The Truth About Jewish-Christian Dialogue

Growing up, my church never addressed the issue of Judaism’s history and how it regarded Christianity. As I began to explore how Judaism and Christianity were related, much of what I came across often claimed that Judaism had no connection to Christianity after the 1st century. That is false. In chapter 4 of “Christianity In Jewish Terms”, David Ellenson explores the Jewish view of the Christian God. While it is clear that many of the earliest Rabbinic writings were polemic against Christianity, as Judaism and Christianity developed parallel to each other over 1200 years, the 12th century records an moment of relationship between Christianity and Judaism. 12th century Rabbi Isaac spoke of Christianity as follows:

“Although [Christians] mention the name of Heaven, meaning thereby Jesus of Nazareth, they do not at all events mention a strange deity, and moreover, they mean thereby the Maker of Heaven and Earth too; and despite the fact that they associate the name of Heaven with an alien deity, we do not find that it is forbidden to cause Gentiles to make such an association…” (Christianity In Jewish Terms, 73).

There were strands of 12th century Judaism that accepted Christianity as being, in some sense, orthodox. Commenting on Rabbi Manechem’s stance on Christianity (1300’s), historian Jacob Katz states that Christians “recognize the Godhead” and “believe in God’s existence, His unity, and power, although they misconceive some points according to our belief” (Christianity In Jewish Terms, 74). Katz continues by pointing out that Rabbi Menachem believed Christians should not be included in the category of idolatrous.

Why does this matter? Even if Christianity and Judaism are unable to completely reconcile beliefs and the differences in beliefs, it is clear that they are not distinct to point of complete separation. Acknowledgement of this closeness is essential because, although Rabbinic Judaism is quite different from 1st century Judaism, Judaism does help to illuminate Jesus’ works in the Gospels and the words of the epistles. This reconciliation towards peace between Christians and Jews also allows both groups to complete what they are called to do: work for the healing of the world.

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