Jewish Israel resumes its series which exposes the efforts and actions of a number of Orthodox leaders who have chosen to publicly challenge the Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s halachic guidelines on interfaith relations and worship. We remind our readership that Rabbi Soloveitchik's position proscribing interfaith theological discussions, dialogue, and debate, is the accepted halacha on interfaith relations for the majority of the Modern Orthodox world.
Rabbi Riskin explores new frontiers and alien theologies
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin continues to tread where most Torah observant Jews refuse to go as he persists in joining his Christian colleagues in a theological quest for commonality.
On October 24th and 25th, Orthodox Rabbis Shlomo Riskin, Eugene Korn, and Naftali Rothenberg will be participating in an interfaith conference at Yale University entitled "New Frontiers in Christian-Jewish Theology". The Theology conference "celebrates the completion of new research by the scholars of the Institute for Theological Inquiry". The Institute for Theological Inquiry is a department of Rabbi Riskin's Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, "the first Orthodox institution in Israel and the world dedicated to Jewish-Christian relations".
Other sponsors of the conference include the Yale Divinity School and the Yale Program of Judaic Studies. The Thomas More Catholic Center at Yale is hosting the conference.
An halachic fence broken
Jewish Israel is not about to analyze and dissect the dialogue and direction of numerous academics who are hashing it out in ivy league divinity schools in an attempt to get Judaism to accommodate Christian theology . But regardless of how one feels about Rabbi Riskin's direction, we can now categorically say that he has overturned the psak of his mentor Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, z"l.
[note: ironically, Rabbi Riskin's position paper for the conference cites the Rav throughout and lauds him as "my spiritual teacher, the most important Orthodox talmudist-philosopher of the 20th Century"]
YU's Rabbi Dr. Alan Brill, who holds the Cooperman/Ross Endowed Chair for Jewish-Christian Studies in honor of Sister Rose Thering at Seton Hall University, has blogged about the upcoming conference and Rabbi Riskin's related research paper.
"As an event, this is a major rejection of Orthodox ban on theological dialogue. The mission of the organization flies directly in the face of the Orthodox approach because it speaks directly of seeking theological commonality. It is important because of who Rabbi Riskin is and because he has now raised funds for a center to engage in direct theological dialogue…"
"…By the end of his paper, Rabbi Riskin surprised me by pleading for religious pluralism in which there is one God and the names YHVH, Allah, the Trinity, Buddha all reflect one reality. All ritual, images, statues, and representations serve the same Divine force. God only cares about morality and the forms of worship are incidental. The rainbow metaphor and its explanation seems like a paraphrase of the famed pluralist John Hick’s rainbow of faiths."
"…Rabbi Riskin concludes with an acceptance of the Pauline understanding of Abraham as the covenant of faith. He views Christianity as entirely within the Noahide laws and as reconciled with Judaism."
And speaking of Pauline…
Indeed Rabbi Riskin writes that, "Christianity sees itself as being grafted onto the Jewish covenant, God’s covenant with Abraham. This is legitimate from a biblical and Jewish perspective, since Abraham, by his very name, is a patriarch of a multitude of nations."
The Christian concept of grafting may be "biblical" from a new testament perspective, but the concept is hardly Jewish. For example, read the following excerpt from the book "Evangelicals and Israel", by Professor Stephen Spector:
"And Lord, we're so thankful for the Jewish people, that we're grafted in, that we're one, one new man in Messiah. Thank you Lord!" Here as Rabbi Meister has done, she was citing Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, which says that the Gentiles are grafted onto the olive tree of the Chosen People. 'The new man' was from Paul's Epistle to the Romans in which he says that Gentiles and Israel are no longer distinct. Christ has abolished in his flesh Jewish laws and ordinances, reconciling the Gentiles and Israel as one body, understood as the Church. For Christians this is a beautiful concept of reconciliation and unity. Many Jews would have trouble appreciating the beauty in it, however.”
Certifiable academic messianism
Is it universalism, globalized Judeo-Christianity, ecumenicalism, inclusivism, egalitarianism, pluralism or something else – like a fast track to "assimilationism"? In a fit of intellectual and spiritual absurdity, a number of theologians have fast-forwarded to a messianic age where divisions are put aside and we all become one big faith cooperative.
