Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Amy-Jill Levine's Decree for Interfaith Dialogue

Amy-Jill Levine concludes The Misunderstood Jew with an A-Z list of suggestions for interfaith dialogue between Jews and Christians (pp 215-226):
A. Be cautious of any statement beginning "All Jews think..." or any stereotype that asserts "All Jews are..."

B. Recognize that both Jewish and Christian sources contain ugly, misogynistic, intolerant, and hateful material.

C. Avoid selective use of rabbinic sources, especially if they are used as a foil for something in the New Testament.

D. Avoid comments that create the picture of a Jesus divorced from his own people.

E. Avoid the immediate association of Judaism with the Old Testament. Judaism is based on ever-evolving interpretations of the Tanakh.

F. Recognize that the gospels are not objective reports. They are sectarian, reflecting the separation between the majority Jewish body and the members of it who chose to follow Jesus.

G. Remember that the "bible" of the church is not the "bible" of the synagogue.

H. Do not seek artificial connections in interfaith dialogue, and do not be afraid of disagreement.

I. Don't be a Marcionite. I.e. Don't juxtapose an "Old Testament God of wrath" with an "New Testament God of love".

J. Learn about the history of Christian tradition before engaging in interfaith dialogue.

K. If possible, read the scriptures in an interfaith setting.

L. Speak out when you hear negative comments about your neighbor, and if necessary, speak out in a public forum.

M. Watch out for anti-Judaism in the hymnal.

N. Watch out for anti-Judaism in lectionary readings.

O. Address why Jesus died without appealing to explanations which rely on negative stereotypes of Judaism and Jews.

P. Park guilt and entitlement at the door before engaging in interfaith dialogue. Neither Christian guilt, nor Jewish entitlement, over the legacy of anti-Semitism is helpful.

Q. In public prayer, invoke your deity in a way that affirms your distinct confession and yet recognizes the existence of alternative truth claims.

R. Don't overplay the significance of Galilee over Judea in order to understand the conflict between Jesus and his fellow Jews. There were many Galileans who didn't follow Jesus; and the early church was based in Judea.

S. Be aware that the desire to convert Jews to Christianity, while perhaps natural, will never be greeted with warmth.

T. Be careful in discussing the Middle-East. Don't equate Israel's treatment of the Palestinians with the Nazi treatment of the Jews, and don't equate Palestinian discontent with the violent few.

U. Double-check that Sunday school and religious education teachers are informed about the history of their own tradition and the history of the other.

V. Learn Hebrew and Greek if possible and read the scriptures in their original language.

W. Look out for anti-Semitic internet sites.

X. Practice holy envy: look at the other tradition with generosity and try to see the good.

Y. If all else fails, manipulate people psychologically: remind them of feelings that will be potentially hurt when another religion is portrayed negatively.

Z. Imagine Amy-Jill Levine herself sitting in the back of a church with her eyeballs on you. (She boasts that she has interrupted church sermons in which Jews are used as foils, gays are bashed, etc.)
Levine elaborates on each of these at length in the book (which, incidentally, is a decent one).

For the most part I think this amounts to good advice. One might even guess that a Unitarian wrote it. I would underscore the importance of commandment H. -- "Do not seek artificial connections in interfaith dialogue, and do not be afraid of disagreement" -- because it's all too easy to forget this one when putting the others into practice. Genuine dialogue comes through lively disagreement, respecting that disagreement, and being animated by it. If we get too concerned about "hurting people's feelings" (see the amusing Y. in particular), dialogue becomes disingenuous.


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