Minutes of Meeting

Back ] Home ] Up ] Next ]

Date: October 14, 2001

Location: Bergamo Conference Center

Meeting Topic: Dialogue Retreat

Speaker: Rabbi Jack Riemer

PRESENT: Felix Garfunkel, Chair, Presiding; Donna Bealer, Judith Bluestein, Bernice Brant, Bert Brant, Larry Briskin, Bert Buby, Candy Davidson, Shirlee E. Ehrenberg, Emily Evans, James Evans, Shirley Flacks, Bette Jasko, Bob Jasko, Jack Kelley, Eleanor Koenigsberg, Harry Koenigsberg, John Magee, Bill Meers, Eileen Moorman, Ruth Precker, Bill Rain, Ken Rosenzweig, Jack Sederstrand, Minnette Weiss.

Felix opened the retreat at about 1:00 PM. He turned the floor over to Shirley who introduced Rabbi Riemer. She said that the Dialogue is especially pleased to have Rabbi Riemer at a Dialogue meeting at Bergamo Conference Center. Bergamo was the site of the First National Workshop on Christian-Jewish Relations held in 1973. Also, Rabbi Reamer was a member of the Program Committee for that first National Workshop. In honor of Rabbi Riemerís visit, Shirley led the attendees in the Shehecheyanu prayer, "Blessed is the Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this season."

Rabbi Riemer began his presentations by addressing the question: what can Jews learn from Christians? Humorously, he noted that Christians come to an event on time. One other thing Jews can learn from Christians is to have a sense of awe. He noted that when one is in the Bergamo chapel he feels a sense of awe. Rabbi Riemer said that he brought three talks to the retreat. He thanked Shirley Flacks for orchestrating his weekend in Dayton (he spoke multiple times at Beth Jacob Synagogue during the weekend). He also thanked Eileen and Father Bert who came to services at Beth Jacob this weekend to hear Rabbi Riemer.

The first topic that Rabbi Riemer addressed was, "what I have learned from women." Women are able to express emotions more than men. Women care more about helping people than building institutions. The Jewish healing movement was started by women. Women are not empire builders. Women are better able to handle unsolvable problems. Women learn earlier that family comes first. Rabbi Riemer told a story about a woman rabbi who took care of a family stricken by suicide. One thing she did was vacuuming the carpet in the familyís house. Women are more sensitive to the actual needs of people. Rabbi Riemer shared with the attendees a prayer for oncologists (doctors who treat cancer patients), obviously written by a woman. One part of the prayer is, "help me to understand when we have to let go of those who have been entrusted to our care."

Rabbi Riemerís second topic was about the survival of the Jewish people after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD. That was a critical year for the Jewish people. How does the religion continue? The largest group of Jews just quit being Jewish. The second largest group of Jews went to Kumran. They in effect left the organized Jewish community, and the Romans wiped them out once they had finished wiping out Jerusalem. The Kumran community was then not heard from until 1947 when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. The third largest group of Jews was the Christians which till that point were part of the Jewish community. One of their most important teachings was that, to replace temple sacrifices, Christians have the sacrifice of Jesus. The Christians were the most successful missionary group in history, bar none. The Christians conquered the western world, but not the eastern world. The Christians carried forth the Jewish message that God is the God of love. The fourth largest group of Jews were the Pharisaic Jews who formed synagogues and viewed prayer as the substitute for temple sacrifice. This led to the development of Rabbinic Judaism. Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity are thus really siblings, rather than parent and child. The relations between Judaism and Christianity are characterized by sibling rivalry. Sibling rivalry is based on competing for the love of the mother (God in this case). On a corresponding point, Rabbi Riemer observed that when he officiates at a Bris (ritual circumcision), he has the parents drink from the same cup of wine because of the potential rivalry for the affections of the child.

Rabbi Riemer addressed the question of who are the groups of Jews today who correspond to the four groups of Jews after 70 AD. Who are assimilationists today (the largest group)? Rabbi Riemer thinks there is a correlation of assimilation with the Holocaust. When it has been dangerous to be Jewish, then people have rationalized assimilating, even if only on a subconscious level. Who are the Kumran people today? These are the people who lock themselves up and have nothing to do with anyone other than Orthodox Jews. It works; the kids of such people are often more observant than their parents and their parents are more observant than their grandparents. Who are the modern equivalent of the ancient Christians today? They are the Jews who became universalists. They care about the world. Such people were heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Also many Communists of Jewish extraction were very idealistic. Such Jewish universalists focused on trying to fix the world. Such people often feel the pain of everybody in the world except the Jews. Who are the Pharisaic Jews today? Rabbi Riemer replied to his own question that this is hard to say because it is hard to predict the future.

