Rabbi Yitz Greenberg speaks at the CCJU Institute for Seminarians and Rabbinical Students on a “Theology of Interreligious Dialogue” at the Leir Foundation in Ridgefield, CT.
The Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding (CCJU) of Sacred Heart University convened its annual session of the Institute for Seminarians and Rabbinical Students on May 19-21, 2009, at the university campus in Fairfield, CT. The conference welcomed 35 students from Christian and Jewish seminaries and theological schools from across the country. The program marked 10 years of the CCJU vision inspired by the Second Vatican Council declaration, Nostra Aetate (1965), to foster education in ways that stimulate a deep understanding of one’s own tradition and simultaneously encourage a more learned understanding of the other.
The participants were guests of the Leir Foundation in Ridgefield, CT, for the opening session and keynote address by Rabbi Irving (“Yitz”) Greenberg. Welcome remarks were offered by CCJU Director of Programs and Publications, Dr. Ann Heekin, and Leir Foundation President, Arthur Hoffman. Dr. Heekin reflected on the first seminarian’s Institute of 1999 and how the context for the dialogue has evolved bringing both new opportunities and new challenges. “Dialogue invites us to cross the boundaries of our respective traditions in order to return to our traditions enriched,” she said. Dr. Heekin highlighted the challenge of the next decade as a commitment to sustaining a respect for each other that does not gloss over religious differences but honors such diversity and ultimately widens the perception of the image of God in the world. Leir Foundation President Arthur Hoffman spoke of Henry Leir’s legacy as an innovative global entrepreneur whose bold vision in the first half of the 20th century was to imagine a truly pluralistic business model that transcended cultural and national boundaries.
In his keynote address, a “Theology of Interreligious Dialogue,” Rabbi Greenberg likewise acknowledged that the forces of the new encounter between Judaism and Christianity have come often from outside religious traditions. Calling it the “universalization of culture,” the rabbi described it as “the extraordinary capacity of modern culture to communicate” and its effect on a genuine encounter with the other person leading to the “discovery of the other’s culture, values and religion.” An ordained Orthodox rabbi and Harvard Ph.D., Rabbi Greenberg has written extensively on post-Shoah theology, on the relationship of Judaism and Christianity, and on the religious/cultural issues of pluralism after the Holocaust. His talk challenged the conference participants to overcome the history of hostility between the traditions in order that both sides could work together in an evolving partnership with God. Rabbi Greenburg explained that pluralism is at the root of both the Christian and Jewish traditions in the shared core conviction that human beings are created in the image of God. “If I encounter the other human being as he or she really is (an image of God), then I am struck by his or her infinite value, equality and uniqueness,” he said. He continued, “Religion’s task in the third millennium is protecting the dignity of the other without eroding legitimate claims and teachings of all religions.” When we are open to the image of God in the other, he continued, we discover this brings with it three intrinsic dignities that all persons participate in – infinite value, equality and uniqueness. Rabbi Greenburg argued it is from this insight of religious pluralism that we discover “our deepest calling is to move beyond pluralism to partnership between the faiths to perfect the world.” The opening session concluded with a joint scripture study of Deuteronomy 6 led by Dr. Michael Peppard, Assistant Professor of Theology at Fordham University, NY, and Yehezkel Laundau, Faculty Associate in Interfaith Relations at Hartford Seminary, CT.
The agenda for the second day of the Institute began with a presentation by Dr. Eugene Fisher, the former associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). “The progress in the relationship of the church to the Jewish people over the last 40 years on biblical, theological and liturgical fronts has been significant, but it must be placed in the context of the first 2,000 years for Christians to fully appreciate the roots of their tradition in Judaism, and for Jews to appreciate that its identity has been formed in its historical relationship with Christianity,” said Dr. Fisher. Addressing the participants on the historic turning point in the modern relations of Christians and Jews, Dr. Judith Banki, director of special programs at the Tanenbaum Center in New York, spoke on the drafting of Nostra Aetate (the 1965 Second Vatican Council document that repudiated historic Christian teachings of contempt towards Jews and asserted the ongoing validity and common spiritual heritage that Christians and Jews share). “It is easy to take the achievements of Nostra Aetate for granted but in actuality the development of the document was a cliffhanger, passing only in the final minutes of the final days of the four-year-long Council,” said Dr. Banki. She described the final draft of Nostra Aetate as a compromise document but taken together with the Decree on Religious Liberty (another of the 16 conciliar documents of Vatican II), “these documents revolutionized relations among Christians and Jews.” Despite the remarkable progress, she added, “we must be alert to the potential landmines for Christians and Jews which are found wherever there is evidence of demonization, denigration or a double standard in the treatment of the other.”
