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.


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  • It’s hard to be a good right-wing Christian and still have a shred of decency, isn’t it?

  • Let’s see. 41 dead Palestinians, 1700 wounded.

    Well, certainly it was worth it so that Jeffress could attack anyone who isn’t religiously to the right of Attila the Hun.


  • Gratitude and thanks to the USA for proving once again their faithfulness to the Holy One who chose Israel to be His own people and to sanctify the world in His name. May He bestow ten thousand blessings on the nation that recognized the rightful ruler of King David’s royal city.

    Cursed be those who refuse any peace that falls short of the peace of Auschwitz. May their fate be like the fate of Nineveh.

    Contempt and ridicule befall those who refuse to celebrate this happy day, for they have unmasked themselves as contemners of the Almighty.

  • Elsewhere on RNS is a press release boasting that TBN will offer an entire week of full-time coverage of the embassy move. There’s a lot of “End Times” fervor going on out there. Which, of course, is ridiculous … but none of the fundagelicals cares about that. 

  • Re: “May He bestow ten thousand blessings on the nation that recognized the rightful ruler of King David’s royal city.” 

    So … Bibi is “the rightful ruler of King David’s royal city”? Really? Where is that, exactly, in your Bible? For that matter, where is the US embassy mentioned within its pages? Do tell. I’m dying to know where it is. 

  • Jeffress delivering the invocation at the dedication of the embassy in Jerusalem? But of course. Why would anyone expect anything less from the president who appointed a known adulteress as Ambassador to the Vatican?

    I don’t begrudge Rev. Jeffress his beliefs, nor, for that matter, do I bear any ill will toward Callista Gingrich. We are who we are and none of us is perfect. But these things do show a mind-numbing tone-deafness on the part of Donald Trump, a man who has raised religious insensitivity to something of an art form.

    Trump is like the guy who loudly breaks wind in an elevator and then looks around, wondering why everybody else seems uncomfortable. He’s never gotten it and he never will.

  • The better solution: (as noted by a blogger a few years ago)- All the followers of Judaism in Israel should move voluntarily to the USA. All the Muslims in the USA should move to Israel. Problem solved especially since neither group can call themselves indigenous to Palestine to include Jerusalem.

  • Seen that Palestinians would riot over the movement of the US embassy to a section of Israel’s capital (where embassies properly belong) that nobody with a lick of sense thinks will ever be given to the Palestinians? Yeah, that was pretty obvious.

  • Jeffress being there adds credibility to Trump’s status as God’s Choice Servant, which will bring the “saved by Jesus! saved by Jesus!” crowd to the polls in 2020. Because there will still be a lot of work to do in order to Make America White Again, and who can do it better than God’s Choice Servant.

  • President Trump is just doing his job of executing the laws already passed by Congress. Read the Constitution or get the hell out of our country you Communist Islamofascist bastards.

  • Even Israel doesn’t consider the city secure for its own vital government functions. The move had no basis in rational considerations.

    Even if Ramallah becomes the de jure Palestinian capital, it is dangerously close enough to make Jerusalem a security risk. Even the Mossad and Shin Bet are based in Tel Aviv.

  • A resolution passed 23 years ago. Conditions there are far different now. Only a fool like Trump could think it was a good idea now.

    BTW, you hate the constitution and the freedoms it stands for. If you can’t stand freedom of speech, America doesn’t need you.

  • A law, not a resolution.

    The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 is a public law of the United States passed by the 104th Congress on October 23, 1995. The law was adopted by the Senate (93–5), and the House (374–37). The Act became law on November 8, 1995.

  • Here’s my question to the ones saying this is a first step in the end times: when does the Kingdom of Israel occur? The State of Israel exists, but I don’t think the citizens there are going to accept anyone as king or are all the fundangelicals going to be up and moving now that the embassy is in Jerusalem?

  • I don’t give a small gd about the embassy, other than that this violence could have been predicted.

    I care about 52 dead people. My posting could not have been more clear

  • So lay the blame where it belongs, on Hamas’s attempt to exercise a Thug’s Veto with a modern day Children’s Crusade.

  • Thanks for the citation. I noticed a lot of “shoulds” in the Act as well as a section on “Presidential Waiver”. It appears Presidents have obeyed the law over the years by exercising the latter provision.

  • What’s going on in Israel has been going on there for 2500 years. What used to go in Ireland was going on there for about the same amount of time.

    These ancient, ancient hatred and divisions will not end as long as there is bad will on BOTH sides.

  • Is Trump “just doing his job of executing the laws”? Many folks would disagree that Trump’s behavior, per the 1995 law, “protect[s] the national security interests of the United States.”

    Then again, perhaps you’re just engaging in sarcasm, right?

  • Yes, and this President obeyed the law sans waivers.

    Realistically there are no “national security interests” served by waiving the Act yet again.

