Category Archives: Christianity

Rabbinic Judaism and the New Testament parallels

Judaism and Christianity are different religions: They have different concepts of the nature of God, revelation, salvation, and messiah. But Jesus, his family, and first generation of followers were all Jewish. Historians of religion hold that later Christian doctrine, such as the Trinity, were not taught by Jesus, but rather were developed centuries later by the Church Fathers.

People assume that the teachings of Jesus are radically different from Judaism, but that’s not really correct. This belief comes from comparing the words of Jesus to the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible, Old Testament.) But Judaism is not based on a literal reading of the Bible – rather, it understands the Bible through an oral law – Torah she’be’al peh תורה שבעל פה. These teachings are found in Mishnah, מִשְׁנָה, classical Midrash מדרש compilations, Talmud Yerushalmi (תַּלְמוּד יְרוּשָׁלְמִי) and Talmud Bavli ( תַּלְמוּד בבל ) And when we look at this oral law, we find that many of the words Jesus spoke were very similar to Judaism.

Jesus is presented as an opponent of the Pharisees, the largest of the Jewish groups that existed during the time of the Second Temple.Yet Jesus’s words were often in alignment with the Pharisees – as opposed to the other Jewish groups at the time (Sadducees and Essenes.)

After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Pharisaic beliefs became the basis for Rabbinic Judaism. We can find remarkable lists of parallels between Jesus and rabbinical Judaism

A Rabbi’s Impressions of the Oberammergau Passion Play, by Joseph Krauskopf

Some Rabbinic Parallels to the New Testament,  Solomon Schechter, The Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Apr., 1900), pp. 415-433

Rabbi Arthur Segal compiled this set of parallels between the teachings of rabbinical Judaism and Jesus in the New Testament.

The New Testament is a set of various books finalized around 100 CE.
The books of rabbinical Judaism are known as “the oral law”, and include material from a few centuries before Jesus, through the redaction of the Mishnah (200 CE), the various classical Midrash compilations (100 to 600 CE) and the two Talmuds (circa 550 CE)

 Rabbinic Judaism  Christianity
 Talmud: Yoma 85b: Rabbi Jonathan ben Joseph said: It (the Sabbath) is committed to your hands, not you to its hands.  Mark 2:27: The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
 Tosefta Shavuot, ch. 3 :One who betrays his fellow, it is as if he has betrayed God.  Matthew 25:45: Then shall he answer them, saying, Truthfully I say to you, in as much as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.
 Talmud: Bava Mezia 58b: He who publicly shames his neighbor is as though he shed blood.  Matthew 5:21-22: Insulting someone is like murder.
 Kallah, Ch. 1: One who gazes lustfully upon the small finger of a married woman, it is as if he has committed adultery with her.  Matthew 5:28: But I say to you, That whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.
 Talmud Taanit 7a : Rabbi Abbahu said: The day when rain fails is greater than [the day of] the Revival of the Dead, for the Revival of the Dead is for the righteous only – whereas rain is both for the righteous and for the wicked  Matthew 5:45: That you may be the children of your Father in heaven: for God makes the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

 Rabbinic Judaism  Christianity
 Talmud Berachot 17b: In the case of the recital of the Shema Yisrael [prayer], since everybody else recites, and he also recites, it does not look like showing off on his part; but in the case of the month of Av, since everybody else does work, but he does no work, it looks like showing off.  Matthew 6:1: Take heed that you do not say your prayers before men, to be seen of them: otherwise you have no reward of your Father in heaven.
 Talmud Bava Batra 10a – 10b: What kind of charity  is that which delivers a man from an unnatural death? When a man gives without knowing to whom he gives. and the beggar receives without knowing from whom he receives.  Matthew 6:3:  But when you do works of charity, let not your left hand know what your right hand does.
 If one draws out his prayer and expects therefore its fulfillment, he will in the end suffer vexation of heart, as it says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Talmud, Berachot 55a  But when you pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.- Matthew 6:7
 Rabbi Eliezer the Great declares: Whoever has a piece of bread in his basket and Says. ‘What shall I eat  tomorrow?’ belongs only to them who are little in faith . – Talmud Sotah 48b  Do not worry about where your food will come from tomorrow, or your drink. – Matthew 6:25-31
A parable: [They were] like a man who was kept in prison and people told him: Tomorrow, they will release you from the prison and give you plenty of money. And he answered them: I pray of you, let me go free today and I shall ask nothing more! – Talmud Berachot 9b

Talmud Beracoth 9b – Each day has enough of its own troubles.

