Strangely and unexpectedly, Reverend Billy Graham will be buried on the upcoming Purim festival, a Jewish holiday that signaled the hidden beginnings of a redemption process that culminated in the building of the Second Hebrew Temple.
Reverend Graham’s pioneering of a new framework for Jewish-Christian relations based on not proselytizing to Jews was revolutionary, changing a millennium of difficult interactions between the two religions. This was expressed by Reverend Graham himself in his description of his first visit to Israel in 1960 at the behest of his friend, former US President Dwight Eisenhower.
“When I first took a preaching tour of Israel, I stayed with Mrs. Golda Meir, who was then foreign secretary, and promised her that I was not there to proselytize,” Graham wrote of that trip. “Rather, I was there to thank the Jewish people for proselytizing me.”
Rabbi Tuly Weisz, director of Israel365 and publisher of Breaking Israel News, believes that Reverend Graham was a revolutionary in relating to Jews and Judaism in this manner.
“This approach by Reverend Graham’s went contrary to his background as an Evangelical,” Rabbi Weisz told Breaking Israel News.
Rabbi Weisz touches upon this in an op-ed titled, ‘Billy Graham and the Topsy-Turvy Holiday of Purim,’ which will be published in the Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
In the editorial, Rabbi Weisz writes that “Graham was one of the first Christian leaders to publicly acknowledge the debt of gratitude owed toward Judaism and to move Evangelicals away from evangelizing Jews.”
Tommy Waller, the founder of “Hayovel,” an organization that brings Christian volunteers to work in the vineyards of Samaria, never met Reverend Graham but views him as one of the pioneers of the evangelical Christian movement that his organization is part of.
In particular, Waller agrees with Rabbi Weisz that Reverend Graham’s positive relationship with the Jews was a revolution in the Christian world.
“Reverend Graham had a huge respect for the Jewish people and Jewish identity,” Waller told Breaking Israel News. “There was a gospel that if you agree with Christianity, then you can be saved. This was exemplified in the Inquisition and a lot of Christians still operate from this assumption.”
Waller believes that the state of Israel was an essential factor in bringing about this revolutionary change in the perception that many Christians have of the Jewish people.
“The change in Christianity happened when we witnessed Israel become a nation in 1947 and we realized we were seeing God move outside of Christian dogma,” Waller explained. “Billy Graham obviously saw this as prophecy being revealed through Israel.”
“Christianity disconnected from prophecy and Jerusalem but this is beginning to change,” he continued. “When Christians agree that God placed his name on the Temple and Jerusalem, then we can walk together.”
Reverend Graham’s prophetic vision of Jerusalem and the Jewish Third temple was illustrated in a little-known story told in the book, “A Day in the Life of Billy Graham: Living the Message,” written by Deborah Hart Strober and Gerald S. Strober. The Strobers related how, during a visit at the behest of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, the reverend arrived in Jerusalem where he was led on a tour of the city by then-Mayor Teddy Kollek.
Prior to his visit, Graham had read in evangelical publications that many Israelis wanted to build a third temple and pressing Kolleck about the subject, Graham asked if there were such plans in the works.
“We have absolutely no interest in constructing another Temple,” Kolleck had responded. “We feel that the wall is enough of a sacred place to provide a focus for Jewish spiritual observance.”
In his upcoming op-ed, Rabbi Weisz referenced analyses of Jewish commentators on the Book of Esther to connect Reverend Graham’s revolutionary relationship with the Jews to that the way many gentiles in the Persian empire looked at Jews by the end of the Purim story.
And in every province and in every city, when the king’s command and decree arrived, there was gladness and joy among the Yehudim, a feast and a holiday. And many of the people of the land professed to be Yehudim (mityahadim), for the fear of the Yehudim had fallen upon them. Esther 8:17
“Bible commentators debate the meaning of mityahadim, which comes from the same Hebrew word Yehudim, referring to the Jews,” Rabbi Weisz wrote. “[Some commentators] explain that the local gentiles … developed fondness towards the Jews. Mordechai went from being an outcast to a respected leader, and those who were anti-Semites earlier became our allies at the end of the story.”
Since his death, some of Graham’s critics have focused on an anti-Semitic comment he had made many years ago to former US President Richard Nixon. Rabbi Weisz feels that people have unfairly placed too much emphasis on that one mistake by the reverend.
“The Jewish People really need to show appreciation for him and his legacy,” Rabbi Weisz emphasized to Breaking Israel News. “It is sad to see people focusing on one anti-Semitic conversation he had with President Nixon.”
Tommy Waller is in full agreement with Rabbi Weisz.
“Reverend Graham said that if he could take back one thing it would be that thing he said,” Waller said. “Reverend Graham repented. I think people should accept his repentance.”
Ultimately, Graham’s burial on Friday, which is the day that Purim is celebrated in Jerusalem, could not be more timely. He envisioned the rebuilding of the Hebrew temple and Jerusalem, and Purim was the beginning of the process that led to the building of the Second Temple. Moreover, as the Purim story took place in the 70th year of Babylonian exile, Graham’s passing happens to occur not just before Purim but on the 70th year since Israel’s rebirth.