Jewish Pluralism & Peoplehood

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

Print this page Print this page

Jewish tradition has long recognized that one need not be a genetic de­scendant of Abraham to become one of his children. Since the family is on a mission to teach, exemplify, and realize the covenant of redemption, one who accepts this calling can be born into the people of Israel through con­version. Once this joining takes place, all future descendants who carry on this line of the covenant are part of the people Israel.

Given this fact, Ju­daism should factor in some understanding of the billions of gentiles who joined in the covenantal mission en masse even if they joined through a dif­ferent narrative and lived as another (separate) part of the family. True, that part of the family once denied the legitimacy of this part; but when they ac­knowledge their error and stop the false denial, their conscious membership in Abraham's family should be integrated in some way.

Arguments & Counter-Arguments

Many Jews will respond to this proposal: Absolutely not! The gentiles who joined the Abrahamic covenant (as they understood it) did not meet any of Judaism's conversion standards; they did not embrace the life and practices of the Jewish people. Therefore, their intentions carry no religious weight in Judaism, and their commitments represent no ethical claim for recognition. Some would reject this proposal even more sharply. "Would you murder and take possession?" (1 Kings 21:19).

After 2,000 years of Chris­tianity demeaning Judaism as well as persecuting and killing Jews while trying to seize the name Israel by force, will Jews now voluntarily surrender the crown of a good name to Christianity's believers? Just because some Christians are sorry for what they did and some others want reconciliation?

To this argument, the counter-response is: Do Christians not also merit recognition under Isaiah's thrice repeated rubric, "so you [the people of Is­rael] are My witnesses, declares the Lord--and I am God" (Isaiah 43:12; see also 43:10, 44:8)? Are there not hundreds of millions of human beings who had never heard of the God of Creation until Christians sought them out and testified to them about the God of Israel, who is the God of Creation, who loves them and wants them to be redeemed?

Even if Christians spoke to gentiles about Jesus as Lord, did they not, in the end, bring these people to the God of Israel, whom Jesus worshiped as Lord? These untold millions would never have known of the God of Israel but for Christians' repeated witness to them, until the people were convinced; and when they heard that the Lord had taken note of them and that God had seen their plight, then they bowed low in homage.

And what about Isaiah's vision that some day "My house will be a house of prayer for all the nations" (Isaiah 56:7)? Will this prophesy be fulfilled only by complete world conversion to Judaism? Is there no credit to Christianity for bringing billions to pray to the God of Israel? Is there no recognition that those Christians overwhelmingly acknowledge Jerusalem as a holy city and the Land of Israel as a special place of Divine Presence?

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

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).