 Take therefore no thought for tomorrow: for tomorrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. – Matthew 6:34

 Rabbinic Judaism  Christianity
A righteous yes is a Yes; a righteous no is No. – Talmud Bava Batra 49b

Let your yes be yes, and your no be no. – R. Abaye, Talmud Baba Metzia 49a

 Let your Yes be Yes and your No be No. – Matthew 5:34-37
 Rabbi Johanan said: Since the Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been taken from prophets and given to fools and children. – Talmud Bava Batra 12b  At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you hid these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them to babes. – Matthew 11:25
 Even as R. Zera, who, whenever he chanced upon scholars engaged thereon [I.e., in calculating the time of the Mashiach’s  coming], would say to them: I beg of you, do not postpone it, for it has been taught: Three come unawares: Mashiach, a found article and a scorpion. – Talmud Sanhedrin 97a  Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. – Matthew 24:44
 They who are insulted but insult not back; who hear themselves reproached but answer not; who serve out of love and rejoice in their affliction–of them it is written in Scripture: They that love God are as the going forth of the sun in its might. – Talmud: Yoma 23a, Gittin  36b  and  Shabbat  88b  Love your enemy. – Matthew 5:43

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love your neighbor , and hate thine  enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; – Matthew 5:43

 If a man said, “I will sin and repent, and sin again and repent”, he will be given no chance to repent. [If he said,] “I will sin and the Day of Atonement will effect atonement”, then the Day of Atonement effects no atonement. For transgressions that are between man and God the Day of Atonement effects atonement, but for transgressions that are between a man and his fellow the Day of Atonement effects atonement only if he has appeased his fellow – Talmud Yoma 8:9  Therefore if thou bring your gift to the altar, and there rememberest that your brother hath aught against thee; Leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. – Matthew 5:23-24

 Rabbinic Judaism  Christianity
Talmud Rosh Hashanah 17a – Only if you forgive others will God forgive you.

Talmud Shabbat 151b – One who is merciful toward others, God will be merciful toward him

 Matthew 6:14-15 For if ye forgive men their trespasses …

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.—Matthew 5:7

 Jerusalem Talmud  Pe’ah 15b – It happened that Manobaz had squandered his father’s wealth to charity. His brothers admonished him: “Your father gathered treasure and you wasted it all!” He replied: “My father laid up treasure where human hands control it; I laid it up where no hands control it. My father laid up a treasure of money; I laid up a treasure of souls. My father laid up treasure for this world; I laid up treasure for the heavenly world.”  Matthew 6:19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth …
Talmud Pirkei Avot 2:14 – Do not judge your fellow until you have been in his place.

Talmud Pirkei Avot 4:10 – Do not be a judge of others, for there is no judge but the one (God).

 Matthew 7:1 Do not judge, or you too will be judged …
Talmud Sotah 1:7 – By a person’s standard of measure, is he, too, measured.

Talmud Shabbat 127b – How you judge others, does God judge you.

Talmud Sanhedrin 100a, attributes to Rabbi Meir the saying: “The measure which one measures will be measured out to him.”

 Matthew 7:2 … with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
Talmud Arachin 16b – Rabbi Tarfon said, “I wonder if there be anyone in this era who will allow himself to be reproved. If someone says to another, ‘Cast out the speck that is in your eye!’ he will retort, Cast out first the beam that is in your own eye!'”

Do they say, take the splinter out of your eye, he will retort: “Remove the beam out of your own eye.”—R. Johanan, surnamed Bar Napha, 199-279 A.D., Baba Bathra 15b.

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the beam that is in your own eye?—Matthew 7:3

 

 Rabbinic Judaism  Christianity
 The day is short, and the work is much; and the workmen are indolent, but the reward is much; and the Master of the House is insistent.—R. Tarfon, 120 A.D., Aboth 2:15 The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.—Matthew 9.37
He who humbles himself for the Torah in this world is magnified in the next; and he who makes himself a servant to the Torah in this world becomes free in the next.—R. Jeremiah, died 250 A.D., Baba Metzia 85b Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.—Matthew 23:12
Talmud Yoma 85b – Yom Kippur atones for all sins, but first you must reconcile your conflict with others. Matthew 5:23-24… first be reconciled to your brother.
Talmud Rosh Hashanah 17a – Only if you forgive others will God forgive you.

Talmud Shabbat 151b – One who is merciful toward others, God will be merciful toward him

Matthew 6:14-15 For if ye forgive men their trespasses …
 Jerusalem Talmud Pe’ah 15b – It happened that Manobaz had squandered his father’s wealth to charity. His brothers admonished him: “Your father gathered treasure and you wasted it all!” He replied: “My father laid up treasure where human hands control it; I laid it up where no hands control it. My father laid up a treasure of money; I laid up a treasure of souls. My father laid up treasure for this world; I laid up treasure for the heavenly world.” Matthew 6:19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth …

 Rabbinic Judaism  Christianity
Talmud Pirkei Avot 2:14 – Do not judge your fellow until you have been in his place.

