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A Summary of the Problems Relevant to Dabru Emet

by Suleman
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Table of Contents

  • Introduction to Dabru Emet
  • Scholarly Research upon Oppositions
  • Forms of Oppositions
  • The Traditional Thought behind Dabru Emet
  • The Anti-Christian Perspective
  • The Existence of a fundamental Gap between Jews and non-Jews
  • The impact of Dabru Emet on Jewish-Christian Relationship
  • Relationship to Judaism – Positive or Negative
  • Ending Thoughts
  • Conclusion
  • References

Introduction

            The title ‘Dabru Emet’ taken from Zechariah 8:16 which means “speak the truth” has emerged as an intellectual statement dealing with Jewish-Christian relations (RT, 2009). Signed by 170 conservative Rabbis and university professors, Dabru Emet paved the way in the most well known American newspapers with an aim to transform religious phenomenon that according to Greenberg generated ‘A Jewish perspective on Christianity’ (Greenberg, 2000). Dabru Emet was based upon eight assertions that highlighted similarities and differences between the two faiths.

            Among the eight headlines, the foremost referred towards that fact that since both religions are the followers of monotheism and share the same scripture, therefore both must respect each other’s claims, particularly the claim of Jewish people over the land of Israel. Behind this statement was the 1947 Second Conference of the International Council of Christians and Jews, in which Christians published ‘The Ten Points of Seelisberg’ (Seelisberg, 1947).  There should have been more Jewish statements on Christianity after the publication, but unfortunately history never witnessed Jewish statements regarding the dialogue.

A Summary of the Problems Relevant to Dabru Emet

            This raised the question as to why have there been so many Christian statements, but so few Jewish statements? Dabru Emet is a solution to such injustice that has evaluated the answer across a variety of variables. It has reacted to the parallels and discrepancies in Christian announcements to the Jews by involving a limited amount of Jewish comments. The controversy over the land of Israel, which is repeatedly portrayed as a blessed and glorious country in the Torah, is an example of oppression. Before the Holocaust, there were conflicts between Jews and Christians over this territory. So in all traditions, Dabru Emet recognises and accepts the meaning and applications of Torah concepts. By saying that it was not a Christian scheme or it revealed Christian ethics, it rejects and discourages Nazism. On the one side, Dabru Emet states this relationship as a ‘endless’ dispute, while on the other, it argues that the dispute will not be resolved until God saves the earth stated in Scripture as a vow. So, Dabru Emet wants to unite the gaps between the two religions that one does not hope to bridge. We should never assume that any new link between the two would diminish Jewish tradition, but Jews and Christians must work together in order to foster peace and justice.

            Scholars believe another reason for publishing Dabru Emet is to illustrate the innermost fear of Jews about improved Jewish-Christian relations. This fear is about a lost culture, lost identity and a lost religion which Jews foresee in the name of ‘improved relations’. This is the reason why the authors felt the need to articulate a response, to overcome the fear what Jews perceive Jewish-Christian relations. While exploring the role of Christians in anti-Judaism and violence against Jews, it seems clear that the extent to which Dabru Emet considers the role of Christians in the Holocaust (Barnett, 2000) is addressable.

The Scholarly Research Upon Oppositions

            Many attempts have been made by traditionalist Jewish theologians to justify Jewish-Christian dialogues in the light of inquiries pertaining to the relationship between personal religious convictions and scholarly research. In the first two centuries according to Signer (2001) many objections to examine the relationship were made by the scholars, however there were many who consider the analysis to be ‘biased’ and were quite eager to explore the possibility that there was some personal interest behind scholarly research, though undiscovered (Signer, 2001). Oppositions were also  witnessed that revealed forms of resistance based on the misunderstanding of the pervasive context of modern secularism in which all inter-religious relationships were to be seen.

            Attempts to tie the delicate relationship between the two faiths is not a new phenomenon, since in the past efforts have been made to settle the Jewish roots of the Christian service. Nonetheless Jews perceive it in a negative sense, for they believe that this has been done in order to establish a condition before them to believe the validity of only Christianity, to prove that only Christians are capable of providing eternal life. Even many Rabbis believe that the Christian religious services were employed to demonstrate that Judaism could be perceived as a religion since they perceive that any  advancement made by Jews have been passed on to the Christians.

            Behind Dabru Emet are the concerns, fears and threats to Jews that indicates that though there is determination for Jewish survival, but it is accompanied by some potential threats to Jewish identity.  Keeping closer relations with Christianity are among  one of these threats addressed by Dabru Emet which answers the question that why within the Jewish community the absence of more Jewish statements on Christianity, were witnessed.

            Research suggests that fears are no longer restricted to the notion that Christianity has superseded Judaism. This is known as ‘Theology of Displacement’ which relegates Judaism to be inferior from Christianity (RT, 2009).  Unfortunately, such a psychological turnover has experienced a rapid shift through history. Holocaust has contributed to this school of thought and have accelerated this theology.  

