- Created: May 1, 1975
- Written by Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany
I. Common Roots
1. One God
When we Christians speak of God, we are of one mind with the Jews that the God to whom the Holy Scriptures bear witness, is One. Since the early period of Israel, it has been a fundamental principle that God as Creator and Redeemer lays claim to exclusiveness. It was in this that the Jews of the Old Testament era differed from other nations who recognized and worshipped several or even many gods. Witness to the One God was also a mark of Christians, and during the first centuries of Christian history Jews and Christians were equally maligned and persecuted for it.
The basic Jewish credo in our time as in those days, is: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One" (Deut. 6:4). Jesus and his disciples also pronounced these words as part of their daily prayer, as the Jews do even today. That same statement became the basis of the first article of the Christian confession of faith.
The link is also evident in the development of this confession by Jews and Christians. Faith in God the Creator is placed at the beginning of the Bible; it has pervaded Jewish prayer from its beginning and is a central article of Christian faith· Jews and Christians understand God as the God of all mankind while, at the same time, he has a particular relationship with those who belong to his people.
This relationship finds particular expression in man's faith in God, the Redeemer. The Old Testament attests to the experience of this faith in various ways: from the miraculous delivery of the people of Israel from Egyptian bondage to the expectation of the final return and redemption of the entire people. That theme was taken up by the New Testament and marked by a new experience: faith in the divine acts of Jesus' death and resurrection, the support of the Holy Spirit in the period between Easter and the Second Coming of Christ, and the expectation of redemption at the end of time. Hope in the resurrection of the dead, alluded to in the Old Testament, was farther developed by Judaism at the time of Jesus. Since then, it has been an essential element of Jewish prayer language while in Christian expectations of the end of time, it is indissolubly joined to belief in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Quite often elements characteristic of and basic to Christianity are also distinctive of Jewish piety. In Jewish prayers which tor many centuries have been passed on from generation to generation, God the Creator and Redeemer who raises the dead, is addressed and praised as the merciful and compassionate one and Father of his own. Love for his people and for all men and assurance of the forgiveness of our sins are expressed in a variety of ways.
In Christian faith, these statements stand in the context of God's revelation in Christ. This is most clearly expressed in the One God who is confessed and invoked as the Father of Jesus Christ.
2. Holy Scripture
The first Christians, like all Jews, had a number of biblical books which basically correspond to what the Church later called the "Old Testament". These writings are in the New Testament called, "the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 22:40). Frequently they are simply called the Scriptures since this collection was generally known and recognized as a fundamental testimony of faith. Christians as well as Jews derived abundant instruction from the Scriptures for everyday life, prayer, sermons and worship.
In proclaiming his message, Jesus quite naturally referred to the Scriptures as they were available to him. The dual command of love which He made the nucleus of his message, was derived from the Scriptures by connecting two originally separate statements: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Deut. 6:5) and, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Lev. 19:18). This was a permissible procedure within the framework of Jewish Scriptural interpretation of the time. Thus the learned Jew talking to Jesus agreed, "well answered, Master" (Mark 12:32). By applying this command to enemies, tax collectors, and Samaritans, Jesus drew consequences from it, though, that went beyond the Jewish interpretations.
Following Jesus, Paul made the Scriptures the basis for his proclamation and employed the rules common to Jewish interpretation at his time. It is noteworthy that Paul refers to words of Jesus in a few passages only while quoting the Scriptures very frequently. Yet, he also interprets the latter in a new way that is strange to Jews.
These Scriptures are common to Jews and Christians. They are made known to non-Jews in the Christian proclamation. Paul already addressed himself to Gentiles and, from that time on, non-Jews became familiar with the relationship of God with his people Israel and were taken into that history.
The Christian communities' own writings begin at an early stage. They refer constantly to the "Scriptures" while developing God's saving acts in Jesus Christ. These form the "New Testament" which Christians joined to the "Old Testament" to form their Bible.
Again and again in the course of her history, the church has struggled to comprehend the Old Testament. There also were repeated attempts to deprive individual books of their worth or deny recognition to the Old Testament as a whole, as part of Holy Scripture. Such attempts were rejected by the church, however, because she confesses the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as Father of Jesus Christ. Thus, the Old Testament, the Holy Scripture of the Jews, remains one of the two components of the Christian Bible.
