Israel’s Chief Rabbis Say No to Christian Zionist Event

Israel’s Chief Rabbis have issued a statement condemning an upcoming event sponsored by the Christian Zionist organization International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, finding that it “hinders Israel’s true redemption.”

The event, a prayer vigil marking the end of ICEJ’s annual five-day commemoration of the Feast of the Tabernacles, or Sukkot, is scheduled to take place October 15 at the southern wall of the Temple Mount. Other portions of the ICEJ’s program will take place at the new Jerusalem Pais sports arena, and activities include a march through the city “to express our solidarity with Israel.” (The ICEJ website currently touts a letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, thanking the group for its support during the recent Gaza war.) 

According to the ICEJ’s website, the disputed prayer vigil “promises to be a highlight of our time in Jerusalem, as we devote our final morning to seeking the Lord together in prayer for our families, churches, and nations, as well as for Israel and the Middle East region.” American speakers at the five-day event include the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and Billy Wilson, president of Oral Roberts University.

The Times of Israel reports the letter from the Chief Rabbinate calls on Jews to boycott the event:

“It’s true that one cannot prevent the believers of any faith from praying according to their religion. However, in the case of a ceremony which aims to mix between religions in a way that harms the believers of the other religion, it must not be allowed to take place,” the statement, signed by Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, published on September 16, said.

“The mutual respect between religions must be kept in a way that one religion does not harm another, and in this case, that balance is not met,” the rabbis continued.

The Chief Rabbinate statement conceded that the site was holy to all faiths, quoting a passage in Isaiah which refers to the Jewish Temple as “a house of prayer for all nations,” but insisted that the ceremony was dedicated to the resurrection of Jesus and the Christian conception of the messiah, and was therefore problematic for its Jewish participants.

According to Arutz Sheva, an organization known as Rabbanei Derekh Emuna (or Rabbis of the Path of Faith) have also joined the fray, linking the ICEJ event to a “troubling trend” of Christian control of Old City sites. Haaretz reports that the group has put up posters in Jerusalem saying that “attempts to portray the vigil as harmless are deliberate acts of deception on the part of missionaries who seek to attract Jews and strengthen the church’s hold on holy sites in the Old City.”

To be clear, ICEJ’s promotional materials do not explicitly invite Jews to join the prayer vigil, but they do make clear that the theme of this year’s event is “restoration,” and that the Feast of Tabernacles is a “prophetic statement that our Lord is indeed coming soon. And it declares to Israel and the nations that a new day is dawning. The King is coming, and we are here to rejoice in His transforming power and soon arrival.” ICEJ warns participants in the march  through Jerusalem, though, that “the handing out of any tracts has been prohibited.”

The religious Zionist anti-missionary group JewishIsrael writes on its website:

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.

(For more on Intrater, see my piece on Messianic Jews—Jews who believe Jesus is the messiah—from 2012.)

JewishIsrael continues:

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.

The action by the chief rabbinate highlights a long-simmering tension among religious Zionists: how much should they welcome the “support for Israel” by Christian Zionist groups, given that Christian Zionists aim to “restore” Israel, or convert Jews? This recent action by the Israeli rabbis could signal a new, and more explicit, objection to Christian Zionist activities.