June 12, 2012
Messianic Jewish groups claim rapid growth
Groups professing to be Jewish believers in Jesus increasingly accepted in Israel
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Acknowledging the support of the evangelical community, in January 2012, Earl Cox, along with Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat were named by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as Good Will Ambassadors from Israel to Jewish and Christian communities around the world.
“Doors which have been traditionally closed tight to Christians have now begun to open as Israel’s leaders, religious and governmental, come to recognize that the evangelical Christian community of the world is the best friend Israel has in all the world,” Cox says.
Messianic congregations support Israel, operate there
Messianic Jews are similar to evangelicals in their support of Israel and have opened many messianic congregations in Israel. Over the last 10 years, Chernoff of the Messianic Jewish Alliance says, the messianic community has contributed $100 million in aid to Israel. However, he notes, messianic Jews are not allowed to make aliyah and as long as they don’t pass out literature to Israelis, the government quietly welcomes their support.
Riskin founded the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding when he recognized that the only tourists still coming to Israel during the Second Intifada were evangelical Christians. He has written that he believes the world is experiencing its fourth world war,
a religious struggle between the free world and the world of fundamentalist Islam which believes in a god of will, world domination and jihad. I see the present day rapprochement between Christianity and Judaism after almost 2,000 years of enmity as one of the critical signs of the fateful times in which we are living and a strong ray of light through the darkness emanating from Iran, Al Quaida, Hezbollah and Hamas. A sea change has occurred during these last several decades. Christians are sincerely trumpeting the call that G-d remains faithful to His initial covenant with Israel, and that the Biblical prophecy is continually being fulfilled through the people of Israel living in its covenanted land.
JewishIsrael.com says that Riskin is “riding on a messianic wave of ‘theo-political’ ideology which couples the threat of radical Islam with wishful thinking that prophetic times are upon us as evidenced by what he sees as an unprecedented outpouring of Christian love for the Jewish people.” And, it warns that while the lines between evangelical and messianic groups remain somewhat distinct outside of Israel, once these groups and leaders come to Israel, the walls come tumbling down, with a blurring of lines and interchanging of definitions.
A good example of this is occurring on the banks of Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee). Both Sekulow and Riskin, along with CUFI’s John Hagee, conservative Christian leader Gary Bauer, and Christian Broadcast Network’s Pat Roberston, are listed among the endorsees of the Galilean Resort and Spa designed as a Christian center to help Christians “experience Israel through Bible study, educational courses, cultural programs and life-changing experiences.” Built on the northwest shore of Lake Kinneret, the resort was founded by Anne Ayalon, the evangelical-born wife of Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, formerly Ambassador to the United States.
Israel upgrades Christian evangelical status
With the help of Ayalon, the Foreign Ministry two years ago sponsored a bid to upgrade the status of evangelicals in Israel and recognize them as a sovereign group or an independent church, which JewishIsrael.com warned could open the floodgates to Christian groups that either want to convert Jews or are striving for a theological unification between Judaism and Christianity.
At the same time, JewishIsrael points out the crossover between evangelical “Christian Zionists” and messianic missionary endeavors. “There is a reluctance on the part of rabbinic and Jewish community leadership to draw red lines or issue guidelines to govern the interfaith relationship,” notwithstanding Rabbi Yoffie’s two criteria. Comments JewishIsrael: “It seems that nobody wants to alienate ‘good friends’ who are not aggressively proselytizing but rather are ‘sharing their faith’ through ‘outreach projects’ to a very vulnerable Israel.”
As Atlanta Conservative Rabbi Neil Sandler of Ahavath Achim Synagogue points out, oftentimes, the “only thing that Jewish organizations and Christian organizations see eye-to-eye with is Israel.” Sandler, who was one of the rabbis who participated in the Americans United with Israel rally in Atlanta last year, says he “took his cue” from the Israeli consulate.
AIPAC reaches out to Christian groups
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is another group which is known for taking “its cues” from the Israeli government. The powerful lobby now has a full-time employee whose job is to reach out to the Christian evangelical community, states Sandler. It was reported in the Jewish newspaper, the Forward, that AIPAC has launched an outreach program to Christian groups that support Israel.
In Atlanta, when the community Jewish newspaper, the Atlanta Jewish Times, formerly the Southern Israelite, came under new ownership earlier this year, the owner announced that he planned to promote the newspaper to “people of all faiths and backgrounds who are interested in Jewish causes, values, culture and Israel.” Just as Israel believes that it needs all the friends it can get in a world which it contends is out to delegitimize it, AIPAC and the Atlanta Jewish Times understand that to grow the number of their supporters, they must reach out to Christians.
But as Americans United with Israel’s Rudy – now also director of business and community relations at the Atlanta Jewish Times – acknowledges, one must be cautious about which Christians or so-called synagogues are acceptable to the established Jewish community. When Rabbi Sandler says he was introduced at the pro-Israel rally reception last year to Beth Hallel’s Rabbi Solomon, he voiced his “concern to Earl (Cox) about which evangelical groups” should be included under the pro-Israel tent. Sandler says Cox understood his note of caution. “He’s worked hard to find a level of acceptance with the Jewish community.”
The dividing lines are increasingly hard to draw, however. Messianic Jewish Alliance of America’s Chernoff, who says his group is friends with CUFI, adds, “We consider Christian Zionists a blessing; they get it, that God put us back in Israel. They want to stand with us and Israel needs that help.”