This article is reproduced, with permission, from pages 3 to 22 of "No religion is an island : Abraham Joshua Heschel and interreligious dialogue", edited by Harold Kasimow and Byron L. Sherwin, published by Orbis Books, Maryknoll ( 1991 ). I have attempted to ensure that the copy is correct, but only the original is authoritative.

The pagination of the book is recorded in the right-hand column, but line breaks are not faithfully reproduced.

This FOOTNOTE appears on the first page of the original :

This essay originally appeared in Union Theological Seminary Quarterly Review 21:2,1 ( January 1966 ). It is referred to throughout this book by the abbreviation : NR. This article was Heschel's inaugural lecture as the Harry Emerson Fosdick Visiting Professor at Union Theological Seminary. In this regard, see the essay below by John Bennett who was president of Union at that time. The editors are grateful to Sylvia and Susannah Heschel for permission to reprint the essay in the present volume.

No religion is an island


      I speak as a member of a congregation whose founder was Abraham, and the name of my rabbi is Moses.

      I speak as a person who was able to leave Warsaw, the city in which I was born, just six weeks before the disaster began. My destination was New York, it would have been Auschwitz or Treblinka. I am a brand plucked from the fire, in which my people was burned to death. I am a brand plucked from the fire of an altar of Satan on which millions of human lives were exterminated to evil's greater glory, and on which so much else was consumed : the divine image of so many human beings, many people's faith in the God of justice and compassion, and much of the secret and power of attachment to the Bible bred and cherished in the hearts of men for nearly two thousand years. I speak as a person who is often afraid and terribly alarmed lest God has turned away from us in disgust and even deprived

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us of the power to understand His word. In the words Isaiah perceived in his vision ( 6:9-10 ) :

Then I said, "Here I am )! Send me." And he said, "Go, and say to this people : Hear and hear, but do not understand; see and see, but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people fat, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed."

      Some of us are like patients in the state of final agony - who scream in delirium : the doctor is dead, the doctor is dead. ( Heschel refers here to the so-called God-is-Dead theology in vogue in the 1960s and which he vigorously opposed. - Ed. )

      I speak as a person who is convinced that the fate of the Jewish people and the fate of the Hebrew Bible are intertwined. The recognition of our status as Jews, the legitimacy of our survival, is only possible in a world in which the God of Abraham is revered.

      Nazism in its very roots was a rebellion against the Bible, against the God of Abraham. Realizing that it was Christianity that implanted attachment to the God of Abraham and involvement with the Hebrew Bible in the hearts of Western man, Nazism resolved that it must both exterminate the Jews and eliminate Christianity, and bring about instead a revival of Teutonic paganism.

      Nazism has suffered a defeat, but the process of eliminating the Bible from the consciousness of the Western world goes on. It is on the issue of saving the radiance of the Hebrew Bible in the minds of man that Jews and Christians are called upon to work together. None of us can do it alone. Both of us must realize that in our age anti-Semitism is anti-Christianity and that anti-Christianity is anti-Semitism.

      Man is never as open to fellowship as he is in moments of misery and distress. The people of New York City have never experienced such fellowship, such awareness of being one, as they did last night in the midst of darkness. ( Heschel refers here to the citywide electrical blackout in New York City in April 1966.-Ed. )

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Indeed, there is a light in the midst of the darkness of this hour. But, alas, most of us have no eyes.

      Is Judaism, is Christianity, ready to face the challenge ? When I speak about the radiance of the Bible in the minds of man, I do not mean its being a theme for "Information, please" but rather an openness to God's presence in the Bible, the continuous ongoing effort for a breakthrough in the soul of man, the guarding of the precarious position of being human, even a little higher than human, despite defiance and in face of despair.

      The supreme issue is today not the halacha for the Jew or the Church for the Christian-but the premise underlying both religions, namely, whether there is a pathos, a divine reality concerned with the destiny of man which mysteriously impinges upon history; the supreme issue is whether we are alive or dead to the challenge and the expectation of the living God. The crisis engulfs all of us. The misery and fear of alienation from God make Jew and Christian cry together.

      Jews must realize that the spokesmen of the Enlightenment who attacked Christianity were no less negative in their attitude toward Judaism. They often blamed Judaism for the misdeeds of the daughter religion. The casualties of the devastation caused by the continuous onslaughts on biblical religion in modem times are to be found among Jews as well as among Christians.

