Rabbi Riskin: Taken-in or Grafted-in?

 A Jewish Israel Report: June 27, 2009

[Jewish Israel notes that there have been a number of new developments with Rabbi Riskin since this report was written.  We urge readers to use the links at the bottom of this report  to reference  updated information, or use our search facility in the upper right hand corner of the screen.]  Suggested read:COMPREHENSIVE REPORTJewishIsrael repsonds to Rabbi Riskin's interpretation of Rav Soloveitchik's "Confrontation" 

When a prominent Anglo Israeli Orthodox rabbinic leader cites the new testament’s concept of a fusion of faiths, and then proceeds to call for the need to “resurrect god” in a promotional Christian evangelical (ICEJ) video, how is the Torah observant community supposed to react?  How will that declaration be perceived by fervent Christians, and how will that ambiguity (heresy?) effect and reflect on the Jewish community?

The problem:

For a period of two years, Jewish Israel and this writer have been questioning Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s interfaith endeavors, and his shift towards a close theological dialogue and relationship with Christian evangelists. 

Jewish Israelfeels Rabbi Riskin’s imprudent approach towards interfaith relations is part of a trend among certain community leaders, government officials, and entrepreneurs which has led to the compromising of Jewish tradition, the erosion of halacha, and the breaching of fences built around the Torah.

The following approaches have been initiated by Jewish Israel in an attempt to stem any further deterioration of the situation and to, hopefully, reinstate a sense of clarity, propriety, and accountability in our dealings with other faith communities.

Ultimately, Jewish Israel hopes our efforts will be instrumental in helping rabbinic and political leaders establish guidelines and legislation which will help manage the currently unregulated Israel-evangelical relationship.

Strategy:

a)      1) An ongoing dialogue, debate and editorial exchange of ideas with Rabbi Riskin was initiated by Ellen Horowitz via news publications and blog postings. A private meeting was held with Rabbi Riskin , Ellen Horowitz, and Penina Taylor, the Director of the Jerusalem Branch of Jews for Judaism

[note: Taylor is a former missionary and messianic church leader who teaches Christian theology to counter-missionary activists].

 

b)      2) Under the guidance of Rav Sholom Gold, and based on Rav Yoseph B. Soloveitchik’s psak, Ellen Horowitz penned a draft statement on the recommended approach to interfaith relations, which Jewish Israel has since adopted as a part of their policy statement.

 

c)       3) The Jewish Israel website was launched to educate, to create public awareness, to monitor the situation, and to network and coordinate efforts among the varying counter-missionary activists and organizations. The Jewish Israel staff regularly meets with rabbinic, political and community leaders.

 

 

Specific issues of concern with regards to Rabbi Riskin:

1)      Rabbi Riskin is prominently featured throughout a current video produced by the International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem entitled: The ICEJ: A Ministry of Comfort for the Jewish People.  Between the time frame of  6.45 – 7.50 of that video, Rabbi Riskin references the new testament and speaks about the need to “resurrect god”*.

Transcript:  He  speaks about an irrevocable contract between G-d and the Jewish people…

“…But not only the Jewish people, because as Romans* states quite clearly, certainly the evangelical Christian community has grafted itself upon the covenant.”

Malcolm Hedding, director of ICEJ, goes on to elucidate on Paul, Jesus and give a sales pitch for the new testament (“the word of god”).

Rabbi Riskin continues by saying, “And it’s critical that we join hands. It’s critical that we resurrect god** in this generation.” (during Riskin’s voice-over two hands  – one with the Star of David, and one with the Christian symbol of the cross, are joined together)

*[note: Since when in Jewish history have our rabbinic leaders cited Christian scripture to define the terms of G-d’s covenant?]

**[note: Jewish Israel has chosen to use a lower case “g” in reference to Rabbi Riskin’s quote, as the term “resurrect” when used in this context has a distinctly Christian connotation, and refers to bringing something (someone) back to life. Obviously the one and only G-d we Jews worship is alive and well – so one wonders just who is Rabbi Riskin referring to?]


