Panel: The Interfaith Relationship Between Jews and Christians Has Seen Changes in Past Decades

 Rabbi David Rosen and Bishop Robert Stearns spoke in a panel discussion titled “Revealing the Interfaith Relationship Between Jews and Christians” held at the sixth Christian Media Summit hosted by the Israeli Government Press Office in Jerusalem on December 11, 2022.
Rabbi David Rosen and Bishop Robert Stearns spoke in a panel discussion titled “Revealing the Interfaith Relationship Between Jews and Christians” held at the sixth Christian Media Summit hosted by the Israeli Government Press Office in Jerusalem on December 11, 2022. (photo: GPO)
By Karen LuoJanuary 20th, 2023

During a rare panel discussion in Israel, a Christian bishop and a Jewish rabbi talked about how Jews and Christians get along with each other.

At the opening gala of the sixth Christian Media Summit, held by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) in Jerusalem on December 11, 2022, there was an unusual panel discussion called "Revealing the Interfaith Relationship Between Jews and Christians."

Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee's International Director of Interreligious Affairs and former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, said honestly that most Christians and most Jews don’t think about their relationships. When asked how Jews and Christians deal with their past disagreements, relationships, and tensions, he brought up the story of Isaac's son Jacob making peace with his brother Esau. The rabbi claimed that reconciliation will come when Christians recognize the true nature of the Jewish people and their covenantal relationship with God, and the Jewish people will also recognize their special qualities. “The more Jews discover Christians as sisters and brothers, the more Jews can overcome the wounds of the past and be able to see the special relationship in a family of Abraham.”

Bishop Robert Stearns, who started and runs Eagles Wings Ministry, said that education was important in both communities. He said that there have been changes in the relationships for the past forty years, especially under the influence of global Christian Zionism.

Rabbi David Rosen went on to say, when talking about education myths, that the relationship between Judaism and Christianity is unique because they have the same spiritual roots. Because of the historical tragedy, Jews, especially Christians have been unable to see that special relationship.

“We have to also understand that  what connects us is also what divides us." 

"If you don't understand and respect that, our relationship is fraught with misunderstanding and possibly resentment." He added, "As a result, what binds us uniquely together is the text—the Hebrew Bible, but we understand terms within the Hebrew Bible very differently because passages of the Hebrew Bible are understood by Christianity in the context of the central experience for the Christian faithful.”

He cited a classical example of interpreting the Hebrew word "mashiyach." It means “somebody anointed with oil," but it only refers to a human being who was anointed for a task, such as a king or a high priest. The Jews who were being mistreated looked forward to a wise leader who would be chosen as the mashiyach at the time when God would save the world.

 “It’s got nothing to do with the state of my soul or my personal faith, but for a Christian, it has everything to do with my faith and with the state of my soul, because it’s understood through a very different prism and experience,” the rabbi stressed.

“We must celebrate the bond, but we also respect the difference because we are not the same religion,” he added.

According to Bishop Robert Stearns, a common misconception is that "you have to compromise your faith in some way to be a part of that dialogue; you have to be heretical to your faith tradition."

He was once asked to give the closing benediction at a meeting mostly attended by Christians and some non-Christians. Traditionally speaking, he prayed in the name of Jesus, but he prayed, “As a Christian, I pray in the name of Jesus.” It was a struggle for him because he wanted to honor a rabbi present there. The rabbi replied, “Now I can trust you because you are being true to who you are.”

Bishop Stearns told the two religious groups that they should work together for the coming of the Messianic Age, even though their theologies and interpretations were very different.

Then Rabbi David Rosen highlighted a quote from Martin Buber, a pioneer of the Jewish-Christian dialogue: “We have a common book and a hope, and that is no small thing.”

When asked about the problems and chances that interfaith dialogue and collaboration don't give Jews and Christians, the rabbi said that Christians must accept how badly they have treated Jews in the past. Anti-semitism and the Holocaust give most young Jews a negative experience in general, and they know nothing about the care and love for Israel from Christians.

Bishop Roberts said that there is a chance for us to work together to keep the sacred in a world that is becoming more materialistic and secular. “We have shared values and, above all, our affirmation of the design of the world. And without that, our world is lost. And, as another great Christian put it, "as Abraham's children, we must be a blessing to the world, but first, we must be a blessing to one another."

In interfaith dialogue, when Jews and Christians have different ideas about how to interpret sacred texts, Rabbi Rosen suggested that they use what they have in common to send a message about the changes in our world today. When Christians say, "Let us pray together," Jews are not always at ease because Jewish prayer is more structured, if not rigid than evangelical prayer. “Judaism understands this is part of our uniting with the divine, with God, three times a day when we pray. But for us, it's as important to discover the divine words as revealed in the text.”

Bishop Stearns said that he hoped more Christian leaders would learn how to wrestle with God. “Evangelicalism is very focused on answers. Judaism likes to ask good questions. But my prayer is that there will be, within the Christian tradition, a far deeper wrestling with text.”

"I tell the Christians in this room and the rest of the world to start meeting and teaching the real Jesus. We are in a period of social justice in my country, Jesus. Trump Jesus is here. We’ve got Jesus and all of our own images, and we’re opting for him to fit our particular religious or social goals. I think the Christian world needs to meet the Jewish Jesus in this context.”

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