International Council of Christians and Jews
Jews and Christians in Search of a Common Religious Basis for Contributing
Towards a Better World
1 March, 1993
The following document has been produced by the Theology Committee of the International
Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ). It contains both separate Jewish perspectives and
Christian perspectives concerning mutual communication and cooperation as well as a joint view
of a common religious basis for Jews and Christians to work together for a better world.
This committee was established to assist those who work in the framework of ICCJ and its
affiliated organisations furthering Jewish-Christian dialogue and cooperation to reflect on
basic principles that underlie our engagement in this work.
These considerations are not "the" official theological, philosophical nor
ideological underpinnings of the ICCJ and its member organisations, but are an invitation to
consider what our work is all about. They have no authority other than their intrinsic world.
An earlier draft of these considerations was submitted to representatives of the ICCJ member
organisations who participated in a theological consultation organized by the ICCJ in
Eisenach, on the territory of the former German Democratic Republic, from 12-15 July 1992, and
had been changed in the light of discussions at that consultation. The member organisations
were subsequently invited to offer their comments. Many of them responded directly to our
invitation or requested theological experts in their country to examine our considerations. In
preparing the final text of this statement we carefully weighed the responses we had received.
But what does "final" mean in this context? Obviously, the discussion about the
issues examined will continue. We only hope that our statement may be helpful to all who are
engaged in our work and may inspire them to persevere with even greater strength and courage
in their efforts. We would welcome further suggestions and comments, as we go on with our work
as Theology Committee of the ICCJ.
A Traumatic Past
In our time, Christians and Jews are increasingly involved in a process of encounter,
dialogue and cooperation. They come to it from different experiences and perspectives. This
process intensified and accelerated in the wake of the Shoah, the almost entire destruction of
Christians have begun to realize that the Shoah which took place in a culture deeply
influenced by Christianity, was not an accident of history but, to a large extent, rose out of
and was fostered by age-old anti-Jewish perceptions and attitudes. For the sake of its moral
and religious integrity and out of responsibility for the Jews and the world at large,
Christianity has to be purged of these. In fact, Christians have become aware that
Christianity alienated from its Jewish roots, is deprived of a fundamental dimension of its
identity. Convinced that it is not possible for Christians to embark on a process of
reappraisal and reconstruction without gaining deeper understanding of Jewish religion,
culture and history, they have sought encounter and dialogue with Jews. Jews have entered this
process with the realisation that such encounter and dialogue can help counteract prejudice,
discrimination and persecution, as well as with the desire to respond positively to efforts
made by those Christians who sought to create a climate of mutual respect and co-operation.
Because the relationship between Jews and Christians has been burdened by tragic conflict,
trauma and guilt, there are Jews and Christians who are unable or unwilling to enter into any
real dialogue. Nevertheless a considerable number of both Christians and Jews have persisted
and reached a level of understanding and trust that has enabled them to address and, to some
extent, redress past distortions and look beyond the past in order to exercise a joint
responsibility for the world of today and tomorrow.
Towards a Better World
Jewish-Christian dialogue may have a number of objectives but its ultimate aim is to
contribute towards a better world – a world in which the will of God is done; a world of
justice and peace. We in the ICCJ are profoundly aware that Europe, where so much friction and
tragedy has marked the relations between Jews and Christians, serves as a warning example. We
believe that, as Jews and Christians, we together have a contribution to make to the new
Europe which is faced with the challenge of rebuilding its moral and spiritual structure in a
situation of disorientation brought about by the breakdown of communist systems and by the
acute crisis of values in the West. Recent manifestations of intolerance, xenophobia, extreme
nationalism and antisemitism in Europe and elsewhere have reminded us how fragile civilisation
is even today.
We are also disquieted by those who seek to counter such negative tendencies by calling for
a restoration of a "Christian Europe". In response to the latter we must emphasize
that European culture cannot and should not be reduced to its Christian component. Many other
factors, among them Jewish religion and culture, have played a major role in the development
of European civilization, a fact that must not be denied.
