Minutes of Meeting

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Date: February 10, 2002

Location: University of Dayton, Alumni Hall Room 101

Meeting Topic: On Bibles and Covenants

Speaker: Dr. Mark Verman, The Larry and Leonore Zusman Chair of Judaic Studies, Wright State University

Hosts: Lillian Gillespie

PRESENT: Felix Garfunkel, Chair, Presiding; Gloria Anticoli, Judy Baker, Donna Bealer, Judith Bluestein, Connie Breen, Bert Buby, Clara Davidson, Phyllis Duckwall, Erika Garfunkel, Debra Geier, Lillian Gillespie, Agnes Hannahs, Eugene Hannahs, Jack Kelley, Jerry Kotler, Lorraine Kotler, John Magee, Eileen Moorman, Ruth Precker, Bill Rain, Ken Rosenzweig, Leonore Sonnenschein, Lou Vera, Bill Youngkin.

Felix called meeting to order at 8:00 PM. Lillian Gillespie delivered the prayer which expressed appreciation for the mild weather and affirmed our desire to understand all peoples.

Jack Kelley delivered a number of announcements. He noted a January 23 article in the New York Times which reported on a statement by Seymour Reich commending the Vatican for its recent document which validates Jewish waiting for the Messiah. Jack also reported on the University of Dayton event last Wednesday on the Middle East Conflict. There were some comments from Dialogue meeting attendees that the speakers did not include anyone representing the Israeli position, and that the whole format was biased toward the Palestinian side.

Bert announced the Dialogue Officer Search Committee has continued to recruit officers. Connie Breen has been nominated as the new Treasurer, and the attendees expressed appreciation to Connie for taking on this assignment. The Committee is still looking for a new Secretary. It was announced that the programs for the next two months have been reversed to accommodate the schedule of one of the speakers (this change is incorporated in the Schedule at the end of these minutes). The upcoming Our Shared Heritage tour to Israel was announced. Jews and Christians will share the experience of traveling to Israel together. The tour is from April 14 to April 26. Contact Dieter or Suzie Walk at (937)439-2336 for further information.

At this point, Jerry Kotler introduced the speaker, Mark Verman. Jerry commended Larry & Leonore Sussman for creating the chaired position at Wright State University which Mark occupies. Jerry observed that the level of Jewish cultural and intellectual life has been greatly enhanced by Markís presence in the Dayton community for the last 2 Ĺ years. Jerry noted that Mark grew up in Toronto. He is a rabbi and holds a Ph.D. From Harvard University. Jerry has found him to be a wonderful person to talk to. Prior to coming to Dayton, Mark lived in Minnesota where he held positions sequentially at a Lutheran College and a Catholic college. Mark joined Beth Jacob Synagogue, where he often gives lectures and sermons.

Markís presentation began at 8:15 PM. Mark stated that his topic for the evening is "On Bibles and Covenants." Mark noted that the Dialogue has been around for decades, and the advantage is comfort, but the disadvantage is complacency. Mark warned the attendees that some of his remarks may be disquieting. Mark has been thinking about Jewish-Christian relations for a very long time, and he wanted to share with the Dialogue some of his reflections on that subject.

Mark began with the story about a pioneer of Christian-Jewish dialogue: Jules Isaac who was a French Superintendent of Schools in France prior to World War II. During the war, he came home to find that his family had been taken by the Gestapo. He subsequently moved to Vichy France, where he was able to survive the war. Isaac thought a lot about the causes of the Holocaust and came to the conclusion that Christianity had something to do with anti-Semitism. He wrote many books on this subject, but his second book, The Genesis of Anti-Semitism, had an especially great impact. He was invited to the Vatican to speak with Pope John XXIII. Their conversations in part led to the Second Vatican Council and the sea change in relations of Catholicism with other religions that was incorporated in the documents from that council. Mark observed that very few of his students, even the Catholics, have even heard of Vatican II. The new understandings from Vatican II are limited to a very small group people, and most have not been affected by it. Furthermore, Mark observed that the teaching of contempt of Jews is integral to Christianity.

