John Hagee and the Future Course of American Jewry

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It is remarkable that the staunch defender of middle of the road American Judaism, the prim and proper Hadassah Magazine, would do a positive interview with John Hagee (October, pg. 32; not yet online). Until recently, many non-Orthodox Jews looked at John Hagee as the archetypal militant, bible-thumping Christian fundamentalist they were taught to dislike and mistrust. It is a sign of the eroding confidence Jews have in their position as a distinct group that even Hadassah must come to grips with the fact that John Hagee is one of the most powerful human allies that Jews who love Israel have.

If you are one of our left-leaning readers, don’t hang up yet. The piece is not meant to be yet another irritating encomium for Evangelical Christians, although I personally have no difficulty serving them up. The point is an issue he raises inter alia. But first, some background

Pastor Hagee has a congregation of 18,000, and is said to be able to produce a million emails to politicians who cross Israel’s interests. He runs Christians United for Israel, a national lobby, and is the architect of the Night to Honor Israel program in cities around the country. He is almost monomaniacally fixated on the well-being of Israel and Jews, and backs his leanings with abundant financial support. He was the crowd-pleaser at AIPAC earlier this year, rousing the crowd with his revival-like descriptions of what happens to people who stand in the way of Israel. (“Old Pharaoh tried that, and G-d turned him into fish food!” The crowd took to it with fierce applause, apparently oblivious to the irony that he was much more of a believer in the historicity of the Biblical narrative than many of the delegates.) Rav Aryeh Scheinberg of San Antonio is a close friend, who has taught him much about Jewish sensitivities about things Christian, particularly why we view proselytizing to Jews with such revulsion Rav Yitzchok Dovid Grossman (Migdal Ohr) is a large beneficiary of his largesse, and has appeared on his television program.

One response in his interview stood out in my mind, probably because I had heard all the other remarkable stuff straight from the source at various times before. Commenting on purportedly different attitudes of American and Israeli Jews, Pastor Hagee had this to say:

I see the dividing line as between Torah Jews and secular Jews, wherever they may be. When a Jew believes in the Torah, we have instant traction. If they don’t believe, we’re in some intellectual ozone layer where we just can’t have that [sharing].

Many of us have long understood that the Orthodox community will become the dominant and surviving group sooner or later. Later is quickly turning into sooner in some key areas, such as unflinching support for Israel. (See fellow contributor Jonathan Rosenblum’s piece a few weeks ago.) Too few of us realize that as we become mainstream and establishment rather than marginal, we need to change our behavior and assume more responsibility for functions we previously left to others, while we concentrated on rebuilding our community from the ashes of the Shoah. John Hagee here points out that in dealing with his community, he can discourse with Torah-observant Jews in a manner that he cannot with secular Jews. For those of us who welcome his support – and even those who don’t, but recognize that he has to be dealt with, rather than ignored – does this not mean that more of us should be involved with dealing with these friends, rather than leaving the task to people who do not really speak the same language?

Come to think of it, are there not other areas of Jewish public service in which Orthodox Jews bring needed gifts and perspectives to the table that others cannot? Why haven’t more Orthodox Jews woken up to the new responsibilities thrust upon us by the Divine Providence of changed times?

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24 Responses

  1. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Rejewvenator: As to your point about the Holocaust, what our grandparents largely did was die by the millions, in horrible ways. Is this ‘maiseh avot siman l’banim’?!

    Ori: You’re right, I should have said: “Jews living outside Axis controlled territory at the time”.

    Rejewvenator: Ori, I don’t think your last example from Mealchim, or your example from Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai are analogous to our current situation. You’ll also note that I specifically was talking about Jewish-Christian interactions, which are of a different character theologically speaking, since Christians claim the be the replace ment to the Jews, whereaas the Assyrians and the Romans didn’t clash with us over our beliefs. Romans and Assyrians did not see their national destiny as dependent upon the elimination and/or destruction of the Jewish people.

    Ori: The analogy is imperfect – as analogies usually are. Nobody asked Pastor Hagee to send his army against non religious Jews like Achaz did against Israel, or to spare Yavneh after he destroys the temple.

    As far as I know, very few Christians believe that the second coming of Jesus will only happen after the Jews convert to Christianity. I can’t show evidence that Pastor Hagee is not one of those, but maybe Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein can.

    However, the Romans did try to suppress Judaism during certain periods of their history. The Assyrians did destroy the kingdom of Israel and tried to destroy the kingdom of Judah. In my book, that makes them bigger enemies that Pastor Hagee.

  2. Phil says:

    “I see the dividing line as between Torah Jews and secular Jews, wherever they may be.”

    I hope Hagee isn’t hoping that that gap *widens*. That would be like hoping that Jews become more fractured.

  3. Shira Schmidt says:

    Hodesh Tov,
    My husband is from a shtetl near S.Antonio (his was one of 3 Jewish families in New Braunfels,Texas) and has known Rabbi Sheinberg for decades. We have a kli sheni acquaintance with Pastor Hagee and we have seen the positive work he has done for Israel. John Hagee has brought groups to visit here in Netanya and has been received warmly by the Laniado Hospital run by Sanz Chassidim.
    For a discussion of the respect we should show non-Jews see the responsum of the first Sanz rebbe, R. Hayim Halberstam, ztz”l, in his responsa Divrei Hayim, #30. Although this is an answer to the question about women wearing wigs (instead of scarves or hats), he has a long introduction on hakaras hatov and kavod for non-Jews. Maybe I will once post these paragraphs.

  4. rejewvenator says:

    Ori, I don’t think your last example from Mealchim, or your example from Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai are analogous to our current situation. You’ll also note that I specifically was talking about Jewish-Christian interactions, which are of a different character theologically speaking, since Christians claim the be the replace ment to the Jews, whereaas the Assyrians and the Romans didn’t clash with us over our beliefs. Romans and Assyrians did not see their national destiny as dependent upon the elimination and/or destruction of the Jewish people. The same cannot be said for Christians, as Ann Coulter recently reiterated.

    As to your point about the Holocaust, what our grandparents largely did was die by the millions, in horrible ways. Is this ‘maiseh avot siman l’banim’?!

    Bob, what exactly do you see as revisionist about my historical presentation? Whether by Jewish tradition or historical accounts, the time of the First Temple was rife with idolatry, syncretism, and varied religious practice. Perhaps there were moments in history when what we might imagine as normative Judaism was dominant, like during the time of Yoash, or Chizkiyahu, but even then, the Judaism of Bayit Rishon was VERY different from our Judaism today (they didn’t have a tanach, or a Talmud!) Going forward from that point, the history of sectarianism is again written clearly in our traditions as well as historical ones. What is your view of this history, if you find mine so revisionist?

    I see heterodoxy as a meaningless term, coined by those certain of the correctness of their beliefs, and sure of their monopoly on truth. When 90% of European Jews walked out on a traditional (if still highly varied) approach to Judaism, they ended up birthing the Jewish world of today, centered around the US and Israel. The Holocaust killed the Orthodox, largely because the Orthodox stayed in Europe. It’s a lesson.

    I believe that Jews left the fold in response to the Enlightenment, itself a complex phenomenon that impacted the whole world in cataclysmic ways. We Jews don’t live outside of history – in many ways we ARE history and our context shapes the historical narrative. I don’t believe that Judaism is disappearing. I do believe that denominational Judaism is fading away. That’s not quite the same thing. I don’t think that Jews are leaving the fold, I believe that Jews are redefining what the fold is. My professional life is in Jewish education and Jewish outreach. I’ve worked across the religious spectrum, from the frum to the frei, and I’ve got a perspective on this that most Orthodox Jews, who don’t see outside the walls of their shul, don’t have. That doesn’t make me right, but I think part of my role is to bring this unique perspective to the various communities that I encounter across the Jewish spectrum.

  5. Bob Miller says:

    Rejewvenator,

    Rabbi Adlerstein sees heterodoxy and its effects as tragic, while you see these (complete with bogus revision of history) as normal. So, in your eyes, how is the present situation a crisis? Is it that you believe Jews have been leaving the fold because of their insufficient appreciation of heterodoxy?

