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

Eugene Korn


I. Introduction

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993) was the undisputed leader of Modern Orthodoxy for more than forty years. As the scion of an elite Lithuanian rabbinic family, he became the brilliant carrier of the analytic method of Talmud study pioneered by his grandfather, R. Hayim of Brisk; and as a recipient of a doctorate in neo-Kantian epistemology from University of Berlin , he developed a mastery over the classics, philosophy and theology of Western literature. R. Soloveitchik’s remarkable intellectual biography combined with his personal charisma enabled him to shape Modern Orthodoxy’s ideology, religious philosophy, rabbinic education, law and politics. He taught both Talmud and Jewish philosophy at Yeshiva University , the intellectual center of the movement, where he is said to have ordained more rabbis than any person in Jewish history. For the Modern Orthodox community, he functioned as the master of both the philosophy of halakhah (Jewish law) and its practical decisions. He left such a potent legacy of students and writings that even ten years after his death, he remains today the unrivaled spiritual guide of Modern Orthodox Jews.     

No writing or oral discourse by R. Soloveitchik achieved more practical impact than his essay, “Confrontation”, first delivered at the 1964 Mid-Winter Conference of the Rabbinic Council of America. The work was formally published later that year as an article in the spring edition of Tradition, the official journal of the RCA. As a result of the conference lecture, the Rabbinical Council adopted a statement stressing the uniqueness and incommensurability of each religious community (in this case, Jews and Christians) and rejecting any inter-religious discussion not based on “the full independence, religious liberty and freedom of conscience of each faith community.” Since this statement was largely confined to philosophical principle, the Council adopted a more concrete statement in February 1966 stating that Jewish-Christian cooperation be confined to “universal problems” that are “economic, social, scientific and ethical.” Again stressing that faith is a unique, private and intimate experience for each community, it asserted the RCA’s opposition to dialogue in areas of “faith, religious law, doctrine and ritual”. To ensure this nuanced position was not misconstrued, it concluded: “To repeat, we are ready to discuss universal religious problems. We will resist any attempt to debate our private individual (faith) commitment.”

What prompted Rabbi Soloveitchik (and the RCA) to delve into the complex matter of interfaith relations? The date and context are critical. In the early 1960’s, The Second Vatican Council took upon itself the challenge of “aggiornamento”, i.e. the updating of the Roman Catholic Church and its doctrines. A good part of this modernization entailed rethinking Catholic teachings about Judaism and the Jewish people. The Holocaust demonstrated for all who were honest that something had gone horribly wrong in Christendom, and many Catholics from Pope John XXIII downward deemed reconsideration of their Jewish spiritual patrimony and the Church’s relations with the Jewish people to be urgent necessities.

The Vatican turned to religious representatives of Jewry, inviting them to dialogue and join the process of reconciliation. Many non-Orthodox rabbinic figures in America welcomed the gesture, but this development posed both a cultural and theological problem for Orthodox Jews—that sector of the Jewish people whose character has been largely forged in the fire of historical experience and traditional attitudes. Taken aback by the bold innovation of cordial relations with its perennial enemy, yet not wishing to be impolite by rejecting the offer out of hand, Modern Orthodox leaders looked to R. Soloveitchik, the one theologically sophisticated traditionalist with sufficient authority to craft an appropriate and politically acceptable response. His position rejecting any participation in interfaith theological dialogue was immediately accepted as both the de jure and de facto policy of the Modern Orthodox community, and has remained as such until today.[1]

More than forty years have elapsed since R. Soloveitchik wrote “Confrontation.”[2] As Jews move into the 21st century, it is worthwhile re-examining R. Soloveitchik’s thesis for its meaning, wisdom, and correct application as a guide for future Jewish-Christian relations. Thankfully, in these forty years we have witnessed a partial healing and a critical transformation in the tortured history of the Church and Jewish people. While Jews and Catholics may not be warm partners in broad cooperation, neither are these faith communities any longer implacable enemies.  


II. The Logical Status of “Confrontation”

“Confrontation” is divided into two parts: the first, a twelve page philosophical description of three levels of human existence that draws heavily on the biblical account of the creation of the human being; the second, a thirteen page discussion of Jewish responsibilities to humanity, and specifically how faithful Jews should relate to other faith communities. Part theological reflection, part biblical exegesis, and part existential statement, “Confrontation” bears Rav Soloveitchik’s spiritual signature of bold eclectic integration and noble vision. Given its practical impact and R. Soloveitchik’s multifaceted persona in the Orthodox community, it is important to understand correctly the nature and function of the essay. R. Soloveitchik often spoke as the community’s chief halakhic authority—a kind of “rabbi’s rabbi”—and many have understood the essay to constitute a legal opinion (pesaq halakhah) that formally obligated his followers and that could only be overridden by an authority greater than R. Soloveitchik.[3]  

It is difficult to sustain such a categorization of “Confrontation”. The traditional language of halakhic responsa (teshuvot) is Hebrew, not English. Second, the essay is devoid of any classic material that all teshuvot rely upon as basis for legal analysis, i.e. formal biblical imperatives, talmudic opinions and commentary, and post-talmudic rabbinic legal decisions. Conspicuously absent in the essay is any citation of the great rabbinic authorities such as Maimonides, R. Menachem Ha-Meiri, R. Josef Caro, or R. Moshe Isserles or of any halakhic codes, even though they had much to say regarding Christianity. Lastly, the method of argumentation bears no resemblance whatever to classic halakhic analysis: No legal principles are articulated, no halakhic reasoning appears, no precedent is cited and no legal conclusion is stated. The formal halakhic terms, “forbidden” (assur) and “permitted” (mutar), never appear, nor is there any mention of the term, “halakhah” or “mitzvah” (commandment). 

The contrast between “Confrontation” and halakhic responsa is conspicuous when comparing the essay to what indeed is a formal teshuvah on the question of meeting  Catholics for the purpose of interfaith dialogue, that offered by R. Moshe Feinstein.[4]  It took R. Feinstein not twenty five pages but merely one column to close the issue. In two paragraphs he ruled that interfaith dialogue violated a Torah commandment and stressed the absolute prohibition of such activities for Jews. It is instructive to note that shortly after R. Feinstein’s 1967 responsum, he beseeched R. Soloveitchik to sign a statement formally “declaring an absolute and clear prohibition” for Jews to participate in interfaith dialogue. There is no evidence that R. Soloveitchik ever responded to R. Feinstein’s request.[5] The crucial difference is not one of style or argumentation, but function. R. Feinstein penned a classic responsum in halakhic terms, while R. Soloveitchik argued discursively on philosophical, historical and prudential grounds regarding the correct parameters of Jewish-Catholic dialogue. The essay is more a philosophic disquisition (Part I) with a direct political application (Part II). Most assuredly, therefore, R. Soloveitchik wrote “Confrontation” as a thesis that argues for a particular Jewish policy on interfaith dialogue, not as a pesaq halakhah.  


