The Conversion Factor
A preacher, a rabbi, and the "Jews for Jesus" debate
By Don Finto and Rabbi Stephen Fuchs
On Feb. 9 of this year, Don Finto, minister at The Belmont Church,
stepped onto the podium to deliver his Sunday sermon. By the time he had
finished, he had sparked a theological firestorm that still rages
Finto's thesis was that Christians are biblically mandated to
convert Jews to the teachings of Christ. It was not a new idea, but when
word of the sermon got out, many in Nashville's Jewish community were
upset--just as Jews, for centuries before them, have been upset by calls
for their conversion. Finto's sermon touched off a generally enlightened
debate in which he has been pitted against Stephen Fuchs, rabbi at The
Temple, Congregation Ohabai Shalom, which is Nashville's largest Reform
Finto, a former teacher of German at David Lipscomb University, is no
stranger to controversy. His Belmont Church began as a congregation of the
Church of Christ, but it soon moved beyond traditional Church of Christ
dogma; guitars and amplified music were even allowed during worship
services. What had once been a quiet neighborhood church exploded,
attracting adherents to the Jesus Movement of the '70s as well as plenty of
Music Row types. Eventually, his congregation severed all ties with the
Church of Christ establishment. All the while, the Belmont Church has never
abandoned conservative fundamentalist theology.
Nashville's Jewish community first became aware of Finto's Feb. 9
sermon when The Jewish Observer, a local newspaper, published a letter
written by physician Robert O. Begtrup. In his letter, Begtrup quoted from
Finto's sermon and asked whether a call for conversion might not, in fact,
worsen relations between Christians and Jews. Upon reading Begtrup's
letter, Fuchs obtained a tape of Finto's sermon. After listening to the
tape, he was troubled. "It said to target us," Fuchs says.
As important players in the city's religious community, Fuchs and Finto
have had a long-standing relationship. Finto even attended Fuchs' son's bar
mitzvah. But Fuchs, a staunch advocate for the preser-vation of the Jewish
faith, felt the need to make a public reply to Finto's sermon. He delivered
his own sermon during services at The Temple on May 2.
By that time, Tennessean reporter Ray Waddle, probably the city's most
influential voice on local religious affairs, had written about the war of
words. So when Fuchs delivered his response, radio and TV stations turned
the event into a media event.
For Fuchs, the moment must have had a special significance. After 11
years at The Temple, he had recently agreed to accept a new position in
Hartford, Conn. Although he has represented a minority of Nashville's
citizens, he has always been a forthright, sometimes controversial
spokesman for Nashville's Jews. Just months before his announced departure
from Nashville, he had become front-page news again.
Some fundamentalist churches have recently revved up their crusades to
convert Jews to Christianity. Last year, for instance, the Southern Baptist
Convention issued a renewed call for its members to preach Jesus to the
Jews, even setting up a special office for the proselytizing of Jews. A
number of ministers have risen to support Finto in his debate with
On the other hand, in recent days, the executive boards of two local
ministers' organizations--the Covenant Association and the
Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship--have expressed their concern over
The debate--which has involved counter-sermons, radio talk-show
appearances, and television coverage--has centered on the essential
differences between the Jewish and Christian faiths. It is a topic that is
not often discussed openly, even in a religion-conscious city like
Finto's sermon follows, along with Fuchs' response.
The Rise of Messianic Judaism
Excerpts from a sermon delivered by Don Finto
Ezekiel 37 Romans 11:15
The Belmont Church
Feb. 9, 1997
Henry Blackaby taught us something really significant in his book
Experiencing God when he said our role in life is to find out what God is
doing and join Him.
A prophetic fulfillment is taking place in our generation that has not
taken place in any generation before us. Ezekiel 37 spoke of it in his
vision of the valley of dry bones. The dry bones (Israel) have come to
life. The breath (Spirit) of God is entering her. Romans 11 tells about it.
