Uri Regev

The Mission of Religious Tolerance

The Cardinal of Orwellia, bishops of “True Path of Faith”, and local Orwellian priests launched a campaign against an annual Jewish prayer gathering organized by the local Jewish ultra-Orthodox outreach organization “Gates of Heaven”, scheduled to take place in the town of Huxley during Sukkot. Church officials urged the town councilmen to bar this Jewish assault on the God fearing community of Huxley, protesting the attempt to use this prayer gathering as a launching point for a religious outreach campaign aimed at replenishing the dwindling Jewish numbers by capturing innocent Christian souls away from the Church, and advancing Christian acceptance of the Seven Noahide Laws as a means of hastening the coming of the Jewish Messiah. The priests stressed that what makes this more objectionable is that it comes from a faith group known for its betrayal of God, greed and distasteful pagan practices.

Worldwide Jewish protest swiftly erupted. As could be expected, Jewish religious and communal leaders expressed their outrage and demanded that this extreme anti-Jewish expression and the illegal attempt to interfere with the free exercise of religion should be squelched. Further, they demanded that those responsible for this hate speech, as high ranking as they may be, should be rebuked, preferably removed from their positions and be charged.

Many, if not all, who read the above probably feel personally and humanly offended by it, whether they are Jews or non-Jews. As may be expected, the Orthodox Union, Anti-Defamation League, Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, Rabbinic Council of America and other representatives of the Jewish community have risen to defend the Jewish “Gates of Heaven” organization with threats of legal action against the Cardinal of Orwellia and the “True Path of Faith” organization for infringing on the Jewish group’s free exercise of religion.

Actually, allow me to settle your mind on this matter – Orwellia, Huxley, and the “True Path of Faith” and “Gates of Heaven” organizations are all fictional, as is this entire narrative. However, the immediate and intense response of the organized Jewish community to such blatant incitement against a Jewish prayer event is quite realistic. But how would the Jewish community have reacted to Jewish hate speech against a Christian group? Let us examine a real case study of such a situation.

In the real world, the Israeli Chief Rabbis published a public statement written on September 16, calling on authorities to prevent a Christian prayer vigil organized by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) near the southern wall of the Temple Mount. This was preceded by a campaign run by rabbinic organization “Derech Emunah” (Path of Faith) that published its own appeal against the event. The vigil is part of the ICEJ’s annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration, a regular pilgrimage that has been going on for years – and one that the Israeli Chief Rabbinate had already strongly objected to, even when the ICEJ held a rally in the center of Jerusalem, rather than in the vicinity of the Temple Mount.

The Chief Rabbis claim that the prayer service is a joint worship for Christians and Jews intended to mix the faiths in a way that is offensive to Judaism. However, the description on the ICEJ site makes no mention of missionary intentions, and an ICEJ official stated that the prayer vigil is intended only for Christian participants. These annual pilgrimages of Israel-loving Christians have been held for quite some years in Jerusalem, and I am not aware of any waves of baptism among Israeli Jews which have occurred as a result. (One should note the abundance of congratulatory letters and oral accolades received by the ICEJ for its work on behalf of Israel by PM Netanyahu, Mayor Nir Barkat, and other major Israeli leaders.)

Not only is there no substantiation of the claim that this prayer is designed to missionize Jews, the rabbis’ language is outrageous, potentially criminal (see clause 173 of the Law for Freedom of Worship and Public Order) and hypocritical. “The purpose of the organizers, they write, “is to dig their claws into the holy city and land and to cut our Jewish brethren off from the land of the living”, at the same time as they have written that “The mutual respect among religions should be safeguarded in a way that does not entail one religion hurting another.” Further, the “Derech Emunah” rabbis, who initiated the assault, titled their proclamation with a biblical verse from Deuteronomy: “Make no alliance with them, nor show mercy to them”. Their inflammatory missive states that the planned event involves “missionaries who attempt to deceitfully enter into Jewish souls and strengthen the church’s hold on the Old City. We proclaim that it should be prohibited to conduct rituals of idol worship near the Temple Mount.” Indeed, the “Derech Emunah” document hatefully refers to Jesus as “That man, SR”I” (a Hebrew acronym for “may the name of the wicked rot”).

“Derech Emunah” did not wait for this particular pilgrimage in order to spew their anti-Christian venom. In May of this year they published a responsum in anticipation of the Pope’s historic visit. In it, the organization’s Chair Rabbi Efrati, the force behind the current assault, presented his own religious edict, stating that the Pope should not be accorded any language of respect, nor even be looked at. Efrati actually suggested that the Pope be referred to as “Hegmon Avoda Zara” (“bishop of idol worship”). Needless to say, the Chief Rabbis, who are seemingly so careful about maintaining mutual respect between Judaism and Christianity, did not admonish “Derech Emunah”, nor publicly refute them.

Even if the ICEJ would like to see Israeli Jews joining the Christian faith, this is not illegal as far as Israeli law is concerned. It is quite clear that the law would be different if the Chief Rabbinate had its way. If they would, I can imagine that Christian missionaries, as well as any non-Orthodox or secular Jews who were to drive their cars on Shabbat, would face potential criminal charges, possibly entailing capital punishment! Of course, the Rabbinate is entitled to issue an appeal to its adherents to avoid missionary outreach, but there is no excuse to attempt to altogether prevent thousands of Christian pilgrims from holding their prayers in Jerusalem. Nothing diminishes from the severity of the fact that this assault against Christians was launched by rabbis who are civil servants in senior positions and are drawing their salaries from the State.

I do not know anyone associated with ICEJ, but I was ashamed over the public assault waged by the Chief Rabbis and other senior rabbinic officials. I fear its consequences, particularly, at a time when hate-speech, so often rooted in religious pronouncements, is rampant.

I felt the need to counter this to the best of my ability, and turned to PM Netanyahu, Minister of Religious Affairs Naftali Bennett and the Attorney General Yehudah Weinstein to intervene in their respective roles. Hopefully our officials will act on my appeal, and may we all enjoy a year of greater religious tolerance and respect for the rule of law and core values of democracy and religious freedom.

About the Author
Rabbi Uri Regev is one of Israel’s most prominent advocates for religious freedom. He currently serves as president of Hiddush- Freedom of Religion for Israel.