III. The Arguments of “Confrontation”

R. Soloveitchik’s substantive arguments regarding interfaith dialogue appear in Part II of the essay to which I now turn. In that section he advances three different types of arguments that are interwoven throughout the discussion: (1) a philosophic argument about the nature and limits of human communication, (2) a doctrinal argument that assumes faithful Catholics are bound by specific theological claims regarding Jews and Judaism when engaging in interfaith dialogue, and (3) a historical argument based on Jewish attitudes conditioned by the painful historical experiences that Jews endured in their troubled relations with the Church.

The philosophic argument rests on the alleged intrinsic character of communication, and therefore seems independent of contingent empirical conditions or social context. That is, if the argument is valid, it is eternally so because its conclusion follows from the very nature of human communication. The doctrinal argument, however, is different in that it depends primarily on the validity of its assumptions about the limits of Catholic and Jewish doctrinal commitments, as well as presuppositions about the function and dynamics of dialogue. These are variables, for both doctrine and the nature of dialogue can change at different points in history. As such, the argument is contingent, depending upon whether these assumptions are correct at any given time.  The historical argument, rooted in reactions to the past, is similarly contingent since attitudes can change over time—particularly when historical, social and intellectual conditions undergo fundamental shifts. In other words, the validity of these latter arguments during the Middle Ages or first half of 20th century is no assurance that they are valid for the 21st century or for a different understanding of the dialogical encounter.

A. The Philosophic Argument

R. Soloveitchik contends that each faith community is unique and therefore any attempt to equate them is “absurdity.” From this uniqueness he concludes that:


The word of faith reflects the intimate, private and paradoxically inexpressible cravings of the individual for his Maker,…which is totally incomprehensible to the man of a different faith community. (p. 23-24)



            The great encounter between God and man is a wholly personal private affair incomprehensible to the outsider—even to the brother of the same community. The divine message is incommunicable since it defies all standardized media of information and all objective categories.


As a result, theological dialogue—as opposed to discussion on social, ethical or political matters—between Jews and gentiles is futile.

Readers of R. Soloveitchik have claimed that this position is incoherent.[6]  First and foremost, R. Soloveitchik spent his entire life teaching Torah and halakhah—Judaism’s divine logos. His conception of God’s word assumes it is logical and communicable to finite humans. In the tradition of Maimonides[7], we shall see that he believed that the Torah of God can be taught not only to Jews but also to Christians.

Second, according to his logic, it would seem that a Jew can no more successfully communicate his religious experience to another Jew than to a Christian. Yet R. Soloveitchik in fact attempted to communicate his religious experience to both Jews and Christians. His most famous and perhaps most personal theological confession, “The Lonely Man of Faith” was delivered to an interfaith audience at St. John’s Catholic Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts.[8] In that work, he takes up the generic human problem of interpersonal communication and concludes that Adam and Eve were able to communicate with each other because they formed a universal covenantal community with God—well before there was any idea of a particular covenant that separated Jews from gentiles.

The final argument of his critics notes that R. Soloveitchik read Christian and heterodox Jewish philosophers and theologians. He was deeply influenced by the Scholastics, Duns Scotus, Kant, Schleiermacher, Scheler, Kierkegaard, Bergson, Barth and Otto among others.[9]  His language and philosophy clearly indicate that these thinkers helped shape his experience of kedushah (holiness), teshuvah (repentance) and the texture of his religious life. How then could R. Soloveitchik claim in “Confrontation” that Jews and Christians should not talk to each other about the faith experience and logos because such dialogue was impossible, even “absurd”? Of course it is a truism that subjective experience, be it of faith, of love, of beauty, or of awe, can never be totally captured by language. Religious language is, at best, only inexact metaphor, a finite approximation of infinity or of numinous experience. Yet surely linguistic expression is valuable as a helpful intimation. As R. Soloveitchik admits, just as a lover cannot stop attempting to describe his love feelings, the religious person is compelled to express his religious experience, however inadequately.[10]  

I believe that these critiques are unfounded. R. Soloveitchik’s dismissal of religious dialogue as absurd does not refer to the personal expression of faith, but to proof or refutation of faith. As an existentialist who believed that the deepest yearnings and satisfactions of human life were not intellectual, R. Soloveitchik maintained that the foundations of Jewish faith were located in the experience of the Jewish people, in the traditions of our patriarchs and in the passional life of individual Jews. What was absurd to him was any attempt at rational demonstration, scriptural analysis or logical deduction to prove or disprove faith. Perhaps this is why he frequently talked of Kierkegaard, but rarely of Anselm.

More to the point of “Confrontation,” any interfaith discussion that utilized arguments to refute the faith of another is hostile and dishonest, not merely logically confused.  The essay makes clear that R. Soloveitchik’s primary objection—on both logical and moral grounds—was to doctrinal disputation between Christians and Jews regarding the validity of Judaism, i.e. the traditional Christian-Jewish debates imposed on Jews by the Church from Medieval times onward.  This conclusion is strengthened by the list of topics “deemed improper” for dialogue that appeared in the 1966 statement formulated by R. Soloveitchik and adopted by the RCA. It is no accident that the list consists of the very subjects that were debated in medieval disputations.[11]

His sense resentment at this arrogant and unequal form of dialogue is palpable:

Any intimation, overt or covert, on the part of the community of the many that it is expected of the community of the few to shed its uniqueness and cease existing because it has fulfilled its mission by paving the way for the community of the many must be rejected as undemocratic and contravening the very idea of religious freedom (p. 23)


We must always remember that our singular commitment to God and our hope and indomitable will for survival are non-negotiable and non-rationalizable and are not subject to debate and argumentation.


R. Soloveitchik’s assumption that these were the Catholic goals for theological dialogue was historically warranted. It was 1963-1964, almost two years before Nostra Aetate was written and the Church still adhered to its age-old theological posture toward Jews and Judaism. The Church held that Jews were guilty of deicide, that Christianity had superseded the “Old” Covenant of Judaism, that “extra ecclesiam nulla salus,” and that conversion and contempt were the religiously correct Christian policies toward Jews. It was therefore logical to assume that modern Catholic-Jewish dialogue would not depart essentially from the assumptions and logic of medieval disputations. These disputations were designed to prove, in the words of one scholar, that “the truth of Christianity would be rendered manifest to destroy the errors of the Jews, that Jesus was the messiah, and that Jewish legal and ceremonial rules were discontinued and (were) never to be resumed after Jesus.“[12] In other words, it was not dialogue of respect and equality at all, but a theological duel to the death that Jews could not afford to win or lose. Hence R. Soloveitchik rejected Jews entering into theological discussions under this Catholic “frame of reference,” since at best it would render Judaism only a “satellite in (Christianity’s) orbit.”[13] 

It is this critical distinction between respectfully hearing the religious voices of others  and doctrinal disputation that untangles the paradox of R. Soloveitchik’s private conversation with Christian religious thinkers whose insights he integrated into his religious weltanschauung, and his rejection of formal interfaith dialogue on theological subjects.[14] The former posed no threat to the validity of his faith, while he assumed the latter was targeted at undermining Jewish faith commitment. To employ the favorite technique of R. Soloveitchik’s Brisker tradition, there are two concepts of theological discourse: one is authentic dialogue, which is free religious expression that is governed by legitimacy of difference and mutual respect; the other is polemical disputation, which is futile in its illogic and objectionable in its triumphalism.

