Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Inbox: The Jewish ‘Question’

Wikipedia says, “The Jewish question, also referred to as the Jewish problem, was a wide-ranging debate in 19th- and 20th-century European society that pertained to the appropriate status and treatment of Jews.” We still hear the term batted around online today, some say as a euphemism for a prospective campaign of ethnic cleansing in the US.

An anonymous commenter notes that a post here last week may have inadvertently raised another sort of Jewish question, one that probably merits more than a quick answer in the comments of a post.

Two Views of Judaism

Here’s the full comment:

“I would say that people who talk about the Jewish roots of Christianity are of two types: one would be the kind of misguided folks you’re identifying, Tom [proponents of the view that the teachings of Christianity and Judaism are not essentially in opposition], and the other would be people who are trying to point out the essential connection between OT Judaism, as understood accurately, and Christianity. Undoubtedly, OT Judaism does furnish the setting within which Christianity can be properly understood, if one wished to grasp things like creation, redemption, messiah, Law, and covenants, all these things being ‘written for our instruction’. So long as we do not lose that awareness, and so long as we don’t start to imagine a kind of Christianity that needs no explanation with reference to OT Judaism, I think we’re not in trouble.”

All good so far. This is definitely the case. Continuing:

“Unfortunately, one reason for de-emphasizing the role of Israel in relation to Christianity has been the opposite of what you identify — that is, the desire to convince Christians that Jews should NOT be regarded or invited to our shores. And I think we must resist that latter strategy even more vigorously than the strategy used by the proponents of ‘Judeo-Christianity’ to sell people on a pro-Jewish attitude. No doubt you see the wisdom of caution on both sides.”

The Immigration Picture in 2023

This brings up a potentially interesting (and perhaps controversial) discussion about how Christians may view Jewish immigration to the US today, as opposed to during WWII, which is what we were discussing in the previous post. The situation, of course, has changed drastically since the early 1940s, when a coalition of rabbis, Catholic priests and pastors coined the term “Judeo-Christian” in an attempt to defuse opposition to Jewish immigration among the American religious when millions of Jews faced existential danger in war-torn Europe, many of whom eventually died in Hitler’s concentration camps.

Don’t get me wrong: Jews are still encountering anti-Semitism in Europe, and much more so year by year as Muslim immigration to Europe increases. Moreover, Jews are also considered undesirables in other non-European countries for various reasons we need not get into here. So there remains a need for Diaspora Jews to have somewhere in the world to flee from persecution when it arises.

Christians should be all in favor of that.

An Alternative That Didn’t Exist Prior to 1948

The big question might be whether we are actually doing Jews migrating from Europe and elsewhere any real favor in inviting them to our shores in the US and Canada. Anti-Semitism is arguably as much on the rise in North America as in Europe — at least if you believe Joe Biden, who calls “white supremacists” in the US “the greatest domestic security threat”. The US is also going through a period of domestic unrest so intense that it is reasonable to wonder if it may tear the nation apart in the next decade or so.

The big difference between 1940 and today is that Jews now have their own homeland in Israel, where they are welcome with open arms, a safe harbor that didn’t even exist until almost a decade after the “Judeo-Christian” meme was coined and popularized.

Now, I think we would all agree that when Jews from Europe and elsewhere elect to immigrate legally to Canada and the US, Christians ought to welcome them with the same open arms we would extend to people of any ethnic group who do not know Christ and who need to be saved. But since a viable alternative exists for Jews today in the nation of Israel, I do not consider it unreasonable for some Christian voters to view mass immigration of Jews from other parts of the world to the US and Canada as a lifestyle choice rather than a necessity, and perhaps an unwise one at that. Christians can certainly do so without being anti-Semites, in my view at least.

Jewish Immigration and Bible Prophecy

Let’s back up for a moment and attempt to view Jewish immigration to North America from a pair of popular prophetic perspectives, those of Dispensationalism and Replacement Theology.

Replacement Theology, or Supersessionism, is on the rise in North America. Proponents of this school of systematic theology believe Israel and the church are all one thing in God’s plans and purposes. They believe today’s church is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises to Israel, and that national Israel has violated its covenants and forfeited the blessing of God forever. In this view, Christians need have no greater concern for Jews than for Palestinians or any other ethnic entity. All are equally in need of salvation, and atrocities committed by one group ought to be called out by the international community as vigorously as atrocities committed by the other. I’m not saying that if you scratch a Replacement Theologian you will always find a racist or an anti-Semite, but Supersessionism certainly gives no special regard to Jews.

