Rabbi Soloveitchik Wants United Action Against Missionary Threat (Vol. 29, Issue 5)
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik addressed the students and faculty of the three Hebrew divisions in a special assembly convoked “to meet one of the most awesome challenges in the millenia of our history.”
Rabbi Soloveitchik discussed and analyzed the evangelical missions of the Christian Church in Israel and the Diaspora and the Ecumenical Council schema on anti-Semitism. This was the first time that Rabbi Soloveitchik has lectured before the student bodies on modern problems facing Jewry. He spoke at Nathan Lamport Auditorium on Thursday, November 21.
The problems facing Jewry today, stated Rabbi Soloveitchik, are the same that faced Jacob. Esau asked Jacob’s scouts, “Whose are you — and where are you going?” These two questions are now being asked by another Esau in a “new guise” — the Church, both Protestant and Roman Catholic. They ask to whom do you belong as a spiritual personality and what is your ultimate goal and way of life? Who is after G-d?
Our answers now, declared Rabbi Soloveitchik, are no different from those in the time of Jacob. Jacob and what he represented are highly relevant in 1963. “We are committed to Jacob and the G-d of Israel… This is our only answer… No compromise and no retreat… We follow our destiny, we defy even our own common sense… we have our commitment.” Rabbi Soloveitchik’s address was fervid and emotional, but he spoke clearly and lucidly. “The Church suggests to us directly and indirectly a revision of our 2,000 year old decision against Christianity and its founder. The Church has decided to approach us again. The aim of the Church is to convert the Jews in Israel to Christianity and they are approaching us with these [Esau’s] questions.
“The evangelical mission of the Church is unequivocally a part of its dogma. Both Protestants and Roman Catholics concur on this mission, although they may differ slightly. While in the past the baptism of a single Jew — one, ten, or one thousand — was the goal, today the Church is out to evangelize the whole Jewish community as such.”
The rise of the State of Israel is a prime reason for the new evangelical interests. The Church has taught that Jews can never return to Zion because they rejected Jesus, yet, they see that the State of Israel is established.
They are thus faced with a contradiction between theory and reality. According to Rabbi Soloveitchik, the Church’s solution is baptism. Since the Jewish State is now secular, the Church sees a secular Jew, one who abandoned his identity as a “member of a metaphysical, Masoretic group.”
“The Church now feels that it is possible to explore a reconciliation between the Jewish community and the Church. There is no need for Meshumodim, converts, who are cast from Jewish society, for the new breed they hope to create will have reconciled within itself both Judaism and Christianity.”
These are only two of the factors leading to the increase of evangelical interest. He also included Reform Judaism and the fact that the Jew of today has despiritualized his life. The Church realizes this and knows that since the human being needs eternal roots evangelization is now possible.
Rabbi Soloveitchik called for a law against missionaries in Israel. He described the law as not only “desirable” but also “indispensable.” He did not see any conflict with freedom of religion.
Rabbi Soloveitchik’s opening remark was one of anguish and sadness. He said, “I want to relate to you the disturbing thoughts on my mind, and to show you the anxiety felt among us.”
One disturbing thought, although not explicitly stated, was his deep displeasure at the reaction of the Jewish community to the communique if the Ecumenical Council. The communique stated that the Jewish people are absolved of any special responsibility for the crucifixion. Dr. Soloveitchik was upset that organizations hailed the communique without reading the complete document (the communique only described the highlights) or waiting for it to be approved by the Ecumenical Council.
Rabbi Soloveitchik viewed the schema as an “evangelical document, a call for the Jewish people to be baptized. It is not a document of liberalism.” He cited Cardinal Ruffini’s question before the Ecumenical Council as one that supports his views. Cardinal Ruffini asked why the statement regarding the Jews should be included in the schema of the Christian community. Obviously, observed Rabbi Soloveitchik, he did not comprehend that Jews are being considered as brethren similar to Protestants.
Dr. Soloveitchik’s speech was met with a standing ovation and a determined effort by the students to alleviate the missionary problem in Israel.