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After Years of Study:
Historic Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity

By Gad Nahshon

An historic public statement by an interdenominational group of Jewish scholars on Christians and Christianity is set for release this coming weekend. The statement calls on Jews to acknowledged Christian efforts to confront their past mistreatment of Jews and Judaism. It also calls on Jews to reevaluate how Judaism perceives Christians and Christianity.

Authored by four noted scholars and released by the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies (ICJS), the statement, Dabru Emet: A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity, is set to appear in news stories beginning Thursday, Sept. 7, and in its entirety in full-page newspaper advertisements Sunday, September 10.

In their statement, the authors, Drs. Tikva Frymer-Kensky, David Novak, Peter W. Ochs and Michael A. Singer, together with the ICJS, seek to contribute to recent attempts to advance relations between the Christian and Jewish faith communities and promote a deeper understanding between Christians and Jews. Dabru Emet (def: Speak the Truth) offers eight points of tolerance and semblance that may help the two faiths to relate to one another better. The points explore claims that Jews and Christians pray to the same God, seek authority from the same book - the Bible (The "Tanakh" or "Old Testament"), that Christians can respect the Jewish claim to Israel and that Nazism was not a Christian phenomenon.

In addition to its authors, the statement is signed by scores of rabbis and Jewish leaders, spanning the denominations of Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstruction of Judaism.

The statement, which is the result of several years of intense study, comes at a near confluence of events in the Jewish and Christian communities. Among these are Pope John Paul II's historic trip to Israel and his and others' public statements of remorse about Christian mistreatment of Jews, an unprecedented discussion of the role of religion in American campaign politics, Middle East leaders' search for a final agreement on the status of holy sites in Jerusalem, the highly controversial Vatican beatification of Pope Pius IX, and the coming of Jewish High Holidays.

In addition to the statement, the scholars are publishing Christianity in Jewish Terms (Westview Press, 2000), a collection of essays, written by both Jewish and Christian scholars, that probes more deeply into the issues addressed in the statement. Later this fall, the ICJS also will publish a learning resource to be used in conjunction with both the statement and the essay book. The learning resource offers creative ways to engage clergy, students, congregations, interfaith families and the public in study and discussion of the topics in Dabru Emet.

On Monday, September 11th, the ICJS will host a day of events, supporting Dabru Emet, beginning at 3:00 PM with a study session for rabbis from the Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia region, to which press are invited. Following a private dinner, from 6:00 to 8:00 PM, honoring the four authors of the statement, an open discussion with the honorees and Taylor Branch, an ICJS board member, will address the issues broached in Dabru Emet. All of the events will take place at the Chizuk Amuno Congregation, located at 8100 Stevenson Road in Baltimore.

In recent years, there has been a dramatic and unprecedented shift in Jewish and Christian relations. Throughout the nearly two millennia of Jewish exile, Christians have tended to characterize Judaism as a failed religion or, at best, a religion that prepared the way for, and is completed in, Christianity. In the decades since the Holocaust, however, Christianity has changed dramatically. An increasing number of official Church bodies, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, have made public statements of their remorse about Christian mistreatment of Jews and Judaism. These statements have declared, furthermore, that Christian teaching and preaching can and must be reformed so that they acknowledge God's enduring covenant with the Jewish people and celebrate the contribution of Judaism to world civilization and to Christian faith itself.

We believe these changes merit a thoughtful Jewish response. Speaking only for ourselves - an interdenominational group of Jewish scholars - we believe it is time for Jews to learn about the efforts of Christians to honor Judaism. We believe it is time for Jews to reflect on what Judaism may now say about Christianity. As a first step, we offer eight brief statements about how Jews and Christians may relate to one another.

