Christianity in Jewish Terms

By Tikva Frymer-Kensky; David Novak et al. | Go to book overview

Another Jewish View of Ethics,
Christian and Jewish

ELLIOT N. DORFF

Professor Novak and I share a commitment to the Jewish tradition and to Jewish-Christian dialogue, not only in conviction but through many and diverse activities in our lives. We understand the Jewish tradition somewhat differently, though, and that leads us to some differences in how we understand both Jewish ethics and also Christian ethics from a Jewish point of view.


Belief and Practice

Let me begin with a point that we share. Professor Novak is certainly right when he calls on Christians to stop looking at Judaism as legalistic (hypernomianism) and at Christianity as lacking in law altogether (antinomianism). Or, put another way, it is a mistake to assume that Jews are concerned with practice and not belief, whereas Christians are concerned with belief but not practice. Both Judaism and Christianity, in all their forms, affirm various beliefs and practices, and to focus abstractly on "the Law" and ignore Jewish beliefs or Christian practices is to distort the reality of those two faiths in the past and present.

However, the relative emphasis placed on belief and practice within the two religions is different: Judaism goes to great lengths to define proper behavior in both ritual and moral aspects of life and lets the beliefs emerge from the practice, whereas Christianity takes pains to define proper beliefs and lets the practice that is appropriate to one who holds such beliefs remain largely undefined.

Judaism does affirm a set of beliefs; but Judaism has not insisted that practicing Jews affirm a particular formulation of those beliefs. Instead, within certain wide bounds, the tradition assumes that each in

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