Sunday, June 8, 2008

Agudath Israel defends Rev. Hagee's remarks about Holocaust

Cross-Currents has Avi Shafran's defense of Rev. Hagee's comment about the Holocaust

From the Mouths of Ministers

Rabbi Shafran (Director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America).

“Tonight I humbly ask forgiveness of the Jewish people for every act of anti-Semitism and the deafening silence of Christianity in your greatest hour of need during the Holocaust.”

Those words were spoken before a crowd of several thousand Jews attending an AIPAC Policy Conference in March, 2007. The speaker was Pastor John Hagee, the evangelist who heads the group Christians United for Israel – the very same Pastor Hagee whom Reform Rabbi Eric Yoffie now accuses of “insult[ing] the survivors” of the Holocaust.

Rabbi Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, was referring to a speech Pastor Hagee made about a decade ago, about Jeremiah’s prophecy that G-d would one day “bring the Jewish people again unto their land that I gave unto their fathers” (16:15). In the next verse G-d proclaims that He will send “many fishers” and then “hunters.” The latter word was interpreted by Mr. Hagee as referring to Hitler, leading the pastor to regard the Holocaust as part of a Divine strategy to move Jews to the Holy Land.

One needn’t agree with the pastor’s take on history; or accept his assumption that simple people can identify events with prophecies; or even consider him to be in command of the facts (in his speech, he has Theodore Herzl, a resolutely secular Jew, invoking Divine command as the reason Jews should move to Palestine). But nothing in fact could be more Jewish than to accept that, no matter how inscrutable, G-d is just; and that as we look into the maw of tragedy we are to look inward as well.

And so, while the Reform rabbi may have seen the Christian minister’s words as “an affront” to those who perished in the Holocaust, I saw only an attempt, imperfect but without malice, to discern the fulfillment of a Jewish prophet’s words in recent history.

It is possible that Rabbi Yoffie’s harsh judgment of Pastor Hagee’s sermon reflects a broader disconnect between the two gentlemen. The Reform leader has long disdained the pastor’s politics. Hagee, after all, is a social conservative, believes that Iran should be militarily disabled and strongly opposes a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. As such, his position profile is something of a reverse image to that of the Reform movement.

The Jewish clergyman might also have resented the Christian one’s reference, earlier this year at a Reform temple in Los Angeles, to the object of Christian veneration as “a Reform rabbi” (intended as a compliment, no doubt).

But one suspects that what most profoundly divide the two clergymen are issues of theology. It is the pastor’s belief, but apparently not entirely the rabbi’s, that: The Torah is the word of G-d (“Truth is not what you think it is. Truth is what the Torah says it is”); G-d chose and charged the Jewish People with heeding His laws (“[The Jews are] the chosen people, a cherished people… with an eternal covenant that will stand forever”); and the Torah explicitly warns us of the repercussions of forsaking our mission.


Many of us Orthodox Jews tend to not be comfortable with Christian evangelists. Most, after all, want Jews to accept Christianity, which a Jew is enjoined against doing, even on penalty of death. Although Reverend Hagee has clearly stated that he has no such designs, he nonetheless remains a Christian evangelist. And for Biblical interpretations, we Jews look elsewhere.

At the same time, though, an inescapable irony emerges here:

Interpretations of Biblical prophecies aside, the pastor’s approach to Torah (that it is true), Jews (that they are chosen to serve G-d) and history (that it is Divinely guided) is the Jewish one; and the rabbi’s, tragically, is not.


  1. One must consider exactly what Eric Yofie is an authority of. Eric Yofie is the most blatant example of what is wrong with American Jewry today. He is the product of a failing movement that has caused tremendous damage to am Yisrael. He should examine himself first. He has no place to talk on this issue or any others concerning the Jewish people. Thanks to his efforts am Yisrael is experiencing a new holocaust. It is a spiritual holocaust and the biggest indicator is intermarriage and the fact that we lose more Jews to assimilation today than we ever have in history. Eric Yofie in his leadership role is directly responsible for much of this phenomena as his group promotes actions and concepts that directly lead to the aforementioned problems. When you hear or read something from Eric Yofie understand who he is and what he has said and done in the past himself. He has no place to speak.

  2. Rabbi Shafran misrepresents Rabbi Yoffie and Reform Judaism. Consider for example when Rabbi Shafran says that Rabbi Yoffie has written that Jews “must examine each mitzvah [Torah commandment] and ask the question: ‘Do I feel commanded in this instance…?’ ”

    Rabbi Shafran is fond of this quotation. He has used it repeatedly in his criticisms of Reform Judaism. But it is a mere fragment of a sentence. Here it is again (from Commentary magazine, August 1996) with more detail:

    "The heart of Torah is mitzvah–the individual divine command. … Torah was transmitted to Moses and his spiritual descendants–the prophets and rabbis who fashioned our tradition and passed it on to subsequent generations. But in recording divine revelation as they experienced it, they did so as fallible human beings … I will seek guidance from rabbis and teachers, but ultimately I must examine each mitzvah and ask the question: do I feel commanded in this instance as Moses was commanded? …”

    Rabbi Yoffie is continuing a traditional practice of studying and questioning and searching for the Torah’s meaning. This is not at all what Rabbi Shafran's too-short quotation suggests. Likewise, if you read the rest of Rabbi Yoffie’s statement in Commentary you will find that his beliefs, while certainly not Orthodox, are quite different from what Rabbi Shafran alleges.


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.