"If their (Israel's) rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what
will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" (Romans 11:15)
Ezekiel is a Jewish prophet. Paul (who wrote Romans) is a
Jesus-believing Jew speaking primarily to Gentiles. "My heart's desire to
God for Israel is that they may be saved. They have a zeal for God, but not
according to knowledge. They have not known the righteousness that comes
from God through faith and have gone about to establish their own
righteousness." (Romans 10:1,2) "Did God reject His people? Did they
stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? No, not at all! Rather because of
their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel
envious." (Romans 11:1,11) "Is there ever going to come a time in history
when the Jews will accept Jesus?"
Paul is saying, "Yes" is his answer. Our role, as Gentiles, is to live
in a way that makes the Jews envious of what we have. Unfortunately, we
have not done a very good job of it.
In his incredible book, One New Man, Reuven Doron tells his
testimony of wrestling with God and seeking God until he finally came to
the end of himself. Reuven was teaching Hebrew to a Scottish, blue-eyed,
blond man. One day Reuven asked him why he, a Scottish Gentile, was
studying Hebrew. The man answered, "I want to be able to read the Bible in
its original language." Reuven laughed. "Why do you want to read the Bible?
It's just a bunch of tales."
This man and Reuven began to have long conversations. Reuven asked many
questions. "Is there really a God?" "If this God is as personal as you say
He is, how do I get to know Him?" The man would respond, "Seek His face."
Night after night this agnostic, secular, Israeli-born Jew who had served
in the Six Day War in 1967 would kneel in the tall grass behind his house,
crying out to God.
Finally, one night alone in the dark, living far from his native Israel,
he began to count the cost. Reuven later wrote, "Truly, Jesus is indeed a
major stumbling block for a Jewish person. The veil upon our eyes is truly
thick and it is even made thicker by the atrocities we have suffered for
centuries at the hand of Christians. But now, I knew I needed a Savior. I
was beginning to understand that there was no way to be reconciled to the
Father without one. So I offered up the last question I found in my soul,
that question that was hidden deep beneath the pile of mental and
philosophical garbage that first had to be spewed out. From deep within me
welled up a cry that reached the heavens. This one came, not from a
calculating and manipulating mind, but born from desperate need, from deep
conviction and an intense longing for a living, loving God. I could not
escape any longer asking Him this one last question: `Do I need him? Do I
need the Nazarene in order to come to You?' This question came from genuine
anger and frustration. I felt cornered by God. Trapped between my need and
His love, I had no way of escape.
"This time God answered! Out of heaven came an arrow of revelation
piercing through the darkness of the night, the world, and my soul. His
word now sparked my spirit alive with a blaze of truth, and He said, `Yes'
and `Amen! You need the Nazarene!' "
This is not an isolated story. God is doing a remarkable thing in our
day. Some of our brothers were recently involved in Messianic outreaches in
Russia and Eastern Europe in which tens of thousands received Jesus. Over
half of them were Jews. Many were survivors of the Holocaust, accepting
Jesus as their Messiah.
That is a miracle.
I recently visited with a couple who had moved to Nashville, she Jewish
and he a Gentile believer. She had been in a terrible automobile accident
and was crippled for eight and a half years, the left side of her body at
one point paralyzed. She kept meeting people who talked to her about Jesus.
She was irate. "I am Jewish, and we do not believe in Jesus."
One of her friends gave her the "Four Spiritual Laws" [a Christian
tract]. She read it and thought casually about praying to receive Jesus.
"But I do not want to receive Jesus! I do not believe in him and do not
want him in my heart," she thought. Almost flippantly she said, "Jesus, if
you are real, I need to know it. Amen."
Her bones began to crack. Her spine straightened. She threw away her
braces and her crutches. Even astigmatism she had had since childhood was
God is showing Himself to His people.
