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Doing Christian Theology with Jews:

The Other, Boundaries, Questions

Clark M. Williamson
Christian Theological Seminary












 
 

The relation of the church to the synagogue can be analyzed into two historical periods.

--First was that of the church within Judaism or of the church as one of the Judaisms of the early first century of the Common Era.

--Second was that of the Gentile church against the Jewish people.

Post-Shoah theology challenges the church to become the church with the Jewish people, to work out our self-understanding, our theology, in a relationship of conversation and critical solidarity with the Israel of God.The post-Shoah question before the church is whether it will come to terms with Karl Barth's claim: Why do we so dislike to be told that the Jews are the chosen people? Why does Christendom continually search for fresh proof that this is no longer true? In a word, because we do not enjoy being told that the sun of free grace,by which alone we can live, shines not upon us, but upon the Jews, that it is the Jews who are elect and not the Germans, the French or the Swiss, and that in order to be chosen, we must, for good or ill, either be Jews or else be heart and soul on the side of the Jews.

They have the promise of God; and if we Christians from among the Gentiles have it too, then it is only as those chosen with them, as guests in their house, as new wood grafted on to their old tree. The proposal made here, in the light of the long teaching and practice of contempt forJews and Judaism and the complex relation between that tradition and the Nazi attempt to make the world Judenrein, is that the church must effect a critical solidarity with the Israel of God and begin working out its theological self-understanding in conversation with Jews. Doing so requires us to think about our Christian identity and its boundaries.What shall be the contours of our self-understanding and our community?

Robert Jay Lifton distinguishes two types of personalities and, by analogy, two types of ecclesial identity:
(i)Protean people lack fixed identities or boundaries and are marked by fluidity.
(ii) Closed-off people have a clear, if rigid, identity and a constricted self-process.

They are reluctant to allow any alien influence into their lives.Neither protean nor closed-off churches canengage in conversation with the stranger.To the closed-off theology of an absolutist church, strangers and their questions are dismissed except as targets for conversion.To the emptied-out inclusivism of protean theologies, there is no stranger because there is no self-identity to which the other stands in contrast.To a post-Shoah theologian in conversation with Judaism, these two positions offer no hope for conversation. Closed-off churches are constricted in their capacity for relationship.They need learn nothing from anybody else, least of all the Israel of God, and construct ideologies of displacement to rationalize their exclusion of the other from contributing to or questioning their self-understanding. Non-closed-off churches might congratulate themselves on being open, if they did not reflect the protean trait. Open to all influence, taking diversity as a norm, they lack identity and centeredness.Willing to stand for little lest they seem "exclusive," they have difficulty recognizing that some things are incompatible with the gospel. Averse to critical theological reflection, they fail to be authoritative teachers of the Christian faith. Hence, our topic is that of "boundaries" or limits and the difficulties that we encounter in trying to think about them.We will approach the topic by reference to the history of relations between Jews and Christians, in which different kinds of boundaries and different attitudes toward them play important and diverse roles.The thesis is that boundaries protect what is at the heart of the matter for a community of faith, that an assault on boundaries is an assault on the heart of the matter, that transcending boundaries is the work of God and Christ, that erecting the wrong kind of boundaries resists that work, and that the right understanding of boundaries can facilitate it. The question of boundaries is inescapably pragmatic. Is respect for others who differ from us also respect for boundaries and an acceptance of our limits? Does respect for boundaries permit conversation across the border? Does it require it? Does the wrong attitude toward boundaries result in fear toward what is on the other side of a boundary, with the concomitant urge to destroy it? Is failure to know where theboundaries of a tradition are located also failure to understand what is at the heart of a tradition? Do boundaries inhibit creativity or are they the condition of its possibility? Theologians who cut their theological teeth on Paul Tillich's theology of correlation, and who believe that a chastened method of correlation (one in which we can be questioned) is the best way to do theology in a pluralistic religious context, think it is critically important to know where the boundaries are.We can hardly do our theology "from the boundary" if we do not know where it is. Nor can we take advantage of John Cobb's approach to inter-faith relationships, that of "passing over and coming back," if the boundaries are invisible that we know neither when we are at home in our own tradition nor when we have crossed over into another. Nor can we know, in the language of Rita Brock, what is at the "heart" of Christianity's iconoclastic capacity for empowerment and liberation unless we know what its limits are and that those demonic aspects of historic Christianity that leave people "brokenhearted" are outside those normative limits. Boundaries are theologically critical.

