Jewish, Christian, Chewish, or Eschewish:
Interfaith Marriage Pathways for the New Millennium
by Reeve Robert Brenner


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© 2007 Reeve Robert Brenner All rights reserved

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Based on solid experience, one of the essential arguments or standpoints of this book boils down to this: don't try to erase distinctions.  Don't confuse your family with conflicting identities. Instead, choose Judaism, Christianity, Islam or whatever – a single religious identity. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are world religions and each has a great deal to offer faithful followers. Without exception, each one merits serious attention, full devotion. Youngsters are “confirmed,” “initiated” or “consecrated” in their respective faith. Religion and identity are important, never casual, indifferent, or meant to be spread out among contending credos, canons or convictions.

Like many, perhaps most, American Jews, I have gotten to know Christianity well and have found a great deal in it to admire. Many of my students in the several Judaism classes I taught at St. Vincent College and Seminary in Latrobe, Pennsylvania were studying to become Catholic Priests, a number of them Benedictine monks and nuns. I learned from them about Christianity every bit as much as they did from me about the Jewish heritage. I have also lived in Israel – the Middle East – for well over a decade (raising my daughters through their school years and their Israeli Army obligatory service). So I am not unfamiliar with the estimable qualities of the fastest growing religion in the world, Islam, as well. America is a pluralistic but predominantly Christian country, of course. And clearly, like Judaism and Islam, Christianity has great music and art, beautiful rituals and festivals, and values and ideals worthy of a great religion.

The major differences among them arise, not solely from perceived aesthetics or different historical experiences, but from basic beliefs - that is, doctrine - and the ways and directions the religions are focused when viewed through their singular creedal looking-glass. These doctrines, in turn, inform and configure the lives of their devoted followers by shaping character, imparting values, and function much like a lens through which they see and understand the world caught in their respective religious cross-hairs.

What comes next in this chapter is a rabbi's summary of where Judaism and Christianity differ and what they stand for in contrast to each other. Further along we will do the same for Islam. The analysis comes from a rabbi obviously committed to Judaism and Jewish identity. But it is based as well on Christian sources and on the information and input of friends, who are Christian ministers, pastors and priests. There are differences among them, of course, even fundamental differences. That should not be surprising.

There are also specific articles of faith, belief and doctrine about which they all agree. Just as we have explored the common ground upon which all Jews stand (as well as the areas Jews differ), the broad common ground upon which all Christians stand will be surveyed in this chapter for the sake of important generalizations and to help establish a clearer contrast between the faiths. This approach should service the critical decision-making process of choosing the future path to be taken by an interfaith couple.


Unlike Judaism, Christianity is founded on a specific set of beliefs. Membership in any of its sects and denominations is based on subscribing to the belief system of that Christian sect or denomination. Without Christian beliefs you can’t be a Christian.  How you conducted your life before you became a believer and the life experiences of your ancestors and descendents are not irrelevant but they do not determine whether or not you’re a Christian or whether or not you join a Christian church. What is important is what you believe right now. What you do is also important but not defining. Beliefs are defining. If the next day you were to abandon those beliefs you are no longer a Christian. Reborn a believer and you are a Christian again.

Not every belief determines your Christian identity. But several are fundamental, as for example: a Trinitarian understanding of God, that Jesus was the Son of God as others are not, that Jesus was the Messiah, was sacrificed to cleanse us from original sin, that he will return and that belief in him is required to gain your – and perhaps everyone’s - salvation.

 Christians are faithful to their faith. Jews are faithful to their folk. And their folk’s history! For a Jew history defines identity and refers to behaving (observing the Mitzvah system) as well as belonging to the people.

Jesus said, "Believe in me and you will be saved." To Christians, belief and faith are the most important things in the world because they lead to salvation and eternal life. Saving souls for the sake of the next life, is the ultimate goal of Christianity. Christians believe that Jesus was prophesied in what Christianity refers to as the Old Testament and, according to most interpretations, he will come again to establish the Kingdom of God on earth.

It is critical to be saved and merit the “coming” Kingdom, which, according to many Christian denominations, will be restricted to believers. “The theological doctrine of Salvation is what Christianity is about,” as Father Michael Kelley put it. That is why it is often pointed out that Christians are into theology and doctrine; Jews into history; Christians are into ideology, Jews are into identity. What you believe vs. who you are and where you come from.

 Roman Catholics also speak about identity. Identity for Catholics means not identification with a people’s history and continuity as in Judaism. For all Christians salvation depends on identifying with Christ. Christian Identity follows from Christian faith. We will return to the contrast of philosophies presently.

It would be entirely justified for the reader to feel troubled by some of the stern and exacting dichotomies contrasted in the presentation that follows. The truth is that these concepts may be seen not so much in severe opposition but as elements of an entangled interweaving of ideas and principles. Nevertheless, as life-defining concepts they, in turn, impact upon the way we think, the theories about the meaning of life we call upon and the actions we perform.

It is also true that the most important choices we have to make in life are invariably based on, or arise from, attitudes and values that have opposing, contrasting and often conflicting alternatives: How many children to bring into this world if any, what kind of work to take up, if and how to get involved in the community, where and according to what kind of life style to live, in consonance with which set of ethics to behave, which causes to advocate and advance, which ideals and goals to pursue, and how to choose among the very many options of existence.

As we focus on contrasting ways of thinking – theology - we have to be reminded that Jews, unlike their Christian neighbors, have no formal creed that they must affirm to remain Jews. To remain Jews they do, however, have a huge portion of non-Jewish creeds to deny. For Jews, belonging and behaving precede believing - and not believing - in importance. Faith for Christians connotes belief. As a Christian, “I have faith in God,” means “I believe in God’s reality and providence.”

For Jews, faith – emunah – means “courageously steadfast and trustworthy”; it alludes to firmness and resolve as affirmed in perhaps the most ancient and self-reflective of Jewish requirements/attitudes/commandments that apply as much in the 21st century as previously, “we shall persevere as an Eternal People; we shall stand fast; we shall not fade away or blend by default into the majority. Stubbornness and courage have kept us, the Jewish people, alive alone of all the region’s ancient peoples. We are here to stay.” Addressed to the people Israel not to God, the shma, the core prayer at all Jewish services, is similarly self-directed. Emil Fackenheim has reformulated the firmness of emunah, faith in its Jewish understanding, as an updated post Holocaust commandment (the “614th Commandment”): “Thou shalt not disappear and provide Hitler with the last laugh – and a posthumous victory.”

There is a great deal a Jew affirms, but Judaism begins not with a theology to which one must subscribe but with the Mitzvah System composed of commandments – a developing, growing and ever-evolving system of dos and don’ts, Orthodox as well as non-Orthodox Jews would agree on this matter. Not all of the hundreds of commandments apply to everyone in that many are solely for men, others for women, children, Jews living in the land of Israel or elsewhere, and so forth. Best known are life-cycle events observed in the company of family and community and Sabbath and festival celebrations – for the most part commemorating high points and low points of a Jewish person’s life and the high points and low points of the Jewish several thousand year journey. These are augmented by a long list of ethical commitments and behavioral rulings we may call the mitzvah “to do list.”

The Jewish “to do list”, the Mitzvah System, may, for our purposes (and not necessarily because Judaism and Jewish scholars so arrange and organize it), be divided into four categories: 1) Life-cycle events, 2) Sabbaths, Festivals and Holydays observances of the Jewish year 3) dietary practices and restrictions 4) and the inventory or basket of ethical and personal actions enumerated in part below.

 The enumeration listed here is often printed in bar and bat mitzvah prayer services and recited aloud by the youth – now no longer children - in the course of their celebration to indicate commitment to an ongoing action-laced life of Jewish behavior – mitzvot, (employing the plural form) – a proactive ethical future. A thirteen year old Jewish youngster commits to:

1          Talmud Torah (Increasing Knowledge)

2          Kibbud Av Va-Em (Honoring Parents)

3          Hiddur P’Nay Zaken (Respecting the Aged)

4          Bikkur Holim (Visiting the Sick)

5          Bal Tashhit (Safeguarding the Environment)

6          Ma’Achil Re-Evim (Feeding the Hungry)

7          Tza’Ar Ba-Aley Hay (Protecting Animals)

8          Pidyan Shevuyim (Redeeming Captives)

9          Rodef Shalom (Pursuing Peace)

10        Ahavat Zion (Devotion to Zion)

11        Shabbat (Honoring the Sabbath)

12                Hachnasat Orhim (Welcoming Guests)

13                Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World)


The preceding requirements constitute a pre-selected and rather arbitrary catalogue listing some of the mitzvot or acts that are understood as commandments for Jews. It is certainly reasonable to suggest that all commandments derive from a certain way of thinking and in that sense theology is acknowledged as upholding commandments. But theology, as in “you must believe,” while not entirely absent, is meager in Judaism. The closest Jews get to a required theology is with the “watchword” of Judaism, the Shma ‑ "Hear o Israel, the Eternal One is Our God, the Eternal is One". That monotheistic statement, variously translated and ambiguously understood (perhaps the first one-god affirmation recorded in world history), defines the stance of Jews towards God and towards their fellow human beings.

 The Shma is often referred to as the ultimate expression of Ethical Monotheism. It is taken to mean that the singleness – and indivisibility - of God implies the singleness – and indivisibility - of humanity, the uniqueness of each of us, and that the Parenthood of God makes us all siblings and therefore responsible for one another. There is no need for individuals to be saved. And no third party, whether god or human, can serve as, or volunteer to be, a surrogate or substitute. On the contrary, Jews are to take responsibility on their own for bringing about the Messianic Age of peace and good will by the way they live their lives.

 Taking issue with the Jewish approach to bringing about an idealized future age, Catholic philosophy Professor Ganzalo Palacios of Georgetown University offers the contrasting Christian proposition that “the Messianic Age comes about as God wills it and not as the result of how people live their lives.” The Jew would take the opposing view citing Jewish references teaching that it is precisely the reverse: the action of humanity advances or delays the Messianic age. Such a view arises from the Jewish understanding of the Covenant requiring actions that repair the world (tikkun olam) not dependence on God’s compassion or Grace.

To Jews, it is obvious that the Messianic Age has not yet come. Especially since amity, accord and brotherhood among peoples and nations are not in evidence! Jews, therefore, are taught by the deep-bone and marrow of the tradition to strive to conduct their lives by taking on the tasks of mending a broken world thereby contributing to the advancement of the Messianic Age of shalom. Ethical Monotheism requires that moral behavior, not turning to, or depending upon, a divine being and not good intentions, pious beliefs or what goes on "in the heart", is to be elevated to the highest rung of our value structure. For Jews, deeds are far more compelling than creeds. They are commandments.

Christians believe that acts are of great importance, to be sure, but not nearly enough to attain salvation. “Salvation itself is a gift from God that is given by faith, and not as a result of keeping commandments” [1]. For Christians, to attain salvation you must believe that Jesus was and is God incarnate who was sent to die for your sins. No doubts allowed. By that sacrifice – perhaps the key term rendering the essence of Christianity - humanity is redeemed. A believing Christian might formulate this doctrine in terms of Jesus having been sent by the Father, God, to redeem, that is, “buy us back.” And the answer to the questions, “why by the demise of his son?” or “why must redemption come solely by the death of Christ, the Messiah?” or “why a message so brutal and bloody?” are insolvable mysteries as are all acts of God. Furthermore, certain Christian thinkers would remind us that “Christ is not ‘another party’ but the manifestation of God Himself.”


A Jew maintains that no one can atone for a sin except for the sinner. The relevant Jewish viewpoint has been that you don't send another party to jail for someone else’s crime. Nor may another person stand in for or take upon him or herself the misdeeds and transgressions committed by someone else. That would not reflect the concept of justice, at the heart of a covenant. It is a purely Christian idea that we cannot realize our own atonement because we were conceived in original sin and, in a fallen world, are incapable of overcoming our sinful nature without a surrogate who is a Savior. 

The Jewish tradition teaches that a sin is a wrongful act not an inherited or intrinsic condition and that everyone is conceived morally neutral - born with a good urge and an evil urge – a yetzer tov and a yetzer ra. Consequently, a parent's job is to cultivate and train the good drive in a child to predominate. It is up to the children themselves, however, (as it is up to all of us) to conduct their lives according to their understanding of God’s will and to do so increasingly on their own as they grow. Most important, in Judaism sin is not original and you don’t come by it automatically ‑ you have to earn it! You start out with a blank slate, and what you write on it is your own composition for good or otherwise.

For Jews, as for many Christians, what you do, not what you think, is what counts. Action not words. At virtually every synagogue service Jews recite, often aloud and in unison, the biblical words of the Shma text, the core of the service, “Be mindful of all my Mitzvot, and do them; so shall you consecrate yourself to your God.” By what you do!

