On Religious Dialogue

In the face of the last Vatican betrayal of Israel , of the Jews, and of all the Xtians that are being persecuted in the territories occupied by the Arabs, and who are disappearing from them – while no Jew is allowed to even enter them – a betrayal consummated again with today’s recognition of the non-existent “palestinian state”, after it took them 45 years to recognize the State of Israel – it is more than appropriate to underline, once again, that the so-called “religious dialogue” is not only useless but dangerous, and not by chance forbidden by Our Sages.
Below is a re-publishing of the text on “Religious Dialogue” published by Rav Herschel Reichman, זצ״ל, former Rosh Yeshivah at Yeshiva University in New York.

The Cardinals’ Visit: Thoughts of a Rosh Yeshiva
By Rabbi Hershel Reichman
Published: Tuesday, February 17, 2004

It is with great respect for those involved on the YU side of the recent visit of Cardinals that I pen this article. The sincere intentions and well meaning of those involved are clear. However, I humbly beg to present another point of view. Much of what I write is based on my understanding of the Rav (Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik) z’tzal’s approach to dialogue with the Catholic Church, and I hope and pray that I will be true to my Rebbe’s teachings — at whose feet I studied for nearly twenty-five years.

Christianity for Jews

Judaism, as defined and interpreted by the Torah and Halacha, prohibits Christianity to Jews as an idolatrous faith. There are those Halachic authorities who state that as far as non-Jews are concerned, the Christian faith is not idolatrous. However, virtually all major opinions agree that for Jews, Christianity is idolatry. (See Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deyah, Simanim 112-158, especially 147. Also see Tosefos Bechoros 2b d.h. Shma and Rambam’s uncensored Hilchos Avodah Zarah, his Epistle to Yemen, and Sefer HaVikuchim of the Ramban.) Numerous halachic injunctions forbid Jews to accept upon themselves Christian practices and beliefs, particularly the Christian concept of Trinity and Jesus, which violate the Torah’s fundamental principle of the non-corporeal and singular unity of G-d. This is affirmed twice daily by Jews in the first verse of Krias Shema, which proclaims Hashem Echad — G-d is One.

The Rav’s Psak Against Religious Dialogue

In the wake of Vatican II, and its call for religious ecumenism, the Rav z’tzal issued his psak (Tradition, 1964) that has defined Orthodox Jewry’s policy towards the Catholic Church for forty years. He decided: “Religious dialogue” between Jews and Christians is prohibited. “Social dialogue” concerning human and social issues, particularly anti-Semitism, is permitted.

The Rav’s psak was not issued in a vacuum. He was well versed in Christian theology and knew exactly what Vatican II meant. As a leading halachist of his time, he was also very well aware of the halachic considerations that promote dialogue like aivah, darchei shalom, and hatzalos nefashos, as well as those halachos that limit dialogue. Yet, he issued his, as yet unchallenged, historic psak. As far as I know, nothing has fundamentally changed in the last forty years to warrant a reassessment of that psak.

Thus, the only halachic issue for us to decide today is whether or not any particular event is “religious” or “social.” To my mind, priests listening to bachurei yeshivah learning Torah in a Beis Midrash is a “religious” event. I would also say the same if rabbis went into churches to listen in on Christian religious classes.

I understand the term “religious dialogue” as used by the Rav z’tzal to include not only discussing with priests the Gospels– their theology, but also l’havdil, discussing the Torah — which is our theology. This should also prohibit discussions about “Torah u’Mada” — which is a Torah ideology representing a certain “shitah” or school within Torah. Also, a “derech halimud,” the way we Jews learn Torah is a part of Torah, as the Rav said many times in his shiur — whether it’s a “chavrusah system” or “Brisker system” etc. Thus, all of these types of discussions should be avoided.

Let’s move on to a broader discussion of Jewish-Christian relations today.

The Sword and Dialogue

One must approach dialogue with the Catholic Church with the utmost caution. We know that the Church has had an ongoing agenda since its inception to convert Jews and replace Judaism with Christianity as the true universal faith. The Church has always used two methods to advance Jewish conversion: 1) the sword; 2) dialogue (see Rambam’s Epistle to Yemen, and Bais Halevi on the beginning of Parshas Vayishlach for a fuller discussion of these two strategies). Millions of Jews have died at the hands of Christian swordsmen – in the Crusades, in the Inquisition, in the Chmielnicki Massacres, and during the Holocaust. Many thousands of other Jews have converted through Jewish- Christian dialogue and Christian missionary activity — as unfortunately occurred in Spain before the Inquisition (See Marronos of Spain and The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain, B. Netanyahu) and in nineteenth and twentieth century Western Europe and America.

