Today, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin has organized in Jerusalem at Van Leer a repeat performance of his theological dialogue held at Yale. The papers are the same at both conferences. Both sites have complete texts of the papers. Here is someone who is not too keen on Rabbi Riskin’s activities, yet provides many links.
On the same day, Rav Avinar has Anatevka nightmares about the idolatrous Christians. In Aviner’s visions Christians bear collective guilt as murderers with blood on their hands. Christians are idolatrous and as taught in the dark days of the middle ages, once should repent all of one’s days for contact.
The Hagee event that gives Aviner his apoplexy was back in October, when there is a Christian Zionist parade in Jerusalem. Hagee held a public event of giving money to Jewish institutions. In the video of the event is a gospel choir. The legwork for this animus is done by Mina Fenton, former Jerusalem city councilperson from the NRP. video of Hagee event with Fenton commentary here and interview with her here. In the later interview, she declares that Christian Zionist is a contradiction in terms, that they distort the meaning of the Bible, and that they are carnal for expecting God’s blessing for giving to Israel.
And in My Dream I am in a Church
[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Tetzaveh 5771 – translated by R. Blumberg]
… And in my dream, I am in a Christian church, a majestically adorned church, but I feel like I am suffocating. The smell of blood rises in my nostrils, Jewish blood spilt down through the generations, the blood of murders and torture, forced conversions and expulsions. I smell an awful stench. I want to flee, but I am frozen in place. Suddenly I see representatives of Jewish religious and Charedi organizations coming in, yeshiva directors and prominent rabbis. I rub my eyes. I cannot believe what I am seeing. It’s an awful nightmare. I pinch myself to wake up, but I am still here.
All the representatives and all the rabbis sit smiling and self-satisfied. They must certainly have been forced to come here. I remember that during black periods of our history we were forced to sit in churches and to listen to the priests preaching to us. Yet how did we end up back in a church? Don’t we have our own State? Apparently, you don’t questions about a nightmare.
And now the choir is starting to sing. I don’t understand a word of the Christian verbiage, but it doesn’t interest me. It sears through my brain and makes my head spin. Then a Christian minister steps up to the pulpit and starts to speak. He says: “I am the head of this church, Pastor John Hagee. Welcome to the Corner Stone Church following our three days of Christian celebrations. I am pleased about the privilege that has come my way to grant every one of you a religious contribution from the Evangelical Christians, to each of you up to a million dollars.”
What!? Shall we accept a contribution from the non-Jews? What?! Are we beggars? Schnorrers? It’s forbidden to accept public gifts of money from non-Jews! (Rambam, Matanot Aniyim 8:9. Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 254:8). And here this is happening with a live broadcast!
And if it’s exclusively for Jews, that is even worse. (ibid. 254:16). I am ashamed! What a nightmare! And now, a Jewish representative is stepping forward… for all the cameras to see, and he is accepting an enormous check made of poster board, a meter long, and all the cameras are flashing! I don’t understand! After all, the Chief Rabbinate prohibited accepting money from Christians… And here is still another representative… How did we dare enter a Christian church? It’s forbidden to enter! (Chochmat Adam 84:16. Birkat Yosef on Yoreh Deah 145:15. Shut Yabia Omer vol. 2 Yoreh Deah #11). And still another representative… I can’t believe it. Look who else has come in!
Surely Rambam writes that it is forbidden to pass through a city in which there is idolatry, let alone to live there. Yet we have no choice, and we are the living fulfillment of, “There you will serve man-made gods of wood and stone” (Devarim 4:28) (Perush HaMishnayot Avoda Zara 11). And once again… a well-known representative… It cannot be that that prominent Chassidic sect is generating influence and dependency on Christianity. Heaven help us! What a great temptation money creates! Bribes blind the wise men’s eyes!
I see the ___ Institution stepping forward, and I am despondent. This strengthens the status of the Christians in Israel. Precisely because of their money, the law we wanted to pass against missionizing has failed several times.
And now the ____ institution! Surely Ha-Gaon Rav Mordechai Eliyahu forbade accepting Christian money, as did Ha-Gaon Rav Avraham Shapira, Ha-Gaon Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Ha-Gaon Rav Asher Weiss, Ha-Gaon Rav Ovadia Yosef and many more.
And the ___ yeshiva! Oh no! Have you forgotten that the Jerusalem “Badatz” Rabbinical court forbade this, as did the rabbinical court of Chabad? True… true… it’s just a dream.
I then remembered Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Chassid, who said, “A priest owed a Jew money, and the priest knew that the Jew would not follow him into the church. So, when the Jew came to demand his money, the priest went into his church, and the Jew did not wish to follow him inside.” (Sefer Chasidim 60:435). Yet here the Jews are, coming to the church for money!
And the X organization as well! Maybe they never heard the following story from Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Chassid? “A Jew went into a house of idolatry, and then felt contrite. He asked an elderly sage to instruct him what to do to repent. The sage asked what day he had gone inside, and the Jew told him. The sage responded, ‘Fast on that date every year.’ And the Jew did so.” (Sefer Chasidim). We can hope that those Jews in the dream will pray.
Yeshivat X is stepping forward! What about our souls? Yes, of course, another quotation from Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Chassid: “A Jew walked in the courtyard of a house of idolatry. When he left, he heard a Divine voice say, ‘You have cast Me behind your back’ (Melachim 1 14:9), and he fasted all his life” (Sefer Chasidim, ibid.).
The Jewish-Christian Center in ___. That’s no surprise… but why should there be such a center in the Holy City?…
The Reform Movement’s ___ School. All right, they’re “Reformed”, but they’re still Jews. They’re our brethren, and not Christians. Heaven help us! Don’t they understand that the very fact of accepting Christian money increases their stature in our country?
