It seems that Rabbi Hershel Schachter is responding to the recent work of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin in interfaith dialogue. Since I reported Rabbi Riskin’s conference here and then again here with the Evangelicals, then this is a response. My post is not a critique, just presenting both sides. Rav Schachter should not be disagreed with. You may want to read the two Riskin posts firsts; they contain positive versions of the points condemed here.
Here we have Rabbi Hershel Schachter rejecting those who seek a combined Jewish-Christian covenant or any Christian claim to the holy land. He rejects making a distinction between idolater and ben noah when Christian. Since as long as the Christians still believe in Jesus, then it does not matter that you are educating them in mizvot. He condemns those who reinterpret Confrontation or say it does not apply today.
What’s interesting here is that the writings of Rav Schachter and Rabbi Riskin are the two basic building blocks of Centrist Orthodox Zionism. Torah centered Religious Zionism
The talk does not differentiate Evangelicals from Catholics. On the current approach of the Church toward Israel, Pope Benedict stated: “The Holy See joins you in giving thanks to the Lord that the aspirations of the Jewish people for a home in the land of their fathers have been fulfilled,”which may be seen as a theological justification of the return of the Jewish People to Israel – indeed, an acceptance that has placed all previous Catholic denials of Zionism in the shade. They are not locked into the positions of 1902, 1947, or 1967. They recognized the State and sovereignty of the State of Israel in 1992. They do not seek political or sovereign internationalization. On the history of the changes- here, important speech that often gets distorted and quoted out of context, and TV report on the current issues.
Experimental Judaism: Playing with Fire
It is very painful to see that there is missionary activity taking place in Eretz Yisroel. The official Catholic response to the Zionist movement (when it first began) was that this “dream” will never be realized. They argued that Eretz Yisroel is “the chosen land” set aside for “the chosen people”, and the Jews lost their special status as “the chosen people” when they rejected oso ha’ish. The establishment of the medina in 1948 clearly contradicted this claim of the church. To defend their position they “explained” that the medinah did not include the makom Hamikdash, the old city of Jerusalem, or Chevron, i.e. all of the holy locations of ancient Eretz Yisroel, and as such was not considered to be “the chosen land”. Immediately after the 1967 war, when all of these ancient holy areas were also under Jewish control, the pope proclaimed (and every year since then all of the subsequent popes have made the same statement) that Jerusalem should become “an international city.” Because Jewish control of the old city of Jerusalem is a glaring contradiction to the claim of the Church that we have forfeited our status as the am hanivchar, the Church would like control to be taken away from the Jews to defend their theological position. The church feels that their missionary activities in Eretz Yisroel will ultimately lead to the Jews accepting oso ha’ish and once again becoming “the chosen people” who rightfully rule over the holy land.
Every so often newspapers quote non-Jewish ministers claiming that they have “a covenantal connection” with the holy land. This is a repeat of their theological principle that Eretz Yisroel is “the chosen land” for “the chosen nation”, and that after the Jews rejected oso ha’ish they (the Catholics) became “the chosen nation” to whom G-d’s covenant with Avraham, Yitzchok, and Yakkov to give Eretz Yisroel to their descendants applies. How painful it is that some Orthodox rabbis also state that their “brethren” (the Catholics) have “a covenantal connection” to Eretz Yisroel. These rabbis don’t realize that by making such irresponsible statements they are playing into the hands of the avodah zarah.
These same rabbis pride themselves on educating thousands of Catholics every year in the mitzvos of the Torah. The Chumash speaks of our accepting korbanos from non-Jews (Vayikra 23-25), and the halacha speaks of non-Jews volunteering, as an eino metzuveh v’oseh, to observe additional mitzvos over and above the basic seven mitzvos required of all Noachides (see Mishnah Berurah end of siman 304 in the Biur Halacha). However, these rabbis are fundamentally mistaken in their understanding of this halacha.
We may only accept a non-Jew’s sacrifices in the Holy Temple when they are offered la’shomayim. As long as they believe in oso ha’ish and are sacrificing to him, this is outright avodah zarah, and we may not allow these sacrifices to be brought on our mizbeach. If a non-Jew is convinced of monotheism and wears a tallis and sits in a sukkah etc. as an eino metzuveh v’oseh, this is commendable. But if a non-Jew still believes in oso ha’ish and wears a tallis and sits in a sukkah as a means of identifying with that avodah zarah, this does not fall under the category of one volunteering mitzvos as an eino metzuveh v’oseh, but is rather an act of deepening his commitment to his avodah zarah. Woe unto those rabbis who are deepening and furthering avodah zarah commitments and practices.