2)      Rabbi Riskin  challenges the currently accepted halachic positions on Interfaith dialogue and activities:

Rabbi Riskin regularly challenges the currently accepted halachic position on interfaith dialogue and endeavors poskened by his own “revered teacher” Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik z”l.  Rabbi Riskin defends his interfaith ventures and departure from tradition by offering his own unique interpretation of the Rav’s position. 

 The evangelical community in USA are the staunchest supporters of Israel and especially of settlement Israel, they believe in us and our right to be where we are. And if they believe that at the time of the resurrection we will convert to Christianity, I respect their right to that belief; I believe that in the Messianic age all the Christians will convert to Judaism, and I say this vocally. The Nature of our relationship is not eschatological theological debate.

Rav Soloveitchik spoke to and lectured Christian theological groups . His first address on the Lonely Man of Faith was presented in a Catholic University in Boston (I believe it was St. Johns) He was against theological debate on religious issues in which we are not respected equals in the eyes of the Christians. So am I. However, I do not believe he would be against our relationship today on behalf of world peace and against Islamic Jihad.

Not only do I believe my activities are important; I believe that for the love of Israel and the future of the free world, there is perhaps no more important association that I can think of or involvement that I believe we should be engaged in.”--- an excerpt from Rabbi Riskin’s response to Ellen’s criticism (April 9, 2008).  Her response is here

 

 

3)      Rabbi Riskin continued to challenge the Rav’s position by establishing the The Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation in Efrat in June 2008
The center which has been billed as “the first Orthodox Jewish center to theologically dialogue with Christians”,

 has three institutes: 1) the Institute for Judeo-Christian Values and World Affairs, 2) the Institute for Theological Inquiry, and  3) the Institute for Jewish-Evangelical Relations.  (see Brochure).

 

4)      The December 2008 Jerusalem Post Christian Edition featured an article on the Riskin Interfaith Center and carried the following quotes attributed to Rabbi Riskin and the Center’s Executive Director, David Nekrutman:

Rabbi Riskin said, “The Christians have told the whole world about the God of love and peace, and they did it by picking up the ball that we Jews dropped 2000 years ago."

Nekrutman assured his guests that he wanted them to feel comfortable, and even urged them, despite being in a synagogue, to ‘pray in Jesus name. Don't leave Jesus at the door’."

When Ellen Horowitz published this online as part of a critical piece, Rabbi Riskin issued a lengthy response to her charges which has been published in full.

An excerpt of Rabbi Riskin’s response regarding Nekrutman’s inviting prayers to Jesus is as follows:  

 “David Nekrutman serves as the Executive Director of CJCUC. When lecturing to Christian groups, he begins by telling the audience that he is an Orthodox Jew who does not believe in the divinity of Jesus or in the sacredness of the Christian canon. What makes our dialogue possible is that we pray to the same Father and our expressions of faith are rooted in the covenant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The major view of most poskim such as Rav Yaakov Emden and the Shach say that dialogue between both faiths is possible since Christian Trinitarian doctrine looks upon the trinity as a belief in one God, not three separate god-heads. Therefore, there is a unity with the trinity. Of course, Jewish belief does not subscribe to this theology and in our talks with Christians we make it quite clear that any individual who accepts the divinity of Jesus can ipso facto never be considered Jewish…”

 

Perhaps Rabbi Riskin is unaware that Southern Baptist and other evangelizing theological experts will be the first to tell him - point blank- that Jews worship a different God

 

 

 

Rabbi Riskin offers a personal interpretation and Jewish spin of Christian texts and theological concepts in order to validate his approach to interfaith activities with Christian groups:

 

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin said "the Pope has muddied the waters of truth and compromised his own religion, specifically the Gospel of John 8:32, you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." * ---Press release:  the Ohr Torah Stone: Center for Jewish Christian Understanding & Cooperation – CJCUC

 

