As Member of Orthodox Rabbinic Delegation, Berger Presents Document on Jewish-Christian Relations

Last week, Dr. David Berger, professor of Jewish history and dean of the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies of Yeshiva University, participated in a historic encounter with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Dean Berger and Pope

Dean Berger and Pope Francis

Berger was a member of a delegation of Orthodox rabbis representing the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), the Conference of European Rabbis, and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel who presented the Pope with a document on Jewish attitudes toward Christianity endorsed by the three organizations, entitled “Between Jerusalem and Rome: Reflections on Fifty Years of Nostra Aetate.” This is the first formal statement on Christianity and Christian-Jewish relations issued by the organized Orthodox rabbinate, and by arranging an audience with the Pope, the Church signaled its recognition of the significance of this moment.

“In following guidelines established by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Orthodox participants in Jewish-Christian dialogue have always faced a daunting challenge: we need to avoid primarily theological exchanges while engaging the moral values and pragmatic challenges facing society at large and religion in particular,” said Berger. “This document expresses an uncompromising stand in matters of faith while recognizing Christianity’s affirmation of the God of the Hebrew Bible and expressing appreciation for the significant strides made by the Church in formulating a dramatically more positive stance on Jews and Judaism. It emphasizes the common values that we share and looks to a future where we can work together to further those values.”

He added, “It is no small achievement that three Orthodox rabbinic organizations could agree on a statement that addresses so complex and controversial a topic. The meeting at which the document was presented to the Pope is a milestone in Jewish-Christian relations.”

Berger traveled to Rome with Rabbi Mark Dratch, the executive director of the RCA, who, like Berger, was ordained by the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS). All three signatories on behalf of the RCA were alumni of the school, including Berger, who serves as senior advisor on interfaith affairs at the RCA, and Rabbi Elazar Muskin, current president of the organization and a recipient of rabbinic ordination from RIETS who also holds a master’s degree from Revel. Rabbi Shalom Baum, also ordained by RIETS, was president of the RCA when the document was prepared and served on the committee that composed it.

The document itself began its journey in 2015 in connection with the 50th anniversary of the landmark statement on the Jews issued by the Second Vatican council. Rabbi Arie Folger, the author of the initial draft and the driving force behind the entire process, is also the recipient of rabbinic ordination from RIETS. Representing the Conference of European Rabbis, he is now the chief rabbi of Vienna. He invited Berger to serve on the committee to hone the document. This led to an intense involvement that left a significant mark on the final formulation.

“Between Jerusalem and Rome” addresses the troubled history of the Jewish experience under Christendom and proceeds to an account of the steps taken by the Church to reverse its stance in the half-century since the Second Vatican Council.   It stresses essential doctrinal differences that “cannot be debated or negotiated,” but goes on to emphasize that “some of Judaism’s highest authorities have asserted that Christians maintain a special status because they worship the Creator of Heaven and Earth Who liberated the people of Israel from Egyptian bondage and Who exercises providence over all creation.” Moreover, it points to shared values and calls for a partnership “to assure the future of religious freedom, to foster the moral principles of our faiths, particularly the sanctity of life and the significance of the traditional family, and to cultivate the moral and religious conscience of society.” This call includes joint efforts to combat anti-Semitism and religious extremism.

According to Berger, the warm reception of this initiative by the Church is an important step in the right direction. “It provides grounds for optimism that such a partnership can be nurtured successfully and achieve at least partial success in meeting these ambitious goals,” he said.

 

           Faculty and alumni from the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies presented at the 17th World      Congress of Jewish Studies held from August 6 to 10 at the Mount Scopus Campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel.

         Revel faculty who presented were Dr. Mordechai Z. Cohen, associate dean and divisional coordinator of academic Jewish studies (“New Perspectives on Rashi’s Peshat Agenda in Light of St. Bruno the Carthusian”); Dr. Ephraim Kanarfogel, E. Billi Ivry University Professor of Jewish History, Literature and Law and chair, Rebecca Ivry Department of Jewish Studies (“The Development of the Daily Recitation of Psalms in Medieval Ashkenaz” and “Medieval Ashkenaz VIII: Liturgy and Customs”); Dr. Sid Z. Leiman, visiting professor of Jewish history from the University of Pennsylvania (“Jacob Joshua Falk’s Final Salvo in the Emden-Eibeschütz Controversy”); Dr. Richard Hidary, associate professor of Jewish history (“Talmudic Dialogical Forms as Greco-Roman Rhetorical Exercises”); and Dr. David Berger, dean and Ruth and I. Lewis Gordon Professor of Jewish History at Revel (participant in a discussion based on Alon Goshen-Gottstein, Same God, Other God).

