Commentary Magazine

Christian Schools & Israeli Children

Before arriving in Israel last January I was aware that there had been a resurgence of controversy over alleged efforts by Christian missionaries to convert Jewish children, but I did not attribute much significance to it. The demonstrations that had recently been staged by a group of rabbinical students against a number of Christian schools were more or less on a par, I felt, with incidents like the regular stoning of cars driving past Jerusalem's Mea Shearim quarter on the Sabbath—irritating, but not to be taken seriously: the work of a tiny, if troublesome, minority. And as for the claims that the missionaries numbered in the hundreds, and that there were thousands of Jewish children in their clutches—I suspected that they were vastly exaggerated. Some years before in Israel, I had had occasion to investigate similar claims and had found little evidence to support them. Accordingly I assumed that the “Issue of the Missions,” as it has come to be called in Israel, was largely a manufactured cause, and that the religious parties' insistence that the government pass anti-missionary legislation was largely a token demand—another round in the ongoing battle between the “religious” and “non-religious” camps. How wrong I was in all these assumptions I realized soon after my arrival. Whether or not anything had changed with respect to Christian missionary efforts in Israel, there had been a change in the mood of the Orthodox religious community—a change with the gravest of potentials for the Jewish community in Israel and abroad.

The seriousness of this new development was first borne in upon me when I came across a poster displayed on the walls of Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Kuk's yeshiva in Jerusalem. Headed “About the Missions in Israel,” the poster consisted of excerpts from a speech that had been delivered to a convention of the American Mizrachi party by its leader, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik of Boston. According to official figures, the poster proclaimed in bold type, 1400 Jewish children were currently enrolled in missionary institutions in Israel, and the number might even be larger. These missions were aimed at achieving nothing less than the creation of “kosher Israeli Christians.”

Rabbi Soloveitchik then went on to tell how his eminent grandfather had once deliberately desecrated the Sabbath, and urged other Jews to do the same, in order to effect the rescue of only one “Jewish waif who had been brought into the Church—and behold in Israel they have stolen 1400 children from Jewish homes and brought them into the mission,” and the government was reacting with “utter calm.” The rabbi then heaped praise upon the young people of the Talmudic Academies and the religious youth movements who had gone to jail as a result of their demonstrations against the missions, and he proceeded to draw a distinction between missionary efforts in Israel and similar efforts in the Diaspora:

In times past, when a Jew converted, he was simply lost to the non-Jewish community. But today . . . they convert a Jewish child and station him again among Jews, and he becomes a missionary. The effort of the Church is not to make non-Jews of Jews, but to revive the type of a Christian Jew—as the case of Brother Daniel illustrates . . .

He had received, Rabbi Soloveitchik said, an invitation from a Protestant delegation to attend a conference at Geneva to urge the abolition of missionary activities. The invitation was proof, he declared, “that enlightened non-Jews understand what the nation of Israel does not understand.” The poster concluded with a stern warning, clearly directed more to the government of Israel than to the rabbi's hearers. “The relationship of Orthodox Jews in America toward the Jewish state will be decided according to the actions of the government against the missions. . . . A legal way must be found to rescue the 1400 children. . . . The time is five minutes before twelve and I hope that a chasm will not be opened between us.”

