Thursday, April 5, 2007

Maimon Schwarzschild

Passover and Holy Week are a good time to pay attention to how Jews and Christians are thinking about each other.  Irving Greenberg is an exceptionally interesting Orthodox Jewish theologian and intellectual, although he is known in the Jewish world for highly unorthodox Orhtodoxy.  His recent book "For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: The New Encounter Between Judaism and Christianity" suggests that Jews should certainly consider Christianity an authentic covenant: there is authority in Jewish tradition, after all, running back to Maimonides, that Christianity is part of a divine plan to spread Torah.  More daringly, Greenberg says that Christians are honourary members of the House of Israel, or even, simply, members of the House of Israel.  Jews and Christians are "part of one people, the people of Israel".

Greenberg imagines the Messiah coming at the End of Days.  "Jews and Christians march out to greet him and establish his reign.  Finally they ask if this is his First Coming or his Second Coming - to which the Messiah smiles and replies, 'No comment'."

This is wildly against the grain, especially for traditional Jews.  Greenberg has certainly been criticised for it in Orthodox circles. But "Tradition" magazine, the generally quite tough-minded intellectual journal of mainstream "modern" Orthodoxy, while far from endorsing everything in Greenberg's book, gives it - and him - a very respectful review.  Read the whole review, for a thoughtful sample of Orthodox Jewish thinking and debate about Christianity.

Happy Passover!  Happy Easter!

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Maimon Schwarzschild


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Posted by: Secret Rapture | Apr 6, 2007 11:43:00 AM

Big deal--so some fringe rabbi is flirting with Christian theologians, telling them that they're part of the House of Israel, and that--who knows?--maybe Jesus was the Messiah after all.

Now, how many believing Christians of any stripe today would doubt for even a moment that he's still irredeemably doomed to eternal hellfire unless and until he fully accepts Jesus' divinity--that is, becomes a Christian? And isn't *that* the aspect of "how Jews and Christians are thinking about each other" that's *really* "worth paying attention to"?

Posted by: Dan Simon | Apr 6, 2007 1:00:20 PM

Um, Dan Simon, it is no part of Catholic teaching that a Jew is "irredeemably doomed to eternal hellfire unless and until he fully accepts Jesus' divinity." (It is true that on that view all that are saved are saved through Christ's merits, but that is a different matter.) That's a pretty good chunk of Christianity right there, I suppose.

Posted by: skeptical | Apr 7, 2007 1:20:40 PM

Sorry--for Catholics, substitute "the Church's sacraments" for "Jesus' divinity". So?

Posted by: Dan Simon | Apr 7, 2007 10:12:21 PM

No actually, in fact, that would not be right either. Catholic doctrine does not hold that Jews are damned unless the accept Christianity, Catholic sacraments, or anything of the sort. I am under the impression that Calvinists of the thorough-going sort believe that if you are not one of the elect, which would be evinced by your espousing the correct sort of Calvinist beliefs, then you are damned. But by that standard, all Catholics are damned along with all Jews, and everybody who is not a Calvinist. In the US, I think some fundamentalist (?) Baptists hold this view, but I suspect it is fairly rare outside of strict fundamentalist circles.

Posted by: Tom Smith | Apr 9, 2007 12:10:19 PM

On Catholic teaching, what the sacraments offer is the ordinary path to salvation. These are the means, instituted by Christ, by which salvific grace is ordinarily received. Ignore them at your peril.

That does not entail anything about those who do not partake of these means of grace being damned. Dan Simon's view is just mistaken. And since he seems rather intent on provocation rather than discussion governed by correctness, that's the last I'll say about that.

Posted by: Skeptical | Apr 9, 2007 12:46:57 PM

No, this is my honest understanding, and I'm open to correction. What does "ignore them at your peril" mean, exactly? I'd have assumed it to mean, "...of damnation"--was I mistaken?

Let me, if I may, make my point a little clearer. The overwhelming consensus of Jewish thought agrees that righteous Gentiles--including Christians--have, as we say, "a share in the world to come". (Perhaps some Jewish scholars might disqualify Christians by lumping Christianity with idolatry, but I believe they're a tiny minority.) This eases theological dialog with Christians somewhat: Jews may think Christians are mistaken about all sorts of things, but in a way that doesn't necessarily incur God's ultimate displeasure.

Christian doctrine, on the other hand, holds--so I thought, at least--that Jesus' direct help (via the Sacraments, for Catholics, and via faith, for Protestants)--is necessary to prevent damnation. This would, I'd have thought, create a bit of a barrier to Jewish-Christian dialog, insofar as the Christian would find the Jewish interlocutor's beliefs not just mistaken, but actually horrifically disastrous for anyone to hold, vitally necessary to abandon, and so on. It was in that context that I dismissed Maimon's little anecdote about a Jewish theologian who's unusually receptive to a few Christian-like ideas as rather beside the point.

Of course, if I'm mistaken, and most Christians can, in fact, imagine lifelong believing Jews entering heaven (where presumably they'd suddenly learn the Truth, and revise their beliefs accordingly), then Jewish-Christian dialog has perhaps more potential than I expected. So by all means, I welcome any and all clarifications on this subject.

Posted by: Dan Simon | Apr 9, 2007 1:38:03 PM

I found it rather interesting, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints. Whatever you may think of Joseph Smith, the religion he founded is full of intresting beliefs about Judaism that in some ways mirrors Greenbergs thoughts. For example, Mormons were prophesying and preaching the return of scattered Judah to Israel back in the 1830's. Joseph Smith taught that all the covenants and promises made to the House of Israel would be fulfilled. In fact, rather than replacing the House of Israel, members of our church are adopted into it, according to our theology. In short, Israel remains the Lord's chosen people. When the Messiah comes to the Mount of Olives, we believe that many Jews and other members of the House of Israel will be saved by Him. While I haven't read the book yet, I found the segment presented here and in the review on Tradition very illuminating to some of my own beliefs. I shall have to order the book.

Posted by: Timotheus | Apr 9, 2007 1:41:55 PM