Christianity in Jewish Terms

Click here to download printable Word Doc>>

Christianity in Jewish Terms

Contributors: Frymer-Kensky, Novak, Ochs, Sandmel & Signer

Excerpts from the text:


Text is concerned with:

  1. How to renew our understanding of Judaism today from out of sacred texts and
  2. How to understand Christianity in terms of this Judaism.

CHAPTER 1: Introduction: What to Seek and What to Avoid in Jewish-Christian Dialogue

  • What to Seek (p.2)
    • 1) Each side must be willing to see the other side in the best possible light from within its own tradition 2) That vision must not lead to any distortion of what each tradition, itself separately, teaches as the truth.
    • True dialogue requires the adherents of each tradition to find justification for the other tradition from within his or her own tradition.

  • What to Avoid (p.2-6)
    • Avoiding Disputation – Participants must not seek to defeat the other’s religion. Dialogue takes the form of disputation when the adherents of each tradition assume that everything the other tradition asserts is denied by their own tradition.
    • Avoiding Proselytization – Dialogue takes the form of proselytization when the adherents of one tradition seek to persuade the adherents of the other tradition that they truly have what the others have been seeking all along.
    • Avoiding Syncretism – Syncretism is the attempt to construct a new religious reality out of elements of Judaism and Christianity.
    • Avoiding Relativism
    • Avoiding Triumphalism – Triumphalism poisons a dialogue before it begins because it is the insistence that not only the highest truth but the final truth has already been given to one’s community alone. Triumphalists assume there are no commonalities to be found amongst two religions, and thus there is nothing to learn from the other through dialogue.

CHAPTER 2: Christian-Jewish Interactions over the Ages

  • Negative Interactions (p.8-17)
    • The First Century: Crucifixion, The Second to Fourth Centuries: Christian Ascendency, The Middle Ages: Increasing Contact, Escalating Violence, Intensified Anti-Jewish Imagery.

  • Positive Interactions (p.17-24)
    • What Christians Gained from Jews: 1) Jews served a useful pioneering role in Christian culture, bringing the advantages of a more advanced milieu to an area in the process of development, i.e. rapidly developing geographic areas; 2) Jews were the cornerstone of the medieval economy, 3) Jews made notable contributions to the spiritual life of medieval Christendom, i.e. Christian scholars who sought Jewish assistance with the Hebrew language, 4)Jewish presence in Western Christendom provided an important goad to Christian reflection and spiritual growth.
    • What Jews Gained from Christians: 1) material well being by choosing to live within geographic area of western Christendom, despite hostilities 2) medieval Jews gained from this close proximity the creativity which arises from differences.
    • Modernity: 1) Jewish preference for residing in Christian sphere i.e. U.S. 2) Cooperation of diverse religious communities in the face of modern anti-religious tendencies and movements.

CHAPTER 3: The Shoah and the Legacy of Anti-Semitism

  • Judaism, Christianity, and Partnership After the Twentieth Century (p.25-36)
  • “If there is anything in our own traditions that demeans, or denies, or degrades somebody else, then one cannot answer “it is the word of God,” and so be it. One must answer, “it is my responsibility.”…The religious message is not to accept inequality but to demand its correction.” (36)
  • Christian Theology After the Shoah (p.36-48)


  • The God of Jews and Christians by Peter Ochs(p.49-69)
  • (See p. 60) Four things Jews should consider when faced with Christian doctrine: 1) Observe that Jewish and Christian traditions tend to overlap in the following doctrines 2) Note that Christian tradition adds certain claims to Jewish traditions 2) Note that Jewish religious tradition does not accept these additions for itself 4) We should ask, What is the legitimacy of these additions for non-Jews?
  • A Jewish View of the Christian God: Some Cautionary and Hopeful Remarks(p.69-76)
  • God as Trinitarian: A Christian Response to Peter Ochs (p.77-84)

CHAPTER 5: Scripture

  • Searching the Scriptures: Jews, Christians, and the Book (p.85-98)
  • Discusses similarity between what happens during weekly Sabbath services and Catholic gatherings. Such as the procession of the holy text and readings, which are commonly followed by a sermon/speech on the how the days’ reading is relevant to one’s lives today… The similarity of these rituals demonstrate a significant point of contact for Jews and Christians, and that scripture is a foundation for their communities(85-86)
  • The Writings and Reception of Philo of Alexandria (p.99-106)
  • Postmodern Hermeneutics and Jewish-Christian Dialogue: A Case Study (p.106-113)
  • “To a large extent, Christian discourse employs Jewish terminology and concepts. And the way Christians understand Judaism has influenced every aspect of what they read or do not read in the Bible. ..Changes in the way Christians conceive Judaism necessarily influence their understanding of the bible and of their religious identity, whereas Jews can reconceive Christianity without in the least altering what they thing theologically of themselves or their Scriptures.”(108)