Talmud Pirkei Avot 4:10 – Do not be a judge of others, for there is no judge but the one (God).

Matthew 7:1 Do not judge, or you too will be judged …
Talmud Sotah 1:7 – By a person’s standard of measure, is he, too, measured.

Talmud Shabbat 127b – How you judge others, does God judge you.

Talmud Sanhedrin 100a, attributes to Rabbi Meir the saying: “The measure which one measures will be measured out to him.”

Matthew 7:2 … with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
Talmud Shabbat 31a – What is hateful to you, do it not unto others — this is the entire Torah, and the rest is commentary. Matthew 7:12 Do to others what you would have them do to you …
He who is merciful to others, shall receive mercy from Heaven. – Talmud Shabbat 151b

Sifri, Ekev No. 49 – As God is, so shall you be: As God is merciful, so shall you too, be merciful.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. –Matthew 5:7
 Just as I teach gratuitously, so you should teach gratuitously. – Talmud Beracoth 29a Freely you receive, freely give. –Matthew 10:8

 Rabbinic Judaism  Christianity
 He who humbles himself for the Torah in this world is magnified in the next; and he who makes himself a servant to the Torah in this world becomes free in the next. – Talmud Baba Metzia 85b Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. –Matthew 23:12
 

Rabbi Arthur Segal analyzes these verses and concludes:

As we can see because Jesus was indeed a Pharisee Talmudic rabbi, from the House of Hillel, from the liberal tradition, as were his followers, he was teaching to those in Judea who were either followers of the more strict school of Rabbi Shammai, or still considered themselves Hebrews, and following the cult of the priests. The priests at the time of Jesus were corrupt, not of the line of Aaron, nor Kohan’s, but were Hasmoneans and Roman puppets. The Talmudic rabbis despised them saying ‘if you meet a priest and his is arrogant, you can be sure of his lineage.” The Talmud states that God’s holy Presence did not reside in the second Temple.

Jesus was preaching to Jews and Hebrews Talmudic spiritual Judaism and in cases were Talmudic law was trumped by Talmudic law, he was quick to tell those who would listen. Unfortunately, in the Christian bible, the words Jew and Hebrews get interchanged, and it sounds as if Talmudic Jews were still mired in the Temple priestly cult which Jesus, as the rabbis too, were against.

 

Ground Rules for a Christian Jewish Dialogue

Ground Rules for a Christian Jewish Dialogue

Excerpted from chapter 4 of “The Root and the Branch”, Rabbi Robert Gordis, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1962.

We have seen that the ideal of religious liberty has deep roots within the Jewish tradition. It is an even more pronounced feature of the spiritual landscape of American life. It is noteworthy that the First Amendment to the Constitution is dedicated to safeguarding freedom of religion, even before all other rights are set forth.

This emphasis upon religious liberty, imbedded deeply in the law of the land, has developed the unique American doctrine of the separation of church and state. It informs and complicates every discussion of the status of religion in society and of the extent and limits of the rights of organized religion in such fields as education and public morals.

Upon this platform of religious freedom, the American people has sought to build a structure of religious understanding and mutual respect. No phenomenon on the social scene is more characteristic of the optimism and basic good will of the American people than the “interfaith movement.” Thirty years have elapsed since the interfaith movement was launched with genuine idealism and high hopes, and in the interim it has grown in prestige, program, and personnel.

Yet, today, one seems to detect a widespread recognition that much more needs to be done, that there has been too much concern with the shadow rather than with the substance of intergroup relations. It will not do to content ourselves with affirmations of good will and mutual admiration. It is not enough to stress “the things that unite us,” genuine though they be, unless we also come to grips with the controversial issues – which is to say, the live issues – that divide Americans of various religious persuasions and of none. If our religious and ethical tradition is to prove a blessing and not a curse, we cannot evade the problems, both ideological and practical, that bedevil intergroup relations in twentieth-century America.

The conviction that a new approach is needed is now widespread. Some of the leading agencies in the area of interfaith work are therefore reaching for new goals and new techniques. From all sides, the American people is being called upon to cease repeating avowals of brotherhood and to begin practicing it in the field of ethnic relations, both at home and in our relations with other nations abroad. In the area of religious differences, a Christian theologian has expressed the growing recognition “that Christians need to reopen discussions with the ancient people of God as well as with the other great faiths of the world.”

There undoubtedly exists a genuine need for a fruitful dialogue between Christianity and Judaism, the two religions of the Western world that are linked together in a unique embrace of kinship and difference. It has been repeated time without number – and yet it remains true – that there are substantial areas of agreement between these two faiths, which share a common historical background and revere the same Scriptures as the Word of God. No theological subtlety should obscure the similarity of outlook between Judaism and Christianity with regard to the nature of God, the duty of man, and many other aspects of their respective world views.

