Why Christians Support Israelby Shlomoh
March 16, 2018
Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Amy Jill Levine entitled AGREEING TO DISAGREE: How Jews and Christians Read Scripture Differently.
Amy-Jill Levine is Professor of New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, Department of Religious Studies, and Graduate Department of Religion. Her bio can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amy-Jill_Levine
There are many reasons why Jews and Christians read scripture differently and I will make the following broad statement, echoing Professor Levine, namely, that while Jews seek many different meanings or interpretations for scripture, Christians seek one inherently correct interpretation.
Moreover, Jews and Christians have different ideas about what constitutes "scripture".
Jews address scripture as the TANACH, a Hebrew acronym, composed of the words TORAH [teaching], NAVI'IM [prophets], and
KETUVIM [writings]. Although some non-Orthodox Jews refer to this as "the Hebrew Bible", this definition is vague and is sometimes used by people [Jews and Christians] to mean something else.
Christians generally refer to the TANACH as the Old Testament, a phrase which many Jews find offensive since it seems to imply something superseded or no longer valid. However, Professor Levine remarks that the Phrase can also be seen in a positive sense if its meaning is something more original and venerated.
Protestants may refer to the TANACH also by the expression Hebrew Scriptures since their Bible contains the very same books as does the TANACH, the difference being in the linear order of the books. The TANACH ordering places 2nd Chronicles as the last book because it ends with Cyrus' proclamation that the Jews are to return home to the Land of Israel. The Protestant arrangement of books places Malachi last because it ends with the proclamation of the coming of Elijah and the Messianic Era.
Professor Levine used a sports analogy [which I am sure is not original with her], comparing Judaism to baseball and Christianity to football.
Like football, the Christian ideal is linear - the goal is from the creation of man, the separation of man from God by the removal of the divine aspect of man, man's search for reuniting the human and the divine by various ineffective means, the announcement of a future reunification effected by God - not man, the appearence of God and man united in the person of the Nazarene, the evolution of the Kingdom of Heaven in the form of the "Church", the expectation of the final Day of History when Jesus returns as the Messiah and the initiation of the actual Kingdom of Heaven.
Like baseball, the Jewish ideal is to recapture what is lost on earth, the Land of Promise. Jews may several times run to various bases but the ultimate object is to reach home plate safely. Home plate is the Land of Israel where the Kingdom will begin and spread out to encompass the entire universe.
Roman Catholics look at scripture being composed of three sets of writings: the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, the Christian-Greek writings or New Testament, and the Apocrypha, a set of books originally accepted among Jews as scripture but later excluded from the Jewish canon; they are 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras,
Tobit, Judith, Rest of Esther [Esther 10:4 – 16:24], Wisdom,
Ecclesiasticus [also known as ben Sirach], and Baruch & the Epistle of Jeremy [Jeremiah].
To further complicate matters, while the TANACH is written in Hebrew and Aramaic, the Christian scriptures were written or translated into Greek.
Christianity arose in the Greek-speaking Roman Empire where the Jewish scriptures were available to anyone who could read in a Greek translation called the Septuagint (from the Latin septuaginta, "seventy"), also known as the LXX.
As stated above, there are many reasons why Jews and Christians read scripture differently and one important reason is that each group relied on reading it in a different language.
It's clear that languages evolve over time and words may take on new meanings. Here is just one graphic example.
In early English, the word "maid" meant virgin. Later it came to mean young woman, and lastly a female domestic. In early Hebrew, ALMA meant a young woman and later on, virgin. When Isaiah uses the word ALMA [Isaiah 7:14], he means young woman. When Matthew later uses the Greek translation PARTHENOS
[Matthew 1:23], he means virgin.
So while Isaiah is talking about the mother of king Hezekiah,
Matthew is talking about Jesus the Nazarene.
What we take away from this is that because Jews and Christians read their holy books differently and interpret them differently, each group has different concepts and more importantly, DIFFERENT EXPECTATIONS. And it is these differing expectations that cause Jews and Christians to perceive life differently, to vote differently, to choose our friends differently, and, in general, to act differently.
It was in this context that I asked Amy Jill the following question: "When someone says to you that the only reason Christians support Israel is X,Y,Z, how do you respond?"
I found her answer interesting and informative.
