This week a group of liberal Modern Orthodox rabbis distanced itself from more conservative members of their community and drew closer to parts of the Christian world.
The rabbis signed “To Do the Will of Our Father in Heaven: Toward a Partnership between Jews and Christians,” a statement that advocates greater cooperation between the two monotheistic faiths “to address the moral and religious challenges of our times.”
The signatories include Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, whose Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation published the statement; Rabbi Marc Angel, the emeritus spiritual leader of Congregation Shearith Israel in Manhattan; Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, a leading spokesman on a wide variety of social and theological issues; and Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s international director of interreligious affairs, who initiated the document.
The statement was issued during the 50th anniversary year of the Vatican’s historic Nostra Aetate document that played a major role in improving the tenor of Jewish-Catholic relations. Rabbi Riskin noted that the statement was prompted by the prominence of “extremist Islam” groups like ISIS, which pose an existential threat to the world’s major religions and to Western values.
The declaration notes the “ongoing differences” between Jews and Christians but states that they share “a covenantal mission to perfect the world under the sovereignty of the Almighty.”
Individual Orthodox rabbis have for many decades engaged in interfaith dialogue work, whose primary Jewish leaders have come from the liberal streams. The significance of this statement is the willingness of the 30 signatories from different countries to publicly counter a longstanding prohibition by leading Orthodox rabbis on joint Jewish-Christian theological discussions.
(Significantly, representatives of two major Orthodox umbrella organizations, the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America, chose not to comment on the statement.)
The new declaration signifies the great strides taken by the Catholic Church and some Protestant groups in recognizing Judaism as an authentic faith, and speaks to a need for religious leaders to speak out against Islamic extremism.
Opportunities for faith leaders to find and act on shared values, while respecting their very real spiritual differences, is a positive sign at a time of great upheaval in the world of religion.