Editor's Choice:
Judaism's Twentieth-Century Conversations
by Randi Rashkover

       Paul Mendes-Flohr, German Jews: A Dual Identity. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999. 149pp. $18.50 (cloth).

       Scott Bader-Saye, Church and Israel after Christendom: The Politics of Election. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1999. 191pp. $65.00 (cloth).

From its beginnings, Jewish identity has been in part determined by encounters with other peoples. Long before Hegel, Judaism had already affirmed that the recurrent dialectical encounter between Jews and other peoples may have a positive effect on the continued formation of Jewish identity, the Jewish identity.(1) The Bible is filled with examples of Jews achieving deeper understandings of their own tradition by virtue of such encounters. Jethro reminds Moses that governing involves delegation of tasks. Ruth teaches us the value of loyalty and kindness. Later exiled from the land of Israel, Jews encountered outside cultural, religious, and intellectual influences, all the while developing mechanisms for preserving their uniqueness and commitment to God's exclusive commandments. Jewish history attests to countless manifestations of this dynamic from Philo's Platonism to Maimonedes' Aristotelianism, up to and including the secular nationalism of religious Zionists like Rav Kook. Although Judaism hosts many opinions regarding the proper conditions and worth of these types of encounters, one can identify a clear strain within the tradition, crystallized in the thought of great Jewish thinkers such as Saadia Gaon and Samson Raphael Hirsch, that applauds these types of encounters insofar as they work in the service of enhancing Torah. The particular backdrop of the Post-Enlightenment age has given Jews a unique opportunity and often a unique pressure to encounter the other. Mendes-Flohr's German Jews: A Dual Identity and Scott Bader-Saye's Church and Israel after Christendom offer thought-provoking accounts of two particular instances of the Jewish encounter with the other in this Post-Enlightenment age.

Retrieving the German-Jewish Renaissance: Mendes-Flohr's The German Jews: A Dual Identity

Eloquently written and illuminating for scholars, teachers, and lay readers, Mendes-Flohr provides an historical reassessment of German Jews' commitment to German intellectual culture in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His historical analysis derives from a composite of letters, poems, essays, and personal anecdotes issued by those Jews, known as the Literatenjuden (Jewish intellectuals), whose lives were ensconced in the effort to discern and articulate a calling of two "spiritual estates" (22), the Jewish and the German.

The Holocaust, Mendes-Flohr tells us, "casts a dark shadow on German-Jewish history" (2). Under the veil of this shadow, post-World War II historians and Jewish thinkers alike have constructed a falsely simplistic image of the Jewish affair with German culture. Deemed naively attached to a culture and people who then hosted the most brutal assault on the Jewish people in history, the Jews of this period, says Mendes-Flohr, have been indicted on charges of "courting peril by endorsing the myth of a German-Jewish symbiosis. . ." (90).(2) But such a view "[i]s burdened by the fallacy of retrospective judgement. . . considered from the perspective of Auschwitz, those dangers assume a magnitude that those contemporary with the Weimar Republic could not have foreseen" (92). But this inquiry into pre-holocaust German Jewry goes beyond a mere apologia for their response to Hitler's Germany and offers an even more poignant illumination of the contours of their encounter with German culture -- contours more complex, pained, and spiritually guided than hitherto considered.

According to Mendes-Flohr, in order to properly enter the worldview of the Literatenjuden it is necessary to challenge two commonly held assumptions: (1) German Jews had confidently and unabashedly assimilated into German culture of the nineteenth- and twentieth- centuries; and (2) this assimilation precluded any continued commitment to Judaism or Jewish identity. In chapter 1, "The Bifurcated Soul of the German Jew," Mendes-Flohr takes on the first of these myths with "a poet's attention to the painful experiences that shaped [German Jewry's] grim. . . reality" (2). Often thought of as foolishly smitten with Germany, the Jews of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Germany were neither deluded by a false sense of acceptance nor undiscerning in their love for German culture.

German Jews were specifically attracted to the culture of Bildung -- "the educational ideal of self-cultivation" (2) represented by Kant and Goethe. The Jewish attachment to the values of Bildung could be traced to the Jewish interest in earning and then sustaining their emancipation status. Jews sought to educate themselves in the culturally popular terms of the day and also recognized how the success of Bildung and its corresponding vision of a neutral society constituted the necessary environment for their continued citizenship. Additionally, German Jews developed a nonpolitically motivated affinity for Bildung insofar as this culture of self-education echoed a number of centerpiece Jewish values, including an emphasis on education, a concern for transcendent truth, and the commitment to the alliance between truth and the ethical life.

