When I open the daily paper I sometimes anticipate reading both good and bad news. Such was the case this last Saturday morning as I sat in my home, just before leaving to go to my synagogue to lead Shabbat morning services.
First the good news. There are many Christians who have come to appreciate and want to understand that Jesus was a Jew and to see him in the context of Judaism. I recall that over 25 years ago, as a rabbinical student, I read a book, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism by W. D. Davies.
Rather than point to the many differences between Judaism and early Christianity, his book is subtitled Some Rabbinic Elements in Pauline Theology.
The scholarly approach to see similarities and not just differences between Judaism and Christianity has expanded in many directions. I often see Christians attend the Introduction to Judaism class that I teach with my rabbinic colleagues from congregations Sherith Israel and Micah. The students have told me they want to learn about Judaism because Jesus was a Jew.
The article in Saturday’s paper reflects what I have witnessed. I have been the Seder leader at a Methodist church, and Christians with an interest in Jewish life will sometimes attend services at my congregation. This is a major cause for rejoicing and a wonderful phenomenon.
I have often heard someone from outside of Nashville tell me that since I live in the South, I must face a great deal of anti-Semitism. I reply that I have found more ignorance of Judaism than prejudice against us. It is good that Southerners take religion and religious education seriously. I can only say, thank God that so many Christians want to learn about Judaism on its own terms.
There was bad news in Saturday’s paper as well. There were two articles about Christians and Passover and none about Jews celebrating the holiday. That omission disturbs the Jewish community.
More bad news was in the coverage, photos and quotes from those whose interest in Judaism is based on their desire to convert Jews to Christianity. All the main-line Christian denominations have closed their special ”mission to the Jews.” We live in a time where respect for other religions is growing.
However, those still determined to convert us have found a new tack. They call themselves ”Messianic Jews” and their leaders ”Messianic rabbis.” Both are contradictions in terms. Why don’t they have the integrity to call themselves what they really are, Christians and ministers? They want to promote the lie that one can be both a Christian and a Jew at the same time. They create misunderstandings by presenting facts as opinions.
We are told by one of their leaders that Jews are a race. It is not just ”That is not something many Jews would agree with,” (to quote the article). It is an objective fact that Judaism is not a race. Conversion to Judaism is open to any sincere individual, including the African Americans in my congregation.
Some years ago, I received a call from a prominent Christian publishing concern. The theme for the year was ”Interracial Understanding.” I said I thought it was a great idea. They wanted me to pose in a photo for a calendar to promote that concept. When I pointed out that Judaism was not a race, they were so embarrassed that they came to my office to apologize in person.
I abhor the re-interpretation of symbols of the Seder by missionaries to find references to Jesus. The bitter herbs are not about life without Jesus. They recall the bitterness of slavery for our ancestors.
I have also heard that such ”Seders” interpret the three pieces of matzah that we place on a special plate for our ritual as–well it takes no stretch of the imagination to think of what something that comes in threes would mean to Christian missionaries. How would Christians react to members of another faith re-interpreting their sacred symbols and rituals to prove the truth of a different religion?
The bad news for those who try to convert us is that we have been celebrating Passover for over 3,000 years and will continue to do so as long as the world exists. More bad news for missionaries is the increasing understanding between Christians and Jews, each able to see the other as having a unique and valid path to God. And that, for Hakadosh baruch hu, the Holy One, Blessed be He, can only be good news.