We shall look at the question of boundaries in relation to Judaism through a number of case studies.

Case study # 1 has to do with the apostle Paul and his attitude toward the "boundary markers" separating the Israel of God from the Gentile peoples.The term "boundary markers" partakes of the detached, academic vocabulary of outsiders.What an outsider names "boundary markers," an insider may refer to as"sacraments" or mitzvot, commandments of God. In an age in which boundaries and limits tend to be treated pejoratively, spiritually incorrect because "exclusivist," this may be a difficult point to see. Paul's theology on this point is complex. Consider a hypothesis at odds with the standard view of Paul. The inclusion of Gentiles in the church without requiring them to be circumcised does not seem to have been Paul's contribution to the early church.At least some synagogues allowed Gentile "God-fearers" to participate in services without making any ritual demands on them, allowing them to study and discuss Torah, to participate in conducting the synagogue's charitable works, while these same Gentiles, as members of the city council, performed "the public sacrifices required of their office." With the later rabbis, Paul "stood within the 'liberal' stream of Deutero-Isaiah." The Kingdom of God would include two peoples: Gentiles, redeemed from idolatry, and Israel, redeemed finally from exile.The earliest church seems to have admitted Gentiles to enter it without their having to "convert" to Judaism.The old distinction between "Jewish-Christians" and Paul is not helpful. Paul described himself as "circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee, as to zeal a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless" (Phil. 2:3).The term "Christian" is anachronistic when used of this period.It is not part of Paul's vocabulary and can prematurely suggest two separate religions. Paul's introduction to the church took place in the context of the Hellenistic-Jewish Gentile mission movement, during which time he participated in the Damascus and Antioch churches, living with and learning from these Christians."Paul lived in a gentile community during his formative years as aconvert." He did not require Gentiles to submit to Jewish boundary markers for admission to the community, but this was not his doing. Paul preached his understanding of the gospel to Gentiles for sixteen or seventeen years (Gal.1:18; 2:1) before giving an account of himself to the "pillars" of the church.Titus, a Greek, was not required to be circumcised (Gal. 2:3) and, according to Paul, the Jerusalem authorities agreed "that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised" (Gal. 2:9).The dispute discussed in Jerusalem was about "whether the gentiles who had joined the followers of Jesus at Antioch must now undergo the normal rite of incorporation into the Jewish community." The question is not why Paul broke from traditional Jewish practice, but why the earlier consensus broke down at this time. 

To this question, there are two answers, one arising from within the early church, the other from outside pressures.

First, while the church was predominantly Jewish, Gentile participation was a welcome affirmation of the gospel.As it became increasingly Gentile, it compromised its identity as a renewal movement within Judaism and its chances for success among Jews.Hence, the "circumcision party" urged Gentiles in the church to become converts to Judaism.So they pressed upon the Antioch congregation, the first to include Gentiles, to have these Gentiles observe circumcision and the dietary laws.

Second, Jews in and out of Palestine again felt Roman heat; many regarded their very existence as being at stake.Caligula instigated a crisis over his insistence that a statue of himself be erected in the temple (40 C.E.). Inept Roman governors inflicted indignity and suffering upon the people. Fadus required that the high priest's vestments be returned to Roman custody and put down the rebellion of Theudas; Tiberius Julius Alexander crucified the sons of Judas the Galilean, on charges that they agitated against Rome. Josephus calculates that twenty- to thirty-thousand people were killed in a Jerusalem riot against Cumanus.There was a series of disorders involving Zealots in Samaria. Jewish heritage, identity, national and religious rights and prerogatives were under siege. Jews in major cities throughout the empire also suffered from mob violence and local governmental misrule.