CHAPTER 6: Command

Mitsvah (p.115-126)

  • “When Christians stop seeing Judaism as legalism, they will be in a much better position to realize the importance of law in Christianity. And when Jews stop seeing Christianity as antinomian, as against the law, they will be in a much better position to realize the importance of grace in Judaism. Indeed, such understanding of each side by the other might lead each tradition not only to a better understanding of the other but to a better understanding of itself. ” (116)
  • In regards to the Noahide law that prohibits bloodshed: “For Judaism and Christianity, anyone descended of human parents, who thereby descended from the original human couple, is made in the image of God and, hence, the object of special protection and care.  Anything less than this definition of humanness/humankind is based on only some features of the human condition, arbitrarily selected by those humans having power over other humans…Jews and Christians must become the advocates and protectors of all those who could easily be precluded from human personhood when its essence is taken to be something less than the image of God.” (125)

Another Jewish View of Ethics, Christian and Jewish (p.127-134)

  • “Judaism goes to great lengths to define proper behavior in both ritual and moral aspects of life and lets the beliefs emerge from the practice, whereas Christianity takes pains to define proper beliefs and lets the practice that is appropriate to one who hold such beliefs remain largely undefined.” (127)
  • “One important guideline for interfaith relations is that we must avoid reading our own faith into someone else’s; we must instead understand the other person’s faith in its own terms, with its own methods, texts, and emphases.” (134)

Christian Ethics in Jewish Terms: A Response to David Novak (p.135-140)

  • “Nothing distinguishes Christians and Jews more dramatically than our understanding of the family. Put simply, Christians are not bound by the law to have children….Jesus was neither married nor had children…What Jesus started did not continue because he had children but because his witness attracted strangers….In other words, the church grows through conversion of strangers, who often turn out to be our biological children.” (Whereas Jews are required to reproduce (a mitzvah), which in turn guarantees the growth of their religious community.) (138)

CHAPTER 7: Israel

  • Judaism and Christianity: Covenants of Redemption(p.141-158)
  • Israel, Judaism, and Christianity (p.159-166)
  • Israel and the Church: A Christian Response to Irving Greenberg’s Covenantal Pluralism (p.167-174)

CHAPTER 8: Worship

Jewish and Christian Liturgy (p.175-189)

  • Comparison of Jewish & Christian Services: 1) Both remember time past when a covenant was initiated and look ahead to a messianic future when the covenantal promise will be realized. 2) Both demand a certain structural order (ordo/seder) 3) Both rely heavily on the Hebrew Bible, especially Psalms 4)Both open with a call to prayer, which then leads up to the reading of scripture that prompts a sermon. 5) Both contain praise for God and carry petitions for the welfare of those to whom worshippers wish to draw God’s attention 6) Both climax in prayer for a speedy arrival of the Dominion of God. For Jews there is the Kaddish, and for Christians the Lord’s Prayer. (p.175-176)
  • What does the liturgical act or prayer mean in terms of the way Jews and Christians locate themselves in the world? Author examines sacrifice, remembrance and thanksgiving in both traditions (p.177-188)

Liturgy and Sensory Experience (p.189-195)

  • The sensory experience of a “high liturgical” church such as the Roman Catholic, Episcopalian/Anglican, or Orthodox is radically foreign to most Jews…Sensory experience includes thins like the sounds of the liturgy, its smells, and its visual environment, as well as its verbal elements. Jewish worship is intensely verbal, a literal flood of words interrupted by the occasional change in posture or use of a ritual object. (p.190) Experiential differences between Christian & Jewish worship:
  • Incense & Music (191)
  • Images & Idolatry – Jews neither visualize God nor pray to an image. Whereas it is common to see statues and images throughout Churches (192-3)
  • The Cross (193-5) Is there no equivalent symbol in the Jewish faith?

