by Debbonnaire Kovacs
by Debbonnaire Kovacs
Dr. Richard Elofer, publicity photo, used by permission
Dr. Richard Elofer, Director of the World Jewish Adventist Friendship Center, believes that the final prophecy of the Hebrew Scriptures, found in Malachi 4:5, 6, is speaking of reconciliation between Judaism and Christianity. The prophecy reads: “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” (NASB)
“When we read the text in Hebrew. . .[the Hebrew word] means the spiritual ancestors…” says Elofer. “The spiritual fathers have to be reconciled with the spiritual children. As a church, we are the spiritual children of Israel. Israel are our spiritual fathers.”
For Elofer, the greatest schism that has occurred in the church is not the rift between Roman and Orthodox Catholics, not the rift between Catholics and Protestants, but the rift between Judaism and Christianity that began in the second century and came to full strength under Constantine in the fourth. At that point, not only was anti-Semitism rife so that Christians were rejecting Jews, but when Christianity became the official state religion and the day of worship was changed to the day of the sun, Elofer says, Jews “radically rejected Christianity.” They knew, he says, that Jeremiah said God would write his covenant, or his commandments, on the heart. If a supposed messiah said to change that law or covenant, then “he couldn’t be our messiah.”
Elofer points out that this was a huge shift. Originally, the Christian population was almost entirely Jewish. “Jews accepted Jesus with enthusiasm and were baptized by the thousands.” Jesus, he says, was never a Christian, and didn’t come to start a new religion. The book of Acts calls him the savior of Israel. “If Jews and Christians had understood their faith and the teachings of Jesus, we would still be one people.”
Dr. Elofer himself represents a reconciliation between these two often contentious faith traditions. He was born into a devout Jewish family in Casablanca, Morocco. When he was eight, the family moved to France, where his father contributed to the establishment of a synagogue in the town of Villejuif, a suburb of Paris whose name translates to Jewishtown. At twelve, like all faithful Jewish boys, Elofer became a “son of the covenant” in the Bar Mitzvah ceremony. Here he received his first full rabbinical Bible and began to read it intensively.
In an interview with Alberto Rosenthal, hoffnung-weltweit.de, which can be heard in its entirety at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XvO40BFmPkI, Elofer says that after his Bar Mitzvah he was “disappointed,” and began to “rebel a little bit” and didn’t attend synagogue as faithfully as he had before. He doesn’t state the reasons. However, a few years later, he met some people who “helped me discover the Jewish Messiah. That made a revolution in me.” Elofer explains that in the past he had known of Jesus only as “an idol on a cross.” When he read the whole story of Jesus,(and when he discovered that what he was being told could be verified in his rabbinical Bible,) he says it actually helped him to discover more of his “Jewishness.” He realized Jesus was born, lived, and died a Jew, and says he felt Jesus was his close brother. Little by little, he came to see that Yeshua was, in fact, the Jewish Messiah. At nineteen, he was baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church of Paris.
The next year, Elofer began his studies at the Adventiste Université du Salève, where he earned his first theological degree. He worked as a pastor for seventeen years in France, and then went to Israel to work fifteen years as President of the Seventh-day Adventist church there.
In his interview with Rosenthal, Elofer says that he and his wife were told there were only about 50 Adventists in Israel when they arrived. In an article in Adventist World magazine [see below], he is quoted as saying that, “After about 100 years of presence in Palestine/Israel we had only 50 members. Today there are more than 1,000 members, shared in 25 congregations, and the majority of our members are Israelis.”
It apparently became clear to the General Conference that Elofer had an understanding that was making a difference, because in 2000, GC asked him to become the part-time director of the World Jewish Adventist Friendship Center. In 2012, he moved back to France and became full-time director.
Dr. Elofer says that Adventists have so much in common with Jews, not only in doctrinal beliefs, but in lifestyle issues, such as clean versus unclean meats, that we could be called Adventist Jews. He believes that we could lead the way in dialogue and reconciliation between Jews and Christians.
It begins with something as simple—and as vital—as language. Elofer argues that calling the first part of the Bible the Old Testament implies that it is old, outdated, obsolete, and that it’s a will, or testament, of something or someone who is dead. Hebrew Bible or Hebrew Scriptures is a more inclusive term. He says he can start a good discussion with another Jew by saying that he would like to introduce the Jesus of the Bible, not the Jesus the church has generally taught. He will ask them if they know Jesus was a Jew and if they realize that what is usually called the New Testament (he calls it the Book of the New Covenant, or the Apostolic Writings) was written entirely by Jews. He informs them that Jesus never told people to stop keeping Sabbath. They are, by his report, almost always surprised, and often then open to more discussion.
Discussion, dialogue, reconciliation are what Dr. Elofer is after. In the interview, he reads with feeling the first verses of what he calls “the Jewish gospel” that begins in Isaiah 40: ““Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God. “Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed, that she has received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” That, he says, is good news to anyone. Comfort and tenderness are the center of everything Jesus said and did, but Dr. Elofer thinks we are not using those qualities as much as we might, to reach out to our estranged brothers and sisters.
“If we take the effort to change our words, we will change our thinking and the reconciliation can go from there.”
Dr. Elofer has earned a MA in Global Leadership (MAGL) (2008) and a Doctorate of Intercultural Studies (D.I.S.) at Fuller Seminary (2012). He is married to Liliane, they have three children: Rachel, accountant in England, Raphael currently engineer in computer science in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Johann, dentist in Paris.
He will be speaking at the Manhattan Seventh-day Adventist Church in a series of seminars starting on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday evenings (Dec. 4-6) at 7:00 p.m., and on Saturday morning, Dec. 7, 2013 at 11:30 a.m. and in an afternoon seminar that same day at 2:30 p.m. If you are in that area, you are encouraged to attend and bring friends. If not, you may learn more about Dr. Elofer or hear him and his insights for yourself below.