      On the other hand, the Community of Israel must always be mindful of the mystery of aloneness and uniqueness of its own being. "There is a people that dwells apart, not reckoned among the nations" ( Num. 23:9 ), says the Gentile prophet Balaam. Is it not safer for us to remain in isolation and to refrain from sharing perplexities and certainties with Christians ?

      Our era marks the end of complacency, the end of evasion, the end of self-reliance. Jews and Christians share the perils and the fears; we stand on the brink of the abyss together. Interdependence of political and economic conditions all over the world is a basic fact of our situation. Disorder in a small obscure country in any part of the world evokes anxiety in people all over the world.

      Parochialism has become untenable. There was a time when you could not pry out of a Boston man that the Boston state

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house is not the hub of the solar system or that one's own denomination has not the monopoly of the holy spirit. Today we know that even the solar system is not the hub of the universe.

      The religions of the world are no more self-sufficient, no more independent, no more isolated than individuals or nations. Energies, experiences and ideas that come to life outside the boundaries of a particular religion or all religions continue to challenge and to affect every religion.

      Horizons are wider, dangers are greater ... No religion is an island. We are all involved with one another. Spiritual betrayal on the part of one of us affects the faith of all of us. Views adopted in one community have an impact on other communities. Today religious isolationism is a myth. For all the profound differences in perspective and substance, Judaism is sooner or later affected by the intellectual, moral and spiritual events within the Christian society, and vice versa.

      We fail to realize that while different exponents of faith in the world of religion continue to be wary of the ecumenical movement, there is another ecumenical movement, worldwide in extent and influence : nihilism. We must choose between interfaith and inter-nihilism. Cynicism is not parochial. Should religions insist upon the illusion of complete isolation ? Should we refuse to be on speaking terms with one another and hope for each others failure ? Or should we pray for each other's health, and help one another in preserving one's respective legacy, in preserving a common legacy ?

      The Jewish diaspora today, almost completely to be found in the Western world, is certainly not immune to the spiritual climate and the state of religious faith in the general society. We do not live in isolation, and the way in which non-Jews either relate or bid defiance to God has a profound impact on the minds and souls of the Jews. Even in the Middle Ages, when most Jews lived in relative isolation, such impact was acknowledged. To quote, "The usage of the Jews is in accordance with that of the non-Jews. If the non-Jews of a certain town are moral, the Jews born there will be so as well." Rabbi Joseph Yaabez, a victim of the Spanish Inquisition, in the midst of the Inquisition was able to say that "the Christians believe in Creation, the excellence of the Patriarchs, revelation, retribution

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and resurrection. Blessed is the Lord, God of Israel, who left this remnant after the destruction of the second Temple. But for these Christian nations we might ourselves become infirm in our faith."

      We are heirs to a long history of mutual contempt among religions and religious denominations, of religious coercion, strife and persecutions. Even in periods of peace, the relationship that obtains between representatives of different religions is not just reciprocity of ignorance; it is an abyss, a source of detraction and distrust, casting suspicion and undoing efforts of many an honest and noble expression of good will.

      The Psalmist's great joy is in proclaiming : "Truth and mercy have met together" ( Ps. 85:11 ). Yet so frequently faith and the lack of mercy enter a union, out of which bigotry is bom, the presumption that my faith, my motivation, is pure and holy, while the faith of those who differ in creed - even those in my own community - is impure and unholy. How can we be cured of bigotry, presumption, and the foolishness of believing that we have been triumphant while we have all been defeated ?

      Is it not clear that in spite of fundamental disagreements there is a convergence of some of our commitments, of some of our views, tasks we have in common, evils we must fight together, goals we share, a predicament afflicting us all ?

      On what basis do we people of different religious commitments meet one another ?

      First and foremost we meet as human beings who have so much in common : a heart, a face, a voice, the presence of a soul, fears, hope, the ability to trust, a capacity for compassion and understanding, the kinship of being human. My first task in every encounter is to comprehend the personhood of the human being I face, to sense the kinship of being human, solidarity of being.

