As Jews and Christians face a common threat in radical Islam, is there a way beyond sad history and good vibrations for the adherents of the two religions to enjoy decent relations? Such a new relationship starts with truthful acknowledgments-and an understanding of Jewish-Christian relations over the centuries, and now. This special report is a starting point for just such an understanding.
Passover and Easter are the only Jewish and Christian holidays that move in sync, like the ice skating pairs we saw during the winter Olympics. Because of differences between the Jewish lunar calendar and the solar one now standard, Hanukah and Christmas sometimes come back-to-back and sometimes weeks apart; this year, the first day of Hanukah is Nov. 30. Other holidays also are distinct: The Jewish New Year's Day this year comes on Sept. 7, which many non-Jews will asterisk on their calendars as the first big Saturday of a new college football year.
Passover and Easter, though, always go together because Christianity's most solemn events began with a Passover meal. Over three millennia ago God, delivering Israelites from slavery in Egypt, told them to slaughter a lamb and smear its blood on their door posts so the angel of death would pass over their homes. Almost two millennia ago Jesus arose from a Passover-commemorating supper, his last, and went out as a lamb to the slaughter so that people from many nations could be freed from slavery to sin and fear of death.
This year Passover begins the evening of March 27 and Easter comes on March 31. Magazine and newspaper stories, judging by what we've seen over the past 10 years, will paper over differences between Judaism and Christianity and propose that the two enter the pairs skating competition as a team. Is that the way to go, or should the two religions compete in a long-distance race on ice? Or will we repeat history, with the contest turned into a hockey game, and numerous Christians shooting multiple pucks against a Jewish goalie left without glove, stick, or mask?
Hundreds of ecumenical conferences and books since the 1960s have tried to improve Jewish-Christian relations. Orthodox Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner, in his 1993 book Telling Tales, ably ridicules attempts to find the lowest common denominator of togetherness. He writes that Christians are now acknowledging that Jesus and those around Him were Jewish, and Jews are saying that Jesus was a decent fellow, somewhat like a modern liberal rabbi. Are such conclusions the best that can be drawn, after a huge investment in paper, ink, and long dinners? Can we do better in the 21st century, particularly as Judaism and Christianity face a rekindled threat to both, Islam?
We can, by honestly acknowledging theological differences while sympathetically entering into the interwoven history of the two religions. This essay's 12 sections examine Jewish history and Jewish-Christian relations with that goal in mind.