A Window into Israel’s Spiritual Climate: Desperately Seeking
I recently finished reading the current #1 best seller in Israel, Catch the Jew!, by Tuvia Tenenbom. It was recommended to me by one of our young leaders. The book is sometimes bawdy, crass and indeed irreverent. And yet, this man of letters does provide a window into the reality of Israel and the Palestinians today. Even some reviews that take issue with the book note that it reveals some very important things. Tenenbom goes incognito to search out leftist non-government Peace Organizations (NGOs) in Israel, Israeli leftist news writers, Palestinian leaders and agitators. He also interviews ultra-Orthodox and modern nationalist Orthodox leaders including conservative political leaders. He attends ultra-Orthodox gatherings as well. I recommend the book for its amazing information.
Tenenbom was raised as an Ultra-Orthodox Jew in Israel but left the fold to live as a man of science then later as man of letters, writing for a German periodical and leading the New York Jewish Theater. He returned to Israel after years of absence in order to search out the reality of the present day situation. He mostly hides his identity so that he can do the research for this book unhindered. Most of the time he pretends to be Toby the German reporter.
The book conveys little hope for the future of Israel. Here is what he finds.
1. Israel is inundated by NGOs that profess to seek peace and pursue human rights, but are really anti-Israel and supported by people affected by anti-Semitism. The NGOs manifest a stunning imbalance. They also are naïve consumers of “made up Palestinian narratives” about events that are staged or interpreted to make Israel look oppressive. They spend untold millions of Euros for their causes. The funds – of dubious legality – are mostly from Germans but other European contributors are significant.
2. Palestinians in general have no real desire to make real peace or pursue a just two state solution. This is just propaganda for the West. The real goal was and is to destroy Israel. Palestinians are continually taught hatred for the Jewish people and their leadership is beyond corrupt, living in luxury and siphoning off the money intended to help the people. The status quo brings them great wealth. Their identification with Hitler and their desire for the annihilation of the Jewish people is amazing, yet they accuse the Jewish people of being Nazi like.
3. Many ultra-Orthodox show themselves to be dangerous cultists fixated on purity laws that oppress women and create a backward society within Israel. He finds some leaders who are frauds and manipulate their own people for money!
4. The Israeli right wing is unrealistic about the prospects of ruling the non-citizen Palestinians.
5. The Israeli leftist peace camp is full of self-haters who no longer believe in Israel.
The details of Tuvia’s interviews and experiences with a host of characters are most impressive. He gets people to open up in amazing ways. Yet, what comes out in the book is a great vacuum of hope due to the lack of a compelling worldview that would give courage for being in and preserving Israel. Preserving the Jewish people for some nebulous special quality of our culture is not sufficient for the pressures we face. Nor is standing firm for our nation’s survival so Hitler does not gain a posthumous victory. The ultra-Orthodox are often non-Zionists, caught up in their own ghetto existence and not caring if the State survives or not. In addition, they are mostly a drain on Israel’s resources.
As a Messianic Jew, I see only two world-views that are compelling. One is that of the modern Orthodox or the nationalist Orthodox. The other is that of Messianic Jews or Messianic Judaism. Here are the common features of our worldviews, which overlap due to the content of the Bible. We both believe:
1. The return of our people to the Land of Israel is a work of God.
2. The purpose of the Jews is to see the redemption of Israel and the nations of the World.
3. The fullness of this redemption will only take place when the Messiah comes.
4. We are to live lives of obedience to God in the Land so as to move history toward the climax of redemption. This includes worshiping God and making intercession (in Judaism through the synagogue prayers). For Orthodox Jews this includes the many additions of Rabbinic Law. For Messianic Jews this is a New Covenant way of Jewish life that is faithful to the Scriptures and reflects our Jewish tradition and identity.
5. We fulfill an important spiritual responsibility by living in Israel.
However, Messianic Jews believe that the redemption of Israel and the nations depends on our people turning to Yeshua. We must receive His atonement for our sins and undergo a death and resurrection in Him (Romans 6). All this without losing our Jewish identity. We are in Israel that we might be a light to our people concerning the Messiah. Our being in the Land is especially justified since we have turned to Him.
In Israel, we are under enormous pressure. Israel is desperately seeking a compelling worldview and reason for existing – to enable us to withstand this pressure. I predict that both the nationalist Orthodox worldview and the Messianic Jewish worldview will grow in numbers and provide hope for people. They will give us the reasons for the importance of our being in the Land. However, there will be a great clash between these worldviews in spite of their overlap due to the question of questions. It is the question Yeshua asked Peter, “Who do you say I am?” We have been restored to the Land so that we might be brought to the knowledge of Yeshua!
This article originally appeared in Israel’s Restoration Newsletter, April 2016.
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Dr. Daniel Juster, founder and director of Tikkun International, has been involved in the Messianic Jewish movement since 1972 and currently resides in Jerusalem, Israel, from where he serves and supports the Messianic movement worldwide. Dan was the founding president and general secretary of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations for 9 years, the senior pastor of Beth Messiah congregation for 22 years, and a co-founder of the Messiah Bible Institute in several nations. Dr. Juster serves on the board of Towards Jerusalem Council II, provides oversight to 15 congregations in the USA as well as overseeing emissaries in Israel and the Former Soviet Union. Daniel has authored about 20 books on topics ranging from theology, Israel and the Jewish people, eschatology, discipleship, and leadership.