Q. Why are so few orthodox rabbis involved in interfaith dialogue?
A. It is true that a visible feature of the Christian-Jewish dialogue is the invisibility of the orthodox rabbis, so much so that Israel’s chief rabbis have surprised many by having meetings with Christian leaders.
The dialogue movement has the involvement of modern orthodox rabbis in a number of countries, but most of their colleagues, whether modern orthodox or – especially – charedi, take no interest and warn against any involvement.
The reasons include the following:
• Jews have suffered so much from Christians that they only want to be left alone.
• Jews suspect that Christians still want to proselytise them.
• Jews believe that Christianity has no real respect for Judaism.
• Jews see religion as a personal matter that cannot be discussed with outsiders.
• Jews see all faiths as the product of particular historical circumstances which outsiders cannot share.
• Jews respect the conscience of adherents of all faiths and see no reason for them to subject their beliefs to scrutiny.
• Jews see strengthening Judaism as a more urgent task.
• Jews see working together to improve society as more important than talking about religious concepts.
• Jews see Christianity as only one philosophy in a broader spectrum and feel that good relations with others may be more important.
These are arguments put forward at different times and with differing emphases by rabbinic figures such as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph B Soloveitchik, Professor Eliezer Berkovits and others.
However, those rabbis who do participate in the dialogue argue that every human group needs to be on good terms, especially those which foster a spiritual and ethical approach to the world. They argue that Christianity is trying to overcome its anti-Jewish past and its hand of friendship should not be spurned.
They also argue that the Christian-Jewish dialogue is generally not “dialogue” in the deepest sense, in which the partners enter into each other’s mind, soul and being, and when engaged in judiciously, the dialogue improves the climate of relationships.