A Guide to Judaism for Evangelicals Corrects Misconceptions, and Confronts Ugly Truths

Feb. 16 2021

In Separated Siblings, John E. Phelan, Jr., an evangelical pastor and scholar, attempts to explain to his coreligionists the basic facts of Judaism, its relationship with Christianity, and Jewish history. Gerald McDermott notes a few “gaps,” especially pertaining to Zionism and Israel, but overall finds the book both informative and effective:

Christian readers will find resonance in Jewish texts they might otherwise overlook. The kaddish, for example, is a daily Jewish prayer that begins with words nearly identical to the first petition in the Lord’s Prayer: “May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified.” Phelan observes that while the Talmud . .  . might appear, to outsiders, as obsessed with “minor matters” of religious law, faithful Jews regard it as a divine guide to everyday holiness that puts reason to work “in service of love and obedience.”

This book should also surprise readers who have been led to believe that God rejected the Jews as His chosen people when most 1st-century Jews rejected Jesus as their messiah. Phelan argues that while God’s covenant with Moses was conditional on Israel’s obedience, His covenant with Abraham was unconditional. Moses warned that God’s people would lose control of the land if they turned to idolatry (Deuteronomy 28:36), but they would remain God’s chosen.

If the surprises Phelan documents are intriguing, they are also painful. He highlights many moments in the last two millennia when Christian leaders taught hatred for and persecution of Jews. Erasmus, for instance, refused a trip to Spain because it was too “full of Jews.” Martin Luther preached that if Jews would not convert, “We [Christians] should neither tolerate nor endure them among us.”

Of particular interest is Phelan’s treatment of the great mid-century European Protestant religious thinkers: the Swiss theologian Karl Barth (cited frequently by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik) and the German pastors Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who founded the Confessing Church as an alternative to the Nazis’ official racialized Christianity) and Martin Niemöller (best known for his saying, “First they came for the socialists, . . . then they came for the Jews. . . .”).

As Phelan explains, even Barth, Bonhoeffer, and Niemöller, who “spoke out against the Nazis and anti-Semitism” before and during World War II, nevertheless in their “records reveal anti-Jewish stances and equivocal support for Germany’s Jews until it was once again too late.” The Barmen Declaration (1934) famously declared that Jesus Christ was Germany’s only leader (Führer), but it said nothing about the persecution of Jews because “the Confessing Church would not have accepted it.”

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Read more at Christianity Today

More about: Anti-Semitism, Jewish-Christian relations, New Testament

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter