Article: No Religious Coexistence – A refutation of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s “Orthodox Rabbinic Statement on Christianity”
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
A refutation of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s “Orthodox Rabbinic Statement on Christianity,” and a clarification of Torah’s true view of Christianity based on God’s words and the prophets.
God equates with truth, and no consideration must obscure those truths. For by obscuring truth, we mislead ourselves, other Jews, and gentiles. Jews and Christians share a close relationship today built on honesty and openness. As religions conflict on core tenets, religionists agree that all religions cannot be God’s word, for He does not contradict Himself. Only one religion is God’s word. Intelligence alone will determine this.
In his “Orthodox Rabbinic Statement on Christianity”, Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin writes:
“We acknowledge that Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations.”
“Jesus brought a double goodness to the world.”
“We Jews can acknowledge the ongoing constructive validity of Christianity as our partner in world redemption.”
“We believe that G-d employs many messengers to reveal His truth.”
In defense of truth; i.e., God’s Torah (Bible), His Prophets and our leading Rabbis, I respond as follows.
All peoples must respect one another’s lives. We all must abstain from harming anyone, except those who physically attack us. However, today, this respect has grossly overgrown its borders to violate God’s words. I refer to the current tide of mutual religious acceptance, and worse; the admiration of religions other than God’s Torah, His Bible. Throughout the Bible, God warns against following other religions, altering His Bible, adding to it, subtracting from it, and deifying man. He also warns us not to lie, “From a false matter, distance yourself (Exod. 23:7).” These are perpetrated by all other religions, and today, by many Jewish leaders. God’s Prophets discuss the corruptions of others nations and religions, their eventual rejection of their religions as lies, and their ultimate acceptance of the unaltered Bible, the Torah:
“Nations will come from the corners of the land and say, “In truth, our fathers gave us an inheritance of lies” (Jer. 16:19).”
“Every thing which I command you to do, that is what you should be careful to do. Do not add upon, it and do not detract from it (Deut. 13:1).”
“And many peoples and mighty nations will come to inquire of the God of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat God’s presence. So says God of hosts, “In those days ten men of all gentile languages will grab on the shirt corner of the Jewish man saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you” (Zech. 8:22,23).”
Through His prophets, God informs us of the nations’ future acceptance of the Torah, the Bible. Sadly, certain considerations are causing Jewish leaders to alter God’s words, and Maimonides’ words below. Such apologetics obscure the truth from the Jew and gentile alike. Maimonides writes:
“All the prophets spoke that the Messiah will redeem Israel and save them, and gather their dispersed and strengthen their mitzvot. But false prophets caused the Jews to be destroyed by the sword, and scattered their remnants and humbled them, and exchanged the Torah, and caused the majority of the world to err to serve a god other than the Lord. Nevertheless, the thoughts of the Creator of the world are not within the power of man to reach them, ‘for our ways are not His ways, nor are our thoughts His thoughts.’ And all these matters of Jesus of Nazareth and that of the Ishmaelite who arose after him are only to straighten the way of the king Messiah and to fix the entire world, to serve God as one, as it is stated (Zephaniah 3:9), ‘For then I will turn to the peoples (into) clear speech, to all call in the name of God and serve Him unanimously.’ How (will this come about)? The entire world has already become filled with the mention of the Messiah, with words of Torah and words of mitzvos and these matters have spread to the furthermost isles, to many nations of uncircumcised hearts, and they discuss these matters and the mitzvot of the Torah. Some say: ‘These mitzvot are true, but were already nullified in the present age and are not applicable for all time.’ Others say: ‘Hidden matters are in them (mitzvos) and they are not to be taken literally, and the Messiah has already come and revealed their hidden (meanings).’ And when the true Messiah stands, and he is successful and is raised and exalted, immediately they all will retract and will know that fallacy they inherited from their fathers, and that their prophets and fathers caused them to err (Maimonides, Laws of Kings, 11:10-12).”
We cannot suggest that God desired Christianity to arise. God desires no other religion than Judaism. In the Jewish year 2448 upon Mt. Sinai, God revealed Himself to man once. 2.5 million people witnessed this event. God publicly instructed man in only one religion: Judaism. God gave a Bible that includes prohibitions against altering His word. This is perfectly clear. Maimonides does not indicate that God desired Christianity’s existence. This directly opposes God’s Bible.