A lot of Jewish people are atheists and agnostics. A lot of Jews in the
Reform movement do not know whether they believe in anything--do not know
what they believe about God. Many do not accept the Torah as the Word of
Remember my telling you about the Hollywood producer who was a Jewish
atheist. He had become addicted to drugs and alcohol. His wife had left him
with their young daughter. Everything was falling apart. He went out on the
beach in back of his Malibu home, lifted his hands to a God in whom he did
not believe, and cried, "Help!" He went into his den and Jesus appeared to
him. He called some of his friends. They thought he was high. At a
Hollywood party six weeks later, he met the couple who would tell him more
about his Messiah.
This is one of the things God is doing in our generation. We Gentile
believers must have a heart affirming what God is doing.
Paul's letter to the Ephesians is written predominantly to Gentiles.
Ephesus was a Gentile city. "Remember," Paul says, "that at that time you
were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel."
"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought
near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made
the two one." (Ephesians 2:11ff)
Two have become one. Who are these two who have become one? Jew and
Gentile. There are three marriages in the letter to the Ephesians: man and
woman, Christ and his people, Jew and Gentile. When man and woman go into a
marriage covenant, do they lose their distinctiveness? Do they start
wearing the same kind of clothes? Do they pretend to have bodies that
function the same way? No, they maintain their distinctiveness, but they
The same is to be true of the Jew/Gentile relationship. The early
believers in Jesus were all Jewish. Then the body of Christ became
predominantly Gentile. Today the body of the Messiah is becoming both Jew
and Gentile. The two are becoming one, while maintaining their identity.
Jews do not become Gentiles. Gentiles do not become Jews. Yet we become one
We are watching resurrected Jewish-believing synagogues (they do not
call it church; that is a Gentile word) rise around the world. The
dysfunctional Gentile church is gradually becoming one. When each of these
groups matures, becomes "marriageable" age, then the two can finally become
one and the Lord can come to call for his "Jew/Gentile" bride.
In a recent meeting of Jewish and Gentile believers, we Gentile
believers knelt before our Jewish brothers, saying, "We need your blessing.
You are our older brother. We have usurped your birthright. Forgive us.
Maybe you are thinking, "How does this affect me?" Paul says, in Second
Corinthians 1:20, that we are to say the "Amen" to the promises of God.
"Amen" means affirming what God is doing. When we see what the Lord is
doing, we are to agree with it and pray it.
Look at what God is doing and pray it! We need to begin to pray for the
synagogues in our own city, even if they never come to the Messiah: Rabbi
Posner and the orthodox synagogue, Rabbi Roth and the conservative
synagogue, Rabbi Fuchs at the Temple, and Rabbi Kanter at Congregation
Micah. They do not have to come to the Messiah for us to love them and
It's not this kind of gushy, "They can do no wrong." Of course they can
do wrong. They are sinners just like the rest of us. There is no separate
contract God has with them to come to faith in some special way. They have
to recognize their Messiah. But, it's that we love them, we bless them, we
help them, and we apologize to them.
Part of what is happening in the Reconciliation Walk, the Crusader Walk
[which retraces the Crusaders' route from Spain and Germany to Jerusalem],
is that believers are going into mosques and synagogues through Eastern
Europe and the Mideast confessing the sins of former generations.
"Have mercy on us! Forgive our ancestry for the horrible things we did
900 years ago when the Crusaders went across these lands."
Next March a group of us will go to the sites of the Inquisition--Jew
and Gentile together, confessing the sins of our generations. Let us
encourage Gentile Christians, as individual believers and as churches, to
recognize and grieve over the church's sins against Jews. Let us repent for
all forms of replacement teaching that treated the first covenant as
obsolete and discarded, believing that the church has now taken the place
of the Jews.
Jesus predicted (Luke 21:20-24) the destruction of Jerusalem. Israel
would be scattered among the nations until the time of the Gentiles would
be fulfilled. Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah predicted their regathering
from all the nations. Today there are Chinese Jews, Indian Jews, Ethiopian
Jews, South American Jews, Eastern and Western European Jews, American,
Canadian, and Mexican Jews. They have been scattered to all the nations.
Jesus indicated that when the Jews began returning to the land, it would
be a sign that the end is near. "When you see these things beginning to
take place, stand up and lift up your heads because your redemption is
near." (Luke 21:28) This word is being fulfilled.
