Am Yisrael Chai!

Beit Midrash for calendar_month December 2021

Despite over twenty-five centuries of methodical, systematic efforts by some of history’s greatest tyrants to effect the genocide of the Jewish people, still without interruption the defiant Hebrew phrase Am Yisrael Chai! (the people of Israel live!) has echoed through the corridors of time. Considering the record of history the existence of even one Jewish person in today’s world is astounding. The thriving existence of millions of Jewish people and the restoration of nationhood for the people of Israel is the miracle of miracles.

The Jewish people have defied all the norms of history for the assimilation of conquered peoples. By history’s laws, one should not be able to identify a Jew. They were violently removed from their ancient land nearly two millennia ago, doomed to wander through the world as outcasts with no real home by peoples and leaders who were at best superstitious and fearful of them and at worst misanthropic sociopaths bent on their obliteration from the face of the earth. Cursed to die, still they live, and they not only live, they thrive!

Evidence of Divine Existence

The greatest single continuing evidence for the existence of God is the continued existence of an identifiable chosen people. He declared to Israel and to the world that a living Israel is evidence of his own immutability: “I am the Lord, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob” (Malachi 3:6). God himself personally chose Israel, and he alone has sustained his chosen people. The faithfulness of his relationship with Israel is evidence of his constancy.

“You are my witnesses,” God declared to Israel (Isaiah 43:10-12). And so it has been for four millennia: the one continuing and uncompromising witness to the existence of the One God has been the family of Abraham. When God chose this ancient patriarch out of Babylonian polytheism and gave him insight into ethical monotheism, he was certain that Abraham would teach his children and his grandchildren after him “to keep the ways of the Lord and to do justice” (Genesis 18:19). And, from the time of Abraham, an unbroken chain of witnesses has attested to the existence of God.

The Jewish people, therefore, have been and still remain a living reminder to the nations of the truth of God’s instructions to mankind. Their dynamic modeling of God’s Word has offered proof that what God says works! And, the fact that they have been preserved despite unrelenting efforts bent on their annihilation is the greatest material witness to the very existence of God. The very fact that they are is proof that God is!

Commitment to Life

It is a supreme irony that the one people who have been universally hated and who across the annals of time have constantly faced the threat of genocide have been the one people for whom all human life is sacred. Anchored in the belief that life is a God-breathed gift, the Jewish people have always had the highest respect for life and have devoted themselves to saving it and improving its quality with each passing generation.

A generation before the time of Jesus, one of Israel’s greatest sages, Rabbi Hillel, postulated that to take one human life is to take all human lives and to save one life is to save all of humanity. This has remained a guiding principle for Jewish people around the world and has applied in every situation and in every time. Every life is sacred, and God alone is the giver and the taker of life. Lives can never be graded on a scale of quality. No individual and no state has the right to take life. Nations, like Nazi Germany, that have arrogated to themselves the right to perform euthanasia on the weak, the mentally or physically handicapped, or other “undesirables” have been roundly excoriated by the Jews. States, like ancient Greece, that have promoted abortion and infanticide for population control have also been condemned by this life-loving people.

Jews are committed not only to life itself but to improving life. This is the process of tikkun olam, the renewal and restoration of the world in which Jewish people believe they are called to work in partnership with God to improve the quality of life in the world and, indeed, to improve the world itself. This attitude also involves the celebration of life, filling life with joy and fulfillment. The enduring toast at virtually all Jewish celebrations is a hearty “L’chaim!” (“To life!”). It is amazing, therefore, that such a life-loving and life-celebrating people have been the constant targets of death through the centuries.

Why Anti-Semitism?

The Jewish people have been the most widely and consistently hunted, persecuted, tortured, and slaughtered group in human history. From Haman to Hadrian to Hitler to Hamas, the Jewish people have been hated and victimized by their tormenters. They have been so despised, however, not because of their political views, not because of their success or lack thereof, not because of their appearance, but because they have been the one consistent living testimony to the fact that there is one God. It is Israel’s God that the world hates. The universalist, polytheistic philosophies and religions of the pagan heart simply cannot tolerate a particularist monotheism that makes demands upon the conduct and attitudes of mankind.

