By: Commentator Staff  | 

From the Archives: Rabbi Soloveitchik and the Christian Mission

Editor’s Note: In 1963, the Catholic Church convened the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, focusing on the relationship between the Church and other nations, with a focus on the Jewish people. At the same time, they were accused of sending missionaries to the land of Israel in an effort to convert Jews to their religion. Rabbi Soloveitchik wrote “Confrontation” to address this issue. He also addressed the undergraduate student body of Yeshiva University, informing them of the danger. The following set of archives detail the responses of Rabbi Soloveitchik and the students of Yeshiva University to the Catholic mission. 

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Title: From the Archives (November 20, 1963; Volume 29 Issue 4) — The Catholics — Retraction

Author: Mitchel Wolf and The Commentator Governing Board of 1963-4

Throughout the ages the appellation “Christ Killers” has been associated with the Jewish people. Persecution and persecutors followed the Jew wherever he lived, wherever he travelled. Inquisition, crusades, and mass murders were the methods employed to punish the people accused of participating in the death of Jesus. During these periods of massacres the Catholic Church often remained silent; frequently, it participated. 

Only after examining the Catholic-Judaic relationship in history can we welcome the recent communique discussing the document, “The Attitudes of Catholics Toward Non-Christians, Particularly Toward the Jews.” 

The communique, issued two weeks ago at the Vatican Ecumenical Council, absolves the Jewish people of special responsibility for the crucifixion. 

It further states that preachers and catechists “are admonished never to present a contrary position” to the assertion that “the sacred events of the Bible, and, in particular, its account of the crucifixion, cannot give rise to disdain or hatred or persecution of the Jews.” 

Although the document must be ratified in the Council, it is a significant move to combat anti-Semitism. We cannot, however, foresee the end of anti-Semitism in the near future. Too many youths and adults have been taught to persecute the Jews. To believe that this one document will end years of teaching is unrealistic. We hope that the Catholic Church will not stop with the approval of this document and will continue its fight to end intolerance in the world. 

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Title: From the Archives (December 4, 1963; Volume 29 Issue 5) — Rabbi Soloveitchik Wants United Action Against Missionary Threat 

Author: Steven Prystowsky 

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. 

Eternal Problems 

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. 

Church Dogma

“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.” 

Reconciliation 

“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. 

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Title: From the Archives (December 4, 1963; Volume 29 Issue 5) — We Must Overcome — An Editorial 

Author: Mitchel Wolf and The Commentator Governing Board of 1963-4

The problem of missionaries in Israel has always been disturbing and at last concrete action is being taken by a large number of Jewish organizations. Coverage in the Jewish papers is now extensive, though a great deal of space has unfortunately been wasted on exaggerations of picketing by yeshiva students. 

Here at Yeshiva, questions have been raised concerning the problem to Mrs. Golda Meir, Dr. Yitzchak Raphael, and Dr. Joseph Burg. And undoubtedly the stirring speech of Rabbi Soloveitchik alerted the entire student body to the scope of the mission menace. 

Questions may still rage but the time for action is now. With a positive program mapped out, a student coordinating commission is currently in the process of enlisting the aid of American Jewry to voice a unified protest against missions. 

Represented on the committee are leaders of Yeshiva College, RIETS, TI, JSP, Mizrachi Hatzair, Yavneh, Z’eiri Agudas Yisrael, and Young Israel with the list still growing. Some of the tasks  which the committee is undertaking include: 

1) Collecting and disseminating information. An extensive effort is being made to collect accurate and detailed information on the scope of missionary activity. Pamphlets from missions are available plus reports of organizations which are actively engaged in combating the evangelists and eyewitness reports from students in Israel. 

2) A fund raising campaign. The money collected (and a drive is now underway in the morning divisions of YU) will go to aid anti-missionary organizations and help supply information to the Jewish populace. 

3) A petition. This will present in outline form the need for a law to outlaw missions in Israel plus a possible formulation of that law based on statutes now extant in Egypt, India, and many of the new Afro-Asian countries. 

4) A symposium. Jewish intellectuals from all walks of life will be asked to state their opinions on missionary activities and use their moral suasion on the Israeli government in a plea for action.

The committee needs active support. The students of Yeshiva must play a vital role in raising money, collecting information, and obtaining signatures. If we can show the Israeli government 100,000 names, we can expect to arouse the concern of the Knesset

We finally have a chance to do more than bemoan a situation. There is no time to waste. Saving a Jewish child from shmad is equivalent halachically to saving a life and the opportunity is ours, now! 

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Title: From the Archives (December 4, 1963; Volume 29 Issue 5) — Letter Reveals What Is Going On!

Author: A.U. Michelson

Ed. Note: We have no doubt heard much about missionaries. We have seen, however, little of their work. The following is a typical form letter circulated by “Christ for the Jews,” The Hebrew Evangelization Society, Inc. It needs no explanation. 

November 1, 1963 

Dear Friend: 

There is evidence of a great upsurge in missionary activity among the Jews. New doors are opening everywhere and the spirit of Christ is moving in the hearts of our people. This is not surprising, because dear to the heart of the Saviour is the salvation of His own brethren after the flesh. The Scriptural order is, “The Gospel to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.” 

God has blessed our broadcast and used it to play an important part in binding up the affairs of this age. Not only do we reach thousands of Jews each day from coast to coast, but in our preaching campaigns through this country and Canada men and women have surrendered their lives to Christ. 

The suffering of the Jewish refugees in Algiers is still very great. The children suffer the most for they are undernourished and in very poor health. Many suffer from various diseases and some of them even have tuberculosis. In order to save their lives, we have decided to send as many as possible to a children’s home in Switzerland. For ten weeks they will get nourishing food and proper treatment. They will hear the Gospel and be told about Christ. The cost is $35.00 for one child. 

In answer to prayer, the Lord has sent in the means to send 32 children to this home in Switzerland. Our missionary, Mrs. Chalhoub, informed us that 23 children have been sent and as soon as there is room available in the children’s home the rest will be sent there. 

In her letter, Mrs. Chalhoub wrote: “I think it is wonderful to be able to send all those Jewish children to a place where they will get nourishing food and proper treatment and where they will have Bible study several times a week. They will hear the Gospel story and we pray that they will be moved to accept Christ.” 

We would like to send many more of the suffering Jewish children to this children’s home, for we want to save their lives and win them to Christ. How we pray that the Lord will fill your heart with compassion for them, for then you will be willing to sacrifice. 

At this Thanksgiving season, you will wish to express your gratitude to the Lord for all the blessings He has bestowed upon you. He is calling you to help this Mission, that we may be able to bring many more Jews to Him. What joy will fill your heart on Thanksgiving Day, knowing you have cooperated with the Lord to save precious Jewish souls. 

Wishing you a very blessed Thanksgiving and praying God’s benediction upon you, we remain

Yours in His service for Israel, 

A.U. MICHELSON 

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