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Roots Of Evangelical Support For Israel


In 1890, William Blackstone organized a conference in Chicago of Christians and Jews to respond to the pogroms then occurring in Russia. The group unanimously passed a resolution urging world leaders “to stay the hand of cruelty from these time-honored People which have given them as well as us our Bible, our religion, and our knowledge of God.”

When Blackstone introduced a resolution in support of Zionism, however, it was voted down – primarily due to Reform rabbis in attendance who rejected the concept of Jewish nationhood.

Blackstone was convinced that the only cure for the horrors confronting European Jewry was a Jewish homeland in Palestine. In 1891 he sent a petition to President Benjamin Harrison signed by 413 prominent Americans – including the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the speaker of the House, the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, many members of Congress as well as such notables as J.P. Morgan, John D. and William Rockefeller, and Cyrus McCormick. Known as the Blackstone Memorial it concluded:

 

      Why not give Palestine back to them [the Jews] again? According to God’s distribution of nations it is their home and inalienable possession from which they were expelled by force. Under their possession it was a remarkable and fruitful land sustaining millions of Israelites…We believe this an appropriate time for all nations and especially the Christian nations of Europe to show kindness to Israel. A million of exiles, by their terrible suffering, are piteously appealing to our sympathy, justice and humanity. Let us now restore to them the land of which they were so cruelly despoiled by our Roman ancestors.

 

Justice Louis Brandeis wrote concerning Blackstone’s petition, “The arguments which Mr. Blackstone used in that petition were in large part the arguments which the great Herzl presented five years later in setting forth to the world the needs and the hopes of the Jewish People.”

Question: What motivated Blackstone to take on such a monumental task?

Answer: He was a devout evangelical Christian.

This historical footnote to the beginnings of Zionism came to mind some months ago when I received an e-mail from Rabbi Moshe Kushner, executive director of the Chicago Rabbinical Council, forwarding to the Orthodox rabbinate an e-mail soliciting our reactions to the report of the Iraq Study Group. Circulated by Mike Evans Ministries, its purpose was to dissuade President Bush from following through on the Study’s advice.

Evans, an evangelical minister, is the founder of the Jerusalem Prayer Team, whose purpose is to “have one million people praying daily and 100,000 houses of worship praying weekly for the peace and protection of the Jewish People.”

Today, when Israel is increasingly viewed as the underlying cause of all the tumult and terror emanating from the Middle East, it is especially important to clearly understand the deep affection evangelicals have for the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

Sadly, perhaps tragically, other than Israeli government officials and American organizations such as AIPAC, most Jews tend to express misgivings about the philo-Semitism of American Evangelicals. Yet it has become ever more apparent that their support of Israel, and Jews in general, is a major factor in determining White House and Congressional support for the Jewish state.

While not wishing to present a formal theological paper on Evangelical beliefs, I think it important for us to visit some of the major underpinnings of the faith promulgated by the fastest growing Christian churches in the U.S. today.

For many centuries, Christianity fostered something called replacement theology, according to which the Jewish refusal to accept the Nazarene as messiah resulted in the Church assuming the status of New Israel and inheriting the prophetic promises of God’s benevolence to the Jews, or Old Israel.

It is to replacement theology – the nullification of the Jews as God’s chosen people and its natural extension of ascribing to the Jew every form of evil, including deicide – that Christian anti-Semitism owes both its beginnings and subsequent growth.

Even in recent decades, most mainline churches that claim to have disavowed this significant source of anti-Semitism and replaced it with what is commonly referred to as covenant theology (in which Jews and the State of Israel enjoy no special theological status) still have tremendous difficulty dealing with the reality of the Jewish people.

About the Author: Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz is the rav of Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation in Chicago. During his nearly five decades in the rabbinate he has led congregations in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom and served as an officer, Executive Committee member and chair of the Legislative Committee of the Chicago Rabbinical Council.


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