Judaism teaches that God would prefer an atheist who does good deeds to deeply faithful disciples of the Lord who fail to translate good thoughts into conduct. Many Christians would feel the same way - not surprising given the Jewish roots of Christianity. For Jews bad thoughts are of no consequence if one does not act on them. The tenth commandment is interpreted by tradition to mean that If you covet your neighbor's wife but keep your hands to yourself, no sin has occurred. And justice requires that sin never be inherited ‑ that would not be just. To this way of thinking, therefore, a Savior is unnecessary and “gets in the way” of reaching up directly to the Source of the ultimate.

In any case, to a Jew the idea simply does not make sense that even if you have led an exceptionally moral life, a loving God would not let you into Heaven, if Heaven exists, because you don't have the right thinking/beliefs. Such a notion, from the Jewish perspective, is not consistent with human equity or our sense of fairness. A Jew’s religion is founded upon the concept of “brit” a covenant, a contract, based on justice.

Christianity teaches that salvation is awarded by God's grace alone and cannot be earned in any way ‑ it is a pure benefaction. That is what makes God great in compassion. God in His grace sent His only begotten Son to die for us on the cross so we can be absolved of our sins and enter Heaven. On the other hand, Judaism, is founded upon a covenant and therefore intellectually at war with such a notion. Judaism understands the covenant conception as a binding contract (brit) that “we enter into with one another and God, the details of which are in the Torah”. And this covenant, like all contracts, is based not on grace or mercy but on fairness and justice as defined by a negotiated relational interaction - or a negotiated interactive relationship (“I-Thou”) - between God and man. And that relationship is disclosed or “revealed” in the words, verses and chapters of the Torah Teaching Text.

 The small print of the contract – writ large as Torah/Judaism - tells us how to live. If we follow it – Torah/Judaism - we may not necessarily achieve salvation in the next world – because a world following this one may not be real. It is not even a subject brought up in the Hebrew Bible. But this world is assuredly and unquestionably real. And we, its denizens, must do what we can to create a good and moral world right here on Earth – a messianic kingdom.

In fact, Jews often say, “the next world (if it exists at all) will take care of itself. Meaning, if it does exist and if I live, as a decent person should, I’ll be there too, as will all people of good will from all the nations of the world. But the focus of right minded and good hearted people must be directed on what we do here.”

 In short, Christianity and most believing Christians have an otherworldly emphasis. Some Christians understand “the “Kingdom” to be not of this world in the sense that it is a spiritual kingdom. Judaism and most Jews have a this‑worldly focus and orientation. Over the centuries, the this-worldly/other-worldly distinction has become a rather high profile contrast. It is listed prominently among the polarities – the schedule that we have referred to below as “issues of contrast.” (This schedule has been organized to help us compare Judaism and Christianity’s opposing attitudes towards the world and towards our understanding of our selves in the world.) Theologies, by their very nature, come at you from angles of opposition.


Committed Jews, Muslims, and Christians agree that attending and attuning ones life to the serious study of Scripture and of other prescribed classical sacred books of their respective traditions are of the greatest importance. For Jews, becoming increasingly conversant with the details of the covenant/contract and the traditions of our foremothers and forefathers is nothing short of critical. Through it we discover who we are: personal identity converges with a people’s history. For Muslims and Christians, being part of a faith community is undoubtedly a very good thing. Most Jews will also, at times, refer to themselves as a faith community but they think of themselves foremost as a Folk community and not a Faith community. The sense of allegiance to the folk stands at the epicenter of whatever faith Jews profess.

Over time, Judaism, being a relatively ancient religion, adhering steadfastly to the world’s oldest calendar, has developed many dos and don’ts, has formulated many proven notions and advanced many schools of thought on how to bring religion – understood best here as spirituality, meaning, attunement to the transcendent and authenticating one’s search for ultimate truths - into all aspects of everyday existence. Many traditional Jews, Orthodox and Polydox, recite prayers, perform rituals, and follow routines, as part of their daily activities, from getting dressed in the morning to washing their hands before meals, to tasting the first fruits of the season. This way of life is intended to make Judaism all encompassing, and all of existence, sacred.

An example of the “this-world” practical approach to daily life so characteristic of Judaism is to be found over and over in the Talmud, which is a collection of civil and canonical law rooted in the Oral and Written Torah. All serious Jews study the Talmud, and since, according to many accounts, he was a rabbi, Jesus must have studied with great Pharisaic Jewish teachers and rabbinic colleagues (according to one story, he was arguing Talmud in the Temple in Jerusalem at the age of 12, before his bar mitzvah call to the Torah). He must have been quite a rabbi.

In the Talmud there is a ruling, characteristic of the entire corpus of Jewish law, that if someone gives you his coat as a pledge for a debt and night comes on and it is cold, you are obliged to give the coat back until morning. Such a law provides a concrete example of the practice of the Golden Rule (a universal injunction, not solely Jewish or Christian) [2]. One of many laws of its kind, it illustrates how to extrapolate compassion for the disadvantaged and how to accord dignity to other fellow creatures in all transactions with them regardless of who they are, where they are from or their social standing. The mitzvah’s performance places practice first in priorities for committed Jews.  It is therefore appropriate to call attention to a well-established polarity: Christians are rich in theology – articles of faith, doctrines - creeds.  Jews are rich in behavioral rules, laws and articles of procedure - deeds.

All who see themselves as faithful Jews share a sense of belonging to the Jewish people. That sense of belonging translates into a commitment to the chain of Jewish continuity by passing along identity and a heritage. The concern for Jewish continuity has taken on even greater importance following the annihilation of a third of world Jewry in the Holocaust during the Second World War. Among many Jews, the vulnerability of the State of Israel arouses a heightened sense of commitment to continuity as well. For Christians the emphasis is on Eternal Salvation – in the next world; for Jews it is on Eternal Survival – in this one.

It has been pointed out in previous chapters that the one statement all Jews would agree on, without any pre-conditions, is that Jews are – as are all faith communities and all people - entitled to their space and to the immutable right to hold onto that space into the future. Said differently, Jews are not obliged to justify living on this planet.  Jews would say, “our existence is its own justification, an inalienable right endowed by the nature of creation” ‑ which is a statement of the otherwise obvious.

In recent times, unfortunately, the proposition has become far less obvious and its restatement far more necessary for all humanity to hear. More than this, in our time, the proposition has taken on an unprecedented urgency because the destruction of the Jews of Europe, in the previous century, made a catastrophic and bloody mockery of its supposed intrinsically self‑evident quality. Still, despite the challenge to that proposition in Europe in the past century, Jews do not feel the need to be apologetic for walking the earth. Nor to provide reasons for their existence. That proposition of the unchallenged prerogative “to be” is a conviction or a “belief” all self-identifying Jews would affirm.

Moreover, once having declared that they are entitled to their existence and continuity, then it is incumbent upon Jews to educate their children with a view to preserving their distinctiveness. Determining how best to transmit a heritage and rear each successive generation as enlightened self-identifying Jews, are therefore considered supremely important. Living a Jewish life of festivals, life-cycle events, and study of the Torah (Judaism) educates by one’s actions. Still, there is no denying that if you were born into a Jewish home and identify yourself as Jewish, then, even if you don't live a particularly Jewish life, you will be considered a Jew ‑ perhaps not a knowledgeable or a practicing one - but a Jew nevertheless.

On the other hand, if you say by deed and word, "I do not wish to be a Jew or call myself a Jew any longer” by non-Orthodox standards you are no longer a Jew! There is then no significant difference, (apart from personal biography, of course) between such individuals and a born non‑Jew or someone born Jewish who has formally converted to another religion.  They are all non-Jews. Among them, not surprising given the freedoms of 21st century American society, are former Jews who have, for various reasons, “dropped out of Jewish Identity.” Their Jewish roots no longer pull at them.

 Orthodox Jews and Conservative rabbinical authorities (diverging significantly from the rather less legalistically bound “Jew in the pew”) would still consider you a Jew so long as you were born of a Jewish mother, even if you later converted to Catholicism and became a nun or a priest. Orthodox Jews, however, would turn their backs on the one who converted to another faith. They would shun him or her and that person would not be counted in a quorum. Nor would they be called upon for Torah honors (when for example attending a synagogue service at the time of a family member’s bar/bat mitzvah). Nevertheless, by their forever unchanging and unchangeable orthodox standards they remain Jews, disloyal to their legacy, community and identity to be sure, but Jews forever, regardless of how they perceive themselves.

By contrast, the large majority of contemporary Jews would see them as former members of the folk, but Jews no longer. Their more insightful and realistic point of view, often expressed with an intensity of passionate feelings, declares that regardless of how they characterize themselves, they have crossed the dividing line. They have abandoned the Jewish walkway and are now marching along the far broader Christian promenade. 

Conservative Rabbi Jack Wertheimer, provost and professor of history at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, aligns with his comrades in ideological arms, the Jewish authorities to his religious right, by calling the Reform requirements of “timely and appropriate public and private formal acts of Identification,” Jewish self-declaration, Torah education and Jewish upbringing “fuzzy boundary markers.”

According to this view, the rabbinic ruling defining as Jewish all Catholic Priests and Nuns, Presbyterian ministers and Buddhist monks of “biological” Jewish maternal descent, provides an un-fuzzy determination of identity as though self-determination, upbringing and life style carry little or no definitional weight and establish no applicable bounds of demarcation. Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of CLAL – the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, poses the question, “How do we gauge, in a free and open society, who is Jewish and who is not?” His answer, published in the New York Times [3], is that “there are many ways to measure, but increasingly, the most compelling form of identity is self-identification.”

 Most Jews by far feel that without willful self‑identification there can be no Jewish identity. So, for example, as has been pointed out, despite her lineage, Madeline Albright is not a Jew because she says she is a Christian and believes in Christian doctrine. Hers is a case in point representative of the principle that to be a Jew is to affirm belonging. To be a Christian is to affirm believing.


Another major difference between Judaism and Christianity is how they regard "leaps of faith". When something in the Biblical text strikes Jews as unbelievable or appears to be irrational, they are not taught to suspend reason for the sake of pious belief.  Rational thinking is so sacred to Judaism that when a pious Jew comes upon something in Scripture that appears scientifically impossible, contradictory or illogical, he or she is to assume that the passage has not been properly understood.

There is no requirement to accept the irrational at face value however absurd because “you must be a faithful believer or you’ll be in trouble.” Rather, the tradition teaches, go back and look at it again and again and work out an interpretation that reconciles apparent discrepancies in the text.  Traditional Jews believe that their sacred writings will never defy science, logic or reason once correctly understood. God has better things with which to occupy His time than to test our credulity or concoct arcane challenges for His faithful flock to overcome (which calls attention to one of the reasons the Book of Job is so exceptional that its Jewish provenance is questioned by Biblical scholars).  Your obligation is to figure it out. You are to make use of your God-given gift of intelligence (“sechel”) to do so. For Jews there need never be any ongoing tensions between reason and faith.

This does not mean that Jews do not accept some things on faith, but that in Judaism there are no “leaps of faith” which are against reason. A Jewish leap is an extension of reason into areas of the unknown, the not yet known, and the unknowable, not a violation or a suspension of reason. Many Christians too, following Saint Augustine, Justine Martyr and Georg W. F. Hegel, teach that leaps of faith are not intended to be against reason but resulting from reason. It has been said that “Jewish Reason which storms the heavens, can never be at peace with a God who, against all reason, descends from heaven to die.”

But, in more recent times Soren Kierkegaard protested against objectivity and reason in religion in favor of the subjective, the personal and the truths of the individual’s perception. And Friedrich Nietzsche’s anti-rationalism, the rise of romanticism with its emphasis upon imagination rather than on a sense of literal fact and recent neo-supernaturalism among Christian theologians such as Karl Barth, Emil Brunner and Reinhold Niebuhr, have further challenged the authority of reason in Christian religion.

According to E. S. Brightman [4], the need for fixed authority in the church for disciplinary purposes also provided “grounds for the disparagement of reason in religion.” Therefore “the supposed pride of reason” must defer to the claims of faith in divine revelation: “the truth has been revealed to us; we know what God wants of us. Better believe if you wish to be saved.”

In Judaism, there are no admonitions to “believe because it is absurd” (Tertullian and his spiritual kinsmen Martin Luther and Thomas Hobbes were among the most powerful advocates of that proposition). Moreover, there are no Jewish theology departments in rabbinical seminaries advocating the proposition taught by William of Occam that what is philosophically true may be theologically false. Nor are there posed, in Judaica Studies classrooms, rhetorical questions such as, “what merit is there in believing in what your reason tells you is true when the challenge is to defy reason and make a leap to embrace a belief?”

There are no discussions in Judaism of the idea suggesting that, “After all, it is no great feat to accept articles of faith arrived at by employing common sense.  Why would you need faith at all and why embrace revelation if reason can figure it all out? Rather, believe because of the challenge and mystery of the absurd” – a line of reasoning quite absurd to the skeptical Jewish mentality as it is to many Christians and to a large part of Western humanity.