Ezekiel speaks of a dual prophetic fulfillment as the Jews 1. return to
their land, and 2. begin to come alive spiritually. According to the head
of the Alliance of Messianic Congregations in Israel, there are today over
300 Messianic congregations in the world. Twenty-five years ago there were
I recently visited the Dallas, Texas, messianic congregation led by the
president of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations. We sang Jewish
songs, recited the Sh'ma, read from the handwritten Torah scroll (words
being read in Jewish synagogues throughout the world). There were prayer
shawls and yarmulkes. We met on the Sabbath. These were Jews, worshiping as
Jews. Many of them had never been to a church.
Our Gentile customs, if we go back far enough, have their origin in
pagan customs. We took the celebration of the Spring Goddess and turned it
into Easter. We take the celebration of when the sun starts coming in and
when the Norwegians brought in their trees, and we celebrate Jesus'
The Jewish holidays all have their origin in God. Gentile Christians,
for centuries, told Jewish believers who began to believe in Jesus that
they needed to give up their Jewishness. Today a group of Jews have arisen
who are saying, "We are Jews and we are believers in Yeshua (Jesus)." They
do not intend to come to our churches. They do not see themselves as having
"converted." They have simply accepted their own Messiah. They circumcise
and bar-mitzvah their sons. Many eat kosher. They use God's calendar, not
the calendar of the western Gentile Christians.
This is exactly what was happening to the apostle Paul, the Jewish
apostle to the Gentiles. He was accused of having forsaken the Torah (Acts
20). To show that he still observed the law (which he saw as fulfilled) he
took a vow and went into the temple. Gentiles were not called to observe
the law (Acts 15), but Jews never forsook it.
Gentile Christians were cautioned not to boast over their Jewish
brothers. "If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the
root supports you." (Romans 11:18)
When Israel took Jerusalem again in 1967, something happened in the
heavens prophetically. Jews began to come to Messiah. Messianic synagogues
began to form around the world. There is now another form of Judaism in our
day: Jews who believe in Jesus.
We Gentile Christians need to encourage that. We need to be a part of
Life from the dead for both the nation of Israel and the Messianic
believing community are a fulfillment of prophecy which indicates the
urgency of our times and the nearness of our Lord's descent.
What are we to do?
First, I call upon you in the name of Jesus, your Jewish Messiah, to
repent of every form of anti-Semitism that is in you personally, every
form. This is the granddaddy of all estrangements. This is an older
estrangement than the interracial, black/white thing. We blacks and whites
are all Gentiles, regardless of our pigmentation. But our salvation comes
from the Jews. (John 4:22)
Second, repent in behalf of the Gentile church. Confess the sins of our
ancestors in the spirit of Daniel 9:4-8: "We have sinned and done wrong. We
are covered with shame."
We are still under God's promise to Abraham. "I will bless those who
bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse." (Genesis 12:3)
Father, in the Name of Jesus, we repent, for the anti-Semitism of which
our forefathers or we have been guilty. We pray blessings upon Israel, upon
Jewish people around the world who have been scattered through the
dispersion. We pray, Lord, that You will draw them back to You. We pray for
the nation Israel that is established by your sovereign decree, for its
rulers, its leaders, that they will be wise. We pray for Netanyahu and all
the people who are around him, for the Knesset, for future leaders of your
people. We pray that Jew and Arab will grow to love each other, that all
will come to acknowledge you.
Due to space limitations, the text of this sermon was edited by Don
Finto for publication in the Scene.
Should Christians Convert Jews?
A sermon delivered by Rabbi Stephen Fuchs
A Response to Don Finto
Congregation Ohabai Shalom
May 2, 1997
I would like to extend a very personal and special welcome tonight to Dr.
Don Finto. There has been much in the media leading up to tonight's
service. I believe Dr. Finto's presence among us tonight raises the event
to the level at which we both wish to conduct it. He delivered a message to
his congregation. I have listened carefully to it. I felt a need to
respond, and he has extended us the courtesy of listening graciously to us.
