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Author Topic: A Jewish-Christian Dialogue (Shoshana & Neroon)  (Read 1801 times)

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Offline ShoshanaTopic starter

A Jewish-Christian Dialogue (Shoshana & Neroon)
« on: September 01, 2010, 09:36:32 AM »
Some introductory remarks:

First off, thank you, Neroon, for agreeing to this dialogue! I believe strongly that individuals from different religions should strive to understand one another, so I look forward to our discussion about Judaism and Christianity. What do Jews and Christians share? Where do we differ? What can we learn from each other?

Now, I won’t be speaking for all Jews. There’s an old saying: whenever you put two Jews together, you get three opinions. It’s very difficult, therefore, to make any statement that would cover all Jews! I’ll just do my best to give my own opinion, and to explain, in general, how that tallies against the broader opinions of the different branches of Judaism: Orthodox and Chasidic; Conservative/Masorti; Reform/Progressive and Reconstructionist).

And while we’re on the subject of branches, let me say that I’m a Conservative Jew (in some countries that’s known as a Masorti Jew.) Conservative Judaism is one of the liberal branches of Judaism. In America, most congregations are egalitarian—that is, women and men worship together and women can be rabbis and cantors and so forth. Most Conservative synagogues allow gay marriage and gay clergy.

We’re still a halachic movement; that means  we follow “Jewish law”—although our interpretation of Jewish law often differs from Orthodox interpretations, as in the case of women becoming rabbis and homosexuality.  Meanwhile, ideally we still keep kosher, hold traditional services, observe Shabbat (the Sabbath) and so on.

Of course, not all Conservative Jews keep kosher or observe Shabbat and such. Like all Jews, we each find our own level of observance and go from there.

Ok, that’s all I have to say by way of introduction; maybe you can explain what part of Christianity you’re coming from, and then we can start tackling issues?

Offline Neroon

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Re: A Jewish-Christian Dialogue (Shoshana & Neroon)
« Reply #1 on: September 01, 2010, 02:48:14 PM »
I'd like to thank you for inviting me to this discussion.  Mutual understanding is always a good thing so I to look forward to exploring the issues that can bot unite and divide our faiths.  Just as you shan't be speaking for all Jews, I make no pretense that my views are those of all Christians.

So, what denomination am I?  That's a much more interesting question than it might seem. By background I'm an Anglican, which if you want to put it in a historical perspective, is the protestant church founded by King Henry VIII so that he could get a divorce from Catherine of Aragon.  However, for a whole host of reasons, I'm in the middle of converting to the Orthodox Church.  As a result, my views currently are a blend of the two theologies and so there will be the odd foible or two in my thinking.

No this might seem a strange move, from one point of view.  You could look at the family tree of the Christian religions and see Catholicism as the offspring of the Orthodox Church and Lutheranism and Angicanism as the offspring of the Catholics.  From there, the offspring from there would include the Methodists, the Baaptists, Pentecostals and the whole plethora of other Protestant churches.  So in a way, my current spiritual journey might be considered to be "jumping a step".  However, when you look at the reasons the Orthodox and Catholic Churches parted ways, there is a lot in common with why the first Protestants moved away from Rome.  There are differences that I'm gradually getting used to and that's why my journey is taking some time.  As I might have hinted in the other thread, I'm no fan of St Paul: I don't trust Damascene conversions and so there has been no light on the road for me but rather a long road of thought, prayer and discussion.

Offline ShoshanaTopic starter

Re: A Jewish-Christian Dialogue (Shoshana & Neroon)
« Reply #2 on: September 01, 2010, 05:36:35 PM »
Quote
By background I'm an Anglican, which if you want to put it in a historical perspective, is the protestant church founded by King Henry VIII so that he could get a divorce from Catherine of Aragon.


Technically I think Henry wanted an annulment from Catherine, not a divorce.  ;)

Quote
However, for a whole host of reasons, I'm in the middle of converting to the Orthodox Church. As a result, my views currently are a blend of the two theologies and so there will be the odd foible or two in my thinking.

