Ariel University center. Photo: the Forward

Why are evangelicals teaching Jews in the West Bank?

Let's say that you're Jewish. Your kids decide to make aliyah (move to Israel), along with their teenage children. They move to Ariel, a major settlement in the West Bank, founded in 1976 and the home of about 20,000 Jews. You're a little disappointed; politics aside, you would have preferred either Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. But, hey -- it's their life.

Your daughter tells you that her son -- your grandson -- is part of a leadership program for young Israeli Jews, located in Ariel.

OK -- great.

But, then she tells you that the leadership program has been designed by Christian evangelicals.

Send that thank you note to Naftali Bennett, the head of the settlers' party Habayit Hayehudi. Under his leadership, the Israel Ministry of Education is sponsoring that leadership training program. Yes, run by Christian evangelicals.

The initiative is the brainchild of Heather Johnston. Heather and her  husband, Pastor Bruce Johnston, own and run a large Christian retreat center in northern California, called JH Ranch. They have brought numerous Israeli school children to the center. It now has a branch in Ariel. Several thousand Israeli school children will attend each year.

The JH Israel website states:

Israel’s Ministry of Education is planning to fund for 3,000 – 4,000 students. But there are many more who want to come – they just can’t afford it. Some are orphans living in boarding schools. Others may be children of immigrants, whose parents are struggling to make ends meet. Many are future leaders in Israel. The need for strong values and moral character in leadership has never been more evident. Through the National Leadership Center, JH Israel collaborates directly with Israeli leaders to develop a biblical, values-based educational initiative to meet this need.

First, why is the Israeli government outsourcing the teaching of biblical values to evangelical Christians?

Are they saying that Israel lacks the human and intellectual resources to teach Bible to Israeli young people?

We are talking about Israel here! This is the homeland of the Bible! There are more biblical scholars in Israel who can touch the lives and influence the souls of young Israelis than anywhere in the world!

Second, doesn't the Israeli government realize that the Bible that the evangelicals will teach is different from the Bible that our young people should be learning?

Let me explain. Terminology means everything. Evangelicals will teach "the Bible." Some will even call it "the Old Testament" -- old, as in superceded by the New Testament; old, meaning Covenant of Sinai, beta version, to be overwritten by Covenant of Calvary, the upgraded version.  Jews call "the Bible" the Tanakh -- Torah, prophets, and writings.

The Christian "Old Testament" ends with the prophet Malachi, announcing the coming of Elijah the prophet, a stand in for John the Baptist, who will herald the coming of the Messiah.

The Tanakh ends with Second Chronicles, telling of the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, under the sponsorship of King Cyrus of Persia.

This is a major theological difference. "Their" Bible ends with the prediction of the coming of the Christian Messiah; "our" Tanakh ends with the return to Zion -- which, by the way, evangelicals also endorse.

There is another reason why the Bible of the evangelicals is different from the Bible of the Jews.

Evangelicals teach Bible as the direct word of God.

Jews study Tanakh, and especially Torah, through the lenses of the ancient rabbis, the medieval commentators -- and, depending on your theological bias, modern commentators and scholars as well.

Christian evangelicals don't teach this Jewish text the way that Jews do.

Third, who is the target audience?

The program itself will tell you:

Some are orphans living in boarding schools. Others may be children of immigrants, whose parents are struggling to make ends meet.

The Israeli government is willfully opening Ariel to those who will undoubtedly proselytize -- to the most vulnerable sectors of the population.

The Torah speaks of taking care of orphans and strangers. This is not what it meant.

Please understand: the government of Israel gives the back of its hand, or worse, to non-Orthodox Jewish movements.

And yet, it will support this initiative.

So, why is Israel doing this?

It is all very simple -- cynically simple.

To be blunt: the government knows that mainstream support for Israel is virtually non-existent.

It knows that American non-Orthodox support for Israel has been waning, for a variety of reasons.

So, it knows which side of the challah gets the butter. It will invariably give greater attention to those who support them the most: the Orthodox, and the evangelicals.

With this (not inexpensive) move, the government of Israel is signaling to the Jewish world, once again, that it cares more about the support (and money) of Christian evangelicals than it does about the non-Orthodox Jewish communities, either in Israel or in the Diaspora.

American Jewish organizations must protest this.

More than that: so should the Jews of Ariel. This is a Trojan horse, if ever there was one.