Jewish-Christian Dialogue: The Next Stage

Christians and Jews must rethink how they approach each other.

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In the following opinion piece, the author instructs Christians and Jews on ways in which they should change their thinking and behavior if they are to engage in a productive dialogue. His opinions are likely to be controversial among some Christians and Jews alike. Reprinted with permission from For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: the New Encounter Between Judaism and Christianity (Jewish Publication Society).

What Christians Must Do

There can be no Judaism without Jews. Therefore, Christians must stop attempting to grow by spreading among Jews. Beyond merely ending proselytizing activi­ties among Jews, Christians need to go after the anti-Semitism that is the residue of their own teachings. Anti-Semitism is the most ubiquitous, world­wide, permanent moral infection of human history. Sometimes one despairs of overcoming it.

It has now spread in its more virulent form into the Arab world. It is being spread worldwide, even in countries where there are no, or hardly any, Jews, such as in Japan; all this by propaganda emanating from European racists, some left-wing universalists, terrorist Muslims, and some Arab countries as well as from marginal fundamentalist Christians.Jewish Christian Diaglogue

It is not enough to stop teaching about Jews as "killers of Christ." The deeper challenge is to go back and uproot the very sources of the contagion that continue to pour this virulent infection into humanity's bloodstream. Christians must make sure that the Christian breakthroughs in understanding Judaism are transmitted and taught on the mass level. The morally and theologically remarkable work done by Christians in the dialogue of the last 20 years has one serious weakness. It remains basically the possession of a minority of inspired people. It is not yet understood properly at the mass level and not yet dominant at the upper decision-making levels.

Christians need to learn to take worldly holiness and liberation seriously without slipping into romanticizing the Third World. Usually, that way ends up with the Christians viewing Israel and American Jews negatively. Such a "romantic" Christian worldview is a real possibility in Christian thought today. Christians are used to seeing Jews as the oppressed and as paradigms of powerlessness. Jews have traditionally played such a role in the Christian imagination, as for example in the "wandering Jew" motif in Western litera­ture.

What will Christianity do with Jews who have achieved power, as in Is­rael, or economic success, as in the United States? Will Jews now become the symbol of bourgeois wealth?

What Jews Must Do

All these issues represent valid Jewish concerns after the Holocaust, but it would be self-indulgent for Jews to stop there in the dialogue. As Jews work with Christians, they will discover the ethical power of Christianity, the reli­gious depth of its liturgical life, and the extraordinary effects of its religious models, even the models that are most remote from Jewish perception of the past 1,800 years.

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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).