Oy vey. Christians are co-opting another non-christian event. We have Hal Lindsey, author of the Late Great Planet Earth, for this new development.
Lindsey’s book — a huge best seller — described an Armageddon theology in which the modern state of Israel stands as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy, setting in motion a series of events that will culminate with the second coming of Christ. Essentially Lindsey advocated a respect not just for Israel but also for the Jewish people, who were, after all, chosen of God. For many old-guard Protestants, who grew up hearing Jews described as “Christ-killers,” this shift was disorienting.
I recall the shift to the near idolization of anything Jewish. Such a fascinating people, they were God’s “chosen ones.” I recall hearing fellow church members yearn for the day when they could finally meet one of these fascinating people. Evidently that hasn’t changed much.
Rabbi Eliot Pearlson of Temple Menorah, a traditional conservative synagogue in Miami Beach, tells me that he began to notice non-Jews borrowing the traditions and trappings of his faith roughly 20 years ago. He has encountered Christians holding seders, being married under chuppahs and wearing prayer shawls over their clothes. He says some Christians wear zizit with red thread rather than blue to symbolize the blood of Christ. And a growing number of evangelicals travel to Israel partly to obtain Jewish ritual objects like skullcaps and rams’ horns.
Evangelist John Hagee is even getting in on the fad.
If anyone can serve as a weather vane for this phenomenon, it’s John Hagee, an influential Charismatic preacher and the inspiration to Brian and Tara Lewis. His sermon “The Mystery of the Prayer Shawl” is available on CD. “The tallit, or prayer shawl, designed by God, has been worn by devout Jews for centuries,” his Web site explains. “Its legacy is woven throughout the Old and New Testaments. It still carries the power to energize your prayer life.” For $49, believers can also buy a blue-and-gold tallit made in the Holy Land. Hagee fervently supports Israel, believes that the Jews must return there before Jesus will come again and claimed in a 1999 sermon that prophesies in the Old Testament proved that God enabled the Holocaust. “God allowed it to happen,” Hagee said. “God said, ‘My top priority to the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.’ ”
Oh, boy. Now we’re mixing end times prophecy into the mix. Jeepers. So… how do rabbis feel about this phenomena?
Rabbi Jason Miller, a member of Rabbis Without Borders, takes an attitude of tolerance toward Christian bar mitzvahs. As a practitioner of the Torah, he is interested in sharing “Jewish wisdom with the entire community.” When I mentioned the TLC reality show to him, Rabbi Miller said Brian and Tara Lewis have “the right to their belief” that their son “is more authentically Jewish” because of Christ. Then he continued: “Is it insulting? Yeah. It bothers me in my gut. But I have to take a step back.”
Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr disagrees:
“Bar mitzvah, by its very language, indicates that the honoree is a Jew,” she tells me. “Belief in Jesus as a deity or savior is incompatible with Judaism. It takes a special kind of presumption to declare oneself a more authentic version of a religion other than one’s own.”