Leading Jewish Scholars Extend a Hand to Christians

Author: Laurie Goodstein

A large group of influential Jewish scholars and rabbis have signed a theological statement to be released this weekend calling on Jews to relinquish their fear and mistrust of Christianity and to acknowledge church efforts in the decades since the Holocaust to amend Christian teaching about Judaism.p. The statement, called “Dabru Emet”— which means “speak truth” in Hebrew— was signed by nearly 170 Jewish scholars and leaders from all four branches of Judaism— Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist, including heads of theological schools.p. In what is probably the most controversial point, the document says that “Nazism was not a Christian phenomenon.”p. It says, “Without the long history of Christian anti-Judaism and Christian violence against Jews, Nazi ideology could not have taken hold,” but that “Nazism itself was not an inevitable outcome of Christianity.” It asserts that if the Nazis had succeeded in exterminating all the Jews, Christians would have been the next targets.p. The document also claims major commonalities between the faiths, saying that Jews and Christians worship the same God; seek authority from the same book, the Old Testament; and accept the moral principles of the Torah.p. A result of a scholarly dialogue that began five years ago, the statement was the idea of Dr. Michael A. Signer of the University of Notre Dame, who wrote it with Dr. Tikva Fryer-Kensky of the University of Chicago Divinity School, Dr. Peter W. Ochs of the University of Virginia and Dr. David Novak of the University of Toronto.p. “The reason we needed a statement,” Dr. Novak said, “is that major Christian groups and thinkers have in the past 30 or 40 years come up with a major rethinkingabout Jews and Judaism and have issued statements about how they can respect the legitimacy of Judaism. It seems to us to behoove Jewish thinkers to respond accordingly.”p. Dr. Novak noted that as Jewish academics at non-Jewish institutions, the four co-authors could write without seeking approval from any denomination or religious body. Christian theologians have expressed interest in such a statement for years, he said.p. The document will be printed in paid advertisements this Sunday in The New York Times and The Sun of Baltimore. It is being released by the Institute for Christianand Jewish Studies, an independent interfaith organization in Baltimore.p. “In history and in contemporary times there are reasons for Jews to be very wary of Christians,” said Rabbi David F. Sandmel of the institute. “But the Christian world today is very different than it was 50 or 100 or 500 years ago.”p. About 30 people refused to sign, many because they disagreed with the section on the Holocaust, Rabbi Sandmel said.p. Rabbi James Rudin, senior interreligious adviser at the American Jewish Committee, said he objected because “Christianity and Christian teachings over the centuries created the seedbed for Nazism to grow in.”p. “This document lets Christian teaching off too easily.” Rabbi Rudin said.p. Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, the Carpenter professor of New Testament studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, said she was concerned about the assertion that Jews and Christians learned from the same Old Testament.p. “We share many of the same stories, but the interpretive traditions are substantially different, and even the canonical order of the books creates different texts,” she said.p. Nevertheless, Dr. Levine added her signature.p. “Over all, this struck me as a hopeful and needed document at this time,” she said, adding that she tries to counter anti-Jewish thinking among her Christian divinity students so that they will not spread it from the pulpit.p. “Jews do not really understand Christianity either,” Dr. Levine said, “and there is no way to break down bigotry or prejudice unless there is education, on both sides.”

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