The Traditional Thought Behind Dabru Emet

            One basic form of opposition that escorted to a usual shift in Jewish and Christian relations is the one that is most oblivious to the uniquely secular character of the modern world. This demonstrated the Middle Ages relationship between the two. It was obvious by then that even in such a relationship no value was seen because it  recognised that there was a degree of necessity for Jews to work out some religiously sanctioned phenomenon with the Christians among whom they had to live in Europe. However on analysing historical theology, there is no evidence that supports the notion that Europeans actually prevented Jews from living in Christianity and thereby sharing with them an elementary political and economic order. Evidence has taken us back to the past where the Jewish-Christian relationship was almost always limited to that level, for all these traditional sources were formulated in a medieval context in which Judaism had to ensure its survival in a religious world that was in almost every way ahead of them in the form of a modern religion i.e., Christianity.

            Most of the traditionalist arguments negate the optimistic value of Jewish-Christian relations, and ignore the fact that a radical change in history has taken place. Jewish-Christian relations cannot be maintained, for the traditional perception behind the think tank is that Jews and Christians are opponents of each other which can never work together.  Such arguments were not at all perceptive to Rabbis, but they accepted  that contemporary Christians belonged to another category of religion to which ancient idolaters directed in various Scriptures. Therefore, a different Jewish view of them formed. Contemporary opponents in their dialogues favour a relationship, which in nature was inter-religious. On behalf of this relationship, it was assumed that all Christians still relate to Jews and with the confidence they can exercise the right over  society and culture. The traditional dialogue presents their motive of seeking out Jewseither to force them or to seduce them out of their particular isolation. This is in order to submit them into modernised Christianity.

The Anti-Christian Perspective Behind Dabru Emet

            The second form of opposition that might have been responsible for creating Dabru Emet supports anti-Christian per se. This supports the vernacular perspective that behind the experience of the Holocaust, were Christians’ hatred responsible for the  murder of Jews. Jews who asseverate this position claim that the Nazi phenomenon was the pre-planned game for the extinction of the Jews and is the direct historical consequence of Christian contempt for the Jews.

            The basic truth to rationally analyse and judge the falsehood of this assertion no longer requires that at least as many Christians were anti-Nazi as pro-Nazi, and, for some, this included intervening on behalf of the Jews. Moreover, their anti-Nazism, when expressed as specifically to prove Christian anti-Nazism, was based on more theologically cogent Christian reasoning than that of those Christian Nazis who used Christian teaching as a pretext for a doctrine that is far more pagan than Christian. Anti-Christians who believe that Christians are pro-Nazis possess a school of thought for which they believe Christians ought to answer a burning question that if despite their religious efforts, the vast majority of the original Jews even those who claim to know Jesus personally did not accept Christian faith, didn’t this weaken Christianity’s religious claims? (Greenberg, 2000).

            On other hand, Christians believe that it was easier for them to repudiate Judaism but they know and credit the notion that both faiths follow the same religious. This is the reason for why Christians never made efforts to invalidate what they continue to believe the eternity of God’s promises (ibid). However, mainstream Christians never acknowledged that God reached Jews in a plural manner where He maintained His  word to be revealed to Jews through Judaism, and to gentiles through Christianity (ibid).

            One can think that Jewish people were never meant to be a tremendous theological problem for Christianity. So, Gentiles had to adopt pro-Nazism. However one can perceive it in a manner that modern secularism, is a far more immediate condition making for the emergence of Nazi doctrine than traditional Christian sentiments about the Jews. Jews must understand that Nazism not by any means is a simple extension of even medieval Christian anti-Judaism. However if we assume it otherwise, we ignore the intervening prevalence of modern secularism. Misconception remains within many of our Christian communities that view Jews perception in the light of understanding that many Jews view Nazism as the logical outcome of European Christian culture (Barnett, 2000).

            The radical Jewish opposition to Christianity usually suffers from coming out of a direct reaction to the Holocaust. It also suspects that many of the non-traditionalist Jews who have adopted such a Holocaust-centered anti-Christian attitude are attracted to it, intentionally or unintentionally since it appears to be a species of the rejection of the moral authority of religion per se.

The Existence of a Fundamental Gap Between Jews and Non-Jews

            The third perspective which we can feel to be the reason behind Dabru Emet could be related to the barrier that prevails between Jewish-Christian dialogue. Despite the cooperation that we exhibit, how strange it seems that we avoid their faith communities and even invalidate them in many fields of constructive humanity by not integrating them into the general social framework. It would not be wrong to say that while in a same social milieu, we engage in strange movements which make us feel as strangers and outsiders.

