Published On: Tue, Oct 14th, 2014

Presbyterians Give $2.2 Million to Teach Christians Judaism, But this Gift Horse May Have Teeth

Sir John Templeton

The Herzl Institute, a Jerusalem entity, has been awarded $2.2 million to help Christians and Jews study Jewish texts, launching what’s being billed as a new kind of Jewish-Christian cooperation. So goes the press release, which also suggests this is the first ever multimillion-dollar grant in Jewish theology given out by the U.S.-based Templeton Foundation.

The foundation’s website describes their mission as follows:

The John Templeton Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality. We support research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution, and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love, and free will. We encourage civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians and between such experts and the public at large, for the purposes of definitional clarity and new insights.

Sounds like fun.

Sir John Marks Templeton, who passed away in 2008 a few months short of his 96th birthday, was a British stock investor born in Winchester, Tennessee.

Yes, I know, those biographies usually start in England and end, well, not in Tennessee, but on the opposite side of the pond.

Templeton became a billionaire by practically inventing the use of globally diversified mutual funds. His Templeton Growth Fund, Ltd., established in 1954, was among the first who invested in Japan in the middle of the 1960s.

On the lighter side, he also served as an elder of the First Presbyterian Church of Englewood (NJ), was a trustee on the board of Princeton Theological Seminary, the largest Presbyterian seminary, for 42 years and served as its chair for 12 years.

JTF has focused much of its giving on science-related projects, and HI, in Jerusalem, is a research institute focusing on the development of Jewish ideas in philosophy and history.

The institute is named for Theodor Herzl, the relentless visionary of modern political Zionism.

Yoram Hazony is President of the Herzl Institute. He is founder and past President of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, now Shalem College. In the press release, Hazony says: “We’re not just talking about Christians wanting to help Jews out of solidarity or charity, we are talking about the dominant faith of Western civilization saying: ‘The Jews have something to give us, something that we need.’ This is not something that appears in the old playbook for Jewish-Christian dialogue.”

The King’s College in Manhattan and the Herzl Institute also announced a partnership to send Christian students to a “Hebraic Heritage” course where they will study and learn from Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem for a summer.

Hazony said professors at Assumption College in Massachusetts and Wesleyan College in Connecticut will also recruit students to study in Jerusalem.

I have to say, I love it, and it’s just the press release!

“What we’re seeing right now is not the old kind of interfaith dialogue where Christians talked about their Messiah and Jews talked about their Messiah and everybody agrees to disagree, ” Hazony said. “This is completely new dialogue, where we look at Old Testament text and rabbinic texts and Christians are willing to look at Judaism and the Jewish text through Jewish eyes with Jewish lecturers.”

Courses will include studying Hebraic tradition, the impact of biblical ideas on modern-day Israel and the Middle East, and the relationship between Jews and contemporary Christianity and Islam.

“This new sense that there are many Christians who want to hear what Jews have to say fits very well with a dormant Jewish feeling that we have a mission to say something but for a long time people weren’t interested in hearing what we have to say, ” Hazony said.

And then you get this:

Mark Braverman, executive director of Kairos USA, says in the same press release that the newly rich Herzl Institute is not focused on Israel as a political ideal, the institute could be seen as a way to keep Christians theologically committed to Israel.

See, Kairos USA is an organization dedicated to flipping pro-Israel Christian opinion in America, by revealing to them the plight of Palestinian Christians under Israeli occupation.

They have nothing to say about entire Christian Arab cities like Bethlehem being cleansed of their Christian residents by their Muslim brethren. They have zero, splat, gurnischt to say about the murders of thousands of Christians by Muslims in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq—wherever there are any Christians left. No, it’s all about the Israeli occupation.

“What we’re seeing now is Israel is of course feeling threatened by world opinions, ” Braverman told the press release. “They’re embarking on all kinds of fancy public relations campaigns. One strategy is to get Christians on their side theologically across the world.”

And the Herzl bunch will surely work on that one.

It’s amazing that the Presbyterians have picked the Herzl name out of all the options out there: the one Zionist leader who knew next to nothing about his Judaism, for an institute that will teach Jewish thought to gentiles.

I suppose they wanted to start small.

I know I’m being paranoid. I know I’m seeing Trojan horses with $2.2 million gifts clenched in their teeth. What can I do – I’m already thinking Jewish.

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