This is all more than fine and good. But if we are really sincere concerning this fifth of these Twelve Calls, the first to be addressed to Jews and Jewish communities there is an important question to be asked: Why have only a minority of Jews – individually as well as collectively in their various communities and organizations – seriously engaged recent Christian reforms? This question also challenges national and international Jewish bodies and entities – political, religious, cultural – including, significantly in the State of Israel. We invite Jewish readers of this guide to consider this question, to interrogate, explore it – as individuals and in their associations of various kinds; and likewise for those who are involved in the variety of available contexts where efforts at Jewish-Christian dialogue are taking place.
The reasons are more or less obvious; yet without explicitly opening up discussion concerning them – both among Jews themselves and in their meetings with Christians – the quality of understanding between the two 'communities of faith' – between the two civilizations – cannot significantly be advanced.
That the dramatic extent of teshuvah among so many Christians in their relation to Judaism and the Jewish people is coming so late in its two millennial history of vilification and persecution ---
The first and foremost reason that many, if not most, Jews are not aware of the dramatic change has occurred among so many Christians since the Holocaust and especially since the Second Vatican Council (under the leadership of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, and subsequently under the guidance of Pope John Paul II) is that it has come only relatively recently in the life of the Church's two millennia of existence. It has to be said that this late belatedness has come about only after 'The Destruction of European Jewry', in Raul Hilberg's telling phrase. Most certainly it was a destruction driven by an ideology that was in key ways antithetical to leading tenets of Christianity. But equally certain is the fact that without the outrageous depths of Christian antisemitism through most of its two millennial presence on this earth the Nazi war against the Jews could not have 'achieved' the destruction of such genocidal success that it did.
It is also a welcome but also a potentially hard fact that the dramatic teshuvah enacted by much of post-Holocaust Christianity would not have achieved so much without the influence of modern secular humanist values; a perspective on universal human rights and dignity which was not infrequently attacked by key Christian institutions, movements and leaders. Yet it also must be acknowledged that critical teachings of Christianity constitute another essential source in the development of the increasing recognition of these same principles of universal human value. It also should be admitted that the extent of this movement of teshuvah among so many Christian individuals, communities and branches of the Christian tradition is very moving in the depths of its ethical and religious sincerity and in the reach of its intellectual, emotional and behavioral expressions and repercussions in the life of both the Church and the Jewish people. So that despite its belatedness in coming, the recent Christian reform calls for increasing awareness and appreciation by the Jewish people. It still is certainly a welcome turning that bodes well for the coming millennia of Christianity's continued development among us. Even more welcome because of the ecological threats, and the continuing threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, that menace all of humanity. We must engage in serious acts of cooperative international teshuvah toward these planetary threats. A project that Christians and Jews – as well as Moslems and adherents of all other human faith traditions at their best – must find the way to engage in together.
Another reason for Jewish hesitancy to consider recent Christian reforms may be the central role played in the Christian experience by claims for the supernatural or literally miraculous, most especially, the divine-human character of Jesus.
This potential obstacle in becoming more open to understanding Christianity for some, if not indeed for many, Jews might be addressed by engaging the fact that literalism versus metaphoric/figurative understandings of apparently supernatural and miraculous religious language is a key question in classical Judaism.
Reading recommendations, for starters:
Steve Copeland, "From Outer Form to Inner Meaning and Back Again: The Metaphoric Imagination in Jewish Learning", in Janet Aviad, editor, Studies in Jewish Education, Volume 4 (The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University: Jerusalem, 1989). Please feel free to download this essay: Copeland
Abraham Joshua Heschel, Heavenly Torah: As Refracted Through the Generations, edited and translated from the Hebrew by Gordon Tucker with Leonard Levin (Continuum: New York & London, 2005), especially chapter two on 'Two Approaches to Torah Exegesis', chapter 3 on 'Miracles', & chapter 13 on 'The Language of Torah'. See:
James Arthur Diamond, Maimonides and the Hermeneutics of Concealment: Deciphering Scripture and Midrash in The Guide of the Perplexed (State University of New York Press, 2002). See:
A related obstacle for many Jews in becoming more open to a different understanding and appreciation of Christianity involves, as the title of a valuable anthology of essays put it, perceived "irreconcilable differences."
On this question, also see above in our guide the first of The Twelve Points of Berlin – concerning the Jewish context of Jesus and his teachings – including his identifying himself as the/a son of God. As for this anthology just mentioned, it is edited by David Sandmel, Rosann Catalano & Christopher Leighton, Irreconcilable Differences? A Learning Resource for Jews and Christians (Boulder, Colorado; Oxford, England; and Cambridge, Massachusetts: Westview Press/Perseus Books Group, 2001). Also see: Tikva Frymer-Kensky, David Novak, Peter Ochs, David Fox Sandmel, & Michael Signer, editors, Christianity in Jewish Terms (Westview Press/Perseus Books Group, 2000).
Dabru Emet - דברו אמת
(from Zechariah 8:16 ~ 'These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates.')
A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity:
Disagreeing in the Service of God
Jews & Christians need one another, argues an esteemed Orthodox rabbi in his latest book: An interview with Rabbi Irving Greenberg
And for children:
Ilene Cooper, The Golden Rule ~ illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska, (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2007), recommended by the publisher for kindergarten to grade 5
Likewise, for children:
Carol Matas, Greater Than Angels (Simon Pulse Publishers, 1999)
publisher recommended ages 9-12; 'Deported from Germany to Vichy France in WWII, Anna is sent to the Le Chambon, a refuge for Jews.'
Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland Desaix, The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust (Holiday House Publishers, 2009); publisher recommended grades 4-6
For some further reading and films, for high school age and adults, on Christians who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, see the recommendations above in this guide to the preface of The Twelve Points/Challenges of Berlin.
On an openness to the truths of other faiths, for high school age & adults, see:
William Apel, Signs of Peace: The Interfaith Letters of Thomas Merton (Orbis Books, 2006)
Yet another obstacle for many Jews in approaching the revolutionary changes that many Christians have undergone since the Second Vatican Council vis-à-vis their understanding of Jews & Judaism involves certain theological perspectives in regard to Christianity that are among the varied views on Christianity in classical Jewish sources. The next of The Twelve Challenges of Berlin addresses this potential problem & so this guide engages it as well ~ directly in our next section ---