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Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik on Interreligious Dialogue: 

Forty Years Later

November 23, 2003

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  1. Introduction

  2. The Original Essay by Rabbi Soloveitchik, "Confrontation"

  3. Panel Papers and Responses

  4. Online Continuing Conversation


The Rav

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik was born in 1903 in Belarus, Russia to a family renowned for its talmudic genius. He graduated from the University of Berlin with a doctorate in philosophy.  In the early 1930s, Rabbi Soloveitchik came to Boston, the city that remained his home until his death in 1993. In 1937, he founded the Maimonides School, an Orthodox primary and secondary school that combines rigorous Judaic and secular studies.

From the early 1940s until 1984, Rabbi Soloveitchik served as the rosh yeshiva of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University. As rosh yeshiva, he became the spiritual mentor of thousands of American-trained rabbis and was universally acknowledged as the intellectual leader of an open and engaged Orthodoxy. His influence gained international scope due to the leadership roles he held in the Religious Zionists of America and the Rabbinical Council of America, where his wisdom guided policy decisions for nearly four decades. His legacy is such that today, ten years after his death, he remains the unrivaled spiritual guide of Modern Orthodox Jews – known as HaRav – the rabbi. For this community, especially in the United States, his word was and is authoritative. His teachings are part of the traditions of the Oral Torah with which one engages as one seeks to navigate the realities of the 21st century.


Forty years ago this winter, Rabbi Soloveitchik delivered an essay titled “Confrontation” at the 1964 Mid-Winter Conference of the Rabbinic Council of America, addressing the question of how his community should respond to requests by Christians to enter into dialogue. The Rabbinical Council immediately adopted a statement rejecting any interreligious discussion not based on “the full independence, religious liberty and freedom of conscience of each faith community.” In February 1966, the Council adopted a more concrete statement formulated by Rabbi Soloveitchik that called for Jewish-Christian cooperation “in the public world of humanitarian and cultural endeavors…on such topics as War and Peace, Poverty, Freedom, … Moral Values, …Secularism, Technology… , Civil Rights, etc.” But it rejected dialogue on areas of faith, religious law, doctrine and ritual. Following Rabbi Soloveitchik’s argument in “Confrontation,” it encouraged discussion of areas of universal concern, but rejected as futile and even dangerous discussion of the private realms specific to individual faith communities. 


This February 1966 statement came only months after the Second Vatican Council’s promulgation of Nostra Aetate with its radical rethinking of Catholic theology about Jews and Judaism and its authoritative rejection of many of the bases of Christian antisemitism as well as any actions based on them. Nostra Aetate called for finding understanding with Jews through “biblical and theological enquiry” and through “friendly discussions.” In the process of preparing this document, the Vatican had sought just such dialogue with Jewish leaders. This itself was unprecedented for a Church that had previously used most such “dialogues” as attempts to convert Jews. “Confrontation” responded to this new situation of Nostra Aetate in the making, offering guidance to a community that, fresh from the fires of the Holocaust, was understandably uncertain as to how to respond to these friendly overtures. The 1966 rabbinic statement confirmed that these teachings were the accepted policy of the modern Orthodox community in America.  

In the intervening four decades many important developments have occurred in Christian-Jewish relations, including the flowering of numerous ongoing dialogues around the world. This situation – the reality of a Christian and especially a Catholic world that genuinely seeks to build a new and positive relationship with Jews – was hardly imaginable a century ago.

This leads to the question: How do Jews who take the Rav’s teachings seriously read, interpret, and apply his teaching in “Confrontation” to a changed world? The task is not to “confront” or to “reexamine” “Confrontation," but to explore its nuances and complexities in a changing context.

To launch an extended discussion of this question, the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning sponsored a conference in November 2003 at which Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn presented a major paper, "The Man of Faith and Interreligious Dialogue: Revisiting 'Confrontation' After Forty Years." Two other Orthodox rabbis, David Berger and Aryeh Klapper, responded to Rabbi Korn.  Dr. Philip Cunningham offered some observations as a Roman Catholic outside witness to this Orthodox discussion. 


Rabbi Eugene Korn is an adjunct professor of Jewish thought in the Department of Jewish-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University. Previously he was director of interfaith affairs for the Anti-Defamation League and Senior Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He also serves as editor of The Edah Journal: A Forum of Modern Orthodox Discourse.

Rabbi David Berger is Broeklundian Professor of History at Brooklyn College - City University of New York where he specializes in medieval Jewish history, Jewish-Christian relations, messianism and messianic movements, and contemporary Orthodox Judaism. His most recent book is The Rebbe, The Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference.

Rabbi Aryeh Klapper is Orthodox chaplain at the Harvard University Hillel in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is also Rosh Beit Midrash of the Summer Beit Midrash, a Boston-based study program for college-aged students. 

Philip A. Cunningham is Executive Director of the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning. Interested in biblical studies, religious education, and theologies of Christian-Jewish relations, he has been a delegate for U.S. bishops and Vatican conferences on Catholic-Jewish Relations. He is the author of A Story of Shalom: The Calling of Christians and Jews by a Covenanting God. 

For the text of "Confrontation" click here.

Philip Cunningham, David Berger, Eugene Korn, Aryeh Klapper


Click Here to view the panel presentations via streaming media. 



The papers linked below have been revised since their original presentations in the light of the conversation that occurred on November 23, 2003. In some cases this means further comments have been added as an afterword, and Rabbi Korn has composed brief replies to the panelists.  

Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn

The Man of Faith and Religious Dialogue:  Revisiting "Confrontation" After Forty Years 

Responses to Professor Berger, Rabbi Klapper and Professor Cunningham  

Rabbi Dr. David Berger

Revisiting “Confrontation” After Forty Years: 

A Response to Rabbi Eugene Korn

Rabbi Aryeh Klapper

Revisiting "Confrontation" After Forty Years:

A Response to Rabbi Eugene Korn

Dr. Philip A. Cunningham

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik on Interreligious Dialogue - Forty Years Later:One Catholic's Reflections


3. Online Continuing Conversation 

In the coming months, selected individuals will be invited to contribute to the discussion.

Dr. Edward Breuer

Revisiting “Confrontation” After Forty Years: Some Comments

Rabbi Dr. Alan Brill

Confrontation in the World of 2004

Erica Brown, Ph.D. Cand. 

The Un-Response


Rabbi Dr. Shalom Carmy

"Orthodoxy is Reticence" – Taking Theology Seriously


 Rabbi Joseph H. Ehrenkranz

"Confrontation," Religious Freedom, and Theological Dialogue


 Prof. Reuven Kimelman

"Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Abraham Joshua Heschel on Jewish-Christian Relations"

A link to a pertinent article in the online journal EdahIt is presented in PDF format.


Rabbi David Rosen

Orthodox Judaism and Jewish-Christian Dialogue


Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks

The Voice of Judaism in the Conversation of Mankind

Dr. Marc B. Shapiro

"Confrontation:" A Mixed Legacy


Dr. Deborah Weissman

The Perspective of an Israeli Educator


Dr. Michael Wyschogrod

Orthodox Judaism and Jewish-Christian Dialogue