It is, however, necessary to recognize that similarity is not identity. As we have already noted, each tradition possesses a varying emphasis, a difference in timbre that gives even to the elements they have in common a well-marked individuality. Hence what is dominant in one religion is frequently recessive in the other, and biblical texts of unassailable sanctity in both traditions occupy widely different positions in the hierarchy of values in each.

There is no need to add further examples. The Christian-Jewish dialogue, if it is to be fruitful, must reckon with the elements of similarity and of difference – and with the subtler and more significant aspects that partake of both. The enterprise therefore requires high resources of mutual sympathy, insight, learning, and candor.

It is this last-named quality that suggests the importance of some ground rules, if we are to have a true dialogue between the participants and not merely a monologue moving in one direction. In order to advance this significant enterprise, it is essential to keep in mind five principles that should be self-evident but all too often are ignored.
1. The time is overdue for abandoning the well-worn contrast constantly being drawn between “the Old Testament God of Justice” and the “God of Love of the New Testament.” Every competent scholar, Christian and Jewish alike, knows that the Old Testament conceived of God in terms of love as well as of justice, just as Jesus’ God manifested himself in justice as well as in love, for justice without love is cruelty, and love without justice is caprice. Professor J. Philip Hyatt of Vanderbilt University has been particularly articulate in emphasizing the attribute of love in the Old Testament conception of God.

It is, of course, not enough to use a biblical concordance to find the word “love” and to use the statistics of its occurrence as a proof. Often it is necessary to penetrate beneath the vocabulary to the meaning. Thus, in pleading with God for the wicked Sodomites, Abraham calls out, “Shall not the judge of all the earth do justice?” (Genesis 18:25). The term that is used as “justice,” not “love,” but the God who is prepared to spare the sinful city of Sodom for the sake of ten righteous men is manifestly a God of love.

In the Decalogue itself, God is similarly described as punishing evildoers to the fourth generation but as showing mercy to his loved ones to the thousandth (Exodus 20:5-6; Deuteronomy 5:9-10). Central in the Hebrew tradition is the theophany which follows upon God’s forgiving the Israelites for the grievous sin of the Golden Calf. In phrases echoed throughout the Hebrew Bible, God is praised as “merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,” and the same distinction is drawn: “He keeps mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; and not destroying utterly, though He visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7).

When we move from the Mosaic age to the period of the later prophets, the emphasis is even stronger. The prophet Hosea had suffered a deep personal tragedy; his affection for his wife and trust in her were cruelly betrayed by her unfaithfulness. But his love triumphed over his indignation, and he saw in his relationship to his erring wife a prototype of God’s love for his people, which he expressed in the language of the marriage covenant:

And I will betroth thee unto Me forever,
Yea, I will betroth thee unto Me in righteousness and justice,
In loving-kindness and compassion.
And I will betroth thee unto Me in faithfulness;
And thou shalt know the Lord [Hosea 2:21-22].

God’s love for his wayward children finds expression both in his affection as well as in his exasperation:

When Israel was a child, then I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son….
I drew them with cords of a man,
With bands of love….
And I fed them gently [Hosea II: 1-4]

O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee?
O Judah, what shall I do unto thee?
For your goodness is as a morning cloud,
And as the early morning dew [Hosea 6:4].

Amos is conventionally described as the stern prophet of the God of justice. That he stresses divine justice is true, but that he ignores divine love is not. One has only to penetrate beneath the surface of his prophetic soul to sense the love that he knows God feels for his sinful children:

Hate evil and love good,
And establish justice in the gate.
Perhaps the Lord, the God of hosts,
Will have compassion on the remnant of Joseph [Amos 5:15]

O Lord God, forgive, I beseech Thee;
Now shall Jacob stand, for he is small?
The Lord repented concerning this;
“It shall not be,” saith the Lord [Amos 7:2, 51.

That same spirit lives in Amos’ vision of national forgiveness and restoration:

In that day will I raise up
The tabernacle of David that is fallen,
And close up the breaches thereof,
And I will raise up his ruins.
And I will build it as in the days of old [Amos 9:11]

And I will turn the captivity of My people Israel,
And they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them;
And they shall plant vineyards, and drink their wine;
They shall also make gardens, and eat their fruit [Amos 9-14].
To cite one more instance, the Book of Jonah reaches its poignant climax in God’s own words to the Hebrew prophet, spoken with reference to the capital city of the archenemy of Israel, the Assyrians:

And the Lord said: “Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for which thou hast not labored, neither made it grow, which came up in a night, and perished in a night; and should not I have pity on Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand, and also much cattle?” [Jonah 4:10-11].
Finally, the Hebrew word for “righteousness,” zedakah, is frequently joined in the Old Testament to that most tender of all divine and human virtues, hesed, the full depth of which eludes the most skillful translator. Even the renderings “loving-kindness” and “steadfast love” seek in vain to transmit its meaning. No wonder that zedakah, “righteousness,” became the Hebrew term for “charity” as well.

