Plumb Lines

June 5, 2009

Some Theology for Shabbat

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 10:55 pm

I’ve let a pair of posts that I meant to blog about lie a-mouldering for more than a month. They are (1.) a post by David Goldman about Jewish-Christian dialogue and (2.) James Poulos’ response. That this is a question of some special significance to me, as a Jew-by-blood having become Catholic, perhaps explains my hesitance in chiming in.

Goldman writes that the proper object of Jewish-Christian dialogue is not mere goodwill between historical enemies but an end to “the intolerable pain of the division of Israel.”

Poulos’ final line, which should be inscribed on the doorposts of every seminary in the world*, points to the eschatological nature of this reconciliation:

Christians looking for a way to fight back against the ‘purification’ of Christianity into a “celebration of an ethics of love” would be extremely well-served to reflect upon the inextricably and inescapably Jewish quality of their uncannily un-Jewish faith.

Properly incarnated Catholicism, in other words, is Jewish Catholicism. The less Schleiermacher, Hegel and Tillich we have in our Christendom, the more Jewish it will be. So, incarnation (unsurprisingly) brings about the eschatological unity of Israel and the Church.

This talk of “eschatological unity” has often and understandably been a source of anxiety for Jews. If all Jews converted as I did, after all, it would mean the end of the Jewish people as a people. A conversion of the Church towards the Jews is therefore as necessary as a conversion of the Jews towards Christ. The requisite conversion is away from every kind of generality — in our era, the generalized “ethic of love” — towards the incarnation of G-d in Jewish flesh, towards the particularity and thus the Jewishness of the faith, a Jewishness uncanny because it is underneath Christianity though not Christian, and furthermore neither diasporal nor  Zionist but a precise inversion of the diaspora and a perfection of Zionism: where the Jews were scattered among the peoples, now all the various peoples are gathered into Zion. As Zechariah wrote:

And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the L-RD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.

What this eschatological Sukkot will look like I don’t know – and I doubt anyone can know in advance – nor do I know how to bring it about. I do think that Poulos’ exhortation is a good place for Christians to start.

*[in now way competing with or adding to the words of the Torah, which should also be thereinscribed, of course]

David Schaengold



  1. Thanks for the link, but I should like to qualify your citation: I do not believe that the “intolerable pain of the division of Israel” can be mitigated by dialogue, nor indeed by anyone except Hashem, the God of Israel. My point, rather, is that Jewish-Christian dialogue must embody the passion arising from this pain of separation rather than pretend that it does not exist.

    Comment by David Goldman — June 8, 2009 @ 11:33 am

  2. David, thanks for commenting. That’s a very useful clarification. I share your view, though I didn’t say so clearly.
    A dialogue that “embodies” this pain is well worth hoping for. Such a dialogue does in some sense does seeking to reunite Israel, though, even if that reunion is understood to be eschatological, and the seeking consists only of prayer. Would you say that there is any room at all for concrete action? Would you advise a group of Christian seminarians, for instance, to think about applications of Poulos’ advice?

    Comment by David Schaengold — June 8, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

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