  6. Ori Pomerantz says:

    rejewvenator, what people in our generation say they would have done in the time of the Shoah is irrelevant. What our grandparents actually did when faced with that situation is what counts. Those are not identical.

    If you want a more classical example, take Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai. He did not try to get the Romans to spare Jerusalem, which would have taken a miracle. He tried for the much more achievable goal of being allowed to teach Torah in Yavneh.

  7. rejewvenator says:

    Ori, if he really beleives that Heterodox Jews will wither and disappear then he needs to do everything in his power, day and night, to prevent it from happening! What you seek to describe as a sort of fatalistic but wise pragmatism I see as a fundamental abandonment of Jews, of Jewish identity, of Jewish peoplehood. If he thinks that thse Jews will disappear and become absorbed then it is impossible to have a conversation with any other topic! I’m sorry, but you cannot simply say “well, 2/3 of my people are doomed, but I’d like to discuss something else today.” What’s worse is to say “as we all know, the 1/3 of my people I really identify with will be dominant, sooner or later, and the other 2/3 will largely die out, so let’s plan for that future by figuring out how to build alliances with some other faith group whom we strangely feel closer to than to our own bretheren.”

    How many of us, upon hearing the horrors of the Holocaust say how much we would have done, how hard we would have fought, if we had been there, and known what was coming. But here, R. Adlerstein calmly predicts a quiet Holocaust of American Jewery and accepts it as a forgone conclusion, a battle already lost, a tragedy so inevitable, he’s already sat shiva, said kaddish, recovered from the grief, and is now courting a new suitor. And this is a plan for Jewish survival?

  8. dr. william gewirtz says:

    a question and an observation:

    Question: With whom do you think jewish fundamentalists feel greater affinity with: a) a non-jew with whom you share some fundamentalist beliefs in the literal meaning of this week’s parsha or those who became or escaped being fish food. b) a reform jew or even an orthoprax (james kugel, perhaps)?? ANSWER: If you said a), guess again.

    Observation: Politics has always made strange bed-fellows. But do not get too comfortable in that position, it never lasts. At best, it just dissolves quietly. when used pragmatically, these dalliances can be useful. but if you think it is a long term strategy/relationship, its not: here today, gone (with the wind) tomorrow.

  9. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Rejewvenator, the fact that Rabbi Adlerstein believes Heterodox Jews are going to wither and disappear does not imply that he wants that to happen. It just means that he thinks that is the likely course of events, and therefore he will plan for the future based on that assumption. When discussing something else, it makes perfect sense to mention the effects of that off-handedly, because that is not his main point.

    IIRC, hocheach tochiach et amitecha, rebuke your fellow, only applies when the rebuke is likely to be listened to. That is not the current situation – Heterodox Jews do not accept the basis of Rabbi Adlerstein’s beliefs, and therefore are highly unlikely to listen to his rebuke.

    Rejewvenator: How can we even suggest that it is better for Jews to engage with Christians than with other Jews? Does that make any sense? Does it have any backing in tradition? Any precedent in our long history?

    For political purposes? II Kings 16.

  10. rejewvenator says:

    Ori, Rabbi Adlerstein, leshitaso, has a chiyuv of hocheach tochiach et amitecha, a chiyuv to engage in kiruv, and his soul is bound up with other Jews, not with Christians. Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Bazaeh. I think it’s fine to engage Christians and other faith groups in ethical dimensions, and to share the light of Torah with them in relation to those issues. But I think that political collaboration by Jewish denominations with particular religious groups is highly troubling. It is even more worrying when that collaboration is presented as a superior alternative to engaging our own JEwish bretherene – to writing them off as destroyed, sure to whither away. Ribbono Shel Olam! Rabbi Adlerstein basically shrugged his shoulders and offhandedly predicted the loss of 2/3 of world Jewery – and that was just an off-hand remark, not the central point he tackled! How can we even suggest that it is better for Jews to engage with Christians than with other Jews? Does that make any sense? Does it have any backing in tradition? Any precedent in our long history?

