Meir Soloveichik on Interfaith Dialogue

By | Tagged: beliefs

This month’s issue of Commentary includes a lengthy essay by Meir Soloveichik, in which he rejects theological interfaith dialogue. Soloveichik supports the attempts to improve interfaith relations, but suggests these interactions be limited to the social realm.

In this, Soloveichik reaffirms the position of his great-uncle, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik — the most influential figure in 20th century Modern Orthodoxy. While citing the elder Soloveitchik, Meir Soloveichik mostly appeals to a more popular work: Strangers and Neighbors: What I Have Learned about Christianity by Living Among Orthodox Jews, written by Maria Johnson, an Oxford-trained Catholic theologian. In this book, Johnson discusses her appreciation for Judaism and Jews — while holding fast to her own orthodox beliefs.

To support his position, Soloveichik takes on a few of the most renowned Jewish theologians of the last half-century: Abraham Joshua Heschel, David Hartman, and Yitz Greenberg. Soloveichik quotes Heschel in presenting a paradigmatic liberal, theological worldview shared by these three thinkers:

The ultimate truth is not capable of being fully and adequately expressed in concepts and words. . . . Revelation is always an accommodation to the capacity of man. No two minds are alike, just as no two faces are alike. The voice of God reaches the spirit of man in a variety of ways, in a multiplicity of languages. One truth comes to expression in many ways of understanding.

In other words: Absolute truth is inaccessible to humans who have finite minds and perspectives. While Heschel, Hartman, and Greenberg would defend this as both true and properly humble, Soloveichik rejects it as wishy-washy relativism:

Rabbi Greenberg insists that his approach does not “dilute Judaism’s independence or collapse the distinctions between Judaism and Christianity.� Nor, he writes, is he endorsing relativism, but rather “an absolutism that has come to recognize its own limitations.� But if this is not relativism, what is? A defining feature of any faith is its claim to be truer than any other. Proposing that it gut itself of that feature, retaining only its attachment to “the kind of life we lived along the way,� is akin to asking it to cease to exist as a faith.

Posted on March 27, 2007

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