- Jewish-Christian Dialogue: Drawing Honey from the Rock
This book is well worth recommending for an audience ranging from scholars to students to the general lay readership. Even so, I believe the value of the book will depend on making more precise what the ultimate aim of the argument of the book is. I offer some alternative readings of the text for the reader of this review to judge.
First, the authors are clear in saying that this book aims to provide a specifically Jewish view of both Jewish-Christian relations and efforts over the years for a post-Holocaust Jewish Christian dialogue. A subtext to this goal appears to be that from the view of the authors (they claim no privilege to speak for Jews in general), the dialogue over the last several decades has not been very successful on two fronts. First, it has too often avoided the hardest questions that should be central to the agenda of the conversation. In that sense, the dialogue has failed to take with appropriate seriousness the real and remaining suspicions, anger, fear, and pain of many if not most Jews that have emerged especially from the devastation of the Holocaust. Second, the dialogue has failed in that it has been far more limited in achieving observable results, at least with regard to the most central concerns of Jews, than is often presumed. The authors illustrate these shortcomings by offering examples of current events that are unfortunately ignored by the dialogue. In fact, most of us who have been engaged in dialogue over these years are likely to agree with the authors. Where we might disagree, the book includes a valuable chapter that justifies the claims of the authors, as three noted Christian thinkers take on the arguments of the book and offer critiques that might be in the minds of many readers. This chapter of honest dialogue is a bold and tricky move by the authors both to open themselves to criticism and to model the kind of dialogue they think should be happening. [End Page 145]
The problem, of course, if this is the aim of the book, is that conclusions truly depend on what measures are used to arrive at judgments. While the authors do a credible job of rehearsing the history of interactions between Christians and Jews as well as more recent efforts at genuine dialogue, the text surprisingly fails to mention a number of important voices and critical efforts. I hesitate to make this claim too harshly, as a short volume can only do so much. However, the authors express concern about what has happened in Catholicism and the problems that have emerged in the ambiguity of both Vatican documents and actions. They examine the impact of a film by Mel Gibson, but they are not as thorough in accounting for the meaning of the immediate and forceful responses to the film, often in texts that showed an amazing cooperation and unity of voice between Christians and Jews. They also consider a number of important Protestant efforts such as the work of the World Council of Churches and the Annual Scholars' Conference on the Holocaust, but they miss a number of other efforts that would at least challenge the overall evaluation that dialogue has failed—certainly the 20 years of work by the "Midrash Group," for example, which receives no mention at all, are surely worth including in such a discussion. On the whole, however, we would agree with the overall assessment of the authors.
The project in this book may well be characterized centrally by the two critiques of the recent history of dialogue. The end result seems frustrating (and the authors appear quite frustrated by most dialogues) because the momentum of the argument appears to bring us back to matters that have repeatedly been part of the conversation now for at least forty years. There may be an alternative reading of this book, though, that produces a far more promising direction than merely accepting the...