Dispensationalists are much maligned online these days, but still retain significant numbers within the evangelical world. Most of us believe in a church-to-be-raptured (perhaps shortly) and a coming time of great unrest in our world during which, like it or not, Jews from all over the world will flood home to Israel in unprecedented numbers, including those in the US and Canada. They will have to. Jews will be unwelcome anywhere else on the planet, and will feel it prudent to enter into a devilish covenant with the beast of Revelation in order to secure their national existence. That is what the future holds for Judaism, even if we should feel no crazy impulse to try to “immanentize the eschaton”, as some have accused Christians (usually postmillennialists) of wanting to do.

These are arguably the two most popular views about the future of Israel within evangelicalism today: either no future outside of conversion to Christianity; or, that once the church is gone from this scene, the entire future of this earth until the eternal state rolls in is primarily about the Jews and the fulfillment of God’s promises to them.

They are radically different positions, and genuine Christians hold both; one is not saved or lost over a prophetic viewpoint.

Thinking Consistently

Is voting for mass immigration of Jews from all over the world to North America consistent with either of these prophetic viewpoints, let alone extending an invitation to them?

Under the Dispensationalist perspective, any Jews who migrate here from the rest of the world will simply have to move on to Israel at some later date in order to fulfill the prophetic word, unless they are able to successfully conceal their ethnicity. If the Lord is not going to return for, say, another century, or even another millennium, North America may be a perfectly safe place for Jews for many years to come. If, however, his return is imminent, as we are always saying, Jews from Europe and elsewhere may be physically safer in the short term by migrating directly to Israel. The fact is, we do not know when the Lord will return, but the current climate in North America is not trending favorably towards its Jewish population. The next few years may tell the tale.

Under the perspective of Replacement Theology, Jews merit no special treatment among the nations of the world. A consistent Supersessionist would probably argue (and vote) for levels of Jewish immigration to the US that are comparable to those of any other ethnic group. The question of extending an invitation specifically to Jews would probably turn on conditions in the US and Canada at the time. Anti-Semitic Supersessionists (and there are a few of these, sadly) would probably argue for redirecting would-be American Jews to Israel, not out of concern for their safety so much as because they regard unbelieving Jews as an undesirable element in society, a “synagogue of Satan”.

Not nice. Also, not inconsistent with their theology. If Dispensationalists want to rid Christendom of such sentiments, we need to do a better job of promoting a biblical prophetic view of earth’s future.

The Reality

The truth is that such decisions are not really up to Christians. We may develop a preference about what we would like to see, or what we think might be wisest and best for the world’s unbelieving Diaspora Jews, but given the state of the democratic process in the US and Canada, there is no guarantee we have any real chance of implementing those preferences through the popular vote. Whatever Jews choose, and whatever the Lord allows, is what will be. These questions are for us abstract at best, except insofar as wrong thinking on any subject tarnishes the soul and dulls the mind. Jews will continue to migrate to the US and Canada from other parts of the world in numbers that reflect their own preferences and their ability to comply with our immigration laws until such time as the legislative climate in both North American countries becomes actively anti-Jewish. And that time will come. Scripture tells us it will.

In fact, the question may be rendered moot in another way. Jewish immigration preferences seem to be for Israel over the US at present. Israel reported a 400% increase in Jewish immigration from Russia in 2022. Israel is encouraging aliyah, and the world’s Jews are responding.

Attempts to quantify the number of Jews from elsewhere in the world migrating to the US in the same period are hampered by a number of issues spelled out here. A Jew migrating from Germany to America could be classified as a German immigrant or a Jew, depending on how they self-identify. So it is difficult to measure Jewish interest in migrating to North America at this point in history. What we do know is that Israel is quite happy with the numbers they are seeing from Russia. Indications are that this influx reflects a worldwide trend.

That, and the Lord’s prophetic plan for this world, and for the historic nation of Israel, continues to move forward inexorably. This remains true regardless of whether Christians correctly understand it.

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