I was considerably startled by this document—less by its substance than by its tone, its authorship, and the fact that I came across it where I did. Neither Rabbi Kuk nor Rabbi Soloveitchik was a figure one would dream of associating with fanaticism. The students at Rabbi Kuk's yeshiva were known to be far from sympathetic to the extremist Orthodox elements who had in fact once excommunicated Abraham Isaac Kuk, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel and the father of their beloved teacher. As for Rabbi Soloveitchik, he is respected even outside Orthodox circles for his great erudition, extending beyond Talmudic scholarship into the realm of secular science and philosophy. Yet there were obviously assertions and phrases in the poster that teetered on the edge of what in Talmudic parlance could be called “stealing of the mind.” For example, all but a few dozen of the “1400 children studying in missions” were actually enrolled in places like St. Joseph's School in Jerusalem and the Scottish Church school in Jaffa. These are Christian schools, but no proof has ever been produced that they are missions or that they have tried to convert Jewish children. (In fact, there was a time when many Orthodox parents preferred sending their children to these schools rather than to the secular Zionist school system.) As for the comparison between the “waif who had been brought into the Church” and the “1400 Jewish children” who had been “stolen” from Jewish homes, even the organized anti-missionary groups were willing to grant that the 1400 had been voluntarily enrolled by their parents or families. And similarly, while it is true that Israel is the only country in the Middle East which permits open missionary activity, did Rabbi Soloveitchik really believe that “enlightened” Christians in the United States would approve of a ban on such activity by the Israeli government? Most disturbing, however, were the rabbi's conclusions. Did the activity of the Christian missions really threaten Jewish survival? Were the leaders of Orthodox Jewry, moreover, really prepared to let the Israeli government's policy on the missions determine their attitude toward the State?

But if my first reaction was surprise and even disappointment, I soon began to have second thoughts. Perhaps I had been wrong in my initial assumptions; perhaps the picture had changed since I had made that first informal survey a few years back. I had met some of the Christian “Jews” to whom Rabbi Soloveitchik referred, and there was no doubt that there were interesting and forceful personalities among them. The case of Brother Daniel, for instance, had certainly aroused a good deal of interest in Christianity, and despite the Supreme Court's final ruling, the Jewish-born priest had won much respect in the country—among Israeli journalists in particular, and even among the judges—for the dignity and restraint with which he had conducted his suit, and also for his efforts to save Jews during the Hitler period. There were others like Brother Daniel living in Israel—converts to Protestantism as well as to Catholicism. Had the doctrines they espoused become sufficiently attractive to pose a threat to Jewish survival? If so—and if this factor was being abetted by a substantial increase in the amount of missionary work going on—one could begin to sympathize with Rabbi Soloveitchik's lack of moderation. In a time of crisis a religious leader might be justified in dispensing with the finer distinctions.


In an effort to determine whether such justification did indeed exist, I spent some weeks last year—shortly after Pope Paul's visit to Israel—surveying the realities of the missionary situation there. Survey is perhaps too ambitious a term for the series of conversations I held with various authorities on the problem. Nevertheless, a fairly clear picture began to emerge as I talked with representatives of different points of view. My first substantial encounter was with Dr. R.Z. Zvi Werblowsky, professor of comparative religion at the Hebrew University. Dr. Werblowsky had been recommended to me by a young Catholic priest in Jerusalem who had made no attempt to conceal his resentment at the charges that were repeatedly being hurled at the Christian schools—allegations of bribery, ranging from offers of money to offers of visas for travel abroad, in exchange for enrolling Jewish children. There was no basis for these accusations, the priest had insisted, pointing out that the schools, far from offering money, charged tuition, while the Israeli public school system was free. The Jewish chil-den, furthermore, were exempt from participating in Christian prayers, and far from encouraging conversions, the Catholic Church required all would-be converts to embark upon a two-year period of study. “I really believe,” the priest had concluded angrily, “that these Orthodox Jews want to drive us completely out of the land—even though they won't say so openly.” Then, realizing perhaps that my “survey” would benefit from a more objective presentation, he had recommended Professor Werblowsky to me as a man in possession of the “facts.” These the professor indeed turned out to have in abundance—folders full, which he was eager to impart to me or to anybody else who would listen. He received me in his home, wearing a short Japanese robe with a Chinese mandarin hat—souvenirs of a recent trip to the Far East—and launched almost immediately into a rapid, orderly, yet passionate analysis of the missionary problem.

Professor Werblowsky's own interest in the matter, he explained, had grown out of his work as secretary of an interfaith committee that had been formed several years before to improve communications among Israel's numerous religious groups. Though he was not anti-Orthodox, and would, in fact, call himself religious, his experience with the “missionary affair” had left him utterly disgusted with official rabbinic circles. To his own surprise, he had found himself turning into a kind of detective in the past few years, devoting a great deal of energy to unearthing the facts that lay behind all the charges and counter-charges. Dr. Werblowsky brought out his files.

