Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Riskin Is Completely Nuts! ...Or Is He?

13 of the Tenth Month 5770

Rafi (via Twitter) asks the question "...Has Rabbi Riskin lost his mind?"

DovBear asks, "Who exactly is Rabbi Riskin attempting to flatter with this twaddle?"

The Jewish Fist asks, "With Chief Rabbis such as these, who needs enemies?"

But, what on earth are they talking about?!

They are talking about the recently released video of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat.

Yeshiva World News calls the video "shocking," which I personally believe is an understatement.

Jewish Israel has tried to knock some sense into him, but to no avail. (sigh)

Watch the video below, courtesy of Jewish Israel, so that you do not have to click on the Messianic Christian YouTube channel which uploaded it. Other videos on this channel include a Riskin Thank You video. (major eye rolling)

My Esser Agaroth (commentary) follows.

Find more videos like this on Jewish Israel

Rabbi Riskin obviously never read my post on so-called "Judeo-Christian Values." ( such thing)

What do we call a Jew who identifies just way too much with Esau (...or Yishma'el, or both, or who forsakes the land)?

To paraphrase Rabbi Moshe Tzuri'el from his kontras "Rabbi A. Y. On The Erev Rav"

Just as Erev Shabbat is not yet Shabbat, Erev Rav is one who is not yet a rav....

So, is he nuts? Or is this some kind of calculated strategy to obtain money, attention, publicity, power (in his head, that is), or all of all the above?

You be the judge.

'Nuff said.

Whenever DovBear, Yeshiva World News, and I agree on something, even just partially, it is probably a good idea to pay attention.


I am not entirely sure why Riskin made this video in the first place. (Well, actually, yes I am.)

You can read the report of Riskin's "retraction" on the Am Ha'Aretz news site, and watch his "video response" on YouTube.

Rabbi Dr. Shalom Gold (Har-Nof), a leading rabbi in the modern orthodox community in Israel had this to say...

“While recent clarification from Rabbi Riskin is welcome on this matter, I remain concerned. Rabbi Riskin’s consistently radical statements and ambiguous positions on interfaith dialogue and endeavors can be misinterpreted by both Jews and Christians and manipulated and twisted to fit the agendas of those who are trying to undermine the foundations of the Jewish faith and wreak confusion among our people.

Furthermore, it would be advisable for Rabbi Riskin to steer clear of mixing politics, history and Christian theological issues together with what is clearly a halachic matter. I imagine Rabbi Riskin’s revered teacher Rav Yoseph B. Soloveitchik, z”l would have been greatly distressed over the crossing of theological lines between faith communities which is currently taking place under the pretense of an Israel-evangelical alliance.”

Who knows what the real story is? I sure don't. You be the judge.

I do know one thing, though. Riskin's gotten a lot of attention in recent days....

Nonetheless, the next time he pulls a stunt like this, we all have to be there anyway, to call him on it, attention starved or not.


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Rafi G. said...

I knew this topic was up your alley, but since when do you have internet access?

Esser Agaroth said...

Very little at work and at the occasional I-Net cafe experience. ;-)

JC said...

Wow. Just wow. Riskin may actually now have topped his last outrageous video, where he said Evangelicals were part of the Israel-God covenant, and that we need to work with them to "resurrect God" [sic]. I think ol' Stevie is making calculated efforts here to pander to the American Bible Belt. He needs to learn that there are limits to what can and cannot be said. He didn't just go over those limits, he defecated on them. Besides being a big hillul Hashem, his comments might also be in violation of "Lo tehonem", as well as sympathizing with Idolatry.

Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

I thought Rabbi Riskin's talk was good.

I'm reminded of Rabbi Eliyahu Benamozegh, a great 19th-century Italian rabbi, who said that the Gospels are second only to the Midrash, and that the difference between Qabala and the Trinity is three minus one. (See the article by Alick Isaacs, cited in

I'm also reminded of Rabbi Yaakov Emden, who believed the Christian Bible actually intends for Judaism to keep mitzvot and for gentiles to keep the Noahide laws. He believes the Christian Bible never intended Christianity to replace Judaism. (See

The greatest problem with Christianity, then, would be that it turned the Mashiah into a demi-god, and believed that a man could be G-d. THIS is the central problem with Christianity, but it isn't clear that Jesus himself subscribed to this problematic concept. Jesus himself could be seen as a normative Pharisee not unlike Bar Kokhba or the like.

And so the only problem I see with Rabbi Riskin's talk is that while he distinguished between the first and second comings, he said nothing about the Mashiah being a G-d or not. THIS is iqar haseir min ha-sefer.

Anonymous said...


Esser Agaroth said...

JC, interesting blog you have. I'm glad you brought up "lo tehonem," a negative misswah which many even in Israel still want to remain in denial about. (sigh)


I will have to disagree with you here, you probably already expected that I would.

I wonder what Benamozegh really said, and what kind of threats he was getting, or what kind of censorship was employed.

