Christian tourists explore the Old and Holy City of Jerusalem. (Credit: Seth Aronstam/Israel365 calendar)
Although there have always been Christians who rejected replacement theology, the establishment and success of the State of Israel “upends that whole apple cart,” according to Rabbi Pesach Wolicki, Associate Director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding & Cooperation (CJCUC).
Wolicki told Breaking Israel News that, “Over the last few decades, there has been an awakening in many parts of the Christian world, to different degrees, more than people realize, in terms of an interest in Judaism and the Jewish people.”
He emphasized that it isn’t merely the creation of the State of Israel, but its success in nation-building, that caused many Christians to re-examine some of their fundamental beliefs about Judaism and the Jewish people.
“Being a Christian Zionist, in order to become a supporter [of the State of Israel] and see Jewish people in a positive light, they have to see Christianity differently. Once they do that, they see validity and authenticity in Judaism and Jewish teaching. It all comes [together] in the shift in the relationship between Judaism and Christianity.
“The next stage is that many Christians [become] interested in learning more about Israel and the Jewish people. They think about their own Christianity differently,” Wolicki explained.
Although the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 was undoubtedly a crucial milestone in Jewish-Christian relations, Wolicki referenced Barbara W. Tuchman’s historical text The Bible and The Sword as a source for the idea that Christian interest in the Holy Land back goes back to the earliest days of Christianity.
“Until recently,” Wolicki asserted, “it was very much a marginal corner of the Christian world and now it’s taking a different shape. It never involved positive interaction with actual Jews. Christian Zionists existed without any real contact with Jews [as recently as] the early 1980s. And the Jewish community kept them at arm’s length.
“There was no interest in Jewish learning [back then]. This is a new thing that there’s so much respectful interaction. It’s the next stage. “The journey is initially a theological one for a Christian. The theology produces a political stance. Many Christians never move beyond that.”
But for those who do, “They start to read the Christian Bible differently and start to pay attention to the Hebrew Bible a different way. Rejection of replacement theology causes a Christian to reread certain passages of the New Testament and to see Jews differently. Their interest in Jewish teaching is the next level.”
“When I speak to people who are very active Christian Zionists and I talk to them about our goal of producing Biblical teachings that aren’t about Israel and politics, once they are in this relationship, this is what they want next,” he elaborated.
Organizations like Yeshiva for the Nations, an online academy that offers authentic Torah classes designed for non-Jews and CJCUC are partnering to respond to this interest.
Wolicki’s preference, when speaking to Christians, is not to talk about Jewish-Christian relations, but to actually engage it, right there, on the spot, by teaching a lesson from the Bible.
“When I teach a piece of Scripture, I share Jewish wisdom and meanings that come from the Hebrew. I’m bringing a certain authority and authenticity because I’m a rabbi and a Jew and I’m coming from a community that has preserved this material in its original language.
“Their sense of wonder makes it difficult for them to [continue to] see Jews and rabbis in a negative light.”
His goal, and more broadly the goal of his organization, is, “To wake up Christians to the fact that there’s a lot in common in terms of actual faith and Scripture and that Scripture contains definitions of who God is and what is good and what is evil. When we connect around it, the relationship becomes very real.”
Wolicki further explained how the Jewish people as a whole were charged with teaching Torah to non-Jews. “Judaism is all about bringing awareness of God to the whole world, to bring knowledge of God to all the families of earth. Judaism is a universalistic religion, but for most of our history, we didn’t have the ability to do that. We were working on surviving. During the course of the long exile, we forgot who we really are and what our mission is.”
CJCUC seeks to, “expand the circles of positive relationships between Christians and Jews from an Orthodox Jewish perspective. We help Israel and the Jewish people by widening the circles of friendship. Teaching Torah to Christians is the next frontier in this relationship. They want this next step.”
Cup of Salvation, a book written by Wolicki, published by CJCUC and available on Amazon in softcover and Kindle formats, “came about as a result of the fact that when I would speak in a church, whatever the topic, when I quoted a verse and shared insights from Hebrew and lessons that come through that insight, that’s where they were hungry for more. “They love the word of God. They know they are getting something they cannot get anywhere else. No matter what I would say, when I would quote a verse, and say what it means in Hebrew, their eyes would open.”
Cup of Salvation is an in-depth study of the Hallel, the Jewish prayer that includes Psalms 113-118 and is recited on Jewish holidays. For Wolicki, it was a natural topic about which to write a book for Christian readers.
“Christians love Israel and praise God for what He’s done for the Jewish people. They define the State of Israel the same way I do as a religious Zionist. The long-awaited ingathering of the exiles is happening and it’s an event of Biblical and prophetic importance.”
Wolicki and CJCUC’s Executive Director David Nekrutman do a Bible study podcast, also called Cup of Salvation, which will also be available through the Yeshiva for the Nations’ website later this year.
“It’s never just about the Jewish people. It includes the nations. The ingathering of the exiles is the story of everyone who has faith in God. The Jewish return to the Land is only the beginning.”
The staff of CJCUC encourages Christians to celebrate the founding of the State of Israel as a sacred day. “It’s as much about them as it is about us. Hallel itself describes all the nations praising God for what He’s done for the Jewish people. Hallel speaks about the universal mission of the world.
“It’s historically an absurdity but that’s a miracle.”
Speaking of the cooperation between CJCUC and Yeshiva for the Nations. Wolicki said, “It’s a natural partnership. At CJCUC, we’ve been involved with Bible study sessions and speaking tours. We have spent years developing an expertise in speaking to Christians. Not just translating. We’ve done the work of becoming familiar with the way they think.
“Yeshiva For The Nations exists to bring Torah to people who want to come in and learn from Jewish wisdom. For us, this is a dream come true. With the extensive reach of Yeshiva For The Nations, we have an opportunity to reach many more people than ever before.”
A 2008 protest by ver.di Jugend in Karlsruhe, Germany. Photo: Wikipedia commons.
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A replica of the golden menorah in front of Titus’ Arch in Rome. (Courtesy)
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