Enraptured by a predominantly philo-Semitic era, and frightened by the threat of radical Islam, Rabbi Riskin may have forgotten that Christianity remains big on exclusivism and triumphalism. Anxious for parity and commonality (and interfaith conferences), Jews in the theological arena have dismissed the uniqueness of their heritage and faith and have downgraded it to a religion – while upgrading Christianity (which is a religion), and bestowing upon it covenantal status.
In a longing to get past the birth pangs leading up to a messianic era it seems some Jews are pushing a bit too hard and risk tearing the very fabric that holds the Jewish people together. The product of this premature venture is likely to be dangerously underdeveloped.
Some of us with lesser minds are also toying with a break in tradition, via an addition to our morning prayer liturgy: "Thank G-d for having deprived me of a PhD in humanities"
Holding the line
But before you burn those diplomas, it appears that one can be an academic – with a PhD from Harvard no less - and still uphold the Rav's halachic position with clarity and a degree of dignity. 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…"
And on that note…
Charisma Magazine, published by Stephen Strang –a CUFI regional director and John Hagee's publisher - has an article this month called, "A Jewish Awakening?", claiming that Jews are coming to faith in Jesus in unprecedented numbers – "the numbers are not just rising, but spiking, observers say." Charisma and Stephen Strang regularly promote and encourage missionary endeavours in Israel.
Chosen People Ministries held a conference for biblical and Middle East scholars this month in which 1,700 people attended. "The conference reaffirmed the need to reach all people with the Gospel of Jesus the Jewish Messiah". It's no surprise that missionary Joel Rosenberg was a featured speaker at the event, but it was a surprise when Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon was a featured speaker at Joel's Epicenter event last June, "in the name of Jesus".
Money talks and so does Pastor Hagee
"Christians and Jews listen to me very closely. Our future is bound together by a covenant relationship." Pastor John Hagee (Night to Honor Israel, Jerusalem August 2010)
According to the Jewish Press ,Pastor Hagee has just contributed over 8 million dollars to a long list of Jewish charities at a Night to Honor Israel in San Antonio. Ohr Torah Stone was the recipient of $250,000.
The founder and Chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin declared the following at a lecture on Jewish-Christian Dialogue, held last February at Beit Knesset HaTzvi Hovavei Tzion in Jerusalem:
“I have received over the last ten years...maybe…and this is stretching it greatly…$500,000 from Gentile sources. That’s it.” Most of that money, the overwhelming majority of that money, goes to chessed [ed: “charitable deeds of kindness”] which is not for my institutions per se.”
We don't question Rabbi Riskin's claims from nine months ago, but his original excuse appears to no longer be applicable. When Pastor Hagee speaks and gives, Rabbi Riskin and other Jewish leaders and institutions listen and take – and there appears to be a "covenantal" cost involved.
For example, Netanya Academic College was the recipient of $400,000 this time around, but according to this video Pastor Hagee has already established the Jewish Heritage Center at the college, was instrumental in establishing the synagogue on campus, supported the recruitment of the campus rabbi and promotes activities to bring Jews and Christians closer. The institution hails Hagee as an "icon" and "reciprocates his love without reservations with boundless love and gratitude".
When pastors start building our synagogues, Judaic studies departments, and recruiting our rabbis, then it appears that Judaism is in for a theological realignment. That's not Hagee's fault – it's our fault for not being able to draw appropriate lines in a theologically loaded relationship.
"Breaking down the barriers between Jew and Gentile" is a messianic dream-come-true for Christian Zionists, but it spells nothing more than assimilation and shmad – spiritual annihilation - for the Jews.
Welcome to the Judeo-Christian messianic age.
Protocols for Interfaith Dialogue
RCA reaffirms the need for continued adherance to Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik's guidelines regarding interfaith dialogue.
May 18, 2006 -- Whereas lately there have been suggestions that the guidelines set down by the Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, in dealing with non Jewish denominations prohibiting topics of theology may no longer apply;
Therefore be it noted that these guidelines remain the operative principles of the RCA’s position in this area, and shall continue to remain the cornerstone of all dialogue between us and non-Jewish denominations.
Jewish Israel calls upon any rabbis or community leaders who have read this article to come forward and take a stand.Your comments on this posting are welcome and can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
"Let all the people walk, each one in the name of his god, and we shall walk in the name of our Lord, our God, forever and ever." Micah (4:5)
The Rav Series