What the Vatican Said and Why We Should Care
Within a few hours, the headlines all screamed the same message. The Vatican had declared that Catholics should not try to convert Jews. I knew that this could not be correct. Catholics could never allow for anyone achieving salvation through means other than the Church, I reasoned. That would be the equivalent of Jews not davening for a world in which – as we pray three times a day at the end of Aleinu – Hashem and his Oneness will be accepted by all people, bar none.
I was wrong. They said it.
I also suspected that reaction within our own community would miss the significance of the recent release from the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with Jews. This time I was not wrong.
Here is my take on what happened, why we should welcome it, and how it might affect our relationship not only with the world’s 1.25 billion Catholics, but with other Christian groups.
The document “The Gifts And The Calling Of God Are Irrevocable” did not surface in a vacuum. It was meant as a tribute and continuation of the work of Nostra Aetate, a watershed document issued 50 years ago that transformed the way Catholics would relate to Jews. Nostra Aetate unseated, at least for Catholics, two of the most toxic teachings about Jews and Judaism. Jews, it taught, should not be held collectively guilty for the crucifixion. Nor does the Church support Replacement Theology, according to which all covenants and promises in Tanach have found new beneficiaries in the New Israel, i.e. Christianity, which replaced the old, unfaithful variety. Those two ideas were responsible for the shedding of much Jewish blood through centuries in which Jews were treated as detestable cast-offs from society. Nostra Aetate effectively made anti-Semitism a sin.
Nostra Aetate’s practical benefits for Jews are beyond cavil. Several studies of Catholic education, at least in the US, showed changes in what Catholics were taught about Jews in parochial schools, and in their attitudes towards Jews. If there were no other consequences, we would have to thank HKBH that we live in a time when Catholics are taught positive things about us, rather than the old diet of contempt and hatred that was offered in some places for too long. Has this worked perfectly? No. Have the changes penetrated every parish around the globe? Definitely not. Has the new policy meant a difference in the way many Catholics look at Jews? Beyond a doubt.
The recent document does not jump over a void of a half-century, so much as continues a succession of events during that time that demonstrate the seriousness of the shift within the Church. It is yet another step in a process that began with Nostra Aetate, and was then implemented in earnest. While Nostra Aetate was an outgrowth of the Second Vatican Council under Pope John XXIII, every pope that followed made some positive contribution. Pope John did not live to see Nostra Aetate rolled out. That took the doing of Pius VI. Pope John Paul II, the most pro-Jewish of all modern popes, called Jews the “elder brother” of Christians, was the first to walk from the throne of St. Peter to the Rome synagogue, and asked G-d’s forgiveness at the Western Wall in Jerusalem for the Church’s mistreatment of Jews through the centuries. Pope Francis has spoken of what Christians can learn from Jews (“God continues to work among the people of the Old Covenant and to bring forth treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word”). His recent statement has powerful implications: “To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism.” (Consider that the Pope uttered these words a mere century after Pius X told Theodore Herzl, “We cannot prevent the Jews from going to Jerusalem—but we could never sanction it. The soil of Jerusalem, if it was not always sacred, has been sanctified by the life of Jesus. As the head of the Church I cannot tell you anything different. The Jews have not recognized our Lord, therefore we cannot recognize the Jewish people.”)
People can be skeptical about these developments if they choose, but they should keep two things in mind. None of these developments would have been conceivable to our ancestors. And while it took far too long for our tastes for the Church to get to this point, slow change can be a blessing as well. Once in place, these attitudes cannot be walked back quickly. That is just the way the Church works.
Other consequences of Nostra Aetate were more subtle. Catholics took a harder look at their Jewish roots. In some liberal circles, it became fashionable for Catholics to attend a Pesach seder, because of what it meant to their self-understanding. While this doesn’t concern us directly, it did create the space for Catholics to look at Jews with respect and esteem.
