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Antizionism in American Christianity

The following is a transcript of Episode 97 of the Identity Crisis Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors.

Yehuda: Hi everyone, welcome to Identity Crisis, a show about news and ideas from the Shalom Hartman Institute. I’m Yehuda Kurtzer, and we’re recording on Wednesday, April 20th, 2022. 

It’s the middle of Passover, Easter and Holy Week were last week, and Ramadan is still on. Sadly, I think the primary focus of the world’s attention, on this coalescence of the sacred, is the violence that emerged over the weekend on the Temple Mount and Al Aqsa in Jerusalem.

And I won’t even try to lay out the timeline of what happened in Jerusalem since wherever you start the clock on any round of violence in Israel and Palestine gets you in trouble one way or another. Here in America, though, these overlaps between these holidays are usually kind of nice and relatively uncontroversial, maybe that’s because there’s more room to spread out here in America.

Maybe it’s because we have an establishment clause or maybe it’s because, with the exception of the Mormons, none of the major religions in America consider American land to be sacred. See, that’s one of the difficulties of religion in general, after all, once something becomes sacred, it becomes non-negotiable and conflict invariably ensues. 

The truth is that the relative lack of inter-religious hostility in America is not only good relative to some other parts of the world where religious conflicts overlap dangerously with competing political claims. It’s also relatively good compared to human history as measured over the last few thousand years.

We often said here at Hartman about our Muslim-Jewish work, that some of its urgency emanated from the fact that America seems like it might be the only place in the world where good relations between Jews and Muslims were indefinitely possible. There’s something exceptional here in America and it’s something we dare not take for granted.

Actually it might even be the case that in America, intra-Jewish tensions are more profound and maybe even more dangerous than interfaith tensions that Jews face. And that’s a pretty remarkable accomplishment, even if it’s also a little bit tragic. But the fact that the interfaith agenda isn’t burning right now doesn’t mean it’s all great.

And when it comes to religion, oftentimes the site of conflict between different groups can migrate in such a way that just as you’ve gotten good at getting along on one set of issues, another set of issues materialized to re-stimulate old hostilities. That’s kind of what I think is happening right now between American Jews and some American Christians, where several decades of interfaith collaboration prompted by the Holocaust is being undermined by our intensifying divides around Israel-Palestine, and they’re creating distortions in the forms of both theological antisemitism connected to anti-Zionism, and theological phylo-Semitism connected to Christian Zionism, that in the end, I think are not good for Jewish Christian relations. I wrote about this recently in a piece for Tablet that we’ll link to in the show notes. 

I was invited by the Reverend Dan Joslyn Siemiatkoski, a church historian, seminarian, and Episcopal priest. I was invited by him to support his efforts to combat anti-Israel sentiment in the Episcopal church by testifying to the legislative committee of the church on one of the eight anti-Israel resolutions that was presented before the recent conference. 

I won’t recap that testimony here, but the experience really awakened for me a sense that something is off in interfaith spaces and possibly is being made worse by interfaith approaches that either diminish or trivialize our real differences, which maybe today are less about the calendar or about once one set or another of theological beliefs, but it seemed to be increasingly about how Jews show up politically in the world, especially as connected to Zionism. 

I’m glad that, Dan, you’re joining me today for this conversation on Jews and Christians and interfaith and antisemitism and Zionism. Dan, thanks for coming on Identity Crisis. And let, maybe I’ll start off by asking you, uh, what’s going on in the Episcopal church. Uh, first we could talk a little bit about the story itself about these resolutions and what you’ve been trying to do to combat them. And then we can get into a little bit about the larger question that we want to tackle, which is what’s behind all this. 

Dan: Right. Well, thanks for having me on. I’m actually a faithful listener of Identity Crisis, having been the alum of the Christian leadership initiative program that Hartman ran for several years and, uh, it’s real pleasure to be on the show. So thank you. 

I think we need to put what’s happening with these resolutions in the context of how the Episcopal church itself operates and its own history.

And I’m not sure how much of a history lesson you want on this. This is what I teach on. What you reference in terms of the resolution that you spoke to and others spoke to was for a legislative committee before our general convention that meets this summer. 

