January 25, 2012
Opinion: Time to rethink how we relate to Christians
Jews are known for their intellect, and for legitimate reasons. The number of Jewish recipients of Nobel Prizes, for example, is wildly disproportionate to the Jewish proportion of the world’s population. Jews make up about one-fifth of 1 percent of the world’s population, yet they have received about 20 percent of the Nobel Prizes for chemistry, 41 percent for economics, 26 percent for physics and 27 percent for medicine. In other words, Jews are about 125 times overrepresented among recipients of Nobel Prizes in the natural sciences. Jews likewise make up a disproportionate number of students enrolled in elite American universities.
If as a people Jews were as wise — make that even half as wise — as we are individually intelligent, we would have far fewer problems than we do.
But, alas, we are not.
One glaring example is Jews’ attitudes toward Christianity. Though, as Rambam pointed out almost a thousand years ago, Christianity carried knowledge of God to the world, and though tens of millions of Christians are the Jews’ best friends today, Jews fear Christians and Christianity as if we were living in medieval — that is, anti-Semitic Christian — Europe.
So much so, that fear of, hostility to, Christianity is perhaps the only thing that the Jewish left and the Jewish far right agree on.
An example of this is the fear of Christian missionaries that pervades Jewish life — a fear that is out of all proportion to its reality.
It is one reason some Jews do not attend any of the pro-Jewish and pro-Israel events sponsored by organizations such as Christians United for Israel (CUFI). I have spoken at about a dozen CUFI events around America and have met Christians who can only be described as chasidei umot ha’olam, “righteous Gentiles.” There are many campuses in America on which the Christians are more proactive on behalf of Israel and in fighting anti-Israel leftists and Islamists than are the Jewish groups.
I am happy to report that more and more Jews attend CUFI and other pro-Israel Christian organizations’ events than ever before. Nevertheless, while one increasingly meets Jewish federation heads and Orthodox and Conservative rabbis at these events, one rarely encounters a Reform rabbi at any of them. (One prominent exception is Stephen S. Wise Temple, which invited Pastor John Hagee, the founder of CUFI, to speak.)
The Reform movement has issued statements opposing Jews attending CUFI events because these pro-Israel Christians often hold conservative positions that the Reform movement opposes — a sad example of placing leftist social positions above Israel’s security. Despite the fact that Israel is under existential threats to its very life, and despite the fact that Jews have fewer and fewer allies, the Reform movement opposes helping the most pro-Israel and pro-Jewish parts of the American population because, to cite one example, these Christians think marriage should continue to be defined as between a man and woman.
And on the religious right, there are rabbis and other Jews who refuse to attend such events because they are certain that these groups have a stealth agenda — to convert Jews to Christianity (despite CUFI’s explicit vow that it is non-conversionary).
Many Orthodox rabbis and other Orthodox Jews now attend pro-Israel Christian events. At the last CUFI national convention in Washington, D.C., I saw one of the most revered Orthodox rabbis of this generation, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of Efrat. And of particular significance has been Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, Pastor Hagee’s close friend, rabbi of Orthodox Congregation Rodfei Sholom in San Antonio, Texas. Ordained by Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin, Rabbi Scheinberg has shown great courage and foresight in supporting CUFI.
But many Orthodox Jews still fear anything having to do with Christians including, perhaps even especially, Christians who devote their lives to helping Israel. The reason? Christians want to convert Jews to Christianity and those who work to help Jews are lulling naive Jews into lowering their guard. That is why there are Jews who have devoted their lives to, in their words, combating missionaries.
When I first began speaking in Jewish life 40 years ago, after almost every lecture some member of the audience asked about Jews for Jesus and how to counter their threat.
I have had the same response for 40 years: We should be far more concerned with Jews for Nothing than with Jews for Jesus. The number of Jews who convert to Christianity is infinitesimally small compared to the number of Jews we lose to apathy. Moreover, I am quite certain that there are far more young Jews joining anti-Israel left-wing groups than joining Jews for Jesus or converting to mainstream Christianity.
It’s time to get over Jewish preoccupation with Christianity as the enemy. The real enemy of Jewish identity is secularism. There are many wonderful secular Jews, but the children of most Jews who become irreligious do not retain a Jewish identity. Moreover, Europe is no longer Christian, it is secular, and it is no friend of the Jews. Religious America is the Jews’ best friend.
And, in any event, it is not up to Christians to keep Jews Jewish. It is up to us Jews, and if we can’t keep Jews Jewish (sometimes even in the Jewish state), that, not Christianity, is the problem.
Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).