Oddly enough, however, the Jewish encounter with, or acculturation to, this worldview of self-cultivation did not provide a one-way ticket to easy assimilation. While eighteenth-century German Enlightenment devotees maintained a commitment to the vision of a neutral society, nineteenth-century Germans preoccupied with marking the definitions of the German national identity "parted from that model of the modern state -- dismissively associated in the minds of many Germans with France. . . [and] developed an alternative conception of the state as principally serving a Volksnation, or a given people. . ." (15-16). Caught in the entanglement produced by changing ideologies, the Jews of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Germany were not seduced and ultimately foiled by a nonexistent German reality, but were "painfully aware. . . that they were assimilated in the accusative -- and not assimilated in the dative. . . [T]hat is, they were not assimilated into German society" (3). Struggling to choreograph a fruitful encounter between two great spiritual and intellectual worlds, German Jews were cognizant of their separation from Germany as both Jews and as sponsors of a German culture no longer widely supported.

Having shattered prior images of Jewish naivete, in chapters 2 and 3 Mendes-Flohr further develops the portrait of the Jewish-German encounter, focusing attention on the German Jews' tie to their Jewish identity. As early as 1783, when Moses Mendelssohn wrote his classic Jerusalem, Jews conjoined their attraction to German Enlightenment values with their commitment to their Jewish identity. "Behind Mendelssohn's impassioned defense of the rational structure of Judaism was a healthy desire to preserve Jewish identity" (14). Similarly, German Jews of the nineteenth century embraced the then in vogue doctrine of historical progress without nodding to Hegelian tendencies to devalue Judaism as anachronistic. Instead, they took this doctrine to mean that "Judaism could be acknowledged as one of the eclectic cultures composing German Kultur" (39). In shedding light on this dual commitment to German and Jewish identities, Mendes-Flohr is not attempting to whitewash the fact that Jews found it difficult to maintain a dual identity. Recreating the high moments of an exchange between Ludwig Strauss and the young Walter Benjamin in 1912, Mends-Flohr makes readers privy to the confusion that plagued Literatenjuden and their struggle to enunciate the essence of the Jewish identity by which they remained bound. And he maintains that the existence of this struggle itself evidences Jews' continued need to assert their Jewish identity. Not only did Jews remain committed to their own identity, but they ultimately understood their encounter with German culture within the framework of their own Jewish self-understanding. More than an actual meeting with German citizens, the Jewish-German encounter was an "inner Jewish dialogue" (93) -- a conscious effort for Jewish self-examination in light of the cultural, spiritual resources of the Bildung culture.(3)

The years 1900-33 in German Jewish history were marked by a renaissance in Jewish life and culture. While such a movement may be difficult to explain from a picture of a strictly assimilated German Jewry, it becomes far less surprising in view of Mendes-Flohr's more contoured analysis of the German-Jewish encounter as an "inner Jewish dialogue." Already in 1916, with the publication of Martin Buber's journal Der Jude, many German Jews entered a new phase in the dialectical encounter with German culture. Able and inspired to move beyond the crisis of dual identity characteristic of the late nineteenth century, Jews began to assert a more pronounced affiliation with their Judaism, now reinterpreted through the lens of their encounter with Deutschum. In chapter 4, Mendes-Flohr presents the life and thought of Franz Rosenzweig as "the focus and symbol of this. . . renewal. . ." (66).

The child of a family that could be traced back on one side to Modercai Jaffe, a great kabbalist and Talmudist of the sixteenth century, and on the other to Samuel Meyer, a pioneer of the Enlightenment, Rosenzweig "saw his family history as representative of the spiritual biography of German Jewry" (67). But Rosenzweig became heir to the spiritual biography of German Jewry through his intellectual inheritance as well. Having devoted much of his early studies to the German idealists, particularly Hegel, Rosenzweig soon called strict idealism into question and like many other young philosophers of his day began entertaining a return to religion. Initially attracted to Christianity, the religion of choice for some doubting idealists (Judaism was considered anachronistic by most non-Jewish and some Jewish Hegelians), in a final visit to synagogue on Yom Kippur in 1913, Rosenzweig dramatically reversed his position and left synagogue committed to a return to Judaism. Shortly thereafter, Rosenzweig enrolled in courses taught by Herman Cohen, his primary intellectual link to the German-Jewish encounter.