The Sword

Until this day, the Catholic Church has never renounced totally and unequivocally its basic tenet that Jews must convert to Catholicism for true salvation. Indeed, this tenet is still part of an active agenda. I believe that the modern-day equivalent of the Christian sword is the Catholic film “The Passion” that is about to be released. By all objective accounts, it will re-awaken the ancient Catholic canard of Jewish deicide and guilt and will undoubtedly cause tremendous resentment against Jews by Christians worldwide. Heaven help us from the real and dangerous threat of violent, ferocious, Christian anti-Semitism with its historical potential for terrible pogroms against Jews throughout the world. The present Pope has indeed seen this film and has not denounced it for its documented, dangerous potential. By this silence, he again repeats the unforgivable sin of Pope Pius XII in World War Two — the “silent Pope” who with a few uttered words might have saved many thousands of Jews from death in France, Poland, and Italy, all Catholic countries where millions of Jews were killed. Must Jews today worry about such dangers again with only silence from the present Pope? Indeed, did the seven Cardinals who visited YU issue a public statement denouncing the film’s assertion of Jewish guilt for deicide before, during, or after their visit? Or rather, was their visit a clever attempt to protect a Church weakened by recent scandals from the expected criticism resulting from the soon to be released anti-Semitic film?


I believe that the Cardinals’ visit is using the Church’s second approach — dialogue — to manipulate the Jews. The first step is to begin to talk. Then they hope that the Jews will compromise some principles. And finally, they hope Jews will accept in some way the Christian view of Jesus and become Jews for Jesus. Surely, it is a historic compromise of ancient Jewish traditions when a “meshumad,” a Jewish convert to Christianity, is welcomed in a yeshivah beis midrash — something which has never happened as far as I know for over 2000 years.

We should not naively dismiss the dangers of religious confusion in our own Orthodox circles. An acquaintance recently came to me saying, “Rabbi Reichman, I was at a Martin Luther King memorial held in an Orthodox shul at which the choir of the nearby Baptist Church sang Tehilim (Psalms). Rabbi, their songs were so inspiring! They were truly spiritually uplifting as were the words of their pastor. They also serve G-d!” I spent close to an hour explaining that despite the spirituality he had experienced, Judaism and Christianity differ drastically in many basic philosophies as well as lifestyles, and that our faith could not and should not be confused with theirs. I tried my best to help him. However, what about the other Jews who attended the program and surely had similar reactions? Who will help them?

It is no accident that the meshumad Cardinal Lustiger led the delegation to YU. Lustiger himself explained this when he previously said, “I was born Jewish, and so I remain, even if that’s unacceptable for many. For me, the vocation of Israel is bringing light to the goyim. That’s my hope and I believe that Christianity is the means for achieving it” (www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/j/jean_marie_cardinel_lusti.html). Thus, the message of the Church is crystal clear: “Shmad is acceptable. A Jew can become Christian and say kaddish and do a ‘kiddush Hashem’ as a Jewish Christian. Lustiger is a Jew for Jesus and is ‘acceptable’ to Jews. So are all the Jews for Jesus.” Heaven forbid! Let us not allow the Church to manipulate us.

Jewish Attitudes Towards the Catholic Church

I want to state strongly what I heard from the Rav z’tzal. When it comes to the Catholic Church, we Jews should not apply the maxim: Hevei dan kol adam l’chaf zchus — judge everyone by tilting towards their merit. Rather, we should use the maxim: Kabdehu V’chashdehu — respect them, but be extremely suspicious of them. Millions of Jewish martyrs demand no less of us.

Forgiveness for the Church

Some may misinterpret the Cardinal’s visit as tacit forgiveness of the Church for past sins against Jews. Let us address this issue. Firstly, we have to seriously contemplate whether we Jews today have the moral license to forgive the Church for sins committed against Jews in the past, since we ourselves were not the victims of those crimes. Furthermore, even were we to assume the right to forgive, the Church has so far failed to rise to the standard which warrants Jewish forgiveness.