3. The people of God
According to Old Testament belief, God is the Creator and Lord of the world as well as the God of his people Israel whom he chose and with whom he made a covenant. That is due, not to the virtues or merits of his people, but to a bestowal of the love of God.
Love of God for his people demands the people's love for their God which finds expression in doing his will. Israel, as a people, is to live according to the commandments revealed at Sinai. Even though the people as a whole may be found wanting in the required obedience, the Prophets proclaim that God holds to his election and calls his people to repentance so that they may completely fulfill his will.
This basic self-understanding as people of God is a determinant of Jews even of our day. This finds frequent expression in prayer where it says: "Thou has chosen us and has hallowed us among the nations." Though it is known that a large proportion of the people do not completely fulfill the commandments of God, Jewish tradition says: "All of Israel have a share in the coming world." The divine election remains valid for the sake of the covenant which God made with the fathers.
The New Testament, too, speaks of the people of God which, initially, refers to the people of Israel. Jesus says that He is sent to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 15:24). And Paul confirms to the Jews that they are and will remain the people of God: "God has not rejected his people" (Rom. 11:2). He expects them to be included -- either now or in the future -- in the salvation revealed by Christ.
The barriers of belonging to a particular people are abolished in the Christian proclamation of the Gospels; all who believe in Jesus Christ are children of Abraham and heirs to the promise given to Israel. This is how the Church, the people of God from among the Jews and Gentiles, was born.
Together with the concept "people of God", the New Testament transfers basic elements of Old Testament covenantal thinking to the Christian community. The latter are called "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people" (1 Pet. 2:9), just as the Old Testament says of the people of Israel (Ex. 19:5-6).
Thus, Jews and Christians understand themselves as people of God. Despite their division, both are called and ordained to be witnesses of God in this world, to do his will, and to move towards the future fulfillment of his reign.
Jews and Christians gather for worship to hear the word of God, to confess their faith, and to pray. There are common elements in their worship which distinguish them from most other religions. These are based on the fact that both consider themselves bound by divine revelation to which the Holy Scriptures bear witness. Both cover all of the life of a devout person who, in faith and obedience to the word of God, should make all his life an expression of worship.
The present forms of Jewish worship are the result of a long development. In the course of this process, the Temple worship in Jerusalem with its offerings existed side by side with prayer services in synagogues, which could be held anywhere. After the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, the synagogue service became the core of Jewish religious life. Christian worship, which had its origin in the celebration of the Lord's Supper, took over elements of the synagogue service and developed them independently.
Jewish and Christian worship, then, contain many similarities and hold many things in common, e.g. the weekly holiday (Sabbath/Sunday), the form of the word service (Scripture readings, prayers, blessings) with common liturgical expressions (Alleluyah, Amen), certain celebrations in the course of the year (Passover/Easter) and in the course of life (circumcision/baptism, affirmation of the hope for a future life at the burial of the dead). We must not overlook that existing differences were often created with the intent to separate one from the other.
Similarities in structure and form of the liturgical services permitted the first Christians to maintain their community with Jews by taking part in synagogue services. After a long period of separate development, reflections on the fellowship of Christians and Jews have led to attempts to worship together again, on certain occasions.
5. Justice and love
Christians and Jews are characterized in their self-understanding by the knowledge that they were chosen by God as partners to his covenant. In that election God reveals his love and his justice, from which grows the obligation for Jews and Christians alike, to work for a realization of justice and love in the world.
In all that God does, justice and love are one; that is why they should be one in man. Human justice must at ali tinles be inspired by love, while human love depends on justice. Whether or not they are fulfilling this claim, greatly influences the credibility of Christians and Jews.
The Old Testament applies the commandment of love primarily to the people of God as partner in the Covenant. But it is also said of the stranger who lives with the people: "You shall love him as yourself' (Lev. 19:34).
Certain groups in post-biblical Judaism extended the commandment of love of neighbour still further, while Jesus did away with ali limitations by calling for love of the enemy.
The requirement for life in justice, determined in all its particulars by obedience to the will of God, is strongly emphasized in Judaism. That could create the impression as if love were supplanted by justice. Yet, the Old Testament prophets as well as later teachers of Judaism justified such a life by the love of God for his people: out of love, God gave the Torah to his people. It comprises that sphere of life in which righteousness is realized in love of neighbor, as a response to that act of God.
