Minutes of Monthly Meeting
December 14, 1997
Location: Alumni Hall, University of Dayton
Meeting Topic: Different meanings of the Cross as symbol for Christians and Jews
Speakers: Bert Buby and Eric Friedland
Hosts: Harold and Sophie Rubenstein
PRESENT: Connie Breen and Ruth Precker, Co-chairs; Arthur Auster, Judy Auster, P. T. Bapu, Charlotte Braverman, Bert Buby, Corrine Coleman, Steve Coleman, Phyllis Duckwall, Shirley Flacks, Erika Garfunkel, Felix Garfunkel, Lillian Gillespie, Agnes Hannahs, Bette Jasko, Bob Jasko, Sophie Kahn, Stephen Kahn, John (Jack) Kelley, Eleanor Koenigsberg, Harry, Koenigsberg, Jerry Kotler, John Magee, Eileen Moorman, Bill Rain, Donald Ramsey, Ken Rosenzweig, Harold Rubenstein, Sophie Rubenstein, Lou Ryterband, Robin Smith, Lou Vera.
Connie called the meeting to order at 7:55 PM She announced that the meeting would be held in memory of Paul Flacks, charter member and long time supporter of the Dialogue, who died during the last month. Harold delivered the prayer which was taken from the Jewish Sabbath morning service.
Donald Ramsey was introduced. He is a Pentecostal minister and has recently launched a new publication called Spiritual Currents. Another new attendee, Lillian Gillespie, was also introduced.
Agnes Hannahs announced a discussion group that meets on the UD campus named African American Studies Reading and Discussion Group (see meeting announcement later in these minutes). The group will be talking about recent books on the African American experience, including relations with Jews. Dialogue members are invited to participate. Agnes passed around a sign up sheet for the discussion group. Connie announced that a contribution to Hadassah has been made in memory of Paul Flacks. Hosts were requested for the next two meetings. Steve and Sophie Kahn volunteered to host the January meeting, and Connie volunteered for February. Connie announced that next month, a committee will meet to plan the retreat in April at Bergamo. Robin and Eileen volunteered to be on the committee.
Robin Smith passed around a photograph of the Red Baron with Jewish friends during World War I. The Red Baron is the subject of her history thesis at Wright State. She noted that the German Air Force during World War I was the least anti-Semitic of major air forces. In contrast, Eddie Rickenbacker in the United States air force during that time was a notorious anti-Semite. Robin noted with dismay how frighteningly fast conditions in Germany with respect to Jews and anti-Semitism could change from the First World War to the Second World War.
Ken passed around a recent issue of the newsletter, Bridgecraft, produced by the Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. The newsletter is edited by Lou Vera and reports on interfaith relations issues.
Connie then introduced the speakers, Bert Buby and Eric Friedland. She praised them for all they have done for the Dialogue. Their topic is Different Meanings of the Cross as Symbol for Christians and Jews.
Bert Buby's Presentation--The Cross: A Sign of Contradiction1
Though the Cross is the most sacred and emphasized symbol for Christians, it is a sign of contradiction for our Jewish brothers and sisters. It causes them to feel uneasy, distrustful, and sad because of the history of persecution and ridicule that lies behind this symbol for them.
It does not take long to discover that a Jewish friend will eventually share with you some incident or situation when the symbol of the cross was a source of pain for them. I am sure that we could elicit such events from those of you who are Jewish. On the other hand, for almost every Christian here present, the cross is one of the most sacred symbols in their lives as they follow the message of Jesus who tells them to take up their own cross and to follow him daily.
I personally agonized over the theme of the Cross for I know how in the history of the Christian churches this sign was misused and became intertwined with religious persecution because of its association with political, social, and cultural agendas. And whenever Christians departed from its authentic spiritual and sacred meaning, the Cross became a vehicle to hurt the other whether that be a Jew, a Muslim, or others who were not Christian. Even in the realm of religious art, certain paintings and depictions of the Cross or Crucifixion were out and out anti-Semitic. In later epochs after the Crusades and even during them, both Muslim and Jew suffered military attacks from Christians who were led by this symbol of the Cross.
