Dialogika

Lutheran

Talking Points — Topics in Christian-Jewish Relations

 

Contents

  1. Introduction: Judaism Then and Now

  2. Covenants Old and New

  3. Law and Gospel

  4. Promise and Fulfillment

  5. Difficult Texts

  6. Jewish Concern for the State of Israel

  7. Tikkun Olam–Mending the World

  8. Christians and Jews in the Context of World Religions

  9. Users Guide

  10. Authors

 

1 — Introduction: Judaism Then and Now

Modern Judaism is a vibrant community with much to offer us in faith, ethics, and piety. Christians err if we dismiss Judaism as a misguided relic of the past.

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you ... and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

Genesis 12: 2,3

No one who reads the New Testament can escape the fact that Jesus was a Jew, as were all of his original followers. The early Christians viewed their faith as continuous with and a fulfillment of the Jewish heritage in which they had been reared. The Jewish faith, however, found another continuation in rabbinic Judaism, taught and led by those known - as Jesus once was - as rabbis.

Christianity soon became predominantly Gentile, and the Roman Empire eventually became officially Christian. The majority of Jews, though experiencing great tribulations, continued in faithfulness to their ancient covenant (“I shall be your God, and you shall be my people”), shaped by observance of the biblical and rabbinic commandments.

A complete and self-governing Jewish culture grew around strong families and communities, study of the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud,* a distinctive way of life, and the hope of ultimate redemption, including the vision of an eventual return to Jerusalem. The Hebrew language was nurtured in worship, and great literary traditions developed in ethnic languages such as Yiddish. The medieval Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides was a major influence on the Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas, and great rabbinic commentators such as Shlomo ben Isaac of Troyes (“Rashi”) were cited frequently in Luther’s biblical commentaries. Jewish thinkers, writers, artists, and activists have also been prominent in many modern intellectual and cultural movements.

They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises ...

Romans 9:4

The living Jewish community of today - in North America, in Israel, and around the world - continues the heritage of biblical Israel and rabbinic Judaism in new and vibrant ways. While diversity has led to denominational differences among Jews, there remains a core communal identity and loyalty to the ancient faith. Often giving leadership in philanthropy and social justice causes, the Jewish community is a powerful partner with the church in living out God’s call to be stewards of healing for the world.

* The Talmud is a compilation of legal, moral, and religious traditions codified by the rabbis between the 2nd and 6th centuries that remains a central source of Judaism to this day.

Questions for Discussion
  1. What does it mean that both Christianity and Judaism claim to continue the heritage of biblical Israel?

  2. In what arenas are you aware of Jewish contributions to community life in your locality, in this country, and on the world scene?

  3. How might you learn more about the living community of Judaism in your locality? Consider setting up a discussion group with members of a local Jewish congregation, and ask both the Christians and Jews present to express what is most meaningful to them about their faith.

  4. What can you find out about the four denominations of Judaism and what their respective emphases are? (Try doing an Internet search for Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Judaism.)

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2 — Covenants Old and New

Living in the new covenant given by God in Jesus Christ, we also affirm God's continuing faithfulness to the covenant with the Jewish people.Modern Judaism is a vibrant community with much to offer us in faith, ethics, and piety. Christians err if we dismiss Judaism as a misguided relic of the past.

For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your descendants and your name remain.

Isaiah 66:22

While most Lutherans think of our relationship with God in terms of faith, forgiveness, and salvation, we also know this relationship to be one of covenant. Indeed, the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ comes to us in the scriptures known as the "New Testament" or "New Covenant." Likewise, Jesus comes to us in the Lord's Supper with the words of promise, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood." Guaranteed by God’s faithfulness, a covenant brings a promise that helps to define the life of God’s people. In this it goes far beyond any mere legal contract.