Hence, the practice of including Gentiles without the halakhic requirements of circumcision and the dietary laws was perceived by many Jews to be a threat to Jewish existence.The conservative followers of Jesus upped the ante on the practices in which Paul and his fellow Christians in Antioch had beenengaged.Paul's response was to write letters (which post-date this time) arguing for the full inclusion of Gentiles in the community without their having to take on Jewish boundary markers.His argument was that the grace of God was surely not limited to those who possessed Jewish boundary markers.Among Christians, he prevailed, as long as we leave out of account the dissenters (such as the community for which Matthew was written). Paul represents a victory for "inclusive Judaism" over "exclusive Judaism" (usingthese terms descriptively and not pejoratively). The church developed without Jewish identity markers getting inthe way of its missionizing of Gentiles. But was this an unambiguous victory for Paul? Christians typically assume that Paul was utterly right on this question and his opponents clearly wrong.They presume, however, that Paul also argued that Jews should cease retaining their own boundary markers.Yet Paul's argument was directed, as his authentic letters make clear, at Gentiles (e.g., 1 Thess. 1:9; 1 Cor. 8:7; Romans 1:5-6, 13). Paul nowhere says thatJews should give up their identity markers.He does argue, as one of his students put it, that this boundary shouldnot be "a dividing wall of hostility" (Eph. 2: 14) but that Gentile Christians and Jews should be "fellow-citizens...of the household of God" (Eph. 2:19). To say that the grace of God is not limited to possessors of Jewish boundary markers does not imply that these boundary markers should be eliminated. It is compatible with saying that they should be transcended, that Jewish identity has always meant, since the time of Abraham, that Jews were to be a "light to the Gentiles" (Gen. 12:1-4). Indeed, Romans addresses the problem of Christian-gentile exclusivism. Paul admonishes his Gentile audience: "Do not boast over the branches" (Romans 11:17) and urges his Gentile audience to observe some kind of Jewish boundary markers: "Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died" (Romans 14:15b). The heart of the matter for Paul, the gospel, was that in Jesus Christ the good news of God's unconditional love was made manifest. Jesus Christ is the free and unconditional gift to us of God's love.We cannot take the gift of God's unconditional love and make it into a condition apart from which God is not free to love. Hence, if God's unconditional love is not true for both Jews and Gentiles, it is true for neither, and if it is not true for Jews who do not believe in Jesus Christ, it is not true for those who do (Romans 9- 11). At the heart of Paul's attitudes toward boundaries is a prior attitude toward what is at the center--the good news of God's love graciously given, of God's grace lovingly given.

Case study # 2 shows that while Christianity was developing without the hindrance ofJewish boundary markers, Judaism paid serious attention to its boundaries.The opening paragraph of the Pirke Aboth ("The Teachings of the Fathers") reads: Moses received the Law from Sinai and committed it to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets committed it tothe men of the Great Synagogue.They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the Torah.

This striking statement makes three claims:

First is that a tradition from God'srevelation to Moses at Sinai continues beyond the scriptures of Israel to "the men of the Great Synagogue." There is an oral Torah alongside the written Torah.

Second is that this oral Torah comes down through the generations of teachers and disciples.

Third, what is stated is not a citation of scripture but a saying that stands onits own two feet.It is a part of the oral, not the written, Torah.

The Pirke Aboth is central to the Mishnah, which was later included in the Babylonian Talmud and the Talmud of the eretz Yisrael. Unlike the Talmuds, the Mishnah almost never cites or exegetes scripture in support of its statements.The "fence" that it sought to put around the Torah did not require coming to terms with a canon.

