Apocalypse now Jews dont need to stress out

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Haazinu

Deuteronomy 32:1-52

Hosea 14:2-10, Micah 7:18-20

Joel 2:15-17

What are you doing next week?

Fundamentalist Christians led by Paige Patterson, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Rev. Mitch Glaser, president of the Chosen People Ministries, are convening a conference in New York City entitled "To the Jew First in the New Millennium."

Addresses include "The Ongoing Importance of Messianic Prophecy for Jewish Evangelism in the New Millennium" by Michael Rydelnik, chairman of Jewish studies at Moody Bible Institute, and "Legal Challenges to Jewish Evangelism at Home and in Israel in the New Millennium" by Jay Sekulow, chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice.

The coming turn of the millennium is bringing apocalyptic Christians out of the woodwork and infusing them with renewed missionary zeal toward the Jews as they anticipate the "Second Coming" of Jesus.

They will, no doubt, also have to figure out a way to deal with failed predictions after the millennium begins, if the history of the passing of the first millennium is any guide.

The term "apocalypse" traditionally refers to texts that seek to reveal mysteries beyond the bounds of ordinary human knowledge, including the secrets of creation, the end of days and even an increased knowledge of God. Jewish literature is replete with apocalyptic writings, although they find little currency among Jews today.

Predictions about the future also developed in early Christian writings and have continued to retain a significant place among modern fundamentalist Christian groups. Thus, it should come as no surprise that many apocalyptic Christians believe that the end of history is at hand.

Although fundamentalist Christians differ on the details, in brief, apocalyptic doctrine predicts the Second Coming, followed by the Last Judgment, resurrection of all humankind and the inauguration of the eternal state.

Because Jews, in a complex variety of ways, are considered to play a role in all of these events, we will be studied and proselytized in the coming months. This may be some cause for alarm.

News services have focused on potential problems in the coming millennium with a variety of articles, including a recent one entitled "Millennial madness, Jerusalem jitters: Israel deports one cult, worries about others." It should come as no surprise then, that Israel is bracing itself for fallout from fervent religious crusaders visiting the Holy Land. Jews throughout the world need to be alert to such activities elsewhere.

Haazinu, this week's Torah portion, is one of the few poetic passages in the Torah. Known as Hashira (the Song), it is a sublime, 43-verse poem. Medieval commentators did not focus on its message of hope for Israel's survival or its exalted verse and powerful meter. Rather, they read into the substance of Hashira teachings about the end of days that Israel will emerge triumphantly, but only after punishment for its sins through persecution and destruction.

From their narrow perspective that attempted to deal with the oppression they had experienced, these commentators believed that redemption in the form of the Messiah would come only after Jews had suffered enough. Because of past persecution during apocalyptic activities, Jews shudder at the thought of apocalyptic speculation rearing its ugly head once again. Jews remember the violence and wanton death that the apocalyptic interpretation brought at the turn of the first millennium.

While fundamentalist Christians may be zealous in their missionary activities, there should be no cause for alarm in the Jewish community. Jews should focus on the response of our biblical ancestors when they looked to the future. In the face of apocalypse, they did not predict the end of time or the destruction of the community. Rather, they sang a song of thanksgiving that celebrates God's saving power.

Hashira is a hymn of hope that Israel will continue to be nurtured by God who sustains and protects from danger. It is a song worth singing to inspire Jew and Christian alike to work for a world at peace.