A Minister-Rabbi Conversation

II. About Christianity and Judaism

At a popular restaurant in a southern city the Reformed pastor, Rev. Nathanael K. Russo and the Rabbi Nathan Klug met over a mid-day repast to resume a friendly conversation centering around the Being and nature of God. On the center of the dining table was a pyramidal folder imprinted with a Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish “grace.” The rabbi and the minister, paying no attention to this, each bowed his head and prayed a silent word of thanks and asking of God’s blessing, the rabbi in his heart addressing Jehovah alone, and the pastor also addressing Jehovah, but in the name of His Son. The only thing their prayers had in common was the Hebrew “amen.” 

The rabbi opened the conversation with “Nathanael, I’ve been wanting to ask you: Why do you Protestant ministers continually refer to your faith as ‘our Judaeo-Christian religion’ or ‘our Judaeo-Christian heritage’? Is this sort of a ‘cover’ for a guilt-feeling, say, for having blamed the crucifixion on the Jews? Or is it an ecumenical ploy by which you would convey to the Jewish community that Christians no longer sprout ‘anti-Semitic’ horns? Or what? Pardon my being so frank.” 

“I appreciate your frankness, Nate; let’s by all means continue in that vein. In reply to your question, we- in our churches do not think of Christianity as ‘Judaeo-Christian.’ The term Judueo-, to us, means ‘relating to the Jews, their language and their religion,’ which is Judaism (a religion, by the way, as I know you will admit, quite in contradistinction to Christianity). It would be a legitimate usage to speak of something as Judaeo-German, for example, referring to a German dialect written in Hebrew consonants with Slavonic words and idioms, known popularly as Yiddish. (However, Yiddish is not at all popular, as you also know, with Orthodox Jews preferring to read and speak Hebrew.) There is also a Judaeophobia, an aversion to Jews, or a morbid dread of Jewish ascendancy. Antipodal to this would be Judaeophilism, a regard for Jews or Judaism. But Christianity, the term itself unquestionably implies, is derived from Christ. Christianity fundamentally has nothing in common with Judaism. Besides, it is not a question of determining blame for the Crucifixion. Yet on that score, please read the messianic prophecy ofIsaiah 53. There is better counsel than what you will get from the modernist metropolitan ecumenical councils. 

“But Rabbi, it is of the greatest of interest to me to know your answer to this question: What is the foundation and highest authority of Judaism, as the Jewish leaders conceive of this?” 

“Reverend, undoubtedly that authority is the Talmud.” 

“Clarify this point, Rabbi; let me understand it clearly—not the Tenach is that authority, but the Talmud?” 

“That is correct. The authority of Judaism lies not in the documents of the Torah, the Prophets and the Holy Writings, but solely in the Talmud.” 

“Thank you, friend. That honestly puts this issue in proper perspective. But did you know that our Lord, ha-Moshiach, the Messiah, if you please, or even if you don’t please, Himself referred, in contradistinction to Christianity, to Judaism and its foundation of authority? He did. In His time, and among His disciples, this authority of Judaism was known as ‘the tradition of the elders.’ This tradition was regarded by some of the Sadducee and Pharisee factions as of equal authority with the Holy Scriptures. Many others went farther to claim that the Tradition was of greater authority than that of the Scriptures. Since the Tradition of the Elders was said to interpret and clarify the Law, it, and not the Law, was regarded as the authority (of Judaism). Therefore traditional Judaism is Talmudic Judaism. Isn’t that so?” 

“Oh, yes! You are so right! In fact, it was our own late Rabbi Stephen S. Wise who put it in words I could never improve on when he said, ‘The return from Babylon, and the adoption of the Babylonian Talmud, marks the end of Hebrewism, and the beginning of Judaism.’ ” 

“Well, Nate, I have to agree with that modern rabbi on that remarkable statement. Then isn’t it true that the religion of the Old Testament was the religion of theHebrews, and could, indeed, properly be called Hebrewism, which, however, was abandoned by theJews when they adopted the Talmud as their religious authority? You say you agree with that one hundred per cent. I see. And does not that adoption constitute the beginning of Judaism?” 

“It certainly does, my Protestant friend; so that those Protestant ministers who are ever speaking of ‘the Judaeo-Christian ethic,’ and the like, don’t know what they are talking about!” 