To bring up and remember such historical atrocities is extremely painful to any Christian who is dedicated to following Jesus Christ more closely in his own suffering, death upon a Cross, and his resurrection. It is the sacredness of the symbol that was lost in such epochs, and only by returning to that original meaning of the Cross can a Christian feel that something positive about it can be shared with our Jewish brothers and sisters. How to reconcile such contradictions within the symbol demands patience and understanding as well as sorrow on the part of Christians for our sad history in relationship with the Jewish people.
In my personal journal, the topic became a concern which caused me no little disturbance in how I would present this symbol this evening. As I interface with Eric, I want to read the entries from the journal. Here they are in chronological sequence:
As 1 continued to reflect and research the topic, I discovered that the Cross was a symbol almost eight centuries before Jesus was crucified and that thousands of human beings were put to death in the horrendous act of crucifixion. More painfully, I learned that the swastika which represented the fire of life was also a symbol with a cross-like form. This pained me even more to realize how our Jewish brothers and sisters were tortured, butchered, gassed, and killed in my life time through this sign of the swastika Thinking about this, I was inclined to share another of my journal entries of November tenth. It was inspired by our speaker that evening, Renate Frydman.
My most recent entry on the topic is dated Nov 20th:
The earliest uses of the Cross as a symbol show us that there were some second-century Christians who did use it as a symbol in the catacombs. It was a secret and carefully hidden symbol for these Christians who feared persecution from the Romans if it were discovered. Shortly after such use there is the sarcastic and blasphemous use of the image by a Roman on one of the school walls where there is an image of a man's body with the head of a jackass nailed to a Cross. Accompanying the sketch are the words, "Alexamenos adores his God." This led Christians to disguise the Cross with images of an anchor or a trident. The shameful and dangerous image of the Cross led the Christians to carefully use it privately or to disguise it.
In the centuries before Constantine decided to make Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire, the Cross was a privately used symbol that was held to be sacred and spiritual. With Constantine's military victory and decision to make Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Cross soon became a power laden symbol. This happens when religion connects with secular and political and military power. The symbol was soon used on flags, heraldry, military banners, and shields This eventually becomes the identifying sign of the Crusaders who are named after the Cross itself. We might conjecture that after 325 C.E., the Cross took on the paradoxical nature of a symbol invested with political, social, and economic power. The very wording in the legend that Constantine calls to mind, namely, that before his victory at the Milvian Bridge, he saw a light in the sky in the form of a Cross which also had the words In Hoc Signo Vinces, in this sign you will conquer. Once the Cross becomes connected with power it loses its sacredness as a spiritual sign for many Christians.
Helena, the mother of Constantine, next comes on the scene. It is she who goes to Jerusalem in search of the true Cross. Once again, legends and history mingle and give us an unclear picture as to what happens. But after her discovery of the true Cross with the help of a Jewish man, Christians then start to make the Cross a public symbol which is venerated and displayed. In processions and liturgies the Cross is eventually surrounded with gems and carried in public ceremonies. This is the so called Crux gemmata. By the year 692 C.E., the Council of Constantinople ordered the use of crucifixes in place of an ornamented Cross. By the year 1000 C.E., the sufferings of Christ were portrayed in the images of the Cross; for example, he was crowned with thorns and the mark of the nails and the pierced side are evident. People were led to penitence and repentance through such imagery which was especially true in Spain and Germany. Meanwhile, in Italy, France, and England, the crucifixes represented Jesus at the moment of his death in a calm and peaceful demeanor for his sacrifice was completed in the fact that he had died upon the Cross.
Thus one of the primary purposes of the sacred symbol of the Cross is to enable the Christian believer to pray and meditate on the sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This eventually led to the devotion cultivated by the Franciscans known as the "Way of the Cross." It probably remains the most meaningful and enduring Catholic devotion to the Cross which does have a profound effect on those who say the stations. Why, you may ask, would someone want to recall the suffering and death of their hero? Wouldn't the shameful death of someone on the Cross cause horror? And if one would recall that both Persians, Greeks, and Romans used this excruciating form of execution in war and on criminals and slaves, why make a devotion of a horrible event? I am led to recall that the martyrs of Japan in the sixteenth century were probably the last Christians to be crucified by a powerful government.
