Jewish-Christian Relations in the Postmodern Era

The third millennium now already a year underway, it is a propitious time to take inventory of Jewish-Christian relations in this postmodern era. Challenged by the task of repairing their worlds after the devastation of the Shoah, Jews and Christians began reconsidering their relationship in the 1960s and '70s. Those of us engaged in Jewish-Christian relations today owe much to the individuals who inaugurated a new chapter in Jewish-Christian history: Soloveitchik, Heschel, Greenberg, Van Buren, Ruether, and others. Nonetheless, the postmodern era we live in affords new possibilities for Jewish-Christian relations unexplored by our theological mentors.

While unprecedented and religiously inspiring, the proposals for Jewish-Christian relations advanced in the last thirty years nonetheless remained primarily apologetic. Generally speaking, the vanguard of interreligious thinkers asked themselves, "Given our understanding of the essential nature of Judaism/Christianity, how far can we go in our discussions with the other?" While the more conservative-minded among these thinkers maintained traditional definitions of their own religions and the more liberal advanced new definitions, each began their analysis with a secure characterization of their respective tradition. Inevitably, this approach restricted the possibilities for Jewish-Christian relations. Bound by prescriptive definitions of their own religious identity, Jews and Christians remained guarded in their discussions with each other, as interested in protecting the essentials of their own faith as in venturing forth in dialogue with the other.

At the start of the third millennium, Jewish-Christian relations are no longer hemmed in by apologetic concerns. The cultural and intellectual terrain has changed. Influenced by the thought of Wittgenstein, Derrida, Habermas, Levinas, et al., religious thinkers have begun to question the essentialist definitions of their religions, appreciating instead their often unstable and dynamic character. This trend in religious thought permits the development of a riskier and more active approach to Jewish-Christian relations. With no essentialist definitions to defend, Jewish and Christian thinkers may more freely expose their traditions to encounters with the other, enjoying the possibility that such encounters may contribute to the ever-fluctuating character of their religious identities and practices. In their own way, each of the essays in this issue's special section on Jewish-Christian relations exemplifies this new approach.

Convinced that Christianity is that complex and dynamic meeting between canonical narrative and the community of interpreters who read it in a given context and with a particular purpose, Scott Bader Saye argues that Christians ought to exploit the elasticity implicit in their tradition to amend Jewish-Christian relations. Similarly, in "Re-Envisioning Christianity," Jim Moore identifies what he calls "the radically new context for doing theology that we now face," a context that obligates Christians to incorporate dialogue with Jews into their own religious practice. And Kevin Madigan's critique of the Vatican's "We Remember" provides a concrete example of how postmodern Christianity may boldly consider the range of Jewish voices in its own appraisal of the Catholic Church.

The Jewish thinkers presented in this issue also demonstrate this turn in Jewish-Christian exchange. Like Jim Moore, Marc Krell encourages Jews to deconstruct "their own master narratives expressing traditional Jewish attitudes toward Christianity" and allow their own understanding of Judaism to be affected by dialogical exchange with Christian believers. Pamela Eisenbaum's "Is Paul the Father of Misogyny and Antisemitism?" challenges Judaism's traditional dismissal of Paul's theological vision. Finally, in "Christianity in Jewish Terms: A Project to Redefine the Relationship," Peter Ochs and David Sandmel alert Jewish communities to the responsibility and benefits of a comprehensive response to Christian dialogical overtures.

Each a call to action, the essays in this special section invite all of us to participate in a new chapter in Jewish-Christian relations.


Copyright of Cross Currents is the property of Association for Religion & Intellectual Life and its content may not be copied without the copyright holder's express written permission except for the print or download capabilities of the retrieval software used for access. This content is intended solely for the use of the individual user.

Source: Cross Currents, Winter 2000-01, Vol. 50  Issue 4.