In Christian understanding, too, justice and love belong together; but Christians consider God's act of justification in Jesus Christ a prerequisite for the realization of justice and love among men.
Thus, profound differences exist between Christians and Jews for the justification of love and justice; yet they hold much in common in the perception of concrete demands. For that reason, Christians and Jews can cooperate in the realization of justice and love in the world and in the service of peace.
6. History and fulfillment
In their relationship to history and its final goal, Jews and Christians are bound together by the experiences of the people of Israel in their history with God, ever since the time of Abraham.
Among the nations of that time, it was widely held that humankind and the world were at the mercy of fate in an eternal cycle of birth and death. The people of Israel, however, knew by experience -- though often against their own ideas and wishes -- that God was calling them on a way that knows no return. This road is leading towards a goal where Israel, together with the other nations, will receive final salvation in God.
Under the influence of such experiences, Jews and Christians believe that the process of history must not be seen as blind fate or a chain of erratic events. They realize and bear witness to the fact that the ultimate meaning and goal of history is God's salvation for all men.
Christians believe that in Jesus Christ the prophecies of God's covenant with his people have gained a new and wider dimension to bring the world closer to fulfillment. It is at this point that we find the strain underlying the division: for Jews it is the Torah that leads to fulfillment, while for Christians salvation lies in faith in the Messiah Jesus who has come already and in the expectation of his second coming.
Despite this, the many things held in common by Christians and Jews obligate them to endure that tension and to make it fruitful for the fulfillment of history, expected by both. Christians and Jews are called to carry out their responsibilities for the world, not against or independent of one another, but jointly under the will of God.
II. The Parting of the Ways
1. Belief in Jesus, the Christ
Jews at the time of Jesus conceived of themselves as the one people of the One God. Within that people there existed various factions which often
were at odds with each other. Hope and actions of most of these groups were directed toward the realization of salvation as promised by the prophets. In the face of an oppressing external situation, some of them expected the end of the present world and the coming of a new; others hoped for salvation in the unfolding of the reign of God which would include political freedom for the chosen people and the Holy Land, from the pagan Roman power. Long before Jesus' time, expectation of the Messiah, a savior sent by God, played an important part.
Similar to John the Baptist, Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed: "The kingdom of God has come" (Mk 1:15; cf. Mt 3:2; 4:17). His proclamation of the Gospel and His mighty deeds aroused the expectation among those gathered about Him that He would save Israel. Thus a new group, centered around Jesus, came into being within the Jewish people, an event which in the beginning did not appear unusual.
Controversies soon became evident because Jesus gave unwonted interpretations to the religious traditions of His people on the impending reign of God and because He devoted Himself to the outcasts and sinners. The religious and political representatives in Jerusalem were offended by Jesus' manner and that of His followers and considered Him dangerous. Interaction between the Jewish autonomous administration and the Roman occupying power--so difficult to disentangle historically--finally led to the execution of Jesus by the Romans.
In the face of such a death, Jesus' disciples asked themselves whether or not their bond with Him as the Messiah had been proved erroneous. The reign of God had not come about in the expected manner and death by crucifixion was not only deeply humiliating but considered a refutation by God Himself, of their expectations of Jesus.
Their encounters with the Risen One reestablished and deepened the disciples’ convictions that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ; that deliverance and salvation were bound up with Him; that whoever trusts and believes in Him will be saved.
With this assurance, they began to proclaim that with the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus the time of salvation had come; in Him they saw the proof of the love of God for all men. The early Christian community perceived this event as the realization of the promises given to Israel and the nations. For that reason, they felt compelled to bear witness toward Jews and Gentiles, of their faith, hope, and love.
With this message, the first Christians meant to convince the other Jews of the truth of the claim that in Jesus the crucified and risen One the expected Messiah had come. They had to deal in this with other hopes of salvation and Messianic expectations which did not focus upon the person of Jesus as redeemer. Though they did not yet withdraw from the Jewish community, it was the beginning of the parting of the ways.
2. Interpretation of the Holy Scriptures
Jesus had set the inception of the promised reign of God and the double command of love as criteria for the understanding of Holy Scripture. His followers, furthermore, rediscovered the Bible in the light of their faith in the crucified and risen Jesus. They began to read the Scriptures as prophecy of Jesus Christ, His history, and His significance, as well as a witness to the preparation of salvation which in Him was fulfilled. This new conception of the Scriptures found expression in the gradually evolving writings which were later on combined in the "New Testament" and joined to the "Old Testament" to form a whole.
