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A Reponse to " A Different Future "
Though not present at the Cardinal Bea lecture by Dr. Edward Kessler, I wish to address three points related to its topic. First I would like to emphasize my substantial agreement with Kessler’s assessment of the past, present and future of Jewish-Christian dialogue. He addresses the principal issues in a manner that is courageous, straightforward and yet very sensitive to the concerns of all partners in the dialogue. He emphasizes that getting to know the other, e.g., for Christians to get to know and appreciate Jewish concerns about anti-Semitism, about Israel, and about intermarriage, does not yet constitute dialogue. Neither does casual conversation. I wholeheartedly agree with him that it is important to go beyond these necessary preliminaries toward real dialogue, which requires a certain reciprocity, even when we reach out to each other from positions that, at the outset, seem far apart and in many ways asymmetrical.
Secondly, I agree with Kessler that reading the Bible together is one of the best means to furthering true dialogue. He rightly states: “If Christians and Jews examine post-biblical interpretations they will discover a shared emphasis on the importance of certain biblical texts” and cites the interpretation of the Binding of Isaac (Gen 22) as an example. I would add that Jewish and Christian scholars, working either separately or now increasingly together on biblical interpretation of some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, have made and are making fascinating discoveries. These generally do not immediately lead to front-page news articles; however, learning how the Scriptures of Israel were read by different people does assist in better appreciating the context in which both rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity were rooted.
Thirdly, I would like to add some reflections on more recent developments. A September 10, 2000 joint statement by an interdenominational group of Jewish scholars indicates a sea change. The statement entitled Dabru Emet (Hebrew for “Speak the Truth”) was very carefully drafted and signed by four scholars associated with the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies in Baltimore.1 It was co-signed by more than 175 other Jewish intellectuals, Edward Kessler among them. While it is still too early to assess its long-term significance, Dabru Emet certainly is a courageous and nuanced expression of an openness to dialogue that can be accepted by Jews across all the major denominations, even though the authors speak only for themselves.
If Dabru Emet represents an opening, the August 6, 2000 declaration Dominus Iesus by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith seems to point in the opposite direction – the direction of closure. Yet in my reading, while the much criticized declaration appears to be similar to a brake test performed on an open highway, it points to a reality of the dialogue that the signers of Dabru Emet and, probably also Edward Kessler, could agree with: that each dialogue partner has to come to the dialogue in fidelity to her or his own faith tradition, without any attempt to impose its doctrines on the other. Dialogue does not consist of unilateral statements, but such statements can foster it and may even keep it on track.
* Dr. Joseph Sievers is a professor at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.
1. See SIDIC, Vol. XXXIII, No. 3, 2000, pp 16-17.