A Jewish understanding of Christians

Judaism and Christianity are no longer engaged in a theological duel. Jews should not fear a sympathetic understanding of Christianity that is true to the Torah, Jewish thought and values.

bible_311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
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 continue to enjoy a unique covenantal relationship with God in accordance with its historical 2,000- 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 halachic 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, Ya’acov Emden and Samson Raphael Hirsch.
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 preeschaton days, God has more than enough blessings to bestow upon all of His children.
The prophet Micah (4:2-5) offers a stunning description of the messianic culmination of human history. 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 what makes up the messianic dream.
• Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin is founder and chancellor of CJCUC and Ohr Torah Stone; Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn is CJCUC’s North American director; David Nekrutman is CJCUC’s executive director. This article is extracted from a fuller statement, which can be read at www.cjcuc.com or on Hebraic Heritage Christian Center’s website at www.HebraicCenter.org.