With throngs of evangelical pilgrims and ministries assembling in Jerusalem to celebrate various Christianized versions of the Jewish Feast of the Tabernacles (Sukkot), Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has issued a statement prohibiting Jews from participating in an International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) prayer vigil scheduled to take place at the Southern Wall of Har Habayit, the Temple Mount, on the last morning of ICEJ's annual Feast pilgrimage.
In addition to reaffirming the halachic prohibition against interfaith worship, Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef have also endorsed a campaign by the rabbinic organization Derech Emuna which is reportedly concerned about the nature and evangelical message of ICEJ's vigil, as well as the intent of other initiatives and activities which run contrary to the interests of Judaism in the Holy City of Jerusalem.
JewishIsrael notes that a mega event under the banner of "Jesus Reigns", which was to involve thousands of pastors and members of Israel's messianic missionary community, was scheduled for September 17th near the Old City walls but had to be postponed when a major sponsor reportedly backed down. Renowned messianic “rabbi” Jonathan Cahn was to feature prominently in that mass rally which was originally kicked off in a media blitz by the Promise Keepers Ministry. The Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA) is now partnering with Promise Keepers and has rescheduled the event for August 2016.
The Rabbinate's statement regarding the ICEJ vigil is being widely reported in the Israeli mainstream press with the Times of Israel, Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post, each taking a slightly different editorial spin on developments.
Certain parties across the theo-political spectrum, from liberal Jews to conservative Christians, will most likely try to turn these developments into a religious freedoms and church persecution issue. In JewishIsrael’s opinion, this is in fact an issue of Jewish preservation.
[Note: This is not the first time that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel has taken a stand on interfaith endeavors. In June 2007 the Chief Rabbinate proscribed Jewish participation in a Judeo-Christian summit sponsored by the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus (KCAC) Women's Council. The Rabbinate's decision, as well as a subsequent decision on the annual Succot parade resulted in international coverage and editorial debate in Israel.]
The publication Christianity Today is reporting that Britain's leading interfaith organization, the Council of Christians and Jews, has backed the stance of Israel's Chief Rabbis saying that, "while it was good for Christians and Jews to experience each other's worship traditions, the two religions were separate and joint services were not possible".
Although the ICEJ has no "interfaith" prayer vigil listed on their official 2014 Feast of the Tabernacles itinerary, the organization is promoting an "Israeli Guest Night" on October 14th with speaker Robert Stearns:
"Once again this year, we have set aside one evening to provide a taste of the Feast for hundreds of our Israeli guests and friends.
With the expanded seating capacity at the Jerusalem Pais Arena, you are welcome to invite as many Israelis as you can to attend, so they can enjoy the musical talent assembled for this year's Feast celebration."
Jews on the ICEJ mailing list have received "Israeli Guest Night" invitations in Hebrew and English signed by Jürgen Bühler, the ICEJ’s Executive Director. The event is clearly advertised as being Christian in nature. JewishIsrael suggests that its readership review Jürgen Bühler's article on the meaning of "Restoration":
“It gives me great pleasure on behalf of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem to invite you and your family to attend the special Israeli Guest Night during our great annual Christian Celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles.
This event is characterized by beautiful music and dance and our theme for this year’s Feast is ’Restoration’”
Six months ago JewishIsrael reported that Efrat Rabbi Shlomo Riskin's universal message of Isaiah was twisted by the ICEJ to promote the 2014 Feast, with a definite focus placed on Jesus and Christian Worship in Jerusalem. This may be indicative of what can happen when Jewish and Christian messages and agendas are combined in interfaith endeavors.
Indeed, this problem is reflected in the Rabbinate's statement regarding ICEJ's planned prayer vigil:
“The mutual respect between the faiths must be preserved in a way that causes no harm to one religion or the other… And in this case that balance does not exist.”
Columnist Judy Lash Bailint reported in 2004 that Pat Robertson spilled his evangelical guts at the Jerusalem Convention Center, in front of a mixed Christian and Jewish audience at the Feast, when Robertson, “… turned the auditorium into a church, as he exhorted the throng to get down on their knees in prayer, urging them to, ‘Pray for Jesus to come back again, so the rule of Jesus Christ may descend…Jews need to begin to cry out for their Messiah, he said. I've met wonderful Jews... here in Jerusalem, who are all saying 'Yes, Jesus you are our Messiah…'"
Over the years ICEJ has become increasing transparent with regards to the missionary message of ICEJ's ministry and of its annual Feast in Jerusalem. This year, in a pre-feast ICEJ video clip, the International Director of ICEJ, Juha Ketola, interviewed messianic leader Asher Intrater. Intrater runs a wide network of missionary entities in Israel, which focus on evangelizing Jews. As in the past, Intrater is scheduled as a speaker at this year's Feast in Jerusalem.
JewishIsrael notes that GODTV has put a blatant interfaith spin in its promotion of the Day to Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem, which GODTV will be broadcasting live from Jerusalem, next week on October 5th:
"The multi-denominational prayer movement was founded in 2002 by Robert Stearns (Eagles’ Wings Ministries) and Jack Hayford (Foursquare Gospel) and each year features Christian, Jewish and Arab leaders praying together for peace".
This Jewish holiday season, the rabbis and political leaders in the Jewish state are faced with a formidable challenge. Will they be able to take a wise and firm stand on behalf of the Torah, and uphold the integrity – the sanctity - of Eretz Yisrael without totally alienating visitors of other faiths? JewishIsrael hopes that our leaders will rise to the occasion and be a light unto the nations, rather than compromising or sacrificing our Jewish principles and holy sites on the altar of Israel's Christian tourism industry.