  • This is the end result of bowing to religion and tribalism against the best interest of the United States. A US government building should not include a public prayer of dedication by anyone.

    We have allowed our government to be the tool of American Zionist because of their money and right wing Know Nothings often called “Evangelical Christians” because of their votes. God will bring the end of the Earth on his own schedule not through our encouragement. We should stop aiding all these middle eastern parties with military support that results only in more killing.

    The uprising is about an unnecessary move of the embassy and the 70th anniversary of Israel .

    If the US took a hard line on Israel’s settlements, stopped military support and billions in foreign aid; we might actually achieve peace for all concerned.

  • Also a measure which was written before the failed Oslo Accords and Palestinian Civil War/Hamas-Fatah split do not take into account the huge changes in situation. Assumptions made at the time are no longer viable.

  • No, it has not been going on for 2500 years. For much of the earliest years, Israel and Judah were independent countries (both united and divided). Then for centuries they were conquered but mostly peaceful provinces. Then from the time of their rebellions against Rome until the founding of Israel, they were second-class citizens in their own ancestral homeland. No, the current situation is the result of Muslim inability to accept Jews regaining their own nation.

    But even if you were right, that’s still no excuse for Hamas’s “dead baby” strategy — create circumstances in which Israel unavoidably kills civilians (the younger the better, from Hamas’s point of view), then simply stand back as the Israel-hating press and politicians of the West to place the blame on Israel. Hamas is probably hoping that the civilian deaths they engineered prevent other nations from following the US’s example.

  • So you totally forget that it isn’t their ancestral homeland, but that they mostly became squatters in someone else’s land who were there long before Abram left Ur and then the slaves left Egypt. They have existed there peacefully very little of the last 2500 years.

  • If you believe the biblical account, then you know the land was given to them by God. If you don’t believe the biblical account, then they’ve been there for all of recorded history. Either way, they’ve been living there for millennia. And yes, most of it was peaceful.

  • Not true. I use a cast iron frying pan to bake cornbread. It are round and I slice it into wedges.

  • eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeevillllllllllllllll!

    Burn him! but not the cornbread, ’cause cornbread are delicious.

  • Even Protestantism condemns bringing a secular embassy into the holy city of Jerusalem.

  • Secular embassies dont belong in a holy city. See Derry, the Protestant Jerusalem; all nationalistic offices are in Belfast. & No Protestants no Israel.

  • You dont know the history of Jews. A Jewish majority wasnt reached for Jerusalem until 1863. 1900AD %1 of Ottoman Empire was Jewish.
    Nine of ten Jews in Europe for centuries. Irish never proclaim jumping out of a rock, Co Tipperary.

  • Very true. An incidental number of Jews remained in Holy Land for centuries, all pious. After 1920s secular Zionist foreign Euro Jews arrived.

  • I’m afraid I do.
    The battle for who is going to control the sarcastically called Holy Land, drenched in blood as it is, has been going on since the time of Moses. I support Israel, absolutely. I am also quite well aware that am major reason for its creation was the collective guilt of Europe.

  • Even Trump’s Presbyterianism condemns bringing any secular administrative center for a secular nation into a holy city.

  • ..drenched in blood” As Bernard Lewis’ obit in the Nytimes this week states: Jews had it way way tougher in Europe under Christians. The Sultan at this time gave Jews sanctuary. But at %1 of Ottoman Empire there weren’t many Jews…200k maybe. Jews are defined by exile. King-Crane Commission 1922,
    “2000 year old land claims are for idiots”

  • Find me where Lord Shaftesbury or any other Christian Zionist Founding Father of Israel wanted anything secular for Jerusalem. You dont know history and neither does Trump, Adelson’s B-word.

  • 128+ countries have spoken.
    Protestant America has always climbed up Zionism’s posterior. Most Zionist are Prod.

  • Any relationship to the ancients by Jews suffering from acute racial drift would be impossible at best.

  • Lord Shaftesbury’s opinion is irrelevant. What the Jews founded in 1948 (and then fought off the first attempt of their neighbors to annihilate them) was and is a secular, democratic republic with its capital in Jerusalem. Jerusalem would have been essentially an independent city-state if Israel’s Arab neighbors had accepted the U.N. partition plan, but they rejected it out of hand. So now Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital since 1948, the location of its entire government (with the exception of the Ministry of Defense, for obvious reasons) since 1950, and united since 1967. And that is that.

  • 128+ countries don’t live in Israel and don’t have the world’s most powerful military.

  • The Book of Joe Mamma.
    Secularism caused alot of heat with Rad Scare/McCarthyism. There aren’t two secularisms. All of Israel’s Judaism claims are just atheists wearing the t-shirt.

  • Most Jews don’t want the embassy move. Its Protestants’
    180 year saga of making decisions within Palestine