Throughout the nearly two millennia of Jewish exile, Christians have tended to characterize Judaism as a failed religion or, at best, a religion that prepared the way for, and is completed in, Christianity. In the decades since the Holocaust, however, Christianity has changed dramatically. An increasing number of official Church bodies, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, have made public statements of their remorse about Christian mistreatment of Jews and Judaism. We believe these changes merit a thoughtful Jewish response. Speaking only for ourselves — an interdenominational group of Jewish scholars — we believe it is time for Jews to learn about the efforts of Christians to honor Judaism.
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Almost all of them with very few exceptions, were in fact American. Aside from any other reasons, the fact that the statement had been prepared under the auspices of the Baltimore Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies, guaranteed its Americanocentricity. However this is only a partial explanation for the degree of excitement that the statement generated in Christian circles, and not only in the U.
Some of us were very much surprised by how strong the positive reaction was. Though I myself was a signatory to Dabru Emet one of the few non-Americans , I did not consider the text to be unusually far-reaching. However, these comparative institutional sour grapes or questions as to why other statements are not as well known, are not so important. What is significant is the undeniable fact that Dabru Emet was received even in public addresses and articles by people of no less stature than Cardinals Kasper and Keeler, the Protestant scholar Walter Bruegemann and Archbishop George Carey of Canterbury, not only as a historic document, but as ushering in a new era in Christian-Jewish relations.
This response clearly revealed just how profound and unsatisfied the need in Christian circles engaged in and committed to dialogue with the Jewish community was for some public Jewish declaration of reciprocity, in response to the far reaching theological changes that had taken place over the last forty years in Christian attitudes and teaching regarding Jews and Judaism.
This reaction alone, in my opinion, was in itself eloquent enough a justification and vindication of Dabru Emet. The fact that it did indeed seem to provide satisfaction to an apparent unmet need, would perhaps suggest that suspicions prevailed in Christian circles, that the attitudes very much associated with two modern Orthodox American Rabbis and thinkers of the previous generation, were nevertheless widely held within the Jewish community at large.
I refer to Rabbis Eliezer Berkowitz and J. Soloveitchik, who were both actually, and relevantly, refugees from Europe. If Christians want authentic Jews to respond positively to their overtures, Christians will have to demonstrate the genuineness of their respect and good will towards the Jewish community over a few generations before a positive Jewish response will be possible.
Accordingly he ruled out any "theological" dialogue though he acknowledged that on humanitarian issues such as war and peace, poverty, freedom, morality, civil rights and the threat of secularism "communication among the various faith communities is desirable and even essential. This may have been the case. Moreover, whatever his motive may have been, in the relevant article Tradition, Vol.
He may well herein have reflected the mind-set of many Orthodox Jews in this regard, though I suspect that paradoxically it would resonate primarily with an Orthodoxy that does not call itself "modern", on the contrary. Begin with theological dialogue and it will soon become polemic or at least an unconscious vehicle for the strong and many to impose themselves upon, and even undermine, the weak and few! An effective critique of this position was provided already in an article in by the late Orthodox Jewish scholar Professor Zvi Yaron.
Yaron questioned the legitimacy of such a perspective in the contemporary context, especially as Soloveitchik himself acknowledged "the threat of secularism" which is really the dominant contemporary ethos in Western society.
Today, in the West particularly, all religions are minorities and are vulnerable though that vulnerability and minority status actually has its own empowerment. However, the position may also be criticized for its ontological self-contradiction.
As the Prophet Malachi points out ch. It is artificial and simply incorrect to suggest that in addressing issues of humanitarian concern we are not concerning ourselves with "doctrinal, dogmatic or ritual aspects of our faith. Dabru Emet certainly demonstrated the unequivocal repudiation of such negative attitudes towards Jewish-Christian dialogue by the widest cross section of Jewish religious and academic leadership.
As obvious as this was to those of us in the Jewish community engaged in this field, evidently it had not been so to very many of our Christian collaborators, and as I say, that in itself gave the statement great value. The Christian excitement in effect related firstly to the fact that this public Jewish statement recognized Christians and Christianity today as not being the same as they were in the past; that Christianity today is not only no longer principally a threat to Judaism, but in fact is substantially an ally.
It also related to the fact that the statement recognizes a Jewish interest not only in a social and moral relationship with Christianity, but also in a relationship of theological understanding between the two. In effect Dabru Emet represents a Jewish willingness not to forget, but to put behind us the unique tragic past that bedevilled the Jewish-Christian relationship and to look forward to a unique fraternal theological interaction in the future. Indeed, the statement was criticized in certain Jewish quarters precisely on both these grounds.
These reservations focus on the passage in Dabru Emet that rejects the idea of laying the blame for past Christian antisemitism and anti-Judaism at the door of contemporary Christians an ironic reversal of Christian charges against Jews!
The passage goes on to declare that "if the Nazi extermination of the Jews had been more successful, it would have turned its murderous rage more directly to Christians. However I do not believe that a fair minded person could dispute the central thesis that Nazism was not a Christian phenomenon in and of itself.