The new document takes the regard for Jews to a new level. Its impact will have little to do with conversion, though. Catholics are not the ones going door to door proselytizing, or funding campus crusades, or footing the bill for missions to the Jews. By asserting that Jews are not barred from salvation, the document offers something more important. It removes one subconscious obstacle in the path of looking favorably upon Jews and Judaism. In moments of candor, I have allowed myself to speak frankly to Protestant acquaintances. How can a truly religious person, I have asked, truly respect someone whom he believes is barred from eternal life? One can preach tolerance endlessly, but if one’s spiritual axiology places the state of the soul at the top of a list of values, how can one truly value the life of someone who has missed the boat of eternity? I have never received a satisfactory answer. The new document might change things. It allows Catholics to look upon Jews almost as privileged relative to the great numbers of human beings who are neither Christian nor Jewish. Jews are going to Heaven – something they cannot state about many others.
If conservative Protestants can borrow some of this, we will be making real progress.
I stress “almost.” The document is, I believe, a study in honesty. It does not try to pander to Jews. It speaks of a tension in Church teaching for which it has no solution. Effectively, it states that Catholics ought to fully accept two positions that seem contradictory. There is no escaping the conclusion that G-d has not turned his back on his original covenant with the Jews – and that this is enough to afford them salvation. But it is also true, it asserts, that there is no salvation possible save through the medium of the Church. They are both true – even though this seems to be impossible. At the moment, the coexistence of these truths is “an unfathomable mystery.” The problem needs to be dealt with by theologians. But the faithful needn’t wait for their findings to be deployed. They can have confidence that the old truth about the centrality of the Church is preserved – and still believe that Jews are saved.
Their readiness to stake out a position on the salvation of Jews without being able to fully defend it strikes me as courageous. Remember, the Catholic Church takes theology seriously. This paper was not the product of a few liberal thinkers who were willing to trade their beliefs for some Jewish goodwill. They take many pages trying to explain as much of the mystery as they can. They do not want Catholics to believe that they have begrudgingly decided that there are two paths and two entrances to Heaven, one for Jews and one for Gentiles (Christianity). They firmly deny the possibility of a dual-covenant theology. They are ever so careful not to give away more than is necessary.
Many of our readers likely do not lie awake fretting over whether the Church allows for their salvation. It would be a mistake not to see this document as a gift to us all – at least those who deeply care about the security of the State of Israel.
The Chofetz Chaim gave a mashal of a crowd chasing after a person holding a small bag. Someone questioned what was in the bag. His friend replied, “I don’t know. But with so many people chasing after it, it must have some value.” We have watched the Palestinians and their BDS accomplices chasing a goal of uncoupling Christians from Jews and Judaism for quite some time. If this goal is valuable to them, then preventing it becomes our concern, because there must be something valuable in it for them.
The value lies in the connection that many Christians of all kinds of backgrounds feel for the Land of Israel, and the link between that land and its people. That perception helps drive the allegiance of millions of Christians to modern Israel. It is support that, bederech hateva, we can ill-afford to sacrifice. Palestinians have been working overtime to suppress archeological evidence for a Jewish presence in the land. They continue to assert that there never were any Temples in Jerusalem. That Palestinians descend from the Canaanites, who were there first. That even if Jews arrived later, today’s Jews are unrelated to the ancient ones, and arrived only after the Holocaust. They have declared that Jesus was a Palestinian – and Israeli Jews are the modern day Romans.
Perhaps most importantly, they have campaigned (among Protestants, including evangelicals) to bring back Replacement Theology. They claim that there is simply no way that any Christian can be true to his or her faith without understanding that any covenants with the Jews are null and void. This last point is crucial to them, because they want to disrupt the feeling that millions of Christians have when they witness the miraculous rebirth of modern Israel that they are watching the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. Can’t be, say the Palestinians. Those prophecies have nothing to do with the Jews, who have been replaced by us Christians.
The new Vatican document takes the antipodal position. The Jews have not been replaced. The old covenants are so much in effect, that they even get Jews to Heaven. Although Protestants do not generally concern themselves with pronouncements from St. Peter’s Square, they are certainly free to borrow their arguments and thinking. Those of us who stay awake at night strategizing about helping Israel’s position can at least hope that Protestant thinkers who care about Israel (or who for other reasons fear the return of supersessionism and Replacement Theology) will take some of the thinking in this document and adopt it to their belief systems.
One section of the document raised my eyebrows to nose-bleed elevation. In rejecting dual covenants, the authors propose that Torah for Jews is simply a different facet of Logos for Christians. (Don’t worry if you don’t know or care what that means. Stay with the train of thought.) It isn’t a different path, but just a different iteration of the same one. This is obviously a belief that Jews must reject entirely, but it is interesting nonetheless. If Torah is the way in which Catholics conceive of Jews relating to G-d, where does that leave Jews who do not connect to Torah? Could the Vatican document have left room for an interpretation that only loyal, serious Jews are saved? (I asked this of a Catholic theologian acquaintance. He diplomatically responded that Christians had dictated for too long what they were supposed to think. Jews were going to have to puzzle this one out by themselves.)
If this observation is correct, we will have addressed Yoram Hazony’s concern. He notes that the document observes that Catholics will continue to witness to Jews their commitment to their beliefs. But why should this be so?
[W]hat possible reason could be left for insisting that Jews should embrace Jesus? A Jew living according to the torah would be in a right relationship with God, and that should be the Christians’ highest hope for their Jewish friends and acquaintances. Then it would be possible to issue a document stating in plain language, understandable to all, that “Catholics should not try to convert Jews.”
The shocking answer may be that the document does not guarantee salvation to all Jews, but only to those connected to Torah. Those who show no interest in it, i.e. those most vulnerable to proselytizing may still remain obvious targets for conversion.
Whether or not the authors intended to go this far, I will not speculate. But our readers should take note of what others will miss. When confronted with the question of how Jews might find their salvation, the Vatican’s answer was the Torah. What is obvious to us was also obvious to them. They did not point to the birth of Jesus into a Jewish family, nor to the famous tree to which they are grafted into according to their Scripture. They pointed to Torah.
The challenge for those who truly want to help Israel – in addition to the all-important contributions of tefillah and mitzvos – is huge. Christians who side with Israel are being pressed on all sides to abandon her. The Jews who often have the best shot at conversing with Christian coworkers, friends and neighbors are those who live and breathe Torah. It is Orthodox rabbis who have the best chance of striking up a relationship with non-Jewish clergy. Only those who really know and value Torah can sustain that relationship through sharing (when halachically appropriate) the “treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word” that Pope Francis speaks of.
There is no question that if we don’t, the Palestinians and their minions will.
I hope that it will take less time for frum Jews (no, not all – just those best equipped to do so) to come around and man the ramparts in the part of the struggle that the IDF cannot wage.
Only those of us who live in mixed societies can, and increasingly that means Orthodox Jews. We must begin by asking whether this activity is part of our obligation of hishtadlus. I firmly believe that it is.
 Had the authors had more experience with Yiddish, they undoubtedly would have written, “fun a kasha shtarbt men nit.” On the other hand, they are much more at home with the concept of “mystery.”
 I have long been mystified by the ability of different Christian – mainline Protestants – to propose new “confessions” that change core beliefs every few years – and decide them by a vote of delegates to a biennial convention!
 The same cannot be said, unfortunately, for a document released by a group of liberal Orthodox figures a few days before the Vatican one. Its intent was admirable; it did an excellent job of understanding changes in the Church, and thanking Catholics for making them. But it was careless in its phraseology, showing far less restraint than the Vatican document. Somehow compelled to make the strongest case for collegiality, it attributed to Rambam, Rav Yehuda Halevi, and the Netziv things they did not – and in some cases could not – say. Whereas the Rambam (in the uncensored version of the end of Hilchos Melachim) does speak of very positive collateral consequences of the spread of Christianity in teaching the world about G-d and about a messianic age, he would hardly call Christianity a “gift” to the nations. He couldn’t, considering his position that Christianity is an idolatrous faith, and that the only transgression that G-d speaks of as “hating” is idolatry! The most objectionable part of the document is the claim that “Both Jews and Christians have a common covenantal mission to perfect the world under the sovereignty of the Almighty.” I am not aware of any covenant that G-d entered into with the Throne of St. Peter. The faults of this document have already been called out by Dr. David Berger, certainly the authority not only on articulating Torah positions to Christian theologians, but heir to the instructions of his rebbi, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l on what is kosher in interfaith conversation and what is not. ומי יבא אחר המלך
Quite simply fascinating. I appreciate the elucidation on something whose significance definitely eluded me and which possibly has many positive ramifications for the Jewish people who are daily being portrayed in a severely negative light by many of our neighbors and enemies.
