Simplistic comparison of Jewish, Christian traditions does a disservice

Simplistic comparison of Jewish, Christian traditions does a disservice

By Rabbi Howard A. Berman

Central Reform Temple of Boston

Boston

November 06, 2018

There was a second “not again” moment in an otherwise moving and heartwarming story of the encounter between the rabbi of Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., in the Sunday Globe (“2 religious leaders, united by grief,” Page A8). In the online version of the story, New York Times writer Kevin Sack unfortunately employs the ancient defamation of “the retributive justice of the Old Testament” as opposed to the “turn-the-cheek ethos of the New Testament.” It is this discredited, simplistic, and offensive comparison between the Jewish and Christian traditions that reflects the theological anti-Judaism that became the foundation for murderous anti-Semitism through the ages.

The Jewish concept of repentance and forgiveness is far more complicated and, while grounded in the supreme importance of human accountability and justice, does seek the healing process of forgiveness as well. The “turn-the-cheek” ideal is also more complex than Sack implies, and there is much in Christian scripture as well that struggles with the limits of forgiveness.

Moreover, the judgmental, biased terms “Old” and “New” Testament are largely obsolete in contemporary mainstream religious discourse.

Rabbi Howard A. Berman

Central Reform Temple of Boston

Boston

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