Future Rules of Jewish-Christian Relations

The following are excerpts from the book Futurizing The Jews

By Tsvi Bisk and Moshe Dror

 The Jewish Diaspora resides in Christian and post-Christian countries. Israel’s two most important relationships are with the United States and the European Union. Consequently the near future of the Jewish people is tied to Christian and post-Christian societies. So even though Israel strives to integrate into the Moslem Middle East and to develop close connections with India, China and Japan, Jewry’s relationship with “Christendom” should be a primary concern.

Today it is the seductive power of uncritical ecumenism and the glib cliché of “all ‘religions’ are really the same” that challenge the Jewish future, not inquisitions, pogroms, and holocausts. “Religion” is in quotation marks because Judaism, like Confucianism, is as much a life system as it is a religion in the Christian sense. I believe the terms Jewish tradition, Jewish worldview, or Jewish ideology convey a truer sense of Jewishness than the term Jewish religion.

This is not just an exercise in semantics. The future of Jewish-Christian relations must be based upon a reaffirmation of Jewish cultural particularity and the end of Jewish apologetics. We Jews are the minority and are obliged to be unambiguous regarding our differences with Christianity. Ecumenism does not mean the blurring of differences for fear of offending those with a different view of life, or shading our view of the world in order to be socially acceptable and immune to physical and political intimidation.

This requires a 21st century reaffirmation of the Enlightenment principle of separation between church and state. Enlightenment principles are not the enemy of modern Jewish identity and survival, as some neo-Orthodox thinkers now claim; they are a prerequisite for continued Jewish identity and survival.

Ecumenism should simply mean good planetary citizenship based on the same principles as the American republic: freedom of inquiry and freedom of conscience. These principles require us not to murder one another or harm one another because we have different views of the world. We can and should cooperate with Christians and adherents of other faiths and philosophical outlooks as responsible citizens of our respective countries and of the planet. But the “ecumenical” blurring of differences is creating Jewish indifference to the Jewish tradition.

We should be mindful, however, that today most Christians of whatever denomination are indifferent to doctrinal issues and are content to conduct respectful relationships with Jews (and one another) outside a theological frame of reference. I hope, therefore, that what follows does not in anyway inhibit or damage the fruitful Christian-Jewish cooperation of the past 50 years…


Subliminal and Subversive Attacks on Jewish Identity

Western society has inherited from its Christian roots a subliminal background music that implies the primitiveness of Judaism and remains essentially anti-Jewish. Innumerable negative images of Judaism that endanger Jewish identity have insinuated themselves into modern secular civilization. Examples of these are:

  1. “Talmudic thinking” as derogatory
  2. Jesus and the moneychangers as a legitimate purifying act in defiance of a degenerate and corrupt religious establishment
  3. Tribal Judaism versus catholic (universal) Christianity
  4. Legalistic Judaism versus Christian love

  The inertia of these Christian views of Judaism continues in secular academic scholarship. Modern secular literature, history, and philosophy texts abound with such subtle pejoratives. They constitute cultural and psychological guerilla warfare against the poorly schooled modern Jew. They predispose him against his roots and a reuniting with these roots.

  The famous historian Arnold Toynbee, relying on grotesque misrepresentations of Judaism inherited from Christianity, called the Jews a “fossil” whose historical relevance had ended with the appearance of Jesus and Christianity. This was presented as an objective historical analysis but was really a secular version of the Christian belief that with the advent of Christianity, Judaism ceased being a vigorous self-sufficient culture. Such intellectual fare has been fed to several generations of university trained Jews, alienating them from Jewish identity.

  We Jews have been remiss in developing ways to combat these attacks on Jewish awareness, partly because combating them is like combating a false rumor. How do we assert our cultural integrity in repelling the missionary assault of some Christians without offending our Christian and post-Christian allies and weakening our political position? Israel’s biggest supporters in American civil society are the 70 million-strong Evangelical communities, the same communities that fund the various manifestations of the “Jews for Jesus” or “Messianic Jews”. This is a difficult strategic dilemma, but difficulty does not free us from our moral obligation to deal with it.

Talmudic Thinking versus New Testament Thinking

  Talmudic hairsplitting is a recognized pejorative even in secular debate; signifying a tortured, artificial style of argumentation. The Jews call this process pilpul, from the Hebrew word for pepper, because it sharpens the mind. Yet, if we were to critically examine Christian teaching, we might conclude that New Testament thinking could replace Talmudic thinking to indicate tortured, twisted, artificial logic. As shown below, scores of Christian intellectuals and scholars have been documenting this for years. A future Jewish educational project might be to prepare popular handbooks showing how Christian scholarship has often misinterpreted the Old Testament.

  This would obligate us to reevaluate our own attitudes toward concepts like pilpul, which is often used as a pejorative even in Jewish circles. Pilpul is designed to train the minds of practitioners never to accept face value and always to seek new ways of thinking. Its misuse by ignorant rabbis to confuse and control the unschooled has given it a bad name. In point of fact, pilpul anticipated today’s creative-thinking workshops, which train people to develop their lateral (associative) thinking by connecting and integrating concepts that appear unrelated. While pilpul’s intent is to sharpen the mind, New Testament argumentation intends to prove the truth of Christianity and its claim to cosmic exclusivity. It is not an exercise—it is a foundation stone.