The pagan heart hates God (Romans 8:7). It is furious when it is reminded of God and his unrelenting ethical requirements. It lashes out against any visible symbol that brings condemnation and the pain of guilt upon it. This pagan heart was never more fully manifest than in Hitler who declared that the idea of conscience in man was a Jewish invention that had to be destroyed in order to liberate the pagan heart and mind to a higher(?) plane of development.

The evil human heart that had lashed out for centuries against the Jewish people because they stood for the absolutes of one particularist God was fully epitomized in pagan Nazism, and the result was the martyrdom of six million Jews, including over one million children. Evil that had periodically been displayed in various cultures became fully incarnate in the Third Reich that vaunted itself against everything that is called God. Hitler, as no other tyrant before him, personified hatred for and defiance of God and his righteous requirements.

Anti-Semitism, then, is not merely a psychopathic loathing of one race or nationality by another. Anti-Semitism is manifest universally and without any apparent logic. Jews are hated for reasons that are polar opposites. They are hated for being separatists and for being assimilated in societies. They are hated for being rich and for being poor. They are hated for being ambitious and for being lazy. Anti-Semitism has no rhyme or reason. It is entirely irrational. And, no other people group is so universally despised.

Anti-Semitism in reality is hatred for God himself that is manifest in acts of violence against the people who represent him. This is especially true of the Jewish people, for among them have always been those who were uncompromisingly dedicated to the instructions of God encapsulated in the Torah. To the degree to which they have been committed to God’s Word, Christians also have been the targets of this violent hatred.

Christian Anti-Semitism

What should always have been the most ridiculous and unlikely oxymoron in history is “Christian anti-Semitism.” Support for the Jewish people and for Israel should have been as natural for Christians as breathing. The truth, however, is that the Christian church has been in the forefront of attitudes and actions against the Jewish people. What began in its earliest centuries as Judaeophobia, a fear of Jews and things Jewish, soon was escalated by the church to anti-Judaism, a loathing of the Jews’ religion. Hatred of ideas, however, seldom remains in the realm of theory, and the church’s anti-Judaism soon became full-blown anti-Semitism, antipathy for the Jews themselves.

Since the fourth century, ecclesiastical history is replete with an unbroken chain of church-sponsored or -condoned acts of violence against the Jewish people. Whether mocked by cruel caricatures or taunted by epithets or personal invectives or targeted for individual and mob violence, the Jews have been the target of “Christian anti-Semitism.” Those who should have been Israel’s staunchest and most unequivocal supporters became her greatest persecutors.

The greatest cause of this corporate psychosis in the Christian church was its denial of its Jewish roots. As early Christianity became increasingly Gentile in its leadership and demographics, it rapidly replaced its foundational concepts from a Jewish Messiah and Jewish apostles with the philosophies, mind-set, and world view of Greek philosophers and Latin politicians. The church was cut loose from its anchor in the Judaism of Jesus and set adrift in the maelstrom of pagan tradition. Christianity, the child, lost its true paternity and therefore was thrust into an identity crisis.

Violating Divine Imperatives

Christian Judaeophobia, anti-Judaism, and anti-Semitism resulted from the brazen violation of two divine imperatives, one from the lips of Jesus himself, the other from the pen of Paul the apostle. The first divine command is recorded in Matthew 5:17-18: “Do not even begin to think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth: until heaven and earth pass away, not one yod or even the smallest pen stroke shall disappear from the law until all is fulfilled” (author’s translation).

The first imperative is “Think not!” And virtually from the time that Jesus gave the command, people in the church have been violating it. Teachers, preachers, and theologians have been thinking–thinking of ways to rationalize away the simple, transparent truth of Jesus’ statement. The result has been a carefully orchestrated theoretical supersessionism in which Christianity has replaced and obviated Judaism in God’s purposes. The law, with its anger, judgment, “works righteousness,” and bondage has been replaced by faith, with its love, mercy, joy, and liberty. For most of the church Judaism became nothing more than a failed, fossilized religion needing only a sarcophagus in which to be forever entombed.

The second biblical command is recorded in Romans 11:17-18: “If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, boast not against the branches. But if you boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you” (17, NIV, 18, NKJ).

