Sunday, December 13, 2015

Christians and Jews: What Kind of Partnership?

Pope Francis and Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz at the Kotel  (Vatican Radio)
I have been reluctant to comment on this. But I think it deserves some sort of response. A document signed by 25 rabbis has been released to the public. This is a document about which I have very mixed feelings.

It states what these rabbis believe is the state of Jewish Christian relations. It does not distinguish between Catholic and other Christian denominations and is just a statement based on how Christianity has evolved since the Holocaust - especially since Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate. I have said in the past, that Vatican II caused a sea change in how it viewed us - Jewish people - and our theology.

Briefly, it rejected past notions of our collective responsibility for the crucifixion of their god, and now considers Judaism a brother religion; an older brother that is responsible for their own religion. They affirm that we have not lost favor with God; that we have not lost our covenant with God. And thereby not replaced by Christians in a new covenant. They further acknowledged their own share of culpability for the Holocaust in the sense of centuries of antisemitism based on their theological views that we are guilty of deicide. To that end the Church no longer advocates our active conversion. Instead they respect us for who we are and for what we believe.

As such I have advocated a change in the Jewish attitude about Christianity. I no longer see it as a danger to us physically or theologically. There is ample evidence of that now. Anyone who has ever heard Pastor John Hagee speak about his love and support of Israel and the Jewish people can  see how it has changed. And he is not the only Christian minister that has expressed those views, although he is certainly the strongest among them. Hagee is a bigger supporter of Israel than many Jews I know. Recently the Vatican in an official document disavowed any active proselyzation of the Jewish people.

As such I completely oppose the kind of negative rhetoric I used to hear about Christian hatred of us. They no longer do as a matter of their own theology. I now see them as our friends with many shared values.  Many of which are based on our Torah as part of God’s Divine plan for humanity. As one portion of that document stated: 
As did Maimonides and Yehudah Halevi,[1] we acknowledge that Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations. In separating Judaism and Christianity, G-d willed a separation between partners with significant theological differences, not a separation between enemies. Rabbi Jacob Emden wrote that “Jesus brought a double goodness to the world. On the one hand he strengthened the Torah of Moses majestically... 
God removed idols from the nations and obligated them in the seven commandments of Noah so that they would not behave like animals of the field, and instilled them firmly with moral traits…..Christians are congregations that work for the sake of heaven who are destined to endure, whose intent is for the sake of heaven and whose reward will not denied.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch taught us 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.” 
I don’t think anyone can argue with this. So why do I have mixed feelings about this document? I guess it can be summed up in the title of the document itself which states: Toward a Partnership between Jews and Christians. It blurs the distinctions between partnering with them in promoting our common values, and partnering with them theologically. This document does not make it clear enough that our two religions operate under entirely different theologies and as such should avoid theological engagement.

That is the distinction Rav Soloveitchik made when he advocated participating in joint public efforts that promote our shared ideals. Which is the guideline used by Agudath Israel when partnering with Christian denominations lobbying congress and petitioning the courts for shared values.

We can be friends but we must recognize that these are two separate and incompatible religions, lest some Jews come to the erroneous conclusion that we have some sort of common theology that suggests the notion of a trinity as a legitimate theological view. It is not and that ought to be made clear. This document fails to do that and implies that there may be room for such beliefs.  

Here for example are a couple of statements that trouble me. The first is:
  ‘We believe that G-d employs many messengers to reveal His truth.’
Even though it is preceded by a disclaimer... 
‘Our partnership in no way minimizes the ongoing differences between the two communities and two religions’ nonetheless implies that there is an element truth in their theology. Which is anathema to Judaism.

The second troubling statement is: 
‘‘In imitating G-d, Jews and Christians must offer models of service, unconditional love and holiness. We are all created in G-d’s Holy Image, and Jews and Christians will remain dedicated to the Covenant by playing an active role together in redeeming the world.’ 
This is too vague making it sound like we share in a common Covenant with God. While it is true that God requires non Jews to follow the 7 Noahide laws and Jews to follow the 613 laws of the Torah, to imply we have a shared covenant is at best misleading.

That is why I have not come out and endorsed this statement, nor have I rejected it. Yes to a more positive approach to our Christian friends. No to the relatively troubling way it makes that case.