At a time when much of the Christian world, at least the Protestant part of it, is commemorating the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation as signaled by Martin Luther’s activity at the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, there is one segment of the diverse religious populace that is politely silent on the matter, and that would be the Jewish community.
While Luther’s bold and courageous actions on the Eve of All Saints’ Day (October 31) in 1517 are widely known and studied throughout Christendom, what is much less known and analyzed is his attitude toward Jews as expressed in another thesis published in 1543 under the title, The Jews and Their Lies. In it he presents the question: “What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews?” He proceeds to give his advice in answer to the question, beginning with what can only be described as a most un-Christlike response:
First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of His Christians.
And it goes downhill from there.
It must be pointed out, though, that years before, soon after that fateful night in Wittenberg twenty-six years previous, Martin Luther was a staunch advocate of his followers reaching out to the Jewish community and presenting the Gospel to them. So what happened? The answer, very simply, is that Luther anticipated an overwhelmingly positive response to this evangelistic effort, but when that was not the case, his zeal for “Jewish souls” quickly turned to a bitter dismissal of their value and a pronouncement of anathema.
While it is tempting to disparage Martin Luther’s many positive accomplishments and contributions in the face of such a disturbing lapse in godly thought and deed, such should not be our reaction. Rather, there are three significant insights to be gained from this eyes-wide-open view of the great Reformer:
First, God uses flawed individuals to accomplish great things for His glory, which is precisely Paul’s point in 2 Corinthians 4:7:
But we have this treasure (the Gospel, ed.) in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
Second, the motivation for sharing the Gospel must always be love, unconditional love, rather than a “business plan” which is scuttled if it doesn’t work out.
Third, since most of the Jewish community is aware of Luther’s latter-day anti-Semitism, it is even more important for followers of Yeshua (Jesus) to acknowledge our flaws and failures and to persistently point others to Him, the only One who has none and the only One, therefore, who can offer forgiveness to any and everyone who comes to Him, Jew or Gentile alike.
In a recent session of a local series of meetings called “Shmooze, News, and Views” the director of Hebrew Christian Fellowship, Roger Wambold, shared some not-so-encouraging and not-so-positive pieces of information from Israel in the “News” segment after the “Shmooze” segment and before the “Views” Bible study segment.
To lighten things up a bit, Wambold said, “But now for some GOOD news from Israel: Guns N’ Roses is going to do a concert in Tel Aviv on July 15!” Following the outburst of laughter in response to this announcement, attendees at SNV (as Shmooze, News, and Views is affectionately called in abbreviation) were reminded that it really IS good news whenever popular musicians, rock bands, or other celebrities agree to perform in Israel.
The fact of the matter is that the Hollywood establishment and the American entertainment industry are generally anti-Israel and many of its glitterati refuse to accept engagements there as their way of protesting what they perceive to be “the oppression of the Palestinian people by the Zionist apartheid government of the Jewish State of Israel.”
This buying into the “occupation narrative” places a significant segment of the music and entertainment industry squarely in the camp of the BDS Movement. The BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanction) Movement is an internationally orchestrated agenda designed to encourage companies, institutions, and individuals to refuse to have any dealings with Israel or with those entities which conduct business with Israel in order to put economic pressure on the Israeli government to withdraw from what is described as “occupied Palestinian land” (defined by many as the entire land-mass of the State of Israel!).
And so, when celebrities, performers, or a legendary rock band—like Guns N’ Roses—decide to stand up against peer pressure and schedule a “gig” in Israel, it really IS good news, even for those who don’t like their music!
As much of the rock world continues to process the loss of Soundgarden’s former frontman, Chris Cornell, few probably realize what Seth Rogovoy reports: that in an interview Cornell claimed that his mother was Jewish.
With lyrics consistently dealing with spirituality and a blatant (and somewhat typical) wrestling with apparent religious hypocrisy (see Temple of the Dog’s “Wooden Jesus”), one of Soundgarden’s most famous songs, “Jesus Christ Pose,” was apparently (according to at least one source) about Perry Farrell, the former Jane’s Addiction frontman, who appeared in a photo in the pose of a Crucifixion. Farrell wore his Jewishness on his sleeve.
If Cornell’s mother was in fact Jewish, this did not diminish his popularity, but apparently an association with Israel does, Rogovoy further reports. When Farrell tried to bring his musical festival Lollapalooza to Israel, it failed, due in part to pressure celebrities and musicians face not to perform there. Still, this hasn’t kept Farrell from performing to support Israel.
It’s a chaotic world—the music scene—but one thing is for sure. Many musicians seem drawn to weighty religious themes, even if only to express their own pain, disillusionment, and confusion. (Perhaps a clear distinction between the “grunge” musicians and the “devil metal” bands of the 80s is typified in the following clip in which at the end of performing, Cornell invited everyone to his house for Thanksgiving. What a tragedy, then, that if guests took him up on his offer now, years later, he would not be there to enjoy the camaraderie.)
Each fall during the Feast Let it rain! let it rain! Each fall during the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) Israeli Jews—religious and non-religious alike—pray for abundant rainfall over the next six or seven months, recognizing that from Passover in the spring to late summer there is virtually no precipitation throughout Israel. It is during the winter months that the level of the Sea of Galilee is raised by rainfall, as well as snow falling on Mt. Hermon in the north and melting into the headwaters of the Jordan River on the northern end of the Sea.
Unfortunately Israel has experienced a string of years of below average precipitation, including the winter just ended, leaving the Sea—known also as the Sea of Kinneret (Hebrew for “harp,” a reference to the harp-shape of the sea), the Sea of Gennesaret, and the Sea of Tiberias—at its lowest level in a century.