Jews and Christians worship the same God. Before the rise of Christianity, Jews were the only worshippers of the God of Israel. But Christians also worship the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob; creator of heaven and earth. While Christian worship is not a viable religious choice for Jews, as Jewish theologians we rejoice that, through Christianity, hundreds of millions of people have entered into relationship with the God of Israel! Jews and Christians seek authority from the same book - the Bible (what Jews call "Tanakh" and Christians call the "Old Testament"). Turning to it for religious orientation, spiritual enrichment, and communal education, we each take away similar lessons: God created and sustains the universe; God established a covenant with the people of Israel; God's revealed word guides Israel to a life of righteousness; and God will ultimately redeem Israel and the whole world. Yet, Jews and Christians interpret the Bible differently on many points. Such differences must always be respected.

Christians can respect the claim of the Jewish people upon the land of Israel. The most important event for Jews since the Holocaust has been the reestablishment of a Jewish state in the Promised Land. As members of a biblically-based religion, Christians appreciate that Israel was promised - and given - to Jews as the physical center of the covenant between them and God. Many Christians support the State of Israel for reasons far more profound than mere politics. As Jews, we applaud this support. We also recognize that Jewish tradition mandates justice for all non-Jews who reside in a Jewish state.

Jews and Christians accept the moral principles of Torah. Central to the moral principles of Torah is the alienable sanctity and dignity of every human being. All of us were created in the image of God. This shared moral emphasis can be the basis of an improved relationship between out two communities. It can also be the basis of a powerful witness to all humanity for improving the lives of our fellow human beings and for standing against the immoralities and idolatries that harm and degrade us. Such witness is especially needed after the unprecedented horrors of the past century.

Nazism was not a Christian phenomenon. Without the long history of Christian anti-Judaism and Christian violence against Jews, Nazi ideology could not have taken hold nor could it have been carried out. Too many Christians participated in, or were sympathetic to, Nazi atrocities against Jews. Other Christians did not protest sufficiently against these atrocities. But Nazism itself was not an inevitable outcome of Christianity. If the Nazi extermination of the Jews had been fully successful, it would have turned its murderous rage more directly to Christians. We recognize with gratitude those Christians who risked or sacrificed their lives to save Jews during the Nazi regime. With that in mind, we encourage the continuation of recent efforts in Christian theology to repudiate unequivocally contempt of Judaism and the Jewish people. We applaud those Christians who reject this teaching of contempt, and we do not blame them for the sins committed by their ancestors.

The humanly irreconcilable difference between Jews and Christians will not be settled until God redeems the entire world as promised in Scripture. Christians know and serve God through Jesus Christ and the Christian religion. Jews know and serve God through Torah and the Jewish tradition. That difference will not be settled by one community insisting that it has interpreted Scripture more accurately than the other; nor by exercising political power over the other. Jews can respect Christians' faithfulness to their revelation just as we expect Christians to respect our faithfulness to our revelation. Neither Jew nor Christian should be pressed into affirming the teaching of the other community.

A new relationship between Jews and Christians will not weaken Jewish practice. An improved relationship will not accelerate the cultural and religious assimilation that Jews rightly fear. It will not change traditional Jewish forms of worship, nor increase intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews, nor persuade more Jews to convert to Christianity, nor create a false blending of Judaism and Christianity. We respect Christianity as a faith that originated within Judaism and that still has significant contacts with it. We do not see it as an extension of Judaism. Only if we cherish our own traditions can we pursue this relationship with integrity.

Jews and Christians must work together for justice and peace. Jews and Christians, each in their own way, recognize the unredeemed state of the world as reflected in the persistence of persecution, poverty, and human degradation and misery. Although justice and peace are finally God's, our joint efforts, together with those of other faith communities, will help bring the kingdom of God for which we hope and long. Separately and together, we must work to bring justice and peace to our world. In this enterprise, we are guided by the vision of the prophets of Israel:

"It shall come to pass in the end of days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established at the top of the mountains and be exalted above the hills, and the nations shall flow unto it...and many peoples shall go and say, 'Come ye and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord to the house of god of Jacob and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in his paths.'" (Isaiah 2:2-3)

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