Interesting! I know much more about Roman Catholicism and Protestantism than about the Orthodox Church, so you’ll have to fill me in. Which branch of the Orthodox Church, by the way? Russian Orthodox? Greek Orthodox?

Quote
As I might have hinted in the other thread, I'm no fan of St Paul . . .

I enjoy studying Paul--I don’t often agree with him, but I think I understand where he was coming from. Daniel Boyarin, a Jewish Talmudic scholar, wrote a wonderful book about Paul called A Radical Jew. I highly recommend it.

(I also, of course, recommend everything that E.P. Sanders and his successors have written about Paul--and Boyarin makes good use of Sanders--but I really love Boyarin’s approach.)

Boyarin points out that Paul wrestles with the perennial questions of Judaism: how does one become a member of the people Israel? What is the purpose and proper use of halacha--of Jewish law? How do we Jews reconcile our universal mission to all humanity--we’re to be blessing to all nations--with the fact that we are a particular people with our own particular obligations?

Paul’s answer was to downplay or, in some cases, even obliterate everything that makes Jews a particular people in favor of a universal humanity united by his understanding of the death and resurrection of Jesus. I don’t agree with that answer--but I understand why Paul was wrestling with these questions. Jews are still wrestling with these questions today.

Quote
I don't trust Damascene conversions and so there has been no light on the road for me but rather a long road of thought, prayer and discussion.

Nothing wrong with long roads! But maybe you can tell me a little more about your issues with Paul? I suspect that you might have different reasons to disagree with him. (And I find it delightfully ironic that I like the guy while you don't!)

Offline Neroon

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Re: A Jewish-Christian Dialogue (Shoshana & Neroon)
« Reply #3 on: September 04, 2010, 04:43:42 PM »
One might say English Orthodox, as the services are conducted in English. However a more accurate answer would be Eastern Orthodox Church, of which the Greek and Russian churches are a part.  The difference between the two is predominantly cultural.  The Greeks conduct their services in Greek and the Russians in Russian or Liturgical Slavonic.  The Russians prefer to use the Julian Calendar for determining the when Christmas and Easter fall, while the Greeks use the Gregorian calendar for Christmas and the Julian calendar for Easter.  Out of the Greek and Russian blends of Orthodoxy, I'm more familiar with the Greek, as I visit Greece quite a lot.

The thing I find hard to adjust to is the icon kissing.  My problem I have in it is that it's never been part of my culture and consequenlty I don't know how to do it properly.  After all, it's not the sort of thing that you get classes on.  You can research the theology and puzzle out the differences between Anglican and Orthodox views on all manner of issues but how do you learn to kiss an icon?  You can't walk round and watch from the side.  So try as I might, I keep messing it up, so that I've "chinned" icons and "nosed" them quite severely but the actual kiss has been literally hit or miss affair.

Then again, that pretty sums up my view of my faith: I am essentially a pragmatist.  I worry more with the practicalities of things than with the abstractions.  As I discover more in my journey from Cof E I'll describe it.

The issues I have with St Paul are predominantly with attitude as opposed to theology.  I a real way, he explores a lot of the issues that face Christians with a keen mind and with some onderfully poetic imagery.  However, I also see that he mixes social issues with theological ones and while he urges the early Christians to not feel constrained by the traditions of Judaism in their practices, he insists that the standard social prescriptions common to members of the middle class of the time remain in force.  Thus, from his teaching, the church has wasted (and the Roman Catholics till do waste) the potential of fifty percent of the human race.  Admittedly, thats my semi-liberal Anglican background speaking there.  Orthodoxy limits female roles too, though for different reasons and than those given by the Roman Catholics. That's my focus at the moment: to get my head around that reasoning, so that I can understand it enough to see if I can live with it or not.