To answer the above questions, it is necessary to realize that for the Christian the mystery of both personal, communal, global, and universal salvation or redemption (Padah, in Hebrew), is intimately bound up with Jesus's death on the Cross. It is from the evangelists and especially St. Paul that one comes to realize the essence and heart of why Jesus died upon the Cross. It is depicted in the Fourth Gospel, that of John, as a freely given act of sacrificial love on the part of Jesus himself who alone, in his own words, has the power to lay down his life. In any human's experience of living, it is ones life that is most precious. Jesus's free giving up of his life on the Cross is believed by Christians to be an act of divine love on his part. As a mystery of faith it was understood in the earliest reference to his death in a Hymn which Paul used in his epistle to the Philippians 2:5-11:
Christians meditate on this hymn several times during the Lenten season especially during the last three days of Holy Week: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday The death of Jesus is seen as a salvation action for the redemption of all. This is the soteriology (theological doctrine of salvation as effected by Jesus) of the early Church and especially of St. Paul. It means that Jesus is the Savior both for each person and for the whole of humankind. The revelatory words of this hymn helps the Christian to understand the humility and obedience of Jesus to God and its effect on the entire universe. Paul is the first Jewish-Christian writer to give us a theology of the Cross. It is basically bound up with Pauline soteriology and sees Jesus as the perfect sacrifice made to God for the salvation and sanctification of all humankind and the universe itself.
I believe that John's Gospel, the fourth and last Gospel, has a different perspective on the death of Jesus upon the Cross. Jesus's death is a revelatory event and is the greatest of the signs offered in the Gospel. There are seven signs which are narrated in order to help the Christian to believe decisively in the person of Jesus. The death of Jesus is immediately related to the Resurrection and seen as a victory over death and sin. In the first part, chapters 1-12, which is called the Book of Signs, there are three references to the revelation of the Cross. The other gospels also have three predictions that Jesus made prior to his death and pointing to his crucifixion; John, however, changes the predictions into revelatory statements made on three different occasions by Jesus. The verb that John uses to describe the crucifixion is "to lift up" (hypsoo, in Greek):
The Synoptic Gospels (Mathew, Mark, and Luke) in the Passion Narrative treat the Cross as the historical cause for the death of Jesus. These narratives were the first part of the Gospels to be written. They are presented to the listener and reader as a kerygmatic and cultic narrative which recalls the most sacred moment of Jesus's death upon the Cross.
The word for cross in Greek is STAUROS; it appears 27 times in the New Testament. The Septuagintal translation of the Hebrew Bible has no reference to the word, stauros. The word "to crucify" (STAUROUN) appears forty-six times in the New Testament. In the Hebrew Scriptures it is found In Esther 7:9 where it means to "Hang on the gallows" (telah in Hebrew). There is also a reference in Joshua 8:29 which reads, "He (Joshua) had the king of Ai hanged on a tree until evening; then at sunset Joshua ordered the body to be removed from the tree and cast at the entrance of the city gate, where a great heap of stones was piled up over it, which remains to the present day."
The Cross is and always will be the principal symbol of Christianity. It recalls the sacred moment of Jesus's death. It remembers the "hour" of his suffering, death and resurrection. It is seen as a sign of Jesus himself and of the Christian faith. At the most sacred moment of a Christian's baptism, the believer is signed in the name of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with the sign of the Cross upon the forehead. In Christian worship and liturgy, the sign of the cross is a profession of faith or a benediction.