From ancient Israel to our own day, Jews have lived in covenant with God as well. This is seen not only in the circumcision of Abraham and his offspring, but also, for example, in the kingship of David, the gift of the Torah at Sinai, and the appearance of the rainbow in the heavens. Israel's prophets were the ones who proclaimed God’s faithful intent to establish a new covenant with the people, a living covenant "written on their hearts" (Jer. 31:33), even embodied in a "new heart" (Ezek. 36:26). This would not have to supersede the existing covenant understandings, but in continuity with them it would renew and extend Israel's hope and confidence in God's loving commitment.

I ask then,
has God rejected his people?
By no means!

Romans 11:1

Encountering Jesus, some Jews of the first century saw in him the power and presence of God renewing the world and including Gentiles among the people of God They proclaimed that the promised new covenant had come into being. It was the witness of Paul that this new covenant now brought Gentiles and Jews into one people, so that in and through Christ, Gentiles too can now become "Abraham's offspring" (Gal. 3:29).

So we now live in the new covenant established by God in Jesus Christ, joined in continuity to those who have already been made God's people in the covenant of Sinai, and rejoicing with them that God's covenant, new and old, is a gift that is "irrevocable" (Rom. 9:4, 11:29).

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
  1. What do you think of when you reflect on your life of faith as lived in covenant with God? How is a “covenant” different from a “contract”?

  2. What other relationships in your life would you describe as being "covenants?" Why?

  3. If we can be in multiple covenants simultaneously, can God also? What does that mean for Jews and Christians in their relationship with God and with one another?

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3 — Law and Gospel

The meaning of "law" for Jews is positive, in a way quite different from what it has usually meant to Lutherans

Oh, how I love Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long.

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Psalm 119: 97,103

What is meant by “Law,” in the sense in which we often speak of the Word of God as including both “Law” and “Gospel”? To Lutherans, “Law” usually means God’s demand that we live completely in accord with God’s will. Since in our bondage to sin we cannot do that, we are condemned by the Law and must be saved by the Gospel. In this view, the Law always accuses us.

We are often surprised, then, to find that Jews embrace the Law more as a gift than a demand. Thus the Psalmist exclaims, “O, how I love thy Law [Torah]” (Psalm 119:97), and the rabbis emphasize that Israel received the commandments (mitzvot) not to be condemned but “to live by them” (Lev. 18:5) - “live” and not die. The Israelites do not receive the law in order to earn God’s favor; they were saved from bondage in Egypt before they ever came to Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah. So they are already God’s people when God gives them the Torah to know how to live out their divine calling. Torah embraces the Five Books of Moses, scriptural teaching as a whole, and the rabbis’ interpretation. Beginning with the Ten Commandments, which many Christians also use as a positive guide for living, it is a powerful mentor more than a legalistic taskmaster. Indeed, the Hebrew term “Torah” is better translated as “teaching” or “instruction,” rather than “law.”

So the law is holy,
and the commandment is holy and just and good.

Romans 7:12

The New Testament describes a vigorous debate between Jesus and the Pharisees, who led a lay renewal movement within Judaism, over some issues of Torah interpretation. Although this conflict has been wrongly interpreted as pitting “Christianity” against “Judaism,” in fact both Jesus and the Pharisees were seeking to discern how God’s will applied to the details of daily life in the Jewish community. Jews know the Pharisees as the precursors of the great tradition of rabbinic Judaism, in which this effort to perceive the meaning of Torah teaching for each new generation was continued, and continues to this day.

The commandment against false witness calls on us to avoid negative caricatures of Jewish life and thought. Christians today are learning to pay attention to the Jewish understanding and experience of Torah in its multiplicity and its graciousness.

Questions for Discussion
  1. Psalm 119 celebrates the law as God’s gracious guidance in innumerable ways. Does this emphasis inevitably lead to "works righteousness" (the expectation that salvation must be “earned” by obeying the Law)?

  2. The Christian sacraments involve commands (“Do this ...”), yet are experienced as a profound source of grace. Does this help us understand how, for Jews, mitzvot (commandments) can serve not as legalisms but as blessings?

  3. Must "Law and Gospel" always be the interpretive principle by which Lutherans approach scripture and preaching? If so, how does the principle relate to the broader sense of Torah in living Judaism?

