Distinguishing Friend from Foe in Matters of Faith
There are multiple words for “enemy” in Hebrew, but two of the more intriguing ones in Tanakh are oyev (אוֹיֵב) and soneh (שׂוֹנֵא), each of which conveys a distinctive meaning and linguistic nuance. According to Rav Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman, the great eighteenth-century Torah sage known as the Vilna Gaon (or HaGra), an oyev seeks to cause physical or bodily harm, while a soneh inflicts spiritual harm by disrupting his victim’s relationship with G-d.
Though the oyev can bring physical ruin in this world, the Vilna Gaon sees the soneh (or hater) as the greater threat because he jeopardizes one’s standing as a Jew both on earth and in the world to come. And it is this latter term that perhaps best describes certain evangelical groups who profess great love for the Jewish People and Israel while simultaneously seeking their spiritual demise through missionary efforts that promote avodah zarah (literally ‘strange worship’), as defined in Torah and condemned by the Prophets.
It was easy to rebuke the Presbyterian Church (USA) when it falsely labelled Israel an apartheid state or Anglican and Catholic Church leaders for objecting to a UK proposal to move its embassy to Jerusalem last year. Church excoriation of Israel is but a modern iteration of the same doctrinal antisemitism found throughout Christian tradition, which laid the groundwork for ghettos, crusades, inquisitions, pogroms, and genocide.
Consequently, it seemed refreshing at first glance when the Assemblies of God (“AG”), one of the largest evangelical denominations in the US, issued a statement denouncing antisemitism in the wake of H.R. 1125, a Congressional resolution condemning Jew-hatred in all its forms. But are such expressions of this solidarity pure, or are they part of an agenda to spiritually corrupt the Jews and their nation?
Given the drastic uptick in missionary activity against Jews in the US, Europe, and Israel (and despite defections from some evangelical movements over doctrinal policy), the question is legitimate and timely.
Certainly, many Christians support Jews and Israel for reasons of history and justice, while others are motivated by guilt for generations of Church-inspired persecution culminating in the Shoah. Still, others are driven by a compulsion to convert Jews per the “great commission” in the Book Matthew (28:16-20), using “friendship evangelization” to ingratiate themselves and facilitate missionary activity. This tactic developed with the realization that 2,000 years of persecution failed as a conversionary strategy and was honed after Jerusalem’s reunification in 1967 by those evangelists who believed the Jews must return to Israel and accept Christianity to trigger the “second coming” (a Christian concept found nowhere in Tanakh).
And the role of this denomination of evangelicals in creating and promoting “messianic Judaism” as conversionary subterfuge cannot be ignored. Theologically, this movement is Christian, not Jewish, despite its deceptive use of Jewish traditions, symbols, and imagery; and its endorsement by those who claim to love us is perhaps an indicator of their true intentions.
Typically, these evangelicals’ knowledge of Hebrew scripture is superficial at best and completely at odds with original text and doctrine, and they often employ Jewish buzzwords and symbols for misdirection. They claim, for example, that accepting “Yeshua” is the most Jewish thing a person could do – though he fulfilled none of the messianic criteria set forth in Tanakh and belief in the divinity of any man constitutes idolatry according to Torah. Moreover, the trinity (which is not monotheistic), vicarious atonement, and eucharist all contravene Torah law; and belief in a supernatural “messiah” who absolves sin through his own death evokes human sacrifice and is inconsistent with the mortal nature and role of Moshiach as delineated in Tanakh.
Despite effusive declarations of affection, their missionaries seek to divorce Jews from their ancestral faith, often targeting those with limited Jewish education or understanding of the textual and doctrinal incompatibility between Christianity and Judaism. And this is something I’ve experienced personally.
I’m frequently confronted by missionizing evangelicals while walking to shul or on the internet – though I neither solicit these interactions nor believe in “Judeo-Christian” commonality. Whereas their approach is always friendly, the conversation invariably descends into a game of “stump the Jew,” and they become flustered when claiming to quote Torah – only to find that they don’t really know it, their translations contain fundamental mistakes and distortions, and the actual Hebrew text supports none of their assumptions.