New Testament writings expressed the uniqueness of Jesus Christ in concepts borrowed from the Old Testament and the non-Jewish environment, thereby giving these terms eventually a new meaning. Among them were many sovereign titles, such as "Son of Man", "Messiah", "Son of God", "Lord", "Savior", as well as expectations of salvation, such as the redemption of the world and the second coming of Jesus at the end of time. From the Jewish point of view, some of these statements appeared as a threat to the faith in the One God because Jesus was thereby made too much an equal of God. That referred mainly to statements in the Christian proclamation addressed to pagan hearers (cfi II, 4).
St. Paul's scriptural interpretations became particularly significant for succeeding Christian generations. Referring to the distinction between promise and law for a Christian understanding of the Old Testament, he maintains that the promises are fulfilled in Jesus Christ and the law has no further salvific meaning for Christians. This does not preclude but rather includes that a realization of the law in love is an imperative for the faithful.
In contradistinction to these interpretations relating to Christ, Judaism continued to develop its own ways of exegesis. After a period of oral tradition, scholarly interpretation of the Torah was recorded in various collections, in particular the Mishna and Talmud.
These divergent scriptural interpretations--Christians referring themselves to the person of Jesus Christ, Jews to the Torah--led to an ever-increasing estrangement between Christians and Jews.
3. The Christian Community and the People of God
The first Christian communities were initially considered one of several creedal groups within Judaism. Descriptions in the Acts of the Apostles and particularly the influence of St. Paul indicate developments, however, that soon went beyond the confines of the Jewish community. The Christian communities accepted not only Jews but an ever increasing number of Gentiles, without insisting that the latter become Jews. The percentage of Jewish Christians thereby continued to decrease.
As the Christian communities began to consist predominantly of non-Jewish members, they could no longer be acknowledged by Jews as a part of their people. Those Jews, therefore, who had been baptized in the name of Jesus, found it difficult to maintain fellowship with their people. Christians of different backgrounds were not much interested in such a fellowship, anyway.
The Christian community thus developed more and more into an independent entity. Admission to the community by baptism was considered an admission to the people of God, while the significance of' membership by birth receded into the background. This is how the "Church of Jews and Gentiles" came into being.
The result was that Christians and Jews gave different meaning to the term "people of God". In the Jewish sense, it continued to mean belonging to the Jewish people. Thus, Jews as well as Christians claimed to be heirs to the history of the people of God since the days of Abraham. Christians, however, also ascribed certain ideas relating to Jesus Christ to the fellowship of the faithful. In doing so, they used the biblical concept of the people of God to describe themselves as "Church".
The conflict over membership in the people of God gravely tainted the relations between Christians and Jews, throughout the centuries. Right up to our time, there exists the problem whether one group's claim to be the people of God negates that of the other.
4. The Developing Characteristics of Judaism and Christianity
The relations between Jews and Christians became increasingly difficult because their understanding of piety developed along different lines.
A trend to emphasize obedience to the commandments of God became ever more prominent in Jewish daily life. Discourse on the application of the commandments and their influence on the most minute details of life was conducted with utmost diligence in the Jewish academies. Each generation considered the questions and answers of earlier ones and carried them further. Mishna and Talmud, collections of such conversations recorded over the centuries, serve as the basis for the religious life of the pious Jews even to our day.
Little emphasis was placed, however, on the definition and formulation of concepts of faith, which were transmitted in the narrative tradition, while prayers for public and private worship, as they were handed down over the centuries, form a particularly important element in the expression of Jewish piety.
In the Christian context, the necessity to develop the message of Jesus Christ and defend it against Greek ideas led to an intensive effort to clarify statements of faith and formulate an official doctrine of the Church.
An important problem was the description of the unique significance of Jesus Christ in the Christian faith and His relationship to the One and Only God. In the course of intensive theological efforts which were accompanied by severe struggles of church politics, the ancient Church replied to this question with the doctrine of the Triune God (the One God is acknowledged and worshipped in three "Persons"--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and that of the two Natures of Christ (Jesus Christ is "true God and true Man"). That teaching was based on New Testament statements and developed in the newly acquired forms of thinking.
To the Jewish mind, such doctrines were more and more an offense against the commandment that none but God must be worshipped as divine, while the Church, in these doctrines, continued to believe in the One God.