He showed me first a newspaper story describing an outbreak of mass conversions in Kiryat Gat, a new immigrant town in the Negev. Forty or fifty families, the clipping said, were about to be converted at the hands of a certain priest whose name was well known in the area. On the strength of the numbers cited, Dr. Werblowsky had decided to make the trip to Kiryat Gat and investigate the matter personally. There he had discovered that not forty families, not thirty, not even one was on the brink of conversion. The priest whose name had been bandied about as the responsible agent had never even set foot in the town. What it finally came down to was the rather pathetic story of one man in Kiryat Gat who, in the course of a quarrel with the authorities about his job, had threatened to place his children in a mission school in Jerusalem. This was all there was to the incident, which later appeared in all the Israeli newspapers, and which, moreover, they never took the trouble to retract.

Dr. Werblowsky had no lack of further examples. One clipping reported in the most alarming terms “the disappearance of two girls in Safed . . . feared to be in the hands of missionaries.” Following the trail of this report, the professor learned that the two girls had, in fact, spent the night in question at the home of an uncle, and had returned to Safed on the following morning. Yet the newspapers never published the correction.

I asked the professor his opinion of Keren Yaldenu—an organization dedicated to raising funds for the “rescue of Jewish children from the missionaries.” I was acquainted with some of the people directing this work, and knew them to be devoted and honest. I had also visited some of their clubs and seen the excellent work they were doing for poor children. Dr. Werblowsky had no complaints about the Keren Yaldenu clubhouses, but was not willing to grant that their anti-missionary program was honest. From his files, he produced a pamphlet published by this group, whose cover carried a reproduction of a receipt for the sum of $150 supposedly issued by a Christian school. Underneath was a caption reading, “It costs $150 to save a Jewish child from a Christian mission.”

“Would you call this honest?” the professor demanded. “They know very well that this sum was in payment of the actual expenses of maintaining a child whose parents had claimed they had no money. The woman in charge of the school has no desire to take on such children, but she says the parents appear at her doors and plead with her. Should she turn them away?”

Professor Werblowsky did not deny that a certain amount of aggressive missionary activity was taking place in Israel, but in his opinion it was being carried on almost entirely by a few clergymen, some of them self-appointed or affiliated with splinter groups and private fund-raising agencies in the United States. These self-appointed missionaries, he held, were as embarrassing to the legitimate churchmen in Israel as they were disliked by the Jewish authorities. But legislation was not an appropriate way of dealing with the problem.

Professor Werblowsky's final point was that the current obsession in religious circles with the missionary problem was merely the reflection of a growing sense among the Orthodox of their own powerlessness. What better way to stimulate lagging spirits and convictions than to find an enemy—and what better target than the archetypal Christian missionary, hated and feared by Jews in the Diaspora throughout the generations? Concluding our conversation, the professor reminded me—not without irony—that his opinions were perhaps unreliable. He himself had been called a “spokesman for the missionaries”—and by one of the more moderate leaders in the Orthodox camp.


After this conversation, it was obviously time to seek out the other side of the story. Accordingly, I found myself a few days later in the basement of a Jerusalem apartment building where the Chever Ha-Peilim (the Activists)—the group responsible for organizing the demonstrations against the Christian schools—had their office. From behind the locked door a voice asked me who I was and what I wanted. Eventually the door was opened to admit me into a small room, occupied by a young rabbinical student in a broad-brimmed black hat and a rather genial looking man with a blonde beard, who turned out to be Rabbi Kirschenbaum, the volunteer leader of the Activists. Seated behind a desk and puffing away at his pipe, Rabbi Kirschenbaum explained to me that it was the primary task of his organization “to assist in the spiritual assimilation of the new immigrants.” In years past their work had been directed almost entirely against the Jewish authorities who were responsible for placing the children of religious immigrant families into “camps” where they were exposed to “anti-religious views.” Of late, however, the Chever Ha-Peilim was devoting its full attention to the spreading “plague” of Christian missionary work.

