Minutes of Retreat and Public Meeting

Home ] Up ] Next ]

April 23, 1995

Kennedy Union

University of Dayton

PRESENT: Dieter and Suzie Walk, Cochairs; Arthur Auster, Judy Auster, P. T. Bapu, Helen Bass, Herb Bass, Connie Breen, Elizabeth Burks, Phyllis Duckwall, Shirley Flacks, Eric Friedland, Erika Garfunkel, Felix Garfunkel, Dondle Golden, Jeanne Golden, David Henkaline, Irmgard Hoffman, John Hoffman, Edith Holsinger, Herbert Immenkoetter, Jack Kelley, Eleanor Koenigsberg, Harry Koenigsberg, Jerry Kotler, Lorraine Kotler, John Magee, Bob Maas, Cy Middendorf, Eileen Moorman, Mary Ellen Rain, Bill Rain, Ken Rosenzweig, Harold Rubenstein, Sophie Rubenstein, Robert Ryan, Robin Smith, Mary Lou Vera.

TOPIC FOR THE RETREAT: jesus within the judaisms of his times

SPEAKER: Rev. Dr. James Lyons, Executive Director, the ecumenical institute for jewish-Christian studies, southfield, Michigan

Dieter convened the retreat at about 10:10 AM. Harold delivered the devotional which honored the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. All joined in reciting the Kaddish prayer, the customary Jewish prayer of mourners. Dieter then introduced Dr. Herbert Immenkoetter, Chair of the Theology Department at the University of Augsberg in Bavaria, Germany. Dr. Immenkoetter is a Visiting Professor at the University of Dayton. He will be in Dayton through November. Dieter also greeted Dr. Eric Friedland. Dieter then introduced the speaker for both the Retreat and the Public Meeting, Rev. Dr. James Lyons, Executive Director of The Ecumenical Institute for Jewish-Christian Studies in Southfield, Michigan.

Jim began his presentation about 10:20 by talking about his background. He attended a high school where about one third of the students were Jewish. Previously, he had not known any Jews. To learn more about Jews, he attended a synagogue service at Temple Beth El in Detroit. There he became confused when Jews greeted him with different expressions, "Good Yuntif", "Good Shabbos," and "Shabbat Shalom."

Jim asked those in attendance to listen to his presentation with a different ear and to try to put aside their preconceptions. He asked them to try to hear Jesus of Gallilee speaking two millenia ago and to understand the cultural milleau in which he lived. He then distributed a handout, titled FIRST CENTURY JEWISH GROUPS AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF CHRISTIANITY, which diagrammed the various groups of first century Jews and the historical linkages of these groups to more recent Jewish and Christian groups. At this point Arthur asked at what point Christians became distinguished from Jews. Jim replied that a key point where Christianity diverged from Judaism was when the Council of Jerusalem stated that non-Jews did not have to become Jews ritually (by means of circumcision) in order to be considered Christians. By 100 AD, St. Ignatius of Antioch stated the mistaken notion that Judaism came from Christianity. This confirmed that Jews and Christians constituted separate communities at this point.

Jim began to discuss the Pharisees, pointing out that they came from Babylonia and that their Judaism was not based on the sacrificial system. Eric asked what evidence there was that the Pharisees emanated from Persia (Babylonia)? Erica asked about the social conflict that existed between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Arthur pointed out that the word synagogue is a Greek word. He then asked what is the Hebrew word for synagogue. The answer is Knesset (gathering). Next, Jim discussed the Zealots, the Jewish political party which fought against Roman rule; the Essenes, a mysterious ascetic group; and the Samaritans, a group which located their temple not in Jerusalem but in Gerisim and which followed the written law of the Hebrew Scriptures but did not accept the oral law. Jim stated that the multiplicity of diverse Jewish groups in ancient times as well as throughout the ages demonstrates Judaism's long tradition of internal debate.

After a short break, Jim began to discuss some important overlaps between Christian teaching and ancient Jewish practice. Jim claimed that the Jewish tradition of naming an infant boy at the circumcision ceremony is recorded only in the Christian Scriptures. Also, Passover and Easter tend to fall at the same time of year because Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem for Passover just prior to the time of his crucifixion. Jesus lived his whole life as a Jew, attended synagogue on the Sabbath, was given the honor in the synagogue of reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, and wore traditional Jewish garments with fringes. In his teaching, Jesus affirmed the ongoing validity of the Torah, and he did not advocate the slightest change in the practices mandated by it. Furthermore, the concept of Baptism with running water is inspired by the Jewish tradition of ritual cleansing in the Mikveh (a ritual pool of water). Elizabeth asked about the ancient custom of foot washing. Jim explained that foot washing was common because of the tendency of dirt to accumulate on the feet due to the climate in the area.

