Daniel Sayani

Missionary Exploitation of the Israeli Crisis

As the horrors committed by Hamas intensify and the innocent Jews taken hostage remain in captivity, there have been overwhelmingly supportive responses from Israel’s non-Jewish supporters throughout the globe, and for their support we are eternally grateful. Yet, unfortunately, the tragic events in Israel have also been the subject of exploitation by Christian missionaries and their ilk in the United States and elsewhere, an unfortunate and dangerous occurrence which has only been buttressed by the push in some Jewish circles for “interfaith dialogue” and the like, which I am totally opposed to, on halachic grounds. As an Orthodox rabbi, I believe that Christian Zionism is a phenomenon we must be most wary of, and I also believe that interfaith dialogue, advanced by organizations such as the Rabbinical Council of America, must be eschewed; if anything, the continued antisemitism faced by Jews around the world, including the antisemitism of anti-Judaism masquerading as philosemitism, demonstrates that we are am levadad yishkon, the people that dwells alone (Bamidbar 23:9).

The fundamental incompatibility of Judaism and other religious faiths is a significant fact that we often overlook in the desperate attempt to find some modicum of support among the umot haolam. Yet this cannot be overstated. Let us begin with the Aleinu prayer, which our tradition attributes to Yehoshua bin Nun, and which we recite after each tefillah (Magen Avraham OC 132:1). Far from it being a paean to a liberal sense of interfaith Abrahamic coexistence, the prayer’s original context is in the Malchuyot section of Rosh HaShanah Mussaf, in which we triumphantly pray for HaShem to be accepted and revered by all people the entire world over, “l’takein olam b’malchus Shakai,” to repair the world under the Sovereignty of the One, True G-d. Implicit in the Aleinu is our hope that those who worship the man-deity of Christianity would abandon such an erroneous belief, and embrace a monotheistic belief in One G-d, eschewing avodah zarah, which is prohibited for non-Jews; Christianity indeed is the sort of avodah zarah we pray will be extirpated from the world in the Aleinu. While a halachic discussion of the status of Christianity for non-Jews is beyond this piece, I note that unquestionably, according to the Rambam, Christianity is avodah zarah for non-Jews (Hilchos Ma’achalos Asuros 11:7; Hilchos Avoda Zara 9:4; Perush HaMishnayos Avoda Zara 1:3), and the Rema (YD 148:12), in the uncensored variants of Shulchan Aruch, notes that December 25 and January 1, commemorating the birth and circumcision of Oso haIsh, are holidays of idolatry. Non-Jews are also forbidden to believe in a false messiah, even without believing in the divinity or deity of such a figure, as kefira and apikorses are considered as prohibited as avodah zarah. The Noda BeYehuda Tinyana Y.D. 148 says that Shituf (trinitarian-like belief) is Avoda Zara even for gentiles, and the Rema and Ran never intended to say that Shituf is permitted for them, and thus the common statement of people that based on the Rema there is no Issur of Shituf for gentiles, is incorrect. The Pischei Teshuvah Y.D. 147:2 concludes that Shituf is forbidden also for gentiles, therefore we see that even according to the opinions of Ashkenazic poskim, Christianity is absolutely forbidden for gentiles as avodah zarah, and we pray fervently that all of the nations of the world would abandon their false beliefs and accept the sheva mitzvos bnei Noach. Therefore, as was Reb Moshe zt”l, I am absolutely opposed to any “dialogue” because there is nothing to dialogue about on a religious level with non-Jews, other than inducing them to abandon their idolatrous beliefs and accept the sheva mitzvos. It is highly incongruous to be a people who davens the Aleinu thrice daily and who utters the words of the piyyut “Ve’eyetayu” in Musaf on the yomim noraim while also embracing Christianity in the form of such interfaith efforts. It is inherently contradictory on the most fundamental level for a Torah Jew to pray for the day when the non-Jews (including Christians) will “speak of G-d’s might, causing HaShem to be lifted above all” (V’ye’etayu), while also dignifying their religion in the form of interfaith dialogue and embrace of “Christian Zionism.”

In a teshuva dated 19 Adar I, 5727 – March 1, 1967 to R’ Dr. Bernard Lander z”l (who established Touro College), Reb Moshe condemns the planned meeting of RCA members with various Catholic and Protestant representatives, cautioning as follows:

“A plague is now spreading in many places because of the new pope (Pope Paul VI) whose only intention is to move all Jews away from their holy and pure faith to accept the Christian Faith. For it is easier to accomplish this through these methods than through hate and murder that previous popes have used. Therefore, any dealing with them even on general matters and all [the more so] actual coming close for a meeting is forbidden with the severe prohibition of “coming close to idolatry.” There is also a prohibition of enticing and leading astray.”
Even if you and the other rabbis who go there will be careful with your words and you will also not flatter the priests and their faith as do the Reform and Conservative rabbis, who entice and lead others to go astray, many people will learn from them that it is permitted to go to the events such as the lectures of the missionaries. Furthermore, you should not even send a letter there expressing what you planned on saying for any interaction with them further assists their evil plans. It is also forbidden to participate in any manner in meetings like these for I heard that they want to have in Boston and Rome. Anyone who joins with them will be considered one who entices and leads astray the Jewish people.”
(Igros Moshe YD 3:43).