B. The Doctrinal Argument

R. Soloveitchik’s understanding of traditional Catholic doctrine brought to light the “incommensurate” frames of reference that rendered Catholic-Jewish theological discussion “an absurdity.”[15] He believed that the Catholic faithful would necessarily bring supersessionist assumptions to their conversation with Jews: They would assume that Christianity had replaced Judaism, that Judaism had lost its continuing spiritual vitality, that it no longer had a divine mission for the future of humanity, and that contemporary Jews who refused to accept Christian doctrine were blind to the fulfillment of God’s covenant. By virtue of this “frame of reference” and their conviction in the truth of Christian mission, Catholics would have no choice but to view Judaism as inferior and incomplete and hence attempt to convert Jews to Christianity. Trying to harmonize this worldview with the Jewish commitment to the living validity of Judaism and Torah, and with pride in Jewish survival, was indeed a futile—and dangerous—exercise from which no good could come.

As a result, R. Soloveitchik stipulated four specific preconditions for Jewish-Christian dialogue:

(1) There must be an acknowledgement that the Jewish people is an “independent faith community endowed with intrinsic worth to be viewed against its own meta-historical backdrop without relating to the framework of another (i.e. Catholic) community.”


(2) The Jewish “singular commitment to God and ….hope for survival are non-negotiable and not subject to debate or argumentation.”


(3) Jews should refrain from recommending changes to Christian doctrine, for such recommendations would lead to reciprocal Christian recommendations for changes to Jewish belief. Change must emerge autonomously from within, for “non-interference is a sine qua non for good will and mutual respect.”


(4) Each community must articulate its position that the other community “has the right to live, create, and worship God in its own way, in freedom and dignity.” Both communities have “the right to an unconditional commitment to God that is lived with a sense of pride, security, dignity and joy in being what they are.” This precludes “trading favors on fundamental matters of faith” or “reconciling differences” out of an obligation to compromise.

Some have claimed that these preconditions pertain only to non-theological interfaith dialogue (i.e. social, ethical, political discussion) and that the rejection of theological discussion is non-contingent. This position runs afoul of the text, which explicitly mentions “doctrine” and “matters of faith” in its articulation of the conditions.

When R. Soloveitchik penned “Confrontation” in 1964, he could not have foreseen the transformation of Catholic doctrine and radical shift in Christianity’s “frame of reference’ that was to follow. Almost two years later, the Vatican ’s proclamation of Nostra Aetate began a theological journey that continues until this day and from which Christianity will likely never return.

The transformation of the Catholic frame of reference can be evaluated by examining current Catholic teaching on six subjects, what one Catholic theologian has dubbed “the six R’s”[16]: (1) the repudiation of anti-Semitism, (2) the rejection of the charge of deicide, (3) repentance after the Shoah, (4) review of teaching about Jews and Judaism, (5) recognition of Israel, and (6) rethinking of proselytizing Jews.[17]

Nostra Aetate achieved two explicit changes in Catholic theology that were later reinforced and expanded upon by two other authoritative Vatican documents, “Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration, Nostra Aetate, No. 4” [“Guidelines”] of 1974 and “Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Teaching in the Roman Catholic Church” [“Notes”] of 1985. The first point, so critical to Jewish-Catholic relations, was the repudiation of anti-Semitism. The Church’s statement on anti-Semitism is one of the most categorical rejections made by any institution or group:

Remembering then her common heritage with the Jews and moved not by any political consideration, but solely by the religious motivation of Christian charity, she deplores all hatreds, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism leveled at any time or from any source against the Jews.

The latter two Church documents strengthened the rejection by changing the verb, “deplore” to “condemn”[18] and later still Pope John Paul II repeatedly stated that anti-Semitism is no mere political crime, but “a sin against God and humanity.”[19]

Secondly, Nostra Aetate officially put to rest the noxious idea that the Jewish people is collectively guilty of deicide, a charge that was the primary theological source of Christian anti-Semitism throughout history and that led Christians to shed so much Jewish blood: 

What happened in his (Jesus’) passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God.

This point was also strengthened in “Notes” when that document stated that, “Christians are more responsible than those few Jews because we sin knowingly.” (IV, 22)

It is important for Jews to recognize that Nostra Aetate represents the highest teaching authority in the Catholic Church—all the worlds’ bishops (including the bishop of Rome) speaking in solemn council—and that most of the other documents that I cite are official teaching of the Catholic magisterium, or formal teaching authority. I am certain that there are still Catholic traditionalists—some even in Rome who wear red skullcaps—who dissent from the “new” Church teaching, but they cannot be correctly said to represent Catholic doctrine today. Their dissenting opinions carry little ecclesiastical weight, and do not determine Church policy toward Jews or Judaism.

The rejection of both anti-Semitism and deicide are addressed explicitly and unequivocally in Nostra Aetate. In my judgment, these points require little conceptual and theological development. The main challenge today is not clarification of these two above points, but their broad promulgation and implementation throughout in the Catholic community. Unfortunately, anti-Semitism is still present in some quarters of the Catholic community, and many Catholics still believe in the deicide charge, despite its repudiation from the highest Catholic authorities. The condemnation of anti-Semitism is repeated in nearly every subsequent Catholic document addressed to Jews, as well as nearly every address to a Jewish audience by a high ranking Catholic cleric. It is also a central feature of contemporary Jewish-Catholic dialogues. Nevertheless this teaching needs to be brought more effectively to the Catholic faithful, not only by papal and Vatican statements from Rome , but in local parishes, local Catholic media, and local Catholic educational centers. 