So we welcome you and we are very honored that you are with us today.
When I was 5 years old, my mother gave me a precious gift. I can still
see that 78 rpm record, with its turquoise-blue label in the center
spinning round and round on my little Victrola, playing over and over again
songs entitled "Little Songs on Big Subjects." One of my favorites was and
is the one that went like this:
"I'm proud to be me, but I also see
You're just as proud to be you."
I have always been proud to be a Jew. I have always tried to respect the
religions of others. That thought motivates my response to Dr. Don Finto
tonight, as that thought has motivated a very great deal of the work I have
tried to do in this community over the past 11 years.
Yet how hurt I was last June when the Southern Baptist Convention
announced a concerted effort to bring Jews to belief in Jesus. In contrast,
how proud I was recently to write a letter to the editor of a Hartford
newspaper expressing my support and my appreciation for two Southern
Baptist ministers there who disavowed publicly their movement's attempt to
convert Jews. These ministers bravely affirmed the legitimacy of religious
diversity. They affirmed the legitimacy of different paths to the one, true
God. Many other Christian scholars have written in a similar vein.
Unfortunately, from my perspective, fundamentalist Christians talk of
their unavoidable claim to follow the "Great Commission" of the 28th
chapter of the book of Matthew and other passages in the New Testament to
bring the word of Jesus to all the nations. But, according to my friend and
my teacher, Prof. A.J. Levine, who has been a frequent speaker at this
Temple, the "Gentile nations" is the reference in Matthew 28. The Greek
word often translated as "nations" has a similar connotation to the Hebrew
word goyim, which means all of the nations except the nation and the
people of Israel. I commend these interpretations to evangelicals, and hope
they will find their way to them.
People ask me, "Why do Jews for Jesus campaigns cause you such pain? Why
do you feel a need to respond so forcefully?" My answer is that I have
learned the lessons of history. I believe that Don Finto's campaign to
bring Jews to Jesus is, as he says it is, motivated by love. But I say,
equally unequivocally, that it is a misguided love. I say that because one
can look at history and see the results--the inevitable results--of this
love as it has played itself out on the pages of history. In country after
country after country, Christians have lovingly expressed their concern for
our salvation and invited us to accept Jesus. Over and over and over again,
when we refused that invitation, that love has turned to venom and hatred.
Often it has led to expulsion and death.
The outstanding contemporary Jewish philosopher, Emil Fackenheim, who
spoke several years ago at the West End Synagogue, put it this way. "The
Holocaust was the culmination of a 2,000-year campaign by the Christian
world against the Jews. It began early on with them telling us, `You cannot
live here as Jews.' And in country after country, they forced us to
convert. Later the message became, `You cannot live here.' And in country
after country, they forced us to leave. Hitler's message was, `You cannot
live.' And they exterminated one-third of our people."
Now, it is a long, long way from the concern and love which Dr. Finto
expresses to Hitler's ovens. I want to make that crystal clear. I do not
now, and I never have, compared Don Finto to Hitler. But what I have said,
and what I shall say, is this. When a Jew accepts Jesus as his or her
Messiah, he or she fulfills no biblical prophecy. When a Jew accepts Jesus
as Messiah, he or she becomes a Christian and leaves the Jewish religious
community. One cannot be both Jew and Christian at the same time. So it has
been for more than 1,800 years, when our religions split and went their
separate ways. So it remains today.
If one wishes to be a Christian, I hope that path brings him or her
spiritual fulfillment. But he or she cannot be a Jew at the same time. So
if the campaign to bring Jews to Jesus meets with its ultimate success, if
it reaches its ultimate goal and every Jew becomes Christian, then the end
result will indeed be as if Hitler had won the war. There will be no more
Jews. That, in a nutshell, is why these campaigns cause such pain.