Perhaps the problem here is simple ignorance. Christians cannot seem to understand why we do not believe in JESUS, but all they really need to do, is to study the Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith, and then it should become obvious to them why we feel about JESUS the way we do. And if they bothered to read the Kuzari, they might realize why our religion has the best chance of being the one that most conforms to spiritual reality, and thus the inherent absurdity of trying to turn us Jews into Christians. As for the land of Israel belonging to us Jews, I remember many years ago, when I decided to read through the entire Torah, without commentaries, just reading it. What became so clear to me from reading it through like that, is that G-d is the Ultimate Zionist. Had I not known what the book was that I was reading or who wrote it, I might have thought it was a book of Zionist propaganda! Unfortunately, while it is at least conceivable to me that some Christians might be open to studying, at least on a surface level, the religious works I just recommended, I just cannot imagine any moslem who would be willing to read our Torah with that open of a mind. And so our Jewish people must continue to suffer, too often in very painful, tragic ways, because the gentile world chooses to remain stuck to their terribly mistaken views.
Nice essay. When reading it, I thought of two other interfaith essays on Cross Currents, among others (“Reciprocity and Specialness”, 3/07 and “The Cardinals, Chovevei Torah, and Crossing Lines”, 4/06). It would be a nice project for someone with time to index all CC posts by topic to make it easy to search.
Dear Rabbi Adlerstein, thank you for your analysis of something that many of us would have missed. However, I think that the specific your attacks on the “Orthodox Rabbinic Statement on Christianity” are off the mark. You say with respect to their reference to a “common covenantal mission” that “I am not aware of any covenant that G-d entered into with the Throne of St. Peter.” This is obviously not what they meant; instead they are referring Noachide laws which they call later “the fundamental ethical obligations that all people have before G-d that Judaism has always taught through the universal Noahide covenant” later in the document. (Dr. Berger objects to the statement because he claims it affirms some personal theories of R. Irving Greenberg that the signers would object to and he admits were likely not even aware of).
As far as the Rambam calling the Christianity a “gift” to the nations, what they say is that “we acknowledge that Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations.” The Rambam does call Christianity a fulfillment of prophecy despite the antisemitic persecution and theological error that resulted from it. The reason for this decree was to “prepare the path for the Messiah and to cause the entire world to worship God.” Of course idolatry is an evil, but that was prevalent before Christianity and this version, while in error, brings people closer to a correct understanding. Whether or not “gift” is the best word, it sounds consistent with the Rambam to me. (Dr. Berger’s attack is a different one; he says that they leave out the end of the Rambam where the Christians and Moslems recognize their teachings as errors”).
Finally, the perfect is the enemy of the good. You suggest private responses, but if there is no public Orthodox response, the public responses are left entirely to non-Orthodox groups. While there are parts of the document that I would not have written (not that anyone asked :), that is going to be true of all documents produced by a committee.
[YA – I strongly disagree with all three of your points. What you write is true. What they have written is not. 1) The bris you refer to is certainly not with Christianity, which half of our rishonim saw as in violation of one of the Noachide laws. In fact, it may not be a bris with anyone at all, but with the earth! Assuming, arguendo, that it is with Bnai Noach, it is certainly not a bris held in common between Jews and non-Jews, who have very different missions. To some of our rishonim (including Rambam!) the Noachide laws do not constitute a mission, but are a minimalist set of statutes to prevent society from descending into chaos 2) Saying that monotheistic religions have a role (as Rambam does) is not the same as calling them a gift (which he wouldn’t). A cloud may have a silver lining, but the cloud still darkens our day, and would be unwelcome as a gift. 3) Perhaps the search for perfection is elusive. This statement was not just imperfect, it was inaccurate, misleading, and waters down Torah hashkafah. All the things that the Rav cautioned against.]
” I am not aware of any covenant that G-d entered into with the Throne of St. Peter. ”
Me neither. But God did have a covenant with Gentiles that some of them view Christianity as an embodiment(excuse the pun) of it. After all, the Gentiles lost their oral tradition several millennia ago and had to resurrect it(oops!) somehow.
[YA – They do. We don’t. That’s the point. Well, one point. The more important one is that the Vatican document balanced two competing needs, and did it quite well. It demonstrated graciousness and sensitivity to the “other” without sacrificing fidelity to sacred teaching. We ought to be able to do the same. The Orthodox document didn’t.]