Erika asked why we have such a problem with accepting people into the faith of Judaism who want to be Jews. In Biblical times, Naomi said she wanted to go with the Jews and she was readily accepted. Rabbi Riemer commented that in general one can be a Christian as an individual. One cannot be a Jew by himself because Judaism is essentially a communal religion. Rabbi Riemer stated that Fiddler on the Roof is one of the worst distortions of Judaism. Tevia tries to marry off his daughters. His second daughter wants to marry a communist and leave the community. Tevia is painted as the bad guy and a schlemiel when he is actually a man of principle; he wanted to preserve his family and the community. Shalom Aleichemís story, upon which the play was based, communicated Teviaís dilemma much more accurately than did the play.

A break began at about 2:15 PM, and the retreat reconvened at about 2:30 PM. At this time, Bert asked the attendees for a silent prayer for Steve Kahn who died recently and for his surviving wife Sophie. Steve and Sophie have been active members of the Dialogue for many years. Rabbi Riemer also asked for the remembrance of members of the Dialogue who he knew in the 1970ís when he was active in the Dialogue and who have passed on. These include: Paul Flacks, Harold Rubenstein, and Lou Ryterband.

Rabbi Riemer concluded his earlier discussion of the modern equivalents of the four groups of Jews at the time of the destruction of the Temple. He said that the key to understanding Zionism is understanding that it is the need for power. Zionism is a revolt against powerlessness. Thus the fourth group, equivalent to the Pharisaic Jews, may be the Israelis.

Rabbi Riemer said that his third talk would be about Jewish Christian Dialogue. He noted that dialogue and communication between people of different religions is very difficult. Nevertheless he believes in dialogue, although not all rabbis do. Rabbi Soleveichik said that we should not dialogue about theology, but we should dialogue about how to make a better world. Rabbi Riemer stated that Christians are made in the image of God; they are not all out to get us. Jews and Christians need to learn from each other because nobody knows it all. Some famous historical Christians would never come to a dialogue, including Marcian and Martin Luther. And yet every Jew who comes to dialogue comes carrying baggage. He comes with knowledge of centuries of Christian discrimination against Jews. In the Middle Ages, Jews were forced to participate in disputations where Jews were required to defend their religion against polemical assault. Nazism was a war against both Christianity and Judaism. But it could not have happened without the history of centuries of Christian anti-Semitism. However, Rabbi Riemer comes in hope, not despair, to dialogue, because he believes that people can repent and change. Rabbi Riemer also comes with a great reverence for Christian charity. Albert Schweitzer and Mother Therese are great models of goodness. However, Rabbi Riemer warned that if you are afraid to tell the truth to your partner, you do not have much of a marriage or of a dialogue. If we are going to open the walls that have separated Jews and Christians for centuries, we are going to have to be frank.

Rabbi Riemer said that he is going to say some harsh things today. He will start with easy things, then move to harder ones. If Christians want to dialogue, they will have to learn about Jews and Judaism. Jews living in predominantly Christian countries have an advantage in that they cannot help but know something about Christianity. Rabbi Riemer noted that Jews and Judaism are not treated accurately in the movies. Paul Newman as Ari Ben Canaan in the movie Exodus is not a very accurate picture of a typical Jew. Christians think they already know about Jews, but in fact many think of Jews as Biblical Jews rather than modern persons. If one wants to understand Judaism, one cannot do it by just reading the Bible. Furthermore, one cannot understand the New Testament if one does not understand the Jewish world in which Jesus lived. For example, the anti-Jewish statements in Matthew 23 have to be understood with knowledge of the history of the time. The only way to understand this reading is that it is polemics resulting from the competition between Jews and Christians for adherents in the Roman world. Everyone in the middle of a fight says things they otherwise would not have said.

To be a Jew means to be member of a community, and each Jew has communal responsibility. Christians need to understand that Jews are a people, and there can be atheistic Jews. This is one of the main differences between Christianity and Judaism. Because of their peoplehood, Jews generally have an especially great concern for the plight of other Jews around the world. Christians also need to be sensitive about how their statements sound to the other person in dialogue. For example, the statement, "I come to dialogue because I want to discover my roots," can be seen as very disrespectful to Jews. Jews and Christians are siblings, not parent and child. Jews are not "roots," and they should not be made to feel that they are a means to an end.

However, the bigger issue and the heart of the whole problem is the "zero sum problem." Ever since Cain and Abel, the children have battled over the affection of the parents. The tragedy of the Christian Jewish problem is that we believe that God is miserly in his love, i.e., does not have enough love for the people of both religions. The Jewish philosopher, Franz Rosenzweig, emphasized this point that both religions are loved by God. However, please note that rejected love is dangerous. One example is O.J. Simpson. Both Mohammed and Martin Luther condemned Jews because they rejected their respective messages. Christians have to be open to the fact that there was a teaching of contempt. The sad fact is that the church has a long record of persecution, and that is embarrassing for the church.