Enamored by Cohen's thought, Rosenzweig nonetheless began to question Cohen's formulation of the Judentum-Deutschum partnership. According to Mendes-Flohr, the young Rosenzweig did not so much object to Cohen's commitment to two spiritual resources as to the value Cohen assigned to each. From Rosenzweig's perspective, the Literatenjuden were correct to recognize an alliance between Judaism and German philosophy; Rosenzweig himself took Germany to be the site of the "new Babylon. . . a land of two rivers" (23). Where the Literatenjuden failed, however, was in their inability to fully recognize Judaism in both its "metaphysical and epistemological distinctiveness" (76), as well as in its vitality as a form of life for active Jewish communities. For while Moses Mendelssohn strove to argue for Judaism's inherent rationality, his identification of Judaism as "revealed religion" nonetheless pointed to German culture and philosophy as the fundamental source of that rational truth itself. And while Herman Cohen celebrated Judaism as the world's primary source of ethical monotheism, Cohen's vision of Judaism lacked an emphasis on the real life of the community. For Rosenzweig, authentic Judaism was both a way of life and philosophically distinctive. Herein, says Mendes-Flohr, is Rosenzweig's response to the German Jews' effort to understand the essence of the Jewish-German encounter. Those Jews struggling to understand the balance between their Judaism and their commitment to Bildung were fighting a false fight, pained over a false dichotomy. Judaism is home to both a particularistic people and a philosophical universalism. "Though embodied in the life of a people, Judaism attests to revealed, metahistorical and hence metacultural truths."(82) Undoubtedly a people apart, the Jews nonetheless live in expectation of an end of days beyond the particularities of history. Theirs is a particularity for the purpose of a more universal reality.

Mendes' Flohr's reading of Rosenzweig as both heir and culmination to the German Jews' "inner Jewish dialogue" fills an important vacuum in recent Rosenzweig studies. While the past ten years have witnessed a swelling of secondary works on Rosenzweig's thought, few present it in the frame of modern Jewish history.(4) Such a reading becomes even more significant in view of the fact that given Rosenzweig's familial and intellectual lineage, he clearly saw his own work as immediately responsive to the situation of the early twentieth-century German Jew. Where Mendes-Flohr's account lacks, however, is in its ability to articulate fully how or on what grounds Rosenzweig understood Judaism to be the authentic conjoining of Jewish particularity and German universalism. A proper explication of Rosenzweig's vision of the metaphysical contribution of Judaism would require a work more theologically oriented than Mendes-Flohr's, for by metaphysical truth Rosenzweig understood theological truth, a point to which Mendes-Flohr does not attend.

Of greatest value in Mendes-Flohr's reading of Rosenzweig is his ability to align Rosenzweig's work with the struggle of Literatenjuden before him and recognize his return to Judaism as the culmination of this struggle. That Mendes-Flohr recognizes Rosenzweig's contribution to Jewish life and learning as the culmination of the often painful inner Jewish meeting with German culture evidences Mendes-Flohr's own appreciation for the struggle of the German Jews of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as an inner Jewish dialogue that afforded Jews a valuable opportunity for self-reflection and a more enlightened understanding of their own tradition. We can hope that this historical retrieval may work to inspire contemporary Jews to engage in similar encounters.

Extending the Conversation: Scott Bader-Saye's Church and Israel after Christendom: The Politics of Election

One hundred years ago, when German Jews laced their libraries with the works of Goethe and Kant and the general intellectual tide of the day was critical of religion, few would have anticipated a time when Christians would become one of Jews' most eager and active conversation partners. Nonetheless, in late twentieth-century America, Jews and Christians have come together for conversation, sometimes to increase their mutual understanding, other times to share in what they see as a battle against American moral atrophy. Scott Bader-Saye's Church and Israel after Christendom: The Politics of Election is one recent example of this kind of Christian-Jewish exchange. A thoughtful and often inspiring effort to reconsider Christianity's political calling in a post-Constantinian age, by way of a Christian reassessment of the Jewish politics of election, Bader-Saye's work will undoubtedly be recognized by Christians engaged in similar efforts, most notably Rosemary Ruether, Kendall Soulen, and Oliver O'Donovan. But it is not only valuable to Christians. Insofar as Bader-Saye provides a new model of Jewish-Christian relations, his work invites a Jewish response. Jews need to hear this invitation and like their German Jewish ancestors, risk an encounter with this religious other, not only for the sake of establishing better relations with Christians but also for the purpose of involving themselves in the dialectical self-examination that inevitably ensues from this type of exchange.