      To meet a human being is a major challenge to mind and heart. I must recall what I normally forget. A person is not just a specimen of the species called homo sapiens. He is all of humanity in one, and whenever one man is hurt we are all injured. The human is a disclosure of the divine, and all men are one in God's care for man. Many things on earth are precious, some are holy, humanity is holy of holies.

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To meet a human being is an opportunity to sense the image of God, the presence of God. According to a rabbinical interpretation, the Lord said to Moses : "Wherever you see the trace of, man there I stand before you..."

      When engaged in a conversation with a person of different religious commitment I discover that we disagree in matters sacred to us, does the image of God I face disappear ? Does God cease to stand before me ? Does the difference in commitment destroy the kinship of being human ? Does the fact that we differ in our conceptions of God cancel what we have in common : the image of God ?

For this reason was man created single ( whereas of every other species many were created ) ... that there should be peace among human beings : one cannot say to his neighbor, my ancestor was nobler than thine ( Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a ).

      The primary aim of these reflections is to inquire how a Jew out of his commitment and a Christian out of his commitment can find a religious basis for communication and cooperation on matters relevant to their moral and spiritual concern in spite of disagreement.

      There are four dimensions of religious existence, four necessary components of man's relationships to God : a ) the teaching, the essentials of which are summarized in the form of a creed, which serve as guiding principles in our thinking about matters temporal or eternal, the dimension of the doctrine; b ) faith, inwardness, the direction of one's heart, the intimacy of religion, the dimension of privacy; c ) the law, or the sacred act to be carried out in the sanctuary, in society, or at home, the dimension of the deed; d ) the context in which creed, faith and ritual come to pass, such as the community or the covenant, history, tradition, the dimension of transcendence.

      In the dimension of the deed there are obvipusly vast areas for cooperation among men of different commitments in terms of intellectual communication, of sharing concern and knowledge in applied religion, particularly as they relate to social action.

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In the dimension of faith, the encounter proceeds in terms of personal witness and example, sharing insights, confessing inadequacy. On the level of doctrine we seek to convey the content of what we believe in, on the level of faith we experience in one another the presence of a person radiant with reflections of a greater presence.

      I suggest that the most significant basis for meeting of men of different religious traditions is the level of fear and trembling, of humility and contrition, where our individual moments of faith are mere waves in the endless ocean of mankind's reaching out for God, where all formulations and articulations appear as understatements, where our souls are swept away by the awareness of the urgency of answering God's commandment, while stripped of pretension and conceit we sense the tragic insufficiency of human faith.

      What divides us ? What unites us ? We disagree in law and creed, in commitments which lie at the very heart of our religious existence. We say "No" to one another in some doctrines essential and sacred to us. What unites us ? Our being accountable to God, our being objects of God's concern, precious in His eyes. Our conceptions of what ails us may be different; but the anxiety is the same. The language, the imagination, the concretization of our hopes are different, but the embarrassment is the same, and so is the sign, the sorrow, and the necessity to obey.

      We may disagree about the ways of achieving fear and trembling, but the fear and trembling are the same. The demands are different, but the conscience is the same, and so is arrogance, iniquity. The proclamations are different, the callousness is the same, and so is the challenge we face in many moments of spiritual agony.

      Above all, while dogmas and forms of worship are divergent, God is the same. What unites us ? A commitment to the Hebrew Bible as Holy Scripture. Faith in the Creator, the God of Abraham, commitment to many of His commandments, to justice and mercy, a sense of contrition, sensitivity to the sanctity of life and to the involvement of God in history, the conviction that without the holy the good will be defeated, prayer that history may not end before the end of days, and so much more.

      There are moments when we all stand together and see our

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faces in the mirror : the anguish of humanity and its helplessness; the perplexity of the individual and the need of divine guidance; being called to praise and to do what is required.

      In conversations with Protestant and Catholic I have more than once come upon an attitude of condescension to Judaism, a sort of pity for those who have not yet seen the light; tolerance instead of reverence. On the other handy I cannot forget that when Paul Tillich, Gustave Weigel, and myself were invited by the Ford Foundation to speak from the same platform on the religious situation in America, we not only found ourselves in deep accord in disclosing what ails us, but above all without prior consultation, the three of us confessed that our guides in this critical age are the prophets of Israel, not Aristotle, not Karl Marx, but Amos and Isaiah.