In order that the dialogue be genuine, let it be remembered that the God of both components of the Judeo-Christian tradition is the God of justice and of love.
2. Closely related to this unwarranted distinction is the widespread practice of contrasting the primitivism, tribalism and formalism of the Old Testament with the spirituality, universalism, and freedom of the New, to the manifest disadvantage of the former.

This contrast between the Testaments is achieved by placing the lower elements of the Old Testament by the side of the higher aspects of the New, but the process is as misleading as would be the results of the opposite procedure. Thus, one of the most sympathetic and appreciative students of the New Testament, Claude G. Montefiore, writes in an eloquent passage in his Synoptic Gospels (11, 326):
Such passages as Matt. XXV: 41 should make theologians excessively careful of drawing beloved contrasts between Old Testament and New. We find even the liberal theologian Dr. Fosdick saying: “From Sinai to Calvary – was ever a record of progressive revelation more plain or more convincing? The development begins with Jehovah disclosed in a thunder storm on a desert mountain, and it ends with Christ saying: ‘God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth’; it begins with a war-god leading his partisans to victory, and it ends with men saying ‘God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him’; it begins with a provincial Deity, loving his tribe and hating his enemies, and it ends with the God of the whole earth worshipped by a ‘great multitude, which no man could number, out ot every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues’; it begins with a God who commands the slaying of the Amalekites, ‘both man and woman, infant and suckling,’ and it ends with a Father whose will it is that ‘not one of these little ones should perish’; it begins with God’s people standing afar off from His lightnings and praying that He might not speak to them lest they die, and it ends with men going into their chambers, and, having shut the door, praying to their Father who is in secret.” (Christianity and Progress, p. 209.)

Very good. No doubt such a series can be arranged. Let me now arrange a similar series.

“From Old Testament to New Testament – was ever a record of retrogression more plain or more convincing? It begins with, ‘Have I any pleasure at all in the death of him that dieth,’ and it ends with, ‘Begone from me, ye doers of wickedness.’ It begins with ‘The Lord is slow to anger and plenteous in mercy’; it ends with, ‘Fear him who is able to destroy both body and soul in Gehenna.’ It begins with, ‘I dwell with him that is of a contrite spirit to revive it’; it ends with ‘Narrow is the wav which leads to life, and few there be who find it.’ It begins with, ‘I will not contend for ever; I will not be always wroth’; it ends with ‘Depart, ye cursed, into the everlasting fire.’ It begins with, ‘Should not I have pity upon Nineveh, the great city?’; it ends with, ‘It will be more endurable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for that city.’ It begins with, ‘The Lord is good to all, and near to all who call upon him’; it ends with, ‘Whosoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, there is no forgiveness for him whether in this world or the next.’ It begins with, ‘The Lord will wipe away tears from off all faces; he will destroy death for ever’; it ends with, ‘They will throw them into the furnace of fire; there is the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.”‘

And the one series would be as misleading as the other.

3. Another practice which should be surrendered is that of referring to Old Testament verses quoted in the New as original New Testament passages. Many years ago, Bertrand Russell, whose religious orthodoxy is something less than total, described the Golden Rule “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” as New Testament teaching. When the Old Testament source (Leviticus 19:18) was called to his attention, he blandly refused to recognize his error. This, in spite of the fact that both the Gospels and the Epistles are explicit in citing the Golden Rule as the accepted Scripture. Jesus refers to it as “the first and great commandment written in the law” (Matthew 22:38; Luke 10:27), and Paul describes it as “a commandment comprehended in this saying” (Romans 13:9).

In an excellently written tract (“I Believe in the Bible,” published by the Congregational Christian Churches, p.7), the author contrasts the God who “orders Agag hewn to pieces before the altar” with the God “who taught through St. Paul, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him’ (Romans 12:20).” If Paul were citing chapter and verse in his labors, would he have failed to point out that he was quoting Proverbs 25:21 verbatim?
4. Moreover, the dialogue between Judaism and Christianity can be mutually fruitful only if it is always kept in mind that Judaism is not the religion of the Old Testament, though obviously rooted in it. To describe Judaism within the framework of the Old Testament is as misleading as constructing a picture of American life in terms of the Constitution, which is, to be sure, the basic law of the land but far from coextensive with our present legal and social system. Modem Judaism is the product of a long and rich development of biblical thought. It possesses a normative tradition embodied in the Mishnah and the Talmud, as well as the Responsa and the Codes of the post-talmudic period. By the side of this dominant strand are the aberrant tendencies, sectarian and heretical, that were never without influence and cannot be ignored. These include the apocryphal and pseudepigraphical literature, recently enriched – and complicated – by the sensational discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Middle Ages, building upon their biblical and talmudic antecedents, created the strands of philosophy, mysticism, legalism, and messianism, all of which contributed to the character of modern Judaism.

