Is the forthcoming musical adaptation of the Book of Daniel, scheduled to be performed in Jerusalem this coming October, a thinly-veiled missionary event, as some Israeli Jews claim? Or is it a gift to the Jewish people of Israel, intended to demonstrate support for Israel and to celebrate what Christians and Jews have in common, as the show’s Christian composer claims?
The controversy is being played out on social media.
Is Daniel the Musical intended to missionize to Jews?
Judy Lash Balint, author of Jerusalem Diaries: In Tense Times and Jerusalem Diaries II: What’s Really Happening in Israel is a vocal defender against what she calls “the deceptive nature” of much of the missionary activity in Israel. She told Breaking Israel News, “I’m actually working on an extensive piece about the dramatic rise in both overt and passive/covert missionary activity and how we should respond as a Jewish state.
“As such, my antenna is up for anything that smacks of missionaries, so the moment I saw that the paid Facebook ads for Daniel The Musical that said, ‘We are blessed to announce’, I knew that’s a Christian manner of expression, so I started to dig around.”
Balint learned that the show’s composer, Joe Niemand, is a South African gospel singer.
“I don’t have any problem with Israelis going to see/hear anything,” Balint said, “as long as they are aware of who is behind whatever they are attending.”
Balint noted that, on the production’s social media accounts, “whenever anyone posted comments of concern about a possible missionary agenda, those comments were taken down. So there’s no doubt in my mind about who Niemand is and what his agenda is when he comes to Israel during Sukkot.
“Nowhere in the advertising is it mentioned that this is a production created by a gospel singer promoting a Jesus agenda. If that had been clear and Israelis still want to attend, fine. I was in touch with many people I know who ‘liked’ the ad for the musical and who had no clue who was behind it,” Balint commented.
Is Joe Niemand a Missionary?
The man behind the controversy is South African musician Joe Niemand. His official biography plainly states that “Christianity is an important part of Joe’s life, and the influences of this can be heard in his music.”
Balint quoted a Jewish woman who worked in the music industry in South Africa before moving to Israel and wishes to remain anonymous. Of Niemand, the show’s composer, she said, “This artist really aims at messianics and Christians. He is very very unlikely to attract a Jewish crowd.”
Another Facebook post that opposes the production read, “Attendance to such an event, even if the subject matter doesn’t include Jesus at all, is extremely problematic. Besides the fact that the people involved in the event are actively praying for the conversion of Jews, proceeds for the event go to support the missionary organization. Missionaries produced this and are hoping their work in Israel here will open the hearts of Jews to Jesus.”
Answering The Critics
What does Joe Niemad say about these claims? He told Breaking Israel News, “We come from a Christian nation and we are not ashamed of that, but the organizations we are hoping to support are those in Israel who take care of Holocaust survivors and orphans.
“We are not missionaries, nor is it our aim to try to convert anyone; we are artists who want to extend a hand of friendship on behalf of our nation, like many Christian organizations the world over who support Israel. As part of this, we are engaged with Jewish and Christian organizations to allow friends of Israel in South Africa and around the world to get on board and sponsor tickets for the needy, but also after the show has closed, continue that support for the elderly and orphanages in Israel.”
Is There A Misunderstanding?
An Orthodox Jewish source close to the matter told Breaking Israel News, “I think that the opposition to the play stems from a lack of understanding of Christian Zionism. There are many evangelical and religious Christians who sincerely want to support Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, with no hidden agenda.
“Perhaps it is difficult for those who have not had the privilege of meeting such people to accept that this support can be unconditional, especially when there [are] Christians who do actively engage in proselytizing. This type of missionary activity should certainly be discouraged, but it is discriminatory to accuse all believing Christians of proselytizing when in fact they simply want to engage with Jews on matters they share in common.
“Just as I would not want to be associated with extremist Jewish groups simply because we share a common religion, so too we should not accuse a Christian of proselytizing without having good reason.
“It is not only unfair but also unwise to push away those who are reaching out to support us. For many years of Jewish history, we suffered at the hands of Christians. Now that they want to express their support, how can we reject them so forcefully and indiscriminately?
“Let’s judge this play by its actual content and not by the occasional missionary we may have encountered in Israel,” she concluded.
More About The Production
According to Niemand, “Daniel the Musical is a family-friendly, original production” based on the Biblical story of Daniel. It is scheduled to open at the Jerusalem Theatre in October 2019. “It would be wonderful to take this production all over the world, but we are focused, first and foremost, on bringing it to Jerusalem, where the story began,” Niemand commented.
He further elaborated on the motivation of the South African cast and crew. “We have been inspired to build a bridge between South Africa and Israel. There has been an alarming rise in anti-Semitism in the world of late, and for us as artists, singers, dancers and actors, this is the best way we can imagine showing our support for Israel, by producing a world-class theatre production to not only celebrate what we have in common but also to bring our gifts to you in friendship.
“The vast majority of South Africa’s population identify with Judeo-Christian values and this is our way of highlighting the love and support there is in South Africa for Israel. We love Israel and its people and this is our way of showing everyone that we stand with you
“As artists, we have many Jewish friends and colleagues in South Africa and have no intention of offending the very people we are coming to entertain,” Niemand asserted.