TEL AVIV (Christian Examiner) – The group of rabbis who issued a proclamation that Christianity is part of God's divine plan and a cooperative, "fraternal" religion with Judaism has been forced to respond to significant criticism – primarily from other Jews – a month after they made their announcement.
In December, the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC) issued a statement declaring its appreciation for the "religious value of Christianity" and claiming that Christianity and Judaism both fulfill God's plan of teaching religious-based ethics to the world.
Their statement, "To Do the Will of Our Father in Heaven: Toward a Partnership between Jews and Christians," called on Christians and Jews together to meet the challenges of modern life. It was signed by more than 25 prominent Orthodox rabbis in Israel, the U.S. and Europe.
Authors of the statement attributed the declaration to the "positive theological status of the Christian faith," characterized primarily in the Roman Catholic Church's willingness to alter its liturgy in a way that is favorable to Jews and also in its absolving of the Jews from guilt in the death of Jesus Christ – a statement made during the Second Vatican Council in 1965.
Now, however, David Nekrutman, director of the CJCUC has been forced to come forward to defend the statement under increasing criticism from the Jewish community in Israel.
"Most reactions to the statement were positive and welcoming, yet some agenda-driven persons have distorted the meaning of our statement to advance their agenda," Nekrutman wrote yesterday in a statement.
"Engaging in Orthodox-Christian theological conversation is rightly undertaken only by believers from both faiths with requisite scholarly credentials, in the shared pursuit of religious authenticity. Recognizing believers of another faith is not a concession to syncretism. It is an act of appreciating God's greatness, goodness, and glory that can touch all people in their diverse culture contexts. Our dialogue is not a dilution of faith; it recognizes that the Divine word is able to speak in different ways to different peoples," Nekrutman wrote.
While he wrote that other rabbis are free to disagree with CJCUC and its effort to build relationships with Christians, he claimed Jewish law demands they "strive for the truth by getting the facts rights, speak to us directly, and attempt to demonstrate our error with honest arguments."
"False name calling and sarcastic, disrespectful ridicule is not the way of any sincerely religious person. Such tactics demean those dissenters and violate the Torah prohibition of slander. The use of satire and falsehoods as a substitute for substance reveals a profound religious blemish," Nekrutman wrote.
He also claimed Christianity deserved the chance to be a partner with Judaism because "Christianity" – presumably Roman Catholicism – had "worked to overcome 2,000 years of Replacement Theology and many now advocate on behalf of the Jewish people and the State of Israel."
Replacement Theology is the belief that all of God's promises to the Jews were transferred to the church. Many strains of Christian theology, such as the end time views of premillennial dispensationalists, also reject the idea of the church as Israel's replacement in God's plan.
While Nekrutman offers no specifics about who exactly opposes the statement among the Jewish community – he says only that they have impugned the center's motives – the leaders of the group also want to make sure that Christians (especially Messianic Christians) know they are not ditching Judaism in favor of following Jesus.
An article from the Messianic Christian Israel Today hailed the announcement from CJCUC as a removal of "one of the main stumbling blocks in the path of a major Jewish reclamation of Jesus!"
The article also claimed the "out-and-out refusal by Jews to accept Jesus is slowly, but surely coming to an end, as growing numbers of prestigious Orthodox Christian rabbis welcome Jesus back."
Rabbi Eugene Korn, academic director of CJCUC, said this is simply "nonsense." Korn said new avenues of interreligious dialogue do not imply conversion to Christianity.
"Some have misunderstood the statement to mean the authors accept Jesus and are encouraging other Jews to do so," Korn said. "That is entirely baseless and false. The statement says explicitly there are fundamental differences between Christianity and Judaism. All the Orthodox rabbis who signed the statement believe that it is absolutely forbidden for Jews to worship any human being, including Jesus, or to accept anything with a physical form as God."