On December 3, a number of rabbis, some Orthodox, some claiming to be Orthodox, issued a statement misnamed “Orthodox Rabbinic Statement on Christianity“. It is, of course, nothing of the sort. Such a title implies at least a modicum of consensus among Orthodox rabbis on this subject, and the only consensus which exists on the subject is one which is 100% opposed to this false document.
This document appeared on the website of “The Center for Jewish Christian Understanding and Cooperation”, a pet project of Shlomo Riskin, whose scandalous affinity for Christianity has raised more than one eyebrow back in 2009, when he issued a statement praising “Rabbi Jesus” as a “model rabbi”.
Most Modern Orthodox rabbis follow the rule set down by Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik in his 1964 piece, “Confrontation“:
We are a totally independent faith community. We do not revolve as a satellite in any orbit. Nor are we related to any other faith community as “brethren” even though “separated.”
The word of faith reflects the intimate, the private, the paradoxically inexpressible cravings of the individual for and his linking up with his Maker… it is important that the religious or theological logos should not be employed as the medium of communication between two faith communities whose modes of expression are as unique as their apocalyptic experiences.
In the secular sphere, we may discuss positions to be taken, ideas to be evolved, and plans to be formulated.
[W]e certainly have not been authorized by our history, sanctified by the martyrdom of millions, to even hint to another faith community that we are mentally ready to revise historical attitudes, to trade favors pertaining to fundamental matters of faith, and to reconcile “some” differences.
We may cooperate with Christians and other religions when it comes to secular issues only. Interfaith dialogue on religious issues is forbidden, because there is no common ground, and anything which might serve to grant legitimacy to other religions is wrong. Interestingly enough, Riskin considers Rav Soloveitchik his rabbi, so he has engaged in some interesting sophistry to permit the impermissible, which can be found on the same site as the Riskin Statement.
The irony of this statement being released less than a week before Hanukkah, when we celebrate our refusal to bow to the idols of others, is stark and painful.
While I am quite sure that real Orthodox rabbinic organizations will shortly release reactions to this ridiculous and embarrassing document, I would like to take the opportunity to point out a few of the areas in which it is most obviously false.
In the first clause of Riskin’s CJCUC document, it says this:
The Shoah ended 70 years ago. It was the warped climax to centuries of disrespect, oppression and rejection of Jews and the consequent enmity that developed between Jews and Christians.
(Riskin Statement, Paragraph 1)
This equation of Christian antisemitism with the antipathy felt by Jews for those who massacred us for over a millenium is even more outrageous than the false equivalencies drawn between Arab murderers and their Israeli victims. It is understandable why they would want to phrase it that way, so as not to accuse Christians when they’re trying to cozy up with them, but this is no less than chanifah — flattery — which the Torah forbids. We do not sacrifice the truth so that others will like us.
In a most deceptive and virtually libelous statement, the document goes on to claim that:
As did Maimonides and Yehudah Halevi, we acknowledge that Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations.
(Riskin Document, Paragraph 3)
They cite “Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 11:4 (uncensored edition); Kuzari, section 4:22” to support this ludicrous statement. I’ve linked to the two sources, which I can only assume the authors of the Riskin document thought no one would bother checking, so that you can see that neither Maimonides nor Yehudah Halevi said any such thing.
In the Mishneh Torah citation, Maimonides says, among other things:
Can there be a greater stumbling block than Christianity?… Christianity caused the Jews to be slain by the sword, their remnants to be scattered and humbled, the Torah to be altered, and the majority of the world to err and serve a god other than the Lord.
He does go on to say that God uses all manner of things to achieve His goals for the world, and that Christianity and Islam served the purpose of ridding the world of most outright paganism, but he concludes:
When the true Messianic king will arise and prove successful, his position becoming exalted and uplifted, they will all return and realize that their ancestors endowed them with a false heritage and their prophets and ancestors caused them to err.
The irony goes beyond this, however. The citation is to the uncensored version of Maimonides. The reason his work was censored was for fear of Christian atrocities. In addition, Riskin himself has gone on record (in a debate with Rabbi David Bar Hayim) saying that the censored version is preferable to the original, since it is the version most widely known
The Riskin statement goes on to claim that:
“Neither of us can achieve G-d’s mission in this world alone.
(Riskin Statement, Paragraph 3)
This declaration of spiritual poverty, in which the signatories state that the Torah is insufficient, and that worship of a false messiah as a deity is in some way “necessary” to achieve God’s plans for the world, verges on heresy. It is an offense to our ancestors, who stood against the falsehood of Christianity, even in the face of massacres and blood libels, and it is an offense to every Jew alive today.
And lastly, the Riskin document states:
Both Jews and Christians have a common covenantal mission to perfect the world under the sovereignty of the Almighty.
Jews have this mission. It does not include worshipping a man as a deity. That is, in fact, the antithesis of perfecting the world under God’s sovereignty.
Our Sages tell us that Truth is God’s seal. Truth is far more important than flattering Christians in return for their good will. Those Christians who are truly of good will will support us without such flattery.
We do not, ordinarily, need to publicize the Jewish view that Christianity is an utter falsehood. What good would that do? But when ostensibly Orthodox rabbis issue a statement such as this one, it is incumbant upon all of us to stand up and speak the truth.