When I asked the rabbi what he meant by the term “missionary,” he replied that his group made no distinction whatsoever between the mission schools and the others. By way of demonstration he handed me a thick volume of reprints from publications issued by Christian groups in Israel, openly acknowledging a desire to convert Jews. Included in the book was a pamphlet from the Scottish school in Jaffa—one of the avowedly non-missionary schools—which did, in fact, contain an appeal for funds for the purpose of accelerating missionary work in Israel. Leafing through the book, I came across a page from The Wild Goats of Ein Gedi, my own book on religious life in Israel. It was an excerpt which could be interpreted as supporting the charge of extensive missionary efforts in Israel. Omitted from the excerpt was my conclusion—that missionary accomplishments in Israel had been exaggerated by the press. I said nothing about this to the rabbi. But I did ask whether or not it was true that all—or almost all—the children studying at the Christian schools had been placed there voluntarily by their parents. Rabbi Kirschenbaum agreed, but pointed out quickly that the majority were the children of new immigrant families, who were either unable or unwilling to support them. The Christian schools, he said, offered financial inducements to these families—which were frequently in excess of the subsidies that the regular welfare agencies were able to pay them. A situation had therefore come about in which the new immigrants bided their time while shopping around for the highest offer. It was to eliminate this abuse—what he called the “unfair competition” of the schools against the welfare agencies—that his organization was demanding government legislation.

Somewhat gingerly, I then raised the question of Dr. Werblowsky's charge that most of the missionary stories—as shown by the Kiryat Gat incident—were simply untrue. My informant's calm vanished in an instant. “We thought about preparing a black book on Werblowsky,” he exploded. “He is one of them himself—he is one of the missionaries. The facts prove it! Why else should he have taken it upon himself to investigate the Kiryat Gat report? Why is he so concerned?”

I refrained from analyzing the logic of this reply and instead asked Rabbi Kirschenbaum if it was true that boys from Rabbi Kuk's yeshiva had been involved in the demonstrations. “Not only were the boys involved,” he said proudly, “but Rabbi Kuk himself was involved. He stood right behind them and urged them on.”

Walking back to my hotel that evening, I tried to visualize Zvi Yehudah Kuk, the gentle son of Israel's first Chief Rabbi, standing behind his boys and urging them into the fray. It was almost impossible to picture. Zvi Yehudah's father had always stressed that Jewish youth would be brought to the Torah not by strife and conflict, but only by “increasing the light” of Judaism. I resolved to confront Zvi Yehudah with this question before I left Israel.

First, however, I wanted to visit the offices of the Keren Yaldenu. This organization calls itself an “anti-missionary” society, but clearly, there was no love lost between it and the Activists. When I mentioned my interview with Rabbi Kirschenbaum to the bearded young man assigned to give me information, his face flushed with irritation. “We have our own name for them,” he told me, “made up of the initials of the name of their group. We call them chapp, which is Yiddish for ‘grab.’ By their methods they have undone all the careful work we have been doing over a long period.”

I asked about the pamphlet I had seen in Werblowsky's office. It was no longer being used, he said somewhat defensively; nor, he added, had it ever been meant to suggest that the Christian schools were demanding a ransom for the release of their Jewish pupils. The schools did, however, demand payment for the maintenance of the children, and it was this point that the pamphlet had been designed to prove. Furthermore, not everything the Christian schools said was to be believed. He, too, had his files from which he produced a clipping that reported the “release” of four Jewish children from a Catholic school in Jerusalem whose director had previously denied that any Jewish children were enrolled there at all.


But between the views of Werblowsky on the one side and the anti-missionary societies on the other, I found a range of more complicated responses. “Let them—the Jewish leaders—form their own missions,” was the bitter recommendation of a young and religiously inclined Sabra to whom I spoke after visiting Keren Yaldenu. Also typical was the ambivalence of a government official who first expressed anger at the “irresponsible extremists” who had broken into some of the Christian schools, and then burst out: “But we lost six million in Europe. Why don't these missionaries get off our backs?”

