Doing the Father’s Will: How Orthodox Rabbis See Common Ground With Christians
Orthodox rabbis’ praise of Christianity as a ‘gift to the nations’ comes shortly after the Vatican’s statements marking the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate.
JERUSALEM — A recent statement from Orthodox rabbis calls for “fraternal partnership” between Christians and Jews, reflecting on their commonalities and on recent efforts by Catholics to improve relations with Jews.
“We Jews and Christians have more in common than what divides us: the ethical monotheism of Abraham; the relationship with the one Creator of heaven and earth, who loves and cares for all of us; Jewish sacred Scriptures; a belief in a binding tradition; and the values of life, family, compassionate righteousness, justice, inalienable freedom, universal love and ultimate world peace,” the statement said.
The statement did not minimize ongoing differences, but it said Jews and Christians must offer “models of service, unconditional love and holiness.”
The Dec. 3 statement, titled “To Do the Will of Our Father in Heaven: Toward a Partnership Between Jews and Christians,” was signed by more than 25 prominent Orthodox rabbis from Israel, the United States and Europe, and its authors have invited other Orthodox rabbis to sign it.
“Jews and Christians must be in the forefront of teaching basic moral values to the world,” said Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, a member of the Israeli Rabbinate. He underlined the importance of the statement’s call for “fraternal partnership between Jewish and Christian religious leaders,” while also “acknowledging the positive theological status of the Christian faith.”
The statement cited Jewish scholars such as Maimonides and Yehudah Halevi and acknowledged Christianity as “neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations.”
“In separating Judaism and Christianity, G-d willed a separation between partners with significant theological differences, not a separation between enemies,” it said.
Jesus “strengthened the Torah majestically” and spoke emphatically about its immutability, the rabbis said. According to the statement, Jesus removed idols from the nations, obligated the nations to follow the seven commandments of Noah and “instilled them firmly with moral traits.”
“Christians are congregations that work for the sake of heaven, who are destined to endure, whose intent is for the sake of heaven and whose reward will not denied,” the statement said, citing Rabbi Jacob Emden. The statement acknowledged Christian acceptance of the Old Testament and of divine Providence.
“Both Jews and Christians have a common covenantal mission to perfect the world under the sovereignty of the Almighty, so that all humanity will call on his name and abominations will be removed from the earth,” it continued.
“Now that the Catholic Church has acknowledged the eternal covenant between G-d and Israel, we Jews can acknowledge the ongoing constructive validity of Christianity as our partner in world redemption, without any fear that this will be exploited for missionary purposes.”
Rabbi Irving Greenberg, an Orthodox theologian, said there is room in traditional Judaism “to see Christianity as part of God’s covenantal plan for humanity, as a development out of Judaism that was willed by God.”
The Jerusalem-based Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee, said Christians and Jews “need to work together to meet our common challenges: the assault of radical secularism, religious extremism and moral relativism on the heritage and dignity of humankind.”
The rabbis’ statement said the end of the Holocaust 70 years ago was “the warped climax to centuries of disrespect, oppression and rejection of Jews, and the consequent enmity that developed between Jews and Christians.”
“In retrospect, it is clear that the failure to break through this contempt and engage in constructive dialogue for the good of humankind weakened resistance to evil forces of anti-Semitism that engulfed the world in murder and genocide,” the statement continued.
In the rabbis’ understanding, the Second Vatican Council declaration Nostra Aetate started the process of Jewish-Christian reconciliation. That document and other changes towards Judaism represent the unequivocal rejection of any form of anti-Semitism, while affirming the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people. The Church rejects the charge of deicide against Jews and stresses “the unique relationship” between Christians and Jews.
“On this basis, Catholics and other Christian officials started an honest dialogue with Jews that has grown during the last five decades,” the rabbis said. “Today Jews have experienced sincere love and respect from many Christians that have been expressed in many dialogue initiatives, meetings and conferences around the world.”
On Dec. 10, the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews, an office of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, issued a statement to mark the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate.
The non-magisterial document aimed at “looking back with gratitude on all that has been achieved over the last decades in the Jewish-Catholic relationship, providing at the same time a new stimulus for the future.” It said that Christians and Jews are “irrevocably interdependent,” and dialogue between the two is a duty. The document discussed the tension between the universality of salvation in Christ and God’s unrevoked covenant with the Jewish people.
Rabbi Eugene Korn, academic director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, reflected on the statement’s importance.
He said there have been previous Jewish statements on Jewish-Christian relations and theology, such as the year 2000 statement “Dabru Emet.” However, few Orthodox rabbis could agree with those statements’ theological and practical claims.
“This proclamation’s breakthrough is that influential Orthodox rabbis across all centers of Jewish life have finally acknowledged that Christianity and Judaism are no longer engaged in a theological duel to the death and that Christianity and Judaism have much in common spiritually and practically,” Korn said. “Given our toxic history, this is unprecedented in Orthodoxy.”
- jewish-catholic relations
- nostra aetate
- orthodox judaism
- pontifical council for promoting christian unity
- vatican ii