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.



  •' Jim Reed says:

    sacrificing our Jewish principles and holy sites on the altar of Israel’s Christian tourism industry

    Isn’t that one of the signs of the end?

  •' Rabbi Dennis S. Ross says:

    Great piece, Sarah. It is so rare to see a recoil like this from the Chief Rabbinate. I appreciate learning about it.

  • Over the last decades we have seen a rise in this idea that Christians must convert people of other faiths, even if it is unwanted by people of those societies or faiths. I find it maddening and sad that so many of these “missionaries” object when someone says they are not interested in their conversion approach, and in fact, find it offensive, and the “missionaries” claim then to be persecuted. It is hypocritical and a lie based on a false understanding of what Christianity demands of us and what God expects of us.

    I am neither Jewish nor Christian, but believe in one God, as they both do. It seems to me that when each claims to be the Chosen of God, and therefore tries to either reform the other or demand concessions from each other, that they have forgotten who God is and have instead substituted their personal ideologies. I wonder if these Rabbis would object if the Christians would back off from this idea of “restoring” Jews, and instead focused on their own relationship with God instead.

    God does not have a Chosen People, contrary to both the Jews and the Christians. God’s people are every living thing on this planet, and to choose one over the other is not part of God’s plan. It is like the story of the Prodigal Son where the son who stayed home is angry because the other son has returned and been feasted and favored by the father. To ask a Father to choose between His Children is the height of arrogance, and to force people to abandon their understanding of God is no different than claiming God as solely your own. It is time that American Christians and Israeli Jews recognized that we are all Children of the same God, as are their Muslim brothers, and find a way to respect each other and live together in peace and harmony. God does not condone war, terrorism, or forced conversion, and all three of these faiths seem to have forgotten that they are suppose to be people of peace and forgiveness and righteousness, not the swords of God. God has not forgotten and they will pay the price one day for their arrogance, just as the son did in the story of the Prodigal Son.

    Rev. Devon Noll
    New Word Universal Fellowship Church

  •' Carl says:

    So many contradictions in such a short post.

    Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God?
    Universalism is one of the biggest lies ever.
    Jews reject Christ as the Messiah. Muslims say Christ never died on the cross and especially for the sins of people. They reject Christ as being God the Son. Christians say that Christ WAS the messiah and died for their sins and was the Son.
    Universalism seeks to sit on a little fluffy ideology saying everything is okay.
    Christ was either right or wrong. All 3 belief systems contradict themselves on so many points that they cannot all be mixed together and called the same God. You must either reject all 3 or accept only 1 as the truth.

    Allah is not the Christian God the Father. Jews do not seek forgiveness from Jesus. Muslims do not accept Jesus and calls for the death or forced conversion of Christians and Jews (read the Koran, it is all in there).
    You have shown an utter lack of understanding of all 3 texts and belief systems to say that they are all the same.
    I fear for those who have to listen to what you speak as it can only serve to lead people away from truth, away from Christ and on a path to destruction.

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    This sort of ecumenicalism may be a desirable utopia–I am not saying it is, only that I could see arguments to that effect–but it completely misunderstands the actual religions that currently exist on the earth. They definitely do *not* worship the same God and have radically different conceptions of virtually every important religious subject.

    You also seem to misunderstand how Jews understand our status as the “chosen people.” It has nothing to do with asking a Father to choose between his children, as you describe. I would suggest learning a bit more about this subject, before engaging in public discourse on it. With the internet, good sources are easily found. This little article gets it right, for the most part.

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    This is not quite correct. Judaism does not teach that others must be converted on pain of being damned. Those who live an ethical life and contribute to the human good will share in the future to come, just as a Jew will.

    Of the three Abrahamic religions, only Islam and Christianity have exclusivist conceptions of salvation and Christianity’s is actually the *most* exclusivist of the three.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Isn’t there also different Christian belief systems, and isn’t only one of them true, and the rest of the Christians are also on a path to destruction?

  •' DavidHarley says:

    “uphold the integrity – the sanctity – of Eretz Yisrael”

    A revealing phrase. The Christian Zionists too believe that there is no place for Arabs in either Israel or the West Bank.

  •' DavidHarley says:

    Jonathan, Lord Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, is one of the most thoughtful Orthodox Jews. He has remarked that the status of Chosen People is a burden rather than a privilege. Jews do not seek to impose the Levitical laws on others.

    Historically, we might read the relationship between the traditions that went to make up the text of the Torah rather differently. However, such humility is more consonant with the scholarly viewpoint of centuries of rabbinical interpretation than it is with the position of so many of the rabbis in Israel today.

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