In the “missionary camp” itself, I saw a dozen young people, most of them converted Jews, meeting in a lovely building in Jerusalem where, attended by several clergymen from the United States, they sang hymns and watched a movie. I also spoke with the leader of a Baptist group which conducts regular services in Hebrew, but he denied that his organization was interested in proselytizing, and he objected to the word “missionary.” “It's a term that ought to be reserved for work among pagans.” Of course I knew that most Christian groups are by their nature committed to proselytizing, at least to some extent, whether or not they call themselves missionaries. Yet from all I could see, these groups were no more effective today than they had been in the past. Why, then, the sudden, almost hysterical call to arms of the Orthodox leadership—and from that part of the leadership which until recently had been among the moderating influences on the volatile Israeli religious scene?

But that was just it. The center of the religious camp was moving toward extremism—and not only in matters that concerned the missions. The recent controversy over the new luxury ocean liner, the Shalom, was a case in point. Arguments about kosher facilities in public or semi-public places were not new in Israel, but the anger generated on both sides by the proposed installation of a non-kosher kitchen on the Shalom had reached an intensity far out of proportion to the issue involved. All the way from Boston, Rabbi Soloveitchik had threatened to excommunicate Jews using Israel's planes and ships if the non-kosher kitchen were installed. Such extremism had startled even Israeli rabbinical authorities.

A few months earlier, to take another example, the constant bickering over Sabbath traffic near the Orthodox Meah Shearim quarter of Jerusalem had erupted in the sensational “Black Sabbath.” Only the presence of large police and army detachments had prevented serious clashes between the religious groups and the young people from the non-religious kibbutzim who had come to Jerusalem to protest religious coercion. And—this is what I was told by Orthodox youngsters in Meah Shearim—it was the youth with “the small hats,” many of them members of the “liberal” Orthodox B'nai Akiva, who were preparing to throw stones at the cars.


It remained for my last informant—a young Orthodox rabbi willing, in private at least, to entertain some unorthodox opinions—to relate the “Issue of the Missions” to these changes in the religious climate of Israel. Of course there were missionaries, my rabbinic friend declared, and some of them, to be sure, were acting in foolishly provocative ways—setting up their missions near Orthodox religious quarters and offering free movies on the Sabbath for children in poor neighborhoods. But statistically, their accomplishments were negligible. The whole issue had been vastly overblown in accordance with certain dynamics within the Jewish religious community.

“If Feigele sneezes,” he said, “Levi Eshkol has to wipe his nose.” Feigele, he went on to explain, was an elderly lady of extreme religious convictions who lived in Meah Shearim, and had set herself up as a kind of one-woman vigilante committee for the maintenance of Orthodox standards. Even Amram Blau, the leader of the Neturai Karta element, who feels so strongly about the secularism of the Israeli government that he will not allow its money to touch his palm, lived in fear of being accused by Feigele of “religious laxity.” Within the Knesset, in turn, the conservative Agudah religious party is forever worrying that the Neturai Karta will put up posters accusing them of “selling out religious principles for Zionist gold.” And the usually liberal Mizrachi party is afraid of a similar accusation being leveled against them by the Agudah, and so they keep trying to prove their vigilance by pressing the government for more and more concessions. Thus a dynamic had been set in operation which tends to push the religious parties further and further to the right.