There are even rabbis who are hugging that pastor, and all this for a million dollars. How great the power of money!
Now they’re starting to sing: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together.” No! You are not my brothers! First ask forgiveness for murdering my ancestors, body and soul. I don’t know how you will be able to atone for that. Come to me in my Land, discreetly, and ask forgiveness, and then we’ll talk.
Oy! How great the power of money! Don’t all these wretched souls understand that accepting money from Christians undermines the opposition of weak-souled Jews to accepting Jesus the Christian? Where is our self-respect?
Quick! Let’s escape from this nightmare! An idol has been brought into the sanctuary!
It’s the Money Crusade!
But it’s no dream! It’s the reality! (The entire episode can be seen on the Internet at http://www.kr8.co.il/BRPortal/br/P102.jsp?arc=109447). Obviously, I am not there, G-d forbid. Run away fast! I am getting out of this nightmare and going back to my own dream, our own dream: “When the G-d restores the fortunes of Zion, we shall be as dreamers” (Tehilim 126:1)…. “Our feet stood inside your gates, Jerusalem” (ibid. 122:2).
I am sitting in our yeshiva, “Ateret Yerushalayim”, and I remember a gentleman who came to visit us thirty years ago, and here is approximately what he asked me: “I represent many Evangelists, and we would like to advance the construction of the Temple. I am therefore coming to you because your yeshiva is the closest to the site of the Temple. Are you preparing the construction of the Temple? You’re not… Well… you say that through Torah study and observance of the commandments, good character and the fear of G-d, one can bring the Temple’s construction nearer?…. Fine… So we would like to help you. In America we’ve got fifty million Evangelists. I will collect just one dollar a year from each of them, so that you’ll receive fifty million dollars a year until the Temple’s construction is completed. That is my offer. Do you agree?
Do you know what I answered him? Just one word. “No!”
This piece got me into a Jacob Katz mode of thinking. What caught my attention is that Rabbi Aviner is suggesting a policy toward Christianity based on Maimonides, who operated within a Muslim context and never had to deal with the practical consequences of living in a Christian society, and Sefer Hasidim, hardly a normative halachic source. Let alone not forming policy based on the Meiri, Rabbi Aviner is not even operating based on Ashkenazic thought at all as far as I could tell. What would it mean to apply Aviner to the United States; what if medieval Ashkenaz operated based on him?
Has the “Left Behind” series been translated into Hebrew? If so, get R. Aviner a copy. I can’t wait to see what kind of dreams that would inspire.
Reading Left Behind taught me that we Jews are less Satanic than Catholics and people named Benzion might suddenly accept Jesus as their savior. :p
There is sense to it. It is dramatically expressed for literary purposes. It is on the other end of the spectrum from, say teaching at a Catholic institution. Objectively it is a legitimate perspective considering our history. The onus is on the Christians to repent and reassure.
Rav Aviner grew up in post WWII Catholic France. The Christian world he knew probably required a lot more practical accommodation than an American grad student teaching in a Jewish school experiences. And he is certainly aware of the Meiri and Tosafot. Why must he adopt their perspective?
As for Rambam, his context was certainly Muslim. But he dared to state positions regarding Christianity. Were there no Christians in his world? Are we saying he was unqualified to have an opinion? Might it even be that his opinion was less influenced/distorted precisely because he didn’t have to live with the daily accommodations that hachmei Ashkenaz did?
As for modern thinkers, where does Rav Soloveitchik fall here? He was very much a ‘Rambamist’, and very much of product of European thinking.
It was not my intention to criticize Rabbi Aviner or suggest that he adopt a different position, just that he is making the decision to operate from a specific range of Jewish sources. Jacob Katz made the argument that the Tosifists engaged in a balancing act between saying that Christianity is idolatry and avoiding the implications of that position of having to employ the full range of Talmud restrictions on interaction with idolaters. This would have made life in Christian Europe impossible. Sefer Hasidim is not a halachic source at all, but a guide for going beyond the law.
Maimonides is certainly a valid halachic opinion. There were Christians in medieval Cairo, just as the rabbis in the Talmud had some interaction with Christians. That being said these restrictions would, if seriously followed through, make it impossible to live in a Christian dominated society. Think of all the chaos created by the issue of Indian hair being idolatrous offerings. What if it was not just wigs that you had to be worried about, but every product?
Pragmatism doesn’t make for good halachic reasoning. It does have a role afterwards in determining application. But to simply say, ‘Rambam’s position is tough to live with’ is to say nothing of note at all. What’s more, Rav Aviner lives in Israel. His is a more complex reality that allows the luxury at home of taking a more narrowly defined position; while necessitating new perspectives on how do we deal with the big world in terms of diplomacy, etc. The specific issue he addressed was about a Jewish institution in the State of Israel accepting money from a (in his view) forbidden source. He thinks this is consistent with our renewed ability to live in a more independent manner. He also notes mainstream sources that he thinks support or compel this position. Certainly we may differ; but there has to be a better argument than ‘it would be tough’.
I would note, by the way, that Rav Aviner doesn’t tend to be strict on many matters of halacha. His record as a community rav is out there. But in this I think he is following pretty closely the influence of Rav Tzvi Yehudah, who was especially sensitive to matters related to avodah zarah.
I suppose in the 50s you would have agreed with Ben Gurion rather than Begin on the reparations issue. I don’t know what I would have done; but I admire and am glad that Begin protested. It helped us to maintain our consciences. Maybe Rav Aviner is doing the same. Strict pragmatism has a way of pushing conscience aside.