      The theme of these reflections is not a doctrine or an institution called Christianity, but human beings all over the world, both present and past, who worship God as followers of Jesus, and my problem is how I should relate myself to them spiritually. The issue I am called upon to respond to is not the truth of dogma but the faith and the spiritual power of the commitment of Christians. In facing the claim and the dogma of the Church, Jews and Christians are strangers and stand in disagreement with one another. Yet there are levels of existence where Jews and Christians meet as sons and brothers. "Alas, in heaven's name, are we not your brothers, are we not the sons of one father and are we not the sons of one mother ? ..."

      To be sure all men are sons of one father, but they have also the power to forfeit their birthright, to turn rebels, voluntary bastards, "children with no faithfulness in them" ( Deut. 32:20 ). It is not flesh and blood but honor and obedience that save the right of sonship. We claim brotherhood by being subject to His commandments. We are sons when we hearken to the Father, when we praise and honor Him.

      The recognition that we are sons in obeying God and praising Him is the starting-point of my reflection. "I am a companion of all who fear Thee, of those who keep Thy precepts" ( Ps. 119:63 ). I rejoice wherever His name is praised, His presence sensed, His commandment done.

      The first and most important prerequisite of interfaith is faith.

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It is only out of the depth of involvement in the unending drama that began with Abraham that we can help one another toward an understanding of our situation.Interfaith must come out of depth, not out of a void absence of faith. It is not an enterprise for those who are half-learned or spiritually immature. If it is not to lead to the confusion of the many, it must remain a prerogative of the few.

      Faith and the power of insight and devotion can only grow in privacy. Exposing one's inner life may engender the danger of desecration, distortion and confusion. Syncretism is a perpetual possibility. Moreover, at a time of paucity of faith, interfaith may become a substitute for faith, suppressing authenticity for the sake of compromise. In a world of conformity, religions can easily be levelled down to the lowest common denominator.

      Both communication and separation are necessary. We must preserve our individuality as well as foster care for one another, reverence, understanding, cooperation. In the world of economics, science and technology, cooperation exists and continues to grow. Even political states, though different in culture and competing with one another, maintain diplomatic relations and strive for coexistence. Only religions are not on speaking terms. Over a hundred countries are willing to be part of the United Nations; yet no religion is ready to be part of a movement for United Religions. Or should I say, not yet ready ? Ignorance, distrust, and disdain often characterize their relations to one another. Is disdain for the opposition indigenous to the religious position ? Granted that Judaism and Christianity are committed to contradictory claims, is it impossible to carry on a controversy without acrimony, criticism without loss of respect, disagreement without disrespect ? The problem to be faced is : how to combine loyalty to one's own tradition with reverence for different traditions ? How is mutual esteem between Christian and Jew possible ?

      A Christian ought to ponder seriously the tremendous implications of a process begun in early Christian history. I mean the conscious or unconscious dejudaization of Christianity, affecting the Church's way of thinking, its inner life as well as its relationship to the past and present reality of Israel - the father and mother of the very being of Christianity. The children did not

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arise to call the mother blessed; instead, they called the mother blind. Some theologians continue to act as if they did not know the meaning of "honor your father and mother"; others, anxious to prove the superiority of the church, speak as if they suffered from a spiritual Oedipus complex.

      A Christian ought to realize that a world without Israel will be a world without the God of Israel. A Jew, on the other hand, ought to acknowledge the eminent role and part of Christianity in God's design for the redemption of all men.

      Modem Jews who have come out of the state of political seclusion and are involved in the historic process of Western mankind cannot afford to be indifferent to the religious situation of our fellow-men. Opposition to Christianity must be challenged by the question : What religious alternative do we envisage for the Christian world ? Did we not refrain for almost two thousand years from preaching Judaism to the Nations ?

      A Jew ought to ponder seriously the responsibility involved in Jewish history for having been the mother of two world religions. Does not the failure of children reflect upon their mother ? Do not the sharp deviations from Jewish tradition on the part of the early Christians who were Jews indicate some failure of communication within the spiritual climate of first century Palestine ?

