Vie chretienne Cosmos Arts Engin de recherches Plan du site


Judaism and pluralism

Louise Guay

Webmaster's note: This text was originally handed in as a take-home exam for a course in Judiac studies. Some of the issues will remain obscure to those who haven't taken this course but enough of the content touching on Jew - non-Jew relations remains of interest to make it worth putting online.

A. The articles that we read presented a number of different views about the proper goal of religious dialogue. Describe what you see as the major models or options that have been proposed by the different authors in terms of the goal of dialogue. What position do you find most convincing? Why?

It seems that most of the authors we have dealt with began their dialogue quest with the self-serving goal of attaining legitimacy for themselves. The exercise of trying to convince the other of the need for tolerance, transformative dialogue, mutual respect and recognition, boils down to an apologetic exercise to claim one's own legitimacy. Furthermore, demands are made on the solicited party, even before the party has had a chance to respond. A recurring theme, in the Jewish authors read, was that of demands made on Christian partners in dialogue as follows:

    1. cease missionary activity (in the world and if not, at least) towards the Jews;
    2. cease all forms of anti-semitic stereotypes in Christian literature, culture;
    3. revise Christian (New Testament, Pauline texts) scriptures to concord with Jewish world view;
    4. recognize legitimacy and validity of Judaism;
    5. acknowledge State of Israel on theological and/or political level
    6. downplay salvific role of Jesus and re-orient doctrine of salvation;
    7. forego eschatological claims.

These demands are a recurring motif in Lubarsky, Rosenzweig, Fackonheim, etc . We do not question the reasonability of some of these demands, however we feel that coming to the dialogue table with a list of preconditions as unavowed goals may prejudice the very dialogue the parties are trying to attain and leaves the transformative part only to the other.

Dialogue of this sort is more akin to therapy, where the frustrated party vents his/her anger on the listener. Due to historical tensions, Christians may understand Jewish frustrations and accept to a certain extent, in the name of moral and intellectual honesty, the criticism, guilt, and just reprimands to their shortcomings. The danger lies in pursuing dialogue in an atmosphere of blaming the other, where one party becomes the perpetual victim and the other the perpetual persecutor. The danger lies in developing a form of "theological/political correctedness" on the part of the majority to the minority, thus motivating overall good public relations but forfeiting the real encounter.

Dialogue is not a fashion, it is necessary, as the real enemy to faith is modernity's growing secularism as pointed out by Novak. Anti-semitism is not just a Christian phenomena, it is occurring in secular circles as well. Albeit, that the goal of dialogue is not only to ward off racism, we understand that this is a pressing concern.

Nevertheless, it seems that dialogue is never done for its own sake but must be motivated by personal or communal gain (whether enrichment, strengthening identity, legitimization, warding off secularism or racism, intellectual curiosity...) . Dialogue becomes then a bargaining tool for mutual acceptance, a sort of "I'm O.K., You're O.K." thing. It is a far cry from the philosophical struggles of Rosenzweig, Buber and Levinas to somehow make room for the other. To be able to live in reality, where all is not uniform, to grow out of totality and reduction, to accept the world in its plural form not only in the natural or social sciences but at the theological and philosophical levels as well. These European thinkers, seem to place more emphasis on altruism in their dialogical concerns than do some of the most recent authors who shroud their own agendas with good intentions.

Two of the models we really liked were Soloveitchik and Kaplan. Both placed an emphasis on social action and avoided theological commitments or interference. By allowing others to change "themselves by themselves", true respect for the other was demonstrated. We also like the Levinas model based on individual ethical responsibility and promoting universal values which are palatable for religious and non-religious persons alike, and to Jews or Gentiles. Levinas places responsibility for the other on everyone's shoulders and this moves us out of the "crying game" and into the global village where the survival of humanity depends on each one's willingness to sacrifice the self for the well-being of the community.

B. What are the resources within the Jewish tradition for pluralism? What are the strengths and limits of each of these resources? Do you think that any of them satisfactorily provide directions for the contemporary pluralism dialogue? Why?

Unlike Christianity, Judaism has given itself the theological tools to accept the other, the stranger (toshav, ger toshav), the gentile, through its Noachide laws[1]. Rabbis have searched the scripture and come up with a compromise that would allow non-Jews to coexist as non-Jews alongside the Jewish community without being threatened by or threatening the community itself . Limits were however imposed with regard to idolatry, immorality, bloodshed and intermarriage.