A call to reexamine the position of Christianity in late twentieth-century western world, the book is, the author claims, a direct response to two momentous historical realities. The first is the end of Christendom. While Bader-Saye acknowledges that the process of Christendom's demise began before the twentieth century, it has only been in the past fifty years that the Christendom paradigm has passed from the American religious scene in particular. Consequently, the time is ripe to ask the following question: If Christianity no longer assumes a political position of strength and influence world-wide, what political position, if any, ought it to assume?

Second, Christianity has been prompted to self-examination by the event of the Holocaust. Granted that the destruction of the Jews was sponsored by the Nazi party and its particular brand of racial ideology, the question remains: What role did centuries of Christian anti-Judaism have in the success of the Nazi program of destruction? Plagued by this question and the history of a doctrine of contempt, the Catholic Church and many Protestant churches have embarked on new efforts to reconsider their position on Judaism. Yet, according to Bader-Saye, while these efforts have resulted in new doctrinal positions,(5) still needed is an examination of how these new formulations affect the life of Christian communities. "[L]ittle has been done so far to ask how the church's own life and witness are impacted by the conviction that the church's identity is grounded in Israel's election" (2).

Bader-Saye argues that Christians must begin to recognize the connection between these two seemingly separate historical realities. As he discusses in chapter 1, noteworthy Christian theologians have for some time now steadfastly worked to reenvision the political role of Christianity in the post-Enlightenment liberal society. He looks specifically at the efforts of Stanley Hauerwas and John Milbank, who both turn to the ancient Greek model of the polis and its vision of the virtuous life as a directive for Christian communities in search of political guidance. While Bader-Saye applauds their search for a solution to the political confusion confronting late twentieth-century churches, he nonetheless maintains that they have "done so by appropriating a political and moral discourse from outside the church's biblical idiom" (6). The answer to the church's true political calling is closer to home, rooted in the Jews' covenantal relationship to the electing God. Consequently, argues Bader-Saye, the church's political position is inextricably linked to its response to the Holocaust. In turning to the Jewish covenantal reality as the directive for its true political calling, the church transforms its understanding of Judaism and allows itself to be positively influenced by its unique Jewish heritage.

In chapter 2, Bader-Saye attempts to characterize what he calls the Jewish politics of election. For this characterization he relies heavily on David Novak's The Election of Israel: The Idea of the Chosen People and Michael Wyschogrod's The Body of Faith: God in the People Israel, two relatively recent works that attempt to refamiliarize Jews with the biblical-rabbinic doctrine of election.

Calling upon David Novak's theological definition, a Jew, Bader-Saye claims, is "one who participates with the Jewish people in the history of God's election and covenant" (30). Leaning further on Novak's own analysis, he states that Jewish election refers to "the communal and carnal, eternal and unconditional choosing of Israel by God. . ." (31). He sees as particularly important the fact that God's election of Israel is the election of a people and not individuals; God elects all the descendants of that people, not only those said to be physically present at Sinai. Furthermore, Israel's election is what Michael Wyschogrod has termed a carnal or corporeal election. God elects Israel not on spiritual criteria but strictly by virtue of the "seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" (33). Consequently, God's election of Israel is unconditional. "Since the covenant was not based on obedience, disobedience could not overturn it" (33). As the election of Israel is God's loving work, Israel derives its identity as a people, therefore, from God himself.

Guided by Novak and Wyschogrod, Bader-Saye is not incorrect in this theological reading of Jewish identity as grounded in God's election. Furthermore, he rightly claims that it is precisely because Jewish identity is lodged in an act of the loving God that the Jews were able to maintain an identity as a people even after their exile from the land of Israel. Nonetheless, he goes on to claim: "In Abraham God determined to create a new kind of nation, a placeless people whose identity was grounded in blessing rather than belligerence" (36). Knowingly or not, Bader-Saye moves from the understanding of Jews as a people whose identity is defined by God's election to an understanding of the Jews as elected by God to be a "placeless people whose identity was grounded in blessing rather than belligerence." As I will discuss further below, while many Jews (particularly religious Jews) will agree with this definition of an identity based in God's election, those same Jews would take Bader-Saye to task for claiming that with this election, God has determined them to be a placeless people. Similarly one may question whether Israel's unique identity was grounded in blessing rather than belligerence, for the Bible attests to countless battles between the Israelites and those whom God sought to destroy so as to secure Israelite inheritance of the land. For now, suffice it to say that Bader-Saye is interested in drawing a portrait of the Jews as a people who maintains a political identity separate and different from the other nations of the world, rooted in God's own desire for a just and blessed world.