Of course, if this had been a Christian statement, then we would have expected some extensive soul searching and greater acknowledgement of the sin of Christian antisemitism. But Dabru Emet is a Jewish statement that is explicitly directed at Jews. As a modern Jewish leader in the dialogue with Christianity has put it, the Jewish community often tends to indulge in a "triumphalism of pain. The other main Jewish criticism of Dabru Emet has focused on the theological affirmation of Christianity, especially the phrase "Jews and Christians worship the same God.
Indeed, to serve or worship God is defined precisely as "walking in His ways", "observing His commandments". In other words, the basic criterion for determining whether we worship God or not, is our religio-ethical conduct. Moreover the unique Divine self-designation in the book of Exodus "I am that which I am" or more literally, "I shall be that which I shall be," has been understood precisely to mean that no two people have the same conception of the Divine.
Indeed, even within any one tradition and denomination one will find very differing perceptions of the Deity. Sometimes there are serious divergences if not conflicts over such understandings. Rabbi Shlomo MinHahar of Provence, for example, considered certain of the theological principles of Maimonides to be heretical. But neither intended that the other did not worship the same God. Similarly, within my own contemporary Jewish Orthodoxy there are colleagues of mine who maintain theological conceptions that I find unacceptable, but I do not think that they are worshipping another Deity!
Indeed, in stating that Christianity has brought "hundreds of millions of people into relationship with the God of Israel" and has led them to "accept the moral principles of Torah," Dabru Emet simply echoes statements within the writings of the aforementioned Rabbinic authorities and many others over the course of the last millennium.
This expression of theological respect and its dialogic implications would seem to highlight a principal source of Christian excitement over Dabru Emet. In effect, the excitement reflects a perceived development of a Jewish theology of Christianity. In this regard, it might be more correct to describe Dabru Emet less as the substance and more as a sign.
As indicated, a positive theological understanding of Christianity is not a new thing. It was arguably Emden who was the most far reaching of rabbinic authorities in this regard. However, Emden goes far further in describing Christianity in the language of the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot as "knessiah leshem shamayim", i. However the Hebrew word "knessiah" is also used precisely to mean "Church"! Such a body is described by the Mishnah as being of permanent value, sanctifying the Divine Name.
Emden accordingly portrays Christianity in terms of Divine purpose and value. However the remarkable strides in Jewish-Christian relations over the last four decades have produced a new openness to such. These have included seeing Judaism and Christianity in a mutually complementary role in which the Jewish focus on the communal covenant with God and the Christian focus on the individual relationship with God, may serve to balance one another.
Others have seen the complementary relationship in that Christians need the Jewish reminder that the Kingdom of Heaven has not yet fully arrived, while Jews need the Christian awareness that in some ways that Kingdom has already rooted itself in the here and now. The communal autonomy that Judaism affirms may serve more appropriately as a model for a multicultural society, while Christianity may provide a better response for individual alienation in the modern world.
In addition, Jewish as well as Christian theologians have written about the mutual theological assistance Jews and Christians can provide one another in overcoming the burdens of history. It has also been pointed out that Jewish-Christian reconciliation itself has impacted on society well beyond the bilateral dialogue. Accordingly it serves both as a universal paradigm of reconciliation and should serve as an inspiration for Jews and Christians for dialogue, especially with Islam and even beyond in the multifaith encounter.
Pope John Paul II has expressed this beautifully when he observed that "Jews and Christians are called as the Children of Abraham to be a blessing for humankind. In order to be so, we must first be a blessing to one another".
What then are the theological implications of such mutual blessing? All these ideas reflect the real theological challenge that we who labour in love in this vineyard of Jewish-Christian relations are called to address with increasing candor and depth. Perhaps then the excitement with which Dabru Emet was received, reflected the fact that there is now a genuine search for answers to these questions within both communities.
As Jews, we applaud dabur support. It covers a range of issues from the theological to the practical that merit further exploration eet us. Central to the moral principles of Torah is the inalienable sanctity and dignity of every human being. It was largely accepted within the church by the time of the 4th century. Too many Christians participated in, or were sympathetic to, Nazi atrocities against Jews. As a first step, we offer eight brief statements about how Jews and Christians may relate to one another. Some 50 years later, a group of Jewish thinkers gathered in Baltimore to formalize a response to the Seelisberg statement.
The phrase Dabru Emet ["Speak the truth"] comes from the verse: "These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates" Zechariah Authored by four Jewish scholars, the statement was accompanied by a lengthy list of signatories that has greatly expanded subsequently. A companion volume that serves as an adult learning resource is Irreconciliable Differences? Sandmel, Rosann M.
Almost all of them with very few exceptions, were in fact American. Aside from any other reasons, the fact that the statement had been prepared under the auspices of the Baltimore Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies, guaranteed its Americanocentricity. However this is only a partial explanation for the degree of excitement that the statement generated in Christian circles, and not only in the U. Some of us were very much surprised by how strong the positive reaction was.