What would you expect an assembly of Orthodox Jewish rabbis to say about Christianity? Well, read on, and you may be quite surprised.
A 2015 statement issued by twenty-five international rabbinic leaders acknowledges the painful legacy of interfaith relationships, then calls for Jews to welcome overtures from Christians to work towards common goals.
After nearly two millennia of mutual hostility and alienation, we Orthodox Rabbis who lead communities, institutions and seminaries in Israel, the United States and Europe recognize the historic opportunity now before us.
We seek to do the will of our Father in Heaven by accepting the hand offered to us by our Christian brothers and sisters. Jews and Christians must work together as partners to address the moral challenges of our era.
But the declaration doesn’t stop there, and forty-eight additional rabbis from around the world have added their signatures since the initial publication.
Both Jews and Christians have a common covenantal mission to perfect the world under the sovereignty of the Almighty, so that all humanity will call on His name and abominations will be removed from the earth.
The proclamation includes a statement with which many Christians would agree: “We Jews and Christians have more in common than what divides us . . .”
C.S. Lewis, following his conversion to Christianity, reflected his awareness of this truth. In 1941, he referred to a correspondent’s “Hebraic background,” and added, “which I envy you.”
One Jewish website includes this insight into Lewis’ regard for the Jewish faith.
After Joy passed away from cancer Lewis continued to raise her two boys Douglas and David. While Douglas would go on to become a follower of Messiah like his mother, David became an Orthodox Jew and eventually took up the profession of a schochet (ritual slaughterer).
While he still lived with C.S. Lewis, Lewis would provide him with kosher food, which was no small task in 1950s Oxford, England. This was certainly a testament to Lewis’ character and his compassion for the Jewish people.
The rabbinic declaration does not gloss over the differences between Jews and Christians.
Our partnership in no way minimizes the ongoing differences between the two communities and two religions. We believe that G-d employs many messengers to reveal His truth, while we affirm the fundamental ethical obligations that all people have before G-d that Judaism has always taught through the universal Noahide covenant.
Yet it focuses on what we share, and affirms those beliefs as a common gift of our Creator.
In a 1953 letter, Lewis expresses a similar thought, albeit from a Christian perspective.
I think myself that the shocking reply to the Syrophenician woman (it came alright in the end) is to remind all us Gentile Christians—who forget it easily enough and even flirt with anti-Semitism—that the Hebrews are spiritually senior to us, that God did entrust the descendants of Abraham with the first revelation of Himself.
Lewis’ admiration for Judaism increased when he married Joy Davidman, who had been raised in the faith. He penned the Forward to her book, Smoke on the Mountain. In it he expressed a sentiment that reflects the goodwill and familial affection displayed in the rabbinic document.
In a sense the converted Jew is the only normal human being in the world. To him, in the first instance, the promises were made, and he has availed himself of them. He calls Abraham his father by hereditary right as well as by divine courtesy. He has taken the whole syllabus in order, as it was set; eaten the dinner according to the menu.
Everyone else is, from one point of view, a special case, dealt with under emergency regulations . . . we christened gentiles, are after all the graft, the wild vine, possessing “joys not promised to our birth;” though perhaps we do not think of this so often as we might.
It would be wrong to say there is no difference between Judaism and Christianity. But there certainly is much truth the faiths share. And, laboring together towards shared goals they can help make this fallen world measurably happier. It may be “surprising” that many Orthodox rabbis have come to recognize that, but it is certainly welcome news.