All Maimonides says is that God’s plan will not be altered by the rise of other religions. The fact that Christianity spread knowledge of the Mitzvos, is not equivalent to saying God desires Christianity. The nations will ultimately see all other religions as false, as the quote says:
“…immediately they all will retract and will know that fallacy they inherited from their fathers, and that their prophets and fathers caused them to err.”
What is more preferable; that Christianity would never had existed, or actual history? God’s will is the former, stated quite openly. However, now that Christianity exists, Maimonides indicates it cannot compromise God’s plan:
“Nevertheless, the thoughts of the Creator of the world are not within the power of man to reach them, ‘for our ways are not His ways, nor are our thoughts His thoughts’.”
We cannot fathom God’s plan. Christianity violates God’s words, but can in no way compromise God’s ultimate plan, as these events were not thwarted by God. A negative may be utilized for a positive.
To say that Christianity “contributes” to God’s plan, is much different than saying it “does not compromise” God’s plan. The former suggests it is an inherent good, while the latter retains its true status as violating God’s words.
“And all these matters of Jesus of Nazareth and that of the Ishmaelite who arose after him are only to straighten the way of the king Messiah and to fix the entire world, to serve God as one.”
Maimonides does not suggest in one breath that Christianity is and is not God’s will. So let us understand Maimonides words:
“How (will this come about)? The entire world has already become filled with the mention of the Messiah, with words of Torah and words of mitzvos and these matters have spread to the furthermost isles, to many nations of uncircumcised hearts, and they discuss these matters and the mitzvot of the Torah. Some say: ‘These mitzvot are true, but were already nullified in the present age and are not applicable for all time.’ Others say: ‘Hidden matters are in them (mitzvos) and they are not to be taken literally, and the Messiah has already come and revealed their hidden (meanings).’ And when the true Messiah stands, and he is successful and is raised and exalted, immediately they all will retract and will know that fallacy they inherited from their fathers, and that their prophets and fathers caused them to err.”
Maimonides suggests that God’s allowance of man’s free will, expressed in the rise of man-made religions, can be used to distinguish the true Messiah from impostors:
“Immediately they all will retract and will know that fallacy they inherited from their fathers, and that their prophets and fathers caused them to err.”
God will turn a negative into a positive. When the true Messiah arrives, and teaches Torah, all other religions will compare his wisdom to the fallacies of the religions they inherited.
Rashi quotes a Rabbinic statement:
(God said) “By their lives, I will give them an opportunity to err with the words of the spies so they don’t inherit the land of Israel (Num. 13:2).”
This would seem like a vindictive statement. But as God is devoid of emotion, how do we understand it?
Had God not permitted the spies to spy out Israel, they would have harbored an incorrect notion about God. That is, their desire to send spies displayed their disbelief in God’s promise that they will successfully conquer Israel. If this disbelief in God was not brought into the open, they would remain with this false notion, and this is not tolerable by God.
What is meant by “God gave them an opportunity to err?” It means that God gave them an opportunity to act out this notion in reality so it can be dealt with. God’s goal was not their loss of Israel. Giving them “a chance not to inherit Israel” is God offering those Jews a generous chance to realize their emotional conflict (they desired Israel, but denied God’s promise). “God gave them an opportunity to err” means that God’s allowance of the spies’ mission enabled the Jews to face their mistake.
God prefers man does not sin, but He can use that sin for a good.
I believe this is also the case with God allowing false religions to rise prior to His delivering the true Messiah. God certainly prefers that the false religions never existed, but He allows man free will.
Rabbi Judah taught, “Rav said, ‘Why does the Torah teach, ‘Lest you lift your eyes to the heavens and see the sun, moon and stars, all the hosts of heaven, and you turn aside and prostrate yourselves to them and worship them which God has smoothed them out for all nations under the entire heavens (Deut. 4:19)’.” Rabbi Judah continued, “This teaches that God made their ways smooth so as to remove them from the world” (Tal. Avoda Zara 55a).
What is the meaning of “God made their ways smooth so as to remove them from the world?” What type of divine justice is this? Do we not also read, “Do I truly desire the death of the wicked, says God? Truly, I desire his repentance so he may live (Ezek. 18:23).”