Mark attended public schools in Toronto. One day, someone was talking to students as they left the school and giving away copies of the New Testament. Mark took a copy, but when he returned home, his family told Mark that he had to get rid of it. They would not even explain why, but Mark did as they asked. He subsequently did acquire a another copy of the New Testament which he read. In another incident later, as he was leaving school, four kids jumped on him and began pummeling him and telling him he was a Christ-killer. Fortunately, he was not greatly hurt, but he was affected by the incident. Later, he began wearing a Kepah, and he received various slurs from his schoolmates as a result. Mark also noted that Bible readings were read in his school over the loud speakers. One was the Lordís Prayer, another was "The Lord is my shepherd . . ." As a consequence Mark grew up thinking that "The Lord is my shepherd" was a Christian prayer. It wasnít until years later that he discovered it was really Psalm 23 and part of the Hebrew Scriptures.

At this point Mark elaborated on three texts from the New Testament which he feels have supported "the teaching of contempt." These texts incorporate both anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish attitudes. Anti-Semitism is the condemnation of a person simply because they are Jewish. A passage which focuses on condemning Judaism as a religion can be considered to be anti-Jewish. The story of Pilate according to Matthew (27:25), in which the Jews say, "let his blood be on ourselves and our children" is a classic source of anti-Semitism. This statement is so pernicious because it condemns not only those present but future Jews. Actually, it was not the Jews but the Romans who condemned Jesus to death. However, the statement justifies belief in Jewish culpability for the killing of Jesus. Mark understands that this passage was written for political reasons. Romans would not be the focus for Christian anger because they were targets for conversion to Christianity. Jews were a more useful target.

Another classic statement is the one in John (8:44) that "your father is the devil." Someone that Mark met in Minnesota was surprised that Jews did not have horns and a tail. A student said in one of Markís classes that she knew there was a Jewish holiday when Jews consume blood, but she could not remember which one it was. This is part of the history of the blood-libel. Mark noted that the development of the story of the blood-libel (that Jews kill Christians to extract blood for the making of matzah) developed during a period of debate in Christianity about the nature of the Eucharist (whether the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus or whether they are symbolic).

In the early 1990ís in St. Joseph, Minnesota where Mark was teaching at St. Johns University at the time, Jacob Wetterling, a 10 or 11 year old boy who was riding his bike, was abducted and never found. His mother became an advocate for missing children. Shortly afterward, the local mall was plastered with posters that claimed Jacobís case involved ritual murder. The posters quoted a statement in the National Review about Jews murdering Christians for their blood. Actually, it was a quote of a Saudi diplomat talking about the Medieval myth.

The third text is from Hebrews, Chapter 8. This text is anti-Jewish rather than anti-Semitic. Mark observed Hebrews is a very good polemic defending Christianity. It is often assumed to be written by Paul, and makes the argument that Christianity has superseded Judaism. The original Jewish covenant has been replaced by a new covenant, and the original covenant is now obsolete. The terminology is important; covenant in Latin is testamentum. Mark has not heard anything satisfying about how one should refer to the Old Testament and New Testament in Christianity. Mark said it is not his place to tell Christians what to call the testaments, but the present terminology is a put-down to Judaism. Erika commented that she has taken a number of courses at the University of Dayton in which the terms, Old Testament and New Testament, are used and she does not think the terminology is a put-down. Mark acknowledged Erikaís feelings but thinks that this is still an issue we should deal with. Shirley said that old ideas are often the basis for newer ideas. Jerry said the problem of the texts goes away if one accepts Paulís theory of the eternal validity of the Jewish covenant. Mark commented that therefore, he feels it is unlikely that Paul wrote Hebrews. Bert commented that this discussion ought to impact religious studies courses. Mark commented that the terminology, First and Second Testaments, is not much of an improvement to Old and New. He personally refers to the Hebrew scriptures as Tanach. However, he does not have a solution about what to call the New Testament. Perhaps Christian Scriptures would be acceptable. However, the early figures in the New Testament were actually Jews. Eileen commented that the term, Christian Scriptures, is an inaccurate description. Mark said he is comfortable with the term Christian Scriptures.

