Dear friend in the Messiah,
Happy 68th birthday to Israel!
It is hard to believe that modern Israel was established such a short time ago. The modern state of Israel is an answer to the prayers of Jews and Christians and is a signpost of God’s faithfulness to His covenants and promises.
The survival of the Jewish people and their return to the Promised Land of Israel is a clear testimony of God’s faithfulness to His word! The miracle of Israel is a joy to behold, but the glorious future promised by God has not fully arrived yet. There is more to come as so many prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures are still to be fulfilled—and we look forward to that day when the nation of Israel will “look to Him whom they have pierced and mourn as one mourns for an only begotten son…” (Zech. 12:10).
As you know, we are living in difficult days for the nation of Israel as Hamas is still firing missiles into the border towns and personal terrorists are murdering innocent Israelis each week. We are hoping and praying for peace!
Meanwhile, there are millions of Jewish people and Arabs in Israel that we must reach with the Good News of the Gospel. In order to do this we must have a better understanding of modern Israel so that we can be most effective in our ministries.
The Pew Foundation Report on the Jewish Religion in Israel
Recently, the Pew Foundation, which has done such an excellent job analyzing the Jewish community and many other faith communities, produced a report on Jewish religious life within Israel. The full report is over 200 pages and is the result of surveys taken between late 2014 and early 2015. You can read it by going to the Chosen People Ministries Facebook page or website where we have posted the full report.
The report did discover seven key findings, and I will note and comment on them here in relationship to how each might impact our bringing the Gospel to the Jewish people in the Holy Land. The first paragraph of the report is a good introduction as to why the foundation felt it was important to do this study:
For a small country, Israel holds a place of great importance for three of the world’s major religious groups. The modern Jewish state is not only the “Promised Land” for Jews, but the only country in the world where they form a majority of the population. For Christians, Israel is the “Holy Land,” because it is the place where Jesus’ life and death unfolded. And, for Muslims, Jerusalem is the place where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
Here are the points, followed by my comments:
1. Israeli Jews are largely united on the need for their nation to be a homeland for Jews, regardless of their origins.
One would expect Israelis to affirm the need for the nation of Israel. Remember, the modern state of Israel grew out of the ashes of the Holocaust. Also, antisemitism is on the rise around the world and perhaps the number one reason why Jewish people from across the globe move to Israel is because they feel unsafe in their current locale. This is clear from the following response to the survey,
Three-quarters of Israeli Jews (76%) see antisemitism as common and increasing around the world.
This sense of threat which Jewish people feel because of growing antisemitism also gives us opportunities as followers of Jesus to help the Jewish people better understand the promises of God so that they can depend upon Him for safety and security. It also provides us with a great opportunity to show God’s kindness to the Jewish people so that they understand that “true Christians” love the Jewish people because they love the Jewish Bible and the Jewish Messiah. Remember, aside from Islamic extremism, most Jewish people generally believe that Christianity is the source of antisemitism. We would like to change that understanding through our love and actions as believers in Jesus.
2. Virtually all Jews in Israel identify with one of four major religious subgroups:
Dati (“religious”) and
This part of the report was very helpful in understanding the religious divisions among Israelis. The report indicates that about 50% of the Israelis surveyed are secular and the other 50% are religious in one way or another. Therefore, it is actually wrong to think of Israel as a secular country. Other reports and surveys in recent years have indicated a growth in Orthodox Judaism, not only because they seem to have more children than other types of Jewish people, but because they are also making converts from among more secular Jewish people.
This means that our efforts to reach Jewish people for the Messiah in Israel cannot simply be limited to those who are more secular. Certainly, at times it seems easier to reach secular Israelis with the Gospel, but we must remember that there is a substantial group of religious Jewish people, the Orthodox, that we must pray for and give the message of Jesus.
3. Jewish groups consistently disagree on a range of specific public policy issues.
It is clear that there is a great divide between Orthodox, traditionalists and secular Jews in their vision for the state of Israel. The secular would like to have complete freedom of movement on the Sabbath as Israel for the most part does not allow public transportation to run on Friday night and Saturday. There are a host of other issues as well, including military service, as in years past Orthodox or traditional Jewish people were not required to serve.
In light of the above, it is important to note that most Jewish people and those thinking about becoming religious believe they are faithful to God and have a certain idea of what that means. Paul understood this in Romans 10:2.
