It was my privilege and delight last evening to participate in a program sponsored by the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning. (The Jay Phillips Center is a joint project of University of St. Thomas and St. John’s University in Collegeville.) The program featured a lecture given by my friend Rabbi Norman Cohen and a response by me.
The title of Rabbi Cohen’s lecture was Jews and Christians: Rejecting Stereotypes, Forging New Relationships. In his lecture, he talked about the history of Christian-Jewish relationships, the improvement in dialogue between the two and the need to make further progress in that dialogue. He believes that much dialogue has “consisted only of cautious attempts to find common ground, to determine and emphasize the things we share,” risking an unintended syncretism and a failure on the part of both Christians and Jews to develop greater understanding of the “distinctive flavors” of the other’s faith. He talked about some of the misconceptions and stereotypes that plague the efforts of both Christians and Jews to grow in their relationship with each other.
Ultimately, Rabbi Cohen believes that “only the concept of a God who is so great that covenant can be created with more than one people and in different ways, is the road to better interfaith understanding.”
I began my response to his lecture by talking about why I believe greater understanding between Jews and Christians is important. I then shared some observations about some of the points he raised in his talk, starting with observations about Christian perceptions of Judaism and, more briefly, raising a couple of thoughts about Jewish perceptions of Christianity. I ended with some observations regarding both Christians and Jews that affect how we view each other, including my strong agreement that we cannot (using his words) “be so bold as to think that our God is so limited that God chooses only the Jews or has replaced the Jews with the Christians.”
Because Rabbi Cohen’s lecture is a part of a larger writing project in which he is currently engaged, I can not post a text of his lecture. However, I have posted on my website the text that formed the basis of my response. You can find that text here.
Following our talks, there was a lively questions and answer period. One of thing on which we all agreed is that these sorts of conversations are important and that we need to find ways to bring them to larger audiences.