Tag Archive for: Interfaith Relations

Interfaith Dialogue – A Failure by Definition

Non-Orthodox rabbis embrace the progressive ideals of their Christian counterparts, using modern terms for an ancient hatred.

In an outrageous display of moral vacancy, the Presbyterian Church (USA) recently labelled Israel an apartheid state – despite an abundance of evidence and legal precedent to the contrary. Though mainline protestant churches have grown increasingly hostile toward Israel based on false claims of human rights abuses and a disregard for Jewish history, their condemnations are simply modern iterations of the same doctrinal prejudice used to demean Jews and Judaism for two millennia. Their anti-Israel bias is vile but historically consistent, and it raises the issue of how progressive rabbis can sit with liberal activist clergy who promote hoary antisemitic myths wrapped in the language of human rights advocacy.

The International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute of 2002 defines apartheid as “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” This definition does not fit Israel, where ethnic and religious minorities have equal rights under the law. But it does describe totalitarian states that liberal protestant clergy are reluctant to criticize, including communist dictatorships like China and repressive Islamist regimes like Iran. It could also describe the terrorist organizations many of them legitimize, including Hamas and Hezbollah, which openly call for jihad, genocide, and death to Israel.

Their collective hypocrisy was perhaps best exemplified in 2020 by the “Faith Statement on Escalating Violence with Iran,” which condemned “the United States’ dangerous aggression towards Iran…,” despite that nation’s malevolent record of exporting terrorism, persecuting minorities, and seeking to annihilate the Jewish People.

The Presbyterians’ false claim of Israeli apartheid should hardly be surprising given Christendom’s inveterate record of denigrating and persecuting Jews since before the days of Constantine, its complicity in the Holocaust, and its ambivalence regarding the Jewish State since 1948. In fact, the Catholic Church would not establish full diplomatic relations with Israel until after the ill-conceived 1993 Oslo Accords, nearly thirty years after Nostra Aetate (“Vatican II”) in 1965 – despite the Jews’ irrefutable historical claims and indigeneity in their homeland.

Jewish sovereignty poses a theological dilemma for those who believe the Jews were exiled for refusing to accept Christian doctrines, including belief in the trinity, vicarious atonement, the apotheosis of a man, and the eucharist – all of which contravene Torah law and seem pagan to Jewish sensibilities. Not surprisingly, Christian scripture significantly alters the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and contains numerous anti-Jewish passages that have fueled oppression, blood libels, and massacres for centuries.

The Book of John, for example, associates Jews with darkness and evil (e.g., John 8:37-39), and specifically states: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44.)

Similarly, the book of Matthew says, “you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets…You snakes, you brood of vipers. How can you escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:31-33.) Matthew also accuses Jews of deicide and bloodguilt exclaiming, “his blood be on us and on our children.” (Matthew 27:25.) The accusation of bloodguilt, a common theme repeated elsewhere (e.g., 1 Thessalonians 2:15), was instrumental in reinforcing the anti-Jewish tropes that suffused European culture.

These stereotypes were used to dehumanize Jews and paved the way for mechanized genocide in the twentieth century. Considering this deplorable past, liberal protestant excoriation of Israel should be seen for what it is; ancient doctrinal antisemitism dressed up as progressive political virtue. What makes it worse is the legitimacy conferred by progressive rabbis who sit as colleagues with liberal pastors on clergy boards and interfaith councils and who likewise besmirch Israel in the name of social justice.

Though progressive clergy of all faiths embrace social justice activism as a religious mandate, nontraditional rabbis who partner with liberal Christian counterparts on select human rights issues must demonstrate the same self-abnegation and cognitive dissonance demanded by classical interfaith dialogue. Therefore, analyzing the deficiencies of such discourse provides context and insight.

The problem with traditional interfaith dialogue is threefold.

  • First, it restrains Jews from being assertive when doing so could be viewed as chauvinistic by gentile interlocutors.
  • Second, it holds that Christians and Jews share responsibility for their strained history and can resolve their differences by accentuating their similarities.
  • Third, it presumes an “I’m okay, you’re okay” discussional framework that requires Jews to concede the validity of doctrines that frankly violate Torah law.

Another problem with traditional interfaith discourse is that it deflects blame for a two-thousand-year doctrinal war against the Jews. Christian antisemitism resulted in ghettos, public disputations, crusades, pogroms, forced baptisms, inquisitions, expulsions, and genocide. This persecution was driven exclusively by Christians, their churches, and governments, motivated by theological and eschatological doctrines that contravene Torah and are fundamentally antisemitic.

Jews never engaged in similar conduct because they had neither the religious imperative nor power to do so. The existence of Christianity is irrelevant to Jewish belief and poses no threat to its continuing vitality.

The Jews’ continued existence however,’ was problematic for Christendom because, despite suffering horrendous abuse, they clung to their ancestral faith and Scriptures as written, not as altered to fit church doctrines that had more in common with Greco-Roman philosophy and culture and Gnostic dualism. The interfaith model is faulty because it (a) neglects to assign blame for this negative fixation and (b) presumes a shared “Judeo-Christian” heritage despite irreconcilable differences between fundamental

Jewish and Christian beliefs.

The term “Judeo-Christian” is usually employed by Christians to imply spiritual kinship and common values. Few educated Jews hold likewise, however, because they understand from their knowledge of Tanakh, Hebrew, and rabbinic literature that many central tenets of Judaism and Christianity are incongruous.

Whereas many mainline churches have adopted social justice activism as a core religious principle – claiming it is a true reflection of Christian values – they have retained the anti-Jewish conventions canonized by the early church fathers. In maligning Israel, these denominations are merely expressing age-old hostility using the language of contemporary propaganda. It matters little that non-Orthodox rabbis embrace the same progressive ideals and causes as their liberal Christian counterparts.

Those who falsely accuse Israel of apartheid are clearly using modern terminology to convey ancient dogmatic hatred.

But just as Jewish belief and tradition are incompatible with Christian theology, so too are they inconsistent with the conflation of secular politics and Torah values. Unfortunately, not all Jews understand their own heritage, and many have been deluded by interfaith and/or political indoctrination to believe that tolerance requires them to validate beliefs and ideologies that contradict their own traditions and scripture. The inherent limitations of interfaith dialogue are illustrated in the faith-based politics of liberal protestants who falsely brand the Jewish state “racist” in the name of skewed progressive ideology.

The problem is that many Jews don’t know enough about their own culture and history to confront such mistruths, whether expressed in religious or political terms, as open hostility, or even as declarations of friendship by those with covert missionary agendas (e.g., many evangelicals). Perhaps worse, though, are those who do know, but refuse to stand up to their critics for fear of offending them as dialogue partners or alienating them as partisan allies – or because they also reject Israel and Jewish tradition.

Whether using scriptural or political language, Christian detractors of Jews, Judaism, and Israel ultimately claim to be guided by faith, irrespective of fact. However, by using faith (doctrinal or political) as a shield to circumvent intellectual engagement, they avoid having to confront moral inconsistencies in the stereotypes they promote. And when endorsing politics as religious virtue, they eschew any moral responsibility for determining whether their worldview comports with history or original, unaltered scripture.

The template for today’s protestant denunciations of Israel can be found in the history of Christian antisemitism. Though Jews today are no longer required to submit to physical or ecclesiastical abuse as they did in the days of the ghetto, many are reluctant to defend Jewish integrity for fear of offending their cultural critics or political bedfellows.

And this won’t change unless they come to understand their own heritage and the historical nuances and ideological limitations of interfaith dialogue.

©Matthew M. Hausman, J.D. All rights reserved.