Dayton Christian Jewish Dialogue
Minutes of Meeting
July 12, 1998
Location: Alumni Hall, University of Dayton
Meeting Topic: Forgiveness: Christian and Jewish Perspectives
Speakers: Jerry Kotler, Eileen Moorman, and Rev. William Youngkin
Hosts: John and Irmgard Hoffman
PRESENT: Robin Smith and Felix Garfunkel, Co-chairs; Nan Adams, Arthur Auster, Frank Beafore, Shauna Beafore, Bert Buby, CarolAnn Cannon, Nan Evans, Chaya Eylon, Danny Eylon, Erika Garfunkel. Felix Garfunkel, Marie-Louise Handal, Agnes Hannahs, John Hoffman, Irmgard Hoffman, Edith Holsinger, Bette Jasko, Bob Jasko, Sophie Kahn, Stephen Kahn, Jack Kelley, Eleanor Koenigsberg, Harry Koenigsberg, Jerry Kotler, Lorraine Kotler, Barbara Levine, John Magee, Arch W. McMillan, Eileen Moorman, Donald Ramsey, Jenni Roer, Ken Rosenzweig, Bruce Starr, Lou Vera, Marianne Weisman, Murray Weisman, Carrie Whitt, Sean Yee, Betty Youngkin, William Youngkin.
Robin called the meeting to order at about 8:00 PM. For the prayer, Jerry sang a Jewish song, Lemanechai Vrayai ("Because of my brothers and friends, O please let me say peace to you. This is the house of the Lord. I wish the best for you.")
At this point, there was a round of introductions of all the new people who were in attendance. Jenni Roer was introduced as the new Dayton Region Executive Director of NCCJ, The National Conference for Community and Justice (formerly the National Conference of Christians and Jews). Jenni is replacing Sarah Harris in that position. Betty Youngkin was introduced. She is the wife of meeting speaker, Rev. Bill Youngkin. She is also a Professor of English at the University of Dayton. Bill Youngkin himself introduced two college students, Sean Yee and Carrie Whitt, who are participating in leadership training at the church where he serves as pastor, David's United Church of Christ. Jerry introduced a couple from Xenia, Frank and Shauna Beafore. Jerry also introduced Danny and Chaya Eylon. Danny is a Professor of Materials Engineering at the University of Dayton. Danny and Chaya were both born in Israel. Bert introduced Marie-Louise Handel. She is from New York City and is a graduate student at IMRI, the International Marian Research Institute. She is in residence in Dayton during the summer. Bruce Starr and Nan Evans introduced themselves.
It was announced that Dr. Lou Ryterband is now being cared for at Hospice of Dayton, 324 Wilmington Avenue (secretary's note: after the Dialogue meeting, it was learned that Lou had a heart attack and later fell and broke his hip.). Friends are encouraged to visit Lou. His room number is 164.
Eileen discussed arrangements for the Annual Dialogue Picnic, to be held at Mount Saint John on August 9, beginning at 4:30 PM. See the Picnic announcement later in these minutes.
At this point, Murray Weissman announced that he and Marianne are moving to Del Ray Beach, Florida, at the end of this month. Murray has been a member for over 15 years. He has found the Dialogue meetings to be intellectually stimulating and emotionally satisfying. He was pleased to get to know Christians in the Dialogue who took seriously their obligations to their fellow human beings, as opposed to those "Christians" he came into contact with as a Jew in Poland during the Holocaust. He told a story about a Rabbi in Poland during the Holocaust who went to the local Bishop to ask for help in protecting the Jews. The Bishop replied that if the Jews became good Christians, they would not have so many problems. The Rabbi replied that if the Bishop became a good Christian, the Jews would not have so many problems.
Eileen expressed her appreciation for Murray's participation in the Dialogue and for his sharing of his personal Holocaust experiences at Dialogue meetings and in the Dayton community. Murray has made a great contribution to the documentation of what happened in the Holocaust and to making sure that the memory of the horrors of that time is perpetuated. That memory is important for assuring that future genocides are prevented.
Agnes announced the recent death of Rev. Dr. Paul van Buren, reported in an obituary in The New York Times. He was an Episcopal priest and a very creative theologian, incorporating into his theology building bridges between Christianity and Judaism. In addition to being a professor at Temple University, he was an associate of the Shalom Hartman Institute of Judaic Studies in Jerusalem. Jerry observed that no one in the world has had greater influence on his thinking regarding God's relationship to people of different religions than van Buren. Jack said that van Buren was a fellow member of the Christian Scholars Group on Jewish-Christian relations.
