Walking Together on The Way: A Jewish Understanding of the Role of Christianity

 

The Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Co-Operation, an organization from Israel made up of Israeli Orthodox Rabbis including a member of the Chief Rabbinate, as well as rabbis from elsewhere, released a statement in December of 2015 which says that Christianity is part of the divine plan, and is not a mistake or aberration. Christianity and Christians are seen as necessary tools to spread the underlying moral messages and teachings of the Torah to the world. As Judaism is not a missionary faith (although there is some evidence that it once was to a certain degree) trying to spread its message by personal contact and/or trying to find ways in which the message can be proclaimed in other areas of the world was important. Accepting that the Christians derive their message from the Torah and the Judaism(s) of the time of Jesus, shows that the Jews recognize the special connection between the two groups.

The center describes itself as being founded:

…on the proposition that each of our great faith communities, rooted in a shared Bible, which we both accept as the eternal word of G-d, must begin a theological dialogue. The discourse that takes place encompasses a mutual respect of each other’s faith and defies any goal of converting one to the faith of the other. It also rejects the necessity of one compromising his or her theological truths in deference to the other…

In many ways this statement as well as the Center itself is a response to Vatican II and its move towards dialogue. It recognizes that there have been significant changes in Catholic and Protestant views towards Judaism since that Vatican Council.

The authors state that Jews and Christians are brothers-in-arms rather than enemies, and that “in separating Judaism and Christianity, G-d willed a separation between partners with significant theological differences, not a separation between enemies.” Trying to go beyond the theological differences-while not ignoring them but saying they are not up for debate-allows for the recognition that as Maimonides and other rabbis have held, that Christians “have accepted the Jewish Bible of the Old Testament as a book of Divine revelation. They profess their belief in the G-d of Heaven and Earth as proclaimed in the Bible, and they acknowledge the sovereignty of Divine Providence” (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch).

Finding ways in which Jews and Christians can work together on issues such as the environment, religious liberty and others should continue to be an area of interest for members of both traditions. While there are some Orthodox rabbis who hold that interfaith dialogue is forbidden on the grounds that it could give the impression that non-negotiable elements of Jewish law or belief might be changed as a result, it is a welcome move in the right direction towards further mutual understanding. Promoting understanding and peace is a bedrock tenet of both Judaism and Christianity, and as both understand their roles to be trying to repair and prepare the world for the time when all people will live in peace. Statements of brotherhood and a willingness to work together, despite the very long history of acrimony, should only continue into the future that both religions are involved in shaping.

Image Source: Zardosz via Wikimedia Commons

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2 thoughts on “Walking Together on The Way: A Jewish Understanding of the Role of Christianity

  1. Eli,

    The Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Co-Operation’s Statement is both refreshing and troubling. Refreshing, because it represents a centrist Orthodox position on the advisability of interfaith dialogue that often gets drowned out. Troubling, because the statement seems to make of Christianity a junior partner in much the way that Christianity has often, over the centuries, made Judaism a junior partner (when it acknowledged its continued right to exist at all). On the one hand, it is certainly helpful to interfaith dialogue to reiterate the view that Jesus “removed idols from among the nations and obligated them in the seven commandments of Noah”; on the other hand, this statement seems to frame Christianity as useful only insofar as it fits within a Jewish framework and possibly implies that traditions other than Judaism and Christianity are idolatrous. Perhaps one value that comes from reading this statement is a fuller understanding of the limits and potential pitfalls of seeking a justification for pluralism from within a tradition rather than from a more universalist perspective–namely, that it may not take another faith tradition seriously on its own terms.

    1. Jeffrey,

      Thank you for your very insightful comments. I do agree that the Statement does seem to make Christianity a junior partner in this mission, and that it can be seen as somewhat of a reversal of the triumphalist reading of the role of Judaism in Christian salvation history. Going from enemies to partners in any context should be applauded, and this is especially true in this case. While of course not every member of both traditions would necessarily agree to the changes in viewpoint advanced by this message, it is an important recognition that both religions are working towards something approaching a common goal. It has always been interesting to me that both particularist and pluralist (though not necessarily universalist) perspectives exist in the same texts, which can be used to both create inter-communal tensions as well as try to ease them. This, of course, depends on which texts one emphasizes at any given time.

      There has been a lot of discussion surrounding how Judaism should relate to religions other than Christianity and Islam in recent years. One topic under discussion is to what extent they are or are not to be classified as idolatry, under the definition(s) extant in Jewish law. One very instructive book about this topic is “Jewish Theology and World Religions,” edited by Alon Goshen-Gottstein and Eugene Korn. Other books that might also be helpful if you are interested in exploring further are: “Judaism and World Religions: Encountering Christianity, Islam and Eastern Religions,” and “Judaism and Other Religions: Models of Understanding,” both published by Palgrave Macmillan.

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