Many people say that the reason Christians support Israel is that they are thinking about the so-called "End Times" in which Jews will return to the Land of Israel. Their
return will initiate the end of history when Jesus will return and Jews will recognize and welcome him as the long-awaited Messiah, and the Jews who survive the messianic wars will become Christian. Others say that Christians support Israel in order to get Jews to convert to Christianity now. Professor Levine said that was, to a large degree, true in the 20th century. But in the 21st century, a new generation of Enthusiastic Christians has arisen, and with this generation, the reasons are more complex.
She said these are some of the reasons for Christian support for Israel: some actually have visited Israel and like what they saw; some have family and friends living in Israel;
some feel that Israel is the only trustworthy ally that America has in the Middle East; some don't like Muslims and feel that Israel is a bulwark against Islamic expansion; still others like Israel because that was where Jesus was born and lived, and finally there are Christians who support Israel because that is where the End Time events are to take place now that Jews have retaken possession of the Land.
Here are my own thoughts about hearing that "the only reason they support Israel is that ...".
First all, you will hear that statement from non-religious Jews. Orthodox Jews, as a rule, welcome Christian support, especially political support, and they see the advent of the current American political administration as heaven-sent in its embrace of Israel. Some Christians see it as a prelude to the Advent of Christ's Return.
I have several responses to people who have their own preconceived ideas of Christian ulterior motives.
Firstly, I have a problem with the words "they" and "only". The word "they", like the word "the", is all-inclusive. It means every single one of them has the same ulterior motive which is patently false. The word "only" precludes any other reason that "They" might have to be friendly to the Jewish State. The thought is: "Each and every Christian who supports Israel in any way is doing it for one reason, and only one reason." It's absurd.
Secondly, not only is the suspicion of ulterior motives ungracious; it is classically unJewish. What do I mean by that?
There is an axiom in the TALMUD that states [in Hebrew]: MITSVOT EYN TSERIKHOT KAVANNAH - a good deed does not require intentionality. When a person gives charity or saves a life, we do not ask him/her why he/she did it. We may have assumptions but that is all they are, assumptions. The fact is that Jews are not supposed to care why anyone does a MITSVAH. His inner feelings about doing it are immaterial. Of course, it might be great if he had the purest and noblest of intentions - but that is not how KAVANNAH works.
KAVANNAH, inner feeling, intentionality is a will-o'-the-wisp. Wikipedia defines that word as "an atmospheric ghost light, drawing travelers from the safe path." I couldn't define it better. KAVANNAH is not constant. It appears and disappears from moment to moment depending on our moods, events of the day, what side we wake up on, etc. As such, the Talmudic rabbis argued, it can easily lead us from the safe path of righteousness. If my good deed should require only good thoughts, then I can say to the destitute beggar whose family needs food and shelter, "Begone man! Come back next week when I may have the proper KAVANNAH."
If I am drowning in a river and you jump in and save me, shall I ask you why you did it? And if I were to ask, you might say, I did it not because I care about your safety but only to be considered a hero and get my name in the newspapers. Then shall I ask you to throw me back into the river? No. I care not why you saved me. I thank Heaven you came along. To ask you why is callous and meanspirited.
In this time, when so many people, including ignorant Jews, are hostile to the only Jewish country in the world, why would I not welcome, yes, seek out, Christian support? Rabbi Meir Kahane was the first [Orthodox] Jew to walk into churches and give speeches in which he earnestly urged Christian congregations to support Israel as their Christian duty, reminding them of God's promise to Abraham that he who blesses Israel will himself be blessed.
Religiously ignorant Jews, who suppose they know why Israel gets Christian support, want those Christians to have the proper KAVANNAH. That is to say, they want Christians to have Jewish KAVANNAH, which is so unlikely. How can a person who is not Jewish have Jewish KAVANNAH? He may, but it is more likely that he will have Christian KAVANNAH, which is wonderful. His KAVANNAH may very well be that, now that Jews have returned to the Land of Israel, he supports the place where the Apocalypse will take place. So what??? That is his KAVANNAH and he has a right to it. As for his support in the hopes that it will inspire Jews to immediately become Christian, well I know of many reasons that a Jew might convert - but Christian support for Israel is not distinctly a plausible one.
So to those of my fellow Jews who expect what they have no justification to expect, I say, just be thankful that we have some great Christian friends who may read the Bible differently from the way we do but who nevertheless have come to the same conclusions about the Jewish Land that we have come to.
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