…And Yaakov Traveled Toward Sukkos

Among many things, galus is a delicate balancing act.

Klal Yisrael has to be continuously aware of its status as the sheep surrounded by wolves — some brazenly baring their teeth, others in granny clothes. And yet, different periods in our long exile have presented us with friendly hosts, and even with allies who protect us against those who wish us ill. In the Middle Ages, Jews thrived in Muslim societies, and we thrive today in the freedoms and good will of an overwhelmingly Christian United States.

Part of our responsibility, though, is to take care to maintain the balance between the hakaras hatov we owe at various times to other nations and faiths, and our commitment to our innate and necessary separateness as Jews.

Cause for the former, for a “recognition of the good” was presented by the Roman Catholic Church on December 10 when the Vatican released a new document about Catholics’ relationship to Jews.

Titled “The Gifts and Calling of G-d are irrevocable,” it states in part that “The Church does not question the continued love of G-d for the chosen people of Israel.” And, most important, it expressly states that proselytizing Jews is wrong.

Without going into the long history of Jews in Catholic lands, centuries ago and even closer to the present, it is undeniable that this is a remarkable development, and worthy of praise.

Of course, there are various Protestant denominations that expressly preach “outreach” to Jews — missionizing to less-Jewishly educated members of Klal Yisrael, seeking to “win souls” by convincing Jews to profess Christian beliefs. Such efforts have a long history, and they continue today. Mere weeks ago, former presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann, after a tour of Israel, urged Jews, on a radio program hosted by Family Research Council founder Tony Perkins, to convert to Christianity.

And then there is the less obvious but no less problematic side of some otherwise praiseworthy friendliness. In a pluralistic society like ours, subtle “outreach” can sometimes infect even the otherwise commendable kindness of others.

Even the Vatican statement, as commendable as it is, contains an element that cannot be considered by any truly committed Jew, a call to religious “dialogue” between Christians and Jews.

It quotes Pope Francis as asserting “a rich complementarity” between Christians and Jews “which allows us to read the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures together and to help one another to mine the riches of G-d’s word.”

Such “religious dialogue” has been expressly forbidden by Gedolim of previous and the present generation, and, whatever the underpinnings of the Vatican’s sentiments, the only Jewishly proper answer to its offer of “religious dialogue” is a polite “no, thank you.”

A mere week before the Vatican released its statement, however, the very opposite, a blatant Jewish overture to Christianity, was announced by a group of 28 self-described Orthodox rabbis.

Titled “To Do the Will of Our Father in Heaven: Toward a Partnership between Jews and Christians,” the statement calls Christians “partners” of Jews, and reaches out to take “the hand offered to us by our Christian brothers and sisters.”

In support of its theme, the statement misleadingly cites the Rambam’s statement that Hashem allowed Christianity and Islam to flourish among the nations in order to lead them away from base paganism, ignoring other, more pertinent, words of the Rambam about those faith systems and their incompatibility with truth.

That effort is deeply misguided, not to mention inconsistent, as it doesn’t extend a similar hand of friendship to the Muslim world. More to the point, it goes against the express directives of past Torah leaders across the span of the Orthodox world, from Harav Moshe Feinstein to Harav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik, zecher tzaddikim livrachah.

There is no doubt that Jews and Christians do, and should, enjoy cordial relations, and that ad hoc alliances on societal, educational and political issues of common interest are perfectly permitted and proper. They have indeed been a feature of the Orthodox Jewish world for many years and go on today as well.

However, the set of beliefs based on Torah MiSinai sets us fundamentally apart from other religions and therefore any dialogue on those matters is an anomaly.

So, while it can be said that the Vatican’s recent statement is a positive and laudable development, the 28 rabbis’ declaration merits neither of those adjectives.