RYA – Can you comment on whether the current political situation of Muslim fanatics in any way contributes to the C’s aligning with the J’s?
[YA – Aderaba. The Vatican does politics astutely. They hedge their bets. They are doing plenty of reaching out to Muslims, and there are lots more of them than us, including a few hundred million who support the idea of exterminating Christians, many of whom are within beheading distance. I don’t believe that the threat of jihad has moved the Church closer to the Jews. (Besides for the fact that this process began well before anyone understood the threat of Muslim extremism.) Remember as well that in many places (like the US!) the Catholic Church leans very liberal on many matters, including Israel-Palestine. Progress on attitudes towards Jews has occurred despite their orientation in the Middle East, not because of it.]
First, the Vatican Commission’s document clearly states that it is not Church doctrine nor is it a Church teaching document It is meant to promote discussion. And so it is premature to take this document as what the Church believes. It is the simply tentative understanding of a few very well-respected Church theologians.
Second: One of the key differences between the Church and Jews is that the Church believes in individual salvation. To my knowledge, they have no concept of “kahl yisrael yesh la-hem khei-lek l’olam ha-ba” (all Israel has a portion towards the world-to-come). The Church has no national entity that achieves salvation as a unit – there are only individuals who are saved individually by faith and works. So it shouldn’t be surprising if they decide that non-Torah-observant Jews are not saved.
In contrast, Jews have both an individual relationship with HKBH and a national one. As the Shunamite woman stated to Elisha: ‘b’tokh ahmee ah-no-khee yo-sha-vet” – our individual lot is cast among our nation and bound to it. If the majority of the nation is observant, perhaps the non-observant are counterbalanced and, as a nation Israel is perceived by HKBH as righteous.
“2) Saying that monotheistic religions have a role (as Rambam does) is not the same as calling them a gift (which he wouldn’t). A cloud may have a silver lining, but the cloud still darkens our day, and would be unwelcome as a gift.”
I’m sure we won’t agree about the statement, but as far as the Rambam goes, he does seem to indicate that it is something driven by God as fulfillment of prophecy and thus must be beneficial, and not a bad thing with a silver lining. That is why he has to mention that the God’s ways are not our ways. We would never imagine that introducing anti-semitic persecution as a improvement device, but God can. I also would point out that, at this point, only one of the two negatives that he mentions remains.
“Jesus of Nazareth who aspired to be the Mashiach […] and was also alluded to in Daniel’s prophecies, as ibid. 11:14 states: ‘The vulgar among your people shall exalt themselves in an attempt to fulfill the vision, but they shall stumble.’
Can there be a greater stumbling block than Christianity? All the prophets spoke of Mashiach as the redeemer of Israel and their savior who would gather their dispersed and strengthen their observance of the mitzvot. In contrast, Christianity caused the Jews to be slain by the sword, their remnants to be scattered and humbled, the Torah to be altered, and the majority of the world to err and serve a god other than the Lord.
Nevertheless, the intent of the Creator of the world is not within the power of man to comprehend, for His ways are not our ways, nor are His thoughts, our thoughts. Ultimately, all the deeds of Jesus of Nazareth and that Ishmaelite who arose after him will only serve to prepare the way for Mashiach’s coming and the improvement of the entire world, motivating the nations to serve God together as Tzephaniah 3:9 states: ‘I will transform the peoples to a purer language that they all will call upon the name of God and serve Him with one purpose.'”
How will this come about? The entire world has already become filled with the mention of Mashiach, Torah, and mitzvot. These matters have been spread to the furthermost islands to many stubborn-hearted nations. They discuss these matters and the mitzvot of the Torah, saying: ‘These mitzvot were true, but were already negated in the present age and are not applicable for all time.’
Others say: ‘Implied in the mitzvot are hidden concepts that can not be understood simply. The Mashiach has already come and revealed those hidden truths.’
When the true Messianic king will arise and prove successful, his position becoming exalted and uplifted, they will all return and realize that their ancestors endowed them with a false heritage and their prophets and ancestors caused them to err.”
