The passing of Rev. Jerry Falwell is sure to fuel the already burning debate in the Jewish community over whether to embrace pro-Israel conservative Christians.
For decades, the Moral Majority founder was unyielding in his support for Israel, and recently invited one of the country’s leading Jewish liberals, Reform movement leader Rabbi Eric Yoffie, to speak to students at Falwell’s Liberty University. Despite such efforts, in many Jewish circles, Falwell could not undo the anxiety over his right-wing politics and displays of what struck many as religious intolerance (here, here, here and here).
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president of International Fellowship of Christians and Jews:
It is with great sorrow that I come to you to tell you of the death of a true friend of Israel and the Jewish people—and a man that I was honored to call a personal friend as well. The Rev. Jerry Falwell passed away today suddenly at the age of 73. When I started The Fellowship 25 years ago, he was among the first Christians to step forward and express interest in being involved in our bridge-building work. And, over the years, he proved his solidarity repeatedly. His involvement helped break down the barriers of mistrust that characterized the relationship between Jews and evangelical Christians at the time. There were those who remained skeptical of Rev. Falwell’s support. I recall on one occasion nearly 30 years ago, I invited him to speak at my synagogue and was criticized by many in the Jewish community who questioned his motives. But this did not deter him one bit in his unfailing support for Israel and the Jewish people. Very directly, but always graciously and lovingly—I never saw him behave otherwise towards people—he would remind those who questioned him that, as a Christian, his support of Israel was based on eternal biblical truths and, because of that, it would not falter. I am happy to say that he managed to win over many of his skeptics through the consistency and obviously genuine quality of his love for Israel and the Jewish people. The Rev. Falwell once said that “the Bible Belt is Israel’s safety belt.” Over the years, he helped me realize the truth of that saying. Wherever there are faithful, Bible-believing Christians, I can be assured of finding true friends and supporters of Israel. And the Rev. Falwell himself did much to ensure that “safety belt” remained strong as ever. Please take a moment today to join with me and Fellowship staff to pray for the many friends and family of Rev. Falwell, and all the staff and students at his school, Liberty University, who mourn the loss of their leader and are now left to carry on his great legacy. He will be sorely missed. I also invite you to share your thoughts and memories of Reverend Falwell with us. With prayers for shalom, peace
Media Advisory: Rabbi Daniel Lapin Mourns the Passing of Long Time Friend Jerry Falwell
Redmond, Wa—May 15—America’s Rabbi, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, mourns the passing of long time friend Jerry Falwell.
“Like Noah, Jerry Falwell walked with God and found grace in His eyes,” says Rabbi Daniel Lapin, “He was a friend to all Americans, he was a friend to the Biblical values that he believed America needed, and he was a wonderful friend to me.” “Of his gigantic accomplishments in making a place at the political table for Bible-believing Americans, little needs to be said. Both friend and foe granted his towering prestige. However, one needed to know him personally to marvel at his humility and graciousness in everyday encounters, whether momentous or minor,” Rabbi Daniel Lapin says. Rabbi Daniel Lapin, who is president of Toward Tradition, the American Alliance of Jews and Christians. “Dr Jerry Falwell’s kindness and warmth were seen to match his courage and wisdom but his loss leaves us all a little numbed. His influence in the destiny of our nation was desperately needed in the past and perhaps will be needed even more so in the future. May God grant consolation to his family. ”
Rabbi Eric Yoffie: Rev. Falwell’s influence will be felt for years, even generations, to come
New York, NY May 15, 2007 – In response to the passing of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, who was invited to speak at Liberty University a year ago, issued the following statement:
“My thoughts and prayers this afternoon are with the family, followers and many friends of the Rev. Jerry Falwell. “For three decades, Rev. Falwell was a formidable presence in our nation’s life. We disagreed often and deeply on the application of religious teachings and traditions to the public sphere; too often he used faith to create divisions within our society. Yet his commitment to encouraging Americans to express their faith was genuine, unmistakable and admirable. Rev. Falwell’s influence will be felt for years, even generations, to come. When we were together in Lynchburg last year, he told me that of all his accomplishments, there was none he was prouder of than the role he played in building Liberty University, and the role the university has played in the training of pastors and religious leaders. I admired Rev. Falwell’s understanding that, despite our differences, there were areas of agreement between us, above all our deep and profound commitment to the safety and wellbeing of the State of Israel. It took courage for him to invite me to speak directly to Liberty University’s 9,000 students; he introduced me to his students with real excitement, and, when it seemed to him that they were acting inappropriately, he stood up and defended my right to speak, even when I was saying things with which I knew he would disagree. I deeply appreciate the genuine warmth and respect that he demonstrated for me. May Rev. Falwell’s family, friends and colleagues find comfort in their memories of this remarkable man.”
ADL SADDENED BY THE DEATH OF REV. JERRY FALWELL
New York, NY, May 15, 2007 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today expressed sadness at the passing of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, a passionate leader of Christianity in America and a dear friend of Israel.
Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, issued the following statement:
Despite our many disagreements through the years, we were saddened to learn of the loss of the Rev. Jerry Falwell. He was a passionate leader of Christianity in America and a dear friend of Israel. Rev. Falwell will always be remembered as one of the most influential leaders on the American religious scene. Rev. Falwell was a towering figure of the Religious Right, and while we often did not see eye-to-eye with him on many key issues of the day, we always respected his strong devotion to his views, his outspoken advocacy for the positions he took on behalf of America’s conservative Christians, and his ability to listen to even his most ardent critics. He will be greatly missed.
Israeli Ambassador Sallai Meridor Reacts to the Passing of Rev. Dr. Jerry Falwell
For Immediate Release May 15, 2007
WASHINGTON –Upon the passing of Rev. Dr. Jerry Falwell, the Ambassador of Israel, H.E. Sallai Meridor released the following statement:
“It was with both shock and sorrow that I learned of the tragic and sudden passing of Rev. Dr. Jerry Falwell, whose support for Israel spanned many decades. On behalf of myself and the Embassy of Israel, I wish to express our heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathy to the Falwell family, as well as to his congregation and to Liberty University, which he founded and guided for these many years. May his family and friends know no further sorrow.”
This story "Reflecting on Falwell" was written by Ami Eden.