    —-

    Bob – I’m not sure what you mean by deviationist sects. By all accounts, Pharissaic Judaism was a deviationist sect. You seem to be using the word pejoratively, as though to suggest that a certain character of observance which today we call Orthodoxy has always recognizably survived, and that this is the real Judaism, from which others deviated. It’s a commonly-held belief, but it’s not accurate by any means. Sadducees were in institutional control throughout most of 2nd-Temple Judaism. Karaism had a 10-century run as a major Jewish denomination. The Samaritans had their moment in the sun, as did the Hellenists. And from the Haskalah until this very day, a historian would identify traditional observence in a great decline, whether from the defections of the Haskalah, the predations and murders of the Nazis, or the alternative identifications offered by Hassidism and Zionism.

    There is nothing wrong with being confident that truth will triumph over lies. There is a great deal wrong with being so confident that you (and you alone) possess that triumphant truth and grasp it fully. Remember the lesson of Yakov, who proclaimed the truth as he understood it, that none in his household had robbed Lavan, and the tragic consequences of that proclamation, which itself ultimately led to our enslavement in Egypt.

    —-

    Rabbi Adlerstein: All those who discarded Torah observance disappeared? Really? Individually or in groups? What about Christians?

    Don’t you see the irony? The Christians were a Jewish sect, and they abandoned observance and flourished. They are triumphalist for better historical reasons than the Jews! After all, fast forward 2000 years and Christians essentially dominate the world and have been blessed with amazing growth, power, and mastery. And along comes a tiny group called Orthodox Judaism thinking that it is triumphing in the battle for God because some tiny remnant of it has survived the last 2000 years? Hagee and the rest must be laughing at us behind closed doors, at our ridiculous self-centeredness and total lack of awareness!

    As for trends, I can only say that demographers are terrible at predictions. Remember the population bomb? Can demographers predict the Holocaust? Demography can inform the health of our current social groupings and institutions, but they should not be used to predict long-term relative sizes of these population groups, as they have never proven accurate. Remember that the caveat ‘assuming all trends remain constant’ should really read ‘though of course, none of these trends will remain constant’.

    Perhaps you do advocate for both kiruv and interfaith dialogue, but your tone, both in your original post, and in your response indicates that you believe that the former is a wasted effort, and that salvation lies with the latter.

  11. LOberstein says:

    I only heard Rav JB Soloveitchik one time,and it was why we have to avoid ecumenical diaglogue. Because of this we have purposely left this to others. As far as dealing with non Jews on matters of mutual interest, Rabbi Herman Neuberger developed excellent relations with the cardinal and they cooperated on lobbying for legislation. However, he did not attend the Cardinal’s investiture in the Cathedral and they did not debate religion or try to come up with a join statement on how we are all brothers, etc. It was pragmatic ,result oriented dialogue. The same is true with non orthodox Jews, he cooperated fully on communal issues through agencies of the Federation. He built bridges but never engaged in religious dialogue.

  12. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Throughout Jewish history there have been Jews of various brands, sects, levels and types of observance, and so forth. Is there anything so different about today that makes you believe that Orthodoxy alone will survive?

    Yes! 1) At other times in history, all those who discarded Torah observance, whether individually or as a group, disappeared. Run into many Karaites or Saducees lately? 2) We’re not talking triumphalism or dire prophecies here. We’re talking observed, tracked trends. Both heterodox movements have family sizes well below ZPG of 2.1, which is what you need to break even and stay stable. That is without factoring in those who marry out. Read my lips: this is a tragedy, not a mark of Orthodox triumph. If we would be doing our job better, we would be bringing more back to observance and the main trunk of Jewish survival. But all the BT’s we produce are a trickle relative to the torrent of Jews being swept out of the Jewish people. It is too late to pretend that the non-Orthodox world is disappearing, like it or not. I, for one, do not like it.

    Your article, Rabbi Adlerstein, can be easily read as a call for engagement with Christian Evangelicals at the expense of engagement with non-Orthodox Jews, “who do not really speak the same language” anyway.

