Jewish Understanding of Other
Center for Christian-Jewish Learning
Over the millennia, Jews have sought to understand their gentile neighbors and to fashion proper relationships with them. Most Jewish teachings on this subject found their way into texts-biblical, talmudic, exegetical, interpretive and canonical, philosophical and liturgical-that subsequent generations of Jews accepted as authoritative. As Jews today seek to understand their place in a multi-cultural society, they do so in dialogue with these texts and with their non-Jewish neighbors. Many gentiles are also interested in exploring these Jewish teachings, both to understand their Jewish neighbors and to plumb the Jewish roots of Christianity and Islam. The Center for Jewish-Christian Learning at Boston College offers this sourcebook project to meet these needs of scholars and students, clergy and laypersons, and to promote better interreligious understanding.
Since Judaism and Jewish culture has lacked hierarchical authority for the majority of its history, Jewish teachings profess multiple points of view that resist expression in a coherent system. Due to different philosophical perspectives, ideologies, and historical experiences, many sources contradict one another. At different times and in different places, Jews have assigned authority to different aspects of this tradition, while reinterpreting or minimizing others.
For the reader of these texts, therefore, both awareness of context and caution are critical. To honestly understand any given text, one must always bear in mind the larger contexts in which a text first appeared and was subsequently invoked. It is also important to resist the tendency to ascribe univocal meaning or authoritative status to any single text. This sourcebook presents each text with annotations to help the reader understand its bibliographical, conceptual and legal contexts and the various ways the teachings were understood in different historical periods.
Many of these texts are "difficult." Some are embedded in a cultural language and metaphor that is foreign to modern thinking; some are distinctly parochial and evidence an intolerant valuation of non-Jews, their behavior and their religions. Given the violent and acrimonious nature of Jewish historical experience, this is hardly surprising. If one is to engage seriously Jewish teachings on "the other," these texts ought not to be ignored, apologetically dismissed or polemically exploited. We understand this engagement is essential in helping to overcome the troubled past between Jews and their neighbors, and we offer this as a resource towards the building of a less painful future characterized by mutual understanding.
Eugene Korn, Shira Lander, and Ruth Langer, editors