Jewish-Christian Dialogue: The Next Stage

Christians and Jews must rethink how they approach each other.

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In so doing, Jews will begin to discover the positive as­pects of Christian "otherness." Jews will have to fight the patronizing ten­dency to discover Christianity as a wonderful religion only because it is so similar to Judaism. A more searching understanding of Christianity needs to be developed and articulated by the Jewish community today.

Toward A Jewish Theology Of Christianity

Authentic Jews deeply rooted in their own tradition must struggle to do justice to the organic relationship of Judaism and Christianity. Jews must confront the fact that the separation and the career of Christianity--as painful, as bloody, and as ugly as it has been vis-à-vis Judaism--cannot sim­ply be dismissed as a deviation from covenant history.

Historically, Jews have been reluctant to admit the possibility of partnership. While there is both risk (that Christian fundamentalists could abuse such recognitions to try to missionize Jews) and resistance (from Jews who fear that the minor­ity's survival is endangered if there is greater openness and respect for the majority culture), this is a time for heroic measures to advance the cause of redemption. This has ever been the proper covenantal response to great setbacks in history.

In light of the Holocaust, Jews must develop a theology of non-Jewish religions that will articulate their full spiritual dignity. One cannot simply treat them as pale reflections of Judaism. A new theology is ethically nec­essary. As we learned from the Holocaust, when one treats others as having less spiritual dignity than oneself, the temptation is to stand by when they are physically in danger as well.

Theological contempt cannot be separated from human responsibility. It is hard enough to risk your life to save some­body you look up to and admire. It is almost impossible to do it for someone you think is intellectually dense or spiritually inferior. The tradition of spiritual contempt led many Christians to abandon Jews in the Holo­caust. Jews who have suffered this indignity in the past must strive harder not to be guilty of similar misjudgments. "What is hateful to you, do not do to others." This is the summary of the whole Torah, according to our mas­ter Hillel.

Secondly, Jews must develop the ability to recognize the full implications of the truth that the Lord has many messengers. While it is true that Jews have always believed that there is salvation for the individual outside of Judaism, this generality does not do justice to the full spiritual dignity of oth­ers who, after all, live their lives in religious communities, and not just as inthviduais.

Finally, given human limitations and the corrupting effect of power, only the wide distribution of political, cultural, and theological power can ensure the safety of the world. A moral balance of power is the best guarantor of moral behavior. It follows that Jews need the presence of Christianity and other religions--as religions need the presence of secular movements--to pre­vent any one group from attaining societal domination that can lead to op­pression.

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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).