Lesson 5: Judaism

JudaismI am amazed how focusing my mind on some issue brings together different parts of my life. While thinking about Buddhism, I realized that many of my friends blended their Christianity with Buddhist thoughts and practices. Then when I turned to Judaism, I remembered the large number of my friends’ children who had married Jews. In fact, I was surprised that over the years I had presided at so many of these weddings.

Everyone transformed the families involved. None of my friends were anti-Semitic, but all thought the new Christian covenant had replaced the old Jewish one. All, including a respected theologian, changed their minds when they were forced to confront the issue on a personal level. Life experiences involving our children and grandchildren have a tremendous effect on our theology,

Thankfully, a lot of current scholarship has been helpful. Recently a number of books have reminded us that Jesus was a Jew who practiced his heritage and that Paul understood the Christian faith in a Jewish context. We even have a commentary on the gospels by a Jewish woman. But perhaps most helpful have been first-century historical studies that recognize Christianity began as a nonviolent Jewish sect that refused to participate in the revolution against the Roman Empire. We gain all sorts of new insights into the Judeo-Christian relationship when we see how early Christians were forced to identify themselves in a very chaotic, dangerous period.

Barbara Brown Taylor reports her unit on Judaism brought the most embarrassment about her own faith. She had to acknowledge all the horrible ways the Church persecuted the Jews down through history, even accusing them of being god killers. I especially was impressed when she spoke of coming to understand how she herself had unconsciously used a language of contempt when speaking of Judaism.

Taylor expresses holy envy for many Jewish practices, especially for their observation of the Sabbath. She also appreciates their acknowledgement that God’s covenant with Noah offers a universal promise to all the nations.

I think we would also benefit from examining some common stereotypes that denigrate the Jewish nation against the background of the whole biblical message. A thorough, honest reading of the Law and the Prophets corrects ideas about the deity in the Old Testament being violent and the God of the New being gentle. It also makes it harder to base the difference between the two testaments totally on a contrast of law and love.

Undoubtedly, we also have to acknowledge that there are passages calling for violence and that John employs some disturbing language. However, once we are secure enough in own relationship with the Father of Christ Jesus to admit the diversity of different biblical traditions, we can find all sorts of support for regarding Jews as partners rather than competitors, neighbors rather than objects for conversion.

Getting back to the influence of personal experience, I found my own feelings about Judaism altered after visits to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. On my first trips I felt that the fervently praying rabbis treated me as an unwelcomed intruder. On a subsequent one I found myself among young people gathering to dance, sing, and rejoice as they welcomed the Sabbath and felt naturally drawn into their joy. I certainly find more hope in the unbounded exuberance of those youth than the self-centered piety of those rabbis.

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