Even though we are called the Episcopal church, which would make you think that our primary authority rests in bishops, it actually doesn’t, it rests to this body called General Convention, which has two houses, it’s bicameral, like the US Government, and surprise, they were both established in 1789, with the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies.

The crucial thing about the House of Deputies is as equal representation between clergy and laypeople from each of the hundred plus dioceses of the Episcopal church. So General Convention is a deliberative body. And so many of the debates that exist within the Episcopal church itself get presented before General Convention. And they often serve as litmus tests or shibboleths for other kinds of predispositions and perspectives.

The committee that this appeared before, which is a committee on the church and social policy and the international zone is famous, or infamous, for presenting a variety of resolutions, really seeking to put a certain kind of politically progressive imprimatur on Episcopal church stances. That’s really developed over the past 30 years, that kind of tendency, as the Episcopal Church itself has shifted leftward politically due to a whole variety of internal debates and schisms that have played out.

And that some that has been covered in the national news in various ways. So when you’re talking about how some of the tensions for American Judaism are very much more in the intra-Jewish space. There’s irony in this issue we’re talking about now, I think also being pushed out by tensions within the Episcopal church and its own directions and where it might want to be going. 

Yehuda: Okay, so maybe you can unpack for us, I I understand that story in the context of the Jewish community, essentially, a partisan divide that is playing out in the context of the Jewish community, in which, to its critics, right, the liberal side of liberal Judaism effectively echoes progressive domestic and foreign policy.

And the conservative side of the Jewish community essentially echoes conservative policy, both domestically and internationally. Um, is that the same story in the context of the Episcopal church? Does the fact that there are more kind of what you might characterize as anti-Israel, resolutions, resolutions, just for the context of our listeners, that there were three different resolutions that wanted to, to attach the term apartheid to Israel.

One was called, I think confronting apartheid. One was called recognizing apartheid. One was called opposing apartheid. Is that merely a kind of partisan influence in the church? Is there a prevalence within the church on one side or another of these political divides? Like what’s the, what’s the, especially for a primarily Jewish audience, how’s that story manifesting inside the Episcopal church? 

Dan: Right. So, one thing that’s worth knowing is that all those resolutions were virtually identical in their  composition with some variations, they were developed by a network within an entity known as the Episcopal peace fellowship, that has more or less a BDS commitment. And so even though it worked its way through a few dioceses to get before the committee, three dioceses, I don’t think it’s fair to say that every average Episcopalian holds these perspectives. 

Rather the people who ended up showing up are the ones who get heard. And the particular dioceses where these went through, which I believe were dioceses of Washington, Chicago, and, uh, Vermont, had their own kind of predisposition due to the composition of those diocesesto support these resolutions.

What’s been happening at the Episcopal Church is on the one hand, there has been an internal schism in the Episcopal church over mostly human sexuality, where people who tended to have a more conservative political outlook left the Episcopal church over a two-decade period. 

And those who are active in the Episcopal church, a significant majority of them view themselves as self-consciously standing against Christian fundamentalism and political evangelicalism. And since that pro-Zionist position in Christian circles is seen as associated with that space, that accelerates the energy around these resolutions. So that this activist unit can propel this forward, but there’s a debate happening in the Episcopal church about what is the usefulness of these resolutions. They seem to be divisive. A resolution like this was defeated at the last general convention in 2018, because it was seen as essentially stepping beyond what the Episcopal Church ought to be speaking about. 

There’s a history in the Episcopal church of having resolutions that do several things, affirm the right of Israel to have safe borders, have its own territorial integrity, affirm a two-state solution, where Palestinians also have their own state and territorial integrity. And affirm Jerusalem as the center of these three Abrahamic traditions. And there has been tension since the 1990s to push more on the issue of the occupation. And you could track the pushing of that resolution working in tandem with the ways in which Israel has been politicized within a variety of Christian discourses. 

Yehuda: Right. 

Dan: And so there’s one way of looking at these specific apartheid resolutions as out of step with what the Episcopal church chooses to affirm about Israel and Palestine.

Yehuda: You know, this is a novice question, but like what’s the. What you said, like, I don’t know what these resolutions actually do so that I, that I recognize from the standpoint of organizations that make political statements, that signal something about the institution, but don’t actually have any teeth.

What’s the theological ramifications for the Episcopal church embracing a resolution one way or another around Israel and Palestine?

