Justification and Limitations of Interfaith Dialogue by Rabbi Walter S. Wurzburger (Excerpts)

The following are a few excerpts from the essay Justification and Limitations of Interfaith Dialogue ("the Commentator ",March 2, 2005) by the late Rabbi Walter S. Wurzburger . YU's Rabbi Wurzburger was a student of Rabbi Soloveitchik and headed both the Rabbinical Council of America and the Synagogue Council of America.

"…But while recognizing the values of Christianity, we must exercise great caution lest we endorse features of Christianity which cannot be justified from our perspective. Just because Christianity is willing to assign a special role to Judaism, we need not return the compliment … It is one thing to recognize many positive features of the Christian faith and to see in it an extremely valuable ally in the struggle against secularism, but an entirely different matter to accept the Christian claim that Jesus fulfills a unique function in the redemption of the world - be it only for the non-Jew…

Even if we adopt Maimonides' position as expressed in Hilkhot Melakhim and concede to Christianity an important place in redemptive history, it still does not follow at all from this premise that Christians are involved in the special covenant of Israel. By the same token, with all our appreciation of Christianity as an avenue to God available to the non-Jewish world, we must not gloss over the fact that the Trinitarian faith still falls short of our universal religious ideals. While the belief in the Trinity - classified by the Halakhah as Shituph – may not be regarded as downright prohibited to the non-Jew, we still cannot recommend it as the ideal way in which the non-Jew should relate himself to God.

We should point out that we regard belief in the Trinity as such an aberration that we would rather have a Jew remain an agnostic or atheist than accept these doctrines which for a Jew would involve apostasy or idolatry. It has been suggested by Arthur Gilbert that Jews must come to grips with the theological significance of Christianity because it arose out of Judaism. On the basis of the genetic fallacy we could also argue that Judaism must come to grips with the theological meaning of Marxism because it also arose out of the matrix of Jewish messianic thinking and was first developed by individuals of Jewish descent. It must not be overlooked that whereas Judaism presents a theological problem, if not a challenge, for Christianity, the values and insights of Judaism can be presented with complete disregard for Christianity. It is only with respect to the proper approach to the Christian community that Christian theological dogmas need be considered by us at all… We cannot enter into any deals with respect to matters of theology. We regard as offensive the mere suggestion that in return for the abandonment of missionary activities on the part of the Christian world, Jews should be prepared to acknowledge Christianity as the valid approach to the non-Jewish world. No matter how tempting the overtures of the Christian world, we cannot accept the proposal of Gregory Baum that we acknowledge Christians as the people of the covenant instead of merely classifying them as "the good people of the nations."

Matters of religious faith do not lend themselves to negotiation where in order to arrive at a mutually agreeable settlement both sides are ready to make concessions…

Writing several years ago ("The Christian Jewish Dialogue," The Jewish Spectator, March-April 1965), Professor Petuchowski foresaw that in the wake of the Christian-Jewish dialogue we are bound to lose some of the uncommitted Jews who hover on the periphery of Jewish life. But he felt that in such an eventuality we would lose only "nominal" Jews, not those who are genuine believers of Judaism as a religion, and that such a loss would be outweighed in gains for the cause of genuine religious commitment. However, many of us regard the defection even of non-committed Jews, be they even Jews without any Judaism at all, as a serious catastrophe that must be prevented at all costs. We would certainly prefer a secular Jew to remain an agnostic than become a believer in Christianity. One might,therefore, seriously question the propriety of procedures which might result in improved interfaith relations by would lead to serious defections from the Jewish community. After all, in matters of pikuach nefesh, dangers to life - and this category includes the danger to one's spiritual identity - Judaism maintains that to save one individual is equivalent to saving the whole world…"

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