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For Jews and Christians, a holiday 'season of rapprochement'

The Hanukkah and Christmas holidays coincide amid a season of Jewish and Christian bridge-building, as evidenced, in part, by a recent surprise bestseller on Amazon.

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In ancient Judaism, he says, there was no single way of reading the Torah and Jesus’ manner of interpreting the Biblical text does not fall outside of Jewish interpretations at the time. Christian students of the same period have come to rediscover Jesus’ humanity and Jewishness, he says, adding, “Christian scholars are becoming more and more comfortable with viewing Jesus as a product of Judaism.”

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Growing cultural trends such as interfaith marriage support this growing openness, says Rabbi Yitzchak Wyne, founder of Young Israel Aish, an Orthodox Jewish community synagogue in Las Vegas, and author of, “Life Is Great!: Revealing the 7 secrets of a more joyful you!”

“We have a greater level of interfaith marriage today than at almost any other time in history,” he says. With the advent of Israel, “we are in a much more liberal time, with Christians being more accepting of Jewish traditions and families celebrating many traditions,” he says, adding that he just finished counseling a woman married to a non-Jewish man. “They will go home and light the menorah this week and then on Sunday head over to his mother’s house for Christmas dinner.”

Concern over watering down of religious observances and principles must be balanced against tolerance for different beliefs, he says.

“Christian and Jewish traditions are coming closer together,” says Chaplain Paul Fullmer, Religion & Philosophy professor at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Penn.

“Particularly as Christians begin to appreciate the value of reading Christian teachings ‘with Jewish eyes,’ community-based celebrations of a Seder meal, Purim, or Sukkoth are becoming opportunities for education, understanding, and on-going relationship,” says Professor Fullmer, noting that he sees the shifting attitudes among his students as they are exposed to newer ideas.

“ ‘How can a Jewish person not believe in Jesus?’ a student asked me recently,” he says. “ ‘Haven’t they read Isaiah 52 to 53?’

“At a Seder meal held on our campus, that student came to understand how the Suffering Servant in these passages is understood by many Jews as representing the Jewish community as a whole,” he says. Jewish-Christian celebrations and other opportunities through which Jewish and Christian community grow closer together matter, he says, “to the extent that they help Christians to appreciate the Jewish approach to faith, and vice versa.”

And in his forthcoming book, “Kosher Jesus,” Orthodox Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, also reexamines the historic Jesus, suggesting that a better understanding of his actual historic role helps both faiths.

“We need to rediscover the humanity of Jesus,” he says, adding, “we need to understand more about what he actually said about how we should live and act.” 

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