      Judaism is the mother of the Christian faith. It has a stake in the destiny of Christianity. Should a mother ignore her child, even a wayward, rebellious one ? On the other hand, the Church should acknowledge that we Jews in loyalty to our tradition have a stake in its faith, recognize our vocation to preserve and to teach the legacy of the Hebrew Scripture, accept our aid in fighting anti-Marcionite trends as an act of love.

      Is it not our duty to help one another in trying to overcome hardness of heart, in cultivating a sense of wonder and mystery, in unlocking doors to holiness in time, in opening minds to the challenge of the Hebrew Bible, in seeking to respond to the voice of the prophets ?

      No honest religious person can fail to admire the outpouring of the love of man and the love of God, the marvels of worship, the magnificence of spiritual insight, the piety, charity and sanctity in the lives of countless men and women, manifested in the

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history of Christianity. Have not Pascal, Kierkegaard, Immanuel Kant or Reinhold Niebuhr been a source of inspiration to many Jews ?

      Over and above mutual respect we must acknowledge the indebtedness to one another. It is our duty to remember that it was the Church that brought the knowledge of the God of Abraham to the Gentiles. It was the Church that made Hebrew Scripture available to mankind. This we Jews must acknowledge with a grateful heart.

      The Septuagint, the works of Philo, Josephus, as well as the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, and the Fons vitae by Ibn Gabirol would have been lost had they not been preserved in monasteries. Credit for major achievements in modem scholarship in the field of Bible, in biblical as well as hellenistic Jewish history, goes primarily to Protestant scholars.

      The purpose of religious communication among human beings of different commitments is mutual enrichment and enhancement of respect and appreciation rather than the hope that the person spoken to will prove to be wrong in what he regards as sacred.

      Dialogue must not degenerate into a dispute, into an effort on the part of each to get the upper hand. There is an unfortunate history of Christian-Jewish disputations, motivated by the desire to prove how blind the Jews are and carried on in a spirit of opposition, which eventually degenerated into enmity. Thus any conversation between Christian and Jew in which abandonment of the other partner's faith is a silent hope must be regarded as offensive to one's religious and human dignity.

      Let there be an end to disputation and polemic, an end to disparagement. We honestly and profoundly disagree in matters of creed and dogma. Indeed, there is a deep chasm between Christians and Jews concerning, e.g., the divinity and Messiahship of Jesus. But across the chasm we can extend our hands to one another.

      Religion is a means, not the end. It becomes idolatrous when regarded as an end in itself. Over and above all being stands the Creator and Lord of history. He who transcends all. To equate religion and God is idolatry.

      Does not the all-inclusiveness of God contradict the exclu-

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siveness of any particular religion ? The prospect of all men embracing one form of religion remains an eschatological hope. What about here and now ? Is it not blasphemous to say : I alone have all the truth and the grace, and all those who differ live in darkness, and are abandoned by the grace of God ?

      Is it really our desire to build a monolithic society : one party, one view, one leader, and no opposition ? Is religious uniformity desirable or even possible ? Has it really proved to be a blessing for a country when all its citizens belonged to one denomination ? Or has any denomination attained a spiritual climax when it had the adherence of the entire population ? Does not the task of preparing the kingdom of God require a diversity of talents, a variety of rituals, soul-searching as well as opposition ?

      Perhaps it is the will of God that in this aeon there should be diversity in our forms of devotion and commitment to Him. In this aeon diversity of religions is the will of God.

      In the story of the building of the Tower of Babel we read : "The Lord said : They are one people, and they have all one language, and this is what they begin to do" ( Gen. 11:6 ). These words are interpreted by an ancient Rabbi to mean : What has caused them to rebel against me ? The fact that they are one people and they have all one language ...

For from the rising of the sun to its setting My name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts ( Mal. 1:11 ).

      This statement refers undoubtedly to the contemporaries of the prophet. But who were these worshippers of One God ? At the time of Malachi there was hardly a large number of proselytes. Yet the statement declares : All those who worship their gods do not know it, but they are really worshipping Me.

      It seems that the prophet proclaims that men all over the world, though they confess different conceptions of God, are really worshipping One God, the Father of all men, though they may not be aware of it.

