Reading ‘Sh’lach L’cha’, (Numbers 13:1-15:41) offers an interesting analogue to the upheaval of hateful history. We are watching as monuments of the ‘Lost Cause’ are being toppled or removed in acts of shameful recognition. The London Jewish community has just listed an annotated group of historic statues representing the stinging past of British royalty’s antisemitism. Should Jews demand the removal of those who persecuted and exiled England’s Jews, just as the statues of racists who fostered slave trade are being torn down? In a communal expression of a newly found commitment to antiracism, iconic logos and advertising images are being removed, as corporations admit their need to ‘evolve’.
This biblical narrative relates about the Ten Spies who refused to accept the reality of their promised destiny as a community. One commentary argues, “In the continuous cycle of rebellions, this one constitutes the most serious. The ten scouts who incite the populace advocate abandoning Israel’s ultimate goal, to settle the promised land. The fear they instill in the Israelites supersedes the memory of Egyptian oppression.” (The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford, p. 296) The result of this fear was of course the punishment of wandering through the wilderness so the generation of slavery would die out.
The Jewish community’s history with the statues, signs and logos of Christianity are as dark and painful as all of the monuments of racists and icons of slavery’s caricature. Imagine Jews demanding that the dominant Western Christian culture dismantle its legacy of anti-Jewish physical history! The crucifix bears witness to the Christian textual assertion of deicide, but decades of dialogue, scholarship and Church reform, has helped Jews learn to live with the presence of the Cross. The systemic reality of the Cross, whether with the suffering Christ or empty, is so deeply engrained in every element of our economic, educational, legal, and political culture, and there are so few Jews, we could never ask for the removal of this still painful image.
Yet, there is a militant Christian community whose confrontational witness of Judaism’s inadequacy is exacerbated by its misuse and abuse of our religious culture. and in my mind these Christians are as vulgar as the statues being removed. They name themselves was ‘messianics’ as a rhetorical justification for denying their own experience of salvation through the Christ. Their origins are linked to the 1960’s but they have morphed into being integrated and incorporated into the vast diverse community of Evangelicals. They have consistently been rejected by every normative institution in the Jewish community but have found a clever and insidious connection to be recognized in Israel.
These Christians abuse Jewish life by creating facsimiles of Judaism with churches they call synagogues and ministers who claim the title ‘rabbi’. They wear tallitot, kippot, read from Sefer Torah scrolls and use the Siddur whose words have been amended to fit their distorted view of Christian salvation and Jewish tradition. This public misappropriation of Jewish ritual and liturgical life is fostered by global Evangelical Christianity and highlighted by Christian Zionists visiting Israel and supporting Israel politically. There is no factual reality to their assertions, that anyone can be simultaneously be a Jew and a Christian, yet we continue to ignore their presence or the even larger Christian communal misappropriation of Jewish rituals.
If racist monuments can now rightfully be removed or hidden because they continue to offend the victims of slavery, then I as a Jew demand that those who seek to use Jewish life as a means of converting Jews, be publicly held accountable. Just as the Ten Spies abused the fear of an unknown land to undermine faith in ancient Israel’s destiny, so too do these militant Christians abuse vulnerable Jews to abandon the destiny of Jewish survival. At a time when institutional Jewish life is being forced to contract, when the great informal educational resource of Jewish camping has been canceled for the summer, and access to Jewish professionals has been limited by the pandemic, any organized attempts by Christians to witness among Jews with people using their ethnic and family background is abusive and dangerous.
The internet and rapid required use of digital communal experiences is yet another access point for these Christians. Their ability to fund and produce worship and study that has no filter of truth, provides a new element for the spread of false claims about authentic Jewish experiences. These people are engaged in highly funded ministries at the most visible levels of political profile and with the presidential election campaign these same people will have additional venues and access. These Christians will dance, sing, worship and proclaim the word of their savior in the midst of CUFI and in enormous churches that gather for Trump. It is time that their work and its abuse be acknowledged and that they be held accountable.
If the corporation that owns the brand, Aunt Jemima can understand that this logo is now inappropriate, then Protestant Christianity can accept responsibility for this ministry to the Jewish people that abuses Judaism with its misappropriation of liturgy and objects. If this community of Evangelicals publicly declared that their passionate expression of Christianity is bearing witness to Jews and promised to do so only and always as Christians, then I would be willing to engage them in dialogue. It is their denial of communal religious truth and their vulgar distortions of Jewish sacred life, that are in my mind as offensive as any of the monuments to slavery toppled by protestors around the world.