From Antisemitism to Ohr Lagoyim
BY RABBI TULY WEISZ
As a kid in Ohio in the 1980s, my Bnei Akiva madrichim always gave us the same warning when we went on trips: we must not make a chillul Hashem, because, after all, so many non-Jews hated us! When I became a madrich myself, I flipped the argument, and told the kids that since so many non-Jews loved Israel and the Jewish people, we must be on our best behavior and make a kiddush Hashem. Antisemitism is the flipside of our ability to be an ohr lagoyim; to achieve the latter, we must understand the former.
In recent months, Jewish conspiracy theories have become widely accepted by everyone from celebrities to sports stars. At the same time, Hamas has successfully convinced a gullible world that Israelis are occupiers who have stolen their land, while progressive politicians add fuel to the fire by accusing Religious Zionist leaders of racism. It’s all very shocking – but it shouldn’t be. In working closely with the Christian community for more than a decade, I have seen how ancient stereotypes often lie just below the surface. In response, I believe that we, the Religious Zionist community, must unite to fight against the very source of the twin evils of antisemitism and anti-Zionism: Replacement Theology.
When Christianity first separated from Judaism 2,000 years ago, the new religion claimed that its “New” Testament superseded our “Old” one, and that they were the “New Israel”. Known as Replacement Theology, this perverse belief system suggests that G-d broke His promise to the Jewish people after we rejected the Christian messiah. Accordingly, our Torah is outdated, our Land doesn’t belong to us and we are fair targets for hostility and hatred. This theological perversion at the root of today’s dangerous antisemitism is a direct challenge to the Religious Zionist community whose motto is “Am Yisrael, B’Eretz Yisrael al pi Torat Yisrael.”
At the same time, many Christians today reject Replacement Theology and are, ironically, our greatest friends and supporters. According to a 2020 Pew survey, 70% of evangelicals believe that G-d gave Israel to the Jewish people (compared to only 32% of Jews!). These numbers should guide us as we defend our people from antisemitism. We should not be embarrassed to cite our status as G-d’s chosen people and our divine right to the Land, for these arguments will be widely embraced by millions of American Christians. As antisemitism increases, our community must initiate Tanach-based advocacy with increasing urgency and religious fervor. We have always studied Torah lishma, for its own sake; but now we must teach Torah for our own sake.
No matter where you live, chances are that many of your non-Jewish neighbors and coworkers would love to hear about your love for the Torah. Their eyes will tear up when you share your family’s history over the last century, especially if you had relatives in the Holocaust or suffered from Christian antisemitism. They will love to hear about your visits to Israel and your experiences walking in the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The Jewish people were not given the Torah merely to survive in exile. G-d chose us to be an ohr lagoyim, a light unto the nations, a mission that can only be fully achieved when we are settled in our Land. Now that we have returned home, we have a historically unprecedented opportunity to teach millions of gentiles the wisdom of Torah. There is no playbook for this chapter of our history; we have never experienced a moment like this. But the stakes are high, and we must rise to the occasion!
It is a rule of history: when Jews abandon the Torah and behave like all the other nations, the nations persecute us. When Israel recklessly follows western values, the nations hate us even more. Only when we fulfill our destiny and teach the nations how to live G-dly lives based upon Torah values will we transform Israel from the most condemned country into the world’s spiritual superpower.
When we embrace the study of Tanach and begin teaching it to our neighbors, colleagues and the entire world, we will begin to extinguish the flames of antisemitism. But even more importantly, the study of Tanach will ignite the spark of Jewish pride in each and every one of us – building a fire that will soon become a blazing light unto all the nations of the world!
Rabbi Tuly Weisz is the founder of Israel365, an organization dedicated to strengthening Israel by building bridges with those who share our faith-based values.