I believe that this divide between religious and nonreligious Jews in Israel provides an opportunity for the Gospel, as long as we continue to show His love to both secular and Orthodox Jews. Remember, we want to reach all Israelis with the Gospel.
4. About eight-in-ten (81%) Israeli adults are Jewish…
It is important to note the religious diversity within Israel, not simply among Jewish Israelis but among all Israelis. According to the survey the non-Jewish population of Israel is divided in the following manner,
…the remainder are mostly ethnically Arab and religiously Muslim (14%), Christian (2%) or Druze (2%). Overall, the Arab religious minorities in Israel are more religiously observant than Jews.
As the figures indicate, Christians in Israel are a very small minority, something American evangelicals are not used to at all. Israel cherishes religious freedom and people of all faiths are able to worship as they wish, build houses of worship, print books that reflect their religious traditions, etc.
In effect, there is great freedom to proclaim the Gospel within Israel; however, individualized opposition or opposition coming from smaller groups of more religious Jews and Muslims will always be a challenge. In fact, this is one of the reasons that the Christian population in a town like Bethlehem has been reduced by almost 50% over the last few years. The problem is not the Israelis, but the more religious Muslims who are intolerant of Christians.
5. Half of Israeli Jews (48%) say Arabs should be transferred or expelled from Israel while a similar share (46%) disagree with this.
This is a large and disturbing number and inconsistent with previous surveys. The reason might lie with Pew’s use of Hebrew. It is technical but important. The Pew study used the word for Arab without the Hebrew definite article. This would cause the respondents to be unsure about what the researcher intended. The London-based Jewish Chronicle describes the problem in this way,
Every respondent will have interpreted the question in their own way, which is bad planning by Pew because it needed just one more letter to make this aspect of the question clearer. The definite article is extremely important in Hebrew, and if Pew was interested in what Israeli Jews think about the presence of Arabs, it should have asked about “the Arabs” not “Arabs”—which would have required one extra letter, a hey.
The language in this question seemed to be confusing and should become the subject of vigorous discussion in the days ahead. However, this question did show the lack of good faith between Israelis and Arabs.
This is simply a reminder for us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem as only the Lord can break through so many seemingly insurmountable challenges to peace.
6. Together, Israel and the U.S. are home to about 80% of Jews globally, and there are strong bonds between the world’s two largest Jewish populations.
The ties that bind the United States Jewish population to Israel are strong. The author of the summary further writes,
Most Israeli Jews feel they share a common destiny with U.S. Jews and think U.S. Jews have a good influence on Israeli affairs. American Jews also harbor warm feelings about Israel. Our 2013 survey of U.S. Jews (http://www.pewforum.org/2013/10/01/jewish-american-beliefs-attitudes-culture-survey/) found that most say they are either “very” (30%) or “somewhat” (39%) emotionally attached to Israel, and that caring about Israel is either essential or important to what being Jewish means to them.
This is another reminder of how important it is for evangelical Christians to support the modern state of Israel, not because modern Israel is perfect, but because the Jewish people have come back to the Land promised to them by God. And the relationship between our two great democratic nations needs to be strengthened so that we can show a common front in facing our common enemy—radical Islam, especially as seen in the actions of ISIS, Iran and Hamas.
7. Israeli Jews overall are more religious than U.S. Jews, partly because Orthodox Jews make up a greater share of their population.
There is no doubt that the Orthodox Jewish population of both Israel and the United States is growing in number and influence. This growth has an impact on Jewish community life, politics and of course, faith. We experience this already in reaching the almost one million Jewish people of Brooklyn as the ratio of Orthodox to non-Orthodox Jews is quite different than in most cities within the United States. Brooklyn has a high percentage of Orthodox, or otherwise religious Jewish people, which shapes our community.
We might be entering a season when more traditional Jews become the Jewish religious norm in Israel and the United States. I believe we will continue to see many Jewish people rejecting religion and faith and others becoming more traditional.
This is all the more reason for Christians to pray for and support ministries like Chosen People Ministries. Reaching religious Jewish people is better accomplished by Jewish ministries like ours as traditional Jewish people do not often know evangelical Christians. Perhaps this can change as Christians begin to find new ways to love and pray for their Jewish friends, both secular and religious.
As always, I want to thank you for your generous prayers and support without which we could not continue this great work that began in 1894!
Yours in our Messiah,