Election, however, is not only God's choice of Israel but Israel's response to God. The biblical God elects the Jewish people to be a holy people, who imitates God's own ways. God elects the Jews into a covenant or a "relationship of mutuality" (38), secured by a life of Torah. Bader-Saye is also right to draw from Novak's own emphasis on the materiality of this life of obedience. The Torah prescribes a life of holiness in all aspects of life. In the end, like Novak, he wants to highlight the political nature of this covenant; he quotes Novak, who says, "More than anything else the covenant is a political idea and a political reality. By 'political' I mean the whole range of human communal existence and its place in the very nature of things. . ." (41). The Jews are therefore a people whose political life is a life of holiness strictly devoted to the "glorification of God's name" (41) over and against any particular nationalism or self-interest.

Finally, God's election and the Jews' response through covenant are fulfilled in God's redemption, the "goal or promise, the ultimate purpose toward which election and covenant move" (31). But what do Jews say redemption is? Bader-Saye acknowledges that there is no consensus within the Jewish tradition on the question. The tradition generally sways between two views -- what Novak labels the "extensive" or "minimalist" view and the "apocalyptic" or "maximalist" view. The former suggests that redemption looks like an "extension" of the present -- i.e., Jews will be able to freely live a life of Torah; "other nations will either convert or be subordinated to Israel's rule as the authority of Torah is extended over all people" (47). Conversely, the "maximalist" view, to which Novak holds, contends that redemption will usher forth "qualitative" changes in reality, "which will extend even to the Torah" (47).

Although Bader-Saye avers that he merely wants to "listen in on this Jewish conversation" (28), he nonetheless privileges Novak's maximalist view of redemption over the more traditionalist or Maimonedian minimalist view. He is going to want to base his vision of a post-Constantinian Christianity on the Jewish view of redemption and hopes to establish simultaneously new bridges between the two religions. Consequently, he inevitably favors the maximalist view precisely on the grounds that it alone posits the possibility of a change in the content of Torah that will make the reality of obedience through the cross a conceptual possibility. Consequently, he provides no textual verification for the minimalist perspective, but quotes passages from Jeremiah and the rabbis to justify the maximalist view. Bader-Saye also favors the definition of redemption offered by the prophet Zechariah, drawing out five additional features of redemption: the gathering of the Jews from the diaspora into a united people; the wiping out of Israel's sin; the restoration of the land of Israel (although he qualifies this by saying that "the restored Jerusalem will be a city without walls" (45); peace and plenty; and the ingathering of the gentiles to "the peaceable kingdom. . ." (46). In sum, the Jews are a people who live a political life under God and anticipate a visible redemption that includes all the nations of the world in a peaceable kingdom of plenty.

How is this vision of a politics of election significant for Bader-Saye's own effort to reconstitute a vision a post-Constantinian Christianity? Why is it that he clearly favors one view of the Jewish redemption over another? We begin to get the answer to this question in chapter 4, where he presents a creative and provocative analysis of the relation between the church's doctrine of supersessionism and its failure to articulate a viable vision of the redemption it proclaims has come through Jesus Christ.

More specifically, Bader-Saye argues that supersessionism began with the effort by members of the early church (themselves a sect of Judaism) to formulate their belief in Jesus as the Messiah in relation to a dominant Jewish tradition that insisted on rejecting it. Consequently, many "went so far as to imply that God's election had been transferred to a new people" (53). The Jews, according to this belief, forfeited their right to inherit God's promises. Their status as elect had been transferred to those who maintain faith in Christ. Later church fathers lent a gnostic spin on this burgeoning supersessionism, arguing that the Jews lost their right to God's promises because of their worldliness; "election was reconfigured as a spiritual matter concerned with knowledge and belief. . ." (54).

However, by deJudaizing the doctrine of election, Bader-Saye argues that the church left itself unable to account for the visibility of God's redemption brought by Christ and, by extension, was "left with a sociopolitical vacuum. . ." (57). Where was the redemption that the revelation in Christ brought forth? Was it only an eschatological hope, or a present invisible and spiritual reality? According to Bader-Saye, once Constantine converted to Christianity, the church abandoned these earlier speculations and "allowed itself to be grafted in to the history of nation and empire" (57). The deJudaizing of the doctrine of election led to the sins of the Constantinian Church. While the modern period marked an end to strict Constantinianism, the church remains vexed by political disorientation, now privatized by independent nations who see themselves as heirs to God's election and ultimately demand the church's subservience and allegiance. Now devoid of political influence, the church nonetheless maintains its dangerous liaison with the secular powers.

