Magazine article Cross Currents
Jewish-Christian Relations in the Postmodern Era
The third millennium now already a year underway, it is a propitious time to take inventory of Jewish-Christian relations in this postmodern era. Challenged by the task of repairing their worlds after the devastation of the Shoah, Jews and Christians began reconsidering their relationship in the 1960s and '70s. Those of us engaged in Jewish-Christian relations today owe much to the individuals who inaugurated a new chapter in Jewish-Christian history: Soloveitchik, Heschel, Greenberg, Van Buren, Ruether, and others. Nonetheless, the postmodern era we live in affords new possibilities for Jewish-Christian relations unexplored by our theological mentors.
While unprecedented and religiously inspiring, the proposals for Jewish-Christian relations advanced in the last thirty years nonetheless remained primarily apologetic. Generally speaking, the vanguard of interreligious thinkers asked themselves, "Given our understanding of the essential nature of Judaism/Christianity, how far can we go in our discussions with the other?" While the more conservative-minded among these thinkers maintained traditional definitions of their own religions and the more liberal advanced new definitions, each began their analysis with a secure characterization of their respective tradition. Inevitably, this approach restricted the possibilities for Jewish-Christian relations. Bound by prescriptive definitions of their own religious identity, Jews and Christians remained guarded in their discussions with each other, as interested in protecting the essentials of their own faith as in venturing forth in dialogue with the other.
At the start of the third millennium, Jewish-Christian relations are no longer hemmed in by apologetic concerns. The cultural and intellectual terrain has changed. Influenced by the thought of Wittgenstein, Derrida, Habermas, Levinas, et al., religious thinkers have begun to question the essentialist definitions of their religions, appreciating instead their often unstable and dynamic character. This trend in religious thought permits the development of a riskier and more active approach to Jewish-Christian relations. …