Religion & Beliefs

The Hebrew Word for “Holy”

Last night, as I was reading comments to yesterday’s post, Multiple Spirituality Disorder, it finally occurred to me that I may be witnessing a generational shift in attitudes and perspectives toward interfaith dialogue and identity. (Does that make me a … Read More

By / November 13, 2009

Last night, as I was reading comments to yesterday’s post, Multiple Spirituality Disorder, it finally occurred to me that I may be witnessing a generational shift in attitudes and perspectives toward interfaith dialogue and identity. (Does that make me a great sociologist or what? Graduate school at NYU was not wasted on me!)

These days, the world of Jewish-Christian dialogue is pretty messy, although it might not seem that way at Jewcy.com.  My week of writing and hanging out at this site has been a source of great comfort and several very good laughs.

Here, it seems, everyone takes everyone else’s self-referent irreverence in stride. Here, making a big deal over the distinction between identity and practice seems to be no big deal. Here, intra-tribal warfare seems to be waged with exponentially less vitriol that it is in other venues.  Here, tikkun seems possible; that the shattered world of Christian-Jewish relations might be repaired a teensy bit.  I hope this is true because my generation has and, as far as I can tell is still, screwing it up.

My experience as an American Jew is anchored in an earlier time in history, a point when anti-Semitism was blatant and acceptable. I was in junior high when Tom Lehrer wrote and sang, "National Brotherhood Week," which included the rueful big-laugh line, "And everyone hates the Jews."  This helped shape my identity as a Jew and, as I’d discover, future interactions with other Jews about my embrace of Christianity.

Calling something a "dialogue" doesn’t make it one. In my book Why Is There a Menorah on the Altar? I reprinted copies of significant dialogue documents issued by the liturgical churches as well as by the text for Dabru Emet (appearing as a full-page ad in The New York Times on September 10, 2000) and A Sacred Obligation (issued by the Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations). They’re moving documents that become even more so considering when they were written.

Still, if my experience in writing my book is any indication, we have a long way to go.  Case in point: the pissing contest with one (Jewish, younger, scholar) reviewer over the proper transliteration of the Hebrew word for "holy."  What do you think it is?  Kodesh? Kodosh? Kadosh?  Choose the "wrong" one and your identity could be suspect.

At one point, my Conservadox Jewish therapist said, "Forget about the Jews. They’re not your audience." Perhaps not, but given the realities of interfaith marriage it’s time to know more about our shared heritage. For Christians, this means understanding our Jewish roots. For Jews, this means understanding how our legacy endures in other religious traditions. Dayenu? Probably not.