The Impact of Dabru Emet on Jewish-Christian Relationship

            The project of Dabru Emet was a Jewish-Christian dialogue which many believed is a joint venture between Jewish scholars and CJT (Christianity in Jewish Terms) dialogues. What CJT aimed to state is Christianity under the contemporary lens of Judaism. Novak (2002) the co-author of Dabru Emet mentions about Prof. Levenson, a Jewish scholar who teaches at Harvard Divinity School, was invited to sign Dabru Emet but he declined the document for he did not agree with the dialogue (Novak, 2002). Therefore he opposed the initiation. Like Prof. Levenson, Joseph B. Soloveitchik hold the opinion that dialogue can only be successful between same theological interventions. Since Judaism and Christianity are two distinct faiths, therefore theological communication between the two cannot take place (Novak, 2002).

            The contemporary vision of Jews to see a religious significance in Christianity is shaped by what Jewish scholars in 2000, in the form of Dabru Emet, responded to the theological recognition of Judaism by various churches.  Many Christian scholars refused to envision Dabru Emet for the reason they perceive the relationship between two faiths as artificial and without any theological justification. Scholars like Levenson believe that Jews are not capable of understanding their own theology and have ignored their personal experiences that elucidates that Judaism has entered to evaluate millions of people emotions that God is in relationship with Israel. This is no doubt a generous acknowledgement by Jews that has made them realise what arises through Christ brings blessing to the Gentile world, while they realise that a remarkable act of recognition is performed by a people whose history at the hands of Christians has been an unforgettable experience (Levenson, Dec 2001).

Relationship to Judaism – Positive or Negative

            Dabru Emet has emerged as a hope before us to tie the two faiths together. However scholars seek to provoke the leftover expectations by the two communities and this can only be done through a dialogue. Christians believe that no matter how visible the life of that single religious community is to others, it can never be for an outsider what it is for an insider. In order to deploy a significant relationship, positive and negative expectations from each of the communities don’t matter, what matters most is that religion can be directly understood only by one who has made a total commitment to be one with that historical community.

            That is to say that both the communities must try to understand what each of them feels for, and against each other. Thus no Christian, no matter how well versed in Judaism, can ever directly understand the covenant intimacy of the Sabbath without first literally becoming a Jew. Similarly, no Jew, no matter how well versed in Christianity, can ever directly understand the covenant intimacy of the Christ  without first literally becoming Christian. In brief these two communities can only possess one of either two relationships, positive in which they accept each other and negative  in which they don’t. These areas of covenant intimacy lie too far for them to be jointly perceived by Jews and Christians who share a common border. Dabru Emet has ignored such laws that witness the respective laws of Judaism and Christianity by recognising this elementary fact that Jews are to be related to other Jews more intimately than they are to be related to non-Jews. Therefore this document has tried to strengthen the relationship on the basis of individual identity of each religion.

            When facing each other, Judaism and Christianity contrast each other’s relation with their God. This way each of them claims to exercise more authority and dominance. Christians view Christ as having transcended the Law and as having brought the Church, as the body of Christ, while Jews envision Jesus and his followers as having proper power and authority for themselves. Such contrasting claims have made the scholars think in diversified ways to try to amalgamate not their distinctive faiths but the manners in which they ought to respect each other’s faiths.  However the Jews researchers after having translated Dabru Emet in six languages have failed to realise that this dogma has no middle position possible. At such a critical level where world renowned Rabbis are busy in articulating means to patch up the broken knot, these communities must look at the brighter side. The realistic aspect must not be overlooked that the only way out of the impasse would not even work if the Torah could be regarded as other than ‘the Law’ of Jewish dogma and Jesus could be regarded as other than ‘the Christ’ of Christian dogma.

            Looking forward to a new relationship is appreciated and emphasised in Dabru Emet but to what extent it can be embedded, is not clear.  Scholars have though put their fears to a certain stake by saying that “an improvement towards betterment will not accelerate the cultural and religious assimilation that Jews rightly fear” (CJ, 2002). It was decided beforehand that Jews will not experience any change  to fear about transforming traditional Jewish forms of worship, hence better relations would not increase intermarriage between Jews and Gentiles and it will not pressurise Jews to convert to Christianity, in any stance (ibid).

            Now the point is that what are the logical grounds of such relationship when scholars consider it irrational. It seems as if Dabru Emet has provided condolences to the Jews to understand their role in patching up this relationship. In other words, it is a warning to Christians to understand  the necessity for maintaining a positive relationship with Judaism. This also refers to their weakness for blaming them. Although Christianity has emerged as a faith from within Judaism but it cannot be perceived as if it is extended from it. 

            This scholarly project is a Jewish reaction to eradicate the Christian controversy which has its roots in the Holocaust. How come a single document can eradicate fundamental ethical concerns while considering it superior? In making these counterclaims, it seems liberal Jewish scholars usually have not dealt directly with the newly reconstructed Jesus of liberal Protestant theology. Since the contemporary culture asserts that Judaism values its universalism, and is aware of their own significance, the project of these Jewish responses to the new Christian triumphalism is to argue that the essence of Judaism is more truly universalistic than the essence of Christianity.