Four thousand years ago, Abram left the pagan world, along with his
wife, Sarai, to teach of a single, good, caring God who wants us human
beings to use our talents to create a just, caring, compassionate society.
Christians call that justification by works, and they are absolutely 100
percent correct. That is exactly what it is, and that is one of the
fundamental differences between Judaism and Christianity. We justify
ourselves, not by what we believe, but by what we do. I understand and I
respect fully that Christians see it differently, but I know how much good
the world has derived because we Jews have insisted on following our unique
and particular path to God.
And so, my hope: Let us live side by side in mutual respect and peace.
Mutual respect precludes belittling the integrity of our religion as it is.
If Jesus brings fulfillment and satisfaction and meaning in life to
Christians, I say it again, I am happy for them. But Jesus plays no role,
no role whatsoever in the religious thinking of the Jew.
You see, there are three major claims which Christians make for Jesus
which Jews categorically reject: one, that the martyr's death that Jesus
endured in any way effects atonement for the collective sins of humanity or
the sins of the individual; two, we reject the idea that God became or is
likely to become incarnate in any human form, making any human being a
suitable object for worship; and three, we reject that, as Paul contends in
his epistles, the life and death of Jesus rendered the elaborate system of
Jewish law and observances functionally useless. If you believe that any
one of these claims is true, then you may be a Christian, but you are not a
By the time Jesus lived and died, Jewish messianic expectations were
really quite clear. The Messiah our people expected would do four things,
also on your sheet:
1. End the Roman oppression of the Jews
2. Restore a descendant of King David over a reunited Land of Israel
3. Bring about the miraculous return of the scattered exiles to the Land
4. Inaugurate an endless era of peace and harmony in the world
Put quite simply, Jesus did none of these things. Therefore, he cannot
be the Jewish Messiah.
Bible-believing Christians often quote to me, as I am sure they quote to
many of you, passage after passage in the Hebrew scriptures which they say
point unmistakably to events and circumstances of Jesus' life which the New
Testament recounts. "How could this be," they ask, "if Jesus were not the
Messiah of whom the prophets spoke?"
"How can this be?" I answer. "It is very simple. The 18th-century
preacher, the famed Magid of Dubnow in Poland, told a story which answers
Once there was a man riding through the countryside in his wagon. He
came upon a long barn, and on the side of the barn were several targets.
Right smack in the middle of the bull's eye in each and every target was an
The man stopped his carriage and said, "I must meet this person who
shoots so perfectly every time." So he stopped his carriage and found the
owner of the barn. He asked him, "How is it that you never miss hitting the
dead center of the bull's eye every time you shoot your arrow?"
"It's quite easy," the man answered. "You see, first I shoot the arrow
into the barn, and then I draw the target around it."
How do New Testament writings show that Jesus' life and actions comply
with predictions in Hebrew scriptures? It's easy. New Testament writers
wrote their stories so that their accounts of Jesus' life would match the
prophetic passages which they knew so well from Hebrew scriptures.
This past Wednesday, as some of you know, Dr. Finto and I appeared for
two hours on John Ziegler's radio talk show. For me, the highlight of the
evening occurred when Teresa Whitesell-Snyder called to ask Dr. Finto,
"When a Christian gives up Jesus to convert to Judaism, is he still a
Christian?" "No" was his answer, and "Bingo!" was my unspoken response.
That's the point. A Jew for Jesus is every bit as much a contradiction in
terms as a Christian Not for Christ.
Make no mistake. Jews for Jesus, or Messianic Judaism, is big business
backed by big money. They take out full-page ads in Newsweek, in
Time, in The New York Times. Do you have any idea how much
those ads cost? They are on television almost every hour on every day of
the week. There is a magazine called Charisma which Dr. Finto sent
to me. In a recent issue, with a so-called Messianic Rabbi on the cover,
they tell those who would lure Jews away from Judaism what to do and what
not to do.
The article says, " `Do be a friend. Create a sincere friendship first.
