“And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and aliens shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers.” Isaiah 61:5 (The Israel Bible™)
The rising tide of Christian support for Israel has many Jews wondering if it is permitted by Torah law to accept this newfound friendship, given the millennium of difficult relations between the two religions. Many rabbis believe that not only is it permitted, but it is a Torah imperative to return this friendship in kind.
One such rabbi is Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, spiritual leader of the community of Har Bracha and an internationally respected authority on halacha (Torah law). Rabbi Melamed has worked closely with Hayovel, an organization that brings Christian volunteers to work in the local vineyards in fulfillment of the prophecy in Jeremiah.
Again shalt thou plant vineyards upon the mountains of Shomron; the planters shall plant, and shall have the use thereof. Jeremiah 31:4
Not all Jews agree with Rabbi Melamed. Luke Hilton, Marketing Director for Hayovel, told Breaking Israel News that a “small but vocal group” of Israelis has voiced objection to their efforts to help Israel. The objections appear on social media and the internet in the form of blogs and even a site aimed specifically at Hayovel.
“We try to accept it with humility,” said Hilton. “Given the history between our two religions, it is understandable. We hope that in this way, they will come to see that our only intent is to help Israel.”
In fact, the question of whether it is permissible to connect with Christians in this manner is a complicated issue in Torah law. In his official ruling on the subject published in 2011, Rabbi Melamed noted the difficult history and the theological obstacles that stand in the way of Jews and Christians connecting.
How should we relate to Christians who suddenly have become our friends? For nearly two thousand years, they persecuted the Jewish nation, murdered, plundered, expelled, coerced us to convert to Christianity, and suddenly they love us? Can we believe them? And what do we do with what the Rambam (Maimonides) wrote, that Christianity has the status of idol worship?
The rabbi noted that the deciding factor was the Christians’ attitude towards Israel. The rabbi described love of Israel as “the litmus test in this world for morality, truth, and faith”.
The most severe sin of Christianity was its denial of God’s choosing Israel to be His Chosen Nation, and all the prophecies of Redemption spoken about the Jewish nation. They thought to replace Israel, and thus, caused us horrendous suffering, trying with all their might to convert Jews to Christianity.
It is precisely for this reason that Rabbi Melamed says it is now necessary to accept the friendship being offered.
When it comes to Christians who believe that God chose Israel, and that all of the good prophecies should be realized within Israel, and they are not working to convert us, God forbid, rather, to strengthen us – then all the severe things mentioned about Christians do not apply to them. On the contrary – great corrections are being made by them, they are righteous Gentiles, and God will reward them.
In his ruling, Rabbi Melamed cited Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine, whose philosophy is still a major influence on Jewish theology today. Rabbi Kook wrote that the problems with Christianity and Islam lay, not in their religious beliefs, but in their “cancellation of the [Jewish] nation’s hope in relation to its complete revival”.
Rabbi Melamed suggested a connection with pro-Israel Christians on an unprecedented level bordering on brotherhood, writing, “These Christians are closer to us than the secular, liberal leftists in Western countries, both in their faith in the Bible, and their ethics.”
In a later ruling, Rabbi Melamed discussed criticism from within the Jewish community targeting rabbis involved in cultivating this positive relationship with Christians. Much of this criticism was focused on Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the Chief Rabbi of Efrat and founder of The Center for Jewish–Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC). Rabbi Melamed investigated the matter and concluded that the criticism of Rabbi Riskin constituted slander, a grievous sin in Judaism.
David Nekrutman, director of the CJCUC, explained that promoting this relationship between Jews and Christians is a Jewish imperative, citing Isaiah.
It is too light a thing that thou shouldest be My servant to raise up the tribes of Yaakov, and to restore the offspring of Yisrael; I will also give thee for a light of the nations, that My salvation may be unto the end of the earth. Isaiah 49:6
“This is who we are as the Jewish people,” Nekrutman told Breaking Israel News. “We can’t be a light unto the nations without building a partnership with the nations. We have this mandate to work with others, and if they are willing, we have an obligation to do so.”
Nekrutman noted that Christianity had a special role to play in this prophetic process.
“”They’re trying to atone and overcome the Church’s teaching of Replacement Theology for almost 2000 years,” Nekrutman said. “This is not an easy process for them. We, the Jewish people, have to allow them to go through this journey and find their calling in the support for Israel and the Jewish people.”
“Reluctance in support of Jewish-Christian relations is understandable due to the past history between the Church and the Jewish people,” admitted Nekrutman. “But the Torah mandates us to do this. “