At this point, Rabbi Riemer addressed what he called the real point of his talk. He is going to ask Christians to do something very tough. They need to understand why the Jews said no to Jesus, and to thank God that they did say no. Rabbi Riemer observed that Jews love arguing. That does not mean that they kill each other. In fact, the Romans killed Jesus because they saw him as a political threat. Jews simply argued with Jesus. By the time the New Testament was edited, the authors had generated the portrait of an un-Jewish Jesus. The issue is not whether the coming of the Messiah will be a first coming or a second coming. The issue is where you stand on the integrity of the Old Testament and the New Testament. The real question is why did Jews say no to Jesus? Christians need to respect the fact that the Jews said no. If there were no more Jews in the world, the world would have lost the most enduring sign of Godís love, that God honors his promises. Jews bear witness by their existence to Godís trustworthiness. Rabbi Riemer believes that those who try to convert Jews to Christianity are working against the will of God, and he does not believe that God will let them succeed.

In summary, the first question is whether God is stingy with his love. The second question is: do you believe that everyone on earth who does not believe as you do is damned? Is that Godís love? Do you really believe that Jesus is the only gateway to God? These are the real questions that we cannot dodge. However, Rabbi Riemer has real hope that in the fairly foreseeable future, Jews and Christians will be able to count on each other as friends, allies, and partners. The reason for Rabbi Riemerís hope is that he knows many decent Jews and Christians who have broken out of old patterns. Dialogue is important because, if one has met people of the other religion who are good people, one has to be respectful. One example of such a good person is Pope John Paul. Such people make you believe that humanity is possible.

What unites Christians and Jews? We are united together in the search for goodness. We need to cooperate with each other in developing a resurrection of sensitivity. We need to help each other hear the muffled words of the everlasting God.

Rabbi Riemerís formal presentation ended at 3:35 PM.


In response to a question from Jerry Kotler, Rabbi Riemer stated that in every religion, there is a tension between love and justice. Religions cannot have just one or the other. The point of Rabbinic Judaism is tschuvah, people can change. Jack Kelley apologized on behalf of the Church for the polemic in Matthew 23. Jack also pointed out that Dabru Emmet, the statement of Jewish scholars in response to the reconciling efforts of many Christian sects, is important because it favors dialogue. Jack continued that Christians need to learn to appreciate the compassion of Pharisaic life.

Erika said she has a problem with fundamentalists such as Hal Lindsey who she has heard on the radio. Rabbi Riemer replied that Hal Lindsey is a messianist, and such people support Israel primarily because they see Israel as playing an important role in Christian eschatology. In response, Israeli leaders are often nice to the Christian right because they need allies. The Christian right is a dilemma for Jews.

Rabbi Riemer commented that an important question for all in the area of religion is how do you distinguish fact from poetry? The scriptures have a lot of both. The danger of religious orthodoxy is of taking literally the poetry.

Larry Briskin praised Rabbi Riemerís talks. However, he noted that the discussion has ignored Islam. The anti-Semitic elements in the New Testament are tame compared to what is in the Koran. In response, Rabbi Riemer said that there are religious bigots in all three religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He asked the question, when was Islam most successful? The answer is the golden age including that in Spain, when Islam had respectful relations with both Jews and Christians. Islam is now hijacked by monsters. How do you reason with suicide bombers? It is the responsibility of every Islamic cleric to condemn suicide bombing. That is the crisis of Islam. The real scandal is that the mosques are teaching hatred. Rabbi Riemer then extrapolated that the worst sins are the "sins of the holy place" and the religious establishment.

The last story that Rabbi Riemer delivered to the group was about Abraham Joshua Heschel. Heschel was asked to give two parallel talks, one to reform and one to conservative rabbis. He delivered a talk to the reform rabbis that focused on the fact that mere spirituality was inadequate. He delivered a talk to the conservative rabbis that mindless religious conformity is meaningless. The moral of the story is that religious leaders need to talk to people about what they need, not just what they want.

Bert thanked Rabbi Riemer for his wonderful presentations, and stated that Rabbi Riemer had emphasized the importance of the prophetic light.

Rabbi Riemer concluded that what unites us as Christians and Jews is a commitment to the Hebrew Bible as scripture and a commitment to a sense of contrition.

Respectfully submitted,

Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary

Dialogue Members Attend Inter-Faith Peace Prayer at Muslim Community Center

The Dialogue was invited to send representatives to the Inter-Faith Peace Prayer held at the Muslim Community Center in Beavercreek on Sunday, September 16, in response to the Terrorism Tragedy of September 11. Dialogue members Jerry Kotler and Ken Rosenzweig attended. At the Peace Prayer, ministers and representatives from various religious denominations, as well as Dayton Mayor Mike Turner, made statements of support for the fundamental American principle that people of all religions deserve to be respected, and people of a given faith should not be held responsible for the illegal and morally repugnant actions of religious fanatics who appear to be of the same faith. Jerry Kotler represented the Dialogue by being called to the microphone, where he delivered a moving reading of the 23rd Psalm.


Back ] Home ] Up ] Next ]