But there were more important psychological factors behind the new aggressive activism of formerly moderate religious groups and leaders, my informant continued. The “shaven ones,” as they were called by the bearded members of the “old Yishuv” in Jerusalem, were suffering from a growing sense of guilt, and the fuss over the proposed non-kosher kitchen on the Shalom was but one illustration of their predicament. Was I aware, he asked, that some time before the kitchen incident, the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Brooklyn had written a letter to the Zim Lines proposing that Israeli ships make a stopover in Bermuda? It was not that the Rebbe was so eager for Jews to visit Bermuda; it was that such a stop would make it possible for a ship to cross the Atlantic without traveling on the Sabbath. Actually, all the fuss about kashruth on the Zim Lines was a cover-up for the far more important violation of Orthodox law involved in the operation of Jewish ships or planes on the Sabbath. The Orthodox know that they are agreeing to compromise on the Law, but they also know that they cannot realistically ask for public utilities to be shut down or for ships and planes to stop traveling on the Sabbath. The guilt and frustration this arouses explains the violent, explosive outbreaks of anger over comparatively safe issues like that of the Christian missionaries. Added to these feelings of guilt is the knowledge that the religious camp is losing its battle, even though it appears on the surface to be winning victory after victory. Thus the kitchen on the Shalom will be strictly kosher on all voyages to or from Israel; the Orthodox objections to Sabbath travel near Meah Shearim are being upheld, despite some face-saving strategy on the part of the government; and in the army camps, nobody is to be permitted (at least officially) to turn a radio on during the Sabbath even if the army station should happen to be offering a special Sabbath program. But these are all pyrrhic victories, and the religious leaders know it. Each of them, achieved through the exertion of political pressure, only serves to intensify the disrespect of the non-religious majority and even of many Orthodox people themselves for the Israeli religious establishment.

“There is a time to scatter and a time to conserve,” says Ecclesiastes. Until recently, the view of most Orthodox Jews in Israel had been that it was a time for “scattering”—for the religious message to leave its self-imposed ghetto and go out to the people. Only the Neturai Karta and other extremist elements had held back, insisting that every attempt to “go out” and work with secular Jewish institutions would result in a fatal transformation of traditional Judaism. But at the present moment even the moderates in the Orthodox camp are beginning to wonder whether wisdom might not be on the side of the Neturai Karta position. Recently, a high Mizrachi source suggested that the possibilities for separation of church and state in Israel be examined. The non-Orthodox proponents of separation were at first delighted at this apparent “liberalism” on the part of a prominent Orthodox leader, but as they probed more deeply into its implications, their delight began to fade. For the ultimate goal of separation, as the Orthodox view it, is not an increase in civic harmony, but rather the deliberate splitting of the country into two Israels. The Mizrachi leaders' proposal is in reality a counsel of despair—an expression of Orthodoxy's feeling that it can survive in Israel only through the establishment of a Trennungs-gemeinde, a self-enclosed Orthodox ghetto. And the ultimate corollary of such a development would be a ban on intermarriage between the two Israels and a split similar to that which took place in the 8th century C.E. between the Rabbinic Jews and the Karaites.


But what about Zvi Yehudah Kuk? If there is any religious leader in Israel who can be said to epitomize moderation and tolerance, it is this man; yet even Rabbi Kuk, who holds the respect of the most anti-religious elements in the country, had become caught up in the missionary dispute. My last interview before returning to the United States was with the gentle white-bearded rabbi in his little two-room apartment in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Kuk was not feeling well the evening I came to see him. He had an infection in his eyes and wore dark glasses. Nevertheless, he took me warmly by the hand and asked me to sit by his side so that we could talk. Two boys from the yeshiva were working at the other end of the table.

I told Rabbi Kuk that I had some questions about the recent demonstrations against the missions and wondered if he was well enough to engage in a discussion.

“Certainly, certainly,” he said, patting my hand. “Anyway, this evening I have an appointment with some apikorsim. Every Saturday night I give them a ‘lesson for non-believers,’” he smiled.

One of the boys at the other end of the table brought in two cups of tea and insisted that Rabbi Kuk drink before beginning the interview. Zvi Yehudah took a few sips and then turned to me again. “Let us begin with the klal—with the overall principle. That was always my father's way—to see the details in the perspective of the whole.

“First, then, we have to understand that Judaism and Christianity are in a state of war. I speak, that is, of the faiths, not of the individuals. As for individuals, Rabbi Chaim Vital once said that one of the signs of the Holy Spirit is the ability to love non-Jews. Of course, people should live with each other in love and brotherhood. But between the Christian and Jewish faiths, there is a basic conflict. One source of this conflict is simply the Christian belief that God became man. But there is another conflict—Christianity denies our historic right to existence.