            The scholars behind Dabru Emet have appreciated the efforts of contemporary Christianity to discover a more human Jesus. However, what they expect is the way to negotiate through dialogue. What they forget is that negotiation has never succeed in resolving the relationship. The relationship’s fate has been put at stake through this document, as an attempt to praise Judaism in the light of what they have lost historically and in compensation of the catastrophic events that have taken place throughout Judaism.

            Christians never felt the pain of sufferance. Therefore their condolences were artificial, their sympathies unrealistic for Christians never attempted to establish common cultural ground with Judaism. Dabru Emet on other hand has spoken to Gentiles as if they are different from other theologies. They must stick to the new, more secular emphasis on ethical teaching that has often led to a new depreciation of Judaism as ‘legalism’. It seems that whatever Christians have learned throughout centuries from Bible has outlawed the old theologies. In the light of these truths, we must carry on with the new hope that Dabru Emet has given us.

Ending Thoughts

            Dabru Emet is not a brand new attempt to amalgamate two faiths. However it is a new attempt in creating two distinct religious boundaries fundamentally shared by one Holy scripture. Throughout the history of Christian writings concerning Judaism, time has witnessed many reasons to continue to participate in the existence of Judaism after the advent of Christianity. However, the issue has been modernised with the passage of time and the headache shared by two faiths grew sharper with the emergence of a liberal Protestant theology based not on the Christ of dogma, but on the Jesus of history. This interaction that has taken place between Jesus and the Judaism of his day led to a new dimension in which Christian while considering that Judaism no longer rejects a theological religion, argue.  Dabru Emet in this era has brought a new opening to the closed doors of two faiths through which the core of Christianity with the religious teachings of Jesus can view Judaism.

Conclusion

            Holocaust rooted as a mark on the soul of Judaism for which they still feel the bleeding wounds. The anger created a negative myth and Christianity was blamed for being so much rough on them. Jews had already lost congregational past, however their disappearance left the so-called New Israel spiritually impoverished and ripe for the invasion of alien anti-Jewish notions and sentiments. History uncovers the long delayed discovery which in the form of a void, drove certain European Catholics to question classical doctrines. This was followed by the Second World War, and the Holocaust served as a catalyst to their concern.

            Nazism was never a Christian phenomenon, though history reveals that many Christians participated in Nazi atrocities against Jews, but that does not indicate that Christians evolved Nazism. Dabru Emet has emerged as an attempt to combine two different faiths on a single platform not on the basis for unity alone, but to give both religions the respect they deserved, particularly the respect Judaism feels it lost over decades.

            Another reason for bringing the two faiths together is to make it clear that there are some similarities and differences that should remain in order to retain their individual identities. This is because Protestants started to emphasise upon seeking the faith of Jesus, rather than the faith about Jesus, which brought Judaism in between Christianity, for which both the religions started losing their own independent significance. Therefore the idea is that to remain in their boundaries as independent religious theologies and to retain their independance. Whatever be the explanation of working together, it is true that Dabru Emet as a scholarly doctrine, has intended to break the ice between Jews and Christians. As a ‘Religious magnum opus’ the document has declared that teaching must be given a new look so as to acknowledge God’s enduring compact with the Jewish community throughout the globe.

            Though Christian denominations have made remarkable progress since World War II in their relationships with the Jewish people, but still there is a room to help dressing up historical wounds of Jews. Christians attitudes towards Judaism demonstrates a positive step to which Dabru Emet statement is intended to acknowledge areas where more change is needed in the future.

References:
  • Barnett Victoria, (2000) ‘Provocative Reconcilliation: Reflections on the New Jewish Statement on Christianity’, accessed from <http://www.jcrelations.net/en/? item=924>
  • CJ, 2002, National Jewish Scholars Project, Dabru Emet: A Jewish Statement on Christians And Christianity, Accessed from <http://www.jcrelations.net/en/?   item=1014>
  • Greenberg Irving, (2000) ‘Judaism Meets Christianity for the First Time – Again’ Accessed from <www.jcrelations.net/en/?item=935>
  • Levenson J., (Dec 2001) ‘How Not to Conduct Jewish-Christian Dialogue,’ Commentary.
  • Novak David, (May 2002) Accessed from <http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=2018>
  • RT, 2009, accessed from <http://www.religioustolerance.org/jud_chrr.htm>
  • Seelisberg, 1947, Jewish-Christian Relations, Accessed from <http://www.jcrelations.net/en/?item=983>
  • Signer A. Michael, (2001) ‘Some Reflections on Dabru Emet,’ Accessed from <www.jcrelations.net/en/?item=781 >

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