The conference addressed a different type of missionary organization, who are experiencing historically unprecedented success today in their ultimate attempt to influence religious Jews. As of today, one can’t point to these groups and say definitively that they have converted religious Jews, but given the overall goal, this isn’t their initial intention. They know they can’t impulsively run to a religious Jew and convince him to accept Jesus. The long term plan requires patience. They want to infiltrate previously unreachable religious communities and plant strong roots; and they have done so.
“Who is wise, he who can foresee the future.” (Ethics of the Forefathers)
The first speaker, Rabbi Yehudah Richter of Elon Moreh, delivered a passionate speech about the disturbing phenomenon of religious Jews, presumably committed to Torah, working with evangelical missionaries. A major factor behind this relationship, stems from the fact that there is tremendous financial advantage to be gained from utilizing evangelical resources. He cited the biblical example of the notorious Datan and Aviram who also profited financially from Jewish slavery during the Egyptian exile. This might explain why when Moshe saved Datan from an assault on his person by killing his Egyptian assailant, Datan informed on Moshe to the Egyptian authorities. Moshe had to flee for his life. Later on when Hashem instructs Moshe to return to Egypt, he explains that all those who wanted to kill him were dead.
The obvious question is how could Hakadosh Baruch Hu say that ALL were dead? The Gemara in (Masechet Avoda Zara 5a) identifies those who desired Moshe’s death as being Datan and Aviram, who we find later on, causing trouble in the midbar. The same Gemara provides an answer: The death is not literal. They were akin to being dead, because they lost all their money. The Gemara equates the dead with the poor, on some level.
As an American born English speaker, Rabbi Richter referenced a linguistic obstacle that prevents many Israelis from seeing the problem. Bringing his own life experiences growing up among urban blacks in the U.S. to illustrate a point, he pointed out humorously that in the inner city “bad” is good, and good is bad. He’s bad means “he’s alright.” He explained that only someone who understands the cultural context can interpret the message correctly. Similarly, evangelical Christians have a sophisticated terminology that is lost on Hebrew speakers, even those who fancy that they have a grasp of the English language. They miss the context in the the same manner that I continue to miss many popular Hebrew terms of slang. Furthermore, they have no reference point for understanding evangelical Christians.
Using another example, Rabbi Richter noted that when one wants to know what Arabs really think about Jews, you don’t watch CNN, the BBC, or even FOX for that matter; you refer to the Arab media where they use their own language.
Rabbi Richter reflected on the dual threat of Esav as illustrated by the famous drush on the biblical verse: “Deliver me, I pray Thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and smite me, the mother with the children.”(Genesis 32:10) Historically, Brother Esau has come with the sword to force Jews to the cross. Sometimes he comes with love in his heart and an olive branch in his hands. Finally, Rabbi Richter noted that the Jews of Egypt made a fundamental error when they eschewed the isolation of Goshen for Egyptian society. Similarly, religious Jews in the region have opened their homes and their communities to dangerous external forces.
Jewish Israel’s presentation hosted by Public Relations Director Shulamit Leibler addressed the various efforts, tactics, and motivations of the many different evangelical christian organizations active throughout Israel and Samaria. One such group, Hayovel, “The Jubilee,” headed by Tommy Waller, is prominent in the region for their volunteer program in assisting religious agricultural communities with their harvests. Jewish Israel noted that Hayovel is one organization out of many who utilize a subtle process of assimilating themselves into Israeli society by gradually blurring the distinction between Jew and gentile, as a means of “grafting” themselves onto the Jewish people’s covenant, by introducing Jews to “yeshua” (missionary terminology for jesus). Furthermore, a primary aspect of their ideology platform maintains that Eretz Yisroel belongs to them as well. Sherri Waller and others have frequently reflected these views: