Why a public ban on a Christian prayer service?

By: David Nekrutman
Recently, the chief rabbis of Israel, David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef, issued a statement banning Jews from participating in the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem’s (ICEJ) prayer event in the Old City during Succot as part of the ICEJ’s annual Feast of Tabernacles event. The basis of the statement was their understanding of the event being interfaith and messianic in nature. From the halachic (Jewish legal) point of view, Jews are not allowed to join in this type of service.
This is not the first time the chief rabbinate has issued a ban on Jews participating in ICEJ events. However, this recent decision is quite baffling since the prayer event near the Temple Mount is purely a Christian service. It is not an interfaith prayer gathering.
One has to wonder how chief rabbis Lau and Yosef came to their conclusions. All one has to do to prove that the prayer vigil near the Temple Mount is not interfaith in nature is to simply go to ICEJ’s website and see for yourself. In addition, as the head of an organization that works closely with ICEJ, I know for a fact there were no invites to the Israeli Jewish public to attend their Christian prayer vigil.
It should be noted that ICEJ does conduct one evening during the Feast of Tabernacles where the Israeli Jewish public is invited, entitled “Israeli Guest Night.” As a past participant in this event, the activities are purely celebratory in nature, with speeches that talk about the importance for Christians of standing with Israel. No Jew ever walked into Israeli Guest Night and converted to Christianity.
Thus one has to wonder: why the need for a public ban? Are those advising the chief rabbis presenting inaccurate information? Is there some degree of anti-Christian sentiment in the halls of chief rabbinate’s office, or are we seeing the results of old hurts and past experiences of hate? What is the end-game in declaring such a ban? There is no reality on the ground of Jews en masse trying to attend a Christian conference. Using the power of a ban on non-existent realities is not only wasteful demonstration of one’s authority, but creates a desecration of God’s name. It also hurts the feelings of many dedicated Christian supporters of Israel who are trying to atone for the past misdeeds of Church and who are actively helping their faith communities to have a heart for the State of Israel and the Jewish people. They see the ban as an unjustifiable public attack on their support.
I understand that the “fruit” Jews have tasted from Christians in the past has been anything but sweet. The fears and distrust cannot be ignored. We are in the delicate time of trying to understand each other and this ban is one of the regrettable results of past poisoned fruits. I hope and pray as we continue our dialogue with the Christian world, the prejudices and preconceived notions of Christian support of Israel will lessen. We must embrace and nurture the relationship with the Christian community who sincerely support us.
Thousands of Christians from all over the world are coming to Israel during Succot to express their solidarity with us as well to fulfil their understanding of Zechariah 14:16, where the nations of the world will come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. These Christians will tell you they do this out of a sense of calling that God placed in their lives, without ulterior motives. If the chief rabbinate has issues with some the activities going on at a Christian conference, I would think the best approach is to dialogue with the heads of the Christian organizations, some who have had a presence here for over three decades, and work them out in a healthy way. To first resort to public bans without discussions creates an environment of distrust and animosity.
Every Shabbat, Jews in synagogue recite Psalm 34, which teaches the “fear of the Lord.” Part of that discipline is guarding one’s tongue from speaking deceit, as well as pursuing peace. We are in a sacred season in the biblical calendar, where God is judging the world. The chief rabbis are the religious stewards of the State of Israel and are also the moral voice of the country.
Their words reverberate around the world and are viewed as representing the people of Israel. No event or statement is a local issue in the Holy Land. They have global effects.
In a time of reconciliation, it is my hope that what has transpired can take a negative and transform it into a positive, whereby the chief rabbinate can become more involved in Jewish-Christian dialogue and help advance an unprecedented alliance. If the State of Israel can have a Foreign Ministry to deal with the nations, the chief rabbinate can become the “foreign ministry” to other religions. But this does require the ability to learn, understand and truly want to build up relationships.
The author is the executive director for the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation in Israel.
This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post on October 6th, 2014


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