Jewish Documents & Statements
Created: May 24, 2011
Written by Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding & Cooperation
After collaborating and working with various Christian organizations, leaders, and scholars over the past three years, the leaders of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC) in Efrat and Jerusalem have released a statement of A Jewish Understanding of Christians and Christianity
. CJCUC is the first orthodox Jewish entity to engage in dialogue with the Christian world.
In partnership with The Witherspoon Institute in Princeton New Jersey, CJCUC recently publicized their scholarly work at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem and at Yale University on the topics of “Covenant & Mission” and “Hope & Responsibility in the 21st Century.” In addition, CJCUC has collaborated with scholars connected with the Hebraic Heritage Christian Center in Atlanta, GA, in discussing the issues of “Evangelization” and “Jewish Understanding of Christianity.”
CJCUC’s Founder Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin said, “This statement only represents the view of our center but should also be used as a catalyst for other orthodox Jews and Jewry worldwide to consider fostering relationships with Christian communities. Leaders within the mainline Christian denominational world as well as the non-denominational movements of Evangelical Christianity have sincerely become friends of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. It is vital that we strengthen our relationship with them. We are certain that through these relational dialogues we will find far more which unites us than divides us.”
A Jewish Understanding of Christians and Christianity
Many leaders of Christianity today no longer seek to displace Judaism. They recognize the Jewish people’s continuing role in God’s plan for history, and through their own understanding of the Christian Testament, they understand themselves as grafted into the living Abrahamic covenant.
Christians see themselves not merely as members of the Noahide covenant, but as spiritual partners within the Jewish covenant. At the same time, they believe that God does not repent of his covenantal gifts and that the Jewish people continues to enjoy a unique covenantal relationship with God in accordance with its historical 2000 year traditions.
Jewish and Christian theologies are no longer engaged in a theological duel to the death and therefore Jews should not fear a sympathetic understanding of Christianity that is true to the Torah, Jewish thought and values. In today’s unprecedented reality of Christian support for the Jewish people, Jews should strive to work together with Christians toward the same spiritual goals of sacred history—universal morality, peace, and redemption under God—but under different and separate systems of commandments for each faith community and distinct theological beliefs.
Nearly all medieval and modern Jewish biblical commentators understood Abraham’s primary mission as teaching the world about God and bearing witness to His moral law. Maimonides insisted in his halakhic and philosophical writings that spreading the knowledge of the One God of Heaven and Earth throughout the world was the main vocation of Abraham. Significantly, this understanding of Abraham’s religious mission is exactly the role and historical impact of Christianity as understood by great rabbis such as Rabbis Moses Rivkis, Yaakov Emden and Samson Raphael Hirsch.
R. Moses Rivkis (17th century Lithuania):
The gentiles in whose shadow Jews live and among whom Jews are disbursed are not idolators. Rather they believe in creatio ex nihilo and the Exodus from Egypt and the main principles of faith. Their intention is to the Creator of Heaven and Earth and we are obligated to pray for their welfare (Gloss on Shulhan Arukh, Hoshen Mishpat, Section 425:5).
And Rabbi Jacob Emden (18th century Germany):
The Nazarene brought a double goodness to the world… The Christian eradicated avodah zarah, removed idols (from the nations) and obligated them in the seven mitsvot of Noah…a congregation that works for the sake of heaven—(people) who are destined to endure, whose intent is for the sake of heaven and whose reward will not denied. (Seder Olam Rabbah 35-37; Sefer ha-Shimush 15-17.
And Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (19th century Germany):
Although disparaged because of its alleged particularism, the Jewish religion actually teaches that the upright of all peoples are headed toward the highest goal. In particular, rabbis have been at pains to stress that, while in other respects Christian views and ways of life may differ from those of Judaism, the peoples in whose midst the Jews are now living [i.e. Christians] have accepted the Jewish Bible of the Old Testament as a book of Divine revelation. They profess their belief in the God of heaven and earth as proclaimed in the Bible and they acknowledge the sovereignty of Divine Providence in both this life and the next. Their acceptance of the practical duties incumbent upon all men by the will of God distinguishes these nations from the heathen and idolatrous nations of the talmudic era (Principles of Education, “Talmudic Judaism and Society,” 225-227).
Israel…produced an offshoot [Christianity] that had to become estranged from it in great measure, in order to bring to the world—sunk in idol worship, violence, immorality and the degradation of man—at least the tidings of the One Alone, of the brotherhood of all men, and of man’s superiority over the beast. (Nineteen Letters on Judaism (Jerusalem, 1995).
When we combine this rabbinic appreciation of Christianity with today’s non-replacement Christian theologies toward Judaism, we find fresh possibilities for rethinking a Jewish relationship with Christianity and for fashioning new Jewish-Christian cooperation in pursuit of common values. If so, Jews can view Christians as partners in spreading monotheism, peace, and morality throughout the world.
This new understanding must encompass a mutual respect of each other’s theological beliefs and eschatological convictions. Some Christians maintain that Christianity is the most perfect revelation of God and that all will join the church when truth is revealed at the end of time. Jews, too, are free to continue to believe, as Maimonides believed, that “all will return to the true religion” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 12:1) and, as Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik declared, “In the ultimate truthfulness of our views, [we] pray fervently for and expect confidently the fulfillment of our eschatological vision when our faith will rise from particularity to universality and will convince our peers of the other faith community”(“Confrontation” from Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Thought, 1964, 6:2).
The new relationship requires that Christians respect the right of all Jewish peoples to exist as Jews with complete self-determination—free from any attempts of conversion to Christianity. At the same time, Judaism must respect Christian faithfulness to their revelation, value their role in divine history, and acknowledge that Christians have entered a relationship with the God of Israel. In our pre-eschaton days, God has more than enough blessings to bestow upon all of His children.
The prophet Micah offers a stunning description of the messianic culmination of human history:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and the God of Jacob, that He teach us His ways, and we will walk in His paths.…Let the peoples beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nations shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war anymore. Let every man sit under his vine and under his fig tree; and no one shall make him afraid….Let all the people walk, each in the name of his God; and we shall walk in the name of our Lord our God forever and ever.” (4:2-5)
Jews and Christians must bear witness together to the presence of God and to His moral laws. If Jews and Christians can become partners after nearly 2,000 years of theological delegitimization and physical conflict, then peace is possible between any two peoples anywhere. That peace would be our most powerful witness to God’s presence in human history and to our covenantal responsibility to carry God’s blessing to the world. It is the very essence of which the messianic dream is made of.