It is not the fact whether or not the Noachide laws have created a more tolerant society towards strangers or non-Jews in their midst that is as amazing as the fact that this legal provision allows non-Jews a part in the world to come, without going through the process of conversion. The concept of salvation accessible to all based on a sense of justice and natural religion is unparalleled in Christian theology. But then, unlike Judaism, Christian theology begins with the presumption of universality of original sin.

Whereas it would be fair to suppose that a theology which provides acceptance for the other without making undue demands could foster ideal dialogical conditions, it is not always the case. This acknowledgement of the validity of the other, can at times become more of a form of protectionism, limiting intercourse with non-Jews.

The Noachide laws, confine Gentiles to their non-Jewish status. It confirms that the world is a duality between Jews and non-Jews. The nonmissionary efforts, ensure that Gentiles will not cross over the border line and attain "equal" status as co-religionist. Conversion of non-Jews is discouraged in Judaism whereas Christianity is ready to offer co-religionist status without discriminating between Jew or Gentile.

These differing attitudes result directly from two distinct world views one a duality the other a totality. The notion that Israel was chosen or that it has direct access to G-d, leaving gentiles the indirect route and non-chosenness, is nevertheless an uneasy pill to swallow, even if it is dampened by a promise of redemption. Just as Jews dislike being told that they are lost without Christ, Christians resent being told they are saved without Christ ! This is why, dialogue has to move beyond theological considerations, and cannot be transformative other than at the sociological level. Starting with the assumption of veridical pluralism, does not help the cause, but hinders it. True dialogue occurs when all agree to disagree, recognize their mutual limitations and agree on common goals.

Whereas it is uplifting and even educational to compare notes on beliefs, rituals, traditions, faith, community, the goal of dialogue is not to transform each individual theology, but to transform the people who believe in their own respective theology. To create an attitude of openness, receptivity to other individuals with or without their theology. Otherwise we end up creating a syncretized "Dialogue Religion" built on amalgamated beliefs toned down to please everybody and losing their particular flavor[2].

Another concern is the "Dialogue Milieu's" exclusivist attitude of appreciating only those who appreciate dialogue and holding in contempt the "ultra-orthodox-fundamentalist-evangelical-fanatic" who are thus turned off and kept out of dialogue and then blamed for not being involved in this worthy endeavor.

Despite some irreconciliable differences, as Levy points out, the Jewish scriptures hold a lot of room for interpretation in light of pluralistic goals (e.i. loving neighbor could be interpreted as loving the non-Jew), and the diversity in the Jewish community is in itself enough of a challenge to encourage the promotion of veridical pluralism.

Furthermore, the birth of the State of Israel, is cause enough for the upstart of relations between Jews and non-Jews to be rekindled. Although Israel has come out of the ghetto, it seems that the ghetto still needs to come out of Israel. Israel often feels isolated and that it stands alone against a world of enemies. This sentiment can lead to xenophobia and limit the possibilities for fruitful interchange . If contemporary dialogue is to occur, focusing on the present or the future, without forgetting the lessons of the past, will be necessary.

Like Kaplan we agree that Israel does not need to justify its existence. The fact that "it is" is enough, it does not need the approbation of gentiles or of the Vatican to exist. It does not need to be rehabilitated. The image and fear of rejection still runs strong, however, and limits open and frank dialogue between Jews and non-Jews. The fear of the "faux-pas" quasi-immobilizes Christian thinkers, who dread the thought of being considered anti-semitic and who prefer to remain silent on issues where criticism of Israel may occur.

It is encouraging to note however that when both parties have had a chance to meet and to speak freely, true progress has been realized. As Fackenheim put its, Christianity does have to deal with a modernity that includes the Holocaust, and it may indeed have a debt toward Judaism[3]. However it may be wise to save the demands on one another for later, and to concentrate on learning to appreciate one another for the time being.


[1] - Noachide laws or precepts they are the seven commandments kept by all the descendants of Noah which Jews believe all humans are bound to obey. These same laws were somewhat reiterated by the apostles towards Gentile believers and include the prohibition of :

Non-Jews who observe these laws have a portion in the world to come.

[2] - Webmaster's note: One might add "A "politically correct" religion in fact.

[3] - Certainly a theological debt for the gift of the Torah.