Pierre Bayle, influenced powerfully by the French mathematician and philosopher Rene Descartes, and who “is largely useful still today,” [5] wrote, tongue in cheek, that the more irrational the “truths” of faith, the more meritorious it is to believe them. In a recent film on the birth of Christianity, Jesus turns to Judas and says, “open your heart not your mind.” For Jews faith may indeed be admirable but doubt, emerging from the head not the heart, gets you an education and education itself is a near synonym for Torah.

My father, Abraham Brenner, kept kosher because God, in the Bible and subsequent Jewish texts “told” him to keep kosher. He would say that he was an Orthodox Jew and “those were the teachings!” But that did not mean he would not question them. All serious Jews, including my traditional, fastidiously observant father, consider it a commandment to engage the tradition by debating, questioning, and even challenging Jewish laws. His responsibility, he felt, was in wrestling with the many rationales of the tradition and in reasoning out the justifications for all his performed acts and observances (including the reason known as discipline-for-its-own-sake).

          Jews have kept many practices for generations but not without constantly reinterpreting their meanings. It has been pointed out that Jews are not nailed down to a list of doctrines that must be accepted by lunging past reason to assure that religious identity will not be forfeited.

Furthermore, in Judaism there is no central authority dictating religious truths.   Jews say, “You don't have to be fearful about changes in your religious thinking if new facts come to light, or fresh sensibilities develop which warrant change. Seek out a congregation of like-minded individuals to affiliate with and support.” In this connection it is useful to point out that Jewish law – like Jewish thought - is also a work in progress, an ongoing self-correcting process of change, called halachah - “the way”. Based on ages-old proven fundamentals of Jewish law and Jewish thought, Halacha is constituted to address new circumstances whenever and wherever they arise. 


Most often ideology evolves in slow motion; but sometimes fundamental changes in thought, attitudes and values come about abruptly by revolution. Jews need not be troubled by new information/revelations because while beliefs reform and convictions revise, one’s identity is fixed and secure. New ideas in Judaism are most welcome. Whether Orthodox, Reform, or Conservative, beliefs are not firmly defined. Rather, Judaism offers its convictions as a rich array of ideas, conceptions and humanitarian aspirations. Reform Jews are especially encouraged to examine those convictions for the ones that appeal most to their developing sensibilities.

Advanced in these pages, and in many popular as well as scholarly books, is the observation that for Christians ideology comes first and, in fact, it is ideology that establishes your identity as a Christian. Without espousing Christian theology, one cannot be a Christian. Some Christians would approve of the theology put forward by Dr. Gonzalo Palacios that what comes first for Christians is “to live in him.” This means, to identify with the Christ and by his incarnation – God becoming man. “He, the Son of God, has in a certain way united himself with each of us.” Moreover, Christians understand God in a very specific way. You cannot define or represent God without the Christ. And, from the Christian perspective, Christ cannot be defined, except by God Himself. But, you certainly cannot be a Christian atheist.

On the other hand, yHHHou can, in fact, be an atheist and a Jew, although it is very difficult to be one.  You need a specialized education disciplined in the strict symmetries of theological speculation to become one. You will have to become conversant with the entire rainbow of Jewish ideas of God. And you must be able to refute them all specifically and systematically to call yourself one.  Such an undertaking can take a lifetime. You have to make a career of it. It is perhaps possible to “achieve” that status and become a Jewish atheist, but it takes an extremely tough intellectual grind to get there.

Professing atheism is understandable following a great and tragic personal loss such as the death of a loved one, or when a natural catastrophe claims many lives, or when one expects God to prevent mass murders of one people by another as in the Holocaust. But psychological atheism is quite different from theological atheism of the kind that summons up formal, academic qualifications.

 Psychological or emotional atheism may conduce to the repudiation of the entire pantheon of gods and all thinking about how we may think about god in one sudden reversed epiphany. But theological atheism, at the most, may be able to refute one God idea at a time in a systematic, studiously methodological and deliberate exposition. We will return to this subject in the next chapter on thinking about thinking about the divine.

What bears repetition and remembering is this: To be a Christian is to embrace a specific set of ideas or beliefs which, as a consequence, defines your identity as a Christian and which cannot be changed without threatening that identity. For example, you must believe you were born in sin, the residue of original sin. Why else would you need baptism and a Savior sent by the grace of God to die as atonement for sin? Christians believe that Christ’s execution was an exercise of his free will, meaning he chose to die. As to why he chose this course, Christians explain that “no greater love” can be demonstrated than this ultimate self-sacrifice.

Original sin transmits to you the status of a sinful person and thwarts your powers to atone for your own iniquity. A Savior is necessary to take your sins upon himself and remove them. Jesus is that Savior. Christians also teach that He was born of a virgin in fulfillment of Biblical prophecies, and died on the cross as a sacrifice, and that he himself was sinless. Despite being born in sin, if you believe in Him, you can be saved and acquire eternal life because humanity has been redeemed. Baptism symbolizes the reality of that redemption.

This gift of redemption granting eternal life, which you could never have earned yourself, was given to you by a loving God. You must believe in this gift, and in Jesus' divinity, for the boon to be effective. What you do is important, of course, but what you believe is far more important. Some Christians believe that if you sin even up to your dying day and then at the eleventh hour you arrive at a belief in Jesus, you will enter Heaven.

Before Adolph Hitler’s deputy Adolph Eichmann was to be executed by the State of Israel for mass murder, it was put before him by a German Lutheran Minister that despite his heinous crimes of genocide he’d still be eligible for heaven were he to express his faith in Jesus as Christ. His answer was if that is all it takes; if he could become eligible for heaven after all he had done, he’d rather not go there. He would not wish to join the members of a club that would accept his likes (and, by vetoing his own acceptance, affirmed a human dimension to divine justice). Jews maintain that faith and beliefs should never be elevated over how we treat one another.

Christians would object strenuously to the over-simplification espoused by some non-Christians that a Christian’s religion is based primarily on what you believe rather than what you do and there is therefore no need for a code on how to conduct your life to reflect Jesus' teachings. It may be that Paul (Romans) taught that acts are virtually useless; faith our sole hope. But the catechism of the Catholic Church 1994 (page 480) moderates the apparent stark contrast between acts and faith in Catholicism.

The Catechism quotes Saint Frances de Sales in Love of God 8,6: “God does not want each person to keep all the counsels, but only those appropriate to the diversity of persons, times, opportunities, and strengths, as charity requires, for it is charity, as queen of all virtues, all commandments, all counsels, and, in short, of all laws, and all Christian actions, that gives to all of them their rank, order, time, and value.” Accordingly, charity is the law of love, “the new law” and charity constitutes “the primary basis” of Christianity.

Being part of a faith community is hugely beneficial for a family as has been shown in numerous studies. But there are wide differences of opinion on what you need to do to live a good Christian life - from snake handling and refusing to accept blood transfusions to living a celibate life of service and contemplation to a fairly mainstream approach of church membership and good deeds. Since many Christians believe that anyone who does not accept Jesus does not gain salvation – life in the next world - and since Christians are to be good at heart, Christians spend significant time, energy, and funds on evangelism. Their intention is that of bringing the "Good News" around the world to people who haven't heard it before. It is also understood by Christians that “Christ so ordered it.” Even at the inter-denominational chapel of the National Institutes of Health worshippers at a Catholic service pray, “That the Jewish people may grow in faith and love of God, that they may embrace the Good News of the Gospel, the joy of the New Testament…” [6].



The key words for Christianity are grace, mercy, sacrifice and salvation. By the sacrifice of His only begotten Son, God’s great compassion working through grace offers salvation to those who believe in him. The key words for Judaism are covenant, culture, conduct and continuity. If you are a Jew you have been born into Jewish identity or converted to acquire it, and your Jewish identity is based on your belonging to the Jewish people and not on "believing" in Judaism. But along with that identity is implied the willingness of the Jew to embrace a counter-culture, a way of life sanctioned and empowered by the authority of Torah, one that carries on an ageless set of ethical ideals of conduct intended to achieve harmony, humanitarian consideration and justice for all members of society. That way of life, characterized by duty and allegiance, is Judaism.

For Jews, God is unity, never trinity and never “divided” into separate persons.  For Catholicism as well: “We believe in one God” opens the various Catholic professions of faith accepted by the Roman Catholic Church through the centuries. The Trinity, composed of Father, Son and Spirit, is also affirmed by most Christians.  But, Christians say, that should not be taken to mean that God comes in three parts. What it does mean is that it is a mystery. Jews, on the other hand, always speak of the pure, uncompromising unity of God who is invisible, indivisible and always One.

The Jew affirms that as a human being, you were born morally neutral with both good and evil urges, and your life task is to live a virtuous life and never let the evil urge dominate your actions. You do this for your own good and to bring about a mended world, characterized as the coming of the Messiah (if you are Orthodox) or the Messianic Age (if you are Polydox). And neither the messiah nor a messianic age has yet arrived. Otherwise, the earth would already be transformed, peace realized, poverty eliminated, disease conquered, and all the rest of the things we anticipate when the earth is truly healed, would have been realized. Therefore from the Jewish perspective, Jesus was a good man, a spiritual teacher and rabbi, and a charismatic political figure in whose name a great world religion developed, but no more than that. In fact, that is quite enough for anyone to achieve in a rather brief lifetime.

 The observation has been made that, while some Orthodox Jews believe in a literal next world of personal self-consciousness, the “world to come” is not the core or the focus of Judaism. Folk wisdom may best express the attitude that humanity has been put in charge of this world, God is in charge of the next world. Tikkun Olam, the repair of this world, is Judaism's highest purpose. Judaism teaches that God deliberately left the world incomplete so that human beings could share in the creative process. Belief, doctrine and ideology will not make any of this happen. Your behavior, deeds and actions make things happen. That is why, as has been noted, Jews have a mitzvah system which describes and prescribes what you ought to do in this world but no creed requiring particular articles of faith provides entry into the next.

Jews say of themselves that their people have chosen a unique way of life and made a special everlasting covenant with God long ago. And today’s Jews, as in the past, feel duty bound to honor that covenant, abide by its terms and transmit it because, as many have said, “you know they will produce the best way of life you could possibly have.” There is no fear of Hell and no threat of eternal damnation.

Since, as a Jew, you are not concerned with achieving salvation and the assurance of a world to come, you don't feel the need to convert others to your religion to save them. You do feel the need to set an example of what moral conduct should be in this life and to try to get others with whom you come in contact to join you in living the virtues, performing good deeds and avoiding evil for the betterment of the human race as a whole. Contemporary Jews call these proactive efforts on behalf of community and society, “social action.” Social action is understood as the mode of conduct whose purpose is to achieve social justice for all. Social action and social justice are terms firmly fixed within the core of the Jewish soul.

Jewish parents say to their children: “You have been given an impressive array of wondrous traditions and admirable mitzvot (actions) developed and shaped over many centuries to help you conduct your everyday life. Your intellectuality and spirituality are open to exploration and growth. You are encouraged to question everything and then to build up a set of convictions out of your own best judgments, hard-won wisdom and practical experience. You are taught that revelation and inspiration are not over yet (spoken of as “progressive revelation”). And your task is not to see yourself as a bookworm devouring old texts, but to use those texts as a living tool to embrace modern life and to make your own life special and sacred.”

Even if complementary and in many ways overlapping- seeing that they derive from the same source - Christians and Jews agree that Judaism and Christianity offer two very different  attitudes towards the world. One cannot be both a believing Christian and a committed Jew. An interfaith couple choosing a religion for their children needs to examine both of them very carefully to see which one they will be comfortable having as the dominant religious stance in their home and to select that pathway for their children and their household.

Rabbi Jacob Neusner [7], offers the advice that “when it comes to family ties, intermarried Jews and Christians need not relive two thousand years of religious competition in establishing a home and a family. They need not, and they better not. When they do, partly because they do, three quarters of all interfaith marriages end in divorce, while ‘only’ half of other marriages do.”


It is important for an interfaith couple, and indeed for all couples, to understand how each partner has been brought up to think about the other's religion, since this information will play an important part in their decision‑making process. I will leave to Christian clergy the equally important in‑depth evaluation of how Christians of different denominations view Jews and Judaism. But as a rabbi, I can provide a general summary of Jewish views on Jesus, Christians, and Christianity.

How do Jews view Jesus and Christianity? This question can be answered by first looking at Jesus as an historical figure, next at his teachings, and then by examining the fundamental philosophical differences between the religion which has grown up around Jesus' teachings –Christianity- and his own religion, Judaism. Let us first look at Jesus and then at Christianity, recognizing that it is not very easy to separate the two.