The second imperative, then, is “Boast not!” And, from even before the time that Paul gave this injunction, the church has boasted against the Jewish people. What was theological supersessionism in the violation of Jesus’ imperative became anthropological supersessionism in the violation of the Pauline command. Theory can never long remain theory. Inevitably, it is translated into material reality. One cannot long hate Judaism without soon hating Jews. And so it was with the church.

With the foundation of theological supersessionism, asserting that Christianity had replaced Judaism, the church built a monstrous structure of practical supersessionism, claiming that Christians had replaced Jews in the economy of salvation. In this scheme, the Jews were forever cursed, eventually to be demonized and demoted to the status of a subhuman species. This anthropological view prepared the way for unrelenting anti-Semitic acts that culminated in the Holocaust.

In spite of Christianity’s supersessionism manifest in its expectation of the demise of both Judaism and the Jewish people, still am Yisrael chai. The people of Israel and their religion are very much alive and well. Christian expectations for centuries have been dashed against the divine determination to ensure the survival of his chosen people.

Now the face of Christianity is forever scarred with its violence against the Jewish people. What should have been an instrument of God’s grace became the instrument of Satan’s murderous hatred. What should have stood alongside Israel in solidarity became the Jews’ most formidable enemy. The only option remaining today is repentance and commitment to a third imperative: “Never again!” and to an ancient Gentile affirmation renewed: “Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die” (Ruth 1:16-17).

A Nation Resurrected

Nearly two thousand years ago, the nation of Israel was subjected to a series of invasions and occupation by the Roman Empire. Its capital city, Jerusalem, was destroyed. It’s glorious temple was demolished. Its people were dispersed. Finally, under Hadrian, a pagan city, Aelia Capitolina, was erected on top of the ruins of Jerusalem, and the Jews were banished from the city and the land upon penalty of death. After that time, the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem passed from one Gentile hand to another, with the Jews all the while denied title to their ancient homeland. Squatters galore have arrogated to themselves title to the land of Israel; however, the law of adverse possession is not a divine one. God, therefore, never recognized any of these illegal claims of unlawful squatters.

In due course of time, the land of Israel was reborn. Just as the nation of Israel had been born in a day on Pentecost at Sinai some 3,500 years ago, the state of Israel was born in a day on Pentecost in 1948, fulfilling Isaiah 66:8. The undying prayers of the Jewish people that echoed daily over the centuries were answered in the restoration of the land of Israel and the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem as the undivided capital for the resurrected nation.

The nation of Israel, like the ancient olive tree, was cut down; however, through the scent of water, it has been reborn. Now, the land of Israel lives! Never in all of human history has nationhood been destroyed, the people ripped from their land, and the land lain dormant for two millennia only to be restored, renewed, resurrected. This can only be said of the people of Israel and the land of Israel. Am Yisrael chai!

The Divine Promise

The Eternal God has remained committed to his people; therefore, the people of Israel live. The Eternal God has remained committed to his land; therefore, the land of Israel lives. The Eternal God, however, is committed to yet another still-to-be-manifest event: “Your dead shall live; together with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust; for … the earth shall cast out the dead” (Isaiah 26:19, NKJ).

The ultimate expectation of the resurrection from the dead has been affirmed by the Jewish people in their daily prayers for millennia. The God who chose Israel is the God who brings forth life from the dead. He is the God of resurrection. Jewish hope has never been escape into nothingness (as Eastern Monism) or escape into the heavenly (as neo-Platonism), but resurrection of the dead to stand upon the earth with the Messiah in God’s eternal kingdom.

The day will come when all the people of Israel, both the native born and those who have become naturalized citizens through faith, will stand upon the mountains of Israel with the Messiah. When the land has been fully restored to the linear descendants of Abraham to whom the original promise was given and when the people of Israel have been fully restored to their land and when the people have been fully restored to their God, the Messiah will stand on the Mount of Olives and the last great divine promise will be fulfilled. All the righteous dead will be resurrected to the newness of eternal life. Then, will ultimately be realized the victorious, perhaps even defiant proclamation: Am Yisrael Chai!