Judeo-Christian is wack.

Hard boiled eggs on the holiday - we were doing it before you!

From the outside looking in, one might be forgiven for thinking that Christians and Jews have gotten past all that once separated our communities. And, in some ways, one would be right.

But in other ways, one really wouldn’t.

Here it is Lent, with Passover days away — our shared holy season — and the fact remains: Two thousand years later, we Judeo-Christians still really aren’t sure we can trust each other.

And lest you think I’m just talking about paranoid talking heads of the Tea Party and/or Anti-Defamation League variety, I’m not. I mean us, you and me, rubbing shoulders daily. Apparently, we still make each other nervous.

Among some members of my community, the Jews, it’s almost an article of faith that if you scratch a Christian, you’ll find an anti-Semite (not, of course, the Christians you know, but the ones who might be in the press).

Likewise, many Christians approach Jews with an almost comically  exaggerated wariness (not the Jews they know, of course, but the public Jews, the ones who are always so suspicious).

Of course, the distrust itself is an act of hostility, and we can’t deny that both anti-Semitism and paranoia are alive and kicking. But perhaps the more significant truth is this: We are, in fact, very different.

Indeed, I would argue that the term “Judeo-Christian” does a kind of linguistic violence to both faiths.

Yet in modern-day America, many of us are taught to believe (or act as if we believe) that we’re all (in some Free-To-Be-You-and-Me kind of way) “the same.” And if you expect me to be “the same” as you, but I go on insisting on being me — who can blame you for getting a bit tetchy?

I’m here to suggest that rather than strive for sameness, it would be far more more useful to acknowledge our strangeness, learn to value it – and, dare I say, respectfully disagree on occasion.

How else will we ever learn anything? If we spend our time fighting about how to create some ill-advised single vision, we won’t be able to see each other’s coexisting truths – and we may very well miss entirely the wisdom we have to teach each other.

Some time ago, finding myself at Catholic-run hospital, I idly picked up a flier about the pre-Easter season. Intended for those observing Lent, it was a list of alternate understandings of the fast: “Fast from discontent,” it read, “feast on gratitude,” and so on.

This struck a cord for me.

At Passover, Jews are commanded to eat no hametz, or leavening, for a week — a fast from yeast, if you will. On a literal level, a strict cleaning regimen has developed, expunging everything from dinner rolls in the pantry to crumbs (real or suspected) between one’s bathroom tiles and on one’s shelves (and yes, I do — in fact, I just took a break from this year’s scrubbing extravaganza in order to put up this post).

But “leavening” has also taken on subtleties far beyond this.

We’re encouraged to cleanse ourselves of the heart’s hametz — bitterness, egotism, fear.  “The search for hametz and its removal,” we read in The Book of Our Heritage, “becomes a symbol of the struggle against the evil inclination,” and the prosaic act of preparing the home takes on mystical overtones: “The physical has been created,” writes Rabbi Chaim Levine “as a visceral mirror for abstract spiritual concepts.”

Thus, at points, my Lent list sounds familiar: “Fast from anger,” it reads, “feast on patience. Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation” — surely these ideas informed Jesus’ understanding of Passover, and the Seder meal that Christians know as the Last Supper.

“This is my body,” he said of the unleavened bread — and with stunning imagery, asked his followers to literally em-body the qualities the matzah symbolizes, the qualities his mission exemplified.

Yet it must be said that matzah also symbolizes a very particular, historical event for the Jewish people: The moment when the Israelites went from slavery into freedom.

Just as Christians wouldn’t invite me to take communion, as it is an act of Christian faith, we Jews are refering directly and only to ourselves when we say that “in every generation it is a person’s duty to regard themselves as though they went forth from Egypt.”

Our stories meet and separate, inform and exclude. Cultural Christians and Jews who don’t believe in a Divine Creator find their own meanings and lessons, and each of these also differ from each other. As they only can.

Jews and Christians will never be Judeo-Christian. We will always see any one event or symbol with our own eyes.