Hyman Maccoby offers the “true facts that underlie the Gospel account of the life of Jesus. If we stand back from the Gospel narrative and concentrate on the bare bones of the story, we see the four following stages in Jesus’ life:

1.      Jesus began his public career by proclaiming the coming of ‘the kingdom of God.’

2.      Later, he claimed the title ‘Messiah’ and was saluted as such by his followers.

3.      He entered Jerusalem to the acclamation of the people and took violent action in ‘the Cleansing of the Temple.’

4.      He was arrested, became a prisoner of Pilate the Roman Governor, and was crucified by Roman soldiers.

            “…We can understand what it meant in first-century Palestine to proclaim the ‘kingdom of God’ and to assume the title of ‘Messiah.’ These were not (as they later became in the Gentile-Christian Church) purely ‘spiritual’ expressions.  They were political slogans, which put those who used them in danger of their lives from Roman and pro-Roman authorities, just as the use of expressions such as ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ would attract police attention in Tsarist Russia. They were expressions of revolutionary content. Time and time again…those who used these phrases became the targets of the Roman occupying forces and the native quislings and in many cases died by crucifixion. If we fix our attention on the facts of Jesus’ life and death (as opposed to the interpretation of the facts added by the Gospels) we shall see that Jesus was a Jewish Resistance leader of a type not unique in this period.” [8]

Certain scholars see Jesus as a rabbi, and as a student or disciple of other rabbis, as Paul (at that time called Saul) was a student of Rabbi Gamliel. The New Testament (which Jews prefer to call the Christian Scriptures) often translates the word rabbi as "Master". Rabbi means teacher of Torah (The Teaching), one qualified by special schooling to interpret Jewish law. The substitution of Master for rabbi has been understood as part of a two thousand year old campaign of “trying to take the Jew out of Jesus.” And to many Jews its aim is to disguise, camouflage or conceal Jesus' Jewishness. Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher of Judaism. The fact that his group of twelve is called “disciples” refers to the fact that Jesus was their teacher of Judaism, not their “Master” in any other sense. The Sermon on the Mount and Paul's Letter to the Corinthians are both examples of Jewish rabbinic teachings presenting Jewish views of the world.

          Hyman Maccoby points out that “The title ‘Messiah” (Greek – ‘Christos’) was not a divine title among the Jews. It simply means ‘anointed.’ It was given to two Jewish officials, the King and the High Priest, who were both anointed with oil at their inauguration ceremony. When David was anointed by Samuel he became a messiah.  Every Jewish king of the House of David was known as the messiah. The conventional way of referring to the High Priest was ‘the Priest Messiah,’ i.e. the Priest Christ; even the corrupt Roman appointees of Jesus’ day had this title. It is necessary to labour this point because the word ‘Christ’ has become so imbued with the idea of deity that it is very hard for a non-Jew to appreciate what these words meant to the average Jew in the time of Jesus.” [9]

Maccoby observes that “in recent years, many efforts have been made to show that the leading ideas of Gentile-Christianity are rooted in Judaism. Indeed, as much effort has gone into this line of argument as used to be put into the opposite view that Christianity represents an entirely new departure from Judaism. Many ingenious, though strained, arguments have been proffered to show that doctrines such as the Virgin Birth, Predestination, vicarious atonement, etc. had their origin in Judaism.  Naturally, among these efforts are to be found attempts to show that the idea of a Divine Messiah is also to be found in Judaism…. Even W. D. Davies, however, a leading exponent of the ‘Jewish origin’ line, had to reject the attempts … to find a doctrine of the Divine Messiah in Judaism.” [10]

Not only do the spectacles through which a Christian and a Jew behold the same biblical passages reveal conflicting readings. Each begins with fundamentally irreconcilable assumptions. For starters, Jews refer to the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures not the Old and the New Testament. Testament is translated as covenant/contract/pact/agreement, and Jews do not accept the idea that God would break a covenant once it has been made.

 Christians do not necessarily believe that God broke His pact but perfected it – implying that that there was something imperfect and incomplete in God’s first original covenant with the Jewish people. That notion Jews would, of course, reject outright. Instead Jews would suggest that God may surely make different covenants with different people, but God would not dishonor or repudiate a covenant He initiated. Certain Christians maintain that a “new covenant” was made with Jews, Christians, Muslims and with all humanity whether they accept it or not.

From the Jewish perspective, each people would need to abide faithfully by the covenant they made with God, just as God faithfully abides by the covenants He makes with the different peoples of the world. It is perfectly reasonable to the Jewish mentality that God – however understood - would distribute assignments and responsibilities for the advancement of His plans to the various folk/people/nations to carry them out.

While it is true that nearly all of Rabbi Yehoshua's (Jesus’) teachings are Jewish teachings, some were, and still are, antithetical to the Jewish mentality. They are today understood by many Jews as the teachings of a charismatic figure who earnestly believed that the world was coming to an end. However, since the world has not come to an end, although individual lives do end, Christians reinterpreted Jesus' statements to mean that people needed to be saved from eternal damnation.

Many other teachings were decidedly not Jewish.  For example, Jews could not attribute Messianic qualities to a rabbi who taught children to leave their parents to follow him, who called down curses on fig trees for not bearing fruit out of season, and who made claims about himself which were, to Jews, exaggerated at the very least (such as the only way to the Father was through the son, and he was the son).

 Most importantly to Jews living then, none of the predictions about what would happen when the Messiah arrived came true. Peace and brotherhood were not ushered in upon Jesus' appearance and departure. Israel was not made free from tyranny and oppression. And the idea of Jesus coming again to accomplish what he could not achieve the first time around would not do. What kind of God, Son of God, or Messiah would be unable to get the job done the first time?

Referring to the teachings which were not representative of Judaism, Jacob Chinitz wishes us to remember that Jesus was “not excluded from the pantheon [of Israel's teachers and prophets] because of the occasional nasty behavior of his followers ... but on the basis of his own teachings." [11]

Representing the other side of the debate, the late Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath (who was President of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in the United States, now renamed The Union of Reform Judaism) would consider meeting Christians halfway by recognizing Rabbi Yehoshua ben Yoseph (Joshua the son of Joseph) as a great Jewish teacher and spiritual luminary ‑ but not God incarnate or part of a Holy Trinity. This new approach for Jews, he suggested, would serve to reciprocate the Catholic's most welcome and "long overdue exculpation of Jews of the crime of deicide".


         As can be seen, there are Jewish scholars who stress the Jewishness of Jesus and honor him as a Jewish teacher without believing that he was more than mortal. Most Jewish authorities contend that his teachings – or what was reputed to be his teachings - are antithetical to Judaism. But no Jew claims that he was more than a great teacher. Those who attribute supernatural status to Jesus cease being Jews – by definition. They are Christians. And today all Jewish denominations, groups, or movements ‑ whether orthodox, polydox or heterodox ‑ are unanimous in their agreement that his teachings, as we have received them if not precisely how he uttered them, (that we will know only when he returns to tell us) - are not acceptable to them.  Many of Jesus' teachings – as they are mirrored by Christianity - are contradictory to Judaism.

 Rabbi Milton Steinberg pointed out in his classic little book Basic Judaism, "What was true in the teachings of Jesus was not new, and what was new in his teachings was not true." [12] The end of time did not come about and peace and brotherhood did not usher in as promised in the Days of the Messiah. Chinitz writes that Jesus was, "a candidate for messiah", no different from the many other false messiahs in Jewish history.  [13]

To Jews of previous generations, many of whom escaped from Russia, Poland, or Germany to save their lives during the last few years of the 19th century and up to the middle of the 20th century, Jesus was a figure who produced an almost phobic fear. To someone who lived in Russia then and associated Christmas and Easter primarily with the Cossacks coming to rape, loot and murder in the name of Christ, Jesus wore a horrible face. It took years in America for some immigrants to be able to walk by a church without any degree of discomfort or apprehension, and to cease thinking of Christians as potential murderers.  Many Jews felt that whether or not Christianity still blames Jews for the death of Jesus, more than a few still consider Jews as guilty of having rejected Jesus as the Christ.

The American‑born children of these refugees to a certain extent absorbed their parents' feelings and experiences. But they had new experiences of Christianity which were not negative and hostile that provided a more balanced understanding of the dominant faith of this country. But, as expressed by many, “the Christian faith was always incomprehensible to me since they believed, that despite war and bigotry, the Messiah had already come, a virgin gave birth, God became a man (a rabbi to boot), and then he died, was resurrected and disappeared. At least for those of humankind lacking the Christian vision.”

American Jews of the 21st century have long gotten past the fears of their grandparents. And, although Jews are still puzzled by Christian beliefs, most are trying to achieve a fuller and deeper understanding of both Christians and Christianity in the setting of the unprecedented tolerance of American civilization.


Most rabbis and religious school educators will frankly say that Christianity does not figure much in Jewish thought or education, except for occasional courses in comparative religion. Christianity, as a religion, is not seen to be of the same consequence for Jews as Judaism is for Christians. Judaism stands on its own with scant reference to Christianity. In contrast, Christians, who comprise the vast majority of people in this country, are seen as very important since they are our neighbors, friends, fellow Americans – and, increasingly, marriage partners. But Judaism is, and always has been, self‑contained, self‑sufficient, self‑defined and not dependent on any other faith. It cannot be maintained that Judaism has virtually no roots. Archeology has revealed that even the bible must reference a bibliography citing still earlier documents. But Judaism has no living roots, other than its own in the ancient Near East.

The same cannot be said of Christianity. To their credit, most Christians I've met applaud the fact that Christianity has emerged from Jewish roots and Jewish soil. Judaism is the tree’s main-stem and Christianity (as well as Islam) is an offshoot - a branch of the tree.

 For Christians, Judaism is essential, fundamental and of great consequence. But most Christians know little if anything about Jewish festivals or lifecycle events, important Jewish teachings, or anything which would give them an idea of how their neighbors live as Jews and how Jesus lived his life as a Jew. Many Protestant ministers and Catholic Priests I have known have said, in the words of Professor Palacios, “that most Christians know little if anything about their own liturgy, rites and Founder – all Jewish in origin, style and form – let alone Judaism.”

 Making an exception for non-Jews who are students of cultural history and of contemporary society, and for politicians evaluating the voters in their district, or those individuals living in a large city with a sizeable Jewish population, there is no compelling reason to consider Jews themselves as very important. After all, numerically Jews are approximately 1% to 2% of the American population and 0.01% of the population of the world. Numerically Jews are insignificant. However, the contribution of Jews to society is immense.

It has been pointed out that approximately forty percent of the Nobel Prize winners in science and medicine are of Jewish descent. In every field of intellectual endeavor and achievement, Jews as a group have contributed far out of all proportion to their numbers, and the Jewish presence in every aspect of the arts, medicine, science, and literature is enormous.

Nevertheless, apart from interfaith families and their extended families there is no compelling reason to make a study of Judaism and the Jewish contributions to world culture and societal advances. But to these extended interfaith families there is every reason to bone up on Jews and Judaism with such books, as Thomas Cahill’s, The Gifts of the Jews, and The Creative Elite in America by Nathaniel Wyle. [14]


 It is difficult, if not impossible, to tell what was going on in the mind of the people who were actually living and writing down the history we read about. We have to imagine what they were thinking. And when we do that we have no choice but to reinterpret their version of history through the understanding and perspective of our own time and cast of mind. These reinterpretations can be spectacularly inaccurate and we therefore must be extremely careful to gather all the information we can before making judgements.

Christianity developed out of Judaism at a time, some 2,000 years ago, when Judaism was in the midst of Roman domination and oppression and many people felt that things were so desperate that the end of the world must be at hand. During the years that Jesus was alive, Rome's oppression caused great anguish and suffering, and stirred in some a longing for a new world order.

 For many Jews, a promise of the rewards of Heaven could not compensate for the loss of freedom and homeland in this world. Most Jews felt that turning the other cheek and rendering unto Caesar what was "due" to him were words spoken by traitors rather than patriots to the Jewish cause of liberty. Revolutionary-minded Jews were saying that the end of the world was not in sight, and it was not futile or pointless to revolt. According to one political interpretation, Jesus was seen as betraying the revolution and selling out the uprising. This is why, as a Jewish patriot, Judas never wanted Jesus to be merely a religious figure. He, and others, wanted Jesus to be a charismatic political figure who would lead a revolution – not solely a wise spiritual sage.

Another group of more conservative Jews of his time felt that Jesus was a risk and danger to their wellbeing. Rome did not like the threat of revolutionaries and its forces confronted potential uprisings with indiscriminant bloodshed. Since the description of the Messiah and how he would be recognized when he came were so well known in the Jewish population, attention‑seekers would get themselves a white donkey and a few followers and enter Jerusalem proclaiming themselves to be the Deliverer of the Jews.

Since Jewish society was so oppressed, there were always those who believed in, became followers and disciples of, charismatic messianic figures hopeful of overthrowing Roman domination. And Rome would respond by using extreme violence to suppress the nascent uprising and by creating ever greater restrictions and harsher persecutions to subjugate the Jewish population.

Jesus, it seems, was one of several persons to enter Jerusalem claiming to be the Messiah.  And a significant number of Jewish people saw him ominously as the forerunner of ever more brutal governmental reprisals - and not a herald of peace at all. And indeed, as a dangerous figure, he was lined up with other undesirables, rabble-rousers, and thieves by the Roman government. Thanks to Jesus' followers (principally Paul) his death was not an ending but the beginning of a new world religion – an offspring of Judaism. Christians understand Jesus’ mission as intending to set up a new order of things, a “new covenant,” and to spread it throughout the world. Certainly with regard to spreading the news, it was a successful mission without doubt.


