An international group of Orthodox rabbis just released a statement entitled, “To Do the Will of Our Father in Heaven: Toward a Partnership between Jews and Christians,” in which they acknowledge the crucial partnership between Jews and Christians to bring about world redemption. “Neither of us can achieve G-d’s mission in this world alone,” the rabbis proclaim.
The timing of this statement coincided with the release of a document issued by the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, which stresses Christian respect for the Jewish faith and repudiates anti-Semitism.
The rabbinic statement is a huge step forward in Jewish-Christian relations. Harking back to such great rabbis as Maimonides and Yehuda HaLevi, they recognize that the advent of Christianity was God’s divine will and a “gift to the nations.” But they don’t stop there. They declare that the duty of Jews and Christians isn’t merely to tolerate one another, but to work together in achieving a “common, covenantal mission”: tikkun olam.
But perhaps most striking are the comments made about Jesus himself. Quoting Rabbi Jacob Emden, the statement affirms that, “Jesus brought a double goodness to the world. On the one hand he strengthened the Torah of Moses majestically…and not one of our Sages spoke out more emphatically concerning the immutability of the Torah. On the other hand he removed idols from the nations…”
So, hold up. Are Orthodox rabbis putting a stamp of approval on Jesus? Are they actually open to considering the possibility that he is the Messiah? After all, a 2013 Pew study revealed that 34% of all Jews surveyed found it was perfectly compatible to be Jewish and believe Jesus was Messiah. To dispel any such thoughts, however, the recent statement emphasizes that there is and always will be “ongoing differences between the two communities and two religions.” The Catholic document agrees that Christians should “neither conduct nor support any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews.”
In the end, both parties are saying they don’t want to fight anymore. Even though we share a common history and future goals, we should agree to disagree.
Positive attitudes aside, this fact remains: this one in whom the Christians trust, the one who “removed idols from the nations,” who taught the Torah with a revolutionary passion, and whose heart was to bring people closer to God and one another—he’s Jewish. And he accomplished all these things as a result of his claim to be the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world.
Yes, we can (and should) get along. We can even disagree. But the conversation should never stop. So who do you think Jesus is?