    I suppose it could. And Gone With The Wind I suppose could be read as a cookbook. Both of those “supposes” are incorrect. Why would anyone think I was advocating one above the other? I happen to do both. I speak to liberal Protestants, and Buddhists, vegetarians, and even people who use the Flatbuh eruv! No contradiction.

    What would Rav Soloveichick (olov hasholom) say to this?

    He would say that there is a huge difference between theological dialogue, which he opposed unless conducted by people he really trusted to have firm background in Torah machshava and non-Jewish thought (e.g R Walter Wurzburger) and expressing hakaras hatov for support in political areas. I had the conversation three years ago with one of the fiercest champion’s of R Soloveitchik’s shitah, and he instantly concurred.

  13. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Charles B. Hall: Besides, it is a machloket rishonim, never resolved, as to whether Christianity is a permitted religion even for non-Jews under the Noachide laws. Are we really sure that the halachah is according to HaMeiri?

    Ori: Christianity today may not be the same as the Christianity the rishonim debated about. For example, Catholics clearly believe that a communion wafer holds G-d (IIRC, that belief falls under the Halachic definition of idolatry*). Not all Protestants do.

    What’s more to the point, what we think about it truly does not matter. No real Christian is going to change his or her religion because of our opinions anyway. The best thing we can do is represent Judaism the best way we can, be friendly (especially to people who act as our friends), and answer questions truthfully when asked.

    * Any Catholics here, please do not be offended. I am sure that I do plenty of things that are forbidden under your canon law. Different religions believe G-d makes different demands of us. We’ll live, we’ll die, and then hopefully we’ll go to heaven and learn what we’ve done right and what we’ve done wrong.

  14. michoel halberstam says:

    Pleas don’t take this the wrong way. Like all of you, I also believe in Biyas Hamoshiach. But I think that we should tone down the rhetoric of who is going to be where when Moshiach comes. This is true for both Jews and goyim. Is this all about joining the right club, or are we trying to advance in Avodas Hashem?

    I for one don’t know what to make of people like Hagee. But if it appears reasonable to believe that he can help us, and that we can associate with them, I think it’s OK. This doesn’t have to be thought o in eschatalogical terms all the time. One thing however,
    we can really get hurt believing that Christians like us because we are the right kind of frum. We do what we do because it is right, or seems right- not to make brownie points.

  15. Charles B. Hall, PhD says:

    I am concerned that by associating too closely with Pastor Hagee, we run the risk of endorsing his particular theology over other Christian theologies. His Christian Zionist position is the subject of much controversy within the Christian world and in fact appears to be a minority POV. Has there ever been a time in the past 1900 years when rabbis have intervened in the theological dispute of another religion? Besides, it is a machloket rishonim, never resolved, as to whether Christianity is a permitted religion even for non-Jews under the Noachide laws. Are we really sure that the halachah is according to HaMeiri?

    Also, it may be quite some time before Orthodox becomes the dominant group within Judaism, at least in the US. While the Conservative movement has been imploding, Reform Judaism reports recent growth and it has far more dues paying members than does Orthodoxy. We should not underestimate the attractiveness of an antinomian monotheistic religion.

  16. Bob Miller says:

    Rejewvenator (October 11, 2007 @ 9:32 am) said, “Throughout Jewish history there have been Jews of various brands, sects, levels and types of observance, and so forth. Is there anything so different about today that makes you believe that Orthodoxy alone will survive?” :

    Haven’t you noticed that periodically the old deviationist sects either left Judaism altogether or dwindled away? Then new ones popped up and went through the same process. And so on. We always seem to have this problem, but the cast of characters changes.

    However, we are confident that truth will ultimately triumph over lies. If that thinking is triumphalist, so what?

    Pastor Hagee and others like him will have to decide in the end whether to join our victorious cause by becoming proper B’nai Noach or not. Meanwhile, they are among Israel’s strongest supporters, which counts for something even though their overall outlook isn’t ours.

  17. He Who Remembers says:

    What would Rav Soloveichick (olov hasholom) say to this?

