Introduction to Main Theme: Overview of Past Ten Years

Rabbi Leon Klenicki

Consultant for Interfaith Affairs of the Anti-Defamation League

[Delivered at the 17th meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee, New York, May 1, 2001.]


Das Verstehen ist Ein Wiederfinden Des Ich im Du 

[Understanding is regaining the I in you]

- Wilhelm Dilthey

When I was invited to give a presentation on the subject "Main Theme Overview of Past Ten Years," I had some doubts about the very meaning of this part of our program. Is it going to be a dry account of past events, what was done and not done, the description of programs at the pew level, or the account of interreligious international meetings where words are endless and actions nearly none? Or is it going to be a reckoning of the soul, looking partly into the past but essentially towards the future? I prefer the latter. I can sum up what has been done in the past, but I would like to talk about the very nature of our encounter, its meaning, prospects and expectations.

Previous meetings of IJCIC and the Holy See have been fruitful in consideration of the dialogue: discussions of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, and the theological presentation of each other. In 1988, the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee published a collection of selected papers, Fifteen Years of Catholic-Jewish Dialogue, 1970-1985, that showed the growth of thinking and reflecting on the relationship. Cardinal Johannes Willebrands asked in the introduction: "May the merciful God, 'Av Ha-Rahamim,' be praised for this path of brotherly emulation which is being here pursued from 'faith-into-faith'" (Romans 1:17). "May He bless with the fruits of peace and justice those steps of fervent dialogue so that every just man may live by his faith" (Habbakuk 2:4).1 It was a prayerful mood that unfortunately has been lacking in the relationship of the last years.

Some of the themes discussed in the meetings have not been pursued, unfortunately, like the one by Judith Herschlag Muffs on "Jewish Textbooks on Jesus and Christianity" that followed Dr. Eugene J. Fisher's "The Presentation of Judaism in Catholic Education." They were not quid pro quo lectures, but the attempt to understand each other as children of God. The volume shows a richness of reflection that should have inspired the further development of the dialogue.

On Dialogue: On Overcoming Triumphalisms

Dialogue encompasses a process of reckoning of past ways, essentially, a transformation of an inherited feeling and tradition that nurtured, and still nurtures many, which is overcoming the temptation of spiritual triumphalism. In a real dialogue both Christianity and Judaism need to overcome this sense of triumphalism.

Christianity must overcome theological triumphalism: the conviction that it is the only way of salvation and that it has to be imposed on everyone. The history of triumphalism, from Constantine's time to our days, is a painful memory of religious arrogance and spiritual imperialism.

On our side, Judaism needs to overcome the triumphalism of pain and memories. There has been, and still is, much Jewish pain, from early experiences, from the Crusades and medieval organized ecclesiastical confrontations, to the diabolic reality of Auschwitz. Those memories are ever present; they come to us when we visit a cathedral in Europe showing anti-Jewish vitraux, or when we hear or read statements of Christian organizations or leaders concerning Jews and Judaism denying Judaism a vocation in God's design. But the feeling of pain should not be an end by itself, a sore tooth that we endlessly prod, or an attitude of constant accusation.

Our pain is indeed ever present. But we are obligated, as we did in other moments of our witnessing as a people of God, to respond to history with new affirmations of God's covenant and with new dimensions of faith in humanity despite human evil's potential. The dialogue is such a moment in which we have to lace, not confront, the other person of faith, to see in the Christian a subject of faith, not an object of contempt. Christian theological triumphalism is obligated to do the same; otherwise, we will be talking as two objects disregarding the sacredness of the other person of faith.