A theology professing a God who dies or whose son dies is, for Jews, extremely difficult to comprehend. But assuming for argument sake that God the Son was sent by God the Father to redeem sinful humanity by his atoning death and there was no other or better way for redemption to be achieved, then surely such a hugely important happening was predetermined, purposeful and intentional, as Christianity’s most fundamental tenet avows. God wanted his son to die. In fact, he was born to give his life to accomplish God’s design: To sacrifice his life by crucifixion. Every player or participant in the drama then was abiding by God’s stratagem. Every one of them programmed to perform a preplanned part. They could not do otherwise without going against God’s will. Judas, Pilate, the executioners, the Roman occupying powers, the priests and all other agents and collaborators were obedient to God, chosen by God, God-infused superheroes, hardly villains. Christians refer to the suffering of Jesus following the Last Supper and ending with the crucifixion as “the Passion.”  If Christ the son does not give his life on the cross there can be no redemption, as Christianity requires. No Passion, no Christianity!  

Rabbi Allen Podet puts the matter in these words:

“His death, then, was in manner and substance written in a book, so to speak before he was born. The whole purpose of his life was to die a redeeming death.

“In this scenario, Judas as a character has a pre-written part to play. No Judas, no redeeming death. No redeeming death, no purpose in God coming to earth in order to die. Judas, in other words, is an actor, part of God’s plan, and plays out his part as it was written. He has no choice in the matter.”

But with the same theological breath, Christianity, refuting this most basic article of its faith, also teaches the starkly clashing doctrine that Jesus was indeed betrayed and various wicked men brought about his death which otherwise would not have occurred. That is, it did not have to turn out that way. It was not at all God’s intention that his son should die. Rather, “It was,” Allen Podet explains, “ alas, an avoidable accident of history, and we are left not with God Almighty coming to earth to die for humankind, but only with a poor Jewish would-be revolutionary who happened to get caught in a Roman net.” [15] It may be true that the Mathew, Mark, Luke and John Gospel reports of the last hours of Jesus’ life differ by putting forth “Rashomon-like” conflicted accounts of Jewish and Roman participation in the Passion. But undeniably, by all accounts, perceived as a threat to Roman authority, he was put to death, as were other leading rabbis of his time. 


What are the essential or core religious differences between Judaism and Christianity?

There are several major distinctions between the two faiths that have been shown, over the centuries, to be the most critical and least bridgeable. To be sure, each side offers spiritual benefits and commendable virtues worthy of a world religion. They each can be seen as encouraging humane conduct and fostering righteousness. Unquestionably there is much in Judaism and Christianity that are held in common. But, also without doubt, the differences are powerful and arresting as the history of the polemics, debates and disputes among their followers demonstrates so well.

Any volume you read on this subject, including the text you have in your hands, presupposes a serve and defend, serve and defend, doctrinal ping pong match that has been going on over the centuries as proponents of each faith describe and define their views and debate the other. Anything I have to say or add in this book should be viewed no more than as one of the current offerings on the subject. This presentation will not depart greatly from Trudi Weiss-Rosmarin’s Judaism and Christianity: The Differences, Abba Hillel Silver’s Where Judaism Differed, [16] and other scholarly as well as popular books on the subject.


When we come to define the core differences between Judaism and Christianity which we are  attempting in this chapter, it is necessary to understand well how they relate to each other. For this purpose, we have been offering the image of the tree, which represents Western Civilization and Western religions: The soil, roots and trunk of the tree are Jewish/Judaism. The tree boasts an abundance of limbs emerging out of its main stem. These branches are not isolated from each other as are many of the more remote – to us - religions of the world, such as the Hinduism of the monks of Tibet and the shamanism of an American Indian tribe which are, in essence, except for sharing the same planet, entirely disconnected from one another. They are not attached to the same tree.

 Judaism and Christianity, as well as Islam, are. They are intrinsically, inherently and vitally related to one another. They share common roots or, to change the metaphor, a foundation stone or point of union, namely Judaism. The tree image suggests branches.  Prominent among them are  Protestantism, Catholicism, Mormonism, Russian and Greek Orthodox and the many other living limbs of Christianity.

Not to be overlooked are the fast growing  limbs of Islam with its numerous branches – Sunni, Shiite, Sufi, among them.  Also issuing forth from the base of the trunk are  the wide range of the contemporary  branches of Judaism, including Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Hassidic, Humanistic, and secular Judaism.  In fact, Western Civilization itself, emerging out of its Hebraic (and Hellenistic) origins, springs from this tree. And the religion of more than half the population of the world emanates  from Jewish roots.

 The tree image works particularly well for grandparents as they adjust or reconcile to the acceptance of grandchildren of a different faith. The tree metaphor is an excellent tool for demonstrating where Judaism, Islam and Christianity converge, intersect and branch apart. Without doubt, as history discloses, Judaism is the soil, the roots and the tree trunk. The trunk of the tree is not contingent for its provenance, or its existence, upon the limbs as the limbs are in need of the trunk. In accordance with this image, for Jews, the Christian religion is "out on a limb."

While many intertwining branches are heavy with the foliage of faith and several varieties of doctrinal fruit  Jews find digestable, such as  that Jesus was a great rabbi, the Jewishness of the Lord's Prayer and the Corinthian verses on faithful love, others are not. Prominent  examples previously discussed are: Jesus was the Messiah and God incarnate; the Resurrection; Virgin Birth; sin transmitted from generation to generation; a God that died to redeem the world; he issued forth from the loins of the Father;  believing in him gains salvation; a trinity for God which is still mysteriously, monotheistic; vicarious atonement; and other fundamental beliefs.

 Every distinction drawn between Judaism and Christianity warrants broad discourses and study. The purpose of this discussion, however, is to define the core differences between these two religions. The following fantasy may prove helpful for that purpose:


A human being, who happens to be an American Jew, is out for a jog and h/she encounters a visitor from space in some secluded place. The extra‑terrestrial emerges from a spacecraft and explains that s/he/it is on a time‑limited fact‑finding tour of the Milky Way galaxy. His/her/its itinerary allows the space-person only five minutes for the Planet Earth, during which time the visitor would like to acquire as much information as possible about this planet and its inhabitants for a survey being undertaken in advance of the Great Galactic Encyclopedia scheduled soon for publication.

If you were that American Jew being interviewed by the space traveler, there are a number of things you would tell the visitor right away. First, you’ll attempt to explain biology by pointing out that you're a human being and that you're either male or female. Perhaps you'll identify your cultural group or race (Caucasian, Black, Hispanic, Asian, mixed, etc.) and call attention to other divisions of humanity – political, territorial, cultural.  You'll probably say up front to the alien that the space ship has landed in a country called the United States of America and that you are an American, and you'll describe the way this planet is geographically divided into countries and nations.

It may not be of special significance but you might explain the American political system and identify yourself as a Republican or a Democrat. And you might describe other political systems in the world such as socialism and totalitarianism (but there probably isn't time). You would also say that you were a Jew and follow or practice Judaism.

The star traveler asks you to explain what Judaism is and what is being a Jew. You would say that you were born into a group that is a very tiny minority of the American population but that Judaism is the basis of most other Western religions and one of the foundation stones of world civilization. You would point out that there are Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Native Americans and others in the United States, but roughly 90% are Christians.

 The visitor, wishing to know the differences between the Judaism you profess and Christianity, the main religion of this country,  decides to add another three minutes to the visit just for the purpose of clarifying this new revelation.

Gathering notes for the GGE (the Great Galactic Encyclopedia), the extra-terrestrial asks for an exposition of the two faiths and where the branches diverge. Because of time restraints the human being is asked to define the two religions by one critical, core sentence ‑ or preferably to reduce the assignment down still further for publishing purposes to one decisive and definitive core term  -  a single word or phrase. That term would be intended to furnish the definition necessary for the being’s  exhaustive, all encompassing reference compilation  to be published back home and distributed universally.

The human strives to provide a definition of both Judaism and Christianity that would embrace all the diversities within each of the two religious communities. The human being understands that a rendering of the essentials must be one that can be endorsed by both Christian and Jewish authorities.

The human might further explain that for Christianity the required, defining, core sentence taken from the book of the Gospel John can be seen on a huge billboard while driving in New York City across the Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan: "God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son to die for its sins." This sentence means that God sent Jesus to be crucified to save humanity because humanity is born in sin. The sinfulness is inherent and inherited rather than acquired. Accordingly, it cannot be absolved other than by the death of a pure, sinless, Son of God, who is also the Messiah.

It is unlikely that there will be sufficient time to elaborate on the idea that the death of God was necessary in order to return “humanity” to the same pristine state  before Adam sinned. And since sin is transmitted from one generation to the next, according to Christianity, no person's performed deeds, blameless life style or charitable work can provide absolution or gain him or her salvation.  Rather, it is one's faith in Jesus, God incarnate, having been sacrificed, that renders salvation.  Implied is a next world, where this salvation is provided. Another implication, often stated forthrightly by most, but not all, of the branches of Christianity, is that only those who believe will gain salvation; non‑believers will not.

             Salvation, provided by God in return for faith in Him and His sacrificed son, was granted as a gratuitous gift given out of God's love. Christians refer to this gift as GRACE. Therefore, the single, imperative and operative term, which can be recorded in any intergalactic dictionary as the defining core of Christianity, is GRACE, an unearned status (except perhaps earned by faith) conferring the reward of Eternity.

             For Judaism, the one sentence conveying its essence is that “God and the people Israel entered into a contract – a pact, brit, covenant – recorded in the Torah.” The Torah is the contract, obligatory, in different ways, for both God and the Jewish people.            

       God, for His part,  willingly contracts, compromises, His enormous authority for the sake of the  "covenant relationship". He forgoes absolute authority and arbitrary rulership for a “constitutional rulership.” For the sake of the relationship, God now, in accordance with this mythos, elects to abide by “His end of the bargain” which is well-defined in the Jewish prayer book by the Shma verses of every service: God is responsible for running the universe including all its physical, chemical, biological and mathematical components, in a just and coherent manner. He must see to it that the rains come in their seasons, that gravity forces work, that E=MC(2) and all the  known and unknown powers of nature function properly. This is His commitment as well as His responsibility – the duties of a deity.  God, however conceived, is required by the Torah contract to do His/Her part.

       The People's responsibility is the Moral Law and the Mitzvah System, which together comprise the Commandments. It means that in addition to the seven Noahite commandments which all the nations of the world are obligated to keep,  Jews have additional requirements imposed on them ‑ not beliefs, creeds or pre- digested thoughts, but rather, behavioral rules. Rules of conduct, such as those known as the Ten Commandments  are required – obligatory - regardless of how you conceive of God.

          The idea of a covenant –that there are  two parties and a written agreement between them - establishes the Jewish version of a "trinity": God, the People Israel,Torah.

        In short, this contract, or agreement, Torah, that  both God and the Jewish People have agreed to keep, is referred to in Judaism as COVENANT, or Brit. It is the same Brit that every Jewish boy and girl enters soon after birth as the first life-cycle event after birth. Therefore, the single operative word that defines Judaism is COVENANT. A covenant is a form of contract and all contracts are formulated to realize and actualize JUSTICE – even when the parties to the contract are not equals.

     The space traveler who visited earth can depart carrying away a reasonable definition of Christianity and Judaism for the Encyclopedia Gelatica. The term, "Christianity" will be defined by the core sentence, "God so loved the world  he sent his only begotten son to die for its sins," and the imperative word is GRACE. Judaism will be defined by the core sentence, "God entered into a pact with the Jewish People" and the operative word, is COVENANT. SACRIFICE rests on Grace; Covenant is based upon negotiations intended to realize JUSTICE.  GRACE, for Christianity  and JUSTICE, for Judaism are the two concepts that may be juxtaposed to best convey the defining  essences of the two religions.


The concept of covenant is pivotal for Christianity as well as for Judaism but two different meanings are attached to them. “Christianity,” writes Daniel J. Elazar, “embraced the covenant idea as one of the foundations, reinterpreting the old biblical covenant establishing a people as a covenant of grace between God and individual humans granted or mediated by Jesus.”[17]

At a Christian burial, the Celebrant is likely to dismiss the people with these words: “The God of peace brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant…”

By contrast, Elazar defines the covenant, as Jews understand the concept, as a “binding promise”:

“A covenant is a morally-informed agreement or pact based upon voluntary consent, established by mutual oaths or promises, involving or witnessed by some transcendent higher authority, between peoples or parties … that provides for joint action or obligation to achieve defined ends … under conditions of mutual respect which protect the individual integrities of all the parties to it. Every covenant involves consenting (in both senses of thinking together and agreeing) and promising. Most are meant to be of unlimited duration, if not perpetual. Covenants can bind any number of partners for a variety of purposes but in their essence they are political in that their bonds are used principally to establish bodies political and social.”