Perhaps, though, as humans, we can develop the faith that when certain experiences separate us, others will bring us back.

10 Comments

  1. stephen matlock

     /  April 13, 2011

    Very interesting, especially the part about “Jews and Christians will never be Judeo-Christian.” Sometimes, I think, there is an attempt to water down the differences and pretend that Jews and Christians are simply separated by a few unessential differences, but in talking to Jews and Christians I find there are both great similarities (do justice, love mercy, walk humbly) and great and unresolvable gaps. There is that whole problem in Christianity of the transcendent God becoming incarnate as an ordinary man, and the matching rejection by the Jews of that interpretation. I don’t think that’s a resolvable problem or something that can be glossed over – it’s going to come up whenever there’s talk of how everyone’s just the same.

    IIRC I read a book in high school where some man proposed that Christians give up their whole attachment to Jesus of Nazareth as crucified and resurrected because that was the “sticking point” between Jews and Christians. Well, yeah. That would be a significant issue. But it’s not a sticking point. It’s the raison d’etre for Christians, I think.

    I don’t see it as only with Jews and Christians. It’s Jews and Muslims or Christians and Hindus or … well, pick any two religions and compare/contrast them. If they are different, then they will be – different.

    There are core elements in various religions that seem to be the same – the idea of doing something not compelled by nature, such as doing justice or living righteously. They seem to provide reasons why we should do them, or to explain why we feel we should do them.

    I haven’t figured that point out – how if we’re compelled to do something, where the that compulsion come from, and if it’s just a compulsion, there’s nothing wrong or right about it. And if it’s not a compulsion, then where does it come from, that sense that there’s something “right” we have to do – and the sense that we have to do it. (I can’t believe the happy thought that although we are compelled to do something, it just so happens coincidentally the compulsion matches up with what we should be doing.)

    And I hope this discussion of religious beliefs and behaviors isn’t seen as excluding non-believers/atheists.

    It just seems problematical to figure out how we have some metaphysical world we’ve invented in our heads that drives us to live in a way that nature doesn’t explain.

  2. There is nothing that says Jews and Christians cannot be considered as one; it mainly comes from how one chooses to interpret scriptures, holy books, and parables. Both religions, and Islam for that matter, arise from a common lineage of faith — and Jesus was a Jew before he became Jesus Christ, the Savior. Even Islam considers Jesus a prophet. This common baseline, no matter how the religions diverged, mean they are are more alike than not, or more importantly, as alike as they want to be.

    I think it is possible for all three religions to maintain their separate identities as religions, as well as sharing a common ground, for at their cores, the philosophies are all the same. It is merely in execution and in history that they differ.

  3. Islam definately sees the two as one, as does it see it’s own being part of the Abrahamic faiths. When we mention the “people of the book” that is the collective group of believers of the Taura (Old Testament) Ingil (New Testament) and Quraan. Muslims consider the Quraan to be the equivalent of what would be the “Last Testament”. It is ultimately the continuation of the scriptures, only to put the final seal on the completion of spiritual ruling that not only benefits the inner-being, but the domestic and societal aspects of humanity. We believe in a lot of what the Old and New Testament preaches, and disregard those that even the highest of eminents of scholars of the Bible have ruled out (for e.g. 1 JOHN 5:7 which was removed for lack of authenticity). Otherwise most prophets are of Hebrew descent: David, Solomon, Moses, Jesus, Johan, John, Zakarahia, and of course the most noblest of women Mariam mother of Jesus.

    If we as Muslims can see these unifying concepts, there shouldn’t be a problem with a Judeo-Christian connection, especially when they have a closer tie with each other because of the Bible itself.

  4. dmf

     /  April 14, 2011

    “judeo-christian” is a sign of supersessionism, for our faith in things that bond/bind and citE, a little early poetry:

    When my two-year-old daughter
    sees someone come through the door
    whom she loves, and hasn’t seen for a while,
    and has been anticipating
    she literally shrieks with joy.

    I have to go into the other room
    so that no one will notice the tears in my eyes.

