Ourchil­dren­should­know about Chris­tian­ity, too

The Jewish Chronicle - - JUDAISM - BY SI­MON ROCKER

IN AU­TUMN a num­ber of Jewish schools will be­gin teach­ing Is­lam as part of the new curriculum for GCSE re­li­gious stud­ies. It was a move they were forced to make in or­der to com­ply with the gov­ern­ment’s re­quire­ment that from 2016 at least a quar­ter of the GCSE course should be al­lo­cated to a sec­ond re­li­gion. Al­though Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis orig­i­nally op­posed the change — ar­gu­ing that in a busy GCSE sched­ule Jewish schools needed the time within re­li­gious stud­ies to de­vote to Ju­daism — he has bowed to the in­evitable and last month rec­om­mended that the sec­ond re­li­gion taught by schools un­der his author­ity should be Is­lam.

As ex­plained by Joshua Rowe, the chair­man of one school, King David High in Manch­ester, pupils are more likely to pick up the ba­sic prin­ci­ples of Chris­tian­ity from the sur­round­ing so­ci­ety, but will not know about Is­lam un­less they study it.

What the of­fi­cial in­sti­tu­tions have not said is that Is­lam is the­o­log­i­cally closer to Ju­daism and there are par­al­lels be­tween sharia law and halachah. Chris­tian­ity, how­ever, can be more dif­fi­cult for Jews be­cause of doc­trines such as the Trin­ity, the three-in-one con­cep­tu­al­i­sa­tion of God, and the di­vin­ity of Je­sus — a dif­fi­culty re­flected in the re­luc­tance of many tra­di­tional Jews to set foot in a church.

Nev­er­the­less, it could be ar­gued that Jewish chil­dren should learn some­thing about both of the other Abra­hamic faiths in school. The be­lief that you can ac­quire knowl­edge of Chris­tian­ity by os­mo­sis, sim­ply ab­sorb­ing bits and pieces of in­for­ma­tion from the out­side world, is also ques­tion­able now. As the Woolf Com­mis­sion on re­li­gion in Bri­tain re­cently em­pha­sised, nearly half of peo­ple in the UK no longer iden­tify as re­li­gious at all.

Even nom­i­nal Chris­tians may know lit­tle of the na­tional faith. A Re­form rabbi re­called once go­ing into a gen­eral school to talk about Pe­sach and asked about the Last Sup­per. The chil­dren thought it was the fi­nal meal you got to eat be­fore nu­clear Ar­maged­don.

While Jewish-Chris­tian re­la­tions may be coloured by an of­ten trau­matic history, post-War there has been a sig­nif­i­cant change for the bet­ter. The new mood was il­lus­trated just a few weeks ago when a group of mod­ern Ortho­dox rab­bis is­sued a dec­la­ra­tion which con­tained one of the most pos­i­tive eval­u­a­tions of Chris­tian­ity to have come out of Ju­daism.

The Ortho­dox Rab­binic State­ment on Chris­tian­ity en­vis­aged it as a “part­ner” with Ju­daism which shared a com­mon mis­sion to “per­fect the world un­der the sovereignty of the Almighty”. Cit­ing such au­thor­i­ta­tive fig­ures as Mai­monides and Ye­huda Halevi, they said that Christi- an­ity should be con­sid­ered as divinely willed and a “gift to the na­tions”.

They also quoted the in­flu­en­tial 18th-cen­tury rabbi Ja­cob Em­den, who stated that Je­sus brought “dou­ble good­ness” to the world in strength­en­ing the To­rah and re­mov­ing idols. “Chris­tians,” he wrote, “are con­gre­ga­tions that work for the sake of heaven, who are des­tined to en­dure, whose in­tent is for the sake of heaven and whose re­ward will not be de­nied”.

Sig­na­to­ries in­cluded for­mer Chief Rabbi of France, Shmuel Si­rat, Chief Rabbi of Efrat Shlomo Riskin and prob­a­bly the lead­ing Ortho­dox rab­binic in­ter­faith ac­tivist of to­day, Rabbi David Rosen of Is­rael. So far only two Bri­tish-based rab­bis, Zvi Solomons of Berk­shire and David Rose of Ed­in­burgh, have en­dorsed it.

Such doc­u­ments de­serve wider recog­ni­tion within the Jewish world, es­pe­cially since the at­ti­tude to­wards Chris­tian­ity of many Jews is shaped by re­mem­brance of past per­se­cu­tion. And what bet­ter place to start than Jewish schools?

Even if Chris­tian­ity is not taught it­self in Jewish schools, chil­dren ought to learn some­thing about JewishChris­tian re­la­tions. The same could be said for JewishMus­lim re­la­tions. There is surely an ed­u­ca­tional im­per­a­tive to pro­mote in­ter­faith un­der­stand­ing where pos­si­ble.

If the GCSE years may be thought pre­ma­ture for it, Keep­ing faith with the na­tion: St Paul’s Cathe­dral, Lon­don there is no rea­son why six­th­form Jewish stud­ies should not in­clude a short course on re­la­tions be­tween Ju­daism and the two other Abra­hamic faiths.

Such a course would look at the roots of con­flict be­tween the faiths and the re­li­gious flash­points which can lead to violence. But it would also in­tro­duce the thinkers who have found prece­dents within their own tra­di­tion for tak­ing a pos­i­tive view of the other faiths.

It is not enough for Jewish chil­dren to be taught the broad rab­binic maxim, that the right­eous of all na­tions have a share in the world to come, and sim­ply leave it at that. They need more de­tailed knowl­edge if they are to build bet­ter Jewish-Chris­tian and Jewish-Mus­lim re­la­tions in fu­ture.

We tend to take a rosy view of Jewish mes­sian­ism, of li­ons ly­ing down with lambs and chil­dren play­ing with adders. But vi­sions of the end of days also in­clude a blood­ier es­cha­tol­ogy in which the en­e­mies of Jews re­ceive a ter­ri­ble come­up­pance. As Rabbi Michael Har­ris re­minds us in his new book Faith With­out Fear, some rabbinical pre­dic­tions of the mes­sianic age are dis­tinctly tri­umphal­ist, where gen­tiles are sub­servient to Jews and, in some, have no fu­ture at all. Given the suf­fer­ing of Jews down the ages, the de­sire for divine ret­ri­bu­tion is un­der­stand­able.

But there are darker cur­rents within our tra­di­tion and we ought to in­oc­u­late our chil­dren against them.

‘Chris­tians are con­gre­ga­tions that work for the sake of heaven’

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