I am a person deeply involved in dialogue and I am not exempted of my own triumphalism of memories. It had been my experience for a time, especially in my youth in Argentina. It was and still is for many Jews a visual experience. Personally, I see it every time I leave the synagogue. On Saturday morning after-services, while going home, it is there, waiting for me, challenging me. It is the cross of a nearby church. Why does it disturb me? The sanctity of the day is marred by an image projecting memories of the past, memories transmitted by generations, by my parents, memories of experiences I never had. They are images and memories of persecution and contempt for people. I am overwhelmed despite my own religious feelings of fellowship and my commitment to an ongoing dialogue with Christians. The cross is there, a challenge to my inner peace! I realized that I did not think of the cross as a symbol of Christianity. I was looking at a symbol of a group of people who in the name of their own religion had been cruel, at times evil to my own faith community. I felt uneasy, ambiguous about the cross. Ironically, the priest of that church led a community effort to fight back a local anti-Semitic group. And suddenly another image came to my mind. It was a young woman whom I often see in the subway. She always reads the same little volume, a New Testament. She studies it prayerfully as I do every morning with the weekly Torah portion. I empathize with her spiritually, I feel that we share something mysterious, though committed in different ways. Perhaps she might not understand my spirituality, even deny it, but we are together in God, for God.

Both the cross as a symbol and the woman reminded me of the need to understand the other as a person of God. Can it be done? As a Jewish religious person, can I accept her belief, Christianity, a religious community rooted in God's covenantal relationship? Can 1 disregard two thousand years of Christian witnessing, through persecution and force? How can I reflect upon Christianity through an encounter with Christians? Can 1 overcome two millennia of memories? This is my challenge and the challenge of my people.

The Theological Encounter

The interfaith dialogue is a dialogue of religious people, it should entail the consideration of our different commitments to God, encompassing an exchange, in many ways, a sharing of the religious experience. It is essentially the theological interchange that for many Jewish participants is difficult to accept. The term "theological discussion" brings back memories, again, of the medieval confrontations, or the 19th century German theological attempts to diminish the meaning of Judaism and inviting Jews to convert to Lutheranism. Today we live in a different social and spiritual reality, especially in democratic pluralistic societies, though anti-Jewish comments and evangelical conversionary attempts continue. The recent comment by a basketball player during a moment of his prayer life with fellow players, asking why Jews persecuted Jesus, is an example of the still anti-Jewish pew theological feeling. He repeated the essence of the deicide accusation and one wonders what is taught in his church, if his teachers are aware of present New Testament scholarship. Am I to ask myself if anti-Judaism is innate in Christian spirituality?

The present theological conversation is not intended to demonstrate superiorities, but rather to project a sense of communion in and for God by the example of our religious commitments, rituals and prayers. Even the consideration of social or economic problems entails the beliefs of our respective spiritualities. A real dialogue involves a Christian person who projects his/her Christianity, and a Jewish person who projects his/her Jewishness. It is a challenging "I-Thou" relationship sharing faith commitments but without syncretism. This is a new reality, a new challenge for us in centuries to come.

I'm concerned that without the theological component, dialogue becomes an exchange of generalities or sweet words with no spiritual backing. Dialogue involves more than "tea and sympathy." The need for a theological consideration is evident at a time when the dialogue relationship has deepened its meaning and search. We are presently faced with the reality of a conversation and an encounter beyond contempt and sell-righteousness. The theological consideration becomes in such a situation a challenge to a meaningful reality of a real dialogue encounter, panim al panim, face to face.

We have an openness towards each other that would have surprised Jews of previous times, exposed to prejudice and spiritual denigration. The new sensibility has transformed the confrontation of centuries, where Jews were considered objects of -contempt, into a new relational dimension, recognizing Jews as subjects of faith, respecting the other as a person of God. This change of heart appears to be a response to a divine summons calling religious people to meet as equals in God. It is the encounter of dialogue, entailing a mutual recognition in God and the inner search for a theological living experience. Thus, a joint theological consideration of common concerns or interests is relevant to make dialogue an encounter of faith, an encounter in God, for God. The theological discourse is needed to nourish the dialogue.