(In spite of this psak, Yeshiva University hosted Catholic cardinals, including the meshumad Lustiger, in its beis medrash, the RCA continues to formally support interfaith dialogues, with one of its proponents, a rabbi in East Brunswick, waxing prosaically about his friendship and lengthy conversations with “Fr. Charlie,” and Touro College has hosted such clerics, as well.)

Many of today’s Christians claim to support Israel, as they believe that this is a necessary prerequisite for their apocalyptic beliefs to unravel, and even extend financial support and volunteer efforts to Israel. In truth, we are reminded of what is written at the end of chapter 1 of Likutei Amarim, which brings the gemara, Bava Basra 10b, which cautions as follows:

R. Yoḥanan ben Zakkai said to his students: “My children, what is the meaning of the verse (Mishlei 14:34): ‘Charity elevates a nation and the loving kindness of the nations is a sin (cḥatat)?’” R. Eliezer answered: “’Charity elevates a nation’—this is Israel, as the verse states (Shmuel Beis 7:23): ‘And who is like Your nation Israel, a unique nation on earth.’ ‘And the loving kindness of the nations is a sin’—all of the charity and loving kindness that the nations perform is a sin for them, for they do so only to aggrandize themselves.”

Thus, we are unsure of the motivations of such actions, which may be taken with the intention to proselytize and induce Jews to accept the beliefs of the Christians, chas v’chalila; such generosity breeds intimacy, and such intimacy creates opportunities to induce Jews to abandon Judaism. As a matter of halacha, we begin with our gemara here, which teaches us that it is sinful for idolaters to give tzedakah because they generally give for ulterior motives (Bava Basra 10b). Rav Nachman teaches that accepting tzedakah from gentiles disqualifies one from eidus (testifying in court, Sanhedrin 26b). The Gemara lists two exceptions, permitting such charity if it is accepted privately or if one needs the money to live. We note that based on this gemara, poskim including Rav Elyashiv zt”l (who paskened explicitly that one may not accept any funds from the International Fellowship of Xtians and Jews, led by R’ Yechiel Eckstein, a”h, a musmach from Yeshiva University), Rav Dov Lior, and Rav Avigdor Nebentzahl have assured accepting any donations from the evangelists. Such donations serve to give idolaters a foothold in Eretz haKodesh; the Rambam writes that there is a mitzvah to banish idolatry from Eretz Yisroel (Hilchos Avodah Zarah 7:2- pursue avodah zarah and get rid of it from the entire Eretz Yisroel and not allow ovdei avodah zarah to live there), and accepting such funds is counter to this.  As challenging as our current circumstances are, this prohibition still stands, and it behooves us to strengthen our resolve in shmiras hamitzvos and heeding the words of our gedolim in these difficult times. Thus, we cannot allow our inhibitions to be lowered and we cannot allow for the weakening of Judaism triumphant, which yearns for the day when people of other faiths, even if for today’s gentiles is only “minhag avoseichem b’yadeichem,” will abandon their beliefs in false gods and false messiahs, accept belief in HaShem, and yearn for the coming of the real Jewish moshiach, may he come bimheira b’yomeinu.

About the Author
Daniel Sayani is a student of traditional Jewish texts, with an eye towards their contemporary applications. He has been widely published on issues of Torah, religion, ethics, and their geopolitical dimensions. He is also an ordained Orthodox rabbi, and a firm proponent of mesorah. He currently serves as rov of Kehillas Mevaser Tov in East Brunswick, NJ. Rabbi Sayani is frequently consulted for his expertise in matters pertaining to chevra kadisha and Jewish end-of-life practices. He has semicha Yoreh Yoreh from the Nitei Gavriel, HaRav Gavriel Tzinner, shlita, Rav Refoel Dovid Banon, Rav Yochanan Gurary, Rav Dovid Schochet, Rav Yosef Yeshaya Braun, from Yeshivas Ohr Kedoshim d'Biala, Kollel Hachshores L'Rabbonus, and Yeshivas Pirchei Shoshanim, and is a graduate of the Young Israel Rabbinic Training Program.
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