Columns Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

The US Embassy is in Jerusalem. Now, what?

A road sign leading to the U.S. Embassy is seen ahead the official opening in Jerusalem, on May 13, 2018. Monday's opening of the U.S. Embassy in contested Jerusalem, cheered by Israelis as a historic validation, is seen by Palestinians as an in-your-face affirmation of pro-Israel bias by President Trump and a new blow to frail statehood dreams. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

When President Trump first announced that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, I was not enthusiastic.

Of course, I believe that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. I have always believed that it is patently absurd that Israel is the only country in the world not to have an internationally-recognized capital.

Here is something to do if you ever get bored.

You have an iPhone?

  • Go to clock.
  • Then, world clock.
  • Hit the + symbol.
  • Scroll down and look for Jerusalem.

What do you see — or, rather, what do you not see?

Right — there is no country attached to Jerusalem. It is just kind of there.

One of these days, Apple will change that.


I was mostly concerned about the timing of the proclamation.

But, then again, what would be the right time? Given the current situation, and history, can there ever be a right time?

The same is true with the moving of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem, which further advances our nation’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

I believed that the move was largely symbolic (while simultaneously realizing that symbolism is, of course, always the issue in such matters). Likewise, I have been afraid that the physical location of the embassy in Jerusalem would serve as an open invitation for terrorism.

Moreover, given the perfect storm of today’s celebration — Jerusalem Day; the exact seventieth anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel; the beginning of Ramadan; the unrest emanating from Gaza  — we have every reason to worry. Let us “pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” and that our fears will have been needless.

But, now that the US Embassy is a fait accompli, there is every reason to rejoice — even mutely. When you consider that an Israeli singer won the Eurovision song contest, it only adds to the reasons for joy in the Jewish state.

Except, there’s just one thing about the dedication of the embassy.

That would be the person who delivered the invocation.

I am talking about Reverend Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas.

  • This is Reverend Jeffress on the Jews: “You can’t be saved by being a Jew.”
  • This is Reverend Jeffress on the Church of Latter-Day Saints: “Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell.”
  • This is Reverend Jeffress on Roman Catholicism:Much of what you see in the Catholic Church today doesn’t come from God’s word. It comes from this cultlike pagan religion. You say, ‘Well now pastor how can you say such a thing? That is such an indictment of the Catholic Church.’ After all, the Catholic Church talks about God and the Bible and Jesus and the blood of Christ and salvation. Isn’t that the genius of Satan?
  • This is Reverend Jeffress on LGBT issues: “They are engaged in the most detestable, unclean, abominable acts you can imagine.”

Pastor Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Dallas Church Choir introduces President Trump during the Celebrate Freedom event at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, on July 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

All of which raises the following question: How can this hateful individual deliver an invocation in Jerusalem? This is a city that is holy to a people who, in his opinion, are condemned to hell.

So, let’s do a vocabulary lesson.

Anti-semitism. There are so many available definitions. Here is one that I have used. Gavin Langmuir, in History, Religion, and Antisemitism, defines it as: “the hostility aroused by the irrational thinking about ‘Jews’.”Or, as I prefer to call it, “Jew hatred.”

Anti-Judaism. Similar, but with subtle differences. Anti-Judaism is mostly theological and philosophical. As I quipped in a lecture in the Twin Cities two weeks ago: “How is Judaism like Minneapolis? Because it’s opposed to Saint Paul.” To Paul, Judaism is an “incorrect” religion. You want salvation? Depend on God’s grace — not upon the performing of the mitzvot. That’s just the beginning of the story. Read David Nirenberg to see how anti-Judaism has influenced Western culture.

But, here’s the thing about anti-Judaism.

Theoretically, you can be anti-Judaism without being anti-Semitic. I experienced this while I was doing my doctoral work at a prominent Protestant seminary. I had professors who were clearly opposed to Judaism on a theological level, but as for being Jew-haters? Absolutely not.

Pro-Israel. It can mean:

  • Being a Zionist — knowing that there is a veritable smorgasbord of available Zionist ideologies, as my friend Gil Troy has made abundantly clear in his new book, The Zionist Ideas.
  • Believing that the state of Israel has a right to exist. See above.
  • Agreeing with the policies of the current government of the state of Israel — which often has little to do with the above two points.

So, how is it possible that Jeffress was chosen to give the invocation at the dedication of the embassy?

Because Christian Zionism has shown us that there is no necessary overlap between loving Judaism, loving the Jews, and loving Israel.

In fact, I have met Christian Zionists who have made blatant anti-semitic remarks.

They love Israel for a variety of reasons:

  • Some might believe that a Jewish sovereign presence in Israel is part of the grand scheme of redemption.
  • Some believe in Genesis 12 — “those who bless you I will bless, and those that curse you, I will curse.” They want the blessing.
  • The land of Israel is the place where the gospels take place. It is where Jesus walked. That is why many Christian groups go to Israel on pilgrimage. On their itineraries, it is theoretically possible for them to never encounter the Jewish presence in the land — with the exception of Hebrew road signs. They are there for the Christian content.
  • Israel is America’s close friend. Being an American patriot means loving Israel.
  • And, not a few simply hate Muslims and “Ay-rabs.” In their binary world view, the perceived enemy of my enemy is my friend.

I detest everything that Reverend Jeffress stands for and believes in.

And here is the larger issue.

Will our young people, seeing the some of the people who enthusiastically support the centrality of Israel, be sophisticated enough to make the differentiation in their minds?

Will they say: “Despite the fact that Reverend Jeffress and his ilk love Israel, I, too, will love Israel?”

Or, will they say: “With friends like these…..”

So, OK: the embassy is in Jerusalem. Mazal tov.

It’s those final questions, and others, that keep me up at night.

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.