Jack Kelley made some observations about the recently announced revisions of the Oberamergau Passion Play in Germany. These revisions have attempted to address charges that the Play, like many other passion plays, contains many anti-Semitic messages. These revisions include the removal of the horns from the Jewish priests and the deletion of the blood curse on the Jewish people. Jack's bibliography on the Passion Play has been praised by Eugene Fisher. Jack asked that people send to him any clippings they find in newspapers and magazines about passion plays. This will help support his longstanding research on anti-Semitic messages in passion plays. Jack also raised the question of the Dialogue bookshelf and where it should be located.
Ken then delivered four announcements. First, the Dialogue has received a thank-you letter from Dr. Eric Friedland for the contribution the Dialogue made to the Jewish Federation for Eric's trip to Israel on the occasion of his retirement. Second, Shirley Flacks and Harold Rubenstein have provided a newspaper clipping showing that Archbishop John Cardinal O'Connor has become the first Catholic cardinal to receive an honorary doctorate from a Jewish seminary, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. Third, Ken passed around an article from the Anti-Defamation League newsletter which discusses Jewish disappointment with the recent Vatican document on the Holocaust, We Remember, A Reflection on the Shoah.1
Finally, Ken passed around copies of an article titled "Scientology: Wooing the Jews" from a recent issue of the B'nai Brith magazine.2 The article discusses the campaign by Scientologists for recognition as a religion by the German government (which is accompanied by financial subsidy). The German government has not only denied recognition but has labeled Scientology a business with anti-democratic leanings built on the dependency of adherents. A recent campaign for recognition has compared the treatment of Scientologists today to that of the German Jews under the Nazis. Scientologists have appealed to Jews for support in their struggle against the German government. The response of Jewish leaders to this appeal has been mixed. On the one hand, Jews are committed to the idea of religious freedom. On the other hand, it is questionable whether Scientology is a religion, and even if it is, whether it is a beneficial one. The article raises the fascinating issue of whether the state should have the right to define what is a religion. Scientology is a tax-exempt organization in the United States. In response to Ken's review of the article, someone suggested that, in light of the Holocaust, the German government may take a more vigilant stand than governments of other countries toward religious organizations that may be seen as threatening to the modern democratic state.3
Formal Program on Forgiveness: Christian and Jewish Perspectives
The formal program began at about 8:25 PM.
Jerry Kotler and Prager Tape
Jerry began his presentation by stating that Jews are often bewildered by Christian views of forgiveness. To stimulate discussion, Jerry played an audio tape of Dennis Prager. Jerry described Dennis Prager's background. He was raised as an Orthodox Jew. After university and while still in his 20's, he separated himself from religious Judaism. Several years later, he returned and adopted a more liberal form of Judaism. Prager is the author of many books and articles, and was one of the earliest people to warn about the plight of Soviet Jews. He is a widely known talk-show host, based in the Los Angeles area. Prager has a great mind and is a great speaker. Jerry noted that Prager believes there is a fundamental difference between Judaism and Christianity with respect to the love between Man and God. Prager believes that a vibrant Christianity is necessary to address the moral decay that exists in America. He expressed the view that a distorted Christian view of God's love of Man may be part of its problem in becoming more relevant to the lives of Christians.
At this point, Jerry played the Prager audio tape. Prager had as guests on his talk show every week a Rabbi, a Priest, and a Protestant Minister to talk about deep moral and religious issues. Prager desired to learn in what way Judaism differs from Christianity with respect to these issues. A famous case that he has discussed with these ministers is the one of the Central Park rapists. A woman jogger in Central Park was abducted, raped and beaten practically to death. The perpetrators were later arrested by the police. Prager stated that he hates these criminals and he hates what they did. The Archbishop of New York City, Cardinal O'Connor, visited the rapists in prison. He felt a need to go to these young people. The Cardinal said to them: "I came to tell you one thing, God loves you." Upon learning about the reports of this meeting, Prager was incensed. He lambasted O'Connor in his talk show, observing that the many Catholic people in New York who work for the poor do not get such attention from high Church officials. Prager asked himself whether his reaction to the Cardinal's action was a Jewish one or a more general human one. Also, he asked the various rabbis, priests, and ministers on his talk show what their reactions were to the Cardinal's visit with the rapists. Among the priests, ministers, and rabbis he had on his talk show over several weeks, there was a general pattern: the Catholic priests and Protestant ministers would unanimously support the words of Cardinal O'Connor and the rabbis would unanimously disagree. One week, Prager had on his talk show what he called "the most liberal rabbi on Earth." As one would expect from this branch of Judaism, the Rabbi talked a lot about love. However, when confronted with the Central Park rapist case, even this rabbi said he would only tell the rapists that, "you are the scum of the earth." Prager was relieved because his thesis of a fundamental difference in approach between Christians and Jews was confirmed. Prager observed that hating evil is an essentially Jewish message. Prager fears that when love becomes everything as it does in the Christian tradition, morality gets subordinated under love. The idea that one has to fight evil is Jewish. That is reason number one that Prager loves Judaism. Prager also noted that this is an important reason why Judaism is not interested in converting anyone.