“God made their ways smooth” teaches that God designed man with freewill. God does not desire that man be forced to accept any view. For example, if a man couldn’t speak evil about another person due to the repeated sudden onset of illness, he would not be abstaining based on an effort to curb his viciousness, but from adverse reactions. Internally, he still desires to mock the other person. In this scenario, man does not obtain the opportunity to perfect himself through his free will and intelligent mastery over his instincts. Similarly, Rabbi Judah is teaching that God did not create the world where idolatrous activity is immediately met with death, lighting, etc. For this would cause man to refrain from idolatry for the wrong reasons. God’s gift of the intellect is precisely that we engage it, and determine that idolatry is ineffective. Wooden and stone gods, or men viewed as gods, possess no powers. Claims of Jesus’ miracles too are baseless: this was never witnessed by masses. But only later, its belief was demanded. God wants man to agree to this with his senses and his mind. The meaning of “God made their ways smooth so as to remove them from the world” means God allowed man to exercise his free choice, with no impediment, what God means by “smooth.” God designed man with the choice to project smooth and emotionally appealing interpretations and err, or to use reason and abstain from lies and fallacy. To “remove them from the world” is not God’s goal, as we see from Ezekiel above, “Do I truly desire the death of the wicked, says God? Truly, I desire his repentance so he may live (Ezek. 18:23).” God’s goal is that man chooses between what satisfies his emotions, and what is right according to his mind. This is the plan for mankind, explaining why we have both; instincts and intellect.
Maimonides teaches that God allowed Christianity and Islam to arise and endure, for He does not force a man or a people to abandon false religions or any poor decision. God desires man engages freewill.
Eventually, “Nations will come from the corners of the land and say, ‘In truth, our fathers gave us an inheritance of lies’ (Jer. 16:19).” Nations will abandon their religions and accept Judaism. Messiah will be wiser than King Solomon. His words will penetrate the ears and hearts of nations who previously accepted falsehood and fantasy. The world will recognize the unparalleled brilliance contained only in Torah, dismissing incomprehensible notions like a trinity and baseless claims of divine origin.
The world will recognize that Torah alone offers a proof of divine origin. But this cannot happen while Jewish leaders accept other religions as equally divine.
Jewish leaders need not wait until the Messiah to correct Christians and Muslims in their errors. Man, and certainly leaders must not lie, and certainly not lie to other religions. This hides from them God’s word through His prophets, as stated above, where God endorses His Bible alone. The Jew’s interest must be God’s interest: that all peoples equally benefit by living according to God’s one religion. We must desire the good for all other peoples.
I have conversed with many intelligent Jews and Christians wishing to live reasonably and lead a religious life based on truth and proof. They reject unproven religions, and grasp the brilliance of God’s Torah…but only because it was shared honestly. When asked, Jewish leaders must share with other religions Judaism’s logical explanation for not accepting other religions: no proof exists for their claim to divine origin. Secondly, other religions violate God’s command not to alter Torah and they reject God’s prophets. Additionally, Jesus and Mohammed do not qualify to be the Messiah, a man of Davidic lineage. Further arguments on these religions are found in Deut. 24:16 where God says one man does not die for another man’s sins, and in an intelligent reading of Isaiah 53.
The Messiah serves a primary goal: to unite all peoples in God’s worship. God knew how history would unfold, that Judaism would be fragmented into numerous branches, and deviations in levels of observance would arise. A cure to this problem was necessary. The Messiah is this cure. Since all members of Judaism accept the coming of Messiah, all Jews will follow Messiah’s teachings. Judaism will return to its pure, original form, hopefully soon, to be taught by the Messiah, God’s true messenger. This is not only true regarding various Jewish factions, but also regarding all religions, as Jeremiah teaches above. Messiah has become the center of religious difference. Upon his arrival, not only will all Jews unite in one practice, but all other religions too will abandon fallacies, accepting Judaism as the one, true word of God.
God preferred that man never deviate from Torah, be he Jew or gentile. And even though man has deviated by creating false religions, his actions cannot compromise God’s plan. But God uses man’s error for an ultimate good. Better that man does not err, but thankful are we that God utilizes our errors and implements corrective measures for all humanity.
Rabbi Riskin’s acceptance of Jesus as “God’s will” is heretical. He suggests God contradicts Himself, as Jesus/Christianity violate God’s commands. Since Christianity is “God’s will,” Rabbi Riskin endorses adding to God’s Torah, to which God said not to add. Rabbi Riskin’s view leads to endorsing a deification of man and a god figure, the torah’s most fundamental sin: idolatry.
Jews and Christians agree: Both Judaism and Christianity cannot be God’s word, as they possess opposing tenets. Each person must use his or her mind to determine what is true and God’s word, and what is not. All peoples must respect all others, treating each other as we all wish to be treated. This does not mean we agree with all theologies. But it does mean we cultivate harmony and abandon all aggression, protecting the rights of each fellow human being to engage free will as God desires, and freely live as he or she sees fit.