      Religions, I repeat, true to their own convictions, disagree profoundly and are in opposition to one another on matters of

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doctrine. However, if we accept the prophet's thesis that they all worship one God, even without knowing it, if we accept the principle that the majesty of God transcends the dignity of religion, should we not regard a divergent religion as His Majesty's loyal opposition ? However, does not every religion maintain the claim to be true, and is not truth exclusive ?

      The ultimate truth is not capable of being fully and adequately expressed in concepts and words. The ultimate truth is about the situation that pertains between God and man. "The Torah speaks in the language of man." Revelation is always an accommodation to the capacity of man. No two minds are alike, just as no two faces are alike. The voice of God reaches the spirit of man in a variety of ways, in a multiplicity of languages. One truth comes to expression in many ways of understanding.

      A major factor in our religious predicament is due to selfrighteousness and to the assumption that faith is found only in him who has arrived, while absent in him who is on the way. Religion is often inherently guilty of the sin of pride and presumption. To paraphrase the prophet's words, the exultant religion dwelt secure and said in her heart : "I am, and there is no one besides me."

      Humility and contrition seem to be absent where most required - in theology. But humility is the beginning and end of religious thinking, the secret test of faith. There is no truth without humility, no certainty without contrition.

      Ezra the Scribe, the great renovator of Judaism, of whom the rabbis said that he was worthy of receiving the Torah had it not been already given through Moses, confessed his lack of perfect faith. He tells us that after he had received a royal firman from King Artaxerxes granting him permission to lead a group of exiles from Babylonia :

I proclaimed a fast there at the river Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of Him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all substance. For I was ashamed to require of the King a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way : because we had spoken unto the king, saying, the hand of

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God is upon all them for good that seek Him ( Ezra 8:21 22 ).

      Human faith is never final, never an arrival, but rather an endless pilgrimage, a being on the way. We have no answers to all problems. Even some of our sacred answers are both emphatic and qualified, final and tentative; final within our own position in history, tentative - because we can only speak in the tentative language of man.

      Heresy is often a roundabout expression of faith, and sojourning in the wilderness is a preparation for entering the promised land.

      Is the failure, the impotence of all religions, due exclusively to human transgression ? Or perhaps to the mystery of God's withholding His grace, of His concealing even while revealing ? Disclosing the fullness of His glory would be an impact that would surpass the power of human endurance.

      His thoughts are not our thoughts. Whatever is revealed is abundance compared with our soul and a pittance compared with His treasures. No word is God's last word, no word is God's ultimate word.

      Following the revelation at Sinai, the people said to Moses : "You speak to us, and we will hear; let not God speak to us, lest we die" ( Exod. 20:19 ).

      The Torah as given to Moses, an ancient rabbi maintains, is but an unripened fruit of the heavenly tree of wisdom. At the end of days, much that is concealed will be revealed.

      The mission to the Jews is a call to the individual Jews to betray the fellowship, the dignity, the sacred history of their people. Very few Christians seem to comprehend what is morally and spiritually involved in supporting such activities. We are Jews as we are men. The alternative to our existence as Jews is spiritual suicide, extinction. It is not a change into something else. Judaism has allies but no substitutes.

      The wonder of Israel, the marvel of Jewish existence, the survival of holiness in the history of the Jews, is a continuous verification of the marvel of the Bible. Revelation to Israel continues as a revelation through Israel.

      The Protestant pastor, Christian Furchtegott Gellert, was

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asked by Frederick the Great, "Herr Professor, give me proof of the Bible, but briefly, for I have little time." Gellert answered, "Your Majesty, the Jews."

      Indeed, is not the existence of the Jews a witness to the God of Abraham ? Is not our loyalty to the law of Moses a light that continues to illumine the lives of those who observe it as well as the lives of those who are aware of it ?

      Gustave Weigel spent the last evening of his life in my study at the Jewish Theological Seminary. We opened our hearts to one another in prayer and contrition and spoke of our own deficiencies, failures, hopes. At one moment I posed the question : Is it really the will of God that there be no more Judaism in the world ? Would it really be the triumph of God if the scrolls of the Torah would no more be taken out of the Ark and the Torah no more read in the Synagogue, our ancient Hebrew prayers in which Jesus himself worshipped no more recited, the Passover Seder no more celebrated in our lives, the law of Moses no more observed in our homes ? Would it really be ad Majorem Dei gloriam to have a world without Jews ?