Theological Exchange - a Methodology

Interfaith theological conversation should be a methodology in search of the meaning of the encounter itself and of specific matters that affect us spiritually. The conversation should touch the very essence of our commitments by the process of sharing intuitions of God and with no purpose of proselytizing. Our faith commitments are areas of sacredness, the numinous dimensions of the God-person-community relationship open to mutual understanding and respect.

The dialogue encounter involves a meeting of persons of flesh and blood, but also the Presence of God in different religious covenantal vocations. This experience of recognizing the other as a person of God entails a consideration, a theological consideration, of religious matters because God is our common ground and sense. This is essentially the nature and the aim of the theological discussion in the dialogue relationship: sharing the sacredness of God's Presence, the tradition of our respective faith commitments, and the consideration of the past, a reckoning of the soul, and a discussion of present questions facing both faith commitments.

Theological exchange does not mean diminishing one's own thought and vocation. The theological exchange helps to deepen the particular commitment to God, and envision new depths of personal spirituality. Equality and mutual recognition are the present dimensions of the interreligious interfaith dialogue. There are, however, serious matters of concern for the Jewish participants about some current Christian documents. We are shocked by the recent Holy See statement, Dominus Iesus, that seems to negate what previous statements proclaimed about Catholic-Jewish relations. Is it a turn of the heart or a return to theological triumphalism?

What is to be Discussed Now?

Once we recognize the theological consideration as essential in our relationship, it is necessary to choose the areas of mutual concern. My proposal represents one Jewish position that might or might not be accepted by other Jews or Christians involved in the dialogue. I am proposing three areas of concern. One is a joint study of the First Century, Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity, as a time of God's Calls, involving us Jews in a reflection on the meaning of Christianity in God's Call. The joint reflection should focus on the meaning of that special moment in human history, the purpose of God's design and our response. The study would entail both the religious and historical dimensions of the First Century.

I am suggesting two subjects related to the joint study of the First Century:

One is God, that is, discussing theologically the meaning of God and God's Calls in our day, after the Holocaust, and in the midst of the racism and a materialism that pollute our societies. Parallel to this consideration is our attempt to reach a Jewish understanding, or several understandings, of Christianity.

The other is Human evil, essentially a joint theological reflection on the human potential for evil and its results.

A Theological Reflection on God

Let us start with our beginning: God. How do we know God? For many it is part of the heritage received from our parents or our families. For many also, God is the peak experience, a unique moment of human spirituality, a time of total awareness of God's Presence that marks life forever. It is the discovery of God as a Voice, commanding at times, but essentially a Foundation, the very Ground of Being and Meaning.

I think of my concept and experience of God in my adolescence in the midst of rebelling against family and an authoritarian political regime. God was like the boss, an authority that, like the tyrant of the government, or a strict Jewish father, required total obedience and a silent acceptance of sad realities. My image of God, nourished by biblical and rabbinical studies, broke down with the reading of contemporary philosophy, and especially existential thought, and the philosophical ideas of Jacques Maritain and Emmanuel Mounier.

Looking into my past I have to ask some questions that are still central. Was to deny God's image as forged by the Bible or the Rabbis essentially a negation of God's existence? Or was it an invitation to deepen the understanding of God coming from my own experience and spiritual needs? I found the answer in the writings of Maimonides, especially his Guide of the Perplexed. He demonstrated that the biblical descriptions of God translated the experiences of a people in a process of growing in their understanding of God and the covenantal relationship. But as Maimonides taught me, I might find the biblical language inadequate for my present experience. I needed, I need to delve deeper in the research for God's meaning to this time. My attempt to understand God emerges within the framework of a time of total horror: the days of the Holocaust, whose memory, images, are ever present in our lives. It also happens at a time of interfaith dialogue, of a relationship of equals with Christians and Muslims. It also takes place in the days of Jewish national political renewal, the State of Israel. For us, it is once again, a very special historical and theological experience, Exile and Return.

