I was recently at a conference at which David Novak and Peter Ochs spoke of their purpose behind writing and publishing “Dabru Emet” (“speak truth!”) – to challenge their fellow Jewish leaders, rabbis, theologians, to acknowledge the validity and importance of Christianity, rather than hide behind centuries of traditional attitudes of hostility and distrust. This, they said, was an attempt to change Jewish attitudes to and understanding of Christianity, and they looked to Christians to adopt a similar change of posture towards Jews and Judaism.
When asked privately how they viewed Messianic Jews and Messianic Judaism, they both encouraged Messianic Jews to become involved in similar discussions. Whilst not everyone will agree with their formulations, [See Jon D Levenson’s response here] their work is indicative of a significant shift in the direction and momentum in Jewish-Christian relations, which I hope will develop further.
The important book Christianity in Jewish Terms (Westview Press, 2001) takes up key themes from Dabru Emet and explores them further, including the possibility of the Incarnation of God within Jewish thought.
[ The following statement appeared as a full page advertisement in The New York Times, Sunday, September 10, 2000, page 23, New England edition. ]
A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity
In recent years, there has been a dramatic and unprecedented shift in Jewish and Christian relations. Throughout the nearly two millennia of Jewish exile, Christians have tended to characterize Judaism as a failed religion or, at best, a religion that prepared the way for, and is completed in, Christianity. In the decades since the Holocaust, however, Christianity has changed dramatically. An increasing number of official Church bodies, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, have made public statements of their remorse about Christian mistreatment of Jews and Judaism. These statements have declared, furthermore, that Christian teaching and preaching can and must be reformed so that they acknowledge God’s enduring covenant with the Jewish people and celebrate the contribution of Judaism to world civilization and to Christian faith itself.
We believe these changes merit a thoughtful Jewish response. Speaking only for ourselves — an interdenominational group of Jewish scholars — we believe it is time for Jews to learn about the efforts of Christians to honor Judaism. We believe it is time for Jews to reflect on what Judaism may now say about Christianity. As a first step, we offer eight brief statements about how Jews and Christians may relate to one another.
Jews and Christians worship the same God. Before the rise of Christianity, Jews were the only worshippers of the God of Israel. But Christians also worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; creator of heaven and earth. While Christian worship is not a viable religious choice for Jews, as Jewish theologians we rejoice that, through Christianity, hundreds of millions of people have entered into relationship with the God of Israel.
Jews and Christians seek authority from the same book — the Bible (what Jews call “Tanakh” and Christians call the “Old Testament”).Turning to it for religious orientation, spiritual enrichment, and communal education, we each take away similar lessons: God created and sustains the universe; God established a covenant with the people Israel, God’s revealed word guides Israel to a life of righteousness; and God will ultimately redeem Israel and the whole world. Yet, Jews and Christians interpret the Bible differently on many points. Such differences must always be respected.
Christians can respect the claim of the Jewish people upon the land of Israel. The most important event for Jews since the Holocaust has been the reestablishment of a Jewish state in the Promised Land. As members of a biblically based religion, Christians appreciate that Israel was promised — and given — to Jews as the physical center of the covenant between them and God. Many Christians support the State of Israel for reasons far more profound than mere politics. As Jews, we applaud this support. We also recognize that Jewish tradition mandates justice for all non-Jews who reside in a Jewish state.
Jews and Christians accept the moral principles of Torah. Central to the moral principles of Torah is the inalienable sanctity and dignity of every human being. All of us were created in the image of God. This shared moral emphasis can be the basis of an improved relationship between our two communities. It can also be the basis of a powerful witness to all humanity for improving the lives of our fellow human beings and for standing against the immoralities and idolatries that harm and degrade us. Such witness is especially needed after the unprecedented horrors of the past century.
Nazism was not a Christian phenomenon. Without the long history of Christian anti-Judaism and Christian violence against Jews, Nazi ideology could not have taken hold nor could it have been carried out. Too many Christians participated in, or were sympathetic to, Nazi atrocities against Jews. Other Christians did not protest sufficiently against these atrocities. But Nazism itself was not an inevitable outcome of Christianity. If the Nazi extermination of the Jews had been fully successful, it would have turned its murderous rage more directly to Christians. We recognize with gratitude those Christians who risked or sacrificed their lives to save Jews during the Nazi regime. With that in mind, we encourage the continuation of recent efforts in Christian theology to repudiate unequivocally contempt of Judaism and the Jewish people. We applaud those Christians who reject this teaching of contempt, and we do not blame them for the sins committed by their ancestors.