In the modern era, as every informed observer knows, the various schools, conventionally subsumed under the headings of Orthodoxy, Conservatism, and Reform, do not begin to exhaust the variety of religious experience and approach which are competing for attention in the market place of ideas in the Jewish community.
5. Finally, it is necessary for modern Jews to rise above the heavy burden of historical memories which have made it difficult for them to achieve any real understanding, let alone an appreciation, of Christianity. It is not easy to wipe out the memories of centuries of persecution and massacre, all too often dedicated to the advancement of the cause of the Prince of Peace.

Theological discussions inevitably raise the ghosts of the compulsory religious disputations so beloved of the medieval church. In these debates, the Christian defender was often a convert from Judaism, deeply hostile to his ancestral faith, and generally ignorant of its contents. Eager to display the proverbial zeal of the neophyte, he attacked Judaism with all the weapons of malice and ignorance at his disposal. The Jewish protagonists, on the other hand, were often rewarded with exile or other punishment for statements that could be construed as critical of Christianity.

More than medieval memories enter into this heritage. The extermination of six million out of the seven million Jews living on the European continent was actively carried out by Hitler, but the process was not actively opposed by the free nations of the world who fought him in the name of Christianity and the ideals of Western civilization. Moreover, there are cynics who maintain that anti-Semitism is not yet totally dead in the free world almost two decades after Hitler. It is therefore no easy task for Jews to divest themselves of the heavy burden of group memories from the past, which are unfortunately reinforced all too often by personal experiences in the present.

Nevertheless, the effort must be made, if men are to emerge from the dark heritage of religious hatred which has embittered their mutual relationships for twenty centuries. There is need for Jews to surrender the stereotype of Christianity as being monolithic and unchanging and to recognize the ramifications of viewpoint and emphasis that constitute the multicolored spectrum of contemporary Christianity.

Christian dogmatics are perhaps at the furthest possible remove from the viewpoint of Jewish tradition and are totally unacceptable to the committed devotee of Judaism. Yet the Jew should see in Christian doctrine an effort to apprehend the nature of the divine that is worthy of respect and understanding. Moreover, he should recognize that the dogmas of the Christian church have expressed this vision of God in terms that have proved meaningful to Christian believers through the centuries. These have ranged from the most simple-minded to the most profound, and each has found it possible to find his spiritual home within the framework of Christian thought.

The Jew will not surrender the conviction that the emphasis upon the Unity and Incorporeality of God which is basic to Judaism must ultimately prevail. At the same time, he should seek to understand the complexities of life and human destiny which have led Christianity to evolve such doctrines as the Virgin Birth, the Incarnation, the Passion, and the Resurrection. The Jewish alternatives cannot fairly be presented to the world unless the Christian understanding of the human situation is fairly grasped. It should be added that the full Christian tradition, like its Jewish counterpart, includes those whom the church stigmatizes as heretics and not merely those who are glorified as its heroes.

Moreover, there are basic emphases in Christianity that can perform a highly useful function for Judaism. For they compel a perpetual re-examination of the content of Judaism and an unending vigilance against the perils that are inherent in its world view, as in any other. The dialogue between the two faiths might well address itself to the tension between law and freedom, the relationship of the material and the spiritual, or the dichotomy between the letter and the spirit, issues with regard to which there is a difference of emphasis in Judaism and in Christianity.

The Christian doctrine of Original Sin, particularly as reinterpreted by such contemporary thinkers as Reinhold Niebuhr, has already influenced the thought of many exponents of Judaism. It has served to reveal the dark depths within the human soul, which an easy and superficial optimism has tended to overlook. In the area of human relationships, the Christian stress upon universalism vis-a-vis particularism, or the ethics of self-abnegation as against the ethics of self-fulfilment, which will be discussed below, can contribute significantly to the spiritual health of Judaism by helping to guard it against the exaggerations which threaten every valid human insight. Contrariwise, the Jewish approach to these issues, as the present work seeks to make clear, can be of inestimable value to the Western world, the roots of which are Christian and, by that token, Hebraic in substantial degree.

Thus a rational dialogue conducted on the basis of knowledge and mutual respect between the two components of the religio-ethical tradition of the Western world can prove a blessing to our age.