Jews don't have a salvational message; they have a survival message to deliver. Christians talk truth and salvation. Jews talk culture and continuity. My own teacher Rabbi Henry Slonimsky taught that if you look carefully at the tradition you understand that God promised not that it would be easy but that the Jewish people would endure and persevere. The people would go on preserving and enhancing the Jewish way of life from generation to generation. They would strengthen Judaism and pass it on. Jews have always used words such as legacy, heirship, patrimony, ancestry, birthright (birth-rite) and inheritance. The Jewish covenant commands that Jews must engage the world to affect the repair of the world’s ills and to put an end to all conflict and suffering (therefore so high a percentage of Jewish attorneys, Jewish physicians).  Creative Survival is what the Covenant is about. Creative alludes to Torah living and Covenant means living Torah.


It has been pointed out previously that the purpose of this book is to offer various "ways of thinking" about decisions which couples have to make. In previous chapters we have provided a series of images and metaphors with which to frame the nature and character of several types of households. They are intended to help clarify certain important concepts relevant to their lives. 

 We described, for example, the metaphor of the mansion and its four columns, the image of the  “Judaic-Christian” tree and its branch points, the concepts of Ascending Lineality or reverse genealogy, the status of the settled sojourner and “retrojected identity.” We offered certain perspectives that provide guidance for each couple’s unique trails and byways. And we have presented reasons to take off along one track or another and not to follow several simultaneously or two at a time.

In this chapter we offer not  a metaphor but a table in the form of a chart composed of Jewish/Christian dichotomies and polarities that, to be forthright, do not exist that way in reality. The list is not of opposites in eternal conflict. Life is more complicated than our abilities to reduce ideas down to sound bites. The chart inevitably oversimplifies and yet the items of contrast are most helpful for the insights they provide.

It is only at certain uniquely critical moments in the course of a lifetime that these concepts might confront each other as polarities. Although presented as facing off antagonistically they may also be seen as complementing and overlapping each other. Nevertheless there are indeed branch points that diverge radically – from the Latin, radix, meaning, at the “root.”

 In most instances these issues of contrast do not necessary exclude one another: deeds can be coupled with creeds; history does not necessarily deny or negate theology; belonging and behaving need not stand opposed to, or conflict with, believing, for example.  Nevertheless as with most chestnuts there is often an important kernel of truth within the surrounding mass.

It will become obvious why the contrasts presented as notions opposing one another should more properly be seen as complementing one another. And yet, as a shorthand and as a direction-pointing signal, the list may be indispensable for certain couples contemplating their future pathways particularly when discussions on Judaism and Christianity commence.

            No one would deny that an educated Christian should be able to give an account of the faith components of Christianity regardless of whether he or she fully believes in each and every one of them. An educated person should be able to say, “Christianity teaches the following doctrines: Jesus was the Messiah, was God incarnate, was God’s son, was sent to die to redeem humankind, was raised from the dead, that humanity was conceived in original sin, that belief in Jesus is salvational, that he was conceived by immaculate conception and born of a virginand the like. I have suggested that students of the Jewish-Christian dialogue commit to memory and recite these issues of contrast in a similar manner.

Faith and Folk

Creed and Deed

Theology and History

Ideology and Identity

Believing and Behaving/Belonging

Salvation and Survival

Next-worldly and this-wordly

These short-hand polarities should cross our minds when giving thought to the branch points of Judaism and Christianity. Also there should be no sense of shame aroused when some Christians feel it necessary at times to maintain that  the Christian column is more worthy of devotion and “better” – whatever that might mean for the particular individual – for themselves than the other non-Christian column. Nor should followers of Judaism deny their cast of mind conducing to the sense that their column – representing their way of life – possesses the greatest validity for themselves.

 Christians should certainly believe that Christianity “raises the level of civilization,” “represents a more  advanced stage of religious development,” and “supercedes its parent religion in some manner,” and that “The New Testament is a step forward and enlarges or fulfills The Old Testament.” These beliefs may be held without disrespect or put-down intended. And Jews might very well judge their own tradition authentic and valid and never superceded at all. Many Jews, Christians and Muslim of good will will also likely add, “and may the various differing opinions which so enrich mankind never cease. May they give rise to respect and tolerance for all ideals and values that uphold and enhance humankind.”

Also of importance is the word or phrase we choose to place between the dichotomies. Shall that conjunction be “not?” as in “Survival and not Salvation - is the principal concern of the Jew”; or “Salvation (of each person’s soul) and not Survival (as a people)  - is the reference point of the Christian”? Shall that word between words be “before” as in Creed “before” Deed - which for many Christian thinkers may come across as misleading “sloganeering” altogether? Or perhaps the bridge phrase should be “rather than” as in, “Folk rather than Faith” – best conveys the point of divergence for a Jew and a Christian. Or “precedes,” as in “Identity precedes Ideology for Jews.”

 Perhaps the conjoining term may be imagined as functioning as a kind of fulcrum positioned in the ideological divide midway between two oppositional statements of faith. For some two thousand years, the doctrinal lever’s rotational motion and its seesawing action have been swaying both polar ends, Judaism and Christianity, this way and that way according to the relative strengths of the theological opponents stationed at the extremes. Doubtlessly, the nexus which joins or confronts the justaposing polarities may vary with every denominational dialogue. But the clashing concepts themselves may also be seen as worthy adversaries facing off from contending sides of the philosophical ring.


The twin issues of sin and atonement position Judaism and Christianity in opposite corners of the philosophical ring as do few other concepts in their long history of disputations. For believing Christians, Adam’s sin of disobedience in the Garden of Eden “condemned” (Romans 5:16) all humanity to death and assigned everyone to a condition or state of sin. The key doctrine in the New Testament informs us that “sin came into the world through one man,” Adam, the first man and “many died through one man’s trespass.”

This sinful condition prevents mankind from “doing the good” (Romans 5:21) and required Jesus’ crucifixion to bring atonement and eternal life. For Christians sin is more than a single individual’s immoral act or acts. It is a condition of being. 

Restitution for wrongs committed and doing good deeds will not help the sinners. The remedy for sin requires being saved by way of divine intervention - and divine self-sacrifice in the crucifixion. “Christ suffered for sins, the just for the unjust.” Many Christians would take issue with the view that good acts will not help the sinner by insisting that Christianity certainly requires restitution as a condition of forgiveness.

The Christian notions of sin as an evil condition and of atonement as a gift of god are worldviews without analogy in Judaism. In Judaism, mankind is not trapped or bogged down in a condition of inherited sin and can freely choose to act ethically  and morally. An atoning divine scapegoat who takes upon himself the sins of humanity is not necessary.

 “The rabbis of the first six centuries of the common era who developed rabbinic Judaism address sin not so much as a condition or state but as a transgression of the elaborate system of ritual, civil, criminal, and ethical mitsvot or commandments laid down in the written Torah and developed in the Talmud and in its commentaries. This system is based on the principle that humans receive commandments and freely obey or disobey them. When they obey they are rewarded, and when they disobey they are punished. If humans suffered from a state of sin that limited their free will, the entire system of mitsvot would be compromised.” [18] Christian thinkers point out that this is true for Christians also; sin does not limit our free will because all mankind and all creation have been redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus.

            Steven Kepnes, whose stated aim is to underscore the parallels and not polarities in Christian – Jewish philosophies nevertheless concedes that,

“The simple Jewish view is that Christianity begins with a world plagued by sin and ends with Christ as savior; Judaism begins with a world that is ‘very good’ (Gen. 1:31) and ends with Torah as its complement and Shabbat as its completion (Gen. R. on Gen. 2:12). Lacking a notion of original sin means that sin, atonement, and repentance are not the central concerns for Jews that they are for Christians.” [19]

 Kepnes refers to these contrasting approaches to life’s condition as “stereotypical formulations of the differences between Christianity and Judaism.” He adds, however, that “there is of course truth” to the charge of contrariety and divergence. In this book we have made the case against confusion-by-amalgamation of two great heritages in one human being because, among other reasons, it diminishes each of the components.

There is wisdom too in recognizing incompatibilities in ideologies, theologies, and fundamental conceptions when they exist if for no other reason than to preserve intellectual integrity and the character of important religious beliefs. Jews and Christians “need  to learn the languages of their neighbors. They need to understand the meaning of what their … neighbors are saying.” [20] There is little to be gained by bringing opposing tenets into alignment at the cost of forfeiting their distinctiveness and compromising the richness of their diversity. Rather let there remain divergent branch points tapering outward in opposite directions. We all would do well to choose the branch or - returning to a previous image – the path which is the right one for a family to take together.


In previous sections of this chapter, we have taken note of a number of the theological branch points on the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tree. Three basic shoots or branches are offered in this section. They are the ones most frequently advanced in the many excellent texts. Nevertheless, some points of divergence that are listed here do not make the cutoff of other presentations. The reader may wish to do further homework on the  identification and classification of the theological essentials of the world’s great communities of faith. At best, the presentation in this work is preliminary to embarking upon a deeper study of the immensly ponderous and far-reaching subject of comparative theology.

The following three branch points  of divergence are  of particular relevance in this context

1)         Redemption. For Christians it refers to the act or instance of being delivered or saved from sin, evil or death’s finality by the atonement of Jesus Christ. Paul believed that acts/Torah (law) without faith in Christ’s resurrection  were insufficient                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     to assure Redemption/Salvation: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” In Judaism, Redemption refers to being delivered from slavery, oppression and, repeatedly, from foreign rule. Redemption and Salvation are concepts that are difficult to define outside their master story lines.They are essentially the biblical – Jewish and Christian - core stories of the resurrection of Jesus and the exodus from Egypt.    For Jews, delivery from oppression and persecution are understood as realizing redemption and being saved. In this presentation, the “Survival and Salvation” contrast best expresses the divergent points dividing one faith from the other.

2)  The Church and The Synagogue. For Christians, the church is the true, spiritual Israel and God’s covenant partner. It is more than a building for public worship and religious services for a Christian denomination. The church represents all Christians collectively just as all Jews taken together, are Israel. For Jews the synagogue played a parallel role to the church as a place the faithful gathered for prayer, study, for public functions, and social occasions. But the synagogue was not primary in Jewish observances. For Jews the home ranked foremost. “The table was seen as an altar and the participants who ate there as its priests.” [21] The High Holydays (New Year and the Day of Atonement) are synagogue focused;  the Passover Seder commemorating the Exodus from Egyptian slavery and Channukah religious liberty celebrations are home based.

        Another relevant distinction between church and synagogue emerging from centuries of history is the fact that Jews were often on the move and dependent upon the fickle will of the population of their host country or nation. Jews lived more nomadically than most other people. With few exceptions they did not build enormous cathedral-like synagogues. They did not often stay in one place long enough to do so. Christians did. The interpretations and expressions of the respective faiths undoubtedly also played an important part in determining the architecture of the synagogue, church, and mosque as well as the art, music and literature – including the prayer services - of Jews, Muslims and Christians.

 Christians see the church as the visible, tangible, center for worship. For a Muslim the mosque is the place for prostration. Islam and Christianity, in liturgical matters, and in many other ways - to no one’s astonishment - echo their Jewish origins. But for Jews the synagogue is not the foremost center of worship. The ceremonies of the synagogue are for the most part meant to supplement and reinforce the homage held in the holy habitation of the home. That place is the spiritual “space” (a mikdash ma’at, a small sanctuary) of the people

2)         The Bible. For Christians and Jews the sanctions, obedience, powers and authority they lay claim to are rooted in the same source – the Bible. Christians divide their Bible into the Old and New Testaments. Jews refer to their scripture as the Hebrew Bible and to the New Testament as the Christian Bible. The Hebrew Bible’s constituant parts are the Torah or Tanach consisting of the Five Books of Moses, the history and Prophetic books (neviim) of the Bible and the Writings (ketubim). There are many views about the Bible which different Jews hold. For some the Bible is the word of God, revealed or inspired. For others it represents history and literature of great genius. It is also the Jewish people’s family album – without photographs or rough sketches of their ancestors, of course - testifying that God does not renege on contracts or fail to fulfill commitments.

             Were Jews to consider the New Testament divine they would become Christians with a Jewish past, but no longer would they be Jews. Judaism does not call the Hebrew Scriptures “the Old Testament,” implying that it should be considered as preparatory to a “New” Testament. Were Jews to do so Judaism would become a sect, division or movement of Christianity. Judaism calls its own Scriptures, “Torah,” meaning “the teaching” and it is divided into the Written and the Oral Law.

        These three branch points of divergence as well as other ideas in Judaism and Christianity may be seen, correctly and unflinchingly, in opposition; certain others as, in some ways, interlocking, overlapping or complementary. The point is that we must be very careful whenever we set out to suggest Jewish Christian dualisms. In this context, however, we are employing these ideas as examples of juxtaopposed antitheses to make a point of the contrasts and to remind ourselves that we are intentionally underscoring the polemical to present the issues in bold relief. Religious contrast are therefore not to be seen necessarily as binary digits – a choice between on or off, yes or no, one or zero. Nevertheless, there is no denying that our list indeed presents the face-off of often sharply contrasting ideas reflecting deep divergences and unbridgeable divides of perspectives between the respective religious ideologies.