The humanly irreconcilable difference between Jews and Christians will not be settled until God redeems the entire world as promised in Scripture. Christians know and serve God through Jesus Christ and the Christian tradition. Jews know and serve God through Torah and the Jewish tradition. That difference will not be settled by one community insisting that it has interpreted Scripture more accurately than the other; nor by exercising political power over the other. Jews can respect Christians’ faithfulness to their revelation just as we expect Christians to respect our faithfulness to our revelation. Neither Jew nor Christian should be pressed into affirming the teaching of the other community.
A new relationship between Jews and Christians will not weaken Jewish practice. An improved relationship will not accelerate the cultural and religious assimilation that Jews rightly fear. It will not change traditional Jewish forms of worship, nor increase intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews, nor persuade more Jews to convert to Christianity, nor create a false blending of Judaism and Christianity. We respect Christianity as a faith that originated within Judaism and that still has significant contacts with it. We do not see it as an extension of Judaism. Only if we cherish our own traditions can we pursue this relationship with integrity.
Jews and Christians must work together for justice and peace. Jews and Christians, each in their own way, recognize the unredeemed state of the world as reflected in the persistence of persecution, poverty, and human degradation and misery. Although justice and peace are finally God’s, our joint efforts, together with those of other faith communities, will help bring the kingdom of God for which we hope and long. Separately and together, we must work to bring justice and peace to our world. In this enterprise, we are guided by the vision of the prophets of Israel:
It shall come to pass in the end of days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established at the top of the mountains and be exalted above the hills, and the nations shall flow unto it . . . and many peoples shall go and say, “Come ye and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord to the house of the God of Jacob and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in his paths.” (Isaiah 2:2-3)
Prayer: Lord, thank you for the clear speaking and honest reflection of Dabru Emet. May both Jews, Christians and Messianic Jews welcome one another in friendship and partnership, whilst at the same time recognising differences and longing for reconciliation in the unity and truth that comes from knowing you. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.
|Dr. Peter W. Ochs
University of Virginia
|Dr. David Novak
University of Toronto
|Dr. Tikva Frymer-Kensky
The Divinity School, University of Chicago
|Dr. Michael A. Signer
University of Notre Dame
South Bend, IN
The phrase Dabru Emet comes from the verse: These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates (Zechariah 8:16). For an expanded discussion of the issues explored in Dabru Emet, see Christianity in Jewish Terms edited by Tikva Frymer-Kensky, David Novak, Peter Ochs, and Michael Signer, Westview Press, 2000 (www.westviewpress.com/ christianityinjewishterms). Read opinions about Dabru Emet and discuss it with others at Beliefnet (www/beliefnet.com). We wish to express our appreciation to the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies for providing the educational setting in which the work of this project has been conducted. For more information contact Rabbi David Fox Sandmel, Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies, 1316 Park Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21210. 410-523-7227. firstname.lastname@example.org
The Dabru Emet (Heb. דברו אמת “Speak [the] Truth”) is a document concerning the relationship between Christianity and Judaism. It was signed by over 220 rabbis and intellectuals from all branches of Judaism, as individuals and not as representing any organisation or stream of Judaism.
In light of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, the Dabru Emet was first published on September 10, 2000, in the New York Times, and has since been used in Jewish education programs across the U.S. While affirming that there are theological differences between these two religions, the purpose of Dabru Emet is to point out common ground and a legitimacy of Christianity, for non-Jews, from the Jewish perspective. It is not an official document of any of the Jewish denominations per se, but it is representative of what many Jews feel. Eight major themes are expressed:
- Jews and Christians worship the same God
- Jews and Christians seek authority from the same book
- Christians can respect the claim of the Jews on the land of Israel
- Jews and Christians together accept the moral principles of the Torah (Pentateuch)
- Nazism is not a Christian phenomenon
- The controversy between Jews and Christians will not be settled until God redeems the entire world as promised in scripture and no-one should be pressed into believing another’s belief
- A new relationship between Jews and Christians will not weaken Jewish practice
- Jews and Christians must work together for justice and peace