Hans Jonas thinks that at this point in history God should be central in the theological discussion between Christians and Jews. The very title of one of his essays marks our duty. Professor Jonas called his reflection, "The Concept of God After Auschwitz." He says at the very beginning of his essay,

After Auschwitz, that is to say, after the Holocaust for whose widely dispersed reality that single name serves as a blindingly concentrating lens, the Jew can no longer simply hold on to the time honored theology of his faith that has been shattered by it. Nor, if he wills Judaism to continue, can he simply discard his theological heritage and be left with nothing. "Auschwitz" marks a divide between a "before" and "after," where the latter will be forever different from the former. For the sake of this "after," and in the somber light of the dividing event, we must rethink the concept of God entrusted to us from the past. And even if not to the future, do we owe it to the fast-receding shadows of the victims, that their long-gone cry to a silent God be not left without some sort of an answer if we can possibly find one of them and for us. So we must try.

Professor Jonas specified the problem that requires our joint reflection,

Not for the sake of faith did the victims die (as did, after all, "Jehovah's Witnesses"), not because of their faith or any self affirmed bend of their being as persons were they murdered. Dehumanization by utter degradation and deprivation preceded their dying, no glimmer of dignity was left to the freights bound for the Final Solution, hardly a trace of it was found in the surviving skeleton specters of the liberated camps. And yet, paradox of paradoxes: it was the ancient people of the "Covenant" no longer believed in by those involved, killers and victims alike, but nevertheless, this and no other people, who under the fiction of race had been chosen for this wholesale annihilation - the most monstrous inversion of election into the curse which defies all possible endowment with meaning. There does then, in spite of all, exist a connection - of a wholly perverse kind - with God-seekers and prophets of yore, whose descendants were thus collected out of the dispersion and gathered into the unity of joint death.2

Professor Jonas has summed up the main problems in the search for God's meaning and essence. This seems to be a Jewish problem. But is it really? It is not. Ever-since Job, suffering persons ask about the meaning of God in their suffering, the apparent silence of God in the midst of total despair. Can Christians be indifferent to this question that touches on their own commitment? That is, Jesus' death. Was God silent at the Roman crucifixion? Was God silent in the Roman circus when Christians were offered to hungry wild animals? But can I really compare the Jewish and Christian experiences? I can only reflect on God, on essence and existence, and share my present intuition of God, my concern over the human potential for evil, with my own faith community and with Christians in dialogue.

In this way, what I and my fellow Christian friends in dialogue can do is ask the ultimate theological questions about God, the pain of God's silence or the similarity of that silence in our experience, as well as God's summons to our present mutual accounting and witnessing. It is important to point out that it is only after Auschwitz that the interfaith dialogue has intensified and shown the way to personal relationship. Is God telling us something? Can we analyze together God's summons and the essence of His being for religious people committed to different calls?

The consideration of Auschwitz as the symbol of total human evil takes us to another issue that requires a Christian-Jewish theological consideration, that is, the .joint reflection on the diabolic possibilities of the human being, and the obligation to denounce and fight evil together, in order to overcome the evil impulse present in humankind and states.

The Human Being and Evil

The 1933-1945 tragedy of the Jewish people is described by the Hebrew word "Shoah,' a term that describes in its totality that epochal moment in Jewish history. In its original meaning, Shoah is a devastating wind that devours people and objects, leaving an emptiness that the desert will invade. Nazism was that devastating wind that swept away millennia of Jewish history and presence in Europe. The Shoah destroyed Jewish roots in Poland, where Judaism had flourished and made the city of Vilna a center of Rabbinic wisdom and culture, earning for it the title, "The Other Jerusalem." Poland was also the place where my family, who had lived there for nearly three centuries, disappeared one day in February 1943 in Auschwitz.

The Holocaust entails the urgency of a joint reflection. We need to question theologically this history of desolation in order to understand the total horror of that moment in history: the Shoah needs a joint committed comprehension of its abomination in order to apprehend the full meaning of the human condition and human diabolic possibilities. Why so much evil?

To understand the other person in a situation is to share feelings, memories, pains, and present realities. Can I, though a Jewish person who hadn't experienced the Holocaust, totally understand the feelings of those who were pushed into a cattle car and after being separated from friends and family were directed either to a final instant of death in the gas chambers or incredible misery in the concentration camp? Do I understand how a person could experience the SS's brutality while keeping an inner integrity? Can I have a glimpse of the survivors' messianic vision of the Allied troops liberating the camps?

Can I understand or share the feelings of the Allied troops as they said Kaddish (the prayer for the dead) at the walls of the gas chambers? Can I understand completely and even share the dislike that surviving members of my family have for Germany or the German language? Can I visualize myself as a Christian under Nazi domination trying to help a Jew, knowing that I’m caught, my family and I will be tortured and killed? Can I ever totally comprehend human evil?

This need to try and understand the Holocaust entails the process of interpreting, discerning, and judging a unique event in history in order to assume responsibility for what was done, and what could have been done, and what was not done, especially by Christian religious leadership.

Toward a Jewish Understanding of Christianity

Jewish theological considerations of Christianity are not normative statements of the synagogue. They are individual responses based in different trends of Jewish tradition. The community might or might not accept these proposals. The individual Jew, a member of the community, represents his/her search and commitment. The attempt to understand Christianity is not an invitation to conversion or syncretism, but to understand and recognize Christianity as the other in faith, as a person Of God.

Recently, a Jewish reflection on Christianity was issued in New York. Dabru Emet: A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity was issued on September 10, 2000 by the Baltimore Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies. It was published in The New York Times and other papers. Dabru Emet means speak truth, and the expression is taken from Prophet Zechariah 8:16, "Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates." I signed the document along with 170 Jewish scholars and rabbis from all four branches of Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist.

The Statement and Its Main Ideas

The document is an attempt by rabbis and Jewish theologians to formulate a theological reflection on the meaning of Christianity beyond the confrontation of centuries. Its preparation and issuing mark a mature moment in the interfaith relationship in the United States. It is a process of thinking of our traditions, looking to achieve a spiritual common ground respectful of theological differences, and to preparing us as people of God to face social and religious questions, spiritual indifference, or religious persecution, and confront the ever-present reality of racism and anti-Semitism.

The statement is not an invitation to mix theological differences, an invitation to syncretism, or a "New Age theological encounter," but it is a recognition of different ways to God through worshiping the same God, and accepting the moral principles of the Torah. The statement stresses that the new relationship between Jews and Christians "will not weaken Jewish practice. Quite the contrary, in a real dialogue Jews have to remain Jewish and talk in a Jewish way, and Christians should do it from their Christian perspective."

Understanding Christianity: A Sense of Community

Understanding and recognition entail a sense of community. It is a community of faith coming to God through different calls. It follows the definition stated by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik: "A community is established the very moment I recognize the Thou and extend greetings to the Thou. One individual extends the 'shalom' greeting to another individual; and in so doing he creates a community - recognition means sacrificial actions: The individual who withdraws in order to make room for the Thou."3

In similar terms, Pope John Paul Il has described the idea of community as a vocation witnessing God in nearly similar terms in his book, Person and Community. He says that,

Thus the reality of the other does not result principally from categorical knowledge, from humanity as the conceptualized essence "human being," but from an even richer lived experience, one in which I, as though transfer what is given to me as my own I beyond myself to one of the others, who, as a result, appears primarily as a different I, another I, my neighbor. Another person is a neighbor to me not just because we share a like humanity, but chiefly because the other is another I.

This, then, is how the I--other relationship looks when delineated in its proper structure. As can be seen, this is not a purely ontic structure, but a conscious and experiential one as well. It is this structure that I understand here as participation. Participation in the humanity of other people, of others and neighbors, does not arise primarily from an understanding of the essence "human being," which is by nature general and does not bring us close enough to the human being as a concrete I Rather, participation arises from consciously becoming close to another, a process that starts from the lived experience of one's own I. This does not mean that understanding the essence "human being" is of no consequence for participation, that it is foreign or even opposed to participation. Far from it. An understanding of this essence opens the way to participation, but it does not itself determine participation, it also does not itself give rise to an I---other relationship. This relationship does not emerge from having a universal concept of the human being, a concept that embraces all people without exception. The I other relationship is not universal but always interhuman, unique and unrepeatable in each and every instance - both when viewed as a one-way relationship proceeding from the I and when viewed as a reciprocal relationship (the other, after all, is also an I for whom I can be an other).4

Rabbi Soloveitchik clarifies the significance of recognition in an essential manner that defines the very value of the dialogue encounter:

Quite often a man finds himself in a crowd amongst strangers. He feels lonely. No one knows him, no one cares for him, no one is concerned with him. It is again an existential experience. He begins to doubt his ontological worth. This leads to alienation from the crowd surrounding him. Suddenly someone taps him on the shoulder and says: "Aren't you Mr. So-and-So? I have heard so much about you." In a fraction of a second his awareness changes. An alien being turns into a fellow member of an existential community (the crowd). What brought about the change? The recognition by somebody, the word!

To recognize a person is not just to identify him physically, it is more than that: It is an act of identifying him existentially, as a person who has a job to do, that only he can do properly.

To recognize a person means to affirm that he is irreplaceable. To hurt a person means to tell him that he's expendable, that there is no need for him.5

Recognition implies a sense of responsibility, as Soloveitchik points out:

Once I have recognized the thou, I invited him to join the community; I ipso facto assumed responsibility for the thou. Recognition is identical with commitment.

Here again we walk in the ways of our Maker. God created man; God did not abandon him; God showed concern for him. God cared for Adam; God said: It is not good for man to be alone. He provided him with a mate; he placed him in Paradise, and allowed him to enjoy the fruit of the Garden. Even after man sinned and was exiled from the Garden, the Almighty did not desert him. Of course, he punished him. Yet he was concerned with man even while man was in sin. In a word, God assumed responsibility for whatever and whomever he created: "He gives bread to all flesh for his loving kindness and is everlasting." (Psalm 136:25) As we have said above, the same relationship should prevail between me and the thou whom I have recognized, and with whom I have formed a community. I assume responsibility for each member of the community to whom I have granted recognition and whom i have found worthy of being my companion. In other words, the I is responsible for the physical and mental welfare of the Thou.6

Recognition is an invitation to be part of a community of faith aware and open to differences. Dialogue in community is to recognize the other as a person with a meaning. Martin Buber states this as basic in the human relationship:

Once one ceases to regard the other as merely an object of observation and begins to regard the other as an independent other standing in front of him, then we have the beginning of the I-Thou relation.7

The understanding of the other is the comprehension of "alterity." The term, derives from the Latin "alteritas," meaning "the state of being other or different, otherness." Alterity has been referred to as the question of intersubjectivity, but alterity is more than an epistemological question. The new theological focus is on the concrete reality of the other as a subject of faith, a reality of God. My recognition of alterity involves incorporating into my own subjectivity a special consciousness of another’s human dimension, internalization in my ego of the alter, the other taken as a novel phenomenon. It is, following the biblical injunction, a "face-to-face" relationship centering on the face taken "as the locus of the other’s expression as subject."

This idea expounded in the philosophy of interpersonal kinship of Emmanuel Levinas emphasizes the other's face as presenting his or her subjective orientation onto the world. Face is more than a physical actuality, it is the body and spirit of a commitment. It embodies Abraham and Moses, Sinai and the Rabbinic commentary for Judaism. For Christianity it is Calvary and Church.