The Shoah was the catalyst for the transformation of Christian teaching about Jews and Judaism. Reflection on the unimaginable evil of the Holocaust became the seed for Christian reappraisal of its tortured history and theology regarding Jews. Many Christian thinkers recoiled from the horror of the Shoah and sensed a causal connection between it and centuries of anti-Jewish Christian teachings. Nostra Aetate does not mention the Holocaust, but “Guidelines” refers to it as the “historical setting” of Nostra Aetate, while “Notes” mandates the development of Holocaust curricula in Catholic education to “help in understanding the meaning for Jews of the extermination [Shoah ]…and its consequences.” This has become a reality in some aspects of Catholic curricula, but it is my impression that the wider educational mandate of “Notes” could be implemented more broadly within the Catholic community, clergy, and leadership.[20]

The most direct admission of Catholic guilt and responsibility for its role in the Shoah came in a remarkable statement by the Catholic bishops of Germany in 1995 and the French bishops’ statement, “Declaration of Repentance” in 1997.[21] The Vatican issued its formal statement, “We Remember,” in March 1998. This document is far from perfect, and has been justly—and unjustly—criticized by Jews and Catholics alike. It expresses itself with classic Vatican diplomatic ambiguity (what Sister Boys has termed “churchspeak”[22]) and, unlike the statements of the German and French bishops, I believe it equivocates on the critical issue of the Church responsibility in the Shoah. Notwithstanding these problems, it marks a clear recognition of the complicity of Christian authorities in the Holocaust. Utilizing the Hebrew term, “teshuvah” so dear to Jews, it states the need for Christian repentance and sincerely appeals to the Jewish people for forgiveness:

The Catholic Church desires to express her deep sorrow for the failures of her sons and daughters in every age. This is an act of repentance (teshuvah), since, as members of the Church, we are linked to the sins as well as the merits of all her children. The Church approaches with deep respect and great compassion the experience of extermination, the Shoah, suffered by the Jewish people …It is not a matter of mere words, but indeed of binding commitment.  “We would risk causing the victims of the most atrocious deaths to die again if we do not have an ardent desire for justice, if we do not commit ourselves to insure that evil does not prevail over good as it did for millions of children of the Jewish people….Humanity cannot permit all that to happen again.” 

Pope John Paul II later reinforced the Catholic recognition of guilt when he visited the Yad VaShem Memorial and the Kotel [Western Wall] in March 2000:

God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your name to the nations. We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer. Asking forgiveness, we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the covenant.

I believe that “We Remember” is a beginning of the official Church confrontation with its role in the Holocaust. It is not its last word. Continued discussion, reflection and soul searching about this horrific tragedy are necessary. The Jewish people knows that one cannot make any sense—historical, religious or moral—of the Shoah  without a sustained period of silence and mystery that leads to initial clumsy articulation, theological searching and finally recognition of moral responsibility and spiritual purification. This is a long painful process, but one that the Church has embarked upon.

Already in 1956 Rav Soloveitchik articulated the theological implications of the State of Israel for both Judaism and Christianity.[23]  The return of the Jewish people to their biblical homeland and the permanent existence of the State forced a de facto recognition upon the Christian world that Jews were not destined to be cursed and humiliated because of their rejection of Christianity. The existence of Israel constituted an empirical refutation of Augustine’s doctrine of wandering Jews functioning theologically as negative witnesses to the truth of Christianity. When the Vatican refused to recognize the State of Israel until 1994, Church officials claimed that its position was political: recognition would endanger the welfare of Christians in Arab lands and Vatican policy was to withhold recognition to states that lacked fixed borders.  These political claims were undoubtedly true, but R. Soloveitchik understood that something deeper than ‘politics’ was at stake. Lack of recognition was tantamount to denying that Jews had the right to go to their biblical homeland because the doctrines of contempt and supersessionism that nullified continuing Jewish covenantal integrity were still operative Church theology.  It took twenty nine years after Nostra Aetate for the Church to recognize the State of Israel in June 1994. However late, such recognition constituted, willy-nilly (as R. Soloveitchik liked to say), de jure recognition of the Jewish people’s right to its biblical homeland. As such, it is an implicit affirmation of the validity of the Jewish covenant and a repudiation of the Augustinian doctrine with its supersessionist denigration of Judaism. The existing Vatican recognition of Israel is now official Church policy and testifies to another monumental shift in the “Catholic frame of reference.”   

Theologically, Nostra Aetate opened the door to new thinking not merely about Jews, but about how Catholics should understand Judaism. In a remarkable exegetical move that required rejecting the plain meaning of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans 11—and prior Catholic doctrine—Nostra Aetate affirmed the continuing validity of God’s biblical covenant with the Jewish people[24]:

Jews still remain most dear to God because of their fathers, for He does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues.

A strict reading of this statement might yield a salutary claim about Jews alone, and not their covenant with God, i.e. Judaism. Moreover, Nostra Aetate explicitly presents the Church as “the new people of God.” One could continue to cling to the doctrine of supersessionism as meaning that the Jewish covenant is no longer valid. Pope John Paul II foreclosed this logical possibility, however, in an explicit statement of 1980 that later became official doctrine when it was incorporated into “Notes”:

Jews are the people of God of the Old Covenant, which has never been revoked by God. ….The Permanence of Israel is a historic fact to be interpreted within God’s design. It remains a chosen people.”

The Pope’s words imply that “The Permanence of Israel” is a positive theological value, not merely a neutral fact of history.  In other words, it is God’s design that Israel ’s chosenness has not been cancelled or superseded. This reading can be ‘explosive’ for traditional Christian theology. How far reaching are the implications? Does it mean that for Jews, Judaism is the highest fulfillment of God’s design, much as Christianity is the highest fulfillment for the rest of humanity? If so, does Judaism have the same power of saving grace as does Christianity? Does it follow that attempts to convert Jews no longer are necessary or even desirable in fact and in theory?  Is Christianity universal for all except Jews who remain in the covenant of Abraham?  

Allow me to map out three distinct positions that try to answer these questions.  Following the “trajectory” of recent Church statements about Judaism, a number of American Catholic theologians have gone just that far by answering “yes” to these questions. In their August 2002 paper, “Reflections on Covenant and Mission ,”[25] they asserted that Judaism is salvific for Jews and that campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church. In effect they have proclaimed that Judaism is in some way theologically equal to Christianity.