The Talmud confesses the supremacy of scripture, but insists on interpreting it in ways that will be life-giving to the community. Scripture is authoritative, yet subordinate to the needs of the community interpreting it.The drafters of the Mishnah had their own context and their own questions. They turned to the Priestly code because it had asked and answered similar questions.This code was worked out during a time of exile, dislocation, and bifurcated identity. For the framers of the Mishnah, dispersed among Gentiles in the land of promise and under Roman occupation, the questions "who are we?" and "what are we to do?" arose with newurgency.They reinterpreted the Priestly Code in a way that would serve God and the well-being of the community.

The authoritative interpreters of scripture derived from it:

(1) a new form of religion based on study of scripture, not on temple ritual;

(2) a new religious institution, the synagogue (the house of the people of God), no longer the temple (the house of God);

(3) a new type of religious leader, the lay scholar (rabbi), not an ordained priest; and

(4) new religious concepts, such as resurrection.

None of these results of the authoritative interpretation of the Torah can be found in the Torah. Putting a fence around the Torah generated creativity, perhaps a revolution, but in no sense stagnation.Sometimes a limit can be a moving horizon within which revolutionary expansion takes place. At the same time, the framers of the Talmud provided an answer to what Christians were saying in their anti-Jewish tracts (to which we turn next).

Here is the way Jacob Neusner puts it: 

Everything we hear from sages turns inward upon Israel. There is no explicit confrontation with the outside world: with the Christian emperor, with the figure of Christ enthroned.It is as if nothing happened to demand attention.

Yet the stress for sages is on the centrality of the keeping of the laws of the Torah in the messianic process. Keep the law and the Messiah will come. This forms an exact reply to Chrysostom's doctrine: do not keep the law, forthe Messiah has come.

Case study # 3 takes us to the church fathers.We will look at two such fathers and at one council. The writer of the Epistle of Barnabas was concerned with the behavior of Christian lay people in Alexandria.They socialized with Jews and said "the covenant belongs to us and them; it is both theirs and ours." Barnabas' response was to build a wall between his Christian congregation and the Jewish community. He produced a displacement ideology according to which "they" had the covenant but lost it and "we" got it. He undercut Jewish interpretations of the Hebrew Bible by using a typological exegesis that made of everything "old" a shadowy prefiguring of something in the "new" testament. Thus he sought to empty Jewish worship, particularly the sabbath, of all legitimacy.He articulated the "two peoples" allegory in which Christians becomethe younger brother served by the elder brother.We now are the people of inheritance; they are not, having "proved themselves unworthy" of the covenant. Late in the fourth century, Chrysostom of Antioch faced a similar situation.To understand Chrysostom, we have to set him in context. Not long before, Julian became emperor of Rome and triedto reverse the development initiated by Constantine of increasing Christian rights and privileges. Although Julian tolerated all religions, he disliked Christianity. Familiar with the claim that the destruction of theTemple was a sign of God's displacement of the people Israel with the church, Julian started to rebuild it, an attempt that failed. But to Chrysostom, the security of Christianity was far from assured. In addition, members of his flock failed to observe the proper boundary between themselves and their Jewish neighbors.As he said, "the festivals of the wretched and miserable Jews are about to take place. And many who belong to us attend their festivals.It is this evil practice I now wish to drive from the church." So he inveighed against the synagogue, urging Christians not to join the ranks of the "Christ-killers." As in Alexandria three centuries earlier, the laity were theologically more generous and socially more gregarious than the clergy. Chrysostom could not look calmly on the fact that his flock were frequenting synagogues and Jewish homes, sharing presents on festival occasions. Jews are the broken-off branches, whereas we have borne the fruit of piety. Chrysostom descended to calling Jews "dogs, wild animals suited only for slaughter." Drunken and gluttonous, said Chrysostom, you Jews "murder your master." Our first evidence of a church council's legislation concerning relations between Jews and Christians is found in Spain. In 306 the Council of Elvira passed four canon laws pertaining to Jewish-Christian relations.

Canon 16: "Catholic girls may not marry Jews."

Canon 49: "Landlords are not to allow Jews to bless the crops they have received from God and for which they have offered thanks." Such action "would make our blessing invalid and meaningless."