Jerry turned off the audio tape.
After the completion of the Prager audio tape, Bill began his presentation at about 8:45 PM. Bill cannot quite believe that the events happened the way Prager indicated. One Prager viewpoint that Bill agrees with is that automatic forgiveness without repentance is bad. However, Bill believes that Prager engages a bit of emotional overstatement. Crime victims are not the only victims of a crime. The victim's family's sensitivities should be taken into account. Bill said that he questioned Prager's view, expressed in an article, that Christianity is being "dumned down" by modern social theory. For Bill, God is love. Anyone who fails to love cannot know God, because God is love. However, love is not a sentiment or an emotion. It is a decision that we make to unify all of creation by caring for all humanity. God's love is total to the point of forgiveness. There is a traditional saying in Christianity that there is only one sin that is unforgivable, the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said from the Cross, "Forgive them for they know not what they do." Jesus's forgiveness encompasses all those who participate in the destruction of relationships. However, this is not an excuse for sinful action. The Christian scriptures report an exchange among Jesus and the two criminals who were simultaneously crucified with Jesus. Jesus said that one of the criminals would soon be in Paradise with him because he made honest confession. The other criminal presumably was not welcomed into Paradise because he did not (Augustine). Thus, the sinner must participate in the forgiveness. Forgiveness is not automatic. Bill once asked a fellow minister, who served as a prison chaplain, what do you say to the prisoners. The chaplain replied that communication with prisoners should include both grace and honesty. Sinners have to participate in repentance in order to experience forgiveness. If Bill were to meet the Central Park rapists, he would tell them, "You have done a terrible thing. Life will never be the same because of your actions, and we are mad as hell. But we will help you to get ready to talk to God."
Jerry Kotler on Classical Jewish Notions of Forgiveness
Jerry talked at approximately 8:55 about classical Jewish notions of forgiveness. These notions can be found in the Bible, the Talmud, rabbinic texts, and the Jewish prayer book. Exodus 34:6 presents God's 13 attributes of mercy. In these passages, a passionate request by Moses for God to reveal his essence is responded to. In this important verse, among other things, God characterizes himself as a forgiver of iniquity. Judaism does not teach that God's forgiveness is unconditional. Sin is forgiven by God only if the sinner has inner contrition and performs outward acts to rectify the damage done. Two additional things are required for forgiveness: prayer and acts of righteousness. In summary, three things are required: repentance, prayer, and tzedakah (acts of righteousness, e.g., charity, giving ones time). The Talmud defines 2 categories of sins: those between humans and God and those between individual human beings. Judaism teaches that forgiveness by God only encompasses those sins that Man commits against God. For sins of one person against another, the sinner must request the forgiveness of the one sinned against. Therefore, murder or any act which leaves the victim in a condition where he cannot forgive the perpetrator is a special situation. Such a sin cannot be forgiven in this world. Jews cannot be surrogate forgivers for victims who are not capable of granting forgiveness.
Eileen began her presentation at about 9:00 PM. She said that the focus of her presentation would be on both forgiveness and reconciliation. In the Random House Dictionary, she found three definitions of forgiveness, which included pardoning the offense of the person. Reconciliation involves making good again. Human beings need to learn to overcome their attitudes of self-righteousness. The cost of forgiveness is the need to restore trust in the relationship. The act of forgiveness is a spiritual problem. Forgiveness enables us to have more rewarding relationships. We become more empathetic. By learning to forgive, we become more honest about the weaknesses of others as well as ourselves. We gain an opportunity to look at who we are. By forgiving, we can ameliorate the cost of broken relationships . According to the Catholic Catechism (religious teaching resource), human beings are created by God with free will. There are always tragic consequences when we break relationships. We deprive ourselves of holiness and justice when we break relationships. Christians believe that God so loved humanity that He sent his son Jesus to live with us. Baptism cleanses a person of sins by employing the repentance of the person. Forgiveness of sins is the work of God's patience. In a letter of James in James, Chapter 5, it is reported that God forgives the world's sins because of Christ. For Eileen, forgiveness and reconciliation are reflections of each other. By forgiving, one can make the best of a bad situation. In a speech at the University of Dayton, Father Jenko (a previous captive of Lebanese terrorists) said that if he had not determined during his captivity to love his captors, he would have had to kill himself. Nelson Mandela had similar thoughts during his captivity. Human beings rely on the law for justice. God relies on the need of human beings for justice. Reconciliation is a social act which is broader than the personal act of forgiveness between two persons. Eileen noted that there have been many acts of reconciliation in this group (the Dialogue). We have become better Christians and Jews because of our dialogue.