While great strides have been made in the science of desalination of water from the Mediterranean Sea, rendering it potable through processing at plants which now produce about half of the water needed for domestic use, agriculture remains heavily dependent upon the National Water Carrier which carries water from the Sea of Galilee to other parts of the country.
That the level of the Sea of Galilee is a major source of concern is readily evident by regular monitoring as indicated in this photograph of an electronic sign-board in Tiberias which updates the status of water level.
For over sixty years there has been an extremely close and cordial relationship between Germany and the State of Israel which can largely be attributed to the national sense of guilt felt by the German people for the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime in its attempt to carry out Adolph Hitler’s genocidal agenda. This relationship has been manifest in significant financial assistance and a reluctance to indulge in any level of analysis or criticism of the Jewish State.
Until now. . .when, in spite of an official restatement of unwavering support of Israel (Chancellor Andrea Merkel was recently quoted as stating that “the security and right of the state of Israel to exist is a fundamental tenet for Germany.”), there is evidence of a chill in the air of diplomatic interaction between Berlin and Jerusalem.
Two recent examples suggest the reality of this development, one being the cancellation of the annual bilateral meetings between the two governments and their elected leaders, Merkel and Netanyahu, scheduled to be held in Jerusalem in May. The other indication would be the decision by Netanyahu to cancel his meeting on April 25 in Jerusalem with Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.
It appears as if the basis of this growing tension between the governments is first, the official position of Merkel’s government that Israel should cease and desist the expansion of Jewish settlements into the West Bank (the Palestinian Territories) as a bona fide demonstration of Israel’s commitment to the “Two-State Solution” to the Israeli Jewish-Palestinian conflict, a position which the Netanyahu government is unwilling to unreservedly accept.
The second issue seems to be Germany’s recent venture into Israel’s internal politics as evidenced by Foreign Minister Gabriel’s unwillingness to cancel meetings while in Israel with groups perceived to be political opponents of Netanyahu and his Likud Party.
Time will tell whether these developments are only a temporary straining of relations between the two long-time allies and friends or if this represents a significant change in the nature and direction of Germany’s commitment to the anti-Holocaust slogan of, “Never again!”
While many of the holidays in Israel are related to the calendar of Jewish religious observances, there is a very signiﬁcant eight day period of time in the spring of each year which is not religious, but ethnic and patriotic in nature, consisting of a sequence of three special days, beginning with Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, which this year began at sundown on Sunday, April 23, and concluding at sundown on Monday, April 24.
As the nation of Israel (and others around the world) remembers and commemorates the tragedy of six million Jewish lives lost in the Holocaust, there is a very somber and dramatic moment throughout the country at 10:00 in the morning on Holocaust Remembrance Day when sirens sound and the entire country, including highway trafﬁc, comes to a complete halt and virtually everyone stands in silence for two minutes until the sirens end.
A week after Yom HaShoah, a second national holiday begins, this year at sundown on Sunday, April 30. Yom HaZikaron, literally “the Day of Remembrance,” is the Israeli Memorial Day when the entire country recalls the sacriﬁce of Jewish men and women who have given their lives for the establishment and preservation of the Jewish State of Israel. As with Holocaust Remembrance Day the week before, once again sirens sound for two minutes while all activity is suspended in honor of those who made the ultimate sacriﬁce for the country.
What is noteworthy, however, is that while Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron are days of mourning and somber meditation and commemoration, the ﬁnal day of this eight-day period, the day after Yom HaZikaron, beginning at sundown on Monday, May 1 is a day of national celebration and jubilation. Called Yom Ha’atzmaut (literally “the Day of Independence”) commemorates the birth of the modern state of Israel in 1948 and the survival of the country “against all odds” in the 69 years since then. It is, in fact, the Israeli equivalent of the American Fourth of July and Israeli ﬂags, ﬁreworks, picnics, and every conceivable form of celebration are the order of the day. The two days—Memorial Day and Independence Day—are purposely linked together in their observance as a statement that the sacriﬁce of lives, grievous as it might be, was not in vain.
At a period of time when anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiment is on the rise again worldwide at an alarming rate, these special days in Israel, and their recognition internationally, are more important than ever.
The recent visit (April 21) of U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis to Israel and his meetings there with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin signaled a deﬁnite shift in U.S. policy toward Israel from what was widely viewed to be a deteriorating relationship between the two countries during the years of the Obama Administration.
At a press conference with Mattis and the Prime Minister in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said, “We sense a great change in the direction of American policy. This has been appreciated around the world and in our region. I think this is a welcome change, a strategic change of American leadership and American policy.”
In his remarks Mattis referred to “the two dangers that face Israel and all of the other nations in the region,” namely the ongoing campaign of world domination by ISIS and the specter of Iran with nuclear armament.
A later meeting with President Reuven Rivlin included discussion of a third challenge, that of resolving the perennial coflict between the Jewish State and the Palestinians, presenting a triad of complex diplomatic and military issues to be addressed in this new phase of U.S. foreign policy.
Additional indications of the sea change in Washington’s official and unoficial attitude toward Israel are the recent appointment of Nikki Haley as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and the announcement of a possible visit by President Donald Trump at the end of May. Haley recently declared publicly that “the days of Israel-bashing by the U.N. are over” and rebuked the UN Security Council for its repeated criticism and condemnation of Israel while ignoring numerous acts of blatant human rights violation and military aggression by nations like North Korea, Syria, and Iran. A visit by President Trump during the first six months of his presidency would stand in stark contrast to the fact that President Barack Obama did not include Israel in his travel itinerary until his fifth year in the White House.