…the founder of Christianity was a Jewish teacher who - it would certainly appear from the Gospels - lived a Jewish life-style, replete with the Sabbath, festivals and kashrut. Hence there is every logical, historical and religious reason for there to be a rapprochement between us.”---Jerusalem Post, July 24, 2007

 

Rabbi Riskin is intrigued by the Christian theological concept of grafting and refers to it twice in his article “In Praise of Jewish-Christian Interfaith Dialogue” - first by quoting a Pope:“Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree unto which have been grafted the wild-shoots, the Gentiles…”; and then referring to Pentecostal leaders Jack Hayford* and John Hagee:
“…charismatic theologians have said that they subscribe to a single covenant theory: God entered into a covenant with Israel, upon which the Christians grafted themselves.”

 

For the record:  Ellen Horowitz, and Penina Taylor, the Director of the Jerusalem Branch of Jews for Judaism (a former missionary and messianic church leader), met with Rabbi Riskin and discussed their concerns with regards to Rabbi Riskin’s understanding of certain Christian theological concepts, like “grafting” and “One New Man”. It was a cordial meeting, but both Penina and Ellen were left with the impression that Rabbi Riskin may not have grasped what these concepts mean to evangelical Christians.

 

*[note: Jewish Israel wonders why it is that Rabbi Riskin feels he understands Christian texts better than Christian theologians?]

 

**[note:  Jack Hayford is a notorious preacher who openly promotes and calls for a “messianic Jewish” restoration]

 

 

 

Rabbi Riskin’s interpretation of Jewish texts and concepts seems to depart from, or distort, traditionally held opinions about the Messianic age of Redemption

 I believe that in the Messianic age all the Christians will convert to Judaism”---response to Horowitz comments (April 9, 2008)

“We, as Jews, also believe that Judaism is the perfect revelation to which ultimately everyone will convert.”---response to horowitz comments (December 26, 2008)

“Doesn't Maimonides … insist that eventually ‘everyone will return to the true religion’? (Laws of Kings 12) “

“Torah must welcome every gentile into its protective tent” ---quotes from the JPost Shavout article  Joy to the world 

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz seems to hold a diametrically opposing opinion and offers a fundamentally different interpretation of Rambam than that of Rabbi Riskin:

…Judaism does not view itself as the religion of all people. It is the religion of the Jews alone and is, for almost all its practitioners, inherited. The assumption that Judaism is the religion of one people (and a few unsought converts) is emphatically a normative principle … because it suggests that, within Jewish doctrine, there is room for the religious beliefs of others. This principle applies not only to the world as it is today but also to the messianic projections that Judaism makes for the future. Although the messianic era represents an ultimate vindication of truth as Judaism understands it—a time when the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will assert his dominion over all the world—at that time the peoples of the world will not embrace Judaism and will not come to observe Jewish law. In the closing chapters of his monumental Code of Jewish Law, Maimonides gives an account of the end of days. In his portrayal, the messianic realm is one of peace, but not uniformity of faith…At the end of days, the different peoples of the world will not become less different. And because they will not embrace a single faith, the prohibition against gentiles undertaking distinctively Jewish practices will continue…  Rabbi Adin Stensaltz, The Irrelevance of “Toleration” in Judaism(2005)

Rabbi Riskin defied a rabbinic ban to participate in the Jerusalem Day of Prayer – an event sponsored and endorsed by missionary groups

Despite the recent ruling by the Chief Rabbinate that Jews may not participate in any Christian events, Rabbis Shlomo Riskin and Benny Elon spoke in support of the Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem (DPPJ) on Sunday night at the Haas Promenade  ---Jerusalem Post

Two prominent Israeli rabbis defied a recent ban by Israel's Chief Rabbinate's prohibiting Jews from participating in Christian-sponsored events.

On Sunday, at the fifth annual Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and Rabbi Benny Elon addressed participants at the Haas Promenade.

"Our best friends in the United States are Christians, offering love, friendship and partnership," Rabbi Riskin said. "We would be foolish not to take advantage of it, especially during these troubled times," he said. --- https://www.cbn.com/CBNnews/245983.aspx+%22Two+Prominent+Rabbis+Defy+Ban%22&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk"> The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN)

Rabbi Riskin was a featured speaker at a UN Prayer Banquet in May 2008 to celebrate Israel’s 60th.  Among the featured evangelical leaders being promoted as participants were known missionaries who target the Jewish people:

·         Jay Sekulow, a renowned U.S. attorney and Jew for Jesus who is actively trying to change Israeli law in favor of “Messianic Judaism”

·         Stephen Strang,  a Regional Director of CUFI and a signatory on the March 2008 World Evangelical Alliance declaration calling for efforts to convert Jews

·         Lou Engle, an over-the-top missionary preacher who can be heard shouting his message from the Jerusalem convention center

 

Rabbi Riskin’s embrace of evangelicals becomes particularly problematic when an organization under his auspices appears to be the recipient of significant fundswhich were raised at a CUFI –sponsored event held at a missionary training centerwhich is affiliated with an actively proselytizing  Tel Aviv Messianic Outreach Center

The following is Rabbi Riskin’s response to that matter:

“The particular evening which Ellen speaks of was held in the Cavalry Tabernacle Church headed by Pastor Clem Salerno in Cranford N.J. The Church may very well have donated to other Christian operations which send out missionaries; however, to the best of my knowledge they do not at all have as a central goal of missionizing Jews. Churches are by there very nature involved in sending out pastors whose job is to spread the gospels; my interest is to try to get these churches to support Israel unconditionally and without specifying any mission to the Jews. If I were to discover that any who I have a connection with whose raison d'etre is converting the Jewish people, all ties with them would be severed.”

 

Ellen Horowitz responded to Rabbi Riskin as follows:

To:Rabbi Riskin

Sent: Friday, December 26, 2008 3:48 AM

Subject: Re: from Rabbi Shlomo Riskin

Dear Rabbi Riskin,

Thank you for your thorough response to my blog posting. I will certainly post your entire response, as well as link it to the original piece and send it out to my email lists.

I find your explanations to be unsettling and l will continue to take issue with your stand on Christian-Jewish dialogue and relations, as well as continue to seek the advice of, and have my writings on this issue reviewed by respected rabbinic authorities.

With regards to point three, I urge you to reconsider your relationship with the Calvary Tabernacle Church of Cranford NJ, as they are connected with and sponsoring Dugit Messianic Ministries in Tel Aviv - an organization working hard to convert Jews.

Please go to the "missions" section of the Calvary website at

http://ctnj.org/ourmissionaries

You will find the second listing under "our missionaries" is Avi and Chaya Mizrachi of Dugit in Tel Aviv

http://www.ctnj.org/Mizrachi

To see Dugit in action, please view the following video:

http://www.youtube.com/dugitusa

[Jewish Israel notes that shortly after this email was sent out, the video was removed, but the other links remain]

 Jewish Israel has included the below quotes in order to better understand Rabbi Riskin’s worldview.  He takes a radical view on the issue of Jewish proselytizing, and it appears he may perceive the Christian role as being one of bringing “all the Gentiles of the globe the seven Noahide laws of morality”.  A fear of global Jihad also appears to have a great bearing on his reckless embrace of evangelicals and his overall approach to Jewish-Christian relations.


“…But we certainly must proselytize every human being to keep those seven laws ... (Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, "Parashat Yitro: Every Knee Shall Bend," Jerusalem Post, Jan 24, 2008)

Even Maimonides legislates that it is incumbent upon the Jewish people even to coerce the rest of the world if necessary to accept the Noahide laws (Mishneh Torah , Laws of Kings 8,10) Response to ellen (December 25, 2008)

 

Probably during the Roman period of Hadrianic persecutions (circa 136-140 CE ), we dropped the ball and ceased to attempt to fulfill this aspect of our mission (despite Maimonides' Laws of Kings, where he rules that just as we bear responsibility to teach our fellow Jews 613 commandments, we are likewise responsible even to coerce, if necessary, the Gentiles of the world to accept the 7 Noahide laws of morality).