Offline ShoshanaTopic starter

Re: A Jewish-Christian Dialogue (Shoshana & Neroon)
« Reply #4 on: September 06, 2010, 10:31:15 PM »
Quote
Thus, from his teaching, the church has wasted (and the Roman Catholics till do waste) the potential of fifty percent of the human race.  Admittedly, thats my semi-liberal Anglican background speaking there.  Orthodoxy limits female roles too, though for different reasons and than those given by the Roman Catholics. That's my focus at the moment: to get my head around that reasoning, so that I can understand it enough to see if I can live with it or not.

Thanks for your thoughtful response! I can see where you're coming from, even though I don't think Paul can be held solely or even primarily responsible for the attitude toward women on the part of certain varieties of Christianity. I'd maintain that even if you don't get into scholarly issues, such as excluding him as the author of Ephesians. These churches could have focused on the most broad-minded aspects of Paul; he seems to address a woman as a deacon, after all; he speaks highly of women such as Prisca; and he stated that "in Christ" there is no male or female.

Now the idea that there's no male or female is problematic on another level. It's another example of Paul wanting to eradicate distinctions and particularities in the name of a humanity that would be radically one--and radically without distinctions--thanks to his understanding of the death and resurrection of Jesus. But that's a different issue.

Meanwhile, I think you have an interesting dilemma. Since you seem to be passionate about egalitariansim, it's must be diffcult to be contemplating a non-egalitarian church. But I can understand how you can be drawn to a particular church despite difficulties with one issue. (I can't help you with the icons, though! I think they're beautiful, but I don't know the first thing about them.  :P)

I'm a strong supporter of egalitariansim (and equality for gays) in Judaim; that's one of the reasons I'm a Conservative Jew. I fill many mitzvot--commandments--that are traditionally considered binding on men only. The traditional view is that women don't have to don prayer shawls or lay tefillin; they're not obligated to help make a minyan (a quorum) or say prayers at certain times each day--after all, they've got their hands full running the house and taking care of six screaming children!

But we don't need to divide gender roles that way anymore. Besides, there's no reason not to excuse a guy from certain mitzvot if he's staying home, taking on the role of homemaker (and therefore fulfilling different mitzvot). And there's no reason I see for keeping women from leading services or becoming rabbis and cantors.

On the other hand, Orthodox Judaism is not egalitarian--and yet Orthodox Jewish women don't tend to feel oppressed; heck, many are the primary bread-winners in their family!  And they're often a force to be reckoned with, believe me. And no one's forcing them to be part of a branch of Judaism that doesn't allow women rabbis and such. They just believe in a great distinction between the sexes than I do. I suspect you'll find the same with many Eastern Orthodox Christian women. (Though there are also vocal Orthodox Jewish feminists pressing for more egalitarianism, so maybe you'll find that in Eastern Orthodox Christianity as well.)

As for the gay issue--well, there are a lot of Orthodox  gay Jews. They could easily switch to another branch of Judaism; my branch, Reform and Reconstructionist all perform gay marriages and have gay clergy. (That's the overwhelming majority of synagogue going Jews.) But many choose to stick it out with Orthodox Judaism, just as Orthodox feminists choose to stick it out.

Meanwhile, I'm interested in how you, personally, view the religious 'other.' Jewish-Christian dialogue sometimes runs into problems when the Christian partner insists on trying to convert the Jew. Christianity has long been a missionary religion, after all, insisting on being the one true way. (The dialogue folks call that religious exclusivism.)

However, many Christians now soften that view, taking a genuinely pluralistic view by maintaining that G-d reaches out to humanity via many religious systems. Or they take an 'inclusivist' view--which is the view the Roman Catholic Church favors. The inclusivist view holds that what Christianity calls "salvation" (there's no equivalent to this concept in Judaism--not as Christians mean it, anyway) is available only through Christ, but Christ works through and "saves" even non Christians.

Judaism, on the other hand, isn't a missionary religion. People are welcome to convert to Judaism--we have lots of 'Jews-by-Choice'--but the general view is that people are ok where they are. There's an old Talmudic saying: "The righteous of all nations have a share in the world to come." Ok, modern Judaism doesn't place a big emphasis on life-after-death, but you get the idea. It's what you do that counts, according to Judaism, not what you believe in or have faith in.