This caused controversy in the United States and Rome , for other Catholic theologians were by no means prepared to grant equivalent legitimacy to Judaism. Cardinal Walter Kasper, an ardent supporter of Catholic-Jewish theological dialogue, who as President of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews is the highest Vatican authority in charge of Catholic-Jewish relations, has equivocated on whether Judaism is salvific for Jews in the way that  Christianity is for Christians. In a speech in Montevideo Uruguay in July 2001 as well as in a speech at Boston College in November 2002 he stated that Judaism was in fact “salvific” for Jews.[26]   Tellingly, this important statement was omitted from the official transcript of his Montevideo speech. Perhaps he had gone too far for some in Rome—and even for himself, for he later distanced himself from the position espoused in “Reflections on Covenant and Mission,” announcing that that paper did not represent his position. Perhaps he is still working out a more refined formulation of his thoughts on this matter. Most importantly, however, Cardinal Kasper has consistently renounced any attempt at proselytizing Jews to Christianity—both in fact and theory.  In both Jerusalem and Boston he argued forcefully that Christianity must approach Judaism with equality and respect for “differences” and that there is “no mission to the Jews,” either in dialogue or outside of it. There is only “mission with the Jews.” In his own words:

There is dialogue with Jews; no mission in the proper sense. Dialogue implies personal commitments and witness of one’s own conviction and faith. Dialogue communicates one’s faith and at the same time requires profound respect for the conviction and faith of the partner. It respects the difference of the other and brings mutual enrichment.[27]

The third and less equivocal position is held by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican . He adamantly rejects the notion of theological equality or pluralism. He denies any limitation on the “unicity and universality of the salvific mission of Jesus,” or any implication that Christianity is not the highest fulfillment of God’s word to all on earth: “The Sinai covenant is indeed superseded.”[28] Yet as Professor David Berger has so ably demonstrated[29], Cardinal Ratzinger maintains that theological unification (i.e. the conversion of Jews to Christianity) is “hardly possible within our historical time, and perhaps not even desirable.”[30]  In other words, Cardinal Ratzinger is an eschatological supersessionist, maintaining that the replacement of Judaism with Christianity will not take place in our lifetimes before the eschaton (“aharit ha-yamim”). If so, Cardinal Ratzinger’s form of supersessionism should play no part in the dynamic of pre-messianic relations. This means that it should pose neither a threat to Jews today, nor to Catholic-Jewish dialogue that respects the profound theological differences between Judaism and Christianity. 

As I read the Catholic documents, faithful Catholics are called upon to appreciate the theological richness and value of Judaism that Jews believe and practice today. One recent example of this is the 2002 Pontifical Biblical Commission document, “The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible,” whose preface was written by Cardinal Ratzinger. It recognizes that Jewish Sacred Scriptures (Tanakh) are the word of God and therefore of the highest value for Catholics. Moreover, it admits that the traditional Jewish (i.e. non-Christological) understanding of Scriptures is a legitimate one from which Christians have much to learn.[31] This is quite telling of the transformation, for it indicates that in dialogue the Church is striving to understand Jews “by what essential traits they define themselves in light of their own religious tradition,” and that “dialogue demands respect for the other as he is; above all respect for his faith and religious convictions …(and for) maintaining the strictest respect for religious liberty” as per official Vatican guidelines.[32]  This is the very opposite of what R. Soloveitchik feared and resisted, namely that dialogue would per force be an exercise in which Christians view Jews as “objects of observation” in order make Judaism a “satellite in [Christianity’s] orbit” (p. 21), i.e. to deny the intrinsic value of Judaism itself.

Traditional Jews should find neither difficulty nor discomfort with Cardinal Ratzinger’s eschatological supersessionism. And to the disciples of R. Soloveitchik, it should sound familiar. It is a near exact parallel orthodoxy of Rav Soloveitchik’s eschatological convictions presented in Confrontation:

Only a candid, frank and unequivocal policy reflecting our unconditional commitment to God….believing with great passion in the ultimate truthfulness of our views, praying fervently for and expecting confidently the fulfillment of our eschatological vision when our faith will rise from particularity to universality will impress our peers of the other faith community. (p. 25)  

Rav Soloveitchik, too, believed that the truthfulness of his faith will spread universally at the end of time.[33]  Thus, we arrive at an important (and comforting) divine paradox: Cardinal Ratzinger’s supersessionism forms not a dialogical threat, but a protector of the right of Jews to articulate their own creed. When dialogue is conducted with equal rights and respect, the “Orthodoxy” of Catholic faith logically entails the validity of Orthodox Jews expressing their own parallel dreams and convictions. 

Whatever the proper trajectory of current Catholic thought regarding supersessionism—be it the wide arc of the American Catholic theologians or the more acute angle of Cardinal Ratzinger’s position—the most important facts for Catholic-Jewish dialogue and Rav Soloveitchik’s legitimate concerns are that today there is no Catholic missionary organization for Jews, and that conversion has no place in the contemporary Catholic approach to dialogue with Jews. Again, in the words of Cardinal Kasper:

Dialogue implies witness of my deepest faith, a witness which proposes but by no means imposes one’s own faith; on the contrary, it implies respect for every other conviction and every other faith… In dialogue Jews give witness of their faith and Christians give account of the hope they have in Jesus Christ.


In doing so, both are far away from any kind of proselytism.[34]


C. The Historical Argument

In 1964, barely two decades separated Jews from the centuries of Christian contempt that culminated in the European Holocaust. The wounds were still raw.  Whatever theological or philosophic issues stood in the way of rapprochement with Christendom, the Jewish people were in no existential condition to overcome the problematics of the past. Indeed, the Jewish people had then yet to come to grips with the full impact of the Holocaust for themselves and with the full implications of the permanence of the State of Israel. Lastly, I might add, the traditional religious community was uncertain of its fate and ability to withstand the onslaught of modern values and sociology. In other words, it was a time of internal healing of the Jewish people, introspection for the community and guardedness for Orthodoxy. In this state of existential and historical pain, R. Soloveitchik alludes to the problems of dialogue for Jews at his time:  

Non-Jewish society has confronted us throughout the ages in a mood of defiance, as if we were part of the subhuman objective order separated by an abyss from the human.… As long as we were exposed to such a soulless impersonal confrontation on the part of non-Jewish society, it was impossible for us to participate to the fullest extent in the great universal confrontation between man and the cosmic order, Heaven knows that we never encouraged the cruel relationship which the world displayed toward us. (pp. 19-20) 


We have not been authorized by our history, sanctioned by the martyrdom of millions, to even hint to another faith community that we are mentally ready to revise historical attitudes, to trade favors pertaining to fundamental matters of faith and to reconcile “some” differences. (p. 25)  

It is now forty years later, and as in all human relationships, timing is critical. Perhaps we still cannot make theological or moral sense of the Shoah in greater retrospect, but our historical and existential position has changed. The wounds of the Holocaust are still with us, yet we have begun to rehabilitate ourselves physically and spiritually.

The survival of State of Israel has gone far in leveling the playing field between Christianity and the Jewish people. Israel gives the Jewish people a sense of pride, reality and potency. We are no longer exilic “ghosts,” as Pinsker maintained. We have political gravitas that gives us spiritual confidence and that forces the Church to dignify our presence. And in Israel itself where Jews are the majority culture and Christianity is a marginal religion, there is no longer a Jewish sense of inferiority or disadvantage when dealing with the Vatican . Perhaps this is why the Israeli Rabbinate has already decided to engage in theological dialogue with Vatican officials, without the fear present in the American Orthodox rabbinate.