Thankfully, this function was provided by the Christians, who brought to all the Gentiles of the globe the seven Noahide laws of morality, the Ten Commandments and the belief in a God of love, compassion and peace. ----Jerusalem Post (July 24, 2007)

 

The fact remains that during the Second Commonwealth and until the Hadrionic persecutions, after the abortive Bar Kochba rebellion, Jews were avid proselytizers. Judaism was indeed a charismatic religion with a core tenet to spread the Torah to the world. Josephus writes a great deal … " Apparently our Jewish missionary activity stopped during the period of the Hadrianic persecutions when it became forbidden for us to convert others…

I completely subscribe to Professor Huntington's position in his path breaking work The Clash of Civilizations. We are in the midst of the fourth world war, a religious struggle between the free world (which believes in a G-d of love compassion and peace, the G-d of the 24 books of Tanach which are accepted as sacred by Judaism and Christianity) and the world of fundamentalist Islam which believes in a god of will, world domination and jihad. I see the present day rapprochement between Christianity and Judaism after almost 2,000 years of enmity as one of the critical signs of the fateful times... Christians are sincerely trumpeting the call that G-d remains faithful to His initial covenant with Israel, and that the Biblical prophecy is continually being fulfilled through the people of Israel living in its covenanted land. I do believe that together we must champion the belief in our joint G-d who created the world and promises eventual redemption to a fragile and fragmented world on the brink of disaster.--- Response to ellen (December 25, 2008)

 

Additional notes:  Rabbi Riskin seems to have actualized Rav Soloveitchik’s worst interfaith nightmare by overreaching with conciliatory gestures towards evangelists.  In an attempt to “level the playing field” and minimize the impossible breach between Jews and Christians, Rabbi Riskin has conjured-up common denominators which are outside the realm of normative Judaism.

a)      Riskin declares that Jews are traditionally a proselytizing religion and he goes as far as to use the term “coerce”.

b)      Riskin claims that Jews also believe that in messianic times everyone will convert to Judaism

c)       Riskin expresses an understanding of the need for Christians to proselytize. “ We understand that part and parcel of Christian identity is spreading the gospel to everyone, but there are ways to do this…”

 

But  Jewish Israel deems Rabbi Riskin’s most recent pronouncements, in the ICEJ video, beyond the pale of Torah Judaism.

“ as Romans* states quite clearly, certainly the evangelical Christian community has grafted itself upon the covenant.”

“And it’s critical that we join hands. It’s critical that we resurrect god** in this generation.”

 

CONCLUSION:

We at Jewish Israel understand that this is a time of existential danger and - for many - spiritual confusion.    We acknowledge that there are certain rabbinic and community leaders – like Rabbi Riskin - in Israel and America who attribute the current outpouring of fundamentalist Christian support for Israel to a prophetic era of apocalyptic change.  We must remind them that regardless of one’s worldview, we Jews are obligated to hold our spiritual and physical ground and there is no rationale for breaking halachic fences, blurring lines, and jeopardizing or compromising the Jewish faith by openly embracing and encouraging evangelical designs for Israel.

Jewish Israel is turning this case over to a number of respected and responsible rabbinic authorities and will keep the concerned Jewish community in both Israel and the Diaspora  abreast of developments.

[note:  Prior to posting, Rav Sholom Gold – Jewish Israel’s Rabbinic Advisor -  met with the staff of Jewish Israel and reviewed this report in full.]

 

 


UPDATE: Rabbi Riskin Explains 'Resurrection' Remarks (INN A7 report) (IsraelNN.com) A Christian Embassy video features Rabbi Shlomo Riskin using language that some Jews charge is theologically problematic. Speaking later with Israel National News, Rabbi Riskin retracted part and explained the rest...
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