I am almost finished with Amy-Jill Levine’s The Misunderstood Jew (get it here).
It seems that her main purpose in writing is to encourage interfaith dialogue. I think interfaith discussions between Jews and Christians in academia can have value. I certainly like to see the influence of Judaism on Christian theology. I love what R. Kendall Soulen and others have done. I love the trend of taking Judaism more seriously and not making Judaism a foil or a Pelagian straw-man. I also like to see Christian theology influence Jewish thinkers, like Michael Wyschograd.
I think interfaith dialogue has limited value. Levine recognizes this and says that interfaith talk should not make Christians or Jews give up distinctives.
Starting on page 210, Levine talks about “interfaith possibilities.” She mentions statements by mainline Protestants and Catholics on interfaith dialogue and Bible interpretation.
The odd thing is that this (mostly liberal) interfaith talk seems not to result in real change. For example, while the PCUSA (mainline Presbyterians, plagued by liberal issues in recent years) may have issued a nice statement, they still attack Israel in their policy. The PCUSA statement says, “We are willing to ponder with Jews the mystery of God’s election of both Jews and Christians to be a light to the nations.”
That sounds nice. They are willing to consider the possibility that God elected Israel as his people. They are willing to consider Paul’s point of view a possibility!
Well, still, that would be nice and good except for a couple of things:
1. The PCUSA voted to divest in all businesses affiliated with Israel.
2. The PCUSA kicked the Messianic Jews out!
Let’s start with Israel and then I will get to the Messianic Jews. On their site explaining their policy (get it here) they say:
Additionally, after significant discussion, they agreed to “initiate a process of phased, selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel, in accordance with General Assembly policy on social investing.
What is their goal? To get Israel to quit occupying “Palestinian lands.” What do they say about terrorism and Palestinian bombers who kill children? They say nothing. They mention only violence on both sides, as if Israel’s violence is comparable to bombers blowing up pizza restaurants and buses!
Furthermore, the PCUSA used to have one Messianic Jewish congregation in its ranks. I know the parties involved, but I won’t mention names. The PCUSA in its past history had Hebrew Christians who reached out to fellow Jews and a congregation was started. Then in 2005 they decided that Messianic Jews are an offense and ceased all support and affiliation.
That’s the biggest problem with interfaith dialogue–Messianic Jews are not invited. Some have been open, such as Michael Wyschogrod, who says that a Torah-observant Messianic Judaism would at least be internally consistent, but most in the dialogue are not open.
Levine herself mentions Messianic Jews a number of times in her book. I don’t blame her for sort of lumping Messianic Jews in with Jews for Jesus (she knows they are different, but categorizes them in the same file) since many Messianic congregations, unfortunately, do not reflect a mature Judaism. But I wish she knew the mature side of the movement, the side that is really Jewish and not Christian-cake-with-Jewish-icing. I wish she would address the writings of mature Messianic Jewish scholars.
So, I will keep buying books reflective of interfaith discussion and I am glad to read them. But it is long past time that Messianic Jewish scholars (yes, we have them) be included. And it is also time for the Protestants of the mainline denominations to quit making pro-Jewish statements at the same time as anti-Israel statements.