5. The Demarcation of Christianity from Judaism
The Jewish wars against Rome (66-70 and 132-135 AD) more or less put an end to the multiplicity of Jewish religious groups, leading toward stronger interior unity among Jews who had been widely scattered and robbed of their national sovereignty. In this context, a solemn condemnation of Jewish sects and Nazarenes (=Jewish Christians) became part of the "Prayer of Eighteen Petitions"---one of the most important Jewish prayers. At this point, a rupture with the Church took place. It had become practically impossible for Christians to take part in the Jewish liturgy. Before this, it had been quite usual for Jewish Christians to come to the synagogue while also attending Christian services, in particular, the celebration of the Eucharist.
Later passages in Jewish writings which consider Jesus the seducer of the Jewish people, presuppose an already accomplished break with the Church. They are not meant to add new information about the events around Jesus but to be a determined defense against the belief that Jesus is the Christ.
The Christian claim, as if the Church as the people of the Messiah was also heir to the covenant that God had made with Israel, provoked very severe judgments about the Jews in New Testament times. Such views could be based on certain words of Jesus about His people where He referred to the announced judgment day by Old Testament prophets. Later on, that event led to the assertion that God had rejected the people who opposed the Messiah Jesus. The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD as well as the fate of the Jewish people since that time were often interpreted as a confirmation of that opinion.
Yet, there also existed different interpretations; the Apostle Paul, in particular, wrestled with this problem. In chapters 9-11 of the Letter to the Romans, he deals with the prophetic condemnation of the people Israel but he also emphasizes that God has not rejected His people. Paul expects a unification of the whole people of God, at the end of time.
Discussions on prophetic criticism in Paul's writings and other New Testament books were held within the framework of the Jewish community. When non-Jews joined the Christian groups, however, the character of such statements was changed completely: they no longer were words by Jews about Jews but condemnations of the Jewish people by outsiders. That situation often led to self-righteous confidence within the Church vis-a-vis the Jews. In the end, the latter were considered aliens to such an extent that they were slandered as "murderers of God". Enmity against Jews often brought about, particularly since Christianity became a state religion, the use of violence against Jews, even murder of individuals and expulsion or destruction of whole Jewish communities and populations.
The relationship of Jews and Christians, right up to our time, is burdened by this past. Though acts of violence have largely ceased, many Christians still think of Jews as aliens, even enemies: enemies of Christ, hence of Christians.
Yet the relations between Jews and Christians were not exclusively characterized by animosity and violence. In the course of centuries, Judaism and Christianity exchanged ideas and influenced each other. Scriptural exegesis of the Reformation era, for instance, was greatly stimulated by Jewish exegetical tradition. At all times, there were conversions, not only from Judaism to Christianity but vice versa. Disputes between Christians and Jews obscured common ideas, yet that which united them was never completely lost.
III. Jews and Christians Today
1. The various Forms of Judaism and Christianity
Judaism as we know it today is not uniform. Just as in former times, it bears the imprint of environmental intellectual trends. In the confrontation between Jewish tradition and European Enlightenment during the 19th and 20th centuries, varying views were developed. Some Jewish communities held fast to the traditional religious interpretation and form of synagogue services. Such orthodox Jews are concerned with the exact observation of the Torah, which to them is not a burden but joy. Ethical and cultic commandments are given equal emphasis. Scripture is accepted as directly inspired by God, which precludes scholarly Bible critique. The Talmud, too, is considered of binding authority.
Liberal Reform Judaism stands at the opposite end. Though not intending to change the contents of faith, it holds that form and interpretation should be developed; laws, customs, and institutions are adapted to changed situations. In synagogue services, for instance, Hebrew is used as well as the vernacular; ethical commandments are rated higher than e.g. food, fasting, cleanliness laws. Ethics and social justice are strongly emphasized.
Conservative Judaism stands between the two other groups. It holds more closely to old rituals and contents than Reform Judaism but admits historical change of religious customs and tradition. Since the Enlightenment, some Jews no longer conceive of Judaism as a religion, a view that was reinforced for many by the experience of Auschwitz.
In recent times, more emphasis has been placed on that which is Common to all Jews. Despite differences and contradictions, they consider themselves more and more as one people, united by history. The Zionist movement which began in the 19th century greatly influenced the situation.