  4. Recent historical study of the Gospels has developed a more positive view of the Pharisees not as hypocritical legalists, but as part of reform movement stressing (as Jesus did) piety and faithfulness in daily life. How can the strong criticism of "the Pharisees" in the Gospels be read and preached without breaking the commandment against bearing false witness?

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4 — Promise and Fulfillment

Christians affirm that God’s promises to Israel are fulfilled in Jesus Christ and in the life of the church. We need to be aware that Jews also have experienced God's continuing faithfulness in rabbinic Judaism and in the contemporary reality of Jewish faith and life.

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.

Deuteronomy 7:9

The writers of the New Testament speak of Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. In doing so, they build upon a well established pattern of promise and fulfillment that characterizes God’s actions in the Old Testament (promises of offspring and land to Abraham and Sarah; promise of a dynasty to David). Using richly diverse images from Israel’s heritage - Jesus as the New Moses, the Son of David, the Son of Man - they bequeath this pattern to Christian thought. What we experience in Christ is a fulfillment of the expectation God has given us through the Torah and the prophets.

God’s promises are often fulfilled in unexpected ways, however. Even as the church found in Jesus the fulfillment of Messianic hope, it described his role and actions in bold and distinctive combination with other scriptural themes. The new Moses is also the Suffering Servant; the Son of David is also the Paschal Lamb.

We also believe that God has yet more to accomplish in the redemption of humanity and of all creation; we still live in anticipation, praying, “Thy kingdom come.” As we are grateful for what God has already done and at the same time look forward in hope to what God yet will do, we have much in common with faithful Jews. They, too, rejoice in the blessings of the covenant while still looking forward to the fullness of redemption.

God has more than one way of being faithful to God’s promises. The promise and fulfillment pattern should not imply that Christianity and Judaism are mutually exclusive fulfillments. Rather, each faith community has experienced God’s grace and guidance in ample measure.

How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?

Hosea 11:8

Promise and fulfillment is not a once and for all event, but rather a recurring pattern of God’s action. Both the life of the church and the vitality of contemporary Judaism are vivid testimonies to God’s power and constancy. In every generation, church and synagogue are mutual tokens of God’s faithfulness. Together we await the ultimate fulfillment of all God’s promises.

 

Questions for Discussion
  1. Of the various images used in the New Testament to depict Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises (such as those mentioned above), which are the most meaningful to you?

  2. Can a promise find fulfillment in more than one way? What are some examples?

  3. Can God, or can a person, make the same promise to different people, and fulfill it differently?

  4. What do you think of the idea that contemporary Judaism, in its own way, fulfills God’s promises to ancient Israel?

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5 — Difficult Texts

Christians are morally obligated to understand the New Testament’s harsh words against Jews and Judaism in their original contexts, without translating those polemics into antisemitism.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Exodus 20:16

The documents of the New Testament were written in a time of great controversy. The Jesus movement had begun as one among several forms of Judaism. While departing from some aspects of strict Torah observance as it spread among Gentiles, it continued to assert its identity as a legitimate inheritor of God’s promises to Israel. The main body of the Jewish community, however, strove to distance itself from those who acclaimed a Galilean rabbi as Messiah, Savior and Son of God.

The intensity of the conflict is reflected in many places in the New Testament. Scribes and Pharisees are vehemently denounced, and in the fourth gospel the collective term “the Jews” designates the enemies of Jesus, even though Jesus and his disciples were, of course, all Jews. The gospel narratives minimize the role of the tyrannical Roman authorities in Jesus’ death, depicting the Jews as fundamentally responsible for the crucifixion. The polemic continues in the book of Acts, and Paul contributes his own harsh words in passionate attacks on those opponents who would impose strict Jewish observance on Gentile converts. Often the New Testament writers selectively appropriated the words of Israel’s prophets to shape their invective.

In subsequent history, such texts have often been linked to feelings of hostility and contempt toward Jews, giving apparent biblical warrant to violence against them. Such words - “You are from your father, the devil” (John 8:44), “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25) - still evoke the memory and threat of such hatred.

