Jewish Pluralism & Peoplehood

A biblical model of reconciliation can help bring Jews and Christians together.

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The author, a theologian who has written widely on the Holocaust and on Jewish-Christian relations, has long been an advocate for dialogue between Jews and Christians. As he notes, his views are often controversial and opposed by many, especially Orthodox Jews. In the following piece, he calls for a rethinking of the Jewish-Christian relationship and offers his thoughts on how to start. Reprinted with permission from For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: the New Encounter Between Judaism and Christianity (Jewish Publication Society).

For both Judaism and Christianity, this is a time to reinterpret their rela­tionships to one another.

This new analysis must include an understanding of God's pluralism--that no religion has a monopoly on God's love. The Noahide covenant [between God and all humanity] lives; both faiths articulate and extend its mandate, but, in so doing, they do not have an exclusive divine mission that renders other religions ir­relevant. On the contrary, they need the help of other religions to accomplish tikkun olam [repairing the world], and they can instrct and enrich the others along the way.

Role Models

Judaism and Christianity are the two ancient faiths that have most experienced the freedom and power--and most internalized the reconceptualization of human understanding--that is the outcome of modernity. These are also the two reli­gions that have seen close up the failures and experienced directly the patholo­gies of modernity.

Both have much to digest and much to teach other faiths and cultures by analysis and role-modeling. The modeling must start with the two erstwhile antagonists, who built their religious claims on the invalidity of the other, affirming each other's independent dignity as ongoing, legitimate covenantal faiths. Yet, at the same time, this mutual affirmation does not negate the ongoing areas of disagreement, theological and otherwise.

But mere achievement of pluralism will not do justice to the uniqueness of the Jewish-Christian connection. Even if the two faiths enrich pluralism--by developing language and teaching models of deepened self-commitment com­bined with mutual affirmation--they will still only scratch the surface. The two self-described peoples of Israel must come to grips with the fact that they are both the children of Abraham--albeit they attain this status in different ways.

Abraham & Sarah

The patriarch [Abraham] and Sarah were both promised that they would become the ancestors of many nations and that this development would be a blessing to the world (see Genesis 17:4-7 and 17:15-16). Theologians of several traditions have argued that the promise to Abraham is fulfilled in Ishmael and in the Muslim umma [nation], which identifies Hagar's son as its eponymous hero. However, taking Sarah's blessing seriously implies that yet another nation will grow out of--or join as a branch of--her descendants, Isaac and/or Jacob/Israel.

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Rabbi Irving Greenberg

Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg was the president of Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation and founding president of CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. He also is the author of For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: The New Encounter Between Judaism and Christianity (2004, Jewish Publication Society).