Can the Breach Be Healed?
THE rift between Jew and Christian runs deeper than the Holocaust. From the very beginning, these two faiths have been at odds over a central issue: whether Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah.
In the first century, the Messianic issue sparked violent persecution of Christians. (Acts 8:1) The situation, however, later reversed itself. In time, professed Christians became the persecutors of Jews. But in spite of Christendom’s best efforts to convert Jews over a period of centuries, the Jewish people as a whole have not budged from their original stance.
One Jewish writer noted that while Jews have nothing against Jesus as an individual, he “is certainly not the political Messiah whom we and our ancestors so intensely desired.” Rabbi Samuel Sandmel put it more bluntly: “We have not come to believe as you [Christians] believe; it is that simple.” (We Jews and You Christians) As a result of this difference of opinion, a religious chasm exists between Jews and Christians that looms far wider than most realize.
Roadblocks to an Accord
On the one hand, Christian doctrine leaves no room whatsoever for a path to salvation without Jesus. Jesus himself said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”—John 14:6; compare Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:3-6.
On the other hand, Judaism is repelled by the idolatry rampant in Christendom. The Trinity doctrine is likewise viewed with disdain by Jews as a clear contradiction of “the essence of Judaism”—the monotheistic doctrine embodied in the words, “HEAR, O ISRAEL: THE LORD OUR GOD, THE LORD IS ONE.” (Deuteronomy 6:4, The Soncino Chumash) Scholar Jakób Jocz observed: “It is at this point that the gulf between the Church and the Synagogue opens before us in all its depth and significance. . . . The teaching of the divinity of Jesus Christ is an unpardonable offence in the eyes of Judaism.”—The Jewish People and Jesus Christ.
Christianity and Judaism also have differing views of the Mosaic Law and its traditions. Rabbi Stuart E. Rosenberg argued: “Without God’s covenant there would be no Jewish nation: It shaped their very beginning, and they never abandoned it. . . . But from the very first, Christians have had a problem with Israel’s covenant.” Indeed, the apostle Paul said of the Mosaic Law: “[God] blotted out the handwritten document . . . , and He has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the torture stake.”—Colossians 2:14.
Church theologians who try to downplay Christian doctrine by arguing that the Mosaic covenant is still valid or that there are ‘diverse paths to God’ find themselves in an embarrassing predicament. To harmonize their views with the “New Testament,” church theologians must indulge in what amounts to theological acrobatics: juggling, twisting, or even ignoring critical Bible texts. Or they must argue, as some do, that the troublesome texts are not authentic in the first place, that Jesus Christ never did claim to be “the way and the truth and the life,” that Peter’s words at Acts 4:12, which say that Jesus is the only “name under heaven . . . by which we must get saved,” were later fabricated under the influence of Pauline theology, and so forth. But in doing so, they undermine the faith of their own followers.
Jakób Jocz thus summed up matters well by saying that the two faiths “possess no common denominator which could form the basis for a ‘bridge theology’. They can only compromise by surrender: either the Church becomes the Synagogue or the Synagogue the Church.”
Why Accord Is Doomed
However, there are formidable obstacles to ever reaching any such compromise. For Jews, the mere suggestion of religious conversion is anathema. After all, what have the religions of Christendom done to recommend themselves to Jews? Rabbi Samuel Sandmel catalogs some of the horrors of history “performed by Christians against Christians, in the name of Christianity,” and he asks: “In this light, can you reasonably expect us to acquiesce in the judgment that your religion is superior to ours? Has it bred better people? Has it determined the issues of peace and war, and prosperity and tranquillity among Christian nations?”
The Holocaust has also brought the issue of Jewish survival—as a people, as a religion, and as a culture—to the forefront. Jews thus tend to view conversion, not as simply the adopting of heretical doctrine, but as an act of treason. The Journal of Jewish Communal Service lamented: “We can ill afford to lose any of the newest adult generation of Jews. . . . What the Nazis failed to do in the Holocaust, may yet occur through [proselytizing].”
Rabbi Henry Siegman thus concludes: “The memory of forced conversions is deeply ingrained in the consciousness of the Jewish people and has been the most serious obstacle to the development of Christian-Jewish relations.”
Confronting the Real Issue
No real accord between Christendom and Judaism is thus in sight. Efforts at unity continue to be undermined by irreconcilable theologies, conflicting political interests, and mutual distrust. Religious dialogues tend to evade the issue that caused this rift in the first place, namely, the Messianic claims of Jesus. Only when this matter is squarely faced can some of the age-old barriers of fear and distrust begin to crumble.
Granted, most Jews do not want to discuss Jesus. Their reluctance is the inevitable end product of centuries of anti-Semitism in the name of Jesus. Nevertheless, it was not Jesus who launched the Crusades, nor did Jesus trigger the Inquisition or light the fires of the Holocaust. Those heinous deeds were perpetrated by men who falsely claimed to be Christians! This is clear from the words of Jesus himself, who, quoting from the Law of Moses, provided one of the guiding principles of true Christianity: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39; Leviticus 19:18) These words stand as an indictment of Christendom. Clearly, its brand of religion is a gross distortion of what Jesus actually taught.
Setting the Record Straight
Jehovah’s Witnesses want Jews to understand that the churches of Christendom—not Christianity itself—have been the cause of so much Jewish suffering. They want Jews to have an unbiased and undistorted view of Jesus so that they can make an informed decision regarding him. Furthermore, they want to share with Jews their conviction that the Messianic age, long ago foretold by the prophets, is imminent! Still, why should a Jew want to listen to one of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
For one thing, they do not offend Jews by using idols in their worship, nor do they believe in the doctrine of the Trinity—another belief repugnant to Judaism. They reject that teaching as pagan and unscriptural.* In fact, the Witnesses are no part of Christendom at all! Thus, they do not bear the onus of the Holocaust, much less the bloody history of anti-Semitism.
Of all the religions claiming to be Christian, they alone have followed Jesus’ command at John 17:16 to be “no part of the world.” This involves maintaining strict political neutrality. Informed Jews know that during World War II, more than a thousand German Witnesses died in Hitler’s camps, preferring to be victims of the Holocaust rather than silent accomplices in it.* Their intrepid insistence on neutrality in defiance of Nazism is a shining testimony to the power of true Christianity. Had Christendom done likewise, the Holocaust could never have occurred.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are thus received kindly by many Jews. Granted, not all appreciate their visits. Rabbi Samuel Sandmel, however, acknowledges that Christians feel compelled to preach to others. (Romans 10:10) He asks Christians: “Can you carry on your purpose in such a way that it neither does violence to our dignity nor implies that you have abandoned this [preaching commission] which you hold central?”—We Jews and You Christians.
Jehovah’s Witnesses endeavor to do just that. Respectfully, they ask their Jewish neighbors to consider the issue that has so long separated Christians and Jews: the Messianic hope. What gave birth to this hope? How did the views of Christians and of Jews come to be so different? The current rise of anti-Semitism in some parts of the world makes the questions regarding Jesus more pertinent than ever. Our next article endeavors to provide answers.
See Should You Believe in the Trinity?, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
See “The Holocaust—Victims or Martyrs?,” appearing in the April 8, 1989, issue of Awake!
[Blurb on page 6]
“The teaching of the divinity of Jesus Christ is an unpardonable offence in the eyes of Judaism”
[Pictures on page 7]
The activities of so-called Christians have done little to recommend Christianity as a religion of love
[Picture on page 8]
Christendom’s idolatry and the Trinity doctrine have alienated many Jews