  18. Ori Pomerantz says:

    rejewvenator, why shouldn’t Rabbi Adlerstein prefer to be engaged with Christians who share most of his world view, rather than with Jews who do not? It’s a lot more effective to talk to people who share your world view, rather than those who share your history.

  19. Josh says:

    I work in GOP politics professionally and more Orthodox involvement would be a huge help to the pro-Israel cause. There’s not lack of political $ or muscle, but there is a major need to let the Christians who so strongly support us know that we don’t all think they’re dangerous-extremist-who-by-the-way-aren’t-very-intelligent. Especially since so much of the Jewish community is constantly attacking them (that’s not missed by the way, it’s a source of distress for Christian friends).

    In my experience, politically active Christians LOVE meeting Torah Jews, the more bearded-rabbi-stereotype-looking the better (Pastor: “Ah… finally I meet a rabbi who looks like a rabbi!”). Just simple outreach from Orthodox rabbis to Christian church and political leaders in their area would be a huge step forward.

    There’s been some positive movement in that direction, but the average Orthodox rabbi puts taking the time to meet with non-Jews, especially at churches, very low on the priority list. This post really gets it right, it’s time for Torah Jews to start taking more responsibility for the political health of Israel and the overall Jewish community.

    Incidentally, it’s not a bad thing for the school choice movement and other community concerns either.

  20. joel rich says:

    See http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/10052007/profile.html for a lot more detail. R’ Michael Lerner was particularly entertaining – did you know that Evangelicals believe they are right about the true religion and we are wrong and that in the end of times we will recognize that fact ! I’m shocked, shocked (to quote the immortal words of Captain Renault)
    KT

  21. HILLEL says:

    The Evangelical Christian community, as exemplified by Pastor Hagee andFocus on the Family, is probabluy the only element in American society that prevents total degeneracy into Sodom-like behavior.

    They are probably the ones who will survive into the Messianic millenium and be counted among “the righteous gentiles, who fear me.”

    Unlike the other Christian denominations, who are rushing headlong into secular hedonism, they are struggling to maintain some standards of decency.

    Perhaps, they will–ironically–help our own alienated secular brethren return to their authentic Jewish roots.

  22. rejewvenator says:

    I have two objections to what was written. First, the triumphalist assertion that “the Orthodox community will become the dominant and surviving group sooner or later.” While members of a movement should not be excoriated for predicting its rise, I’m disgusted by the prediction of the destruction of otehr groups of Judaism implied by the word ‘surviving’.

    Throughout Jewish history there have been Jews of various brands, sects, levels and types of observance, and so forth. Is there anything so different about today that makes you believe that Orthodoxy alone will survive? What is this Divine Providence of changed times that you refer to? Or does saying so simply excuse you from dealing with your co-religionists?

    Perhaps the latter is correct. Your article, Rabbi Adlerstein, can be easily read as a call for engagement with Christian Evangelicals at the expense of engagement with non-Orthodox Jews, “who do not really speak the same language” anyway. The great irony is that you are inviting the wolf through the front door for fear of the black sheep in your living room.

  23. David N. Friedman says:

    I can see no controversy in either the pro-Jewish positions taken by Rev. Hagee, nor our positive reaction to him. The fact that non-Orthodox have greater trouble in acknowledging a friend is sad but it is always welcome that a magazine like Hadassah that still puts abortion rights at the head of its agenda will at least positively profile a pro-Israel ally like Rev. Hagee.

    There is a great opportunity for the Orthodox world regarding the support of so many evangelical Christians. They like to see Torah Jews and we should be pleased to be acknowledged. There is growing opportunity to influence the Christian world and by extension, the portion of American society most prone to be nourished with Torah wisdom. Some of these Christian friends read this web blog and many thousands regularly are inspired by Chabad.org and Aish.com and so many others.

  24. Harry Maryles says:

    Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein has been saying this for years and has been villified for it. While I do not agree with everything he does, one cannot escape his role in fostering these kinds of relationships. I think it’s time for the rest of the Torah world to recognize this too and instead of villifying him, give him the Hakaras HaTov he so richly deserves.