Saturday, December 29, 2012


Judaism and Christianity are not two completely distinct religions and therein lies a problem. I often hear people say that the way to lasting peace is to find out how much we have in common. That may work for cultures and countries that are far apart to begin with. But for Jewish and Christian culture, the problem is precisely that they have so much in common and still they take different paths. They interpret the same things in different ways and that can be threatening.
To put it another way: It is almost impossible for either culture to take a position on something, no matter how innocent and well-intentioned, that does not have implications for the other. I will give one example here.
Many Christians say that Jesus’ rabbinic teachings are not the important thing about him. If Jesus was only a very good rabbi, they say, this would be a diminishment of him. He must be more inspiring than that. He must be the Messiah, rabbi is not good enough.
Christians of course can relate to Jesus in any way they choose. But think what this particular point says about rabbinic culture. They are saying rabbinic culture is a relatively trivial thing compared to messianic aspirations. That is a misrepresentation of history. The Pharisees and rabbis fought to achieve government by constitution rather than by despots. That is not a small thing. That is huge and very inspiring. It is no small matter when Jesus participates in that. Participation in Pharisaic and rabbinic culture does not diminish him in any way.
For Christians, Jesus is bound up with salvation. They have a different religion than Jews do. That is perfectly legitimate. But so often, this is expressed in ways that imply the Jewish way is inferior by comparison. An appreciation of the full independence of Judaism is still lacking.
This also results in Jewish scholars defending Judaism by accepting the Christian lens as a way to look at ancient Judaism. Judaism should never be studied with Christianity as the standard. It is hard for many scholars to realize that. Messianic ideas existed in ancient Jewish culture but their importance is frequently exaggerated in order to compete with Christianity. (Daniel Boyarin's The Jewish Gospels is a case in point. I posted a review on Amazon which I also put up here in my post for August 2012.)
The origins of Christianity are in Judaism. Unfortunately, that means Judaism is often perceived as a threat to Christianity. Any time one culture has implications for the origin story of another, there are bound to be problems. The history of American Indians presents similar problems for Americans because an honest study of their history brings to light things about the origin of this country that many Americans would rather not know. Majority cultures have a bad habit of reacting against any minority culture that points a different understanding of where the majority culture came from. A recognition of the fear of learning about origins would be a good place to begin to achieve reconciliation.
© 2012 Leon Zitzer

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