Jim stated that Christians need to learn from Christian Scriptures the ancient Jewish truth that God can only forgive one for sins against God, but Christians must reconcile themselves with those humans they have injured. In summarizing the morning session, Jim stated that the Gospels reflect the Jewish mileau in which Jesus lived. Furthermore, in order to better understand the sources of their religion, Christians must study the original documents of the faith in their original language (Hebrew and Aramaic). They must not rely on Greek translations of those documents which have subtly changed Christian belief structure because of the different nuances of words in different languages.

The afternoon session began about 2:05 PM. Jim began by discussing the purposes of Torah. Torah is the teaching of humans by God about life. Christian criticism of Judaism as legalistic is not appropriate. The Torah proscribes and prescribes. God and human beings have a joint responsibility to save the world (Tikkun Olam). Maimonides discussed the purposes of Torah--he stated that they included advocating good manners and a warning against bad habits; the general object is the well-being of both the soul and the body. Erica asked when the concept of soul and body as separate elements began to be believed. Jim replied that the Greeks had the concept of soul and body separation, and it gradually began to influence Jewish and Christian thought. Dr. Lyons contends that, in contrast, Torah incorporates a wholeness approach in which there is no difference between the soul and the body.

Jim then began discussing differences in the beliefs and approaches of ancient groups, as listed on a second handout, titled COMPARISON CHART OF TEACHINGS, which he distributed. Specifically he covered different views on the question of predestination and free will, and attitudes toward the strictness of punishment for infractions of religious law and teaching. Another difference in beliefs among the groups was concerning the sacredness of the Oral Torah. Although, Jesus did not speak directly to this issue, he did defend the idea of the resurrection because God is the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

After a break, discussion continued on the question of the Oral Law. As reported by Mark in the Christian Scriptures, the Pharisees asked Jesus why his disciples did not follow the tradition of the elders but instead ate with defiled hands. David Fluser argues that "the tradition of the elders" refers to the "oral tradition." Another difference in practice among the groups had to do with the importance of table fellowship. One problem in researching this period is that none of the writings of the Sadducees has been preserved. Neither the Sadducees nor the Essenes identified with the oral tradition.

The Comparison Chart handout shows that for a whole variety of issues, the views of Jesus are entirely consistent with those of the Pharisees.

Jim then prepared a time line of the history of all major Eastern and Western Religions beginning about 1800 BC. He pointed out that the major teaching of all these religions is "love thy neighbor." Someone then asked the question, why don't we follow this precept? Eileen replied that this points up the fact that human beings have free will.

Continuing his discussion of First Century Jewish Groups, Jim pointed out that the Pharisees split into two parts, those Jews who would later constitute Rabbinic Judaism and the followers of Jesus. The Jewish followers of Jesus were adamantly against Paul since he opened the religion to gentiles. The split between Judaism and Christianity came about not because Jews rejected Jesus, but because Christianity rejected Judaism. Paul inadvertently started a new religion although he did not set out to do so.

The Retreat adjourned at 4:45 PM.

Twenty-eight people attended a dinner at the Dayton Marriott with the speaker, Dr. Lyons.

TOPIC FOR THE PUBLIC MEETING: SOCIAL IMPACTS ON CHRISTIAN-JEWISH RELATIONS FROM 1899 TO 1999 AS TO RACE, ANTI-SEMITISM, AND SOCIAL DARWINISM

The public meeting convened about 7:30 PM. In honor of the 25th anniversary of the Dayton Christian Jewish Dialogue, the names of the sixteen charter members of the Dialogue were read. These names were: Helen Abramovitz, Charles Abramovitz, Gloria Anticoli, Bill Cole, Helen DeChatelet, Tom Dorenbusch, Nora Duffy, Paul Flacks, Shirley Flacks, Phil Hoelle, John Kelley, Eileen Moorman, Louis Ryterband, Harold Rubenstein, Sophie Rubenstein, and Mildred Sutton. Of the charter members, five were in attendance: Shirley, John, Eileen, Harold, and Sophie. These came forward to have a photograph taken and to receive a round of applause.

Dieter then introduced the speaker, Dr. James Lyons. Jim began his talk by focusing on the concept of race. He traced the history of Western thought concerning race from the 19th century until the present time. In the 19th century, much was written about the inherent inequality of the races with regard to ability. For example, in the 1850s, Joseph Gobineau wrote a widely read book, The Moral and Intellectual Diversity of Races, which divided humans into three races: white, black, and yellow. He maintained that intellectual characteristics were determined by race. The white race was seen to be intellectually superior and, Aryans were viewed as superior to other members of the white race. Gobineau's theory has been widely discredited by modern science. Another important writer in this area was Wilhelm Maurer who was the first modern anti-Semitic writer. His writings led to the movement of economic, social, and political anti-Semitism. Also in the 19th Century, Charles Darwin's ideas on survival of the fittest and natural selection were extrapolated to the human race in the form of Social Darwinism. The dominance of certain races and certain classes of people within races was seen as the result of the scientific laws of natural selection, and this dominance would eventually lead to the improvement of the human race. Literature in the 19th and 20th centuries also dealt with these themes, specifically the relative influence of heredity and environment. Pygmalian (or My Fair Lady) and Brave New World are examples of this literature.