There is a very important misconception here that warrants elucidation. Both Judaism and Christianity preach forgiveness. However, these two concepts of forgiveness differ. The difference is in the basis for forgiveness. In Judaism, the basis is Teshuvah. In Christianity, it is Confession. According to classical Judaism, Teshuvah consists of four elements: 1) Hakaras ha’Chet — recognizing the fact of a misdeed; 2) Charatah Lesh’avar – expressing regret; 3) Tikkun ha’Cchet — fixing the sin — for example, returning a stolen item or paying for it; 4) Kabbalah L’habah — sincerely committing oneself never to sin again and really assuming a new lifestyle.

Christianity, however, suffices with confessing the misdeed and having faith in Jesus. It proposes that through faith, the sinner is forgiven. We Jews, however, cannot change our basis for forgiveness for theirs. The Catholic Church may have belatedly admitted that innocent Jews have suffered because of the Church. It therefore asks for Jewish forgiveness. However, the Church has yet to say that the various Popes themselves and the Church were ever wrong and guilty of sins during millennia of persecution! This includes the incitement by priests, which was a major cause of all the pogroms, rapes, murder, and plunder done to us for centuries in the Church’s name (See The History of Anti-Semitism, L. Poliakov, Schocken Books, p.47, 180, 330). We want to hear the full “Charatah Le’sh’avar” — the total expression of regret and acceptance of guilt for sins committed by the Church against Jews for 2000 years.

In addition, there is no “Tikkun ha’Chet” — Vatican crimes against our people continue. The Pope tacitly approves the film “The Passion,” which will undoubtedly incite anti-Semitism. Additionally, the Pope and his Vatican spokesmen have consistently adhered to a policy of strict even-handedness, in effect equating Arab terror with Israeli self-defense, to the extent that he welcomed the chief terrorist, Yasir Arafat, in the Vatican after his expulsion from Lebanon by the IDF in the 1980s.

Furthermore, priceless Jewish artifacts and manuscripts — said to include items stolen from the Second Temple and original Rambam manuscripts — are hidden in Vatican vaults. Jews are not allowed to see them and certainly there is no intention to ever return them to our people. Would any normal victim forgive a thief who acknowledges that he has the stolen goods in his possession but refuses to return them to their owner? By any accounting, the Church has stolen billions of dollars of assets from the Jewish people for centuries — yet not a penny is now offered to pay victims, their families, or in lieu of that to pay the Jewish State of Israel.

We cannot forgive the Church even if it confesses and asks for forgiveness. The Catholic Church fails to meet the Jewish religious standard for forgiveness. For us to change Jewish standards of real Teshuvah is to compromise our faith for theirs — which is exactly what the Church wants us to do in its agenda of compromising the Jewish religion.

Some Final Points

After all of the above, I think that we can reasonably agree that the public nature of the meeting with the Cardinals is highly regrettable. These types of encounters should be private, where the Rav’s prudent psak can be effectively maintained, as has been the general rule in the past when Jewish Torah dignitaries met Church leaders when there was a need to do so.

Furthermore, the visit of the Cardinals conveys the highly unfortunate impression of Jewish compromise and weakness, as if we Jews have to accommodate every request and whim of the Vatican in our quest for their acceptance. On the contrary, the fact is that our timeless faith has no need for the Catholic Church’s approval and acceptance. It is true that Jews live in a hostile world, but we have always done so during our long two millennia of exile. Our miraculous survival in exile and recent return to the Holy Land of Israel is due only to the loving kindness of our one and only Father in Heaven, Almighty G-d. Our trust and salvation is in Him alone. “Hinei E-l yeshuasi evtach v’lo efchad,” “Behold, G-d is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid” (Yeshayahu 12:2).

Let us conclude with the Rav’s eloquent and fitting statement (Solovechik, Rav Yosef Dov. Confrontation . Tradition 1964).

“We certainly have not been authorized by our history, sanctified by the martyrdom of millions, to even hint to another faith community that we are mentally ready to revise historical attitudes, to trade favors pertaining to fundamental matters of faith, and to reconcile ‘some’ differences. Such a suggestion would be nothing but a betrayal of our great tradition and heritage and would, furthermore, produce no practical benefits. Let us not forget that the community of the many will not be satisfied with half measures and compromises which are only indicative of a feeling of insecurity and inner emptiness. We cannot command the respect of our confronters by displaying a servile attitude.”

The writer is a Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University and author of four volumes of Reshimos Shiurim of Harav Hagaon Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveichik.


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