Christianity is no longer our aggressive physical or ideological enemy, Jews and Christians face the same mortal threat from radical Islam, and perhaps the Jewish people is better able to relate to those Christian faithful who display no triumphalist posture toward us. R. Soloveitchik speaks of two separate problems: “trading favors on matters of faith” and “revising historical attitudes.” Faith is precious, and must never be sacrificed on the altar of social acceptance or Western etiquetteand any such demand by others to do so is the paragon of disrespect. Historical attitudes towards Christendom are quite another matter. Here there is no timeless standard of “correct.” Of course, some Jews may feel that the pain is still too great for venturing out into the world, but many feel otherwise. Ultimately this is a matter of subjective judgment, and there is no objective method to determine whether it is too soon to redeem the past by attempting to build a better future through positive engagement with the Christian world.


D. Conclusion

Rav Soloveitchik and the RCA were correct in rejecting any “debate of private religious commitment.” All argumentation, disputation and attempted refutation of faith are zero-sum games between antagonists, and they are exercises that Jews must shun. This position was true in 1964 and is true today. Yet a different concept of dialogue has emerged. It focuses on the phenomenological expression of one’s spiritual experience and convictions in the presence of others committed to mutual respect and forswearing proselytizing motive. It does not attack the logical grounds of faith. Some categorize it as the expression of a religious anthropology.[35] It would seem that such a conception would satisfy Rav Soloveitchik’s conditions for theological engagement, namely, (1) acknowledgement of the Jewish people as a vital faith community, (2) non-negotiability of the Jewish commitment to God, (3) mutual respect and non-interference in the faith of the other, and (4) agreement that each community “has the right to live, create, and worship God in its own way, in freedom and dignity.”  I see no reason why Jews who venture into theological dialogue with others should not lay down these as pre-conditions, and no reason why, given the transformation in the “Catholic frame of reference,” the Church should not agree to them.

If we follow Cardinal Kasper’s understanding, dialogue is not at all the antagonistic confrontation of Jacob and Esau of which Rav Soloveitchik spoke in 1964, but an expression of natural human needs for sharing, for catharsis of one’s deepest religious beliefs, and for spiritual clarification with understanding and empathic listeners. I believe this is in fact what occurred that afternoon in Brighton when R. Soloveitchik first presented “Lonely Man of Faith” to faithful Catholic and Jews. None of the objections presented in “Confrontation” applied to that special event, nor, I believe, do they obtain in current theological dialogue that is conducted with authentic yet respectful frames of reference. 


IV. The Value of Theological Dialogue

The loss of one third of our people in the Shoah, the security of Israel, assimilation, anti-Semitism, and the alienation of so many Jews from their spiritual heritage weigh heavily upon the Jewish people today. With these issues that imperil our survival still raging, should Jews add theological dialogue with Christians to our already crowded list of religious challenges? Confronting the religious “other” is surely a difficult and problematic task. Even when permissible, why divert our limited energies from these internal survivalist goals?

For religious Jews there are objective and subjective answers to these questions. In making an eternal covenant with us, God demands that the Jewish people strive for more than survival. The Torah asks us to bear testimony to God’s presence and His authority on earth. Like our forefathers Abraham and Jacob, we are no less charged “to call the name of the Lord”[36] and make known God’s name wherever we can. “Calling the name of the Lord,” is not a common phrase in the lexicon of religious Jews, but that does not mean that it is not a central mitzvah in our lives. The important imperative of “Kiddush ha-Shem” (sanctification of God’s Name) may be the rabbinic formulation of this biblical charge. God has challenged us to not be a mute people, or as Rav Soloveitchik phrased it, “to be a message-bearing people, charged with krygma,”[37]  i.e. a charismatic people that articulates its faith. We are destined to be more than a sect, more than a historical curiosity relegated to a footnote in human history. We are bidden to be a people who “teach righteousness and justice” to the world[38] and who influence the great drama of history. As God proclaimed through Isaiah, “You are my witnesses.” This is the meaning of the election of Israel and the very raison d’etre of our faith.  

How can we “call the name of the Lord” today? The post-modern secular culture that engulfs all of us is skeptical, positivist, anthropocentric and autonomy-driven in its essence. It ridicules the concept of objective truth. It sees the human being as a material or exclusively biological phenomenon, one with little hope of self-transcendence or contact with eternity. Because the modern person creates his ‘reality’ via a Cartesian proclamation of “cogito” or a Nietzschian assertion of will, he is denied a natural rooted-ness in tradition or a world greater than himself. Our culture adores moral utilitarianism and axiological relativism. And now, religious fanaticism has become so common, that for many it is difficult to distinguish between religious legitimacy and idolatry that manifests itself in violence and extremism.

All religions have been traumatized by modern and post-modern culture, and each traditional Jew today stands as a “lonely man of faith” in the face of predominant Western thinking. In our cultural milieu, how can we “call the name of the Lord?” We must speak seriously about our fundamental conviction in Torah min ha-shamayim, that our holy texts come from a transcendent authority Who is the Creator of heaven and earth and not some anonymous sage of antiquity. But who will listen to Jews of faith when we proclaim our commitment to an ageless tradition that claims us a priori, one that we cannot cavalierly dismiss when it is at odds with popular culture? Who will believe that Jews live in covenant with God because The Divine chose the Jewish people for a sacred mission, and who understands us when we discuss our ethical commitments based upon the metaphysical axiom that each person is created in God’s Holy Image and therefore all human life has intrinsic sanctity? To whom can we express our conviction that human history will be redeemed at the end of time, even though “natural” historical analysis seems to undermine any warranted belief in moral progress? And finally, as R. Soloveitchik so eloquently put it, who will appreciate our religious trials and dilemmas, the meaning of our spiritual challenges that derive from our commitment to infuse the world with holiness through a creed that has no technical potential, that cannot be evaluated by rules of formal logic or be measured by functional utilitarian society?[39]

My experience is that once we leave the safe intimacy of our synagogues, religious Catholics who have renounced triumphalism and accepted what Pope John Paul II has called their “shared spiritual patrimony with Judaism” are among the few who understand Jewish religious and spiritual dilemmas. Although they function in distinct and sometimes radically different categories, members of both faiths face the same loneliness and many similar problems that arise from striving to live a hallowed tradition and struggling to find God in the post-modern world.  

As indicated, Jews have a religious task to give testimony, to express the truths of our faith and the dilemmas of our spiritual experience. R. Soloveitchik­ felt existentially and spiritually compelled to express himself on these matters: “All I want is to follow the advice given by Elihu the son of Berachel of old who said, ‘I will speak that I may find relief,’— for there is redemptive quality for an agitated mind in the spoken word.” [40]  In a more recent work, he put it this way: ”The Torah’s message is the translation of the numinous into the kerygmatic, the translation of the non-sensical and absurd into the vernacular of the teleological and rational. The Torah aims to discover caritas in majestas, kindness in beauty and familiarity in strangeness.”[41]  Can we not attempt to express these religious impulses with Christians who share our quest for eternity, who relate to us as subjects, who acknowledge the permanent differences between us and who sense our spiritual loneliness?