But the dialogue can be fruitful only if it is fair. It is true that if we reckon with the full dimensions of Judaism and Christianity, the substance of the dialogue between the two faiths is immeasurably complicated. Yet without such an understanding the enterprise is stultifying. Men were not promised that the truth would be simple – only that the truth would make them free.

Christians and Jews: Praying Together with Integrity

By Rabbi Charles Arian,  of Kehilat Shalom, Gaithersburg, MD

POPE, RABBI AND SWISS CARDINAL PICTURED IN 2011 AT VATICAN

Pope Benedict XVI, Lord Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, and Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, are pictured in 2011 at the Vatican. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Photo from Jewish-Catholic Dialogue 65 Years after the Founding of the State of Israel

 

Rabbi Charles Arian writes:

Despite the fact that interfaith prayer has been going on in this country and elsewhere for some time, it remains an area of some controversy. There are traditionalists in both Christianity and Judaism who will not participate in interfaith prayer. Others participate, but wonder how appropriate and meaningful such activity really is. Can Christians and Jews pray together in a meaningful way? Can they do so with theological integrity?

…One of the core principles of our work is respect for the integrity and legitimacy of both Christianity and Judaism. Because we are aware of the many issues surrounding interfaith prayer, participants at ICJS events often talk and study about prayer but our events do not, as a rule, include having the participants pray together.

….I want to limit my exploration tonight to the specific question of Christian – Jewish interfaith prayer. There are a number of reasons why this is a unique issue. First, the majority of Christians and Jews believe that both religious communities worship the same God. Second, they have certain sacred texts in common – what Jews refer to as the Tanach and what Christians refer to as the Old Testament….

Services that bring together Christians and Jews have been taking place in America for well over one hundred years. Throughout most of that time, the ground rules have called for a “neutral” service. The content of the prayers was meant to be something that everyone present could affirm.

This meant that Christians were expected to omit any Christological or Trinitarian references. Jews were often, though not always, expected to omit Hebrew …On a theological level, Jews were also expected to omit the many references in Jewish liturgy to Israel’s chosenness and the Jewish sense of a unique mission and destiny.

These neutral services may not offend, but what do they accomplish? Rabbi Donald Berlin, rabbi emeritus of Reform Temple Oheb Shalom in Baltimore, notes, “I am invited (to participate in these types of services) because I am a rabbi but then I am told to say something which has nothing to do with the fact that I am a rabbi.”

Participants may leave the room feeling that they have done something positive in demonstrating good will towards people of other faiths. But is that what prayer is for? Is that even authentic prayer?

In other words, a neutral service requires Jews and Christians to check their distinctive identities, and their distinctive ways of praying, at the door to the sanctuary. Christians and Jews, under this set of ground rules, can pray together only by temporarily suppressing the fact that they are Christians or that they are Jews.

We have said we want to have Jews and Christians pray together, but in order to do so, Jews cannot pray as Jews and Christians cannot pray as Christians.

…What, in fact, makes a Christian prayer authentically Christian, or a Jewish prayer authentically Jewish? A couple of years ago, while spending a year studying the issue of interfaith prayer in depth, our Institute brought together a group of rabbis and Christian clergy of various denominations to help us examine some of these issues… the Christian participants identified the following characteristics of Christian prayer:

  • The prayer is offered in the name of Jesus, or in the name of the Trinity. (This qualification is not mandatory, since the Lord’s Prayer has neither a Christological nor a Trinitarian focus.)

  • The prayer is informed by Christian theology and/or by the Christian story.

  • If the person praying the prayer is a Christian, then the prayer is a Christian prayer.

The rabbis who participated identified the following characteristics of Jewish prayer:

  • Prayer is communal (a minyan is required).

  • Prayer is commanded, and it is a response to the covenant relationship.

  • Prayer is time-bound rather than space-bound: It is commanded at certain times of the day and on particular occasions.

  • Prayer involves the establishment of a dialogue: Prayer speaks to God and bounces back to the community.

  • The formulation of the prayer makes it Jewish; it begins and ends with certain words. There is a set liturgy that involves actions as well as words.

  • There is a “uniform” for prayer: tallit and tefillin.

  • Prayer is not mediated.

  • Hebrew and Aramaic are used in prayer.

… it becomes clear that if certain of the characteristics are considered absolutely necessary for Christians or Jews to participate, then Christian-Jewish interfaith prayer becomes impossible. Jews, of course, will not participate in prayers that invoke Jesus or are Trinitarian. Most Christians are not conversant or comfortable with prayers in Hebrew. Moreover, I suspect a lot of Christians might be surprised and not a little bit hurt to discover that they are not included in the “we” or the “us” that most Jewish prayers contain: “Blessed are You O Lord our God, who has chosen us from among the nations and commanded us . . .”

