Rabbi Shmuley Boteach with Michael Coren. Photo from Youtube
My much-publicized dispute with Canadian TV host Michael Coren last week taught me valuable lessons about the Jewish community and the new relationship with our Christian brothers and sisters.
For those of you who missed it, I was invited on to Coren’s Sun TV show to promote my new book Kosher Jesus, or so I thought. Within minutes Coren had made four very troubling suggestions. First, that Jesus completed Judaism, thereby emphasizing classical replacement theology which sees Judaism as a subordinate religion to Christianity. Second, that liberal Jews who strongly dislike Christians are involved in an effort to portray them as unsophisticated bumpkins. Third, proof that this is so comes from Hollywood, which Jews either control or significantly influence, so that they can portray Christians in any negative way they wish. Fourth, and finally, that unappreciative Jews have engaged in an effort to malign Pope Pius XII, the wartime holocaust Pope whom the Catholic Church is currently seeking to beatify but who is known to the rest of the world as “Hitler’s Pope.” (The full video can be found here and my two columns on our dispute on my blog at the Huffington Post.)
Normally, any of these four insinuations would be seen as highly prejudicial against Jews and even anti-Semitic, something I called on Coren to apologize for. Instead, he disgraced himself further by launching into sharp personal attacks against my appearance, my name, coupled with slanderous allegations that are beneath contempt.
Now, Coren does not much matter, given his tiny footprint in the media landscape. But what happened next is instructive in terms of how desperate we in the Jewish community can sometimes be for allies. A Canadian Jewish organization came to Coren’s defense, saying he has a long history of defending the State of Israel and friendship with the Jewish community, albeit, I assume, with right-wing elements thereof, seeing as he perceived ‘liberal’ Jews to be poisonous in their outlook. I also received emails from Canadian Jews saying that while Coren’s comments were repulsive, given that Israel has so few friends we have to be happy with what we have. We dare not alienate friends in the media.
For the record I do not believe Coren to be an anti-Semite and can of course accept that his protestations to friendship are genuine. Indeed, we have a mutual acquaintance who now wishes to bring us together and I have extended an olive branch to Coren in the form of a respectful challenge to a professional debate on the record of Pope Pius XII during the holocaust. I await his response. But there can be no question that his comments were slanderous toward Jews and furthered classic anti-Jewish stereotypes about world Jewish dominance, Jewish contempt for Christians, and the lying, unappreciative Jew who will even go after a saintly pope. Yet, in this age when Israel is so utterly marginalized and vilified we are prepared to overlook Christian brothers who look down at our faith and who only dislike some Jews—in this case liberals—to clasp at any hint of friendship.
I disagree. I believe passionately in the new Jewish-Christian alliance and wrote Kosher Jesus primarily to advance it. The book seeks to share the Jewishness of Jesus so that a theological bridge can exist between the two disparate faith-communities and I am proud of the global impact it is making on both Jews and Christians. But I do not believe in friendship at any cost. We need not seek the position of superiority vis-a-vis Christians that was humbly bestowed upon us by that most righteous of popes, John Paul II, when he referred to Jews as “our elder brothers” in the faith of Abraham. But we must insist on a relationship of equality, brotherhood, and mutual respect. We need not, we dare not, embrace Christian friendship toward Israel if it has any hint of condescension toward Jews and Judaism and, of course, from the vast majority of the world’s Christians – including the current Pope and outstanding friend of the Jewish people, Benedict XVI—it does not.
Yes, Iran, as it never ceases to remind us, is gearing up for a possible war of annihilation against Israel and, of course, we require every media voice possible to sound the clarion call against Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons. Likewise Israel needs every last media ally to remind the world of the existential threat it faces from Iran-funded Hezbollah and Hamas, not to mention the barbarous Syrian regime to the north. Christians in general and evangelicals in particular have become Israel’s most stalwart allies. But that need not mean that we must tiptoe around the relationship afraid to give offense when any of those same Christian allies seek to proselytize Jews, as my friend Dr. Mike Brown, and many other Jewish converts to Christianity, still do. We must vigorously oppose them, which is why I have agreed to debate Mike next month in New York. Glenn Beck expressed it best at the Christians United for Israel dinner in Washington last year. Christian support for Israel should be based not on end-of-days theology or a desire to bring back Christ but on simple, unadulterated love for the Jewish people, just as we Jews must reciprocate with unadorned love for our Christian brothers and sisters who stand by the Jewish state through thick and thin.
To be sure, in Judaism action is much more important than intention, and whatever the reason for friendship and good deeds, they supersede the motivation. But Jews and Christians have come long enough and far enough to now engage in a mature relationship of mutual affection where we both respect the G-dly calling that each faith poses without engaging in games of one-upmanship.
It is for this reason that I also agree with my friend and hero Elie Wiesel that it is high time that our warm allies in the Mormon Church cease the posthumous baptizing of any and all Jews, once and for all. I have been close to the Mormons since my early twenties and have lectured in Utah to Church groups on countless occasions. Indeed, I once even believed that posthumous baptizing did not much matter given that it was a private ritual and the public friendship of the Church was much more significant. But friends do not just respect one another in public, they do so in private as well. And it is time that our evangelical, Mormon, and Catholic friends respect and learn from the faith that was not only practiced by their savior and redeemer, as I detail in Kosher Jesus, but who said in Matthew 5:18 would be in force for all eternity. That religion, of course, was not Christianity but Judaism.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 27 books and has just published Kosher Jesus. The London Times Preacher of the Year at the Millennium, he is currently mulling a run for Congress from New Jersey’s Ninth Congressional District, running as a Republican. www.shmuleyforcongress.com.
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