Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The Judeo-Christian Dilemma

The most recent issue of Jewish Action contained two opposing articles regarding the proper attitude to take about maintaining close ties with "the Christian right." R. Michael Skobac, a professional counter-missionary with Jews for Judaism wrote the article to which I had an a priori leaning, arguing that we need to be very hesitant and cautious about the intentions of "the Christian right." Arguing on the other side was R. Daniel Lapin of Toward Tradition. He had the harder sell but he wrote so beautifully that he almost had me convinced. Well, not really.

The bulk of R. Lapin's article is an expression of the closeness between Judaism and America. As he attempted to demonstrate, America was built on Jewish (or Judeo-Christian) values: democracy, justice, Bible, Hebrew. The Protestants of that time were exploring Judaism and, in their rebellion against the Catholic Church, incorporating Jewish views on a variety of subjects into their belief system. The only posible response to that is "So what?" Actually, another possible response is to compare such statements with what German Jews were writing in the 1920s. The similarities are eerie and speak to a cherry-picking mentality that only looks for the positive aspects and remains blind to the obvious blemishes. Additionally, R. Lapin's claim that American society is biblical is simply outdated. Maybe it once was but it certainly no longer is. American society is secular.

R. Lapin further argues that American Christians fall into the Meiri's category of lawful non-Jews rather than polytheists and the American legal system fulfills the biblical mandate for gentiles to establish justice. Again, "So what?"

The real concern is the evangelical need to proselytize, and particularly to Jews. Regarding this, R. Lapin makes some very astute points. First, it is not only Christians who proselytize to Jews. We lose more Jews to Hinduism, Scientology and secularism than to Christianity. Why do we focus on Christians and not the others? It seems like we have an anti-Christian bias. This seems like a good argument but it is not. 1) Christians in America are the majority. When the majority proselytize to the minority, they are much more powerful than when another minority tries to convert us. 2) Christians target Jews specifically, much more than any other minority group. It is a special prize to convert a Jew. 3) Christians - albeit not all of them - are deceptive in their proselytizations of Jews. They even created a deceptive pseudo-religion - "Messianic Judaism" - to bring Jews into their faith. And I am sure I need not remind readers of the organization Jews for Jesus, who we see every summer handing out pamphlets in specifically Jewish sections of New York City. Their operations are much more extensive. (As an aside, this website of former members of J4J is very interesting.)

R. Lapin then makes a particularly strong argument. Jews fall prey to missionaries largely because of their own ignorance. Why do we blame Christians for converting us when it is really our fault for neglecting the education of our co-religionists? He is entirely right, while still being completely wrong. We are to blame for the sinful ignorance of most Jews. But that does not exonerate those who specifically and deceptively target Jews for conversion. Furthermore, we have to deal with reality and not a blame-game. The simple reality is that the closer we bring evangelical Christians to our community, the more Jews there will be who are exposed to them and who convert. Regardless of who is at fault, we cannot let that happen.

The following quote from R. Lapin sent shivers up my spine:

On occasion a sincere Christian, wanting to share something he considers to be of inestimable value, has invited my children to contemplate a relationship with Jesus. My son and my daughters responded politely and respectfully while firmly declining. Their faith was not threatened for a moment. This is because my wife and I made it an absolute priority to introduce our children to God from their earliest years.
Personally, I would have punched the guy and told him to get off my property before I get out my shotgun.

Setting aside the personal offense at such an act, the simple reality is that not everyone can be the children of rabbis. That is not how a community can work. There will always be those less-learned and less-committed. R. Lapin seems to be saying that it's tough on them if their children become victims of Christian missionaries. Furthermore, what about when children decide to rebel or are feeling lonely and, at that particular time, a missionary approaches them? Parents can educate their children from here till tomorrow but if a missionary hits at the right time, when children are most vulnerable, then some of those children will make life-altering decisions.

(Flattery gets DovBear a link.)

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