Perhaps this is what R. Soloveitchik believed we could, and attempted to do so when he revealed his inner spiritual life as a “lonely man of faith” to Catholic and Jews alike in Brighton . This assumption also helps explain the purpose of Part I of “Confrontation.” Part II was sufficient to articulate the dangers and set the policy for interfaith discussion. What did R. Soloveitchik wish to achieve in the philosophic Part I, which outlines three levels of existence? The first is the natural, “non-confronted” man, who sees himself as indistinct from the natural order, the “is,” and knows no moral norms, the “ought.” Clearly, this is the pagan of antiquity and the hedonistic, power-driven aesthete of our time. The second level is the reflective man, who feels confronted by an objective order standing in opposition to himself and thus discovers his identity as a singular “I.”  He senses the disparity between reality and perfection, between fact and value, and recognizing his power as a knower, he exploits his intellect as an instrument of conquest over his environment. He lives a life of power-relations; he relates to others in Sartre-like fashion, as vanquished objects, not personal subjects. He knows no true communication, only the depersonalized relationship of Adam to the beasts of the field, as found in Genesis, chapter one.  The third level is redemptive man who forgoes domination and thereby achieves human relationships with others as equals. In the process of approaching Eve as a peer and helpmate, Adam of Genesis chapter two discovers in-depth communication, his human identity and God. Though Adam and Eve remain distinct and retain their independent existential integrities, together they achieve a spiritual community with God.

To whom is this philosophic excursus addressed? Its invocation of two Adam ‘types’ echoes Christian scriptures[42], its typological reading of holy texts is a classic Catholic exegetical technique, and its celebration of ‘the word’ as a mysterious creative—almost  cosmic—force[43] also calls to mind the ‘logos’ of the New Testament. For R. Soloveitchik, who was au courant with Christian theology, surely these are not coincidences. Evidently R. Soloveitchik wrote Part I with Christian theologians in mind.[44] He clearly viewed traditional Christianity with its historic drive to conquer Judaism and depersonalize Jews as functioning on the second level of being. If so, then it may be that R. Soloveitchik was inviting the Church to ascend to the third level of existence by recoiling from its posture of domination vis-a-vis Judaism and its historic treatment of Jews as objects of contempt and to consider treating Jews as dignified subjects. If he could not have predicted the revolution started by Nostra Aetate, perhaps he was able to dream of its possibility. Such an elevated level of existence would enable in-depth communication and comradeship, although not “existential union” or dissolution of the profound differences between Jews and Christians. When two faith communities meet each other as redemptive communities, dialogue is logically possible and even spiritually desirable.

I have argued that for the last forty years the Catholic Church has undergone a profound transformation regarding Jews and Judaism, a transformation from R. Soloveitchik’s second to third level of existence. This transformation continues, but it may now be sufficiently developed to allow Jews and Catholics, like Adam and Eve, to begin forging a subject-to-subject relationship as faith community to faith community.[45]

Some final caveats are necessary: Because of our troubled history and disparate theologies, Jewish-Christian theological dialogue is filled with pitfalls and problems. To guard against them, we should exercise care and explicitly agree on the preconditions and protocols of dialogue before beginning the precarious journey. Dialogue also does not progress linearly, and it is likely that Jews and Christians will experience both forward movement and withdrawal, as R. Soloveitchik was so found of describing the spiritual life. Lastly, traditional Jews are largely unfamiliar with dialogue and few are trained in theology. Therefore we need to proceed slowly, meticulously, and with consummate honesty.

Theological dialogue is no experience for those who lack deep conviction or pride in their faith, for those who have little knowledge of their sacred traditions, or for those who have political or social goals that eclipse theological integrity. Such persons will only achieve a polite “trading of favors” or a dangerous synchretism that both Judaism and the Church must resist. As Abraham Heschel said, “the first prerequisite of interfaith dialogue is faith”—to which I would add that the second prerequisite is religious knowledge and the third, spiritual integrity.

The above caveats are critical to Jews wishing to defend their ancient faith, and cannot be minimized. Nevertheless, if my analysis is correct the prime issue for religious Jews is not whether they should engage in theological dialogue, but who should participate, how the dialogue should be structured, what should be the pace of the dialogue and what are fruitful subjects that do not threaten the integrity of each’s convictions. If Jews and Christians take the necessary precautions and approach interfaith dialogue with religious strength and spiritual humility, they can both, ”call the name of the Lord.”[46] When they do so, they help create a world in which God is present, a world closer to the eschatological dream described by R. Soloveitchik’s great spiritual teacher, Maimonides:

In that time there will be neither war, nor jealousy, nor rivalry. But goodness will pervade the earth. The entire world will be involved in the knowledge of God, as it is said, “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of God as waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 9:11)[47] 


[1] Interestingly, the community accepted this “resistance” to theological debate, but largely ignored R. Soloveitchik’s counsel for better interfaith understanding and communication on ethical, social, scientific and political issues, which he viewed as “desirable and even essential.” (1966 RCA Statement)

[2] The Fall of 2003 is less than 40 years since the publication of “Confrontation,” but given R. Soloveitchik’s well-known perfectionist impulses that prevented him from going on record with anything not well thought-out and fully edited, it is reasonable to assume that he formulated the thesis of “Confrontation well before its public delivery.  

[3] David Hartman appears to accord “Confrontation” with halakhic status in Love and Terror in the God Encounter ( Woodstock , VT : Jewish Lights 2001) p. 132.

[4] Iggerot Moshe, Yoreh Deah #43, March 1967. For an excellent comparative analysis of the two opinions, see David Ellenson, “A Jewish Legal Authority Addresses Jewish-Christian Dialogue: Two Responsa of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein,” American Jewish Archives Journal, LII, Nos. 1&2 (2000), pp. 113-128. 

[5] Ibid.; Ellenson,  pp. 121, 123-125.

[6] Hartman, p. 138; David Singer and Moshe Sokol, “Joseph Soloveitchik: Lonely Man of Faith,” Modern Judaism 2, no. 3 pp. 227-272.

[7] Teshuvot ha-Rambam #364 (Blau)

[8] See Walter Wurzburger, “Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik as Posek of Post-Modern Orthodoxy” Tradition 29:1, Fall 1994 p. 16, and Shalom Carmy, “His Master’s Voice,” First Things 104 (June/July 2000) pp. 68-71. Both writers fail to identify the seminary, but Rav Soloveitchik’s daughter, Dr. Atarah Twersky, has verified that it was St. John’s, which was the only Catholic seminary in Brighton at that time.“ The Lonely Man of Faith” lecture later was published in Tradition, Summer 1965, pp. 5-67.