This document was first presented at our consultation in 1992, five hundred years after the
expulsion of the Jews and Muslims from Spain and the beginning of the
"Christianisation" of Latin America which included the oppression of indigenous
Acknowledgement of this past abuse of religion must also serve as a warning example.
Responsibility for the building of a better world devolves upon all. lt may be accomplished
only through discussion at all levels. Moreover it must be pursued without threat either to
the traditions or to the systems of beliefs and values of those who participate. Yet all are
called to search their own traditions in order to give adequate responses to the challenging
problems of the modern world, while at the same time recognizing and respecting insights which
come from other faith traditions and value systems.
Within this multifaceted and multilateral conversation there is room and need for a variety
of bilateral dialogues. One of them is the Christian-Jewish dialogue. For many centuries this
had hardly been possible but now, looking beyond past tragic divisions, Christians and Jews
– each from their particular perspectives – may find the bases in their own traditions for
engaging in religious communication and cooperation. In so doing they also acknowledge a
common religious foundation from which they may make a joint religious contribution to the
wide-ranging discussion among all who seek for values by which Europe and the world as a whole
may be guided and directed.
It has to be noted that in the relationship between Judaism and Christianity there is an
obvious asymmetry, which of course does not imply inequality. This finds expression in the
differing perspectives from which Jews and Christians consider communication and co-operation
with each other. Whereas Christianity recognizes that its roots are primarily within Judaism,
there is obviously no such relationship on the part of Judaism to Christianity. While
recognizing this fact we affirm a common agenda taking into account the needs of each one.
Jewish Religious Perspectives Concerning
Communication and Cooperation with Christians
Attitudes in Judaism towards Non-Jews and Christians
- According to God"s covenant concluded with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and ratified at
Sinai, Israel is called to sanctify God"s name in the whole world by testifying to the
Divine Presence through its very existence as a particular people and by serving as a
light to the nations. The Jewish people is called to be a blessing for all peoples with
the goal that all men and women will live in accordance with the Divine Will, not by
converting to Judaism, but within the context of their particular historical and cultural
- All humankind is encompassed in God"s covenant with Noah and commanded to live according
to seven commandments which are seen to be the quintessence of universal morality: the
prohibitions of murder, idolatry, theft, incest, blasphemy, cruelty to animals, and the
injunction to establish courts of justice. Those who live according to this covenant are
called "the righteous from among the nations who have a portion in the World to
- Rabbinical attitudes to Christianity have varied considerably, from a perception of it
as idolatrous or at least as "flawed monotheism", to a view of it as a means to
help humanity to come closer to universal redemption (Maimonides); to seeing Christians as
"people bound by the ways of religion" (Rabbi Menahem Ha-Meiri) and as those who
believe in the Creation and the Exodus and in the main principles of religion whose whole
intent is to serve the Maker of Heaven and Earth" (Rabbi Moshe Rivkes/the Be"er
There is in this latter understanding of Christianity, the implicit acknowledgement of a
special relationship between it and Judaism. This is expressed not only in terms of a
religio-ethical partnership, but is also based on the common religious patrimony of the Hebrew
Bases for Jews to enter into relationship with Christians
- the need to take a common stand against ignorance, prejudice, bigotry and their
violent manifestations on the basis of the affirmation – shared with Christians and
other people of faith – of the Divine Presence in our world;
- the existence of a common agenda indicated by those tenets and values (e.g. the
belief in God as Creator, the commitment to the Noachide commandments, the Ten
Commandments, as well as the expectation of God"s rule over the whole earth) which Jews
and Christians hold in common due to their shared biblical and historical roots;
- the sanctification of God"s name in cooperation with all people who live in accordance
with God"s ways; and the possibility of partnership with Christians in sanctifying
God"s Name before society at large.
- the opportunity to know and love God more deeply by seeking God in every place,
especially where the knowledge of God is experienced in the lives and spirituality of
people of other faiths. In religious encounters with the righteous from among the nations,
Jews are exposed to other perspectives of the Omnipresent that are not encapsulated
totally in one Tradition; thus they gain a deeper experience of the Divine.