Erica said that she cannot forgive people who committed the Holocaust. She also said that sinners should only be forgiven if they do acts of reconciliation. Unless there are actions, repentance means nothing. She sees reconciliation and forgiveness as two different things. Edith said that she does not have any problems with Prager's views as expressed in the audio tape.
Lorraine said that when a person is seriously sick, they would want the finest medical practitioner to treat the illness and cure the person. Similarly, if a person commits a very evil act, this is an indication their soul is sick and needs to be repaired. The Central Park rapists fit this category, and Cardinal O'Connor, as a leading clergyman, is experienced in treating problems of the soul. Therefore, his words, "God loves you," were precisely what these young people needed to start them on the path to repairing their souls. She also said that every individual, no matter how evil and corrupt, has a portion of God's love.
Steve said that, speaking for himself, if Holocaust perpetrators have God in them, he does not want to have anything to do with God. Murray noted that the Vatican helped many Nazis escape prosecution after the war. Felix said he admired Prager, but noted he is primarily an entertainer, not a theologian. In Judaism, justice is the number one thing. Marie-Louise Handel, who is a New Yorker, defended Cardinal O'Connor by saying he did not forgive the rapists; he only said that God loves them. Nothing is impossible with God's love. She noted that shalom is not just lack of war, it is an act of reconciliation. Lou Vera noted some resemblance between the writings of Jesus and Jerry's remarks about the Jewish requirement that the party who has sinned reconcile himself with the party who has been sinned against. In the Catholic tradition, the Liberation Theology movement raised people's consciousness of the necessity for justice. Lou noted, however, that unfortunately there is a "less than strong" tendency in Christianity to motivate people to interrupt the oppressive behavior. Eileen confirmed this idea by stating that love is related to justice. Agnes commented about the importance of humans reconciling not only with each other but also with the natural world. This is necessary in order for humans to know who they are in the natural scheme of things.
Ken observed that our discussion of horrific crimes like the Holocaust or the Central Park rape may detract from our discussion of the merits of forgiveness in more ordinary circumstances. Therefore, Ken asked whether in Judaism it is a Mitzvah (combination of a good deed and an obligation to perform it) for those sinned against to forgive those who committed the sins. Jerry replied yes. Steve said that for ordinary sinners, there should be forgiveness and reconciliation. Edith was bothered because she had not heard anything about people taking responsibility for having done wrong. Jerry replied that Prager agrees that the sinner must acknowledge responsibility. Bill replied that the only way to restore the society is to talk to the sinner. Arthur noted the importance of the sanctity of life. This value should override the value of love. We respect God by respecting the sanctity of our neighbors. Danny Eylon said that Prager is talking about the conflict of religion and society. He observed that society is developing toward more and more emphasis on forgiveness, because there is increasing knowledge of the causes of crime and delinquency. We now understand through social science the causes of crime and wrongful behavior. Thus, the civility level is advancing toward dealing with the roots of the problems, rather than merely condemning the criminal personally. Therefore religious forgiveness is not such a far-out concept. Jack Kelley noted that Rachamim (mercy) is an essential part of the Dialogue.
John Patterson said that there is more than one understanding of forgiveness. Free pardon should require the repentance of the offending party. The Archbishop may have been seeking reconciliation, not granting pardon. He read a passage from Leviticus 18-19 which mandated that people not bear a grudge against others. However, it is possible for people to forgive without the offending party asking for forgiveness. Frank said that he was taught in Catholic school that one would not be forgiven without penance. However, Frank does not think viewpoints are so polarized between Christians and Jews on this issue.
Erica reiterated that remedial action is required in order for forgiveness to be granted. Jerry stated that Prager's argument is not that love is unimportant. Prager's complaint with the Cardinal was that he only said "God loves you," and said nothing about the evil actions the Central Park rapists had committed. Marie-Louise Handal stated that it is important for us to recognize the damage we do.
The meeting adjourned at about 10:00 PM.
Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary
1 "The Church & the Holocaust: Why Our Disappointment," ADL on the Frontline, (June, 1998), pages 2,11.
2 Toby Axelrod, "Scientology; Wooing the Jews," The B'nai Brith International Jewish Monthly, (July/August, 1998), 112:6, pages 11-15,25.