of evil seen and felt during WWII was the epitome of the banality of evil and we are seeing that in the world today. It is comforting that Israel and many in our nation recognize this and understand what it can mean to a society that is dim. I have been inside of Congress and never noticed Moses. I guess I was not looking up but am so glad Netanyahu pointed that out……………but, I hope this national treasure, like the bust of Churchill, is not sent back to Israel. Afterall, many in this nation – Jews and Christians alike, appreciate that Moses was chosen by G-d for a Divine plan and purpose.

  9. E. Lebowicz says:

    It was heartening to read your post, Rabbi Adlerstein, and the above post by the non-Jewish person as well. Just as we resent lumping all Jews as an aggregate of greedy people with big noses (and using Christain blood to bake matzos), it does not serve our purposes to lump all non-Jews with the Nazis, who believed in no G-d. We do have reason to proceed with caution in knowing who we can potentially trust, but there is no mitzvah to blindly proclaim anti-feelings to those who want to help us. We need to find ways to join all our internal warring factions, and not resort to the ultimate glue, which thrusts us together whether we like it or not, anti-Semitism. I for one am grateful to the righteous Gentiles of all generations, our own included, and we need to show our hakoras hatov.

  10. Aaron says:

    “Aaron’s comment above is as if he never heard or read Netanyahu’s actual speech”

    Instead or arguing on substance you just cheaply allege that I never heard Newtanyahu’s speech. Today we find out that not only does former Mossad head Meir Dagan, Former Military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin and Former Ambassador Michael Oren feel that Netanyahu was wrong to go to Washington but that Netanyahu himself had to intervene to cancel a Mossad meeting with US Senators because he feared that the Mossad position was more inline with the position of the US administration than his own.

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