Later the second day of the Institute, the group visited Christian and Jewish houses of worship. This part of the program introduced the participants to the sacred space of the other to deepen their understanding of the tradition’s liturgical history, architecture, symbols, worship and communal life. The visits were hosted by Monsignor Kevin Wallin, pastor of St. Augustine’s Cathedral, Bridgeport, CT, and Rabbi James Prosnit, spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Israel in Fairfield, CT. A dinner and dialogue session followed at B’nai Israel and gave the participants the opportunity to explore contemporary developments in interreligious dialogue. The conversation was led by Rev. James Massa Ph.D., a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Executive Director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and Rabbi Alan Brill, Ph.D., the Cooperman/Ross Endowed Professor in honor of Sister Rose Thering at Seton Hall University, NJ.
The final day of the program commenced with a second joint scripture study on the theme of “The Promised Land” led by Rabbi Alan Brill and Rev. Peter Petit, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding at Muhlenberg College, PA. The study session used a hevruta model of textual encounter that derives from the Jewish bet midrash – the study hall of the Talmudic academy. Texts from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament were explored to invite discussion around the meaning of the land in the Jewish covenantal tradition and how the relationship to God’s people in Christ to the people of God in Torah might affect a Christian understanding of the covenantal promise of the land.
A concluding session, “The Jewish Origins of Christian Liturgy,” was led by Dr. Ruth Langer, Associate Professor of Jewish Studies at Boston College, MA and Academic Director of its Center for Christian-Jewish Learning, and Dr. Ann Heekin. The presentation explored the close spiritual and historical connections between early rabbinic and Christian liturgy in the Second Temple world. When asked what Jews can learn from studying early Christian liturgy, Dr. Langer told the participants, “Rabbinic liturgy emerges in a context where Christians were present and this raises for speculation and study the question of how this affects the shape and statements of rabbinic liturgy in the Second Temple World.”
Participants of the 2009 CCJU Institute for Seminarians and Rabbinical Students
Ethan Bair, Hebrew Union College, CA
Michael Bartholomew, Immaculate Conception Seminary, Huntington, NY
Ryszard Biernat, Christ the King Seminary, NY
Kelsey Blankenship, Union Theological Seminary, NY
Rachael Bregman, Hebrew Union College, NY
Esther Brown, Yale Divinity School, CT
Reba Carmel, Reconstructionist Rabbinical School, PA
Catherine Clark, Jewish Theological Seminary, NY
Robert Cook, Sacred Heart School of Theology, WI
Valerie Cousin, Union Theological Seminary, NY
Jeff Couture, Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, MD
Adam Delezenne, McCormick Theological Seminary, IL
Philip Eubanks, Vanderbilt Divinity School, TN
Sean Fagan, St. Vladimirs Orthodox Theological Seminary, NY
Kendra Grams, McCormick Theological Seminary, IL
Jessy Gross, Hebrew Union College, CA
Alberto Gutierrez, St. Francis Seminary, WI
Michael Hall, St. Mary’s Seminary and University, MD
Stephanie Hughes, Union Theological Seminary, NY
Robert Jansen, Catholic Theological Union, IL
Mark Klinski, St. Vladimirs Orthodox Theological Seminary, NY
Dustin Lyon, St. Vladimirs Orthodox Theological Seminary, NY
Janice Mehring, Academy for Jewish Religion, CA
Aimee Melgar Trump, McCormick Theological Seminary, IL
Colin Nykaza, Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, MD
Mary O’Shan Overton, Vanderbilt Divinity School, TN
Nina Perlmutter, Academy for Jewish Religion, CA
Josh Ratner, Jewish Theological Seminary, NY
David Richards, Christ the King Seminary, NY
Ariana Silverman, Hebrew Union College, NY
Kerrith Solomon, Jewish Theological Seminary, NY
Matthew Strickenberger, St. Mary’s Seminary and University, MD
Luke Suarez, Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, MD
Michael Wimsatt, St. Mary’s Seminary and University, MD
Nathaniel Zimmer, Catholic Theological Union, IL