I am suspect of anything coming out of Europe due to the censors. Why Jews still insist on using such texts, like the censored gemara and Ramba"m, when we have uncensored ones available to us, is beyond me. Even Riskin proclaims the importance of using the uncensored Ramba"m, now years later after a certain hacham called him on this idiotic practice. But, I digress....

The last 1700 hundred years for Jews in Europe had been a difficult one. Unfortunately, a lot of unfortunate "customs" and "hasqafah" have developed out of the overwhelming fear of death, displacement, kidnapping of children, and foced conversion.

Time to let all of this go.

Your comment about R' Y. Emden does not provide justification for Riskin who went a hell of a lot farther.

You truly are becoming an expect at find sources which match your feelings, aren't you?

My friend the "conservative rabbi" does much of the same thing, as do "reconstructionists."

No offense.

What do you have to say about Riskin's retraction and Rabbi Goild's response?

Batya said...

There's a lot on Shiloh Musings about it, since Ellen also posts the JI stuff there.

I find it very significant that Riskin's statement came from ruder finn the big pr firm for xtians, while Jewish Israel consults with Rabbi Gold.

Maybe the former "Stevie Wonder" should spend his time with real rabbis...

Esser Agaroth said...


I just wanted to emphasize that I like Micha'el, he's a good guy, and has an interesting blog.

He's used to my pointed comments. However, since this was "in public," I probably could have make said comment in a nicer manner.

Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

Don't worry, you didn't offend me at all. You're one of the few people who criticizes me based on actual substance, and not ad hominems or "hadash assur min ha-torah"!, or some such thought-terminating cliches and reactionarism.

Now then...

Rabbi Benamozegh was in no way influenced by censors. His remarks were written as parts of entire books he wrote about Judaism and Christianity (such as his Israel and Humanity). He also had a private correspondence with a Catholic who wanted to convert to Judaism, but who was convinced by Rabbi Benamozegh to become a Noahide instead. These weren't individual remarks by him. These were rather very systematic and comprehensive ideologies of his.

By the way, he also wrote an entire book criticizing Christianity, saying that its focus on spirituality and belief was inferior to Judaism's practical and this-worldly approach. So Rabbi Benamozegh wasn't afraid of criticizing Christianity. Also, he did convince this aforementioned Catholic to stop being Catholic anymore.

And he wrote in 19th century Italy as a university professor. I'm not aware of any censorship he'd have been afraid of.

to be cont.

Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

cont. from above

So I think Rabbi Benamozegh's view was basically one similar to Rabbis Riskin and Emden, viz. that:

(1) Christians are not idolaters. Their theology and metaphysics are troubling, but we need not accept Rambam that wrong beliefs lead to damnation. Meiri focuses on deed, not creed, saying that G-d is concerned with whether you are "bound by the ways of religion", viewing monotheism primarily as a way of life rather than a belief system. (Not that beliefs are unimportant, G-d forbid! But they are secondary. As Rabbi Dr. Isidore Epstein puts it, the Prophets criticized the pagans not for incorrect belief, but rather, because they sacrificed humans and oppressed the poor.) We can follow Meiri rather than Rambam. Even when others accept Rambam that belief is important, they emphasize that, contra Rambam, only deliberate heresy (b'meizid) is real heresy, whereas Rambam said even unintentional heresy (b'shogeg) is heresy. A Christian would be an unintentional heretic, because he really truly does wish to get close to G-d, even if he is confused.

There's a wonderful midrash by Abraham Lincoln, often quoted by rabbis who think Hazal said it. According to this midrash: idolater comes to Abraham, Abraham feeds him, asks him to make a blessing. The guy refuses to worship only one G-d (he cannot understand birkat ha-mazon's mention of only one G-d!), so Abraham throws him out. G-d says to Abraham: "I put up with this ignorant polytheist for seventy years, and you cannot live with him for an hour?".

(2) Rabbis Emden et. al. follow a revisionist view of Christianity, in which Jesus was a rabbi, perhaps an Essene or a messianic or an apocalyptic, but no worse than, say, a Habadnik. Paul twisted Christianity, not Jesus. So Jesus might have had some wrong beliefs, but he was still within the fold of legitimate Judaism, even if barely so. Therefore, Jesus's beliefs were Jewish, and the Gospels are like the Midrash. This doesn't mean we cannot disagree with Jesus and the Gospels, but it gives us common ground, and let's us criticize Paul's idolatrous pagan teachings and dismissal of the practical mitzvot, while, at the same time, acknowledging the Jewish truths that Christianity has. We can do this already (Rambam did it in the uncensored version of the Mishneh Torah), but having this revisionist view of Jesus makes it easier. It gives us more common ground, and serves as a useful rhetorical tool.

Now, I am definitely concerned with Rabbi Riskin's statements, insofar as they are vague and incomplete. This is why I criticized him for failing to mention how the Jewish Mashiah is NOT G-d. But my criticisms are against HOW he says what he says, and not WHAT he says. Rabbi Riskin needs to be very careful about how he says what he says, lest he be misinterpreted. This IS a VERY real concern. But the actual substance of what he says? I completely agree with him, or at least, I'm close enough to his opinions to be living in the same neighborhood.

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