[YA – Thanks for sharing the translation of the text. We can now let readers decide for themselves whether “gift” or “silver lining” is the better descriptor. Let’s hope that the two of us will soon be able to approach Moshiach directly and ask him whether he would score Christianityis contribution as an assist, an RBI, or a run driven in by a batter being hit by a pitch]
I should have linked to and credited the source of the translation: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1188356/jewish/Melachim-uMilchamot-Chapter-11.htm.
Thank you for pointing out why this is relevant.
Personally, I’m quite grateful not to be experiencing what my great-grandparents left Europe over in the 1890s.
While it’s interesting to see the evolution of Catholic thought, do you think this will trickle down to the laity? So many people don’t take Catholic teaching seriously in their practical lives.
[YA – The anti-Semitism had no problem trickling (or pouring) down for centuries. No a priori reason why tolerance and even philo-Semitism can’t trickle down. They already have for many people. There is uneven application of this trend in different places, and some substantial numbers of people are always going to be haters. But there is no question that Nostra Aetate made, and continues to make, a difference.]
“If conservative Protestants can borrow some of this, we will be making real progress.”
Fascinating article, Rav Adlerstein! Regarding conservative Protestants, it is interesting to note that back in the 18th century, Rev. Ezra Stiles, a Puritan minister (and friend of several Rabbanim, including Rav Raphael Hayyim Isaac Carregal) said the following in his diary about a Jewish acquaintance. He was struggling with the idea that perhaps a good Jew had a chelek in Olam Haba (acc. to his Christian understanding).
” On 28th of May died that amiable, benevolent, most hospitable & very respectable Gentleman, Mr. Aaron Lopez Merchant, who retirg from Newp* Rhd. Isld in these Times resided from 1775 to his Death at Leicester in Massachusetts. He was a Jew by Nation, came from Spain or Portugal about 1754 & settled at Rh. Isld. He was a Merchant of the first Eminence ; for Honor and Extent of Commerce probably surpassed by no Merch* in America. He did Business with the greatest Ease & Clearness – always carried about with him a Sweetness of Behav. a calm Urbanity an agreeable & unaffected Politeness of manners. Without a single Enemy & the most universally
beloved by an extensive Acquaintance of any man I ever knew. His Beneficence to his Famy connexions, to his
Nation & to all the World is almost without a Parallel. He was my intimate Friend & Acquaintance ! Oh ! how often have I wished that sincere pious & candid mind could have [Stiles wishes Lopez accepted Xtianity]. The amiable & excellent Characters of a Lopez, of a Manasseh Ben Israel , of a Socrates & a Gangenelli would almost persuade us to hope that their Excellency was infused by Heaven, and that the virtuous & good of all Nations & Religions, notwithstandg their Delusions, may be bro’t together in Paradise [with the Christian Savior, as he goes on about for a while]”
In sum, one can see at least one conservative Protestant mulling this idea around the time of the American founding.
Puritan Hebraism at its best has been a bulwark against antisemitism in America (notwithstanding its darker sides, like regarding
Native Americans as equivalents of the 7 nations of Canaan)….
B”H for this Malchut shel Chesed even so!
The article from which I got this quote can be found (for free, as it is pre-1923 and hence public domain) at
Kol Tuv, Ariel Segal
Ezra Stiles was at the time in Rhode Island, which never had an Established Church and welcomed Jews. The other Puritan colonies were theocracies and did not permit Jews, Catholics, or dissident Protestants to form congregations. (In the 17th century, they weren’t permitted at all!) And even Rhode Island rejected Aaron Lopez’ petition to become a naturalized British subject. Stiles would later serve as President of Yale which maintained its theocracy until 1818 — I am aware of a case of a dissident minister having to flee the colony as late as 1816. And synagogues could not be officially organized there until 1843
Aaron Lopez himself was not the saint that Rav. Stiles made him to be. He was a slave trader — one of the few Jews to have engaged in that despicable practice.
R Adlerstein deserves a huge Yasher Koach for delineating what the RCC said and did not say, as well as R D Berger’s surgical dissection of a LW MO statement .
R. Adlerstein, I appreciate your words. But what can you say, when at the same moment you wrote it, R. Yair Hoffman, a contributor to this site, was writing on Yeshivah World News the following: “The truth is that almost all of the denominations of Christianity in which Rabbi Riskin has entered into dialogue with are halachically considered Avodah Zarah.”
