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Friday, 1 January 2016

Christians: Do they love us, hate us, or just out to convert us?

Daf Yomi Gittin 17

For close to two millennia, Christians have perpetrated the most heinous of crimes against the Jewish people.  Ashkenazic Jewry was decimated during the Crusades.  Sefardic Jews were burned at the stake during the Inquisition.  Thousands of our holy writings were destroyed in France.  And we were continuously exiled from country to country.

Baruch Hashem, today however, Christians are some of our best friends in the world.  Evangelical Christians are the strongest supporters of the State of Israel.  And the Catholic Church has established full diplomatic ties with Israel, and recently disavowed the targeting of Jews for conversion.  

Indeed, many Christians and Jews proudly refer to our shared “Judeo-Christian” tradition, as if we were always bound together by a relationship of love and understanding!  And recently, a large group of Orthodox rabbis released a statement that speaks glowingly of the bond between the two religions. 

Should Jews embrace the friendship of Christianity or are we forever a “nation that dwells alone?”

Rabbah bar bar Chanah took ill.  Rav Yehuda and Rabbah went up to see how he was doing.  While they were there, a certain barbarian walked in and stole the lamp from right in front of them.
Rabbah cried out, “Merciful One!  Either shelter us in Your shadow, or at least in the shadow of the children of Esav (the Romans)!”
The Gemara asks: Does that mean Romans are better than Persians?  But Rabbi Chiya taught:  What is the meaning of the verse, “G-d understood the Torah’s way and He knew its place?”  The Holy One blessed be He knows that Israel would not be able to endure the wicked decrees of the Romans.  And so He arose and exiled them to Babylonia. 
The Gemara answers: It is no contradiction.  The verse refers to prior to the arrival of the barbarians to Babylonia, the story took place after the arrival of the barbarians.

It’s incredible to watch history continually repeat itself.  Rashi and Tosfos debate whether the exile to Babylonia discussed in the Gemara was the original Babylonian exile that took place when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the First Temple, or the exile to Babylonia that they were living in during the time of the Gemara.

In the Middle Ages, our Sages continued to elucidate the progeny of Esav.  Our Gemara equates Esav with the Romans; in later history Esav became synonymous with Christendom, following the conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity.   Rabbah longed for the days of ‘civilized’ Roman oppression, compared to their treatment at the hands of the warlords who had overtaken Babylonia.  Likewise, as bad as the Christians were to us, today we recognize that we need the friendship and assistance of “Esav” more than ever.

International alliances are always a moving target.   Maimonides lived in Spain under Muslim rule during the ‘Golden Age,’ until Islamic extremists, the Almohads, came in from North Africa and destroyed everything.  Seventy years ago, the Germans murdered six million Jews.  Today, Germany is a friend of Israel.   Rabbah’s message is that while we will be forever a nation that dwells alone, no nation is an island.  And so, even though Esav may have been a foe in the past, times do change.

Many Jews today continue to be suspicious of Christian motives and refuse and scorn any Christian pro-Israel activity.  After all, considering the Church’s mistreatment of the Jewish people throughout the ages, why would we trust them now? 

The Gemara explains that there are times in history that we were oppressed by Esav and there are times when we long to live in their shadow.  Even today, we have Christians who strive to undermine the State of Israel and the Jewish people by jumping on the bandwagon of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions) movement.  But at the same time, there are millions of Christians across the globe who are rooting for Israel and supporting our homeland politically and financially.

Our Sages teach that Esav axiomatically despises Yaakov.  Nevertheless, Rabbah teaches that we must give them the benefit of the doubt, especially in light of all our enemies who are clear and imminent.  We don’t have a lot of friends in the world.  It’s time to accept the hand being offered to us today by Esav.  May we merit peace in the Holy Land and throughout the world speedily in our days!