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  • In die Haare, in die Arme. 40 Jahre Arbeitsgemeinschaft "Juden und Christen beim Deutschen Evangelischen Kirchentag,"
  • Martin Rumscheidt
In die Haare, in die Arme. 40 Jahre Arbeitsgemeinschaft "Juden und Christen beim Deutschen Evangelischen Kirchentag," by Gabriele Kammerer. Gütersloh: Chr. Kaiser Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2001. 276 pp. €19.95.

Chronicling the first forty years of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft or working group, Ms. Kammerer chose an expression by Martin Buber to describe what most adequately characterizes the relationships within that group. In die Haare: to be at sixes and sevens, at loggerheads; in die Arme: to fall into each other's arms, to hug. This group of Jews and Christians in Germany was founded in 1961 and established itself within the biennial gatherings of the Kirchentag, the four-days-long event sponsored by the German Protestant churches that draws as many as 150,000 people for Bible study, exploring spirituality, addressing social and political concerns, celebrating alternate forms of divine worship, and more. The purpose of housing the working group there was to attract as large a number of Germans and Christians as possible into the utterly necessary and long overdue re-examination and re-shaping of the relation between Christians and Jews. From the outset it was clear this could be done only with Jews and their indispensable input.

Kammerer draws on the distinction Buber made in an address delivered in January 1935 entitled Bildung und Weltanschauung. He spoke there of a homogeneous and a heterogeneous type of society. "The former is an idyll, bright and warm, unencumbered, blossomed into full form almost in its first hour of existence. The latter is a drama, hard and eventful. There one comes to know, at a cost, what the otherness of the other is; one has to have it out with the other, does so, gets to be at sixes and sevens, falls into each other's arms" (p. 7). Her book shows how in the course of those forty years and the twenty Kirchentage it became ever clearer how difficult it is to come to know and to value without fear the other's otherness. For it is so easy to fall prey to the temptation to persist in the embrace, the hug. "How great the temptation for Christians to lay hold of Judaism with strong arms, to cling to it until it fits in with one's own needs" (p. 7). At the same time, aware of such temptation, both Jews and Christians in the working group endeavored to discern and represent what is distinctly their own without seeking to forge from their two positions a common third one at any cost.

The book is more, however, than a history of that working group, jointly founded by and to this day composed of Jews and Christians. It is, from this reviewer's perspective, a well researched and written theological and political reflection on the beginnings and subsequent unfolding of the Jewish-Christian dialogue in Germany after the Shoah, the difficulties it encountered, its progress, failures, and unfinished and [End Page 138] continuing tasks. We read of how tough it was (and still is) to address theologically and politically the long history of anti-Judaism and antisemitism, how the Kirchentag itself, as an organization, struggled about whether this group really had a place in the overall aims of the biennial event. The decisive issues in politics and theology the working group addressed and which, on a number of occasions, threatened to divide it deeply, similarly challenged many who attended its presentations. For example, when the church's traditional teaching about Jesus Christ that "legitimated" the drive to prosyletize, convert, and baptize Jews was challenged, some Christian circles, including a number of theological faculties, responded negatively. Another vexing issue was the question of war and peace in face, for example, of the threat to the State of Israel in the Gulf War of 1991.

Two incidents described in the book give a glimpse of the rich diversity that marks the aims and struggles, the successes and failures, and the determination of the working community. On 20 July 1961, Rabbi Robert Raphael Geis from Düsseldorf addressed a Christian gathering of several...


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