The face-to-face encounter is not to objectify, but to communicate, to establish a relationship. The encounter with the other opens up a new world of meaning to which we as Jews and Christians have not as yet had total access. It is not a process of reducing otherness to sameness. It is not ethnocentricity, egoism in a cultural mode. Essentially, the desire to relate to the other as a person of faith emerges out of recognition and understanding of the other's value, specifically in the case of Christianity, my acceptance of its covenantal destiny and mission. It is also my own acceptance of my mission, the actualization of God's covenant in daily existence as a living vocation. Paul Celan expressed it in one line, "ich bin du, wenn ich, ich bin," I am thou, when I am myself. I am totally myself in covenantal relationship with God when I accept the other in covenant with God, the Christian person.

Understanding leads to acceptance and mutual personal confirmation as tools of God. I have to know and experience the Christian person as chosen by God, with a specific task and a different way. I have to understand Christian fervor, "imagining the real," as Buber states: "Perceiving and thinking in the mind and body of another individual." To relate religiously to a Christian means to receive "an intimation of the being of the other." It implies inclusion, embracing the other, in this case the Christian person, overcoming the over-againstness of previous history. To relate religiously is to fathom the mystery of our commitments under God and in a dialogue relationship until a new word will be developed to describe the very meaning of the present encounter.

Maurice Friedman in his introduction to Martin Buber's Daniel focuses on the projection of the Jewish perception of Christianity. To experience the other, he states,

means to feel an event from the side of the person one meets as well as from one's own side. It is an inclusiveness which realizes the other person in the actuality), of his being, but it must not be identified with "empathy," which means transposing oneself into the dynamic structure of an object, hence, as Buber says, "the exclusion of one's own concreteness, the extinguishing of the actual situation of life, its absorption in pure aestheticism of the reality which one participates." Inclusion is the opposite of this. "It is the extension of one's own concreteness, the fulfillment of the actual situation of life, 'the complete presence of the reality in which one participates." In inclusion, one person, "without fulfilling anything of the felt reality of this activity, at the same time lives through the common event from the standpoint of the other."8

Encounter as relationship is the acceptance of the other as a being in faith, as a person with his own rights and his own commitments. It is the communion of the spirit. Encounter is a process of the heart, from disdain to recognition, from alienation to creative proximity. It entails an evolution from confrontation toward a challenging relationship of equals, the starting point of spiritual healing.

Martin Buber, in his book Two Types of Faith, rightly pointed out the importance of the Christian and Jewish vocations in encounter,

The faith of Judaism and the faith of Christendom are by nature different in kind, each in conformity with its human bias and they will indeed remain different, until mankind is gathered from the exiles of the religions into a kinship of God. But in Israel striving after the renewal of its faith through the rebirth of the person and Christianity striving for the renewal of its faith through the rebirth of nations will have something as yet unsaid to say to each other and help to give to one another- hardly to be conceived at the present time.9

Understanding from Disdain to Recognition

Understanding is a process involving a transformation from disdain to recognition. It involves an operation of inner cleansing and a search in humanity for God's Presence and Call. This concept has been meaningfully expounded by Emmanuel Levinas when he pointed out that, "The Existence of God is a sacred history itself, the sacredness of man's relation to man through which God may pass."10

The recognition of Christianity entails the acceptance of "the other" in God and in a joint task of redemption. I make my own the words of Will Herberg in this respect,

Yes, each needs the other: Judaism needs Christianity, and Christianity needs Judaism. The vocation of both can be denied in common terms: to bear witness to the living God amidst the idolatries of the world. But, since the emergence of the church, and through the emergence of the church, this vocation has, as it were, been split in two parts. The Jew fulfills his vocation by "staying with God," "giving the world no rest so long as the world has no God" - to recall Jacques Maritain's unforgettable phrase. The Christian can fulfill his vocation only by "going out" to conquer the world for God. The Jew's vocation is to "stand," the Christian's to "go out" - both in the same cause of the kingdom of God. Judaism and Christianity thus represent one faith expressed in two religions - Judaism lacing inward to the Jews, and Christianity facing outward to the gentiles, who, through it, are brought to the God, and under the covenant, of Israel, and therefore cease to be gentiles in the proper sense of the term. This is the unity of Judaism and Christianity, and this is why a Jew is able to see and acknowledge Jesus in his uniqueness as the way to the father.11

The acceptance of the other as a person of God, the Christian as a partner in redemption, entails his total recognition as an equal in God, and partner in God's design. The spirituality of mutuality is the beginning of spiritual healing, deeply needed by both ways of God.

