A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity
The Jewish-Christian relationship has, throughout its history, been a turbulent one. Recognizing the growing degree of acceptance and tolerance on the part of Christians towards Jews, leaders of the Jewish community felt that these positive changes deserved a public and considered response. Published in 2000 as a full page spread in The New York Times,The Baltimore Sun, and other newspapers, Dabru Emet sought to put on public record the most current Jewish perspectives on Christianity.
Dabru Emet sought to put on public record the most current Jewish perspectives on Christianity.
On September 10, 2000, an unprecedented, full-page document appeared in The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, and other major newspapers and major religious Internet sites. Titled Dabru Emet (Speak Truth), it sought to put on public record the most current Jewish perspectives on Christianity.
An introduction to the document states, “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.” It goes on to note remorse from Christians regarding mistreatment of Jews and Judaism and vigorous efforts to reform. Declaring that these efforts “merit a thoughtful Jewish response,” the authors state that “it is time for Jews to reflect on what Judaism may now say about Christianity.”
This remarkable document emerged after several years of research and one intense year of conversations and meetings hosted by the Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies. In the end, four Jewish scholars— Dr. Tikva Frymer-Kensky, University of Chicago Divinity School; Dr. David Novak, University of Toronto; Dr. Peter W. Ochs, University of Virginia; and Dr. Michael A. Signer, University of Notre Dame— hammered out an eight-part statement headlined by these observations:
- Jews and Christians worship the same God.
- Jews and Christians seek authority from the same book—the Bible—(what Jews call “Tanakh” and Christians call the “Old Testament”).
- Christians can respect the claim of the Jewish people upon the land of Israel.
- Jews and Christians accept the moral principles of Torah.
- Nazism was not a Christian phenomenon.
- The humanly irreconcilable difference between Jews and Christians will not be settled until God redeems the entire world as promised in Scripture.
- A new relationship between Jews and Christians will not weaken Jewish practice.
- Jews and Christians must work together for justice and peace.
Dabru Emet became a catalyst for charged conversation, from withering criticism to extravagant praise. For the most part, however, it was warmly received in both Jewish and Christian communities. Statements of gratitude were issued by major divisions of the Catholic and Protestant churches. The document was translated into many languages and was the subject of numerous editorials, commentaries, and symposia. By spring 2001, more than 225 leading Jewish scholars and theologians from around the world had signed Dabru Emet.
Dabru Emet: A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity
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, Isaac, 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 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 inalienable 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 our 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 tradition. 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 the God of Jacob and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in his paths." (Isaiah 2:2-3)
Tikva Frymer-Kensky, University of Chicago
David Novak, University of Toronto
Peter Ochs, University of Virginia
Michael Signer, University of Notre Dame