Having diagnosed the church's political illness and identified the cause as the church's deJudaization of the doctrine of election, Bader-Saye has laid the necessary groundwork to argue in favor of a reJudaization of the church. Chapter 4 shows similar efforts at a reJudaization of the church by Calvin, Barth, and contemporary theologians such as Ruether, Soulen, and O'Donovan. But all these efforts fail, he points out, on one of two grounds: either they fail to overcome the doctrine of supersessionism (Calvin, Barth) or they overcome the doctrine of supersessionism at the expense of maintaining a properly trinitarian Christian theology (Ruether, Soulen, and O'Donovan).

A reJudaized trinitarian theology starts with a restoration of the concept of the "new covenant." While this concept has often implied the displacement of the Jews' own covenant, Bader-Saye wants to restore it in a way that simultaneously acknowledges God's continued and eternal faithfulness to the Jewish people, and emphasizes "the significance of Jesus Christ for all people" (97). To this end, he reminds readers that when this concept first appears in Jeremiah, it does suggest a qualitative change in the Torah, but does not call into question God's eternal faithfulness to the Jewish people. "Whatever the new covenant is, Scripture assures us it will not mean the rejection of God's people Israel" (99).

But what does it mean? The answer, Bader-Saye believes, can be found in reexamining Paul's view of the Jews in God's economy, as portrayed in Romans 9-11, where Paul presents God's revelation in Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham and his descendants. In Jesus Christ, God has issued a new covenant, but this is none other than the fulfillment of the promises made in the old covenant, no longer through obedience to the law or the Torah but through "Torah obedience stamped by the cross of Christ, which becomes the definitive paradigm of faithfulness" (107). God remains faithful to the Jews by fulfilling their covenant through the revelation in Jesus Christ, thereby inaugurating the time of redemption. Moreover, Paul's God maintains faithfulness even to those Jews who refuse to believe. Bader-Sayre quotes Paul: "Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy" (Romans 11:25-32).

From Bader-Saye's vantage point, Paul's Christianity is none other than the fulfillment of what Novak calls a "maximalist" vision of Israel's redemption. God maintains his faithfulness to Israel's election, but "the Gentiles are called and grafted into Israel's covenant" (116) through the revelation in Jesus Christ. The Torah is qualitatively reinterpreted by the cruciform ethics of Christ's obedience; the Gentiles become participants in God's material and political covenant with the Jews; and even those Jews "disobedient" to the cruciform ethics will inherit God's mercy.

This restoration of new covenant language reJudaizes the church's own doctrine of election and affords the church a new political direction. For just as the revelation in Christ inaugurated the time of redemption, the work of the Holy Spirit ensures that the church may embody the political life of the redeemed community even before redemption is completed with the second coming of Christ. For Bader-Saye, the essence of this political life is none other than the same "glorification of God" that grounded Israel's own politics of election, but now in the context of the time of redemption. Consequently, the church is called to "live in peace and love of enemies, to share the plenty of God's earth and to witness to the unity and reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles made possible through Christ and the Holy Spirit" (108).

Church liturgical life constitutes the essence of new covenantal political life. Baptism enacts a Christian's entrance into the particular brand of freedom through faithfulness afforded by the new covenant in Christ. The practice of the Eucharist provides the means through which the church (with the aid of the Holy Spirit) embodies the messianic peace fully realized with the second coming, for in this practice the community comes together to share in the flesh of "the one who embodies cruciform Torah obedience" (140). Profoundly corporeal, the Eucharist enacts the engrafting of Christians onto the corporeal election of Israel, now redeemed through the flesh of Jesus Christ. Finally, rooted in the "peaceful sacrifice of the cross" (142), the practice of the Eucharist provides the church with its ethical criteria. Itself a sacrament of peace and plenty, the Eucharist offers a moral compass against killing and poverty. "As such, to arise from the table and do violence to one another is not only a self-destructive act; it is destructive of Christ himself. It is to crucify Christ anew" (141). Neither a ruling power over others, nor an ineffectual recreational association, the church of the new covenant can and ought to "sing its song of praise" and allow its own witness to be heard as "truly public work" (146), while engaging in "ad hoc engagements with the world's powers in order to achieve goods such as feeding the hungry, caring for the orphan and welcoming the stranger" (146).