So we have a world in which Christians have ceased practicing idol worship more than two thousand years ago. And for many hundreds of years, culminating in the papal bull or document you speak of, Christian attitudes towards Jews have steadily been improving, to a point today when they are our closest allies on matters of faith, Israel, and everything in between. Yet for the majority of Halachic Jews, nothing has changed. We are frozen in time, as though we were still living in the times of the Greeks. I don’t expect you, in this forum certainly, to criticize orthodoxy. It would go against the site’s mission statement, after all. But the rest of us have no such strictures. So maybe I shouldn’t ask you to speak, but I would ask you for some advice how to respond when others ask me – what do we say to the Yair Hoffman’s of the world?
[YA – Not having read R Hoffman’s piece, I can’t comment on it. It is true that Christianity is considered avodah zarah for Jews, but I don’t know why that would be germane to the question of whether to dialogue with them. (The issue of whether Christianity is acceptable for non-Jews according to the halachos of sheva mitzvos is of course more complex, with lots of material on both sides.) What matters is what should be discussed, and who should be doing the discussing. My own understanding (and I have discussed the matter with important figures in the yeshiva world, as well as people close to the mesorah from Rav Soloveitchik zt”l on this topic) is that the continued support of tens of millions of Christians is a matter of national security, and that there is ample room to work within the parameters of halacha towards firming up the relationship. This can be done without the missteps of the recent document from the Orthodox left.]
“It is true that Christianity is considered avodah zarah for Jews”
Actually complex it is unclear if a Jew accepts Christianity is guilty of involve “apostasy or idolatry”
It is completely forbidden for a Jew to accept Christianity-for a Jew we would much prefer he become an atheist than become a follower of another religion.
To some extent we are dealing with a problem that the Talmud didn’t have but Rishonim already had- how to deal with non Jewish religions that are not AZ-including for most Islam and some Christianity. Thus the issue of whether a Jew can enter a mosque is not clear there are those who believe that it is absolutely forbidden to enter any non Jewish house of worship even if it is NOT a house of AZ.
“Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l on what is kosher in interfaith conversation”
No one ever can be totally sure what the Rav would have permitted in interfaith dealings. Even people who dealt with Rav actively in this area-most are in olam haemet-would not have been sure exactly his parameters. Thus, it is no secret that those who did such work often met for hours with the Rav before dealing in such matters. To do a proper guess one could not merely look at Confrontation but also as Prof Kaplan has pointed out many times his guidance on what specific activities are permitted and which aren’t-reprinted I believe in Treasury of Tradition 1967 when they reprinted Confrontation. In addition I believe an analysis of what he permitted and didn’t in the years until at least 1980-afterwards his decline sadly was becoming evident-is crucial. His viewpoint is very complex-probably not agreeing with either side of the attacks.
Re AZ and religion with most believers in the world there is strong evidence that in practice the Rav acted as if the Meiri’s position on the religion is halacha lemaaseh.
For a Christian Evangelical perspective see:
R Adlerstein has focused on why the above linked statement is objectionable:
“Both Jews and Christians have a common covenantal mission to perfect the world under the sovereignty of the Almighty.”
When such a statement is taken to its logical conclusion, it cannot answer the question of “why be Jewish” because it is a politically correct statement that ignores and rejects Halacha and Jewish history that rejected any such stance as permissible for the Jewish People as individuals and as a nation , and bedrock Jewish beliefs such as Bchiras Yisrael, and that Am Yisrael exists solely as a nation that is Kidshanu Bmitzvosav, both of which were dispensed with and viewed as superceded R”L by the founders of the RCC. Such a statement deserves the widest possible rejection and condemnation in the Torah observant world. Yes, Klal Yisrael , Am Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael need allies-but never at the expedient gesture of rewriting and and setting forth unacceptable views of Ikarei Yahadus
“If conservative Protestants can borrow some of this, we will be making real progress.”
Two relatively liberal Protestant groups in the US have made statements very similar to what the Catholic Church recently said, even citing the very same New Testament verse as a justification. They are the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church. The Presbyterian Church USA rejected a similar statement about 30 years ago.
[YA – ….but no cigar. Both of these denominations have adopted (or are poised to adopt) anti-Israel, pro BDS resolutions – something that the Catholic Church is not likely to do]