         Revel alumni who presented were Yitzhak Berger (“Samson, Delilah, and Balaam: Allusion and Meaning in the Book of Judges”); Michelle J. Levine (“The Literary and Thematic Unity of Balaam’s Prophecies in Ramban’s Biblical Commentary”); Moshe J. Bernstein (“‘Finish, Complete, and Destroy’: Biblical Hebrew Killah in Targum Onqelos to the Pentateuch”); Jeffrey Woolf (“The Preacher as Poseq: R. Azariah Figo as Halakhist”); Shana Strauch Schick (“‘X Haynu Tanna Kamma’: From Dialogue to Stock Formulation”); Shai Secunda (Beyond the Rabbinic Academy: Late Antique Scholastic Cultures”); Gabriel Wasserman (“Midrashic and Payyetanic Sources for the Story of Moses’s Death in the Karaite Work Levush Malkhuth”); and Hillel Novetsky (“Contributions of the Digital Revolution to Creating a New Mikraot Gedolot”).

         The World Congress of Jewish Studies convenes in Jerusalem every four years and brings together thousands of participants who attend hundreds of lectures in various fields and on many diverse topics in Jewish studies.

 
Dr. Ronnie Perelis

Dr. Ronnie Perelis

Dr. Ronnie Perelis, Chief Rabbi Dr. Isaac Abraham and Jelena (Rachel) Alcalay and assistant professor of Sephardic studies, is featured in a short video with Dr. Steven Zucker, co-founder and executive editor for Smarthistory and faculty emeritus at Khan Academy, about a 14th-century book on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art titled Sefer Musre Hafilosofim (Book of Morals of Philosophers), an anthology of philosophy in Hebrew that is a copy of a book written in Arabic that was itself a translation of works that come from ancient Greece.

While at a recent conference in Mexico, Perelis gave an interview on Foro TV, a popular cable news channel, about his 2016 book, Narratives from the Sephardic Atlantic: Blood and Faith (from Indiana University Press) and the case of the Carvajal manuscript, written in the 16th century by Luis de Carvajal the Younger documenting the arrival of Jews in the New World. (Perelis has two chapters in his book about the Carvajal family.) The manuscript was stolen in 1932 from Mexico’s National Archives and resurfaced in 2016 at an auction in London. It was eventually returned to Mexico.

 

The Yeshiva University Board of Trustees recently awarded tenure to 17 faculty members across the University’s undergraduate and graduate school. At the same time, at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, Dr. Daniel Rynhold, professor of Jewish philosophy, was promoted to the rank of full professor.

Dr. Daniel Rynhold

Dr. Daniel Rynhold

Rynhold explores conceptual questions that arise in the field of Jewish philosophy, incorporating approaches from across the historical spectrum. He is currently co-writing a book on a few surprising similarities in the thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Nietzche, expected to be published by Cambridge University Press in 2018. “I discovered that the popular image was a profound misrepresentation of Nietzsche’s views, and actually found many of his ideas quite compelling and very close to views that Rav Soloveitchik expresses,” said Rynhold. “What excites me about my research is that feeling one gets when one makes strange and wonderful discoveries like that.”

 

 

Mordechai Cohen, associate dean of and professor of Bible at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, gave a 9-hour course on Jewish Bible interpretation at the Center for Judaic and Inter-Religious Studies at Shandong University in May.

The aim of the course was to introduce key biblical concepts and their interpretation in Jewish tradition, in a way that would be relevant to Chinese students immersed in Confucian tradition. This was a sequel to a similar course Cohen gave at Shandong in June 2016.

Cohen’s Chinese students are pursuing MA and PhD degrees in various areas of Jewish studies.

Students in Shandong

Associate Dean Mordechai Cohen and Graduate Students in Shandong

The Center for Judaic and Inter-Religious studies was founded and is currently directed by Professor Youde Fu, who delivered a lecture on Confucius and the Hebrew Prophets at YU in November 2015.

Associate Dean Cohen and Dr. Youde Fu

Associate Dean Cohen with Dr. Fu at Shandong University

At that time he also was interviewed by Cohen about the areas of overlap between Confucian and Judaic Studies. Both the lecture and the interview can be seen on the Revel YouTube channel.

 

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