Christianity in Jewish Terms

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

What could be clearer than this stark contrast between (1) utter dependence as a universal human being, in which we are as nothing, our deeds are like the precreation void, and we can do no more than cast supplications before God who listens out of grace; and (2) the status of covenant, whereby we may approach God through inherited tradition, no longer with supplication but with praise on our lips? God's original act of grace is the giving of that covenant to us while we still were in the state of nature. After receiving it, we enter the new state of partnership with the divine, which we affirm in the Shema that follows.

In sum, Judaism does indeed know the concept of grace. As in Christianity, God's grace consists paradigmatically of the gift around which the covenant is established. But for Jews this gift is Torah, whereas for Christians it is Jesus. And I think Christianity further developed the sense of human inadequacy even after the gift of Jesus, thereby focusing attention on gratitude as the primal spiritual sentiment, whereas for Judaism, the gift of Torah provided the potential for becoming worthy, a state that had been impossible when there were no commandments to perform. Jewish liturgy, therefore, is built on the berachah, the blessing, which accents praise; Christian liturgy focuses on the Eucharist, an act of thanksgiving.


Conclusion

Can Jews understand Christianity in Jewish terms? Is such a translation even possible? The answer is, yes and no. Surface similarities alone do not constitute understanding, but a comparison is possible at the deeper level of bedrock theological concepts. I have taken three of these--sacrifice, remembrance, and thanksgiving--and tried to make explicit what Jewish liturgy at least implies about them. Classic Christianity can be filtered through the prism of these concepts to see how Christian and Jewish views are either similar or different.

Grace is an especially good example of this comparative method at work. The Hebrew for "grace" (from the root ch.n.n) is translated in Jewish prayer books as a variety of things but almost never as grace, because Jewish translators systematically avoid using theological language that they mistakenly think is purely Christian. The famous prayer of the High Holy Days, however, Avinu Malkenu (Our Father, our King), gives us this memorable line that almost all Jews who attend synagogue know by heart: Avinu malkenu, choneinu va'aneinu ki ein banu ma'asim / Asei imanu tsedakah va-chesed ve-hoshi'einu. Here is

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