To remedy this, Christian must make every effort to interpret the texts with a fuller awareness of their historical contexts. Various Jewish groups in the first century C.E.*, including the early Christians, were struggling to understand scripture and history as revealing God’s will for Israel and the world. Later Christians, alienated from the synagogue, employed the language of those early, internal debates to condemn Jews and Judaism as a whole. We today cannot properly continue to use these texts in this way.

If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.

I Corinthians 13:2

Christians also need to bear in mind the vast changes that have taken place since New Testament times. Originally a minority movement, Christianity soon became the dominant faith in the Roman Empire, and all too often misused its power to oppress its fellow heirs of the covenant, the Jews. Moreover, Judaism has undergone many creative developments, so that Jewish faith and practice today, while in continuity with biblical Israel, is by no means identical with it.

The reader of the New Testament needs to guard against transferring what is said there about Jews to our actual Jewish neighbors today. The gospel of love must not become a pretense for prejudice or hatred.

* Common Era, the period otherwise designated A.D.
Questions for Discussion
  1. Do you think that texts such as those referred to above can lead to hostility against Jews today? Has this happened in your experience?

  2. Before lessons such as these are read in worship, commentary can be offered to avoid any antisemitic or anti-Judaic implications. What do you think of this possibility?

  3. Does it help us Christians to ask: “What if my Jewish neighbors heard this text? Does it slander them? What impression would it give them of Christians and Christianity?”

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6 — Jewish Concern for the State of Israel

The State of Israel holds a special place in the life and thought of the Jewish people. The need for Christians to understand the depth of Jewish concern for Israel is especially urgent as we seek to participate faithfully in the quest for peace and justice for all peoples in the Middle East.

For much of its existence, the Jewish people has lived in diaspora, that is, dispersed among the nations. Although the land of biblical Israel was home to some Jews throughout this history, most lived as minorities within other nations. At times they enjoyed cordial relations with the majority population, but often they became scapegoats for social problems and were subjected to vilification and violence. Always they kept alive the memory of their biblical homeland, and classic Jewish liturgy makes repeated reference to the Land of Israel, even concluding its two major festivals - Passover and the Day of Atonement - with “Next year in Jerusalem!”

This hope bore new historical fruit in the 1880's and 1890's, when Jews fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe moved to the Holy Land. Their movement was connected to the scriptural promise of a return to Zion, Jerusalem’s holy mountain. (Hence the term “Zionism” is attached to various Jewish nationalist movements, though they have interpreted the scriptural promise in different ways.) In many places, Jewish and Arab neighbors lived in harmony, but tension and conflict were present from the first and grew over time. A plan developed by the United Nations to partition the land was accepted by the Jewish leadership but opposed by the Arab governments, and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 was met with an invasion by the surrounding nations. In this and later conflicts, Israel defended itself in the process, expanded its territorial control. Palestinian aspirations for an independent state and Israeli concern for national security have been the themes of both continuing conflict and approaches to peace. However, extremist elements, mutual distrust of intentions, and cycles of resentment over Israeli policies and Palestinian responses have repeatedly undermined initiatives from both sides. Efforts to achieve a just and peaceful coexistence in the region have also been complicated by the dynamics of the Cold War and other international conflicts.

Contemporary American Jews have differing views regarding the policies of the Israeli government, but the continued existence of the State of Israel is very important to them. The ability of Jews anywhere in the world to claim Israeli citizenship is especially valued as a safeguard against the tactic used by the Nazis of declaring Jews "stateless" and thereby removing them from the protection of international law.

Christian hope has not usually focused on any specific land, but on a new heaven and a new earth where God's rule will bring peace and justice to all people. This vision sets the standard for all nations; governments serve under God's blessing or judgment depending on whether they promote such peace and justice or undermine it. From this standpoint, the State of Israel, with its democratic ideals and cultural achievements, has been a blessing and a haven for Jews in a world where one-third of their people were annihilated in the Holocaust. At the same time, as a sovereign state, Israel has the moral obligation to use its power responsibly in a situation in which a displaced Palestinian population also seeks independence, security, and a peaceful future in its own land.

