Contrary to Rabbi Riskin's statements in media outlets accusing the Haredim of launching a campaign against his joint Christian-Jewish worship event in Jerusalem on Israeli Independence Day, it was rabbis and activists solidly in the Zionist national camp who questioned the endeavor and who approached Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar in a meeting held on Yom HaZikaron (Israel's Memorial Day).
After reviewing the press-releases and promotional video and audio clips of the planned joint Christian-Jewish Hallel event (“Day To Praise”), and after noting Ohr Torah Stone's involvement, JewishIsrael brought the material to the attention of leading national religious rabbis and asked for their opinion. After these rabbis reaffirmed our belief that interfaith worship events were problematic and not in keeping with the accepted Halacha, we then turned to Jerusalem’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar, while in a meeting with him on Yom HaZikaron. Rav Amar responded by immediately penning an official letter, critical of the event, and gave it to JewishIsrael. He instructed his associates to disseminate his position. A translation of that letter in English follows:
With Hashem’s assistance
3rd of the month of Iyar 5775
Yom Hazikaron for the IDF’s fallen soldiers, HY”D
For the sake of my brothers and friends, the residents of the holy city of Jerusalem. May the graciousness of Hashem be upon you.
I’ve heard and my stomach is turning by the terrible report that a Hallel prayer service will take place on Yom Ha'atzmaut in a Jerusalem [Orthodox] synagogue, and that this is a joint Jewish-Christian prayer service organized and officiated by an Israeli rabbi. Even if his intentions are for the good, it is not the correct thing to do.
We have no interest in what Christians do for themselves in their own places, but we have to resist them when they intermingle with the Jewish nation, in attempting to cause us to stumble and veer us away from Hashem's path to foreign ones.
And I call upon that same rabbi who is busying himself turn back from these path which are nothing but "a strange fire before Hashem, which He had not commanded us" (Leviticus 10:1)
And I call in love and affection upon all of Hashem’s nation to stay away from such events, and pray for the peace of Jerusalem among Hashem's congregants, and that Hashem will hear and accept our prayers.
Awaiting Hashem's salvation.
Rav Shlomo Moshe Amar
The Rishon Le'zion
Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem
We are not sure why Rabbi Riskin chose to blame Haredi parties for the opposition to the event, nor why he seemed surprised by the controversy. A month prior to the event, a Voice of Israel (VOI) radio program, hosted by Jeremy Gimpel and Ari Abramowitz, featured CJCUC's David Nekrutman, acknowledged and promoted the interfaith worship venture as being "controversial and revolutionary."
Certainly it is unorthodox to see evangelical clergy called to the pulpit of an Orthodox synagogue, in this case the Hatzvi Yisrael Synagogue in Jerusalem’s Hovevei Zion Street, to declare "hallelujah" and read scripture. It most certainly should be more than disturbing that some of those promoting and participating in the event have been involved in promoting and carrying out missionary activity directed at Jews in Israel.
This “Day To Praise” event was an idea conceived by David Nekrutman while he was studying Christian theology at Oral Roberts University. Nekrutman, an Orthodox Jew, serves as executive director for Rabbi Riskin's Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC) located in Efrat.
This is certainly not the first time Rabbi Riskin has been involved in highly controversial interfaith endeavors, a number of which have required his retractions and clarifications. JewishIsrael considers this a developing story and we will be posting follow-up reactions, documentation and video clips.
The following is statement from JewishIsrael's rabbinic director, Rabbi Dr. Sholom Gold:
Halachic giants such as Rav Moshe Feinstein Z"L and Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik Z"L established timeless directives and guidelines for the Jewish community, specifically geared for philo-semitic periods when the Christian world reaches out to the Jewish people with conciliatory words and gestures.
The parameters set by these rabbis, including the injunction against interfaith worship, were meant to ensure that Judaism remain a distinct and unique faith community and to protect those Jews who were most vulnerable or prone to accepting foreign values and theology.
With this in mind, it is tragically ironic that the "Day to Praise" interfaith worship event, held at Hatzvi Yisrael Synagogue in Jerusalem on Yom Ha'atzmaut, was conceived by the Jewish Executive Director of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin's interfaith center, who very publicly admitted that he was influenced and received his inspiration for the event while studying Christian theology at the well-known Christian College, Oral Roberts University. The event was pre-publicized on Israel radio as being both "controversial and revolutionary". And Christian audiences were told in promotions for the event that "Rabbi Riskin is the Jack Hayford and Billy Graham of the Orthodox Jewish world".
Such messages going out from Zion are a source of great pain, and a desecration of Hashem’s name. This is further compounded by the fact that Rabbi Riskin frequently touts Rav Soloveitchik as having been his revered mentor.
What should go out from Zion and from our synagogues is pure Torah, not an interfaith amalgamation featuring evangelical preachers, on a synagogue pulpit, who remain committed to spreading the Christian gospel in Israel.
That Rabbi Riskin expressed shock at resistance to such an event from the rabbinic establishment is simply disingenuous. That he chose to identify the source of opposition to the Yom Ha'atzmaut interfaith worship event as emanating exclusively from the Hareidi world was, at the very least, misleading.
Rabbi Riskin's incessant breaching of long-established interfaith boundaries are disturbing, dangerous and wrong for the Jewish world, more so in Eretz Yisrael.
Rabbi Dr. Sholom Gold
Dean of the Avrum Silver Jerusalem College for Adults, Orthodox Union's Israel Center
Rabbi Emeritus, Kehilat Zichron Yosef, Har Nof, Jerusalem