Years ago Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik warned, both in his public addresses as well in his written essay (“Confrontation”) against having any such contact with the church. How shameful it is that people who claim to be “disciples” of his have “reinterpreted” his words to mean the exact opposite of what they really say, and have then added that even if at one time he did prohibit such interaction with the church, this clearly no longer applies today. To the best of my understanding, moshiach has not yet arrived and the world is still full of avodah zarah!
Achronim had a debate whether believing in the trinity constitutes avodah zarah for a Noachide or not; but for Jews there is no question that it is avodah zarah! And even for bnai Noach, Rav Solovetichik quoted in the name of his grandfather Rav Chaim that this understanding of the Remah and Shach was a shegagah she’yatz’ah milifnei hashalit and it makes no sense to distinguish between the definition of avodah zarah for a Jew and for a ben Noach.
The human desire to be mechadesh (to act as an original thinker) has misled these rabbis in Eretz Yisroel to play into the hands of avodah zarah and shemad. The words of this week’s parsha stand out clearly to teach us that in Eretz Yisroel we are required to be even more careful when dealing with the church. Time and time again the Torah warns us that in Eretz Yisroel we must not get involved with avodah zarah. Officially Hakadosh Baruch Hu is the King over Eretz Yisroel (see Mordechai to Gittin #401), and the midrashim refer to all of Eretz Yisroel as the “palace of the King”. The Ramban (end of Acharei Mos) explains that the main location for observance of all of the mitzvos is Eretz Yisroel, and one who sins there is compared to one who rebels against a king’s authority in his palace, which is a more brazen sin than sinning elsewhere(see Avnei Nezer, Yoreh Deah #454).
Apparently the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel arouses strong feelings of spirituality that one must take care to channel properly. These strong feelings can mislead even the wise to get carried away by their imagination and their desire to be original thinkers, and in turn to strengthen avodah zarah and shemad. Some rabbis have gained credibility by claiming to be disciples of Rav Soloveitchik, and then have proceeded to totally misrepresent his views on these issues of avodah zarah and shemad.
While we are on the topic, last year YUTORAH posted a talk from 2002 where a different YU Rosh Yeshiva explained how when we see something positive in Christianity we should remember that these are the people that killed your great-grandfather, they are the ones personally responsible for the crusades, Inquisition, and Holocaust. He encouraged the contemporary saying of “shaketz teshaktzenu, ta’ev teta’avenu, “You shall surely abominate and abhor it, when passing a Church. (minute 48 to end).
The interesting (though not surprising) thing here is the way he cites the Rov’s position, leaving no room – in substance or from the tenor of his rhetoric – for the Rov’s affirmation of non-theological dialogue on matters of social concern etc. (Let alone the Rov’s subtle but unmistakable theological engagements with Christianity, and you have written really well on that.) Presumably he would regard that as engaging with Christiians in their version of sheva mitzvos, but he’s not leaving a whole lot of room for that either. As for his not really addressing the social-political realities underlying Jewish-Christian engagements, let alone their common concern as adherents to traditional religious commitments facing deep challenges in contemporary society and culture – those seem of a piece with Rav Schechter’s generally viewing things through what for lack of a better or more useful word we could call a moderate Haredi prism.
Why call it Haredi?
The Rav was really not a moderate when it came to his views on Christianity and Israel. In his recorded shiurim and in his essays published posthumously, he made no secret about what he felt their motives were with regards to the State. Nor did he think that replacement theology had permanently gone away, but he felt that after ’48 and ’67 it was quietly dropped for the time being out of necessity. And he did say that it was avoda zara gamor. In this specific case, I would say Rav Schachter nailed the Rav’s view.
Why not mention the name of the other Rosh Yeshiva? It is a matter of public record. Rabbi Mordecai Willig. The entire talk has to be heard to be believed.
Rabbi Schachter explicitly allows Jews to teach large parts of Torah to non-Jews (eg anything based on logic or justice) and says explicitly you can teach almost all of Nezikin to non-Jews since its mostly סברא. That would be “a lot of room” for engaging with non-Jews on the seven mitzvoth.