Assessments of the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian situation will differ, not only between Jews and Christians but also within each group. Both Israelis and Palestinians can at various times be especially vulnerable, eliciting appropriate Christian concern, advocacy, and action. Efforts to contribute to peaceful coexistence will be most effective when they are grounded in serious study of the history of the conflict, respect for the rights and grievances of all parties, and prudent concern for the use of power in a highly charged and delicately balanced situation. Solutions will not be found by the direct application of biblical prophecies or apocalyptic scenarios, but by prayerful reflection on practical possibilities, guided by an ethic of faith active in love. In the quest for a just peace, Christians will seek to maintain open dialogue with all participants and to help bear the deep pain of more than a century of conflict.

Questions for Discussion
  1. What similarities and differences would you see between a Jewish love for the land of Israel and such phenomena as the nostalgic regard that many Americans have for their ethnic homelands; respect for the sacredness of church buildings; patriotism and concern for national security; reverence for the physical elements of the sacraments? What are other possible analogies?

  2. What is the relation between seeing the modern State of Israel as a nation "like all the nations" and the idea of Israel as "a light to the nations"? By what standards should Israel determine its actions and policies?

  3. Is the use of violence ever justified as a means to social and political ends? Under what circumstances? How can a continual cycle of retaliatory violence be broken, or avoided in the first place?

  4. The conflict in the Middle East is sometimes interpreted in terms of religious warfare, with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim factions arguing polarized positions on the basis of fundamentalist readings of history and scripture. Thus religion may be used to justify and even escalate contempt and violence. How can one envision religion playing a more constructive role?

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7 — Tikkun Olam - Mending the World

Jews and Christians both hear the call to be active in "the care and redemption of all that God has made," and can collaborate in such efforts.

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Jeremiah 29:7

The world and human society are not what they could be. Both Jews and Christians find in the Bible witness to the reality that something has gone wrong with God’s good creation, something that God is working to remedy. Both Jews and Christians feel themselves called to participate in that work. Christians dedicate themselves to “the care and redemption of all that God has made,” and Jews commit themselves to tikkun olam (mending - or healing, or repairing - the world).

For Christians, the gift of the Holy Spirit gives us power and wisdom to live rightly and be a blessing to the world. For Jews, the inborn “good impulse” of human beings offsets an opposing “evil impulse” that leads us to sin; by following the good impulse, a Jew will lead a more upright life and add to the world’s betterment. For both Christians and Jews, being “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6, I Peter 2:9) means bearing responsibility to use God's gifts for the good of the world.

Martin Luther spoke of God working among us in two ways - in a spiritual realm ruled by Christ and the law of love, and in a worldly realm ruled by human powers and laws of justice. Some Lutherans have misunderstood this “two-kingdoms” teaching to mean that Christians have no special role to play in the worldly realm (human society) as long as they are good citizens and proclaim the gospel for individual salvation. At its worst, this misunderstanding has allowed Lutherans to participate in the most repressive regimes and programs.

In the last century, many Lutherans and other Christians both acquiesced to and collaborated in the Nazi efforts to annihilate the Jewish people (the Holocaust, or Shoah*). Surely this catastrophe was a grievous wound in God’s creation, one for which healing must still be sought. In similar ways, the persisting problem of race relations in United States and the worldwide ecological crisis are vital arenas in which Christians and Jews can work together.

Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.

Amos 5:24

In this matter, we can learn much from Jewish teaching and heritage. In many times and places, one finds leading examples of Jews who devoted their lives to improving the society in which they lived. One stream of Jewish messianic thought envisions the messiah coming only when Israel has fulfilled its role as witness to God=s will. Such a belief ties together the task of healing the world (tikkun olam) with the hope of complete redemption in a very powerful way.

Lutherans and Jews can work together as partners in the tasks of social justice, ecological renewal, personal and family relationships, interfaith reconciliation, and all the other challenges of healing what is broken in our world.

