Jewish-Christian Relations Today
Jews and Christians have had a complicated and tense relationship, relations today are better than ever.
Why should Christians & Jews Unite?
writen by Michael Kress, and posted on JEWISH LEARNING website …
The latter half of the 20th century saw a wholesale re-evaluation of the
Christian attitude toward Jews and Judaism, revolutionizing relations
between the two religions. Brought on by the horrors of the Holocaust and
the embrace of pluralism and diversity as positive values, Christian
theologians have repudiated or reinterpreted age-old beliefs that led to antiJewish
violence throughout the centuries.
While differences between the two faith communities still exist, for the first
time in history Jews today have a reasonable expectation that these
differences will be addressed through interfaith dialogue rather than the
violence of the past.
The state of Jewish-Christian relations varies from group to group, but some
general trends do emerge from examining the ways that Jews and Christians
– The Holocaust profoundly affected the ways that Christians from across the
theological spectrum think about and interact with Jews. After World War II,
Christians were forced to confront their religion’s role in helping make
possible the demonization of Jews to such a great degree that slaughtering
Jews en-masse could take place. Anti-Jewish theology, which had for two
millennia pervaded Christian thought, has been largely eliminated, such as
the belief that Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus (known as deicide).
In addition, the role of Christian rescuers–people whose faith led them to risk
their lives by hiding or otherwise saving Jews–provides a meaningful link
between Jews and Christians. However, the role of Christians and
Christianity in perpetuating the Holocaust remains a point of contention
between the two religions.
Israel — specifically, different Christian groups’ stances toward the Jewish
state and its policies — is a major factor in interfaith relations. This is
straining old friendships between Jews and liberal Christians while drawing
Jews closer to conservative Christians with whom they have historically been
– As Jews and Christians intermarry with increasing frequency, especially in
the United States, families are becoming more familiar with the religions to
which their relatives adhere. Although intermarriage produces tensions and
conflicts, anecdotal evidence suggests it also produces learning opportunities:
When Christians join Jewish families, they get to know Jewish people and
Judaism in a more personal way that often helps shatter stereotypes or anti-
Jewish feelings they may have had. Jews, of course, have the same experience
vis-à-vis their new Christian families.
– Christians in recent years have become increasingly interested in exploring
the life of Jesus, which has led many Christians to a more profound and
heartfelt respect for the religion of Jesus, Judaism. Learning about Jesus, for
many Christians, inherently involves learning about Judaism, for Jesus was a
practicing Jew. Christian theologians today tend to emphasize the close
relationship between Judaism and Christianity. The centuries-old belief in
supercessionism–that Christianity superceded, or replaced, Judaism–has
been rejected by theologians from across the Christian spectrum .
Jews, for their part, have not ignored the changes in Christianity. In 2000, a
transdenominational group of Jewish rabbinic and academic leaders issued a
statement called Dabru Emet, “Speak the Truth.” In it, they acknowledged
the efforts of Christians to improve interfaith relations and called on Jews to
learn about and likewise affirm the positive changes. The statement listed
eight points on which Jews and Christians could base dialogue, including
“Jews and Christians worship the same God,” and “a new relationship
between Jews and Christians will not weaken Jewish practice.” Tellingly,
though, it was a statement about the Holocaust that generated the most
controversy from the Jewish community: “Nazism was not a Christian
Among the many changes instituted in Catholicism as part of the
monumental Second Vatican Council in the 1960s was the declaration Nostra
Aetate (“In Our Time”), which formally rejects the charge of deicide, “decries
hatred, persecution, displays of anti-Semitism directed against Jews at any
time and by any one,” and calls for “mutual respect and knowledge” between
Catholics and Jews.
It was, however, John Paul II’s papacy that redefined the relationship
between Catholics and Jews. John Paul II (who was elected pontiff in 1978)
became the first pope since ancient times to visit a synagogue; established
diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel; visited Israel in 2000;
and issued a sweeping apology for past Church “sins.” He has spoken often of
the kinship he sees between the two religions, saying that without Judaism,
Christianity could not have come into being.
Many lingering Catholic-Jewish tensions revolve around the Holocaust. In his
apology, many Jews were upset that the pope failed to mention the Holocaust
specifically. The pope also has taken steps to make the wartime Pope Pius XII
into a saint; many Jewish leaders and scholars believe Pius XII could have–
but chose not to–do much more to save Jews and stop the genocide.
