Jewish group challenges views about Christianity


A group of Jewish religious leaders is about to release a provocative statement that challenges widely held views within the Jewish community about God, the Bible and the relationship between Christianity and Nazism.

The statement, which is being released by the Baltimore-based Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies, will be published Sunday in full-page ads in The Sun and the New York Times.

Titled "Dabru Emet" (Hebrew for "Seek the Truth"), the statement calls on Jews to acknowledge Christian efforts to confront their past mistreatment of Jews and Judaism. It also calls on Jews to re-evaluate how they perceive Christians and Christianity. It was signed by more than 160 Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist rabbis, including nearly 20 from the Baltimore area.

"In almost 2,000 years, there's never been a group of Jews who have come together to reflect on how to make sense of and how to respond to the reality that is Christianity," said the Rev. Christopher Leighton, executive director of the institute.

"The Christian world has changed significantly, especially in the last 30 or 40 years, in terms of how some Christians think about and teach about Jews and Judaism," said Rabbi David Sandmel, the ICJS staffer who coordinated the drafting of the statement by four Jewish scholars.

"In a post-Shoah [Holocaust] Christian world in which some have radically changed how they talk about Jews and Judaism, the Jewish world has to take stock of that and consider it in how it deals with Christians and Christianity."

The statement's assertions also include:

Christians and Jews worship the same God, a statement that might not sit well with Jewish theologians who consider Christian teachings on the incarnation (Jesus is God and man) and the Trinity (God is three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit) as idolatry.

Jews and Christians seek authority from the same book, the Bible. Although there are points of agreement, it is common practice for many Christians to interpret what they call the Old Testament as an incomplete truth that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Nazism is not a Christian phenomenon, although it adds, "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. ... But Nazism itself was not an inevitable outcome of Christianity."

Rabbi A. James Rudin, senior interreligious affairs adviser for the American Jewish Committee and a leader in the Christian-Jewish dialogue, said he couldn't sign the statement.

"I happen to think Christian teaching prepared the seedbed for the poisonous weed of Nazism," Rudin said. "I would never make the statement that Christianity led to Nazism directly. But it prepared the seedbed and I don't think the statement says that directly."

But Marc Saperstein, director of the Program in Judaic Studies at George Washington University, said he doesn't see any need to tie Christianity with the Nazis.

"There are many people who don't like the idea at all of separating the traditional Christian doctrine from the Nazi Holocaust and think of that as natural outcome of Christian doctrine or last chapter in a long story of Christian persecution of Jews," he said. "But I think the Nazis were very capable as a superpower and in such control of the entire continent that they could carry out their program no matter what the classical, traditional Christian doctrine had been."

The Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies is sponsoring a public discussion of the document moderated by author Taylor Branch and featuring the four authors, at 8 p.m. Monday at Chizuk Amuno Congregation, 8100 Stevenson Road.

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