Commentary Magazine

Judaism and Christianity

To the Editor:

Rabbi Petuchowski’s review of The Bridge in your May issue is another in the long line of valuable clarifications you have published. While no one except the bigot craves disruptive religious controversy, clarification of theological positions is necessary if we are not to be submerged in a generalized pseudo-religion of the melting pot. . . . For this reason I should like to point out two basic differences between Judaism and Christianity which bedevil even the best of theological discussions and which Rabbi Petuchowski’s review did not specify sufficiently. . . .

Basic to Christianity is an elaborate structure of testimony to prove “fulfilments” of Old Testament prophecies. The Church’s gravest charge against Judaism is that it has failed to accept these fulfilments. Unlike the Christian, the Jewish concept of prophecy touches only tangentially upon prognostication of future events. . . . “Inspiration” is a much better translation of N’vuah than “prophecy,” and the Hebrew prophet is “an inspired one,” not a prognosticator. His concern is with right and wrong in a world ruled by a just God, not with tomorrow’s events per se. Christian insistence on the role of the prophet as a prognosticator whose divine truth stands or falls by the accuracy of his specific predictions has caused endless misunderstanding.

No less troublesome than the misunderstandings about prophecy are the disparate ways in which the two religions present what I should like to term legititmatio dei, the identification of the revealed deity. . . . Christianity’s original group of witnesses, the Apostles, became aware of the change in Jesus’s role from teacher to savior upon the occurrence of a unique event, the resurrection, which is considered miraculous and worthy of credence because it contradicts all experience. It is on this miraculous occasion that Christianity hinges. Whatever doctrinal differences may divide them, all Christians must profess Jesus crucified and arisen, or else not be Christians.

No such central miracle lies at the heart of Judaism. God’s power and omnipotence are, as it were, presupposed. Miracles serve not to “prove” God’s power, but, at most, demonstrate it (pedagogically, as it were) to an unbelieving multitude. . . . The authentic legititmatio dei is given in the “preamble” to the Ten Commandments: “I am the Lord thy God who has taken thee out of Egypt, the house of bondage.” Presumably, anyone not believing that the Exodus from Egypt took place, or that it was a desirable event, cannot subscribe to the God of Israel nor the demands presented in his name. That is the only test posed by Judaism’s identification of God.

In our day a laudable desire to do away with the doctrinal bigotry of the past leads many people to focus upon the similarities of our several heritages. This aim cannot validly be achieved by overlooking essential differences. “Bridges” between Christianity and Judaism must rest on dependable, truthful definitions if they are to serve their function. Dialogue prospers not on the slurring of differences but on their being clearly defined and mutually respected.

W. Zev Bairey
Houston, Texas



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