Lou said she is the Interfaith Officer of the Catholic Diocese of Cincinnati, and she agrees that things have not improved as much as we think they have since Vatican II. She still struggles with the fact that many Catholics do not even know about Nostra Aetate (the main document from Vatican II which acknowledges the Catholic Churchís respect for other religions, including Judaism). Also, Lou noted the inadequate level of funding in the Catholic Church of interfaith activities. Lou observed that A.-J. Levine (Dialogue Open Meeting Speaker, November 4, 2001) prefers the terms, Old and New Testament. Lou noted that Christians still have the inheritance of Marcian (who disparaged Judaism and the Old Testament) even though he was declared a heretic. Lou commented that people who know both Hebrew and Christian Testaments are members of a small inter-textual community. Bill commented that he does not want to see the two texts treated discontinuously; he thinks that calling them Hebrew and Christian Scriptures would contribute to this discontinuity.

Mark said that the attendees may have thought he was being critical only of Christians. He referred to the document, Dabru Emmet (Speak the Truth; a statement of a large number of rabbis and Jewish scholars in reaction to the expressions of openness to Judaism of Christians in recent years). Dabru Emmet makes the bald statement that Jews and Christians have a lot in common because they read the same scriptures. Mark pointed out that, in fact, the Bibles of the different religions are not the same. There are Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish Bibles. Catholics have canonized more books than either of the other two religions. There are two fundamental differences. First, for a Christian, a translated Bible, such as the Oxford Study Bible, which Mark held up, would be considered the authoritative text. No Jew would consider that an English translation would be considered the authoritative text. This comes from the fact that the Torah is read ritually in Hebrew on a regular basis. Translations are all deceptions; especially for a text such as the Hebrew Scriptures. Hebrew contains all sorts of word puns that cannot be understood except in the original language. Second, Jews are reading the Bible in 3 parts which have a hierarchical ordering. The Pentateuch (Torah), the first five books, are most important. According to the tradition, Moses was taking dictation of these five books on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights. In the second part, the Neviim, the Divine word rather than being direct, is mediated by the Prophets. Thus this part is less important than the first. The third part, the writings, have even less importance than the first two. The writings contain the human response to the first two parts. Jews look at the Hebrew scriptures in a fundamentally different way than Christians. Christians look at the scriptures in a four-part way, with the Christian Scriptures added to the parts already mentioned. Furthermore, the ordering may not be hierarchical in the same way that it is for Jews. Judith pointed out that the ordering comes from the Septuagint which was a Jewish translation of the Bible. Mark disagreed that the Septuagint is a fundamentally Jewish translation. It was prepared in Alexandria, and it is eclectic. Mark made the case that the hierarchical nature of the Hebrew Scriptures is basically abandoned by Christians. For Christians, the prophetic writings are perhaps more important than the Pentateuch. Lillian commented that the teaching order of the Hebrew Scriptures in Christian communities varies with different churches. Mark told a story about his experiences when he lived in Jackson, Mississippi. Jackson was a profoundly religious community. Often, well-dressed missionaries came to his door. Invariably when they realized Mark was Jewish, they would refer to Isaiah 53 which they felt heralded the coming of Jesus. Mark observed that a major part of the Christian Scriptures is designed to show that prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures are fulfilled in the Christian Scriptures. Mark reemphasized that the way the text is read by Christians and Jews is fundamentally different. In defense of the Jewish interpretation, Mark noted that Isaiah 53 talks about things that happened in the past, not the future.