They are surprised to learn, for example, that Isaiah 7:14 does not prophesy a virgin birth; the “suffering servant” in Isaiah 53 refers to the Jewish people collectively, not a persecuted messianic figure; Psalm 22 does not foretell a crucified savior who would be pierced through the hands and feet; and Psalm 2:12 does not admonish readers to “kiss the Son lest [G-d] be angry.”
Because they must concede the divinity of Tanakh, they are flummoxed when confronted with errors, mistranslations, and outright fabrications where their bible professes consistency with Hebrew Scripture. For example, although the Torah clearly states the Patriarchs are buried in the Cave of Machpelah in Hevron, which is in Judea (Breishit, 23:1-20; 25:6-10; 35:28-29), Christian scripture incorrectly has them buried in Shechem (i.e., Samaria) together with Yosef. (Acts, 7.) The Torah, however, just as clearly states that Yosef’s bones – not the Patriarchs – were buried in Shechem. (Yehoshua, 24:32.) And then there are the “fulfillment citations” in the Book of Matthew, which purport to show where Tanakh references Jesus, but which utterly fail when matched against the actual Hebrew text. There are many other egregious examples, but the point becomes clear after parsing only a few.
The better a person is grounded in Tanakh, the easier it is to see through conversionary tactics. But even the observant community is not immune from risk.
In recent years, some some denominations of evangelicals have targeted Orthodox communities in the US and Israel by masquerading as rabbis, scribes, and kabbalists in a crusade of cultural deception. Not all observant Jews are well-versed in scripture, however; and consequently, some are ill-prepared to confront propaganda from theological charlatans who manipulate text to falsely claim Christian belief fulfills Jewish prophecy. Though a simple reading of Hebrew Scripture usually suffices to expose such dissimulation, the study of Tanakh for many ceases in grade school, leaving critical gaps in scriptural fluency.
Accordingly, the Jewish community must be vigilant in identifying the threat and educating those at risk. And this includes questioning the motives behind philosemitic declarations by Christian groups historically committed to Jewish conversion. Though some praised the AG’s statement against antisemitism, others were skeptical about a part of a denomination that (a) declares pro-Jewish sentiments while maintaining missions dedicated to Jewish evangelization and (b) posts content on its website about “witnessing” to Jews.
The evangelicals who approach me generally seem receptive to discourse with someone capable of reading original text and telling them what it really says. When, after a few conversations, one such gentleman informed me he no longer believed in evangelizing Jews and wanted to learn Hebrew, I cautioned him, “be careful what you wish for.” Understanding Hebrew, I said, would accentuate the errancies in his scripture and perhaps challenge his faith; but he said he wanted truth, not bias confirmation. So, I advised him to find a capable Jewish teacher and wished him well.
Though individuals can have respectful conversations interpersonally, we cannot expect the same from institutions and groups dedicated to corrupting the Jewish spirit. And no matter how strenuously missionaries might argue that a Jew must accept their savior to be “completed,” such claims violate the Torah’s explicit prohibitions against strange worship, false prophecy, and the adoration of alien deities and beliefs (e.g., the trinity, incarnation, deification of a man, etc.).
One need only read Tanakh to know the commandments are everlasting. Indeed, the Torah specifically states:
“Do not add to the word which I command you, nor diminish from it, to observe the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” (Sefer Devarim, 4:2.)
“Everything I command you that you shall be careful to do it. You shall neither add to it, nor subtract from it. If there will arise among you a prophet…[and he] says, ‘Let us go after other gods which you have not known, and let us worship them’…you shall not heed the words of that prophet…You shall follow the Lord, your God, fear Him, keep His commandments, heed His voice, worship Him, and cleave to Him.” (Sefer Devarim, 13:1-5.)
Like the soneh described by the Vilna Gaon, these missionary evangelists would have Jews abdicate their role as guardians of the commandments, renounce the faith of their ancestors, and compromise their holy obligations in this world and their place in the next. The strange worship peddled by missionaries serves only to profane Torah and alienate vulnerable Jews from their spiritual birthright – and it must be rejected accordingly.
©Matthew Hausman, J.D. All rights reserved.
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