      My life is shaped by many loyalties-to my family, to my friends, to my people, to the U.S. Constitution, etc. Each of my loyalties has its ultimate root in one ultimate relationship : loyalty to God, the loyalty of all my loyalties. That relationship is the covenant of Sinai. All we are we owe to Him. He has enriched us with gifts of insight, with the joy of moments full of blessing. He has also suffered with us in years of agony and distress.

      None of us pretends to be God's accountant, and His design for history and redemption remains a mystery before which we must stand in awe. It is arrogant to maintain that the Jews' refusal to accept Jesus as the Messiah is due to their stubbornness or blindness as it would be presumptuous for the Jews not to acknowledge the glory and holiness in the lives of countless Christians. "The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth" ( Ps. 145:18 ).

      Fortunately there are some important Christian voices who expressed themselves to the effect that the missionary activities to the Jews be given up. Reinhold Niebuhr may have been the first Christian theologian who at a joint meeting of the faculties

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of the Union Theological Seminary and the Jewish Theological Seminary declared that the missionary

activities are wrong not only because they are futile and have little fruit to boast for their exertions. They are wrong because the two faiths despite differences are sufficiently alike for the Jew to find God more easily in terms of his own religious heritage than by subjecting himself to the hazards of guilt feelings involved in conversion to a faith which, whatever its excellencies, must appear to him as a symbol of an oppressive majority culture ... Practically nothing can purify the symbol of Christ as the image of God in the imagination of the Jew from the taint with which ages of Christian oppression in the name of Christ have tainted it. ( note 1 )

Tillich has said

Many Christians feel that it is a questionable thing, for instance, to try to convert Jews. They have lived and spoken with their Jewish friends for decades. They have not converted them, but they have created a community of conversation which has changed both sides of the dialogue. ( note 2 )

      And a statement on "relations with the Roman Catholic Church" adopted by the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches in its meeting in Rochester, New York, in August, 1963, mentions proselytism as a "cause of offence," an issue "which must be frankly faced if true dialogue is to be possible." ( note 3 )

      The ancient Rabbis proclaim : "Pious men of all nations have a share in the life to come."

      "I call heaven and earth to witness that the Holy Spirit rests upon each person, Jew or Gentile, man or woman, master or slave, in consonance with his deeds."

      Holiness is not the monopoly of any particular religion or tradition. Wherever a deed is done in accord with the will of

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God, wherever a thought of man is directed toward Him, there is the holy.

      The Jews do not maintain that the way of the Torah is the only way of serving God. "Let all the peoples walk each one in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever" ( Mic. 4:5 ).

      "God loves the Saint" ( Ps. 146:8 ) - "They love Me, and I love them ... If a person wishes to be a Levite or a priest, he cannot become a saint, even if he is a gentile, he may become one. For saints do not derive their saintliness from their ancestry; they become saints because they dedicate themselves to God and love Him." Conversion to Judaism is no prerequisite for sanctity. In his Code Maimonides asserts :

Not only is the tribe of Levi ( God's portion ) sanctified in the highest degree, but any man among all the dwellers on earth whose heart prompts him and whose mind instructs him to dedicate himself to the services of God and to walk uprightly as God intended him to, and who disencumbers himself of the load of the many pursuits which men invent for themselves. God asks for the heart, everything depends upon the intention of the heart ... all men have a share in eternal life if they attain according to their ability knowledge of the Creator and have ennobled themselves by noble qualities. There is no doubt that he who has thus trained himself morally and intellectually to acquire faith in the Creator will certainly have a share in the life to come. This is why our Rabbis taught : a gentile who studies the Torah of Moses is ( spiritually ) equal to the High Priest at the Temple in Jerusalem.

      Leading Jewish authorities, such as Jehuda Halevi and Maimonides, acknowledge Christianity to be preparatio messianica, while the Church regarded ancient Judaism to have been a preparatio evangelica. Thus, whereas the Christian doctrine has often regarded Judaism as having outlived its usefulness and the Jews as candidates for conversion, the Jewish attitude enables us to acknowledge the presence of a divine plan in the role of Christianity within the history of redemption. Jehuda Halevi,

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though criticizing Christianity and Islam for retaining relics of ancient idolatry and feast days, "they also revere places sacred to idols," compares Christians and Mohammedans to proselytes who adopted the roots, but not all the branches ( or the logical conclusions of the divine commandments ).