 Some couples might like to believe that these tenets need not be understood as irreconcilable contradictions. And that as religious ideas they may, in fact, merge or coalesce in some complementary form to accommodate the theology of all members of a family in a given household. They are not altogether mistaken. But holding to all-of-the-above and taken together by affirming both sides of a religious polarity projects for a child a lifetime afflicted with visceral edginess and little depth to show for it. We are not saying that the potential for discord inevitably increases within a given Chewish dual-faith family. Nor that necessarily they will have to live with a festering black mood that lingers like a low grade sadness arising from the confusion. But a thoughtful and reflective couple will undoubtedly realize before too long that such a tangle of conflicted theologies does not readily lend itself to reconciliation or finding a middle ground for compromise.  A feeling will likely persist for them of being perched on a balance beam always in danger of slipping off into a spiritual abyss. Besides, standing astride the course of a road doesn’t gain ground towards reaching any mansion of identity or integrity.


If we are to conclude by citing the ultimate bottom line and reducing Judaism and Christianity to their singularities we might put forward Covenant for Jews and Sacrifice for Christians. It is not that there is no covenant for Christians. Quite the contrary. Christianity sees itself as the new Israel, grafted upon the old and blessed with a new Covenant. Christian ministers offer prayers to “The God who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant.”

Moreover, it is not that Judaism does not recognize the word sacrifice. But it is in the difference between the Jewish and the Christian understanding of sacrifice that the limb departs the trunk of the tree and begins to shoot off in its own direction.

 Sacrifice – karban, in Hebrew meaning “drawing close” (from the same root as kiruv, cited above as a rabbi’s one word job description) - was understood by Jews in several ways.

1)        Originally it referred to the sacrifice of a kosher animal “to draw close” to God and as a sign of thanksgiving. 

2)        The practice of animal sacrifice and the ritualized feast associated with its consumption in the ancient temple in Jerusalem came about following the rejection of human sacrifice in the biblical story in the book of Genesis of the binding and near sacrifice of Isaac. Judaism, certain scholars argue, was brought about at that very moment when Abraham substituted an animal for his son. This seminal event proved to be the pivotal act of revolt against human sacrifice, the prevailing practice in Abraham’s time. Abraham inaugurated a new religion, Judaism, which became a cornerstone of western civilization.

3)        When the ancient temple no longer stood, sacrifice then came to be reinterpreted as “sacrifice of the lips” in poetry/prayer.

4)        According to early radical Reform Rabbis the termination of the sacrificial cult, however tragic at the time, proved to have had beneficial effects in the long term. Rabbi David Einhorn wrote that, “Only after the destruction of Jerusalem was it possible for Israel to become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  Israel’s “darkness,” in the words of the 1895 Reform Union Prayer Book, “brought light to the Gentiles. The one temple in Jerusalem sank, but thousands of the sanctuaries of the God who once hallowed it, rose in its stead all over the globe where the same God was worshiped and the same truth proclaimed. Thus has the Lord comforted Israel and turned his sackcloth into garments of joy.”

5)        Concerning Christianity, the Jewish view of sacrifice was interpreted as denying the notion of a God sacrificing his son. A doctrine glorifying taking the life of one’s child was seen as a throwback reverting to human sacrifice – the killing of a son by his father.

6)        In more recent times the Jewish view of sacrifice was also understood as opposed to the sacrifice of self for religious missions as in an Islamic Jihad and in suicidal, murderous or politically motivated killings of others – along with self - to achieve glory in this world and rewards in the next.


To summarize, we have pointed out that the Christian understanding of sacrifice is that God offers Jesus His Son to die for the sins of humankind. The case has been made that such a formulation departs from the mother religion Judaism’s sense of justice because salvation was not earned or justly acquired by judiciously appropriate acts and moral behavior. Christianity teaches that it arose out of God’s great grace/mercy/love. Christianity also teaches that acts and behavior are very important. “Take the case, my brothers, of someone who has never done a single good act but claims he has faith. Will that faith save him?” “Faith is like that: if good works do not go with it, it is quite dead” (James, 2, 14-17). But important as they are, acts and deeds will not achieve salvation without faith: “God so loved the world He gave his only begotten Son to die for the sins of man and whosoever believeth in Him shall gain Salvation.” Grace, the key word, is God’s beneficence toward (previously) unredeemed, that is, unsaved sinners who have now come to believe in him.

Judaism, by contrast, is founded upon the concept of a Covenant entered into by God and the People Israel the details of which are recorded in the Torah-contract (Judaism). A contract is, after all, a negotiated legal code whose foundation stone is not grace but justice. It is not surprising, therefore, that so many Jewish jurists, attorneys and law professors from Benjamin Nathan Cardozo (“one of the foremost judges in American judicial history” – Dean Roscoe Pound), Louis Dembitz Brandeis (the first Jew to be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court), and Felix Frankfurter (Supreme Court Justice, Public Servant, Harvard Law Professor and, like Brandeis, Zionist leader) to Supreme Court Judges, Stephen Breyer, Abe Fortas, Ruth Bader Ginzberg, and  Arthur J. Goldberg and to Ronald Dworkin, Lawrence Tribe, Richard Posner, Paul Freund, Edward Levy and Alan M. Dershowitz (outstanding trial lawyers and Law Professors), have devoted their lives to legal rights, due process and rightful equity - that is, the pursuit of justice - through the American centuries.


          This chapter on the comparisons of faiths might well conclude with a brief survey of three major religious traditions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. We should take note that the first principle of interreligious understanding is that each religion must be defined on its own terms by its own practitioners.

Living in America we have become accustomed to refer to the “Judeo-Christian tradition” (“Judaic-Christian” a usage acknowledging the reality that Judaism is autonomous and self-sustaining, not merely the now superceded precursor of Christianity, is a more appropriate designation) as shaping the culture of western civilization. We cannot fail to recognize the indelible imprint of the Judaic-Christian dye in the fabric of our society. Our conventions, habits, folkways, ethos, mores, arts, literature, letters, poetry, paintings, architecture are all unthinkable outside of that heritage.

Bernard Lewis points out, in Semites and Anti-Semites, that the phrase, Judeo-Christian tradition, “which is much used today, is obviously fairly recent, and would probably have shocked some of the forebears of both the Jewish and Christian exponents of that tradition at the present day. It has, however, been generally accepted, and rightly so since it designates a historical and cultural reality.

“The term ‘Judeo-Islam,’ in contrast, exists as a term of scholarship, used only in a historical context, and to designate an increasingly remote past. It was never used by either Jews or Muslims in the Muslim lands, and would have been accepted by neither of them as denoting their own beliefs, aspirations, and way of life. It certainly has no bearing on the Islamic lands at the present time.

“Yet, in the past, when a large part of the Jewish people lived, and sometimes prospered, under the rule of Islam, the term ‘Judeo-Islamic tradition’ would not have been inappropriate to denote the symbiotic relationship of the two religions and cultures, and the civilizations which they created.”

The Jews who lived in Islamic civilization, Lewis points out, came to share many of their host’s values and “to play a role…as participants in a common endeavor. Though the term was never used in the past and is hardly appropriate in the present, it nevertheless designates a historical reality in the Islamic Middle Ages similar in some respects, dissimilar in others, to the share of the Jews in modern Christendom.”

Lewis adds that “the position of Judaism, which is the predecessor – some indeed would say the parent religion – of both Christianity and Islam, is in many ways intermediate between the two. In some matters, Judaism, even in Christian lands, is closer to Islam; in others, even in Muslim lands, it is closer to Christianity.”[22]

Jews and Christians revere sacred Scripture. And although Jews do not accept the New Testament, Christians believe in the Jewish or Hebrew Bible which they refer to as the Old Testament. In Islam, by contrast, the Koran is regarded as having superseded Scripture and rendered the bible obsolete.

In various other ways, Islam is positioned theologically between Judaism and Christianity. That Jesus was the son of God and that his death realized salvation for humankind are ideas both Judaism and Islam repudiate. But while Judaism, having preceded his birth and death by hundreds of years, for the most part disregards Jesus altogether, Muslims understand him to be one of God’s many messengers and prophets the last and most important of whom was the prophet Muhammad. The Koran is understood by Muslims as the ultimate and most perfect revelation of god’s will.

Jewish and Muslim religious thought and theologies are far more alike than is either to Christianity. Jews and Muslims profess the strictest monotheism and reject the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, perhaps, some Christian scholars maintain, because they do not, or prefer not, to understand it well.

The Muslim account of the Crucifixion differs in important ways from Christianity. In the Koran, the Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah but were unable to put him to death although they claimed to have done so. The Koran (4:156-157) relates that “they did not kill him, nor crucify him, but only a likeness that was made to appear to them…certainly they did not kill him, but God raised him up to Himself.”

 In fact, according to the Koran, he was replaced by a double, “a deceptive likeness,” a teaching which undermines the most significant doctrine of Christianity that he died to atone for the sins of mankind. The Koran goes on to say (Koran 3:54) that the Jews “schemed (against Jesus), but God also schemed, and God is the best of schemers.”

In contrast to Christianity, in Judaism and Islam there are no sacraments administered by an ordained clergy. The ulama and the rabbis are not priests. In fact although Israel in Biblical days was led religiously by a priesthood, when the temple was destroyed, that function of leadership ended and a teaching, scholarly, rabbinical leadership was established. Any Jew could study for the rabbinate.

There has never been a priesthood in Islam. In Judaism and in Islam all religious functions may be conducted by any adult male who is respected for his learning and piety. For Islam as for Judaism, in contrast with Christianity, religious law regimented and governed the lives of their faithful. The beliefs and enduring values of Islam are elucidated by Islamic attitudes toward God, revelation, tradition, law, prayer, fasting, afterlife and human responsibility as well as Islamic history and the diversity of Islamic practice around the globe.


         Muslims object strenuously to the term “Mohammedanism” because it reflects a Western inclination to see the Prophet as a figure analogous to Christ. Seyyed Hossein Nasr [23] makes clear that the holy text of the Koran is the “incarnational center” of Islam. Like Moses in Jewish tradition, Mohammed is a mortal Prophet, not God or God’s son.

       The Council of Nicea adopted the Nicene Creed in the year 325 CE. The central tenets of Catholicism were laid out and the council pronounced that any Catholic denying this creed is damned. The Apostles’ Creed, from circa 700, carries the same consequences for Episcopalians. “For Presbyterians, it is the Westminster Confession of 1646. Muslims have a credal profession of faith, known as the Kalimat-as-Shahadat.” [24] Clearly, the Vatican has the sole right to determine doctrines of faith for Roman Catholics the world over. Muslims, like Jews, recognize no central doctrinal authority. To readily distinguish Jewish or Muslim orthodoxy from heterodoxy, therefore, is no easy chore.

       The Koran (Islam) teaches: “People, we have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that you might know one another. The noblest of you before God is the most righteous of you (49:13). There are among the People of the Book  (Jews and Christians) upstanding nations that recite the message of God and worship throughout the night, who believe in God, who order honor and forbid dishonor and hasten to do good works. These are the righteous.”(3:113-114). The Koran advocates plurality and moral equality of all faiths (2:62, 5:69) One of Allah’s 99 names in the Koran is “Al Salaam,” meaning “peace.”

       Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all base their exegesis on the same ancient prophets of Hebrew Scripture whose careers preceded Jesus’ life by hundreds of years.  In the holy book of the Muslims, the Koran, Jesus is honored as a prophet, but not revered as messiah or son of God. For Muslims “the Mahdi” (Arabic, for the guided one) refers to the future leader, the messiah, who will establish a better age to come. Muslims await his arrival but are not to speculate on his timetable because that decision rests solely with Allah.

       Traditional Jewish religious thought holds fast to the view that the messiah is a man totally to the bone of human descent. However, in Hebrew Scripture, rather than a specific heroic person of Davidic lineage, the entire people is depicted metaphorically as the collective Messiah-Israel. Christianity is alone in believing Jesus to be the Messiah and Redeemer. None of the other great world religions- neither Judaism nor Islam, let alone the religions of Asia - adheres to this belief.

       Islam is closer to Christianity than Judaism in their shared belief in a coming day of Judgement and in reckoning an end of time. In Judaism, the Day of Atonement, the holiest of holy days, is an annual judgement day of fasting and prayer set aside for introspection and soul searching. The day is not associated with a belief in the end of time itself. 

