For the Sake of Heav­en and Earth: The New Encounter Between Judaism and Christianity

Irv­ing Greenberg
  • Review
By – September 21, 2012

Irv­ing Green­berg — rab­bi, schol­ar, and the lead­ing Mod­ern Ortho­dox pro­po­nent of plu­ral­ism and inter­de­nom­i­na­tion­al dia­logue with­in Judaism — has writ­ten an extra­or­di­nary book. It con­tains two new essays, sev­en essays pub­lished over the past four decades, respons­es by lead­ing Jew­ish and Chris­t­ian com­men­ta­tors, and a study guide orga­nized by chap­ters. Greenberg’s essays reflect his per­son­al and the­o­log­i­cal evo­lu­tion over these 40 years, as he grap­ples with the impli­ca­tions of believ­ing in God’s mul­ti­ple rev­e­la­tions to dif­fer­ent peo­ples as part of the over­all pur­pose of a part­ner­ship with human­i­ty. The Noahide laws (giv­en fol­low­ing the Flood described in Gen­e­sis) rep­re­sent God’s mas­ter par­a­digm” for the rela­tion­ship between the Divine and human beings, to which all of human­i­ty has been for­ev­er com­mit­ted. This covenan­tal part­ner­ship can nev­er be repealed and/​or super­seded by oth­er covenants. The par­tic­u­lar­i­ties of our spe­cif­ic rev­e­la­tions reflect a Divine pur­pose­ful­ness; a schema in which decen­tral­ized plu­ral­ism rep­re­sents the opti­mal mod­el to best serve God’s vision for human­i­ty. God’s rev­e­la­tion to the Jew­ish peo­ple, the rev­e­la­tion to Jesus and through him [the peo­ple who became] Chris­tians reflects “…that Judaism and Chris­tian­i­ty were joint­ly and sev­er­al­ly intend­ed to play a part in an Infi­nite Creator’s plan to per­fect the world.” Green­berg is by no means dis­mis­sive of 20 cen­turies of Chris­t­ian anti-Semi­tism, its role in the Holo­caust, and its impact on cur­rent and future Jew­ish-Chris­t­ian rela­tions. Yet, he pro­pos­es that Jews and Chris­tians, along with oth­er faiths that share core prin­ci­ples about the val­ue and dig­ni­ty of life embod­ied in the Noahide laws, share an inter­twined des­tiny and life-pur­pose—tikkun olam—per­fect­ing the world. The caveat: All par­tic­i­pat­ing faiths must also real­ize that each of our truth/​faith sys­tems, while Divine­ly revealed and absolute for its intend­ed peo­ples, is insuf­fi­cient by itself to ful­fill God’s dreams. Only by enter­ing into part­ner­ships with oth­er will­ing faiths, while ful­fill­ing our own spe­cif­ic faith’s man­dates, can human­i­ty joint­ly achieve tikkun olam.

There isn’t ade­quate space here to cap­ture all of the crit­i­cal nuances of Greenberg’s the­sis and propo­si­tions, which reflect his broad schol­ar­ship and dynam­ic intel­lect. As a writer, he presents com­plex the­o­log­i­cal con­cepts in a style and lan­guage that at times is as lyri­cal and soar­ing as the notions he espous­es. Whether one agrees with all of Greenberg’s premis­es— and they are unlike­ly to find broad accep­tance with­in the more tra­di­tion­al camps of Judaism — they can­not be sim­ply dis­missed. The open-mind­ed read­er may find him/​herself for­ev­er changed as a result of this read­ing expe­ri­ence and the­o­log­i­cal jour­ney. For me, this is sim­ply the most stim­u­lat­ing, thought-pro­vok­ing, and the­o­log­i­cal­ly chal­leng­ing book I have read.

William Liss-Levin­son is vice pres­i­dent, chief strat­e­gy & oper­a­tions offi­cer of Cas­tle Con­nol­ly Med­ical Ltd., a con­sumer health research, infor­ma­tion, and pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny. He holds a Ph.D. in edu­ca­tion and is a mem­ber of the board of direc­tors of the Jew­ish Book Council.

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