In my personal spiritual life as a Marianist, the most compelling image of the Cross is taken from John's Gospel, chapter 19:25-28a. Bound up with this narrated scene is my own vowed and dedicated life as a disciple of Jesus after the example of his mother. The depiction by John is central to seven different incidents at the foot of the Cross. The narration is as follows:
In ending my presentation, I am going to recite a prayer that the Marianists say each day at three o'clock which recalls the passage I just read. For me the prayer unites me to all my fellow brothers and sisters in the Marianist world and is a renewal of my dedication to the Church, to the Society of Mary, and to God. Spirituality, prayer, and service are the purpose of this prayer. There is no political or polemic agenda in my heart when I say this prayer:
Eric Friedland's Presentation--The Cross: A Jewish Perspective2
Eric began by noting that Bert's presentation was a very sensitive treatment. Eric said he had had some initial reservations about the topic. Unconsciously, he felt that in this discussion, Judaism might once again be subordinated to the Cross, as has been so common over the ages in the Christian World. Another source of his hesitation came from the Rabbinic concept of me'ilah (the misappropriation of what is sacred). Eric recalled a program he saw on TV from an evangelical network. There was a sermon by a televangelist who wore a tallit (Jewish prayer shawl). The sacred part of the tallit is the four fringes. The televangelist waved the tallit and later walked on it. This was a definite action of me'ilah-desecration. Eric does not want to say anything which is desecrating about the Cross. Jewish members of Dialogue prodded Eric to overcome his qualms and undertake the topic. Another factor that alleviated his fears was the open and warm relationship he has had over the years with Father Bert and Eileen Moorman. .
Eric noted he came from Irish Catholic Boston which also has strong and indelible historic undercurrents of New England Congregationalism and Unitarianism. Growing up, he was alternately fascinated and repulsed by the Christian kids. There was extensive ethnic diversity and religious pluralism in the Boston public schools which he attended. His exposure to the chief Christian emblem was unavoidable and constant. He can remember as a child imitating his Christian friends who made the sign of the cross before diving into the water. He thought it would make him a better swimmer like his friends. Eric's Uncle Si gently called him aside and told him that this sign was not appropriate for a Jewish person. Later in his upbringing, Eric developed a greater sense of equivalency--the Cross was their insignia and Star of David was ours. Still later, as a result of his Jewish education, Eric absorbed deeply negative associations with the Cross. At Hebrew School and Hebrew Teachers College, he was reminded through text and lecture of the long history of persecution under the sign of the Cross, including the Crusades, the Inquisition and its auto-da-fe's, blood libels, etc.. Eric noted that symbols of Christian triumphalism are everywhere in our society. Everyone in Eric's family smoked as he was growing up, and he noticed that the pack of cigarettes had the Cross symbol on it with the expression, In hoc signo vinces (By this sign thou shalt conquer), in Latin written on it.
In graduate school, Eric's perceptions began to change again. In his study of the period of the Second Temple, he learned that crucifixion was an everyday occurrence during that time. It was a means of keeping the population under control. Politically subversive people were crucified. This enabled Eric to develop a certain sympathy for this man Jesus who was crucified. Eric also noted the appropriation of the crucifixion motif by Jewish artists, such as Marc Chagall and Moses Ezekial. A third element that was a breakthrough was Eric's study of the work of Franz Rosenzweig. In his work, Rosenzweig does interesting things with the theology of the Cross and the Star of David. The Star of David is contained and enclosed, the cross is open ended. Thus, the Star is indicative of the fact that Judaism is a contained community already with God. The Cross is open because it is destined to reach out to the world in search of God. The openness of the Cross is indicative of its openness to the pagan world. It should be the aim of the Church to bring those who have no god to God. Eric's exposure to Rosenzweig's work put the Cross in a much more favorable light.
Eric's perception today has also evolved. One of the reasons Eric cherishes the Star of David as a Jewish trademark is the fact that one triangle points down and one points up. In the meeting of heaven and earth, God and humankind, time and eternity lies our spiritual health. It is human responsibility to maintain the balance between God and the Earth. The other observation is that Eric has come to acquire some positive associations with the Cross because of some wonderful Catholics and Protestants he has come to know in connection with the Sanders Symposium and the Christian Jewish Dialogue. It is for that reason that at the last Sanders Judaics Symposium, held at United Theological Seminary, the huge illuminated stain glass cross over the altar that evening struck Eric not so much as a menacing reminder of horrors past, but as having all the potential of being one very vivid token of reconciliation.