      All three communities of faith affirm the concept of Redemption but, not surprising, understand the idea differently. For Jews it means redemption from slavery, oppression and evil in this world. By contrast, Christianity and Islam are informed by next worldly and post-appocalyptic beliefs of redemption.The Koran, echoing the Revelation of St John in the New Testament, looks forward to a world beyond this one following the cataclysms of the final days: “…the heavens, as documents will be rolled up. As we began the first creation, so shall it be again…upon that day trumpets shall blast their sound.” Punishment, destruction and upheaval are essential characteristics of the end of days in both Christianity and Islam. And, concerning the rewards for the faithful in the world to come or heaven, Christianity and Islam promise far more and affirm their avowals with considerably more assurance than Judaism.

      Another important distinction among Judaism, Christianity and Islam concerns their attitudes regarding “holy space”.  Roman Catholics, for example, are taught to regard the church as holy space even when no one is present. Christian clergy are generally reluctant to conduct worship services or life cycle events such as marriage ceremonies outside the sacred precincts of the church.

      For Jews the synagogue building is not seen as sacred nor is the sanctuary where services are conducted so regarded. At best the ark, essentially a closet appealingly designed in which the Torah scroll is kept, may be understood as distinctly set aside (kaddosh) only for that purpose. It is special in that way. But the building may be used for many other public functions including community business meetings, study, settling disputes and the like.

      Muslims also consider the mosque as Jews regard the synagogue not as sacred space devoted solely for worship.  They may take a nap, grab a snack, conduct business there or engage in any other activity appropriate to a public place. The bricks and mortar are sacred only by association. Anyplace Muslims assemble for the worship of God becomes, for a time, transformed into a Mosque. Jews too create an instant, if temporary, synagogue wherever they assemble for prayer - even on an airplane.


-                 One of the twentieth century’s most influential Jewish thinkers, Abraham Joshua Heschel, whose philosophy, like Martin Buber’s, is studied in Christian as well as in Jewish seminaries, observed that Jews sanctify time, not space. In the biblical text (Leviticus 23:2) God tells Moses, “These are My fixed times, the fixed times of the Lord…” Sabbaths, festivals, holydays and life cycle events commemorated by specified rites of passage - such as eighth day circumcision, and bar/bat mitzvah observances - are determined by time not place. Certain moments of time are understood as sacred occasions, set apart, made holy by what Jews are enjoined to do and not to do then and at no other time. For Jews, where is not nearly as important as when.


        Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malasia declared to the world’s largest Muslim organization that “Jews control the world” [25] by imposing their self-serving ideologies including democracy and human rights upon the West. After he spoke, the Muslim heads of state gathered at the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference responded with a standing ovation for his speech.

         When the Prime Minister’s statements were harshly criticized by leading Christians, non-religiously affiliated secularists as well as fellow  Muslims, he said the outcry provoked by his statement had  “proved him right.” “The reaction of the world shows that they (the Jews) control the world.”

          The New York Times article reporting on the conference written by David Rohde goes on to say that “the acceptance of such conspiratorial views may strike Americans as despicable or even laughable, but they reflect the influence of Islamic radicals on the worldviews of millions of Muslims. Conveyed with ease and authority via the Internet and satellite television, anti-American and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories abound, not only in Muslim countries but across the world.

          “Many of these theories are spread by radical groups that adhere to an ideology loosely known as political Islam. Stridently anti-Western… political Islam is a sophisticated mixture of fundamentalism and nationalism…”

            Robert Jackall, sociology professor at Williams College, quoted in the same article, pointed out that the radical Islamist  are “a fanatical group, a fringe element,” whose voice is far greater than their numerical strength.    

            Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan [26], said that “It grieves me that included in the list of the victims of the perfidy of September 11 is the image of Islam across the world. Our religion is not what these people preach: in fact it is the opposite. Islam is committed to tolerance and equality and it is committed by Koranic definition to the principles of democracy. It is ironic that despite the strong commitment to democracy in Islam, most Muslims today are living in dictatorships… The Muslim people today are hostages in totalitarian regimes… searching for freedoms that exist in other parts of the world.”

Muslims I have come to know at the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere roundly reject the radical form of Islam behind the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 as an aberration that does not represent true Islam. They regard Islamic doctrine as entirely compatible with religious pluralism and constitutional democracy.


-                  To bring us up to date on the interplay between Jews and Christians and Jews and Muslims respectively, Bernard Lewis asks, “How did Muslims perceive Jews, and how did they treat them? Jews have lived under Islamic rule for fourteen centuries and in many lands and it is therefore difficult to generalize about their experience. This much, however, may be said with reasonable certainty – that they were never free from discrimination, but only rarely subject to persecution; that their situation was never as bad as in Christendom at its worst, nor ever as good as in Christendom at its best. There is nothing in Islamic history to parallel the Spanish expulsion and Inquisition,  the Russian pogroms, or the Nazi Holocaust; there is also nothing to compare with the progressive emancipation and acceptance accorded to Jews in the democratic West during the last three centuries.” [27]


Before concluding this chapter, the following digression may be relevant for touching upon an issue that should not be overlooked when religious divergences are considered. In a previous chapter, the Jewish Messianic viewpoint, represented in particular by born Jews who have joined or who identify with the Jews For Jesus movement – as well as other like minded “fulfilled” Jews - was dispatched far too abruptly as merely one subgroup traversing the Chewish pathway of life. By pointing out that Jews For Mohammed, Hindus For Judaism, Christians For Krishna, Muslims For Christ, Presbyterians For the Pope, and similar religious merging and mingling are self contradictory notions (as the list of polarities of contrasting core world views presented in that chapter makes clear), the reader might conclude that nothing further need be said. The reader might infer that it is sufficient to certify the term of self-identification, “Jewish Christian,” along with other merging and mingling, as a self evident oxymoron and that those who lay claim to Both identities simultaneously as befuddled and confused and let it go at that.

       But this chapter’s stated purpose is to underscore the contrasts and unlikeness of the fundamental religious convictions of three major faith communities. It is therefore appropriate in this context to reflect more searchingly on the beliefs of self-defined Jewish Christians and why, in the eyes of nearly all other Jews regardless of their synagogue affiliations, they are no longer to be considered Jews. It is understandable that Messianic Jews may not wish to relinquish their Jewish identities or cease calling themselves Jews. Sometimes sympathy is aroused for them from kind-hearted former co-religionists. But in the minds of all other Jews, whether they realize it or not, Messianic Jews have become Christians – Christians of Jewish descent.

      When Jews and Christians reflect upon recently conceived religious movements currently referred to as “New Age,” they acknowledge that 1) anyone and members of any group may freely identify themselves as they like regardless of the logic or lack of logic of their thinking. 2) Members of religious factions, however self-contradictory the doctrines and beliefs they profess, are to be tolerated and accorded respect, despite the fact that the views they avow are not sustainable intellectually.

       Many sophisticated and educated Jews and Christians acknowledge the inevitability of hybrid denominations, cults and sects arising to lay claim to the religious territory intermediately positioned in the gaps between distinct and long established religious traditions. Reversing previous claims, science has now determined that nature tolerates vacuums but the compass points across the span of societal organization make the case that religious institutions abhor them. New faiths inevitably form to fill the intervening spaces.

        Nevertheless although perhaps predictably foreordained to jockey to fill the intermediate places separating long established faith communities (and, if successful, to similarly become embedded in the intellectual landscape of a free society) the inherently spurious Chewish credos of Jews For Jesus, Messianic Jews and other former Jews who have “opened their hearts to Jesus’ saving powers,” are ignored if not scorned by committed Jewish and Christian students of theology. They are often viewed as egregious and scandalous, and to some individuals in certain devoutly Christian and Jewish circles, even insulting and reprehensible professions of conflicted faith. They are adjudged as contributing to the unfortunate blurring of decisive distinctions marking unique religious differentiation. They are thought to compromise the integrity that sets boundaries while laying claim to an altogether muddled self-identification.

          If Jesus is the only way to attain forgiveness of sins, a core article of faith for Messianic Jews and Jews for Jesus, and that transcendent, passionate profession constitutes the guiding lodestar of their lives, they may identify as Jews but virtually no Jew will consider them as Jews. They have chosen a path labeled within the scope of terms defined previously as Chewish. Besides, they feel a stronger pull toward others who find fulfillment and forgiveness in Jesus than toward those Jews proudly affirming the legacies of Jewish tradition, historical continuity and community.

         At some point down the Chewish pathway, they have crossed the border into Christian territory. Further along the road the Chewish pathway converges with Christianity’s considerably wider and more mainstream North American boulevard. Regardless of whether Christians consider Chews as remaining Jews or transformed Christians who were formerly Jews, Jews see these born Jews as “claiming another religion” and consequently reside outside the wings of the Mansion of Jewish identity.

           Richard joined a Messianic congregation at 22 years of age, and left the movement at 27. “Make no mistake, there is, on the part of Messianic Jews an obsession with their own self image of unworthiness, sinfulness. They regard themselves as “fallen.” They are possessed by a deep guilt-ridden need to give their lives over to a forgiving God.

           “Here’s my take on their thinking: You can call yourself whatever you like, but calling yourself a tree doesn’t make you a tree no matter how forcefully you affirm it. A tree has a cylindrical trunk, a layer of bark, extending branches; and a tree does not move about. Any dictionary will tell you that a tree is not a thinking human being.  It is rooted in the earth. A man is not a tree regardless of how he sees himself. A Jew is not a Christian. A Christian is not a Jew. A cat is not a dog. A turtle is not an elephant. Even if you believe emphatically that a giraffe can also be a frog, zookeepers will walk away shaking their heads. 

       “Besides, claiming to be all of the above means really that you are none of the above because you can’t recognize the borders between the faith communities and that they stand for differently prioritized values and contrasting ways of life. And this is true even for those Messianics who observe all the Jewish practices and festivals because they are of Jewish descent and still claim that identity. Anyone identifying as a Jew as well as a Christian is neither one nor the other.”

         It has been noted that children raised Chewish invariably do not self-identify as both Christian and Jew after their teenage years. Chews choose: Jewish, Christian or Eschewish before reaching adulthood. But Jews For Jesus and other Messianic believers born as Jews, by contrast, take on their self-declared Chewish designation at about the same stage and age as when Chewishly raised individuals invariably give up their Chewish self identification.         They eventually arrive at the crossroads whose signposts signal alternative and antithetical pathways. Chews grow out of that self-understanding and self-declaration having recognized the impossibility of professing inherently contradictory propositions. They become Jews, Christians or none of the above - Eschews. Jews For Jesus, by contrast, come to their conviction well past childhood but are judged by committed Jews and Christians as adhering to naïve convictions, unbelievably childish myths and immature contradictory creeds.

        Among the most criticized beliefs professed by Jews For Jesus is the theology that reads into the Hebrew Bible a compilation of allusions and hints foreshadowing the coming of a messiah and that messiah without question refers to Jesus. As much as and probably far more so than other Christian denominations, Jews For Jesus exhibit a need to discover and reveal the “Old Testament’s” cleverly concealed intimations of the messianic son of god sent to suffer and die as a sacrifice bringing to pass the forgiveness of a sinful humanity.

          Why, Jews wonder, would a loving God choose to conceal such vital, saving/salvational information between the lines, by words requiring an abrupt change of meaning? Why did God not come right out and clearly lay bare the coming of his son, the messiah? Why would a just God choose instead to throw a veil of mystification and obscurity over His revealed words? To confuse His faithfully sincere followers by playing such a game of scriptural hide and seek, strikes Jews as unfathomable. A God who withholds, buries in evasions and cryptic, enigmatic, indistinct allusions and unintelligible oracular messages such that some get it and others do not, cannot be loving or just, only darkly spiteful and arbitrary. 

        Christians as well as Jews repudiate theologies that depict the deity as purposely deceiving the humanity He created. God may be understood in various ways but no conception of the divine requires belief that He plays tricks with those that seek His presence.  Confuting Jewish and Christian identities represents another sort of trick that, except in the minds that do so, does not work if boundaries/borders have purpose and language/meaning have authority. 


 In this chapter we have surveyed important differences characterized as “issues of contrast” among the three faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. To further our understanding of their contradistinctions, the image of a tree with divergent branches representing points of departure from the parent stem, has been suggested to the reader. But there are thousands of other religious denominations known to humanity.

Our attention has been turned to Judaism, Christianity and, to a lesser extent, Islam simply because these are the faiths into which nearly all the couples and families with whom I have spent sessions in counseling were born. Their beliefs and disbelieves may not always have been aligned as symmetrically as their love for each other. But it is safe to conclude by saying - on their behalf and with few exceptions - that the earnest prayers of people of all races, ethnicities and religions - Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, Native Americans and others - for peace, mutual esteem, good will and respectful intercourse, may one day be realized. It will come about by the enlightened behavior and decent conduct of the people in all the faith communities of the world.

Contemporary Christian scholars have suggested that the breakdown of religious authority in our time has released energies that brought to pass a cluster of religious movements that can be loosely grouped as “new age.” (John B. Cobb, Jr. in At The Edges of Life: A Holistic Vision of the Human Adventure, by Bruce G. Epperly, Chalice Press, St. Louis, Missouri, 1992, vii). 


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