For Jews and Christians, a holiday 'season of rapprochement'
The Hanukkah and Christmas holidays coincide amid a season of Jewish and Christian bridge-building, as evidenced, in part, by a recent surprise bestseller on Amazon.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
This yearâs Hanukkah and ChristmasÂ seasonsÂ coincide amid what many scholars and religious figures alike are calling aÂ notable period of reconciliation and bridge-building between Jewish andÂ Christian communities.
âThe Jewish Annotated New Testament,âÂ written by Jewish scholars and warmly received by top religious scholarsÂ and general readers alike, was a surprise bestseller earlier this month, selling out on Amazon, and is still hovering among the top recommended reads.
Co-editor Amy-Jill Levine, a Vanderbilt University Bible scholar, says the book, which puts the writing and writers of the New Testament into a Jewish context, has led already to substantial conversations between Jews and Christians, including seminars and high-profile interfaith meetings.
This caps at least a decadeÂ of mutual Christian and Jewish outreach, during whichÂ The Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies in Baltimore sponsored an event that led toÂ what Professor Levine calls a remarkable statement,Â entitled âSpeak Truthâ and signed by nearly 170 rabbis and Jewish professors.
The document, first published in The New York Times, affirms eight major areas of agreement between Christians and Jews, includingÂ theÂ assertion that both accept the moral principles of the Torah,Â both seek authorityÂ from the same book and both believe in the same God.
âSpeak Truth,âÂ or âDabru Emetâ in Hebrew,Â âwas followed up by âA Sacred Obligation: A Christian Statement on Jews and Judaism,â â Levine points out.
âThis is a season of rapprochement,â says Alan Brill, chair of Jewish-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University, in South Orange, New Jersey. This increased dialogue has been fueled in part byÂ information fromÂ recent archeologicalÂ findings,Â includingÂ the Dead Sea scrolls dating back to 1947, finally working its way into mainstreamÂ Jewish and Christian scholarship, pointsÂ out Professor Brill.
There have been pivotal, historic moments, such as the decision of the Second Vatican Council â the three-year gathering (1962-65) to address the Catholic Churchâs relationship to the modern world â to officially absolve the Jewish people forÂ anyÂ responsibility for the death of Jesus, as well as Christian expressions of support for the state of Israel. These moves have paved the way for greater shared respect for mutual history as well as different traditions.Â âIt is an exciting time,â Brill adds.
Christian scholars share an interest in understanding Jesus in the context of history, says Silviu Bunta, assistant professor of religious studies at theÂ Catholic University of Dayton in Ohio, who says there is a growing convergence of the current Jewish and Christian understanding of Jesus.
In ancient Judaism, he says, there was noÂ single way of reading the Torah and Jesusâ manner of interpreting the Biblical text does not fall outside of Jewish interpretations at the time.Â Christian students of the same period have come to rediscover Jesusâ humanity and Jewishness, he says, adding,Â âChristian scholars are becoming more and more comfortable with viewing Jesus as a product of Judaism.â
Growing cultural trends such as interfaith marriage support this growing openness, says Rabbi Yitzchak Wyne,Â founder of Young Israel Aish, an Orthodox Jewish community synagogue in Las Vegas, and author of,Â âLife Is Great!: Revealing the 7 secrets of a more joyful you!â
âWe have a greater levelÂ of interfaith marriage today than at almost any other time in history,â he says.Â With the advent ofÂ Israel, âwe are in a much more liberal time, with Christians being moreÂ accepting of Jewish traditions and families celebrating many traditions,â he says, adding that he just finished counseling a woman married to a non-Jewish man. âThey will go home andÂ light the menorah this week and then on Sunday head over to his motherâs house for Christmas dinner.â
Concern over watering down of religiousÂ observances and principles must be balanced against tolerance for different beliefs, he says.
âParticularly as Christians begin to appreciate the value of reading Christian teachings âwith Jewish eyes,â community-based celebrations of a Seder meal, Purim, or Sukkoth are becoming opportunities for education, understanding, and on-going relationship,â says ProfessorÂ Fullmer, noting that he sees the shifting attitudes among his students as they are exposed toÂ newer ideas.
â âHow can a Jewish person not believe in Jesus?â a student asked me recently,â he says.Â â âHavenât they read Isaiah 52 to 53?â
âAt a Seder meal held on our campus, that student came to understand how the Suffering Servant in these passages is understood by many Jews as representing the Jewish community as a whole,â he says.Â Jewish-Christian celebrations and other opportunities through which Jewish and Christian communityÂ grow closer together matter, he says, âto the extent that they help Christians to appreciate the Jewish approach to faith, and vice versa.â
And in his forthcoming book, âKosher Jesus,âÂ Orthodox Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, also reexamines the historic Jesus, suggesting that a better understanding of his actual historicÂ role helps both faiths.
âWe need to rediscoverÂ the humanity of Jesus,â he says, adding, âwe need to understand more about what he actually said about how we should live and act.âÂ