* A Hebrew term meaning “catastrophe.”
Questions for Discussion
  1. What brokenness in the world do you most care about healing?

  2. Who are your role models for making a difference for good in the world?

  3. What role does faith have in motivating people to work for a just society and healthy relationships?

  4. How can Jews and Christians work together towards tikkun olam?

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8 — Christians and Jews in the Context of World Religions

Christians and Jews share a special relationship within the community of world religions.
Their recent experience in building mutual respect and understanding can provide a model for wider interfaith relations.

Have we not all one father?
Has not one God created us?

Malachi 2:10

The acknowledgment of Judaism as a co-community of faith carries with it significant challenges for the understanding of Christian faith and identity. These have to do both with our unique relationship with the Jewish people, to whom we are so closely bound by our shared history, and with the broader issues of religious pluralism.

Our relationship to contemporary Judaism requires both sensitivity to what we have in common and a respect for the independent right of Jews to define themselves as a community. A mature Christian respect for the work of God in Judaism thus affirms the faith and practice of Jews as more than a foil, a footnote, or a problem for our own identity.

Then Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him."

Acts 10: 34

Our two communities share historical and scriptural origins. We have also influenced one another in various ways over the centuries. Yet as Christianity has developed within diverse cultures and as Judaism has lived through its own rich history, both have grown beyond the terms of their original relationship. Christianity has often been called a “daughter religion” of Judaism; alternatively, the two have been viewed as siblings, both sprung from the ancient faith of Abraham and Sarah. In fact, however, both communities have matured to be separate and fellow "adults" within the diverse world of human faiths.

Recognizing the independent integrity of Judaism, moreover, reminds us that there are other such adult faiths in that diverse world - other communities of faith and practice that also encounter the sacred. The growing reconciliation between Christians and Jews in our time may thus become an example of the way in which we might live together with people of other commitments and experiences.

Questions for Discussion
  1. What do Christianity and Judaism have in common, and how do they differ? Are Jewish-Christian relations different than our relationships to other world religions?

  2. What does the special relationship between Christians and Jews imply for our relationships to Muslims, who share the same monotheistic faith? What can we do in our local communities to foster understanding among all three groups?

  3. How can one maintain a loyalty and commitment to one’s own faith while at the same time respecting people of other faiths, and protecting their equal rights in civic life?

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User's Guide

"TALKING POINTS" is a set of eight leaflets issued by the Department for Ecumenical Affairs of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to set forth propositions for discussion and debate on theological issues in Christian-Jewish relations. They are intended to stimulate reflection and response on certain key issues as part of an ongoing study process within the church.

In each leaflet, the basic point or proposition is printed in a box at the top of the first page, followed by several paragraphs of explanation and commentary, and concluding with suggested questions for discussion. These propositions have deliberately been formulated in such a way as to push and test ideas that might otherwise go unexamined.

Most of the topics dealt with are pertinent to Christians generally. Some, such as "Law and Gospel," deal with issues that have been more prominent in the Lutheran tradition. For the most part, the points are intended for discussion among Christians, as part of our "homework" for interfaith encounter, but having a Jewish guest or guests when discussing some of the topics would be likely to add special interest and insight.*

THESE POINTS have a historical background, both in Christian-Jewish relations generally and more specifically in the work of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The past 40 or 50 years have seen a transformation in the stance of many Christians and many church bodies toward Jews and Judaism. Various factors have influenced this development, including the Holocaust, the establishment of the State of Israel, and the continued experience of living together peacefully and productively in a pluralistic American society. Theological developments have also played a major role, including a new recognition of the Jewishness of Jesus and the Jewish roots of Christian worship.

All of this has led to the most substantive re-evaluation of Christian attitudes and behaviors toward the Jews and Judaism since church and synagogue parted ways. Repentance for past injustices and injuries, repudiation of anti-Jewish and antisemitic expressions, and overtures to a new relationship have marked these recent decades.