Sainthood has also been a point of tension in other cases. In one instance the
pope named as saint Edith Stein, a Jewish convert who died in the Holocaust,
angering Jews who felt that Stein died because she was a Jew, not a Catholic
Tension also centers around the limited access Jewish leaders and scholars
have had to Vatican archives which may contain records shedding light on the
Church’s role in the Holocaust. Jewish leaders and scholars are seeking
permission to delve into the vast Vatican archives to shed light on the
Church’s role in the Holocaust and more generally in Jewish-Catholic
relations throughout the centuries. The Vatican has resisted such broad
access to its historical records, but negotiations are continuing.
Mainline Protestants and Jews
For much of the 20th century, Jewish-Christian relations in the United States
were defined mostly as the growing affinity between Reform Jews and liberal
“mainline” Protestants, which includes, among others, Presbyterians and
Episcopalians. Mainline Protestants and liberal Jews alike adhered to liberal
religious, social, and political values and embraced modernist belief in human
progress. Closer relations with Jews were part of mainline Protestants’
growing acceptance of what would later be known as “multiculturalism” and
their redefinition of America as a more than just a Christian nation. The
relationship between mainline Protestants and liberal Jews remains strong
today, especially when it comes to domestic political lobbying and social
But in recent years, the ties have been strained over the issue of Israel. Liberal
Protestants tend to condemn Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians; though
they also condemn terrorism, many Jews feel that Protestant critics of Israel
do not understand or sympathize with the big-picture political issues or the
suffering of Israeli civilians. Protestant opposition to Israeli policies has been
especially sharp in Europe, where there is greater support for movements
seen as anti-colonial, including the Palestinian cause.
Over the last two decades of the 20th century, conservative Protestants
became the culturally and politically dominant force in American
Protestantism. It is with these evangelicals that today’s Jews have the most
complicated and surprising relationship.
There are sharp points of disagreement between Jews and conservative
Christians. Though evangelical theologians have rejected deicide and
supercessionism charges, long-held beliefs die hard, and the writings of
theologians don’t always trickle down to the pews, leading to occasional
conflicts. In one period of 2001, the issue was repeatedly in the news when
various public personalities were denounced by Jewish leaders for anti-
Jewish statements; among those in the midst of the furor were a basketball
player and a comic-strip creator, neither of them, of course, theologians or
spokespeople for Christianity.
Evangelicals’ belief that Christ provides the only way to salvation leads to
what is perhaps the sharpest and most emotional wedge between them and
In the 1990s, tensions flared between Jews and Southern Baptists–the largest
Protestant denomination in the United States–when the Southern Baptist
Convention (SBC) announced plans for renewed evangelism of Jews. The SBC
later issued a booklet with advice on proselytizing to Jews during the High
Holiday period. Organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League
denounced the booklet and the idea that any religion can have a monopoly on
truth and salvation
More troublesome to many Jews is the growth of so-called Messianic Jewish
communities. Messianic Jews observe Jewish customs and rituals but believe
in “Yeshua” (Jesus) as the Messiah, a belief anathema to mainstream
Judaism. Most Jews do not consider Messianic Jews to be Jewish, while the
evangelical world embraces them, often referring to them as Jewish
Christians. The establishment of Messianic synagogues/churches in heavily
Jewish cities and neighborhoods, such as Brooklyn, N.Y., and those groups’
proselytism directly to Jews has inflamed tensions.
However, despite strains like these, evangelicals and Jews have forged an
alliance over the issue of Israel. Because of their theological beliefs and
conservative political leanings, evangelicals are strongly and vocally
supportive of Israel, and are in many cases more hawkish than American
Jewish Zionists. In evangelical eschatological theology, Jews are to establish a
Jewish state in Israel as a precursor to the end-times; those Jews will then
convert to Christianity, though that eventuality is less remarked upon
publicly by Jews or Christians.
Given evangelicals’ power within the Republican party and flagging support
for Israel among political and religious liberals, conservative Christians’
support for the Jewish state has proven valuable to the American-Israeli
alliance. In addition, as Orthodox Jewish institutions increasingly emphasize
political lobbying and other public roles, they often find themselves in synch
with evangelical Christians on other political and social issues as well.
None of the issues that have separated Jews and Christians have disappeared
entirely; change is evolutionary, especially when dealing with age-old
religious beliefs. But the changes in the Jewish-Christian relationship since
the postwar years bode well for a future in which these religious “cousins” can
live together peacefully, with a level of mutual respect unknown until now.