Jewish-Christian relations focus of religious statement

A group of Jewish religious leaders is about to release a statement that challenges widely held views within the Jewish community about God, the Bible and the relationship between Christianity and Nazism.

The statement, which is being released by the Baltimore-based Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies, will be published Sunday in full-page ads in The Sun and The New York Times.

Titled "Dabru Emet" (Hebrew for "Seek the Truth"), the statement calls on Jews to acknowledge Christian efforts to confront their past mistreatment of Jews and Judaism.

It also calls on Jews to re-evaluate how they perceive Christians and Christianity. It is signed by more than 160 Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist rabbis.

"In almost 2,000 years, there's never been a group of Jews who have come together to reflect on how to make sense of and how to respond to the reality that is Christianity," said the Rev. Christopher Leighton, executive director of the institute.

"The Christian world has changed significantly, especially in the last 30 or 40 years, in terms of how some Christians think about and teach about Jews and Judaism," said Rabbi David Sandmel, the institute staff member who coordinated drafting the statement, written by four Jewish scholars.

"In a post-Shoah (Holocaust) Christian world in which some have radically changed how they talk about Jews and Judaism, the Jewish world has to take stock of that and consider it in how it deals with Christians and Christianity."

Among the statement's assertions:

That Christians and Jews worship the same God, a statement that might not sit well with Jewish theologians who consider Christian teachings on the incarnation (Jesus is God and man) and the trinity (God is three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit) as idolatry.

Jews and Christians seek authority from the same book, the Bible. Although there are points of agreement, it is common practice for many Christians to interpret what they call the Old Testament as an incomplete truth that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

That Nazism is not a Christian phenomenon, although the statement adds, "Without the long history of Christian anti-Judaism and Christian violence against Jews, Nazi ideology could not have taken hold nor could it have been carried out. . . . But Nazism itself was not an inevitable outcome of Christianity."

Based on that argument, Rabbi A. James Rudin, senior interreligious-affairs adviser for the American Jewish Committee and a leader in the Christian-Jewish dialogue, said he couldn't sign the statement.

"I happen to think Christian teaching prepared the seedbed for the poisonous weed of Nazism," Rudin said. "I would never make the statement that Christianity led to Nazism directly. But it prepared the seedbed, and I don't think the statement says that directly."