Two organizations, one Jewish and one Christian, have released statements on the relationship between Jews and Christians, encouraging understanding and dialogue between the two religions with certain established boundaries.
The Israel-based Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation and the American-based Hebraic Heritage Christian Center both released statements on Tuesday defending the other religion and promoting mutual understanding and cooperation between members of the faith. They recognize the potential to partner together in the spreading of a monotheistic religion based on the God of Israel.
The release of the statements is groundbreaking, especially for an Orthodox Jewish organization.
“From an Orthodox perspective we’ve never really dialogued with Christians officially,” David Nekrutman, executive director of the CJCUC, told www.Travelujah.com, the only Christian travel social networking site. “The statement is solely the opinion of the CJCUC – it doesn’t represent world Jewry, but it should be seen as a catalyst of conversation.”
Tension and misunderstanding have long marked the relationship between Christians and Jews on a theological and religious level. Centuries of mistrust, plus theological differences, have driven a wedge between the two religions. But an awakening among Christians, particularly Evangelicals, has stirred a pro-Israel sentiment and a desire by many to seek out the Jewish roots of the Christian faith.
Nekrutman said that it would be prudent for Israel to reach out to the Christian hand extended in friendship toward the Jewish state.
“We can ignore the friendship (Christians) have extended to us,” he said. “Or we could take the approach that we wish to have this long overdue conversation and see if we can work together to better the relationship.”
|Rabbi Shlomo Riskin|
CJCUC’s Founder Rabbi Shlomo Riskin recognizes that many in different streams of Christianity have become sincere friends of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. “It is vital that we strengthen our relationship with them. We are certain that through these relational dialogues we will find far more which unites us than divides us,” he said.
According to the HHCC, based in Atlanta, the aim is to usher in “new era of Christian-Jewish relations based on mutual respect and support.”
“As Christians, we benefit from the input of Jewish scholars and spiritual leaders into our understanding of the faith of Abraham and the Hebrew Scriptures. As Christians we also share the Jewish call to bless all people,” the HHCC statement reads.
HHCC President John Garr said Christians must recognize that “they are indebted to the Jewish people of history and the present for the core elements of their faith.”
Both statements draw lines that should not be crossed and highlight areas where Christians and Jews will continue to disagree. The Christian statement says there should not be any active proselytization of Jews.
Riskin and his organization have been criticized by Jewish groups who say that Jews should not associate with Christians for fear of conversion.
“When you’re pioneering you are going to have people criticize what you are doing,” Nekrutman said. “The criticism comes from a minority group that doesn’t have the backing of the major Jewish world.”
The CJCUC statement has been years in the making. The center, located in Efrat, has long hosted Christian groups for day long educational experiences, tours of the Efrat area, seminars and dialogue. Nekrutman said tourists may come and interact with the people of the land.
“What better way to experience the land than with the people here in an open honest dialogue?” he said. “Tens of thousands of people have come through and walked away knowing something unique has happened. You walk away with a difference experience of Israel and a different approach in how to look at the Bible.”
The CJCUC statement concludes: “If Jews and Christians can become partners after nearly 2,000 years of theological delegitimization and physical conflict, then peace is possible between any two peoples anywhere. That peace would be our most powerful witness to God’s presence in human history and to our covenantal responsibility to carry God’s blessing to the world. It is the very essence of which the messianic dream is made of.”