Diversity within Christianity is just as great but expressed in different ways by the great Christian denominations. The self-understanding of individual Churches is determined by varying intellectual traditions and historical developments, while often originating in a delimitation from Christians of other beliefs. In our century, though, the ecumenical movement has set the Churches on the path to mutual recognition and a realization of the unity of Christians.
In developing an ecumenical community, the Christian Churches cannot evade the question of whether and in what way they are linked to the Jews. Certain statements on the relationship between the Churches and the Jews prove that the former have become aware of this problem. The unique position of Israel as people of the covenant was strongly emphasized already at the First World Conference of Churches in Amsterdam. Many Christians see the continued existence of the Jewish people after the coming of Jesus Christ as an inscrutable mystery which they understand as a sign of the immutable fidelity of God.
2. The two modes of Jewish existence
Since earliest times, Jews have been living in the land of Israel as well as outside of it. Only a part of those deported into Babylonian exile, for instance, returned to the country. Later on, a Jewish diaspora developed in Syria, Egypt, and the whole Mediterranean area, by emigration and missionary work. At the time of Jesus, the diaspora was culturally important and numerically stronger than the Jewry within the country of Israel. In our time, too, the majority of Jews live outside the country.
Jewish faith, nevertheless, inseparably links the election of the people to the election of the land. The Book of Deuteronomy clearly says that only within the country can Israel be fully obedient to God. Her prophets promise the return of the people to the land, where the Torah can be fulfilled and God will establish his kingdom. Jews have always held fast to this bond between people and land. After the failure of the Jewish wars of liberation in the first and second century AD, Jewish life was at times very precarious and existed in certain parts of the country only, mainly in Galilee. At that time Jewish teachers demanded that the people remain in the country or return there. In their prayers Jews ask every day: "Unite us from the four comers of the earth." The liturgy of the first Passover night culminates in the exclamation: "Next year in Jerusalem." Many details of the Law as welt as all festivals of the Jewish year are based on this link between people and land, so that in the traditional view Jewish existence can be fully lived only in the country of Israel.
That makes diaspora life a temporary situation which must be overcome and that is why diaspora Jews since the times of antiquity have again and again been trying to maintain contact with the land. An individual could achieve such contact by donations for those living in the country, by pilgrimages, or by return -- if only to be buried there. Again and again, immigration by sizeable groups took place, often impelled by messianic movements. The Zionist settlement movement of the last one hundred years is but a link in this long chain of attempts to restore the unity of people and land.
Yet, diaspora life was not merely considered a fate to be endured, an inscrutable divine path, or a temptation to surrender through assimilation. There always existed individual Jews and Jewish groups who saw in the diaspora a chance for the Jewish people to make known among the nations the message of the One God. Religiously, ethically, and culturally, the Jewish diaspora made considerable contributions to many nations. The origin and development of Christianity and Islam were largely stamped by continuous contact with the Jewish diaspora, just as Jews received impulses by living among other nations and religions.
3. The State of Israel
Jewish settlement in the country and the situation after Auschwitz were the two decisive factors leading to the founding of the State.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, traditional anti-Judaism among Christians developed into a new form of racist anti-semitism. In its final consequence, it culminated in the mass murder of European Jewry by the National Socialist state. Following this indescribable catastrophe, the major powers finally gave support and recognition to the demand for an independent state in Palestine. The founding of the state brought to a close the development that since the end of the nineteenth century had made the old land of Israel to an ever-increasing degree a place of refuge for persecuted Jews.
It was not only the pressure of an inimical environment, though, that caused Jews to return to their land but the realization of a longing for Zion, sustained for millennia. Beyond its political function, then, the State of Israel has religious meaning for many Jews. They perceive of the Bible and post-biblical tradition in a completely new manner. More and more, Israel is becoming an intellectual center that influences the diaspora. A basic Israeli law grants all Jews the privilege to live in the country and obtain citizens' rights, thereby endeavoring to guarantee the survival of diaspora Jews in case of renewed persecutions or threats to their identity.
Politically speaking Israel is a modem secular state, organized as a parliamentary democracy, just as in antiquity the Jewish people fashioned their state on contemporary models. Yet, such a characterization does not fully describe the modem State: its name and founding document expressly place it within the tradition of Judaism and, thereby, within the context of the chosen people's history. It is the task of the State of Israel to guarantee the existence of this people in the country of their forefathers. This implication has meaning for Christians as well. After all the injustice inflicted upon the Jews -- particularly by Germans – Christians are obliged to recognize and support the internationally valid United Nations Resolution of 1948 which is intended to enable Jews to live a secure life in a state of their own.