Canon 50: "If any cleric or layperson eats with Jews, he or she shall be kept from communion as a way of correction."

Canon 78: "If a Christian confesses adultery with a Jewish or pagan woman, he is denied communion for some time."

Later councils of bishops would require all Jews in Christendom to wear distinctive dress (1215: the fourth Lateran Council), ban Jews from Christian Universities (1431-1449: the Council of Basel), permit the kidnapping of Jewish children that they may be raised as Christians (633: Council of Toledo IV), or ban Jews from the streets during Christian holidays (538: Synod of Orleans III). All the Nazi Aryan laws took canon law as their establishing precedent; e.g., the law barring Jews from dining cars on trains cited Elvira. Polemic against socialization between Jews and Christians means that such activity was occurring, that laws against Jews and Christians doing everything from sleeping and eating together to mixing in universities were aimed at stopping behavior that was taking place.The insistence on a complete separation of Christians from Jews followed lines of power and authority in the church and served the interest of those whowielded power and author ity. Hence their strategy needs to be put under the microscope of ideology critique and made to answer the question, cui bono, who benefits from this? We have seen three approaches to the reality of boundaries:that of Paul the apostle who sought to transcend the boundary between Jews and Gentiles in order to create a one new community of the two; that of the framers of the Mishnah who built a fence around the Torah to protect what was at the heart of Jewish faith and who sparked off a movement of remarkable religious creativity; and that of the church fathers,who sought to replace Paul's semi-permeable boundaries with impermeable ones. Since post-Shoah theologians argue that we should do our theological thinking in conversation with Jews, let us derive a constructive suggestion from that conversation.We recur to the Pirke Aboth, where, five paragraphs after our prior quote, Joshua ben Perahyah says: "Provide thyself with a teacher and getthee a fellow-disciple [student]..." In a later development of this tradition of studying Torah with one another, The Teachings of Rabbi Natan say: "a person should set himself a companion, to eat with him, drink with him, study Bible with him, study Mishnah with him, sleep with him, and reveal to him all his secrets, secrets of Torah and secrets of worldly things." Rachel Adler argues that this rabbinic text describes a distinctively Jewish kind of intimacy: the study- companion relationship, that of the chaverim.The chaverim do not simply study texts;the structure of their relationship and the nature of its boundaries present a Jewish model for the relation between the self and the other.

In it, people experience each other as wholes, not as fragmented beings.Companionship is physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. Chaverim study together by questioning one another. They question lovingly and love questions. Such an understanding of boundaries seems to lie at the heart of Paul's theology. The root of chaver means to join together at the boundaries. Boundaries define the shape and extent of an entity, and distinguish between what is inside and what is out.They maintain its integrity and keep it from dribbling out into everything else. Being "joined together at the boundaries" is the kind of relationship reflected in Paul's approach to boundaries--that they should be transcended without being destroyed. God's gracious love overflows boundaries and requires its recipients not only to love God in return, but to love the neighbor and thestranger as we love ourselves. Some boundaries are like the Berlin Wall--fronted by land mines, topped with barbed wire, guarded by machine guns. Others serve to facilitate interaction with the environment. Adler points out that a cell membrane, for example, is part of the living substance of the cell. It is the perimeter at which the cell works out its reciprocity with other cells--the relations that maintain its life within its context. This Torah of self and other grounds our capacity to be chaverim and our capacity to create tzedek, justice-as-righteousness, to embody the Torah of self and other in a social matrix that allows all human beings to flourish. This understanding of boundary as elastic and semi-permeable, that both defines theself and requires bonding with the other, points to the reality of mutual interconnectedness.Such communion attests that we inhabit a single context, and within that context we live deeply within one another's boundaries. The only way to in/habit is to co/habit. The fantasy of the impermeable self or religious boundary is a snare and a delusion. Such an understanding of boundaries might encourage those willing to cross over and return, and create the conditions for shalom between traditions long separated from each other, and dissipate the anxiety that leads to fear of what lies beyond the boundary and the will to eliminate it. It may also address the concerns of those whose experience with the ideologically constructed boundaries of historic traditions leads them to legitimate fear of all boundaries as oppressive. A moving, semi-permeable boundary protects the authenticidentity of an entity and generates creativity and community. What is at stake in this for Christians is the heart of the matter, the gospel of Jesus Christ as the gift to us of God's unconditional and gracious love. This singular gift of God's justifying love brings with it a singular command: that we who can understand ourselves in any ultimate sense in terms of and only in terms of God's love graciously offered to us, are given and called to understand ourselves as those who are to love God with all our selves and our neighbors as ourselves. What we now need to make clear, in this post-Shoah period, is what "love of the neighbor" means. For much of Christian history, Jews have not been included within the Christian "universe of moral discourse." They have not been moral patients whom Christians, as moral agents, particularly had to take into account. Christians could say anything about Jews that served their ideological purposes. And while Christians were not supposed to do just anything to Jews (who were the only legally protected religious minority in Christendom), nonetheless such restraints were all too often violated to horrendous effect. After the Shoah, as in principle they should always have been, Jewish strangers are those neighbors whom God has given us to love. Christian understanding and commitment to the gospel of God's all-inclusive love will now be measured by our ability to welcome strangers and to defend their dignity and well-being.