WITHIN the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, two documents exemplify this remarkable change. The "Declaration to the Jewish Community" of 1994 decisively repudiated Luther's anti-Jewish views, expressed remorse for the harm they have done, and pledged "to live out our faith in Jesus Christ with love and respect for the Jewish people." The 1998 "Guidelines for Lutheran-Jewish Relations" offered further suggestions for co-operation and dialogue.

Discussion across the church made it plain that there are further questions that need to be explored, questions about the theological relationship between the two traditions. The 1999 ELCA Churchwide Assembly took an action calling for the creation of study materials on theological aspects of Christian-Jewish relations from a Lutheran perspective. The task was undertaken by the Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Jewish Relations, the advisory body that had also worked on the two previous statements; "Talking Points" is the result. The Panel appreciates the comments received from Jewish colleagues and ELCA staff during the writing process.

These Talking Points do not constitute an official ELCA statement about Judaism and Jewish-Christian relations. In the Consultative Panel’s judgment, formulating such a statement would be premature, since there is no clear consensus on many of the issues involved. Lutherans need time to live into the new reality in Jewish-Christian relations, open to the Holy Spirit's continuing work of illumination. We very much desire feedback from your study and discussion, which will help clarify where we are and where we are headed. Information is given at the end of each Talking Point about how to submit your thoughts and suggestions.

Procedural Suggestions

The Talking Points begin with an Introduction dealing briefly with some ways in which Judaism has changed and developed since biblical times, with the aim of trying to understand Jews today not through our stereotypes but as they define themselves. The sequence of topics ends with the question of how Jewish-Christian relations pertains to the broader realm of interfaith relations today. Between those two points, the topics can be taken up in any order.

No special preparation is needed to lead a discussion based on the Talking Points. It may be well first to read the Talking Point aloud, with its explanation and commentary. Clarify any terms or concepts that may be unfamiliar, and then launch into discussion. The suggested questions can guide the discussion, and others may arise from the group.

Most of the Talking Points involve theological questions that are not bound to any particular time or place. Point 6 is an exception, in that it pertains to a topic that is very much in the news day by day. It should be understood that this is not an attempt to shape a comprehensive statement on the Middle East situation in all its complexity. Rather, the point is intended to explicate why the State of Israel is so important to our Jewish neighbors, and some of the factors that make their attachment to it so profound. As with all of the Talking Points, views will differ – among both Jews and Christians – on the issues involved.

Some possible contexts for discussion of "Talking Points" include adult forums in local congregations, conferences of clergy and other church leaders, synodical assemblies, colleges, and seminaries. The Panel’s intention and prayer is that discussion of these topics will foster discernment and growth in our understanding of Judaism and Jewish-Christian relations. We hope that reflection on these and related topics will contribute to contemporary formulations of Lutheran theology and practice in light of the new realities of Jewish-Christian relations.

For a sample copy of the printed version of these materials, please contact the Department for Ecumenical Affairs (see contact information below).


* For use in settings specifically intended to include both Christians and Jews, such as Living Room Dialogues, the Department for Ecumenical Affairs recommends the "Interfaith Circles" program, a set of discussion guides.

To order the printed version of the Talking Points packet, contact the Department for Ecumenical Affairs toll free at (800) 638-3522, ext. 2610 or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Prepared by the Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Jewish Relations
Department for Ecumenical Affairs, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The following were members of the Consultative Panel during the preparation of the Talking Points, and are available as consultants and resource persons

The Rev. Barbara Gazzolo
St. James Lutheran Church
Lake Forest, Illinois

The Rev. Darrell Jodock, Ph.D.
Gustavus Adolphus College
St. Peter, Minnesota

Prof. Esther Menn, Ph.D.
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
Chicago, Illinois

The Rev. George P. Mocko
Retired Bishop
Delaware-Maryland Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
The Rev. Peter A. Pettit, Ph.D.*
Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding
Muhlenberg College
Allentown, Pennsylvania

The Rev. Franklin Sherman, Ph.D.*
Department for Ecumenical Affairs
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Chicago, Illinois

The Rev. John Stendahl*
Lutheran Church of the Newtons
Newton Center, Massachusetts

* member of drafting team

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