Erica noted that early Christians identified themselves with the fish, not the Cross. Bert said the Cross was used privately as early as the 2nd century. After 325, it became a public symbol. The fish was another symbol for Christians. Lou Vera observed that there is no cross iconography before 300 AD. Lou said the primary icon was the good shepherd. Eric said that the Star of David (Mogen David) started out by being used in Christianity and Islam. At one time, it became associated with alchemy and magic. Then it was taken over by the Cabala (Jewish mysticism). Later in Bohemia, the Emperor gave the Jews a flag with a Star of David to identify the Jewish community. However, it was not until modern times that the Star of David became the universally accepted symbol of the Jewish community. Arthur stated that until modern times, the Menorah was the primary Jewish symbol.
Steve Kahn shared that the Cross instilled fear in him when he was a kid, but later he developed a more human view of the cross. Lillian observed that she grew up near UD as a Protestant, and for her the crucifix (the body of Jesus on the Cross) was also threatening. She sees the unadorned Cross as a symbol of the sacrifice of Jesus for her--a positive symbol. Lou Vera noted that two recent Catholic churches have been constructed with Crosses (and especially crucifixes) that are de-emphasized. She noted that much of Post Vatican II church architecture is in this direction. However, she also observed that some Catholics are still very attached to the image of the Cross with Jesus on it. Lou said that Catholics need to ask questions about the meaning or implication of these symbols. Erica noted a symbol that is not generally present in US churches, the Rooster, which is on many Catholic churches in Germany. Jack noted that we are talking as if all Christians venerated the Cross. He observed that Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe that Jesus was crucified. Felix shared the feeling of fear of the Cross which he felt as a child in Europe. After observing with him a procession of Greek Orthodox people with a Cross, Felix's parents expressed their concern about what the priest might say afterwards to the parishioners that would inflame them against the Jews. Also, Felix noted that he saw a very old symbol on a Buddha statue of the swastika. P.T. noted that he grew up in an area of India where his family was the only Christian family. He asked his parents why there was an idol in the church. He was told that it was something to concentrate on while in prayer. Eileen noted that symbols were multivalent. Another meaning of the Cross is "commitment to the father." The son, Jesus, sacrificed his life in love for the father. The father in this case can be seen as a metaphor for the Jewish people and religion. Jerry observed that he and Lorraine noted swastikas on an alter cloth in a church in Germany. Jerry noted that we have heard many negative things about the Cross. But he wanted to share something positive. In Judaism, no anthropomorphism of God is allowed, while Christianity allows some visualization of God that can enhance spirituality. For example, in traditional Judaism there are some warm-up chants to get into a spiritual mood. Also, Orthodox Jews daven (pray while shaking in a rythmic manner) to increase spirituality.
Bert ended with a humorous story about a boy who had been getting very poor grades in school and was sent to a Catholic school to instill discipline and improve his math. At the end of the term, the boy brought home an A report card to his parents. When he was asked what caused him to change, the boy said that the first thing he saw when he arrived at the Catholic school was "this guy hanging on a plus sign." At that point, he knew they "meant business."
The meeting was adjourned at about 9:45 PM.
Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary
In Memorium, Paul Flacks
Paul Flacks, one of the founders of the Dayton Christian Jewish Dialogue and Co-chair of the First National Dialogue Workshop (held at Bergamo in 1973) died on December 4. He was buried at Temple Israel's Riverview Cemetery on December 7.
Paul was the Executive Vice President and National Director of the Zionist Organization of America for twenty years. His leadership inspired and challenged all of us during the past twenty-five years of the Dialogue. Paul kept us alert to all important information about Israel and the Middle East. His information bulletins called FOCUS stimulated the Dialogue members with facts and issues in Israeli-Arab matters. Paul's commitment to Israel was overwhelming and powerful. It was his task to never allow us to forget the importance of Zionism. He also brought to our attention other issues that touched upon human rights and social justice, often advising the Christians in our group to be more proactive for some of their own concerns. Paul's consistency, courage, and ability to challenge and confront but never to leave the table of dialogue, helped us mature as a dialogue. Paul also was the initiator of three Zion-Christian Dialogues conferences, held in New York City. Three publications resulted from these conferences. He also presented an important paper on this subject at the National Dialogue Workshop held in Charleston, South Carolina. We will never forget this dauntless activist, creative thinker, leader, and dearly loved friend. His life and legacy remain forever.
1 Rev. Bert Buby is a member of the Society of Mary. He is a professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Dayton and the International Marian Research Institute.