Characteristic of the history of the people of Israel is the continual desire for Zion, for Jerusalem, for the Holy City. Arising during the Babylonian Exile, it has continued up to the present day, after centuries of Diaspora, pogroms and extermination camps.
For centuries Christians have contributed to this oppression: for the Jews the name of ‘Christian’ was synonymous with ‘Jew-hater’. But in the course of time we have seen a contrary movement come into existence, one consisting of Christians who support the Jews. In this article we take a look at Zionistic tendencies in church history and at the place of Christian Zionism in the happenings throughout the world.Christian Zionism means: “We as Christians wish the Jews all that is good”. And of course this cannot be seen as separate from their national aspirations to be once more a people in their own land. From this point of view, being a Christian means that a reassessment is being made and has been made in the theological paradigm of the place of the people of Israel in God’s great plan of salvation. This too is brought to the fore in this article thanks to a remarkable analysis of what the renewal of the covenant on Golgotha precisely means – a covenant fulfilled by Jesus, a Jew, for the Jews and for their brethren.
1 – Next year in Jerusalem!
How great can the desire be to go to Jerusalem! We find a moving example of someone with that sort of longing in the Spanish Jew Judah Halevi, one of the greatest figures in Jewish history. Fittingly, he was selected by Dan Cohn-Sherbok as one of the fifty key Jewish thinkers in the history of Judaism from post-biblical times to the present day. (1) I would now like to quote something about this figure from “A Short History of The Jewish People”, a major standard work written by Cecil Roth:
«« The humanistic tradition of Spanish Jewry reached its climax with Judah Halevi. Born in Central Spain, he had the breadth of outlook derived from a first-hand acquaintance with three cultures – the Christian, the Arabic, and the Jewish. By profession a physician, he was by vocation a poet. Never perhaps has any other person acquired such extraordinary mastery over a language no longer ordinarily spoken. His inspiration soars above the self-imposed shackles of Arabic prosody – the artificial metrical structure, the acrostics at the beginning of each line and the monotonous jingling rhyme at the end. Nothing Jewish, and nothing human, was strange to his muse – neither the pleasures of friendship, nor the ecstasies of passion, nor the grandeurs of nature, nor the mysteries of religion. Above all, he developed a transcendental passion for the Holy Land: and his hymns to Zion compare in their heart-rending appeal to the greatest love-lyrics in world literature. »»
After deciding to go to the Holy Land, Halevi travelled to the metropolis Alexandria in 1140. Four months later he sailed to Palestine where he died upon his arrival. It is told that as he arrived in sight of Jerusalem, he flung himself in ecstasy to the ground. A passing Arab horseman spurred his steed over the recumbent body, …and the poet sobbed out his life with the immortal cadences of his greatest ode to Zion.
Zion is a word rich in resonance. Originally part of Jerusalem, it quickly gained the poetical meaning of the place where the Temple stood, and in that sense was also seen as the place where God dwelt. Eventually it came to mean the whole city and, by extension, the entire country. It illustrates how closely Zion, or Jerusalem, is tied up with the Jewish religion itself. Which makes it somewhat strange to want to make an international city of Jerusalem, the beating heart of Judaism. (2) Indeed, this is scarcely necessary: a joint management of the holy places would suffice.
During the Six Day War, a war not sought by Israel, the state was presented on a platter with the city – which, until then, had been under Jordanian rule. This can be seen as a miracle, a gift of God. That is how I see it, and many in Israel agree with me. Jerusalem was reconquered on 7th June 1967. Here I write quite deliberately “reconquered” rather than “conquered”. The historic photo shown here of the paratroopers at the Wailing Wall was taken on that memorable day.
Despite the unimaginably long period of exile, the desire to return to Jerusalem – and to see the Temple rebuilt – has always been present. (3) For generation upon generation the participants prayed at the Pesach Seder (Easter meal), commemorating the end of the Egyptian exile: “Next year in Jerusalem, rebuilt and inhabited again!” This unlikely proclamation has come true in front of our very eyes. Those who deny its importance or resist its deeper meaning are bereft of hope. Because of this repeated wish there can be no thought of legal limitation of the right to ownership of the country. A claim or a right is not subject to the statute of limitations if the period of claim or right is brought to mind in a suitable fashion before the period runs out. Thus the Jewish claim to the land has always been valid. It goes without saying that the Jewish people’s right to ownership of the land of Israel does not exclude peaceful coexistence with the peoples already established there and with the peoples who have settled there more recently. But what if the other party (the Islamic Arabs) themselves oppose the very principle of peaceful coexistence? That is a hard problem to stomach.
Israel has always been a conquered country since 332 BC when Alexander the Great took it. In those more than 2000 years it has never been an independent nation. The return of the Jewish people to the land of their fathers and the establishing of an independent state was in every way a unique happening. And not just unique: unbelievable too. It defies logic, and yet we saw it happen.
2 – The birth of (Christian) Zionism
Zionism (the longing for Zion) has always existed as an idea, as witnessed by Palm 137: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion”. Modern Jewish Zionism can be traced back to the 1882 founding of the BILU, an acronym for Beit Ya’akov Lekhu Ve-nelkha, taken from Isaiah 2:5: “House of Jacob, let us go [up]!” Eight years after the founding of the BILU the term ‘Zionism’ was introduced by Nathan Birnbaum in his journal Selbstemanzipation, meaning the establishment of agricultural settlements, since that was the aim at the time; until the 1930s the religious motive played hardly any role at all. It was not a religious motive but the Russian pogroms that gave the push to return to the land of the fathers. ‘Pogrom’ is a collective name for more or less organised popular riots that turned on the Jews like lightning. The first took place in Ukraine in 1881.
Pogrom is a Russian word designating an attack, accompanied by destruction, looting of property, murder, and rape, perpetrated by one section of the population against another. The Jews of Russia were the victims of three large-scale waves of pogroms, each of which surpassed the preceding in scope and savagery. These occurred between the years 1881 and 1884, 1903 and 1906, and 1917 and 1921. There were outbreaks in Poland after it regained independence in 1918, and in Romania from 1921. The first pogrom occurred in the town of Yelizavetgrad (Kirovograd), in Ukraine, at the end of April 1881. From there, the pogrom wave spread to the surrounding villages. It is difficult to assess the scope of the pogroms during the civil war years and the number of victims they claimed. Partial data are available for 530 communities in which 887 major pogroms and 349 minor pogroms occurred; there were 60,000 dead and several times that number of wounded (according to S. Dubnow). Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica.
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