The wise providence of God towards Israel may be compared to the planting of a seed of corn. It is placed in the earth, where it seems to be changed into soil, and water, and rottenness, and the seed can no longer be recognized. But in very truth it is the seed that has changed the earth and water into its own nature, and then the seed raises itself from one stage to another, transforms the elements, and throws out shoots and leaves ... Thus it is with Christians and Moslems. The Law of Moses has changed them that come into contact with it, even though they seem to have cast the Law aside. These religions are the preparation and the preface to the Messiah we expect, who is the fruit himself of the seed originally sown, and all men, too, will be fruit of God's seed when they acknowledge Him, and all become one mighty tree.

      A similar view is set forth by Maimonides in his authoritative Code :

It is beyond the human mind to fathom the designs of the Creator; for our ways are not His ways, neither are our thoughts His thoughts. All these matters relating to Jesus of Nazareth and the Ishmaelite ( Mohammed ) who came after him, served to clear the way for King Messiah, to prepare the whole world to worship God with one accord, as it is written, For then will I turn to the peoples a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord to serve Him with one consent ( Zeph. 3:9 ). Thus the messianic hope, the Torah, and the commandments have become familiar topics - topics of conversation ( among the inhabitants ) of the far isles and many peoples ...

      Christianity and Islam, far from being accidents of history or purely human phenomena, are regarded as part of God's design

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for the redemption of all men. Christianity is accorded ultimate significance by acknowledging that "all these matters relative to Jesus of Nazareth and Mohammed ... served to clear the way for King Messiah." In addition to the role of these religions in the plan of redemption, their achievements within history are explicitly affirmed : Through them "the messianic hope, the Torah, and the commandments have become familiar topics ... [among the inhabitants] of the far isles and many peoples." Elsewhere Maimonides acknowledges that "the Christians believe and profess that the Torah is God's revelation ( torah min hashamaiiam ) and given to Moses in the form in which it has been preserved; they have it completely written down, though they frequently interpret it differently."

      Rabbi Johanan Ha-Sandelar, a disciple of Rabbi Akiba, says : "Every community which is established for the sake of heaven will in the end endure; but one which is not for the sake of heaven will not endure in the end."

      Rabbi Jacob Emden maintains that heretical Jewish sects such as the Karaites and the Sabbatians belong to the second category whereas Christianity and Islam are in the category of "a community which is for the sake of heaven" and which will "in the end endure." They have emerged out of Judaism and accepted

the fundamentals of our divine relirion... to make known God among the nations ..., to proclaim that there is a Master in heaven and earth, divine providence, reward and punishment..., Who bestows the gift of prophecy... and communicates through the prophets laws and statutes to live by.... This is why their community endures.... Since their intention is for the sake of heaven, reward will not be withheld from them.

      He also praises many Christian scholars who have come to the rescue of Jews and their literature.

      Rabbi Israel Lifschutz of Danzig ( 1782-1860 ) speaks of the Christians, "our brethren, the gentiles, who acknowledge the one God and revere His Torah which they deem divine and

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observe, as is required of them, the seven commandments of Noah..."

      What, then, is the purpose of interreligious cooperation ?

      It is neither to flatter nor to refute one another, but to help one another; to share insight and learning, to cooperate in academic ventures on the highest scholarly level, and what is even more important to search in the wilderness for well-springs of devotion, for treasures of stillness, for the power of love and care for man. What is urgently needed are ways of helping one another in the terrible predicament of here and now by the courage to believe that the word of the Lord endures for ever as well as here and now; to cooperate in trying to bring about a resurrection of sensitivity, a revival of conscience; to keep alive the divine sparks in our souls, to nurture openness to the spirit of the Psalms, reverence for the words of the prophets, and faithfulness to the Living God.


1. Reinhold Niebuhr, Pious and Secular America ( New York : Scribner's, 1958 ), p. 108.

2. Paul Tillich, Christianity and the Encounter of the World Religions ( New York : Columbia University Press, 1963 ), p. 95.

3. Ecumenical Review 16:1 ( October 1963 ) :108.

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Alan Creak,
2003 July.