Another concept that greatly influenced people in the 19th and 20th centuries was the concept of the "nation-state." The nation-state was viewed as a community of people with like ethnic backgrounds, language, and culture. Thus homogeneity of the population of the nation-state was seen as desirable, and this led to intolerance of minorities. The Nuremberg Laws in Nazi Germany were an attempt to create a German nation-state by excluding all non-Germans. The concept of the United States as a "Christian Nation" is a similar concept in that it excludes those who are not seen as belonging to the community of people who constitute this nation-state, the United States. The State of Israel also has similar problems identifying itself as a Jewish state and yet seeing itself as home to people of other religions and ethnic backgrounds. Jim maintained that the nation-state is one of the most dangerous concepts that influence political movements today.

Jim then turned the discussion to the Nazi movement in Germany. In the 1920's, Adolph Hitler took over a political party and transformed it into the National Socialist party. The platform of the party written in the 1920's called for the destruction of Jewish ownership of property and viewed anti-Semitism as the social foundation of the movement. Jim has acquired some Nazi materials including a brochure which is a guideline for National Socialists going out to speak to groups about National Socialism. It writes about the solution of the race/Jewish question. The concept of eugenics was fostered by the Nazi movement.

Jim then confronted those in attendance with the question, "What is it that inoculates a nation against racism?" Jim told about the time when he had an audience with the head of the Coptic Church of Egypt who was in the United States at the time. He noted that he was allowed to talk about all areas but not political matters, because the secret police in Egypt would view tapes of all contacts of the Head of the Coptic Church and there would be severe political ramifications as a result of anything political that was said by him. At this point, Jim began to understand what made the United States a unique nation--the inclination of its people to speak out against social injustice.

Arthur then noted that many Nazis were Baptized Christians. How could they call themselves Christians in light of their racist and anti-Semitic views. Jim replied that these people were only Nazis acting as Christians. He noted that right-wing movements often use Christianity as a cover.

At this point, Jim complimented the Dialogue on the strength of its members' commitment to each other and to the cause of Dialogue. He noted not a trace of hostility in the group. He stated his impression that members desire to learn and grow, and, although they do not always agree, all seem to respect each other.

Harold raised a point about the bombers of the building in Oklahoma City who now appear to be members of the state militias. Jim replied that he has tapes of the meetings of some of these groups. He noted that they are right-wing, anti-government, anti-Semitic. and racist. He noted that until recently, these groups were dominated by "flabby old men." However, the involvement of younger people from these groups in the bombing may be an indication that things may turn for the worse. Elizabeth asked why these groups have become more active now; Jim replied that one reason is a general cheapening of the value of human life. Another is a resurgence of the old racist thought from the 19th century. This is exemplified by the recent book, The Bell Curve, which presents a case for racial differences in intelligence. Jim particularly fears an anti-alien movement may be developing in the United States. Jim pointed out that at least the blast woke us up to the fact that we in the United States are not immune from terrorism. Bomb materials are easy to get, and bombs are easy to construct. Harold noted the danger of a parallel to the German socialists in the 1930's who warned too late of the danger of the Nazi takeover.

Jim reported on a concern expressed by Ken at dinner that not many clergy are involved in the Dayton Christian Jewish Dialogue. Jim expressed his view that this was a strength of the Dialogue rather than a weakness. He noted that clergy would tend to dominate the discussion and deter lay participation in the organization.

Jim told about a Christian friend who is a Marine. He sees it as his mission to attempt to organize the Christian community to remedy the effects of anti-Semitism. For example, he has participated in the restoration of defaced synagogues at no cost to the synagogue. Jim stated that victim groups should not have to defend themselves. Jim believes in the social contract and the obligation members of society have to protect each other.

Jim noted that the Gestapo in Nazi Germany found it much easier to break down men than women. Men know where they stand in society because of social markers like the "buttons on their uniforms." In the concentration camp, inmates are stripped of all social markers (e.g., clothes, hair). Men thus lost their identity and broke down. Women did not rely on such social markers and were thus more resilient to torture and dehumanization.

In conclusion, Jim thanked the Dialogue for receiving him as a person and stated that he felt enriched by the experience. Dieter then thanked Jim for his presentations and expressed the hope that he might return again to address the Dialogue. The Public Meeting adjourned at about 9:20 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Ken Rosenzweig
Home ] Up ] Next ]