    Later, after my daughter has gone to bed,
    I say to my wife,

    “She will never be this happy again,”
    and my wife gets angry and snaps,
    “Don’t you dare communicate your negativism to her!”
    And, of course, I won’t, if I can possibly help it,
    and of course I fully expect her
    to have much joy in her life,
    and, of course, I hope to be able
    to contribute to that joy —
    I hope, in other words, that she’ll always
    be happy to see me come through the door—

    but why kid ourselves — she, like every child,
    has a life of great suffering ahead of her,
    and while joy will not go out of her life,
    she will one of these days cease to actually,
    literally, jump and shriek for joy.

    “The Best Year of Her Life” by Gerald Locklin

  5. The idea is fantastic, can’t we all get along? We share so much in the past faith. Just think what life would be like with just respecting each others’ religions? I just can’t comprehend hurting someone or disrespecting them for thier faith, but I am among the small minority, as you are.

  6. “Jews and Christians will never be Judeo-Christian.”

    That is interesting because I’m both practicing Judaism and Christian. I recently wrote this post for Blog Critics on Christian’s who observe Passover and other biblical feasts. With The Competing Holidays Of Passover And Easter (What Can We Learn From The Lesser Known Messianic Seder?): http://paradoxparables.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/with-the-competing-holidays-of-passover-and-easter-what-can-we-learn-from-the-lesser-known-messianic-seder-written-for-blog-critics/

    Honestly, early Christianity was intrinsically “Jewish” observing all the biblical festivals, going to Synagogue regularly, having Chavurah and Oneg, Observing Shabbat, praying the Amidah, etcetera are all historically recorded practices of early “Christians.” Pretty solidly up until 119 CE there was a solid connection with Judaism and Roman Catholicism and Rabbinic Judaism where born during a period some have called “Middle Judaism.” There are a few goods books on the topic.

    The Roman Catholic institution that hijacked the plight of Christianity blended ideas from the NT with Platonist and Mithraism and created a new religion, not the one in the text of the NT. The NT is full of reference’s to Passover, Shevout, even Chanukah…

    There are Christian’s who observe the biblical or Jewish festivals who follow the ancients traditions of Shabbat starting on Friday eve, who attend synagogues and congregations on Saturday not sunday, who pray according to the Amidah and other traditions of the elders.

    For “mainstream” Christianity the differences may be hug. For those who follow the biblical way the way of Avrahamic faith rooted in Jewish heritage found in our Jewish Messiah we find more in common with Orthodox or Reformed Jews than “Christians.”

    I would say for Messianic, Nazarene or other Hebraic Roots movements, we do embodied the Jewish tradition and reflect on our Rabbi Yeshua’s impact within that context and in that sense we are truly Judeo-Christian. Like no other really can claim. Its a unique bridge between two faiths.

    There are at times similarities between Judaism and Christianity than any other religion due to sharing atleast the Old Testament. Muslims do not upload the OT only the book of Islam they believe that Ishmael not Isaac was the son of promise. At-least Christian’s even ones who in effective practice reject the OT believe it to be true. There are those of us who accept the OT and see the NT in its right context rooted in the OT.

    Anyways thats something to consider in this discussion. There are those who actually hold to both traditions. Mind you we do not observe Xmass or Estarte festivals, we observe only biblical festivals found in Leviticus 23, Chanakuh and Purim, as well as Shabbat and others Hebraic traditions.

    • I walk very carefully here, and will only say that for the vast majority of Jews, one leaves Judaism behind when one accepts Jesus as the Messiah. For the vast majority of Jews, this is Christianity culturally appropriated Jewish trappings.

      • Yes that is true, that is how it’s seen. However the point isn’t acceptance. Its that there are Christian’s who observe the Jewish or Biblical Traditions and they are Judeo-Christian. Not that other believe it right. We embody both. We aren’t considered accepted by Jewish or Christian at times. So thats okay with us. Just saying we exist. Hope that adds to the discussion.

  7. Russell King

     /  April 15, 2011

    Excellent work.