[By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times]
A new statement has been issued at the beginning of the month and signed by a number of purportedly Orthodox Rabbis. The statement is entitled, “To Do the Will of Our Father in Heaven: Toward a Partnership between Jews and Christians.” It was issued by an organization led by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin called, CJCUC.
Many of the authors and signers on the document are certainly brilliant scholars and thinkers. It is this author’s view, however, that the initiative, unfortunately, contains a number of serious misrepresentations and that the ideas behind the initiative are predicated upon fundamental halachic errors.
The first paragraph states that there is a historic opportunity to work together with Christian brothers and sisters to address the moral challenges of our era. While it is true that in general, Jews should work together with others to address and improve moral challenges, there is a grave distinction between working together with individuals and working together on broad denominational and organizational level. Like it or not, the churches in which Rabbi Riskin is encouraging us to work with together do not share.
What is most disturbing, however is that the document in this initiative seems to purposefully distort the Rabbinic views that it cites. An integral aspect of Judaism is honesty. The Talmud (Shabbos 55a) teaches us that “the signet ring of Hashem is Truth.” Maimonides view of Catholicism and other Trinitarian forms of Christianity is that it constituted Avodah Zarah – even for gentiles. Thus to writes that Maimonides acknowledged that “Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations” when, in reality, he viewed it as a minor step to wean off gentiles from full-fledged polytheism is disingenuous. The language that the Rambam uses is that ultimately they will learn that “sheker nachalu avosaihem.” The same holds true for Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi.
The document further reads, “In separating Judaism and Christianity, G-d willed a separation between partners with significant theological differences..”
This too is a mischaracterization of both history and Jewish theology. It is an attempt to “paper over” differences. The great theologians of Judaism all held that the idea of the Trinity was not born of Jewish origin- it’s origins were pagan. Thus, to characterize Christianity and Judaism as “partners” is also disingenuous.
The citation of Rabbi Jacob Emden is also truncated. According to Judaism there is no “common covenantal mission to perfect the world” – as the initiative would have. Such language and terminology recasts three thousand years of Jewish tradition in a manner that is quite foreign to Jewish tradition and values.
The truth is that almost all of the denominations of Christianity in which Rabbi Riskin has entered into dialogue with are halachically considered Avodah Zarah.
There are those, of course, who are members of mainstream denominations of Christianity that do not truly share the theology of their denomination. Their conceptualization of the nature of G-d is, what Rav Elchonon Wasserman describes as intuitive. In an unofficial survey, a good percentage of this country falls under this category.
There is also the view found in some Poskim that modern day practitioners of the religion are just following the ways of their parents (Maaseh avosaihem b’yadeihem), and do not truly believe in the theological underpinnings (See Shulchan Aruch, YD 148:12; Bach ibid; Responsa Yehudah Yaaleh YD #170).
Yet to enter into a partnership with the “mother group” is tantamount to partnering with Avodah Zarah.
There are denominations that even today do not subscribe to a Trinitarian doctrine. Some of these denominations could be construed as believers in shittuf, but not true Avodah Zarah. They are (1) Christadelphians, (2)Christian Scientists, (3)Dawn Bible Students, (4) Friends General Conference, (5) Iglesia ni Criso, (6) J’s Witnesses, (7) Living Church of G-d, (8) Oneness Pentecostals, (9) Members Church of G-d International, (10) Unitarian Universalist Christians, (11) The Way International, (12) The Church of G-d International and (13) the United Church of G-d.
But even partnering with these groups would be forbidden as well. The Ran’s view (Sanhedrin 61b) is that belief in any religion other than Judaism is also considered Avodah Zarah.
The well known and published views of both Rabbi Riskin’s Rebbe, Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik and that of Rav Moshe Feinstein is that dialogue with Christian groups can and does lead to devastating results.
It is this author’s view that the RCA, the Moetzes Gedolei Torah of Agudath Israel, and NCYI should analyze the subject and issue statements condemning this initiative as an unprecedented and serious breach in hashkafa, mesorah and a grave violation of Torah.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
YWN notes that Chief Rabbi of Efrat Rabbi Shlomo Riskin has previously referred to “J” as a “model Rabbi”, and called him “Rabbi J”. [VIDEO IS BELOW]
Some excerpts of the 5 minute video:
Shalom to all. My name is Shlomo Riskin. I am the Chief rabbi of the City of Efrat…..I am an Orthodox Rabbi…and an Orthodox Rabbi who is very profoundly interested in religion in general, in Christianity, and especially in the persona of Jesus in particular….I was truly fascinated by the personality of Jesus, whom to myself I have always referred to as “Rabbi Jesus”….because I think he is indeed a “model Rabbi” in many counts…and he lived the life of a Jewish Rabbi in Israel in a very critical time in our history…..I have constantly come back to the study of his personality and his teachings which are very strongly rooted in Talmudic teachings…..”
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)