Don't just try to convert the Jewish people. Do say `Messiah.' Don't say
`Christ.' Do say `believer.' Don't say `Christian.' Do say `New Covenant'
or `Old Covenant.' Don't say `New Testament' or `Old Testament.' Do say
`congregation.' Don't say `church.' Do say `completed' or `fulfilled.'
Don't say `saved' or `born again.' Do say `Messianic Jew.' Don't say
It is a subtle and crafty and carefully contrived campaign to lure those
Jews who don't really know what it means to be Jewish into another
religious faith. When I hear how Christians claim their tradition compels
them to witness aggressively to Jews, out of their love for Jews, I think
every time of the story of the Hasidic disciple who approached his rebbe
and exclaimed, "Master, I love you!" And the rebbe responded, "Do you know
what hurts me?"
The disciple answered, "No, Rebbe, how can I know what hurts you?"
The rebbe answered him, "If you do not know what hurts me, you cannot
For me, that is the bottom line. You cannot love me, you cannot truly be
my friend, if you do not acknowledge what hurts me so deeply and desist
from inflicting that pain.
One woman, in response to some of the articles in the newspapers,
recently wrote me a letter and said, "Rabbi, how can we not proclaim Jesus
to you? If you had cancer, and I had the cure for cancer, would it not be
an act of friendship and love for me to share my cure with you?"
With all due respect, I do not have, thank God, cancer! I have a faith
which sustains me. I have a faith which I cherish. I have a faith which
makes me a better person than I otherwise would be. I have a faith which is
full and complete, and it is in no need of any cure or any outside
If I wanted to put the argument in biblical terms, I would do it this
way. Did God make a covenant with Abraham? Of course, God did. God promised
the Jewish people protection, progeny, permanence as a people, and
property, the Land of Israel. In return, God stipulated that we, the
children of Israel, had to be a blessing in their lives. (Genesis 12:2) We
have to walk in God's ways and be worthy. (Genesis 17:1) We have to be
teachers and examples of justice and righteousness. (Genesis 18:19) Those
were the terms of the covenant in the book of Genesis that God established
with Abraham and us, Abraham's descendants. Is that covenant irrevocable?
Of course it is. Christian scripture says it over and over again. Is God a
liar? Of course not. So I say to any Christian who would be my friend: We
have our covenant with God. It is complete. It is irrevocable. God is not a
liar. We have no need for Jesus. If you cannot respect our faith, then
please simply leave us alone.
If we really understand the meaning of Abraham's covenant, we understand
too that the entire Christian metaphor of God sacrificing his son on a
cross is antithetical to Jewish teaching. On Rosh Hashanah each year, we
read of how God called Abraham to take Isaac to Mount Moriah to sacrifice
him. At the crucial moment, though, God called to Abraham, "Stop! Do not
lay your hand upon the boy, and do him no harm." The lesson is that no true
religion requires human sacrifice in its name. The lesson is that human
sacrifice is abhorrent to the God we worship.
Next week, Grant Stillman [a bar mitzvah] will read from the Torah that
anyone who commits the abomination of human sacrifice irrevocably cuts
himself off from the people of Israel. It is an abhorrent, unforgivable act
to God. The gospel idea that God would sacrifice his son is antithetical to
Jewish teaching from that day to this. It should surprise no one,
therefore, that Jews do not accept Jesus as Christians do.
Finally, tomorrow, Jamie Hirsch [a bat mitzvah] will continue to read
from the Torah of the ancient rituals for the Holy Day of Yom Kippur. Over
and over, the Torah states, as you will hear Jamie read, that, before the
priests could work the ritual of atonement on the people, they first had to
atone for their own sins and the sins of their household.
To all evangelists, I appeal: Bring the Christian message to the many
Christians whose lives fall far short of it. Atone for yourselves and for
your households! Let us worry about ours!
There was profound wisdom in the words of the song on the record my
mother gave me so long ago: "I am proud to me, but I also see you're just
as proud to be you. It is just human nature, so why should I hate you for
being as human as I? We'll give as we give, if we live and let live, and
we'll both get along if we try."