Doing theology with chaverim from other traditions, doing theology as Christians with Jewish chaverim, will open us to seeing ourselves through the eyes of another.We will become more self-questioning.Doing theology as women and men, chaverim of each other, will accomplish the same.The theology of a closed-off church will be an ethnocentric theology that can tolerate thestranger, if at all, only as a potential candidate for conversion to sameness. That such a theology ends up walking down the apocalyptic path to Auschwitz, bearing in mind all the complexities involved in getting there, is not surprising. Such a closed-off theology cannot finally permit there to be others in the world, others whose way of being human, by its sheer contrast with ours, cause us self-doubt and self-questioning.Openness to strangersrequires openness to questions, because strangers are questions to us and bring their questions with them. Jews are among those strangers whom God commands us to love and necessary to our Christian self-understanding; we cannot be Christian until we are prepared to welcome them and their questions into our life. The alternative to the absolutism of an ethnocentric theology is not relativism. Relativism, the view that all faiths are equally important and equally unimportant, takes no particularities seriously, neither ours nor anybody else's. It is as destructive of the otherness of the other as is absolutism. The alternative is the method of questioning at the heart of the relationship between chaverim. The self-complacency atthe heart of absolutism and relativism is replaced by the act of self-transcendence that results from openness toquestions and to the other.

After Auschwitz, "nothing dare evoke our absolute, unquestioning loyalty, not even our God, for this leads to the possibility of SS loyalties." Jacques Ellul was one of those infrequent Christian theologians who "takes the Jewish experience of faith seriously in its own right." He argued that: "There is only one political endeavor on which world history now depends: that is the union of the Church and Israel." He has in mind a conversion of the church to share the same hope so as to support Israel " in its long march through the same night and toward the same Kingdom."
His work illuminates our problem with boundaries.He treats the terms sacred and holy as antonyms rather than as synonyms. The "sacred" performs the sociological function of integration and legitimation.It creates a sense of order within which human life can be carried on. But its demonic propensity isto create an "closed" order that prevents the continuing transformation of self and society. Without such a self-transcending openness to the future, life ceases to be either human or free. For human life to be creative the claims of the social order to be sacred and unalterable must be rendered proximate by its opposite--the holy. The holy is that which is Other than our closed-off social order. Whereas the sacred demands integration and closure, the holy demands openness to transformation. Yet, freedom requires transcending a limit. If there are no limits, as is the case with the relativist church, there can be no freedom.