[9] See Halakhic Man, translated by Lawrence Kaplan (Jewish Publication Society: Philadelphia 1983) pp. 110-117, and Yitzchak Twersky, “The Rav,” Tradition, 30:4 (Summer 1996) p. 31.

[10] R. Soloveitchik often rhapsodized about Song of Songs and The Book of Psalms, seeing their poetry as essential expressions of authentic religious experience. See Worship of the Heart, edited by Shalom Carmy (KTAV: Jersey City , NJ , 2003) pp. 61-68.

[11] I thank Professor Lawrence Kaplan for pointing this out.

[12] See Gilbert Dahan, The Christian Polemic Against the Jews in the Middle Ages (University of Notre Dame: Notre Dame, Indiana 1991) pp. 36-37.

[13] “Confrontation”, p. 21

[14] This distinction also eliminates the alleged “Achilles heel” of the essay raised by his critics, namely that Rav Soloveitchik implied that ethical, social and political issues were part of a secular order, and therefore interfaith dialogue could proceed in those areas without invoking theology. For the faithful Jew, this is impossible, for how can one discuss Jewish ethics without utilizing its axiomatic premise, that human beings are created in God’s Image, and without reference to its end point or summum bonum, i.e. the messianic era, both of which are theological to their core? (see “Confrontation”, note 8, p. 24.) The distinction between disputation and dialogue allows Jews and Catholics to confer and cooperate on ethical issues of human dignity, respect and welfare precisely because they both hold dear these theological principles. 

[15] I speak of Catholic “frame of reference” and Catholic-Jewish dialogue because R. Soloveitchik was responding to an overture from the Vatican for dialogue. Some of “the doctrinal argument” analysis may apply, mutatis mutandis, to Protestant churches, but the appropriateness of theological dialogue must be examined individually for each Protestant church based on each church’s doctrinal posture regarding Jews and Judaism.

[16] Mary Boys, Has God Only One Blessing? (Paulist Press: New York 2000) p. 248. See also pp. 247-266.

[17] This paper attempts only a brief overview of the Church positions on these issues. For fuller analysis see, In our Time: The Flowering of Jewish-Catholic Dialogue, edited by Eugene Fisher and Leon Klenicki (Paulist Press: New York 1990) and Boys, pp. 245-278.

[18] Guidelines (Preamble) and Notes VI, 26.

[19] Papal statements in Fall 1990 and Winter 1991, cited in Vatican City: Pontifical Council on Christian Unity: Information Service no. 75, 4:172-178; Papal address in Hungary, August 16, 1991, cited in Origins 21, no. 13, September 5, 1991, p. 203.

[20] Among the best sourcebooks for this are Phillip Cunningham, Educating for Shalom (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press 1995) and Cunningham, Proclaiming Shalom, (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press 1995), Boys, pp. 245-278, and Within Context  (Silver Burdett and Ginn: Morristown, NJ 1987).

[21] Statement of the German Catholic Bishops on the 50th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Auschwitz ; 27 January, 1995 . Declaration of Repentance by The Roman Catholic Bishops of France , September 30, 1997 . Both statements can be found at .

[22] Has God Only One Blessing? p. 248. See also p. 250.

[23]Kol Dodi Dofek”, reprinted in Theological and Halakhic Responses on the Holocaust, Bernhard H. Rosenberg editor (RCA: New York, 1992) pp. 70-71.

[24] I am grateful to Professor Philip Cunningham for pointing out this exegetical boldness to me.

[25] Consultation of the National Council of Synagogues and The Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. August 12, 2002 , found on

[26] Address of November 6, 2002 found at

[27] Paper delivered at 17th meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee, New York , NY , May 1, 2001 , p. 3.

[28] Many Religions, One Covenant, trans. by Graham Harrison (Ignatius: San Francisco 1999) pp. 70-71.

[29] “On Dominus Iesus and the Jews,” paper at 17th meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee, New York , May 1, 2001

[30] Many Religions, One Covenant, p. 109.

[31] II, A, 7 - x22.

[32] Guidelines, IV,1 and Introduction, 1.

[33] This statement can be understood at least three ways. The first, that the particularistic and nationalistic elements of Judaism will fall away and be replaced by universalizable elements, echoes traditional Christian replacement theology of Judaism. It is inconceivable to me that Rav Soloveitchik would ever countenance such an idea. The second, that in the eschaton all humanity will recognize the truth of Judaism and adopt current Jewish practices and creed, is a more likely reading, but one that finds no normative consensus in biblical or classical rabbinic sources. The third—and I believe most likely—interpretation, is that humanity will accept the pre-Sinaitic Abrahamic religion, namely belief in the one Creator of heaven and earth Who is a transcendent authority, Who insures a moral order (reward and punishment), and Who continues to relate to human beings. This is what Maimonides may have meant when he referred to, ”dat emet” (true religion) in his discussions of the messianic age and is certainly akin to R. Menachem Ha-Meiri’s conception of valid religion (“dat”). 

[34] “The Jewish-Christian Dialogue: Foundation, Progress and Difficulties,” Lecture in Jerusalem, November 21, 2001, found at

[35] Hartman, Fear and Terror in the God Experience, pp.155-157. See also Hartman, A Living Covenant (Free Press: New York 1985) pp.21-40.

[36] Genesis 12:8; 13:4; 22:33 ;28:16

[37] Worship of the Heart, pp. 73-86

[38] Genesis, 18:19

[39] Lonely Man of Faith, p. 8.

[40] Ibid. 

[41] Worship of the Heart, p. 85.

[42] Romans 5 and I Corinthians 15. 

[43] pp. 14-15.

[44] This nexus is strengthened by the fact that R. Soloveitchik developed the double Adam typology more fully in “Lonely Man of Faith” to an interfaith audience.

[45] Religious thinkers have done much work recently regarding the evolving concept, purpose, dynamics, and topics of interfaith theological dialogue. Much still remains to be explored regarding Jewish opinion in these areas. The present paper, however, is confined to explicating the justification for interfaith dialogue and the preconditions that would render it acceptable to traditional Jews.     

[46] This follows the halakhic position of R. Menachem Ha-Meiri, the tosafist Rabbeinu Tam found in B.T. Sanhedrin 63b, s.v. “assur”, and the 17th century authority, R. Shabbetai ben Meir Ha-Kohen (Shakh) found in Yoreh De’ah 151:7, who all maintained that when Christians speak of God, they have in mind the one Creator of heaven and earth.

[47] End Mishneh Torah, Laws of Judges 12:5. Maimonides is well known to have ruled that Christian trinitarianism is beyond the pale of legitimate theology, but given R. Soloveitchik’s statements about positive relations with Christians and his appearances at Christian institutions, it is likely that he agreed with other rabbinic authorities who reject Maimonides’ position. See Ellenson, pp. 117-121.