At the same time, Christians must energetically work toward the proper settlement of justified claims by both sides, Arabs and Jews. Neither should the Palestinian Arabs alone have to bear the consequences of the conflict, nor should only Israel be held responsible for the situation. For that reason, even those not directly involved must participate in efforts to procure a durable peace in the Middle East. German Christians in particular must not evade their part in this task. They will also have to strengthen their bond with Arab Christians who by the conflict were placed in a very difficult situation.
4. Jews – Christians – Germans
We Christians pay heed to the particular difficulties arising out of the relationship between Germans and Jews. A long common history of Jews and Christians in Germany has frequently resulted in mutual stimulation as well as antagonism. Ever recurring enmity against Jews is due not only to religious causes but to economic, political, and cultural ones as well. Based on Christian-Germanic and racist ideologies, Jew-hatred in Germany during the 19th and 20th centuries became especially virulent. In its ultimate consequence, it led to the persecutions of Jews after 1933 and, finally, to the murder of about six million Jews in Europe.
Up to the beginning of the Second World War, many German Jews were able to escape, especially through emigration, the fate that threatened them. During the War, however, men, women, and children in Germany and all the occupied countries were deported to extermination camps and murdered. Only a few Jews during that time were still able to emigrate or go into hiding. Together with the Jews, millions of non-Jews became the victims of persecution.
Only a few Germans had full knowledge of the entire plan of destruction but most of them knew of the legislation and public Jew-baiting in 1933, the burning of synagogues and plundering of stores in November 1938, and the sudden disappearance of Jewish neighbors and school fellows. Rumors and foreign news broadcasts also added to the available information. Yet, most Germans did not believe or did not want to believe the planned destruction of European Jewry, the so-called "final solution".They set their mind at rest with the news of a resettlement of Jews in Eastern Europe; the Christian Churches were largely silent. Only a few people who thereby endangered their own life, helped Jews to flee or kept them in hiding.
The extermination of six million Jews and the almost complete destruction of Jewish culture in Europe caused a profound trauma in the mind of the Jewish people all over the world. Its effects, which will make themselves felt for generations to come, often find expression in insecurity and anxiety as well as over-sensitivity toward any endangerment of Jewish existence.
Jews in Israel and the diaspora identify the catastrophe of the holocaust by the name of Auschwitz in Poland, the largest of all the extermination camps. Similar to Hiroshima, Auschwitz became the symbol for the experienced horrors of extermination. It also was a turning point in historical and theological thinking, especially in Judaism.
Out of these culpable omissions of the past, special obligations arise for us Christians in Germany, namely to fight newly developing antisemitism, even under the guise of politically and socially motivated anti-Zionism. We must cooperate in a new relationship with Jews.
5. Common tasks
Today's efforts to re-fashion the relationship between Christians and Jews have made both of them aware again that, despite all contrasts, they hold much in common. It follows that this common ground must be concretely developed in the present and for the future. After all that has happened it behooves us to proceed with great care. Only tentative beginnings can be indicated. The belief that man as the image of God bears responsibility for the whole earth, including the shape of human life, could serve as a point of departure.
People of various religions and beliefs in all continents are fighting for a more humane world and Christians and Jews must take part. Their faith in the One God who created one humanity, challenges them – as well as the Muslims – to stand up for solidarity with all men. Without the conviction that every human being is of equal worth before God, the development of human rights is unthinkable in our time.
In their "General Declaration of Human Rights" of December 10,1948, the United Nations proclaimed the rights of all men. It is all the more frightening to see how much the reality remains in arrear of this program. That applies to lack of social justice, to discrimination, persecution, and maltreatment for racist, religious, and political reasons.
Holy Scripture, to which Jews and Christians refer their life, emphasizes the love of God for the disadvantaged and deprived. It is a task, then, for Christians and Jews to fight against the power of those who succeed and enrich themselves at the expense of the weak. Another important task, despite all evident difficulties, must be the joint effort of Christians, Jews, and Muslims on behalf of justice and peace in the Middle East.