Christian Religious Perspectives Concerning
Communication and Cooperation with Jews
Overcoming obstacles stemming from shared roots
Since Christianity is rooted in Judaism, many of the images, symbols, ideas and much of the
vocabulary of both religions are derived from a common source. Paradoxically this common
religious basis is in fact the greatest stumbling block for communication and cooperation
since Christianity, insofar as it has adopted a supersessionist attitude towards Judaism, has
seen itself as the sole and true heir and exponent of this religious basis, regarding the
Jewish interpretation of it as antiquated, misguided and characterized by obstinate rejection
of the truth. It is that which Christianity has in common with Judaism that has traditionally
militated against respecting the Jewish interpretation of those common roots. Major
theological obstacles for acknowledging a common religious basis for communication and
cooperation with Jews are the following:
- the teaching that the Torah has been replaced by Jesus Christ as God"s ultimate
- the proclamation of Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah promised to Israel;
- the denigration of the national character of God"s Covenant with Israel by considering
the latter replaced by a divine covenant with all who "are in Christ":
- the rejection of the Land promised to Israel as a meaningful theological category for
the Jewish people.
Current Christian theological thinking that seeks to deal with these obstacles
- The Torah, as the expression of the covenant of Sinai, remains valid for Jews as a gift
to them that was never revoked. (Romans 9:4; 11:29). Nor has the Torah been abolished for
Christians, but remains part of God"s revelation, albeit with a new interpretation through
the person of Christ. (Matthew 5:17, John 10:35). The two main commandments Jesus
described as the greatest (Mark 12:28-31) are commandments of the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4-5
and Leviticus 19:18), and the Ten Commandments given to the people of Israel at Sinai
(Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 6) are central to Christian ethics.
- One of the main aspects of the promise of Messiah to Israel includes – also in the New
Testament – the deliverance of Israel from foreign oppression. Such deliverance,
however, did not take place through Jesus of Nazareth. Therefore, designating him as the
"Messiah promised to Israel" would not be an adequate description of his person.
In the course of Christian tradition, the Church has enriched the name "Christ"
(derived from the Greek rendering of "Messiah") which the early Christian
community had given to its Lord, Jesus of Nazareth, with many associations and attributes
to describe the fullness of his being. These express mysteries of the Christian faith
(such as contained in the concepts of the Incarnation and the Trinity) which do not find
adequate expression in the word "Messiah". Accordingly, Christians should be
circumspect in their use of this term as it is not an appropriate one to describe the
person of Jesus Christ, although it does strongly point to the Jewish roots of
- God"s covenant with Israel as a people has not been abrogated with the coming of Christ.
The Church as the body of Christ is not the successor or heir of God"s covenant with
Israel, but is a new way for men and women to enter into communion with the God of Israel
alongside the people of Israel. Accordingly proselytisation of Jews, often referred to as
missionary activity among Jews, is theologically untenable. The coming of Christ did not
change the Torah"s purpose of giving shape to the life of Israel as a particular people
with a particular vocation.
- There is an intrinsic relationship between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel,
which is linked to God"s covenant with them, a reality which is often not well understood
by Christians. They should strive to understand this link as well as the strong attachment
of the great majority of Jews to the Land of Israel and therefore to the State of Israel.
It is not incumbent upon Christians to observe the whole way of life of the Torah because
the Christian Church is distinct from the Jewish people. What they can and should do as
disciples of Jesus Christ who was faithful to the Torah – the expression of God"s will –
and added to its interpretation, is to derive inspiration from its values and paradigms
shaping the many different elements of their national, social, economic, cultural and
political life in the light of Torah.