“That does not mean,” Rabbi Kuk went on, “that Christianity wants all Jews to be killed. But it is a basic tenet of Christianity that with the coming of Jesus, the mission of the Jews as the Chosen People came to an end. Therefore, they have difficulty in understanding what is going on in Israel today. How can a ‘fossil,’ a people who should have ceased to exist, have created all this? For it is impossible to look at Israel, at the ingathering of the exiles and the rebirth of the land and language, and not see in it all the operation of the providential hand of God, ‘the wonders of the Lord.’ But this is contrary to Christian teaching, and so there is a conflict. Of course, this conflict does not mean that we cannot live in harmony with Christians, or that we should not live in peace together in this land.

“Only”—and now a note of anger entered Rabbi Kuk's voice—“when religions and peoples live together, there should be good manners. It is not good manners for Christian missionaries to arrange so-called ‘Hanukkah parties' in areas where poor Jewish children live. We know what they want to accomplish with these Hanukkah parties. Not just to give away sweets. We know what they want to do. A body, if it is alive, cries out when it senses that somebody is trying to cut away a portion of it. A dead body doesn't cry out, but we are alive.”

And the demonstrations? In speaking of them, Rabbi Kuk's tone became a bit more hesitant, even (I had the impression) apologetic. No, he had not been present at the demonstrations. If he had, the boys would simply have registered a peaceable protest and gone home. But he had urged them to demonstrate. “I felt that the time had come for our boys to protest. Only one thing went wrong. They should not have entered the property of others. Still, I can understand their feelings and so should the world.

“In general, I am against religious coercion by either side. The believers must have more belief. That is, they should have enough faith in the Divine Plan to recognize that it evidently includes in it a place for the ‘free-thinkers.’ And the latter should be free enough in their thinking to break through the chains of petty party slogans and limited views of reality so as to see the mysteries that elude every human formulation.”

I had heard Rabbi Kuk say these words before. That was the Rabbi Kuk I knew—always looking for the “harmonizing” elements in every conflict. But I left unable myself to “harmonize” this Rabbi Kuk with the sponsor of the anti-mission demonstrations.


Some weeks after my return to the United States, the Israeli government issued an official report on the Christian schools. A total of nine hundred Jewish children were enrolled in eleven such schools, the report stated. Of these, three were bona fide mission schools, and they had an enrollment of ninety-five Jewish children who received free lodging and clothing. The Prime Minister also noted in the report that since 1954 some two hundred Jews in Israel had been converted to either Christianity or Mohammedanism, while the number of converts to Judaism was somewhat over four hundred.

Not long after the report was issued, several major American religious groups officially urged Prime Minister Eshkol to resist pressure from “extremist religious groups” in the U.S. who would curtail religious freedom in Israel. One reply to this communication was printed in a publication of the Young Israel—a member of the moderate Orthodox faction: “Seven Jewish organizations, among them the synagogue and rabbinic bodies of Conservatism and Reform, have now aligned themselves on the side of missionary activity and sh'mad [conversion].”

A few months ago, the Israeli press reported that ninety-five young Orthodox demonstrators against the Christian schools opted for jail sentences rather than pay the modest fines (ranging from about five to about thirty dollars) that had been imposed by the court. Following a high-spirited public rally replete with speeches about “the missionaries lurking in dark lairs waiting to snatch innocent Jewish souls”—the youths proceeded in triumph to the police station, where they danced joyfully around the policemen assigned to guard them. Later, Rabbi Kuk, who had accompanied the boys through the streets of Jerusalem, kissed each of them farewell, embraced the policemen, and shook the hand of the bewildered sergeant on duty, assuring him that “We are all brothers.”

For the time being, at least, he may still be right.

About the Author

Pin It on Pinterest

Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
for full access to
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
Don't have a log in?
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.