So Judaism lends itself easily to religious pluralism--and I would say that's by far the dominant view among  Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist views. Orthodox Jews are likely to be either pluralists or a Jewish variation of inclusivists. Religious exclusivism is extremely rare in Judaism--it exists, but only on the fringes.

Offline Neroon

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Re: A Jewish-Christian Dialogue (Shoshana & Neroon)
« Reply #5 on: September 09, 2010, 04:08:07 PM »
Before I start, please allow me to wish you a happy new year.  I was having a conversation in another place about the tendency of some to be very active and in your face about converting others to Christianity.  The justification for such an approach is often the following line of thought:

1) I sincerely believe that if you don't believe in my religion you'll be condemned to eternal torment in hell.
2) You don't believe in my religion.
3) If I sincerely care for you then surely I have to do everything in my power to prevent you from suffering such a fate.
4) Therefore I have to argue with you over your choice of religion for your own good.

Of course, if you don't believe point 1, the whole of the rest of it is moot.  Even if you do believe point 1, then there is the issue of whether the conversion tactics we see employed are, in fact, effective.  Personally, I think that they are not and that they reduce considered thought about religion to the hard sell that even those peddling double glazing would eschew.  Given the buyer's remorse that leads those who have suffered a hard sell never to touch the product sold again, I can only say that anyone who tries to use such methods is unlikely to get a lasting convert and very likely to get someone who will probably avoid religion in general and have a very negative view of the religion of the person who tried to convert them like that.

I'm not so arrogant to think that every person I interact with will be damned unless I, personally, save them.  For that matter, I have no certainty that the way I follow is the one true way.  I'm reasonably sure it is but I'm not certain.  I tend to believe that absolute certainty is the hallmark of the insane, so I'm never going to say that Jews are automatically damned if they don't become Christians.  We both worship the same God and that counts a lot.  Moreover, I doubt that He will ignore His covenant with your people, but I don't know.

That's the thing with faith though.  It's not the fluffy "Big Bloke with a Beard in the Sky" certainty that atheists commonly accuse us of and there's no black and white system of right and wrong, as far as I can see.  As I heard Jonathan Sacks say a day or so ago, faith is not certainty, it's the courage to live with uncertainty.  I am not so proud that I think I know the Lord's plans and so you can rest assured that I will not try to convert you or anyone else here.  If someone wants help in becoming a Christian, I'll gladly help and I watch to for that but I'll never force the issue. 

Offline ShoshanaTopic starter

Re: A Jewish-Christian Dialogue (Shoshana & Neroon)
« Reply #6 on: September 15, 2010, 01:33:17 PM »
First off, thanks Neroon for another thoughtful response and for the new year wishes. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to respond, but the High Holy Days tend to be a crazy-busy time. Well, sort of. I mean, it's a time of solemnity, reflection and meditation, too--but the logistics can be crazy.

I took it for granted that you would help anyone who was interested convert to Christianity; I would do the same for anyone who wanted to convert to Judaism. But helping out someone who approaches you is quite different from approaching someone with a conversion schpiel. I'm glad we're both on the same page as far as that goes.   

(In fairness, I should mention that I have friends who identify as Christian fundamentalists--and none of them has ever treated me to a conversion schpiel.)

Nice reference to Jonathan Sacks! On the whole, I like the guy and the books he's written--but I understand he's pretty hostile to any form of Judaism except Orthodox. So in that respect, I disagree with him. (So I'm glad he's not my rebbe.) However, I agree wholeheartedly that faith is living with uncertainty. (I wonder if he stole that from Buber, Kierkegaard and other religious existentialists. It's sure worth stealing!)

I noticed you brought up the concept of eternal damnation in your post, as you explained the reasoning behind the conversion efforts of certain Christian exclusivists. I thought that would be as good a time as any to start talking about differing perspectives on the afterlife.

