It was a day like any other day in the beit medrash in Mevasseret Zion, Israel. Rav Sinai Adler, zt”l, a Holocaust survivor, sat in the front of the beit medrash studying Torah in his well-known sing-song tune. A student approached him to let him know that German supporters of Israel were visiting the Beit Medrash. Enraged, Rav Sinai had them removed not just from the beit medrash but from the Yeshiva campus. “Eisav sonei es Yaakov” (the descendants of Eisav will always hate the descendants of Yaakov) he explained. “The Germans are not our friends.”
Rav Sinai ejecting the Germans from the yeshiva always stuck with me, as well as his constant message to never trust gentiles. So the first time I heard Pastor John Hagee speak, I was sick to my stomach. Ten thousand Jews around me stood and cheered his every proclamation of Israel being in the right and that there’s no truth but the Torah. I sat in my seat nauseated by what I was hearing. When I retuned to Israel, I asked Rav Sinai about Christian Evangelicals and their support of Israel. Instead of repeating “Eisav sonei es Yaakov,” he told me if the Christians feel that supporting Israel is in their best interests, the Jewish people should trust and welcome them.
On Tuesday this week the Boca Raton Synagogue hosted many pro-Israel speakers, from Ambassador David Friedman to Governor Ron DeSantis, at a night to celebrate Israel. One of the speakers was Pastor Mario Bramnick, the president of the Latino Coalition for Israel. Pastors aren’t the usual speakers at a synagogue, and Pastor Bramnick’s appearance was cause for controversy among some very angry opponents of the event.
Opponents criticized having a pastor speak at a synagogue. Some claimed that halacha forbids bringing a Christian pastor to speak at a synagogue. A synagogue is a place of Jewish prayer and study, they asserted; to invite a Christian, let alone a Christian clergyman, to speak is sacrilegious, and it makes no difference if they are supporters of Israel or not – they don’t belong on a shul bimah speaking to Jews from the same platform that Torah scholars teach G-d’s word.
Other critics focused on Pastor Bramnick’s statements about evangelizing to Jews. A video of a mashup of Pastor Bramnick’s statements about missionizing to Jews was put together and posted to YouTube. They claimed it is common sense not to bring a pastor set on converting Jews into a synagogue, and by promoting Pastor Bramnick’s participation in a synagogue event, the synagogue would be placing him in a position in which uninformed Jews might believe he represents a Jewish view. The synagogue, they said, would be giving a missionizing pastor much more ability to reach out to vulnerable Jews who don’t know his true intentions. Even a Pro-Israel pastor is no friend of the Jews if his goal is to convert Jews to Christianity.
I considered these criticisms but still feel Rabbi Efrem Goldberg and the Boca Raton Synagogue made the correct choice by inviting Pastor Bramnick to speak at their synagogue. Israel needs the support of the Christian community, especially in America; it doesn’t have the luxury of picking its friends. After asking about Pastor Bramnick, I found him to be an ideal Christian friend of Israel who we should appreciate and invite to our events at both synagogues and homes.
Pastor Bramnick has taught about the lessons preached to Jews, but I’ve found no evidence of his missionizing to Jews. Evangelical Christians believe in spreading the teachings of Christianity to the world, but that doesn’t mean they are involved in missionizing. “L’havdil,” Jews believe in teaching gentiles about the seven Noahide laws. Rabbis teach about informing Christians, Muslims and people of all faiths of keeping the seven Noahide laws, but few, if any, preach and try to convert gentiles from their religious beliefs. I found the same to be true of Pastor Bramnick.
The congregation of the Boca Raton Synagogue consists of intelligent Jews. They regularly study Torah and are astute in the political issues of the day. They are the cream of the crop of the American Jewish community. Their rabbi, Efrem Goldberg, knows them and doesn’t fear they’ll be moved to convert to Christianity by a relationship with a pastor. Trusting your congregants is a sign of a successful rabbi; and Rabbi Goldberg knows to trust his synagogue’s members.
The critics of this event who reached out to me seemed to lack the nuance to differentiate between inviting a missionary into a synagogue and inviting a pastor to talk about his support of Israel. In interacting with them, it seemed clear they saw devil’s horns on the head of every pastor and couldn’t accept that there could be friends of Israel and the Jewish people in the Christian community. This is tragic. America will only continue to support Israel if its Christian citizens stand strong with Israel. I’m a firm believer that Israel’s future is in the hands of Hashem, but I also recognize that Hashem created a world where we must secure our people’s future. The Jewish people must enlist Christian friends, even those we don’t agree with theologically, to ensure America’s support of Israel.
I applaud Rabbi Goldberg and the Boca Raton Synagogue for hosting a night to celebrate Israel. Putting a night together to celebrate a country thousands of miles away, reaching out to non-Jewish friends, hosting incredible speakers, and all to rally support for Israel, is commendable. While not every Israeli is aware this event is happening on our behalf, those of us who know are greatly appreciative. We look forward to welcoming Israel’s American supporters – Jews and non-Jews alike – on their next trip to Israel.
(Editor’s note: This article was written before the event with Pastor Bramnick took place Tuesday evening.)