Dan: I think some of this, if you trace out how the Episcopal church speaks about Israel, it’s clear that it had to deal with the establishment of Israel post-World War II, that there was a post-Shoah reality where there’s the recognition, the need, for the state of Israel to exist in a post-Shoah world. 

There is a strong establishment ideal in the Episcopal church, the, uh uh, when I teach the history of the Episcopal Church, I talk about the fever dream of establishment that, because the Episcopal church separates off from the church of England in the 18th century, it carries this DNA of being an establishment entity without having sanctioned establishment of a church in the United States.

So the Episcopal church has the national cathedral in Washington, DC, which is designated by Congress as a house of prayer for all people. There’s a reflex in Episcopal church to assume it can speak on weighty national and international affairs, and people will listen, simply because it is the Episcopal church, because it’s the church of the presidents, et cetera, et cetera. So there’s that DNA piece of it. 

And then crucially, I think around Israel-Palestine is the legacy of the Civil Rights movement and the ways in which the Episcopal church mobilized against actual apartheid in South Africa around the figure of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who of course is Anglican. And a lot of the theological energy or religious energy around labeling Israel as an apartheid state is inspired by Tutu and his legacy.

And of course we know the ways in which he himself labeled Israel as such. And so there’s a sense that this is part of a continuing of the Episcopal Church’s stance towards social justice and standing with the oppressed, even though as an entity it’s famously on the side of those with privilege and power and one of the least racially diverse churches in the United States.

And so there’s also a lot of work around its shadow identity, uh, in a way of speaking. 

Yehuda: So, if you were going to break down all of the forces at work that are leading to the kind of production of these types of resolutions, you made reference to the fact that like, okay, well, Zionism is popular among Evangelicals, we’re anti-Evangelical, therefore, that’s the thing.

You have the history of activism around the Civil Rights movement, even though as you flagged, it doesn’t mean that the church is actually racially diverse. So that’s that whole weird way in which sometimes the most strong anti-racist voices in our community are actually not necessarily representative of people of color.

And then there’s another force at work here, which I’ve seen referenced a lot lately. And maybe you could help our listeners understand a little bit what it is about, which is a document called Kairos Palestine. Um, the original Kairos document comes out in the nineties about, a kind of unified church statement, opposing apartheid, uh, no, in the eighties, rather, a unified church statement opposing apartheid in South Africa. Kairos Palestine comes out in the late nineties and it was driven by Palestinian Christians. And this to me, I have to say is the most, to me, it feels like the most significant actual data point that would drive Christian attitudes to oppose Israeli policy, precisely because it’s driven by Palestinians, as opposed to, I don’t know, white Episcopalians in Vermont.

So maybe a little bit of the influence of Kairos Palestine on the Church as well. 

Dan: Yeah. So, Kairos Palestine, as you name, is inspired by the, this anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Kairos has a particular residence in Christian vocabulary, it’s paired against the notion of Kronos. There’s two ways of talking about time. Kronos is linear time, Kairos as sort of, um, the fullness of time or the moment in which God’s gracious activity breaks into the world.

And Paul uses this word Kairos quite a bit in his language, in his epistles. And so it already has like a loaded Christian reference that like, this is a time where God is going to break into the world on behalf of the oppressed, is the underlying thing. It’s inspired by what we call the social gospel movement as well, that Christians can act to manifest God’s will for the oppressed to be lifted up, is an underlying theme. And so we see this as linking then to, as you named, Palestinian liberation theology, which is a concept and ideal that develops in the mid-eighties to early nineties. 

Naim Ateek, who himself is Anglican, and actually now resides in the United States and attends the Episcopal church, is one of the main proponents of this Palestinian liberation theology. And so this also is where progressive Episcopalians are gonna feel very much having a way in for standing alongside Palestinian Christians. And following their lead of labeling Israel as an apartheid state, because it’s not just about an abstract population that’s being oppressed, not only their core religiousness, but with Anglicans people that they’re in full communion with, which is an important category in our thinking.

And so it also comes then as awareness of the problem of the Palestinian Christian, who lives between two other majority cultures. The Israeli Jewish culture and the Muslim Palestinian culture, whether located in Palestine or in Israel. So the Kairos document becomes a very totemic sign of how progressive Christians feel they’re calling to intervene in this way.