The whole concept of an afterlife is not a big deal in Judaism. In fact, survey after survey reveals that the majority of Jews simply don’t believe in an afterlife. Judaism is a very here-and-now religion.

The Torah and most of the larger Tanakh offer only a shadowy existence in Sheol after you die. There’s only one or two passages in later books (like Daniel) that indicate there’s something more than that.

At some point, however, Judaism developed the idea of the resurrection of the dead; the idea that at some future date the dead would all be bodily resurrected and judged. While Judaism bequeathed this idea to Christianity, we‘ve never had a companion idea of an eternal hell. Hell is always temporary in Jewish teachings--although the possibility of simply ceasing to exist is present in Jewish teachings.

Judaism also developed (or bought into) the idea of reincarnation. This isn’t a new-age thing in Judaism; it’s a long-standing teaching. It’s definitely from the  mystical side of Judaism, however; Chasidic Jews are its foremost proponents, but mystically minded Jews from all branches have adopted it. This teaching comes from the Zohar and Kabbalah and such. (And, now-a-days, it’s helped along by the high percentage of Jewish Buddhists.)

So in Judaism, take your pick. It’s respectable to believe in no afterlife, the resurrection of the dead, or reincarnation. But whatever your private beliefs, it’s something nobody makes a big deal of. Here’s a story that illustrates this:

A friend of mine was once visiting the Orthodox synagogue in Dublin. He was astonished to hear the rabbi give a sermon on the afterlife. He was so shocked that he went up to the rabbi afterwards. “Rabbi,” he said, “I’ve been in synagogues all over the world and I’ve never once heard anyone preach on the afterlife. I’ve never even heard it mentioned!”

The rabbi smiled at him. “My dear sir,” he said, “You’re in Dublin. We’re very Catholic Jews here.”

 ;D

My own views on the afterlife have been all over the map--it really depends on what day you ask me. But it’s not something I worry about. I figure G-d can worry about what, if anything, comes after this life.

The idea of eternal life, however, seems quite central to Christianity. Would you agree with that statement? Or do you see it as an optional belief, as in Judaism? How do Christian teachings on the afterlife inform and infuse your understanding of Christianity?

As always, I’m looking forward to your response.

Offline Neroon

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Re: A Jewish-Christian Dialogue (Shoshana & Neroon)
« Reply #7 on: October 02, 2010, 04:25:34 PM »
Sorry about the delay getting ack to you; a mixture of matters intervened to stop me putting my mind to this.

I was lucky to listen to Jonathan Sacks lecture almost 14 years ago.  The local university used to run open lectures for townspeople to attend in the evenings every now and again and I found those run by the theology deparment quite enjoyable.  The thing that impresses me about the man was the great sense of humanity about him.  He is is someone who has a fine grasp of theory and argument but who has not divorced himself from the real world.  I think his hostility to other branches of Judaism is understandable: family feuds are almost always more vicious than those of strangers.

However, I digress and will instead move on to ideas of heaven, hell, damnation and salvation.  First off, I don't buy into the whole "St Peter and the pearly gates in the clouds" idea of heaven just as I don't hold any stock in the "fiery pit of torment" version of hell.  These seem to be mediaeval inventions devise by a power hungry church to keep control of the masses rather than anything of sound theological merit.  If I were to go with having to describe the idea of paradise, then I should keep to Christ's most common description: His Father's kingdom.  Quite simply I believe that paradise is where God is and that hell is where one is cut off from God permanently.  Thus damnation would be that the event whereby one is cut off from God.

As to the afterlife, I'm content to be vague on the matter.  It is, after all, one of those mysteries which, try as we might, we will fail to solve until we pass behind the veil.  There are enough mysteries to solve in the physical world to keep me occupied for me to go chasing after that which I cannot know now but will be revealed to me in the fulness of time.  I'm not the sort of person who rushes to read the end of a book before I have got a third in; it's enough for me to know that there is an ending.