With this vision, Bader-Saye believes he has presented a vision of a Christologically inspired, pneumatologically secured, political vision of the church that simultaneously reflects God's faithfulness to Jewish election and respects the "witness of Israel post Christum" (28). Has he?

Bader-Saye has offered a theologically and scripturally compelling argument for a reJudaized Christian doctrine of election. Still, I see two fundamental flaws with the model he presents. The first concerns his vision of the church's role in the contemporary public square -- more specifically what he calls "ad hoc engagements with secular powers" (146). The question at hand is: How can the church secure itself against the temptation to ally with worldly powers, or become a worldly power itself? Bader-Saye acknowledges this problem but offers only one suggestion. Churches can keep a healthy distance from state interests by refusing government financial assistance. But this suggestion overlooks the real issue at hand -- namely, how can the church remain ethical in the time before the return of Christ?

Bader-Saye's ethics is grounded in a "cruciform obedience," an ethics of the cross. One should not act in ways that contradict the vision of peace and plenty represented by Jesus' "peaceful sacrifice of the cross" (148). In his famous Epistle to the Romans, second edition, Karl Barth argues, " the Church does not wish to be a stranger in the world. . . It cannot stay itself. . . in the Passion of the rejected Christ. . . The Church is in great haste; it is hungry and thirsty for the concrete joys of the marriage feast" (440). Left to its own devices, the church will inevitably promote its own worldly interests, looking to ally itself with the secular powers, or establish itself as an earthly power. Like any human form of religious life, the church remains burdened by sin. One does not have to accept the radical, krisis ethics of Barth's Romans as a solution. Rather, like the Barth of the Church Dogmatics, it is possible to find a midpoint between a recognition of the church's sin and its ability to provide a visible representation of the Kingdom of God on earth, prior to the second coming. Like Bader-Saye, Barth recognizes that it is through the power of the Holy Spirit that the church may be faithful to the redemption brought through Christ. But unlike Bader-Saye, Barth believes that the possibility for human ethical action derives from God's free act of love and grace (sustainable here and now through the power of the Holy Spirit), an act we cannot control or possess but can only respond to.(6) Human ethical life derives from the power of the Word of God, and the church must constantly test its own proper hearing of this Word. This is the role of dogmatics. Barth recognizes the church's own fallibility and its need for a mechanism of self-critique. Cruciform ethics alone do not guard against the church's interest in power, for like all human life prior to the second coming, the church remains burdened by its own sin. Bader-Saye wants to model Christianity's political life from Judaism's material existence. But as Bader-Saye acknowledges, because Judaism maintains that redemption is yet to come, "Jewish social ethics, then, must always take into account the 'finitude, mortality and fallibility' of human subjects. There is, thus a tentative quality to all moral decisions" (49). But, of course, this is different in the case of Christianity, which holds that redemption is inaugurated in the revelation with Christ. If Christianity is to be openly material and political, it must sustain a mechanism for self-criticism.

The second significant flaw in Bader-Saye's argument concerns his claim to have overcome fully the church's doctrine of supersessionism, while offering a new way to acknowledge "witness of Israel post-Christum." According to Bader-Saye, the church's doctrine of supersessionism is overcome if the church acknowledges God's continued faithfulness to the Jews. As we recall, aided by Paul's account in Romans, Bader-Saye claims: (1) God remains faithful to the Jews by issuing forth the redemption in Jesus Christ -- God's promised redemption of the Jews is therein fulfilled; and (2) God remains faithful even to those Jews who do not accept redemption in Christ, for though "they have now been disobedient. . . they too may now receive mercy."

This claim that God fulfills the Jewish redemption through Jesus Christ rests on a particular reading of the Jewish understanding of redemption. As mentioned above, even Bader-Saye acknowledges that the Jewish tradition holds at least two different positions on what redemption will look like. Would Jews who favor the minimalist view of redemption recognize God's faithfulness to them in Jesus Christ? For those Jews, the God of the covenant promises a life of unhindered Torah obedience in the land of Israel. If this is the vision of many Jews, can one say that God fulfills the promises of the Jewish redemption, if these are not the promises that many Jews identify with the covenant? Interestingly enough, while Bader-Saye, turning to Wyschogrod's analysis, wants to stress the "corporeality" of the Jewish people, he does not acknowledge that Wyschogrod's analysis rests largely on the portrait of the Jews found in the five books of Moses. However, the vision of redemption offered in the five books of Moses does not confirm Bader-Saye's vision of a "placeless people"; rather, it directly connects to God's desire to deepen his embodiment in the Jewish people while in the land of Israel itself. Bader-Saye picks and chooses his definition of the Jewish people and their redemption to suit his picture of what he wants Christianity to be.