Then that K. Russo fellow, keeping silent a moment, thought to himself, “They surely don’t. For there is an antithesis between Judaism and Christianity. All the opposition our Lord suffered, up to their murder of Him on the Cross came from Judaism as represented by the scribes, chief priests, and elders of the Jews. We could say that the gospel as expressed in the Old Testament Scriptures might conceivably be termed ‘Hebrew-Christian,’ but they may not, and especially the New Testament Gospel may not, properly be called ‘Judaeo-Christian.’ Christianity is no way ‘Judaeo’ because it is in no way Judaistic. Aloud he said, “Rabbi, tell those clergymen who think John the Baptizer got his religion from Judaism and the Talmud to read the third chapter of Matthew’s Gospel; and if they think Christ Himself owed any of His teaching to Judaism, tell them to read Matthew 15:1-9, and, above all to read Matthew’s 23rd chapter. Oh, sure, right! You’ll have to first read all that yourself. But you will find nothing ‘Judaeo-Christian’ in either John’s or Christ’s theology!” 

“Pastor, I’m learning more from you about the Bible and the Christian faith than in all the years I’ve attended the ‘rap’ sessions of the metropolitan council of churches with ministers, priests, and rabbis present! If I understand these words of Jesus correctly, then in them He flatly condemned Judaism and rejected it with the same vehemence as in His cleansing of the temple! Am I right? You solemnly nod your head in answer. Then when we Jews make this discovery, how can you expect us to listen any further to your Christianity?” 

“Christ does not condemn true Hebrewism (after all He was the Hebrew of the Hebrews), nor does He condemn any true Jew. Do you know that according to the divinely inspired prophet to the Gentiles, the apostle Paul, we Christians are Jews in the strictest spiritual sense of the word? He wrote, under the guidance of the Spirit of God, ‘For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God’ (Romans 2:28-29). Now suppose, just for a moment, that Jesus Christ is, according to the Hebrew Scriptures, the promised Messiah. Then wouldn’t you have to listen to Him, even to His most heart-searching and flesh-withering language?” 

“I suppose, assuming the way you just put it; and Orthodox Jews would likely concede an affirmative answer.” 

“Yes, I should think they would. For Moses prophesied of Messiah in the Law, ‘The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto Me. To Him ye shall hearken’ (Deuteronomy 18:15). Indeed then you would have to listen to Him, for ‘every soul which will not hear that Prophet shall be destroyed from among the people’ (Acts 3:23).” 

“You seem to have a lot of reverence for the Jewish, or as you would put it, the Hebrew Messiah. From our former conversation I gather that you Christians believe that Jehovah has a son, and that the Messiah is that son. Is that correct? and if so, how can that be?”

“That is absolutely correct, and your own Hebrew Scriptures, the very oracles of God (Romans 3:2), state this literally. Surely you remember the words of Agur, ‘Who hath ascended up into heaven or descended? Who hath gathered the wind in His fists? Who hath bound the waters in a garment? Who hath established all the ends of the earth?’ (Any child of the synagogue could answer that!) ‘What is His name?’ (Why, you immediately answer, Everybody knows His name is Jehovah! Right!) ‘and what is His Son’s name, if thou canst tell?’ (Proverbs 30:4). Here is the proof, not from the Talmud, but from the Hebrew Scripture, that Jehovah has a Son. From these same Hebrew oracles you, or any one else, ought to be able to tell, with the help of the great prophet, Isaiah (Isaiah 7:14), that His name isImmanuel! Now, since it is getting late, perhaps at another time we could look into Sepher Tehillim, at Psalm Two, where Messiah is further identified as Jehovah’s Son.” 

Both men arising from the table shake hands. The rabbi bids farewell with “Shalom lekah! Peace to you! As a reformed Jew I must say the ham was delicious! Next time, it’s my treat and I request that we share our views on the touchy subject of ‘anti- Semitism.’ You agree? Wonderful! I’m looking forward to it.” On his way homeward the Protestant preacher lifted up his heart in prayer and song to the triune Jehovah in the words, “Praise the Lord, for He is good, For His mercies ever sure From eternity have stood, To eternity endure; Let His ransomed people raise Songs to their Redeemer’s praise!”