A Jewish understanding of Christianity after Auschwitz and Vatican II, in a democratic society and beyond disputation, is for us Jews the beginning of a. process that touches deeply into our faith commitment. Understanding presupposes the recognition of that which needs comprehension. It is a first step: to recognize Christianity, to perceive it as a faith enacted in history, as a ray of God conveying to humanity the Eternal message. Christianity is in the process of being perceived, accepted as a manifestation of God, with a mission and a message. Jewish thinking, the Jewish people, must overcome what Christians have done to Jews through the centuries, and seek to understand Christianity and its call to serve God.

A Final Reflection

The Christian-Jewish relationship has undergone a particular transformation, it has gone in general from argument to dialogue, from conflict to a situation of meeting, from ignorance and alienation to encounter, a conversation between equals. The road has not been smooth, and problems and misunderstandings still abound. But mainly there is a desire to listen and to respond, to see the other as a person of faith and not an object of contempt.

The dialogue requires a reckoning and a reflection. Jews must deal with two thousand years of memories, memories from the times of the New Testament experience, medieval disputations, the Inquisition, and present-day Christian ideological criticisms of Zionism and Israel. Jews have to overcome the castrating effects of images transmitted by generations, and the concrete experiences of Christian triumphalism associated with political regimes past and present. Christian self-searching as evidenced in Vatican II and other Christian efforts, are the means that will open new roads to spiritual understanding.

Dialogue is both a process of inner cleansing and a search for truth. The inner cleansing is an attempt to see the other faith commitment as part of God's special design for mankind. A respectful relationship, that at this point we call dialogue until a more precise word can describe this unique, special meeting, is never a confrontation but a common endeavor, mindful of the different vocations. Real dialogue calls persons into their own being while also acknowledging the others as persons with a way and a commitment. Religious dialogue is a recognition of the other as human, and God as the common ground of being.

The search into the meaning of God's special call is a search for the meaning of our faith encounter beyond syncretism and sporadic sympathies. Ours is a search for the mystery of a new dimension: the possibility to witness God together, each in his own way, but standing together at a time of general unbelief and ideological triumphalism. Ours is a search in humility for God's Presence and Call. My question in the year 5761 or the Christian year 2001 is: Are we doing it, are we really in dialogue? I want to respond, yes, prayerfully, as Cardinal Willebrands did in 1988, when he said:

May he bless with the fruits of peace and justice those steps of frequent dialogue so that every just man may live by his faith (Habbakuk 2:4).


  1. Fifteen Years of Catholic-Jewish Dialogue, 1970-1985. Selected Papers, Rome, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1988.
  2. Hans Jonas, Der Gottesbegriff Nach Auschwitz, Baden Baden, Suhrkamp, 1987.
  3. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Tradition, The Community, New York, Spring 1978, p. 15.
  4. Karol Wojtyla, Person and Community, New York, Peter Lang, 1993, p. 200.
  5. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Ibid., p. 16.
  6. Ibid., pp. 18-19.
  7. Pedro C. Sevilla, God As Person in the Writings of Martin Buber, Manila, Ateneo de Manila University, 1970, p. 57.
  8. Martin Buber, Daniel. Dialogues on Realization, New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1965. Introduction, p. 33.
  9. Martin Buber, Two Types of Faith, New York, Harper Torch Books, 1951, pp. 173-174.
  10. Emmanuel Levinas, Time and the Other, Pittsburgh, Duquesne University Press, 1987, p. 24.
  11. Will Herberg, Faith Enacted in History, Essays in Biblical Theology, Philadelphia, The Westminster Press, 1976, p. 90.