Jewish-Christian Relations

Though Jews and Christians have had a complicated and tense relationship, relations today are better than ever.

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The latter half of the 20th century saw a wholesale re-evaluation of the Christian attitude toward Jews and Judaism, revolutionizing relations between the two religions. Brought on by the horrors of the Holocaust and the embrace of pluralism and diversity as positive values, Christian theologians have repudiated or reinterpreted age-old beliefs that led to anti-Jewish violence throughout the centuries.

While differences between the two faith communities still exist, for the first time in history Jews today have a reasonable expectation that these differences will be addressed  through interfaith dialogue rather than the violence of the past.

The state of Jewish-Christian relations varies from group to group, but some general trends do emerge from examining the ways that Jews and Christians interact today:

- The Holocaust profoundly affected the ways that Christians from across the theological spectrum think about and interact with Jews. After World War II, Christians were forced to confront their religion's role in helping make possible the demonization of Jews to such a great degree that slaughtering Jews en-masse could take place. Anti-Jewish theology, which had for two millennia pervaded Christian thought, has been largely eliminated, such as the belief that Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus (known as deicide). In addition, the role of Christian rescuers--people whose faith led them to risk their lives by hiding or otherwise saving Jews--provides a meaningful link between Jews and Christians. However, the role of Christians and Christianity in perpetuating the Holocaust remains a point of contention between the two religions.

- Israel--specifically, different Christian groups' stances toward the Jewish state and its policies--is a major factor in interfaith relations. This is straining old friendships between Jews and liberal Christians while drawing Jews closer to conservative Christians with whom they have historically been at odds.

- As Jews and Christians intermarry with increasing frequency, especially in the United States, families are becoming more familiar with the religions to which their relatives adhere. Although intermarriage produces tensions and conflicts, anecdotal evidence suggests it also produces learning opportunities: When Christians join Jewish families, they get to know Jewish people and Judaism in a more personal way that often helps shatter stereotypes or anti-Jewish feelings they may have had. Jews, of course, have the same experience vis-à-vis their new Christian families.

- Christians in recent years have become increasingly interested in exploring the life of Jesus, which has led many Christians to a more profound and heartfelt respect for the religion of Jesus, Judaism. Learning about Jesus, for many Christians, inherently involves learning about Judaism, for Jesus was a practicing Jew. Christian theologians today tend to emphasize the close relationship between Judaism and Christianity. The centuries-old belief in supercessionism--that Christianity superceded, or replaced, Judaism--has been rejected by theologians from across the Christian spectrum .

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Michael Kress

Michael Kress is the executive editor of Parents.com. He was also the the VP of Editorial and Managing Editor at Beliefnet and the founding editor-in-chief of MyJewishLearning.com.