Dr. Rivkah Lambert Adler
Like an apple tree among trees of the forest, So is my beloved among the youths. I delight to sit in his shade, And his fruit is sweet to my mouth. (Song of Songs 2:3)
For ten days in late August, Israeli Rabbi Benny Lau and his wife, Rabbanit Noah Lau, traveled from Jerusalem to Japan to lead Bible study for groups of Makuya Japanese Christians. The Laus traveled to five Japanese towns and spent three days together at a weekend conference with 3,400 members of the Makuya group.
Makuya is Japanese for the Hebrew word Mishkan, the tent of meeting, where human beings come into contact with God. The Mishkan was the portable sanctuary that the Israelites used in the desert, before entering Israel and building the First Holy Temple.
The Makuya in Japan are a distinctive movement of Christians with a very special affinity for Israel. Their founder, the late Professor Abraham Ikuro Teshima taught his followers, “Without Israel, there is no salvation nor redemption for me.” He believed that it was not possible to fully understand the Bible without knowing about Judaism, the Jewish people, Hebrew and Jewish history.
The return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and the creation of the modern State of Israel in 1948, as well as the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, are understood by the Makuya as fulfilling Biblical prophecies.
Akiva Jindo, a member of the Japanese Makuya group, told Breaking Israel News that, “Any Bible believers should recognize that if we eliminate Israel and Jerusalem or Zion from the Bible, their beliefs become baseless.”
Two videos from the weekend conference have been viewed tens of thousands of times on Rabbi Lau’s Facebook page and have been widely circulated on the WhatsApp messaging service which is especially popular in Israel. These videos, each about 3-minutes long, capture groups of Makuya, led by Rabbi Lau, singing Hebrew songs of prayer and praise.
In one of the videos, hundreds of Japanese men are on the floor, sitting on their knees, emotionally singing the Hebrew liturgical song Sim Shalom, whose words ask God to bless all the Nations of the world together.
Grant peace, welfare, blessing, grace, loving kindness and mercy on us and on all Israel, Your people. Bless us, our Father, all of us together, with the light of Your countenance for by the light of Your countenance You have given us, Lord our God, the Law of life, loving kindness and righteousness, blessing, mercy, life and peace. English translation of Sim Shalom
In the videos, some of the students are moved to tears and many others are obviously emotionally engaged. “They understand every word and the context of the message. It became like a prayer. Barcheynu Avinu (Bless us our Father), that we ask Hashem (God) to bring the light for all of us together. We are asking Hashem, like a father, to bless us all together with His light,” Rabbi Lau said.
Speaking to Breaking Israel News about his trip and what he learned, as well as what he taught, Rabbi Lau commented, “The Makuya have been connected to Israel for years. Often they come to me to learn Tanach (Hebrew Bible). I have known them for many years.
“Every four years, they have a big conference and the members of the Makuya come from all over the world. The majority live in Japan but they came to the conference from 18 countries. I was supposed to come four years ago but Tzuk Eitan (2014’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza) started, so I canceled that. Four years later, I had the privilege to be a guest at their conference.” He reported that there were 3,400 Makuya members attending this year’s gathering.
Rabbi Benny Lau, whose first cousin, Rabbi David Lau, is the current chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel, runs Project 929. The project’s name is a reference to the total number of chapters in the Hebrew Bible. Project 929 encourages people to learn one chapter of the Hebrew Bible a day. The first cycle started during Chanukah 2014 and finished earlier this year. The second cycle, with more study materials available in English, began on July 15.
“Through Project 929, they found me. In the last year, the teachers of the Makuya decided that all members will learn [the books of] Bereshit (Genesis) and Shir haShirim (Song of Songs). I taught their teachers and their teachers taught the Makuya in Japanese.”
Rabbi Lau’s wife, Rabbanit Noah Lau, is also a Bible scholar. “We had the privilege to go together,” he reported. “My wife taught about the Imahot (Biblical foremothers) from Bereshit.” Rabbanit Lau is an expert in the Oral Torah and routinely answers questions about Jewish law, primarily for other Jewish women.
“For me, it’s a big pleasure and privilege [to teach them], because the Makuya have a strong belief that the people of Israel need to return back to the Land. They believe the words of the prophets are happening now, in this time. For me, to read the Tanach with them, it’s like a miracle. Their teachers know Hebrew and they translated [what I taught] to Japanese.”
“They study Tanach very seriously,” Rabbi Lau reported. “They have their own prayers, together but individual. It’s unbelievable! The tefillah (prayer services) was for me at the top of the whole experience.”
Commenting about the fact that the Makuya carry a Hebrew name in addition to a Japanese name, Rabbi Lau said, “They want to connect themselves to Tanach, so each one of them got their names from the teachers and they take it very seriously. They are connected to the family of the Bible.
“They are very, very interesting people. I found that 100% of the experience was pure. The limmud (learning) is pure; the tefillah (prayer) is pure.” He characterized the Makuya by using the Hebrew word tamim, which refers to a kind of guilelessness. He noted that their speech is very clean and they don’t gossip.
One of the reasons Rabbi Lau is excited to have built a relationship with the Makuya is that he sees that it is good for Israel. “When you have a word from people like that, it makes you think about yourself much better.” On his Facebook page, Rabbi Lau elaborated on the idea that the Makuya help to remind the people of Israel of God’s direct involvement in Jewish history, exactly as it says in the Book of Psalms.
It is not known exactly how many members of the Makuya movement there are, since they do not conduct official counts, but, based on subscriptions to their magazine, they are numbered at least at 300,000, perhaps many more.
Every Makuya is connected to Israel. Individuals come to Jerusalem as a religious pilgrimage and the movement sends students to kibbutzim in Israel to study Hebrew and Tanach. The Makuya maintain an administrative center in Jerusalem. Their current representative, Benny Ito, speaks fluent Hebrew.