  Over the past 100 years of critical Christian scholarship, many Catholic and Protestant scholars have questioned the veracity and factualness of much New Testament argumentation. For a remarkable description of this phenomenon, read Jesus Son of Man by Rudolf Augstein, founder and publisher of the German magazine Der Spiegel. Mr. Augstein, a non-Jew, has conducted secondary research into the writings of Catholic and Protestant scholars regarding the veracity of traditional Christian dogma. He documents their discoveries, highlights their reticence to bring these discoveries to light and severely criticizes what he construes to be intellectual dishonesty. His work has great relevance for Jews who want to reevaluate their tradition as it has been filtered through Christian eyes.

Jesus and the Money Changers

  In his first inaugural address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt referred to driving the moneychangers from the Temple. He was using this phrase as a metaphor for the control that American business tycoons had over the temple of American democracy. The image was immediately accessible to all Americans who even had a passing acquaintance with the New Testament. It is one of the most striking images of the entire Christ story and is universally recognized as a purifying and revolutionary act.

  It is also a story that reinforces images of the Jew as a moneygrubber willing to pollute his own holiest of holies for profit. The entire Jesus – moneychanger story is seen through the retroactive filter of a medieval Christian view of the Jews. Jews have trouble dealing with this story because, at first glance, it seems like a just and noble revolutionary act, and many Jews

feel shame that this was part of Temple activity. This comes from seeing the story through Christian eyes. Seeing the story from both a Jewish and modern point of view might change one’s perspective.

  First, we must relate to the Christian concept of the Temple as a quiet, dignified place of prayer and meditation being polluted by filthy commerce; a kind of cathedral, which people enter in quiet awe. In fact, the Temple was Oriental. Whoever has visited the Far East or seen documentaries will recognize the noise, tumult, crowds, people hawking religious artifacts, animals walking around, women nursing, and perhaps even people willing to change money.  A similar atmosphere was to be found in medieval European cathedrals.

  Jews made pilgrimage to the Temple three times a year. These pilgrimages provided much of the income of Jerusalem residents. Jews came from long distances, often with their families. They were dirty and tired and wanted nothing more than to rent quarters, eat a meal, and go to the ritual baths, not only for ritual purification in preparation for the sacrifice but also for refreshment. They often had currency not in use in Jerusalem and thus had to change money before paying for services. They preferred to use the moneychangers who had stalls within the Temple walls rather than outside because the Temple officials supervised them according to the commercial laws of Judaism and one could expect to be treated more fairly.

  They stood in a moneychanger’s line, dirty, and hungry, with impatient wife and children waiting. The line moved slowly. Every transaction required argument and negotiation. Sometimes, one moneychanger had to ask a colleague about an unfamiliar currency. He had to weigh the currencies, check the purity of the gold or silver. Time bore heavily. Thousands of pilgrims waited in dozens of lines. Suddenly, a strange individual appeared and turned over the tables. Mayhem ensued. The moneychangers, legitimate businessmen performing a necessary service, saw their wealth rolling on the ground, the tired pilgrims and their families were dismayed, and all were furious.

In the meantime, the townspeople who had prepared every spare corner of room and courtyard to rent to the pilgrims stood and waited and wondered why so few had appeared to rent space. Suddenly, they saw furious groups of pilgrims heading to the outskirts of the city to sleep in the open. They were informed that somebody named Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers. Many pilgrims yelled that this was the last time they were coming on pilgrimage. The stomachs of the residents sank in despair; they saw their present and perhaps future incomes disappear. The story would surely spread throughout the Jewish world. The ire of the Temple officials, of the moneychangers, of the residents, and of the pilgrims was great.

  How does this story look now? Would one want to use it metaphorically to justify an action? We Jews must examine such issues to clarify our essential differences with Christianity…

Future Rules of Jewish-Christian Relations—Derech Eretz

  The relationship between Christians and Jews requires a new set of rules. We Jews must take the lead in setting them. Our principles must be firm, but our strategy and tactics must be informed with the principle of Derech Eretz—good manners. We have a dilemma. We cannot afford to offend our strongest supporters, yet we cannot avoid letting them know how much their proselytizing activities offend us when these are packaged in the “Jews for Jesus” or “Messianic Jews” packages. The majority of decent Christians will understand our position and limit these activities; for those who do not, only internal Jewish education will suffice.

  We must not chastise the Christians for trying to convert us, as long as they do this openly and honestly and not under a Jewish guise. They do this with everyone, even other Christians. The late Pope had called for a Catholic counterattack against evangelical Christian inroads into traditional Catholic communities (especially in Latin America).

  It is a Jewish responsibility to make Judaism stronger and more attractive by clarifying its basic principles. We must be proactive in publicizing differences between Christianity and Judaism. In a constitutional democracy that protects the citizen against religious coercion the success of missionary activity is dependent on Jewish ignorance. We are now paying the price for years of shallow and kitschy Fiddler-on-the-Roof Judaism, and the cultivation of colorful ethnicity. This must be replaced by uncompromising clarity.


To read more click on this link:  Futurizing the Jews: Alternative Futures for Meaningful Jewish Existence in the 21st Century

To read previous parts, click on this link: Futurizing The Jews

To learn more about Tsvi Bisk, click this link:  Contributors