So we are faced with something of a conundrum. We want to pray together, but we want to pray as Jews and Christians, not as generic human beings. There is something deeply unsatisfactory about the expectation that in order to pray together, we suspend our religious particularity and identity. …

…A relatively new innovation for interfaith services is the model which Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, professor of liturgy at Hebrew Union College, calls the “Service of Mutual Affirmation.” While this type of service contains some “neutral” prayers, it also makes space for specifically Jewish and specifically Christian prayers, which are meant to be said only by members of that particular community. During those faith-specific prayers, the participants are not praying together, but they are coming together to pray, or praying their own particular prayers in the presence of the other community.

I see this as having a distinct advantage over the older model of the neutral service. It does not require Christians to suppress their Christianity or Jews to suppress their Judaism. It allows members of each community to pray for at least part of the service in their own idiom and their own style. …

…For now, Christians and Jews who want to be involved in interfaith prayer have two choices: they can opt for “neutral” prayer which fully expresses neither community’s identity, or they can adopt Hoffman’s “Mutual Affirmation” model, conscience of its limitations. Liturgy that allows Jews and Christians to worship together as Jews and Christians does not yet, at least to my knowledge, exist.

See his full essay here:

Christians and Jews: Praying Together with Integrity – Rabbi Arian

Does the Zohar (Kabbalah) include Trinity?

Kabbalah Sefirot Tree

he Zohar: Pritzker Edition

* Does the Zohar (main text of Kabbalah) include the (Christian) Trinity? If so, in what way?
* Kabbalah goes beyond saying that God is Three… there are said to be ten divine emanations (sefirot) through which God interacts with the world. So how much of Kabbalah can we reconcile with traditional (non-Zohar) rabbinic Judaism?
* How did Christians recognize the Zohar as possibly Christian? (Christians took the lead in sparing the Zohar from book burnings of the Talmud, for precisely this reason, see the article)
* Are rationalist philosophers correct, or incorrect, in not only disagreeing with Kabbalah, but in radically denying all attributes to God, on order to prove God’s one-ness? In this view, perhaps Jewish rationalists like Maimonides, Ibn Tibbon and Gersonides are simply mistaken, and God does indeed have multiple attributes?

Because of reasons like this, religious rationalists reject the Zohar, and Kabbalah, as being incorrect. See Judaism as opposed to Zohardoxy

However, other Jews see the Zohar as being compatible with Judaism; for an example, see “Three Is Not Enough: Jewish Reflections on Trinitarian Thinking”, by David R. Blumenthal, Professor of Judaic Studies, Emory University
An excerpt:
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….The historical interlude of the Christian reception of the Zohar in counterreformation Italy aside, it seems to me that a more profound theological question has arisen: If God can, indeed, have personalist dimensions as part of God’s own inner being, why should there be only three such dimensions? If God can, indeed, encompass different levels of being, all of which are equal within God’s inner-ness, why should there not be as many such levels as necessary? To put it clearly: If God’s being is plural, why only Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Why not Ineffability, Knowability (Father), Intuition (Mother), Grace (male), Judgment (female), Compassion (Husband), Eternity, Awe, Fecundity (male), and Providence (Bride, Mother) — all of which are equally integral to the divine whole?
To put it in declarative form: The zoharic dialogue with the trinity leads to the statement: Three is not enough! God, in God’s fullness, is more than three. God, in Whose Image humanity is created, has more than three dimensions. The awesome complexity of the human personality — in which Image humanity is created — suggests that there are many more than three basic dimensions to God’s personhood. Indeed, if we, humans, are more than trinitarian, certainly God is more than three.
Jewish readers of the Zohar and its related literature knew all this. The non-philosophers were struck by the very depth of its insight into God, and into humanity, and made the Zohar into a holy book, probably the third holiest in Judaism after the Bible and the Talmud.[26] Jewish rationalists of philosophic or halakhic bent were struck by the almost heretical pluralism within the divine and objected strenuously to teaching, publishing, and translating the Zohar. In fact, the charge of the Zohar being a book that aids and abets trinitarian thinking precisely because the sefirot are integral elements of God Godself, was first made by Jews[27] and it is surely one of the reasons why the Zohar may not be taught to Jews who are too young or uneducated, or to Christians.
Jewish rationalist hesitations notwithstanding, the question remains: If God’s being is plural, why only Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Why not Ineffability, Knowability, Intuition, Grace, Judgment, Compassion, Eternity, Awe, Fecundity, and Providence — all of which are equally integral to the divine whole? If we, who are complex beyond three, are created in God’s Image, God must be complex beyond three.