For example, a nation or an oppressed group may see its own liberation struggle in the
light of the Exodus of Israel. Also one may take the biblical commandments to Israel about the
use of its Land (e.g. injunctions about the sabbatical year which claim the ultimate divine
ownership of land, the release of slaves and the cancellation of debts) as paradigms for one"s
own attitude towards land and people. Or one may use the commandments concerning the rights
and dignity of non-Jews who live among the people of Israel, as orientation for the way
foreigners are to be treated in one"s own society. But in doing so one must be aware that such
application of biblical commandments can only be made in a paradigmatic or analogous sense,
without exhausting, changing or superseding their original meaning and context as commandments
given to the people of Israel.
The Common Religious Basis of Judaism and Christianity
Based upon shared scriptural patrimony out of which common beliefs and values emerge, Jews
and Christians share:
a particular view of humanity, the world and God, including:
- the belief that the world is the creation of the One God;
- the belief that God is beyond any being, power or idea in the world (to consider any of
these as absolute is idolatry);
- the recognition that the world is given into the care and stewardship of humanity which
is called to serve and protect it in accordance with God"s purpose and to act in
partnership with God
- the recognition that each human being is created in the image of God and is therefore
infinitely precious to God;
- the recognition that human beings are responsible for each other;
- the recognition of God"s sovereignty in mercy and justice over humanity and the world;
- the recognition of God as present in history and in the lives of men and women;
- the hope for the establishment of God"s Kingdom of justice, peace and love on earth.
a particular ethos or set of values deriving from this view of God, the world and
- protection and preservation of God"s creation, everything in its kind, in responsible
- the affirmation of the sanctity of human life;
- the protection of the dignity of each human being irrespective of origin, race, gender,
characteristics or abilities;
- the protection of the family;
- the pursuit of justice for all, especially for the weak and vulnerable;
- the pursuit of mutual solidarity and peace in relations between people: in family, in
society, in the nation and among the nations;
- rejection of slavery, oppression and authoritarianism;
- striving for humility as the right balance between pride and subservience.
a rich literature – the Hebrew Scriptures – comprising narratives, poetry,
hymns, prophetic literature, wisdom teaching and historiography, which reflect the
understanding of God, humanity and the world as well as the ethos and values set out above.
These have great spiritual, moral, social and cultural significance for the present.
Of particular importance is the message contained in the Sabbath which teaches that human
life should alternate between the holy and the profane; between activity and passivity;
between dominance and dependence; between creativity and being creature amongst other
creatures. Christianity has applied some elements of the Sabbath to its celebration of the
Sunday, but the full implications of this aspect of Torah teaching for human life in society
and for the relation between humanity and the non-human world are seldom realized.
Limits of Pluralism
Because the expression of the human encounter with the Divine is limited by its very
nature, there is always need for reflection and scrutiny, for purification and renewal. In
short, there is need for theological humility of which religious self-criticism is an
It is inappropriate and offensive for outsiders to a particular religious community to pass
judgment on what is true religion within it and what is false. Outsiders to the religious
symbolic language by which a community expresses its encounter with the Divine do not have
adequate access to the inner sanctuaries of that religion. The right of self-definition rests
within that community"s own membership.
Notwithstanding, we contend that the limits of pluralism for Christians and Jews have been
- the consequences of beliefs threaten the well-being of human beings and their societies;
- beliefs bring about injustice, oppression, persecution or murder;
- beliefs do not respect the dignity and integrity of each human being created in the
image of God;
- beliefs do not respect the dignity and integrity of Creation.
In contributing to the building of a better world, Jews and Christians together should draw
the practical consequences from those teachings of the Torah which are their common basis.
They ought at the same time to be open to the insights and experiences which other religious
traditions and communities have to offer out of their encounter with the Divine.
Jews and Christians and Pluralism
From their common basis, Jews and Christians make their contribution to the discussion on
the future moral and spiritual shape of our world. Essential in this context is theological
Members of each religious community should concede that God may have other ways to relate
to human persons and communities, than those in which God has been revealed to their own
community. They should be aware that there are valid expressions of the encounter with the
Divine other than their own. When encounter with the Divine takes place in another religious
community, there too, men and women tread on holy ground.
Martin Buber House, Heppenheim, Germany, 1 March 1993