Is Christian-Jewish Theological Dialogue Permitted? (part 2)

Confrontation Desired

What emerges most decisively from Rav Soloveitchik’s “Confrontation” is how the Rav always emphasizes the importance of confrontation – dialogue – with the other faith community:

We insist upon the indispensability of the double confrontation….As a charismatic faith community, we have to meet the challenge of confronting the general, non-Jewish faith community.  We are called upon to tell this community not only the story it already knows- that we are human beings committed to the general welfare and progress of humanity, that we are interested in combating disease, in alleviating human suffering, in protecting man’s rights, in helping the needy, etc. – but also what is still unknown to it, namely our otherness as a metaphysical covenantal community (pp. 20,21).

In addition to universal social human concerns, Rav Soloveitchik wants us to communicate what we believe in the secret chambers of our hearts, the differences in our religious commitments.  He opposes a debate on these unique issues with the other faith community, but not our teaching of these issues to the other faith community.Remember, the RCA statement read: “To repeat, we are ready to discuss (dialogue) universal religious problems.  We will resist any attempt to debate our private individual faith commitments” (Statement of the Rabbinical Council of America, February, 1966).

However, what is most important to emphasize is that if indeed Rav Soloveitchik permits dialogue with Christians on ethical, social and political issues, surely such subjects are not merely part of a secular weltanschauung, divorced hermetically from the religious and theological. Is it then possible to have ethical discussion without invoking the creation of human being in God’s image, or political dialogue concerning the State of Israel without citing God’s covenant with Abraham?!

Moreover, allow me to quote Rav Soloveichik’s own words to Cardinal Johannes Willebrands in March, 1971: “All dialogue between Jews and Christians cannot but be religious and theological, for you are a priest and I am a rabbi. Can we speak otherwise than at the level of religion? Our culture is certainly a religious one” (see Korn, “The Man of Faith and Religious Dialogue: Revisiting “Confrontation,” note 17).


And so we established a Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation in Efrat, Israel.  In 2011, more than 7,000 Christians from all over the world have entered our portals to study the Hebraic roots of Christianity, and our faculty has taught many more thousands via DVDs, television programs and lectures in Evangelical churches throughout North America.  We have given teaching seminars to pastors and seminarians and inspired scores of “Nights to Honor Israel” in Evangelical churches all over the United States.

We have initiated an Institute for Theological Inquiry in partnership with the Witherspoon Institute of Princeton, NJ, to provide a forum for theological discussion amongst recognized Christian and Jewish theologians.  The result of our dialogues resulted in a book entitled “Covenant and Hope,” that emphasizes our united mission to bring a God of compassion, morality, freedom and peace into a world caught between the twin dangers of radical Jihadist terrorism on the one hand and rampant secular materialism on the other.  Our next project will be dialogue on “Religion, War and Violence” as well as “The Significance of the Jewish Return to Zion.”  Additionally, we initiated the first Jewish-Evangelical Colloquium ever at Emory University, which resulted in the paper by the Evangelical theologians stating unequivocally that the Christian mission to bear witness is for gentiles exclusively and there is no necessity to convert Jews.  All of our dialogues are clearly within the four official constraints parameters established by Rav J.B. Soloveitchik in “Confrontation.”

It is to be hoped that the CJCUC and the Jewish-Christian dialogue it engenders will be a fitting addition to the “beginning of the sprouting of our redemption” in the era of our return to homeland, responsibility and history. May it hasten the time when God will “turn to His nations with a clear language to call out to all of them in the name of the Lord to serve Him shoulder to shoulder”  (Zephaniah 3:9), and bring about “the perfection of the world in the kingship of the Almighty,” when nation will not lift sword against nation and humankind will not learn war anymore” (Isaiah ch.2, Micah, ch.4).

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