The ever more apparent threat by technology to human existence makes it imperative to comprehend the world once more as a creation of God, to deal with it appropriately and according to the mandate received from God. That means that we turn away from a position in which man makes himself the measure of all things, exploits the world for his own good exclusively, and thereby becomes dependent on what he himself has produced. It is primarily a question of Christians and Jews becoming aware of their common responsibility for the development of society and its realization, which will result in further areas of joint action.
6. Encounter and witness
Christians and Jews interpret and confess in different ways their faith in the One God who reveals himself in history. The Torah, as the centre of Jewish faith, is a divine plan and tool for the development and fulfillment of the world. Jesus Christ takes that place in Christianity, as salvation for all men. In the face of such common ground as well as differences, the encounter between Christians and Jews must not be confined to a mere social meeting. Joint listening to Holy Scripture may lead to an enrichment and clarification of one's own faith. The more open and intensive such an encounter will be, the more candid can we discuss that which separates the two groups.
Yet, both must witness to their own faith: The divine charge makes the believer a witness who by word and deed must realize his identity as Christian or Jew. An encounter on this basis can hope to be fruitful only if the long and painful history of mutual relations is conscientiously taken into account.
To spread the faith among the nations, was a characteristic of Judaism at the time of Jesus. The early Christian community followed along the same path, to fulfil the mission received from its Risen Lord. It resulted in widespread Christian missionary activity among Jews and Gentiles and brought about the formation of communities composed partly of Jews and partly of Gentiles.
At the beginning of the Church, Jews could be baptized in the name of Jesus and continue to belong to the Jewish people. In the course of a divergent development, conversion to Christianity gradually implied a loss of Jewish identity.
With the growing expansion of Christianity, the Jews became a minority. In the end, Judaism became the only religious minority tolerated under the aegis of a state church that defined all areas of community life. Under this unequal distribution of power, a great deal of pressure was put on the Jews in the course of centuries. Apart from persecutions and expulsions, forced conversions took place as well as religious discussions which were to prove the superiority of Christianity. The proper meaning of a Christian witness toward Jews was thereby often obscured and turned into its opposite.
Changed intellectual and social conditions in the modern world generated serious attempts among Protestants to regain the original meaning of a Christian witness toward Jews. That applies particularly to the era of a developing Pietism which, by referring back to the Reformation, re-emphasized the freedom of the Gospels. The effects of Christian social superiority were somewhat softened by the personal witness of individual Christians who turned toward the Jews. From such religious motifs developed the mission to the Jews which led to fruitful encounters between Christians and Jews. A renewed Christian interest in Judaism, particularly from a scholarly point of view, was thereby awakened. Since the Enlightenment and due in part only to the mission to the Jews, more and more Jews converted to Christianity for social reasons.
After a period of growing antisemitism during the 19th and 20th centuries during which some Christians protected individual Jews and after the terrible events of National Socialist persecution of the Jews, the situation has changed in many ways. The Church has lost much of her former importance in public life and her extensive failure during the Jewish persecutions has again and to a very serious degree shaken her unprejudiced witness toward the Jews.
The witness to our own faith, necessary for a fruitful encounter, has become severely encumbered by shortcomings and faulty elements of Christian customs in the past. Missionary practices exist even today which give Jews justified cause for suspicion. Such practices, however, are decidedly rejected by the Church and even by those individuals who favor a missionary witness toward the Jews. Such misuse, however, does not release Christians from an authentic endeavor to render account according to the Gospels, "for the hope that is in you" (1 Pet 3:15). Faith must not remain silent.
After all that has happened, there are many different opinions on the proper way of Christian witness. The discussion during the last few years has centered mainly on the terms "mission" and "dialogue"; these were often interpreted as mutually exclusive. We have now come to understand mission and dialogue as two dimensions of one Christian witness and this insight corresponds to the more recent view of Christian mission generally.
Mission and dialogue as descriptions of Christian witness have an ominous sound to Jewish ears. Christians must, therefore, re-assess the meaning with regard to the Jews, of their witness to Jesus Christ as salvation for all mankind, the terms by which to identify their witness, and the methods of procedure.
The Church must not fail to admit and candidly state that she stands in need of talking to the Jews. Such dialogue will transmit experiences with the God of the Bible which could help every Christian to a more profound insight into his own identity. This aspect is of fundamental importance for the continuing encounter between Christians and Jews.