Christian Worship: An Affair of Things as Well as Words (p.196-202)

  • What binds Christian worship to Judaism is the language and imagery of Christian prayer: what sets it apart is the person of Christ, who is present in both parts of the Christian Liturgy. Eucharist = Sacrifice. The language of sacrifice comes out of Jewish tradition, and the prominence of a term as “lamb of God” has broad symbolic links to Jewish practice at the time of Christian beginnings. (199-200)

CHAPTER 9: Suffering

On the Suffering of God’s Chosen : Christian Views in Jewish Terms (p.203-220)

  • Section looks at three dimensions of the Christian interpretation of Isaiah as it might be understood in Jewish terms: 1) Christ is God’s chosen servant 2) Christ suffered for the sake of others 3) Redemption is found through suffering with Christ. (204)
  • A similarity between the Jewish and Christian views of the relation between suffering and chosenness, is that each tradition at various historical stages used it as an argument against the validity of the other tradition. For both traditions, God does not spare those whom God loves most, but recognizes that it is they who can and must bear suffering. Jews or Christians suffer uniquely because of their respective special aptitudes for service to God. (212)

Suspicions of Suffering (p.221-229)

  • Both traditions teach us the responsibility to work to stop both our own suffering and the suffering of others. (229)

The Meaning and Value of Suffering: A Christian Response to Leora Batnitzky (p.229-237)

  • Author suggests it is a “shared strength of Judaism and Christianity that they both attempt to ascribe meaning to suffering. At the same time, while insisting that suffering does not render the life of the sufferer meaningless, they also both insist that this conviction should never transmutate into a glorification of suffering as an intrinsic benefit that is “good for you.” (236)

CHAPTER 10: Embodiment

Judaism and Incarnation: The Imaginal Body of God (p.239-254)

  • “By reclaiming the significance of incarnation in the history of Judaism, one can simultaneously acknowledge the common ground between Judaism and Christianity and the uniqueness of this doctrine in each culture. (240)
  • “Classical Jewish sources yield a philosophical conception of incarnation that refers specifically to the imaginal body of God, a symbolic construct that allows human consciousness to access the transcendent reality as concrete form manifest primarily in the sacred spaces of the two major forms of worship of the heart: prayer and study.” (240)
    • Many passages in Hebrew scripture presuppose an anthropomorphic conception of God. (242-243) 1) God as angel 2) God as Torah
    • In the history of Judaism, unlike Christianity, belief in incarnation never attained the status of dogma. (253)
  • The Christian Doctrine of the Incarnation (p.254-261)
  • Embodiment and Incarnation: A Response to Elliot Wolfson (p.262-268)

CHAPTER 11: Redemption

  • How Ought a Jew View Christian Beliefs About Redemption(p.269-275)
  • Redemption: What I have Learned from Christians (p.275-285)
  • A Christian View of Redemption(p.285-291)

CHAPTER 12: Sin & Repentance

“Turn Us to You and We Shall Return” : Original Sin, Atonement, and Redemption in Jewish Terms (p.293-304)

  • Christ’s Atonement in Jewish Terms: “Jews can gain insight into Christ’s atoning crucifixion by recalling the contexts of the biblical notions of purity and impurity and the sacrificial system of the priests, the rituals of the sanctuary, and the Temple. Jews can understand Christ’s atonement as a liturgical event with some parallels to the Jewish liturgy of the High Holidays, particularly Yom Kippur – The Day of Atonement.” (297)
  • Parallels between the Akedah (central feature of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy) and the Gospel story are easy to make by referring to Jesus as lamb. (299)
  • The Atonement liturgies of the High Holidays in Judaism and the Eucharist in Christianity are great communal acts of catharsis and healing. “The human longing for release from the sense of being broken and morally flawed that the terms original sin, sin and exile are meant to convey cannot be quenched by material goods, by power, or land. This spiritual longing is met through liturgies in which we retell stories of expiation and symbolically reenact atoning sacrifices that render us whole.” (301)
  • Exile and Return in a World of Injustice: A Response to Steven Kepnes (p.305-312)
  • The Lamb of God and the Sin of the World (p.313-319)

CHAPTER13: Image of God

The Image: Religious Anthropology in Judaism and Christianity (p.321-337)

  • “When Jews think about Christianity, they are often struck by ideas and images fundamentally different from Jewish traditions. Icons, statues, incense, crucifixes, and even crosses create a physical environment radically different from Jewish worship; notions of trinity and incarnation for a mental universe equally bizarre to traidional Jewish concepts.” (321)
    • Jews may find relief when confronted with the Christian ideas of humanity and society, which they easily find common ground with.
  • Tselem: Toward an Anthropopathic Theology of Image (p.337-347)
  • The Image of God in Christian Faith: Vocation, Dignity and Redemption (p.347-356)

Epilogue: Concluding Visions

  • What of the Future? A Christian Response (p.357-366)
  • What of the Future? A Jewish Response (p.366-373)
    • “Serious interreligious dialogue is not assimilation. When Christians and Jews engage in dialogue, they come together to discuss how their particular religions and its practices enrich their experience of life. They describe the rituals in church and synagogue that sustain them in moments of trial and that transmit their heritage from one generation to another. In dialogue we search for common ground that is based on our difference.” (372)