• The Israeli town of Efrat in Winter | Photoi: Wikimedia Commons by Kippi70

Rabbi Riskin and the Necessity of Taking Risks

Tal Hartuv - 6 December 2022

There is not too much that can be said about Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin which has not already been said. The 12,000 or so Jewish people who live in the growing town of Efrat owe their standard of living and contentment, among other things, to the extraordinary rabbi who was one of the founders.

Rabbi Riskin is a minority within a minority. He is one of those extraordinary Jews about whom it can be said, with hand on the heart, that his entire life has been lived to advance his people. In his mid-twenties, Riskin helped found the Lincoln Square Synagogue, which quickly became one of the most influential Modern Orthodox synagogues in Manhattan. Not long after he made Aliya, and in 1983 he had laid the foundation stone of Efrat. Always looking for more meaningful projects, the energetic rabbi then laid another foundation stone: that of the Ohr Torah Stone, a school from which sprung another 27 educational institutions. These ground-breaking learning centers developed programs to empower Jewish women, focused on leadership development, created outreach to secular Jews and promoted charitable projects in all sectors of society.

“Rabbi Riskin’s reasoning that settlements cannot be the problem to peace is as true as it is revealing”

Rabbi Dr Shlomo Riskin | Photo: Wikimidia Commons by Omert33

There has barely been any controversy in the Jewish world that Rabbi Riskin has not commented on, whether it be conversion to Judaism, divorce, or the ordination of women as rabbis. His clear thinking on settlements have been used by Israeli politicians and advocates alike. His reasoning that settlements cannot be the problem to peace is as true as it is revealing. Between the founding of the State of Israel and the 1967 war, there were no settlements or even a Green Line, yet Jews were being massacred by Arabs. So how could settlements be an obstacle to peace when there was terrorism before? He strengthens his argument with the disengagement from Gaza. With every Jew removed from Gaza and 3000 Jewish greenhouses left for the Palestinians, the Arab response has simply been to target over 20,000 rockets towards Israeli civilians.

But of all the trendsetting Rabbi Riskin is most famous for, it is that he is the first orthodox rabbi who has actively set out to encourage Jewish-Christian-Relations, an historic minefield and territory where few have dared or wanted to tread. Aware of a painful history, Riskin set himself necessary strong boundaries which he derived from his mentor, the famous Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik. Like Soloveitchik, Riskin was against conducting any theological discussion with Christians who see the Jewish people as theologically inferior.

The rabbi’s relationships with Christians all started in the middle of the Second Intifada when a group of German Lutheran nuns came to visit him in Efrat. No one else was coming to Israel then, and especially not to a settlement. In those nuns, he saw for himself the importance of Christians who love Israel. He found common ground in that they too understood that there is a religious war between Islamic terrorists and the free world.

“Rabbi Riskin began to realize that there are many other Christians who have a deep love for Israel and the Hebrew Bible”

Through that surprising encounter, Rabbi Riskin began to realize that there are many other Christians who have a deep love for Israel and the Hebrew Bible. Knowing it was time to foster true friendship based on mutual respect, he founded the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC) where until today, groups of Christians come to be taught by the Jewish meanings of Christianity by Jewish teachers.

Rabbi Riskin is a risk taker. But it is thanks to his personal courage that relations and dialogue between Jewish people and Christians who love Israel, are flourishing like never before.


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