Freedom requires the establishment of a limit where there is none, for both the limit andthe revolt against it must be present if freedom is to be actual. Theology that is responsible to the contagious love of God that lies at its heart needs a moveable, semi- permeable boundary, one that will let it bond with chaverim beyond that boundary, without which it cannot recognize the "other" because it cannot recognize itself, one that is open to and requires the presence of strangers, questions, and self-transcendence. The best way for Christians to come to understand something of the God of Israel is in conversation with the Israel of God. Whether such conversation will shape the self-understanding of the church in the future we cannot know. That it ought to is the promise and challenge put before thechurch by its long history with the God of Israel and the Israel of God. Post-Shoah theology is a form of liberation theology. It is committed to freeingChristian theology from its inherited anti-Jewish ideology, an ideology that has misconstrued the understanding of the Christian faith and reflected and reinforced social practices that have wreaked untold havoc upon the Israel of God.Anti-Judaism is inappropriate to the Christian faith and immoral. More than a theme running through the history of the church, it is a systematic hermeneutic that structures the interpretation of every Christian teaching. It can be replaced only by an equally systematic post-Shoah reinterpretation. The spectrum of theologians working in post-Shoah theology embraces feminists on one end, evangelicals on the other, and many possibilities between them. Several Jewish scholars participate in the dialogue with Christians as well as in post-Shoah efforts at reconstruction of their theological tradition. Christology is the fulcrum doctrine in post-Shoah theology, hence we have several attempts to re-state this doctrine. Other doctrines, such as that of the Holy Spirit, receive concentrated attention. It is the comprehensive task of Christian systematic theologians to address the full range of issues brought to the forefront of our awareness by the light that the Shoah sheds on its pre-history of the Christian teaching and practice of contempt for Jews and Judaism. These theologians stipulate that the covenant between the God of Israel and Israel of God is the one context in which Christian language makes sense, thus reversing the Christian tendency to regard Jews as the disconfirming other. The church is that community calledby God's grace to join the Israel of God on its way along the way (Torah) of faith.Taking the covenant between God and Israel as the primary context of theology implies that the covenant with Israel remains in place, that Jews as Jews today participate in it.

Our theological conversation is not with a fossil, but with our living Jewish neighbors. Post-Shoah theology differs from other theologies by proposing a new paradigm in which everything looks different and in which doctrines have a different cash value. Whereas the Trinity typically stood for a sign of what Jews do not believe, now it is the church's way of articulating that the God by whom it is met in Jesus Christ is the God of Israel. Whereas Jesus Christ was interpreted as having lived in conflict with Jews and Judaism, having taught against Jews and Judaism, having been crucified at the hands of Jews andJudaism, only to be raised by God in victory over Jews and Judaism, now every proper christological statement must make clear that it affirms the covenant between God and Israel. In pre-Shoah theology, anything could be said as long as it served the interests of the institutional church and rendered Jews invisible or scapegoated them as the old, bad, carnal, ethnocentric antitheses of all things good, new, Christian, spiritual, and universal. God became the God who displaced Israel with the church, who gave Israel an inferior covenant and then punished Israel for being faithful to it. Christ became thekind of mediator who would negotiate the displacement.Scripture became a hyphenated, Marcionite scripture with a"New" Testament that fulfills and cancels the "Old." The Holy Spirit became a Christian possession, who unites believers to Christ but is absent from carnal Israel. The church is the replacement people who get the benefit of all this; the doctrine of the church is where the cash value of the anti-Judaism of all the other doctrines is revealed. In post-Shoah theology, God is re-envisioned as the faithful One of Israel who seeks out covenant partners for the redemption of the world. Jesus Christ, the re-presentation of Torah (Romans 10), is a gift to the church from both the God of Israel and the Israel of God in whom he took shape. The Spirit is now the Shekhinah/Spirit, active among Jews and all people to bind our hearts in love to God and one another.The covenant becomes genuinely inclusive, not only of Jews and Christians, but the basis for authentic pluralism. Scripture, in which the New Testament or "Apostolic Writings" are reinserted into the rest of the Bible, becomes useful light for walking the way of faith. The rule of God remains ahead of both Jews and Gentiles as a destabilizing sign that God is not yet finished with the church, the synagogue, or human history. 

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