The last major point that Mark made was about the Christian appropriation (hijacking) of Judaism. Appropriation means giving a Christological interpretation to the Hebrew Scriptures. Mark does not see any place in the Hebrew Scriptures where there is a reference to the Trinity. Christians have appropriated Jesus and his followers who would not have known what the term Christianity was. Christians have appropriated the Temple. Christians have attempted to appropriate the Holocaust. The huge cross at Auschwitz is an example; Mark feels this is a desecration because Auschwitz is the largest Jewish cemetery ever. Jewish symbols are constantly being appropriated by Christians. As an example, Mark held up an artistic illumination in the shape of a menorah which shows a genealogy of Jesus. Jewish festivals are being appropriated by the Christian community. For example, Mark has been asked to lead a Seder by Christians. Mark noted that the Rabbis stated that non-Jews are not allowed to participate in a Jewish Seder. One of Markís students noted that her church celebrates all the Jewish holidays and festivals. Jerry commented that several Christian faiths celebrate the Jewish holidays. Mark stated that he does not understand the antithetical statements that Christians are making about Judaism. On the one hand, Christianity says that Judaism has been superseded by Christianity, but, on the other hand, there is this wholesale incorporation of the Hebrew Biblical tradition into Christianity. Furthermore, Christians often change the Jewish Biblical tradition in strange ways. For example, people who demonstrate for capital punishment at state penitentiaries cite incorrectly that it is in conformity with the Hebrew Bible. As a result of these appropriations, Mark finds himself involuntarily involved in Jewish-Christian discussions.

Markís formal presentation ended at 9:30 PM. Felix noted that it is understandable that Christianity would have Jewish customs since it grew out of Judaism. Also, we should be happy that so many people in the world have been influenced by Jewish ideas. Mark observed that only Christians have a tradition of where Mount Sinai is. Jews do not know where Mount Sinai is. Lorraine noted that the copying of Jewish rituals has been going on for a long time, and she does not think it is so bad; afterall, Jews were supposed to be a light to the nations. In effect, Christian rituals are often an imitation of Judaism in a somewhat diluted form. Lorraine said that she does agree with Mark that the seeds of the Holocaust are in Christianity. You cannot teach contempt through the centuries and not bear the fruit.

Mark replied that the first covenant in the Hebrew Bible is with Noah, and it is a universal covenant. The first council of Christians in Jerusalem in 49 or 50 CE debated what to do with the Jewish law. Peter argued that all that is needed by Christians is faith. The council ascribes to James the argument that gentiles had to follow certain regulations from the Noahite covenant. Clearly, Christianity developed in later years on the basis of justification by faith alone. Christianity does try to incorporate the positive aspects of the Hebrew Scriptures, including the ethical teachings.

Erika said she is bothered by Markís criticism that Christians are appropriating Judaism. Jews should be happy that Christians are coming closer to the concept of worshiping one God which is a Jewish concept. Also, Erika stated that she does not have to abide by all of rabbinic law to be a good Jew. She feels she should have the right to have Christians at her Seder. Mark maintains that most Christians will see the Seder as the Last Supper. Lou agreed with Mark that Christians are generally most interested in the Hebrew Scriptures because they see a connection to the Christian story. Mark asked why there is not so much Christian interest in the Purim holiday; he suggested that this is because there is little connection in the Purim story to the Christian story; in contrast, Christians are especially interested in Passover because they see a connection to the Last Supper. Jerry commented that Christians see their roots in the Jewish Seder. Also, Christians emphasize that the Seder is not a Christian Seder. Jerry stated that he has organized hundreds of Seders for Christians. Mark agreed that such Seders are an educational tool for Christians to learn about Judaism, and they are more useful than inviting Christians into a Jewish Seder. Mark replied that Paul is disinterested in Jesus as a person. The only event that Paul is interested in is the Last Supper. Lou stated that Christians are merely trying to understand another piety. Lillian said that she has been to a Jewish home for a Seder. Is that wrong? Mark stated that his greatest problem with it is the potential of Christologizing the Seder.

Bill stated that people in his church need the interaction of the Jewish community even more than ever to correct misconceptions and misreadings of the texts. He feels that Jews help to keep Christians honest. Someone noted that the universal appeal of the Passover holiday is the rebellion against slavery. Mark agreed. The meeting adjourned at 9:55 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary

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