FOR THE SAKE OF HEAVEN AND EARTH: THE NEW ENCOUNTER BETWEEN JUDAISM AND CHRISTIANITY
By Irving Greenberg
Jewish Publication Society of America, 2004
Review by Rabbi Raymond Apple published in the Australian Jewish News, December 2005.
Irving (Yitz) Greenberg is an orthodox rabbi with whom most other orthodox rabbis disagree. But whether you are on Rabbi Greenberg’s side or not, you cannot fail to notice him and you cannot ignore his books or lectures.
When he visited Australia some years ago, he listened to my criticism of his pluralism doctrine, but would not give way – his whole life was staked on his unconventional ideas. The same is true of his philosophy of Christian-Jewish dialogue which is the theme of his book, For the Sake of Heaven and Earth.
It is the story of decades of interweaving the Jewish and Christian worlds. In a sense, it is an inter-religious autobiography, charting the way his thinking about everything is coloured by the Sho’ah and the subsequent changes in Christian thinking.
He begins with the words: “Awareness of the extraordinary Christian efforts at self-purification vis-a-vis Judaism after the Holocaust and encounter with the religious power and ethical contributions of Christianity have evoked in me the recognition that Christians seek to worship the same God and to perfect the same world that the Jews do.”
The story does not begin with Greenberg’s childhood, but with the year 1961 when, he writes: “All my religious positions blew up in the course of an explosive confrontation with the Holocaust.” He was in Israel and it was the time of the trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann.
Caught up in a reading frenzy about the Holocaust, he was overtaken with a consuming feeling of desolation. He would put on his tefillin, but was unable to read the words of the siddur because of the sights and sounds of the Holocaust.
Yet the streets of Jerusalem, teeming with life, were a stunning, almost surreal contradiction to the death that reigned at Yad Vashem. Only when he got home to his wife and child did the despair fade into joy.
Rabbi Greenberg was furious at Christianity, but then he became involved in discussions with Christians and found them ready to listen and to affirm the same commitment to a new world which he knew in Judaism.
His resultant essays and lectures provoked angry opposition from orthodox authorities, including his own mentor, Rabbi Soloveitchik. Unrepentant, Rabbi Greenberg continued to acknowledge a new type of encounter between the two faiths. He adapted Christian terminology to a Jewish context: he saw the Holocaust and Israel as Judaism’s events of crucifixion and resurrection.
Creating Clal, an organisation dedicated to Jewish pluralism, he developed a pluralistic model for inter-religious dialogue; he saw truths in all religions and argued that truths are partial. “It should now be the prayer of believers that one’s own group not be the only religion”, he wrote. Result? A theology that is quite revolutionary.