Second, Bader-Saye cannot substantiate his claim that his Christianity compels Christians to acknowledge the "witness of Jews post-Christum." If we recall, Bader-Saye (aided by Paul) argues that God remains faithful to all Jews, both Jews who have adopted Christianity as well as Jews who have rejected it -- i.e., the "disobedient." But what reason would Christians have to acknowledge the validity of the Jewish political witness if, from their future vantage point, Jews must either become Christian or be deemed "disobedient"? The fact that God remains faithful to them in either scenario does little to provide an incentive for Christians to appreciate the Jewish halakhic path as a valid approach to God's redemption if its validity is contingent upon either its transformation into cruciform ethics or strictly by virtue of God's outstanding mercy.

Bader-Saye's effort at overcoming the church's doctrine of supersessionism is a step in the right direction. What his project needs is a more active infusion of Jewish voices. Jews should read his book as an invitation to present a more complex and living picture of Judaism. Just as Mendes-Flohr's book reminds contemporary Jews that engagement with one's surrounding culture need not end in the renunciation of the Jewish tradition, but may incite an ever more conscious and glorified return to it, Scott Bader-Saye's effort to establish a new conversation with Jews can awaken Jews to the fact that one of the greatest opportunities for conversation with others in our pluralistic society is with Christian communities now inviting Jews to a new table of discourse. Bader-Saye's book may help Jews gain further awareness of this invitation and should inspire them to engagement, not only for the sake of the dialogue itself, but also for the opportunity to examine their own Judaism and what it means.


1. [Back to text]  The question as to whether or not this dialectic is endemic to the halakhic process itself is a deeper theological question that would require more space than here allotted. For suggestions on this matter see Martin Kavka's piece in this issue entitled, "Recollection, Zakhor, Anamnesis: On Ira Stone's Reading Levinas /Reading Talmud."

2. [Back to text]  Mendes-Flohr identifies Gershom Scholem as one of the main proponents of this view. "It would be mistaken. . . to conclude that a studied optimism distorted the vision of German Jews, blinding them to the dangers lurking in the dark. . . Gershom Scholem implies this in his condemnation of what he regards as the delusive fantasy of a German-Jewish dialogue. . ." (90).

3. [Back to text]  For Mendes-Flohr, Hermann Cohen, the great Jewish-Kantian of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is perhaps the most poignant example of the Literatenjuden and their struggle to negotiate a vision of Deutschum-Judentum. While Hermann Cohen's vision of an ideal partnership between the two great cultures of Judentum and Deutschum has suffered the charge of tragic naivete, Mendes-Flohr offers an insightful and refreshing rereading of Cohen in light of Cohen's own Kantianism as well as in the context of the Jews' own particular commitment to German Bildung over and above any particular German historical reality. Consequently, Mendes-Flohr allows one to appreciate that Cohen sought an ideal relation between Jewish monotheism and German humanism and not an actual wedding between the Jews of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and German citizens, particularly the nationalists. He says, "Cohen was hardly nave. . . What Cohen proffered is, accordingly, an ideal construct meant to disclose the shortcomings of the present reality. Holding up the ideal as a mirror, he sought ever so gently to rebuke contemporary Germans and prod them to heed their humanistic heritage" (61).

4. [Back to text]  There are many works that situate Rosenzweig's thought in the context of philosophical history. See Robert Gibbs' Correlations in Rosenzweig and Levinas (Princeton University Press, 1992), particularly chapter 1, devoted to Rosenzweig's inheritance from Schelling and Cohen. Also noteworthy is David Novak's Election of Israel. The Idea of the Chosen People (Cambridge University Press, 1995) which frames Rosenzweig's thought within the context of modern Jewish philosophy.

5. [Back to text]  Bader-Saye specifically points to the Vatican's recently issued Nostra Aetate, which says for example that "It is true that the Church is the new people of God, yet the Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from Holy Scripture. . ." (2) -- as well as to the Presbyterian' Church's 1987 statement that "the church, elected in Jesus Christ, has been engrafted into the people of God established by the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Therefore, Christians have not replaced Jews" (2).

6. [Back to text]  "The one Word of God is both Gospel and Law. . . That is, it is a prior decision concerning man's self-determination" (Church Dogmatics, II. II, p. 23). For more on Barth's understanding of divine command ethics, see his Church Dogmatics, II. II, ed., G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1994).

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 1999/2000, Vol. 49  Issue 4.