And in some ways, gives them the theological cover to move into rhetoric that when Jews receive it, hear it, observe it, find a gap or disconnect in these interfaith spaces.

Yehuda: Okay, so here’s like the, to me feels like the $64,000 question, which is, you had a tremendous amount of Jewish-Christian work, primarily actually Christian work, in the second half of the 20th century, trying to reckon with the relationship between the church and the Jews. Jews individually, and especially the Jews as a people, a lot of that comes out of the Holocaust. And all over the world, obviously sentiment around Israel and Palestine has shifted where, you know, with the progressive argument on behalf of the Palestinians as opposed to Israel. So it’s not surprising to me in some ways that progressive churches are going in that direction also. 

What is surprising is that it seems to have lapped quite quickly all of that kind of reconciliation work that happened Vatican II and the Catholic church and Dabru Emet and other efforts that cross different denominations. I guess, why does the house of cards fall so quickly? And I’ll just, to fortify the question even more, very few of the folks who were involved in thism on these anti-Israel efforts, would characterize themselves as being antisemitic.

They will oftentimes say, I oppose antisemitism. So there’s an awareness that they don’t want to be characterized as antisemitic, but feel that they can speak very candidly in opposition to the state of Israel. So maybe you can help us understand how that shift takes place. 

Dan: I think the problem is baked into the origins of this period of reconciliation, which is that the land of Israel is a under-theologized category in Christian discourse, and always has been, and it’s often been abstracted to something like the world to come, the kingdom of heaven, et cetera, et cetera, or Israel is only theologized as the place where Jesus walked, and so only exists in the past. 

So if you look at something like the Nostra Aetate or the follow-up Roman Catholic statements or any of the early Protestant statements, Israel is an under-theologized category, and the state of Israel is always danced around a little bit. If Israel is affirmed, Palestinian territorial integrity is affirmed, which might be a good thing.

But because of that wariness, there’s never a sustained theological engagement with a category of the land, until I think, really the past decade or so, Christians haven’t even really grasped what they needed to understand the land of Israel as a theological category.

There’s just a book that came out recently, a collection of essays by Philip Cunningham, Ruth Langer, and Jesper Svartvik, that attempted to actually address these issues as we see this sort of Christianized hostility to the state of Israel accelerating.

I think the failure of the Oslo courts and then the second Intifada, and then to construction of the border wall. I think the border wall in particular was the inflection point where progressive Christians in particular really soured on affirmation of the state of Israel and as the development of settlements in the West Bank and elsewhere accelerated, and US policies seemed to affirm, or at least not intervene on that, that created this increasing frustration. I also know it’s a frustration shared in various ways and in various parts of the Jewish community. 

But because Israel just was never theologized, that critique then moved explicitly into a political space and then allows it to have this veneer of language that looks like religious hostility towards Jews, as Jews hear it. 

Yehuda: That helps me understand one of the testimonials that was offered. And I got the chance to listen to a lot of the other testimonials, which was a weird experience, as they went through the Excel spreadsheet with the times, you know, like listening, to each, each two minute. 

Dan: Of course 10 minutes behind the whole time.

Yehuda: Yeah. Well, I mean, the best thing about this is I can imagine like Zoom is a keeper for this because they could actually cut off people’s microphones after two minutes, which they did.

Dan: Beautiful. 

Yehuda: Um, I kind of loved that. Um, one of the testimonials essentially said, we Christians are forbidden from understanding the land of Israel as being a real place. And I heard that and I was like, that coded anti-Semitic, and what’s amazing about that is that it if the Jews living in the land of Israel are not living in a real place, Palestinians aren’t either.

Although I suppose that if you were going to make it entirely a theological and metaphorical place, then all you’re looking for is who is empire, who is powerful, and that’s the Jews, and who is weak and vulnerable, those are the Palestinians, who then code as Christian, in terms of that new Testament-ization of modern Israel. Is that right?

Dan: Yes. And/or the ways in which the book of Joshua is read in these progressive spaces as this really problematic conquest of the land of Canaan. And because in the Christian imagination, frequently, Israel, when read in, as they call it, the old Testament is read as essentially an example of lack of fidelity, always failing, never achieving its ideal. And so the conquest is read as, in some ways a failure, a moral failure from the very beginning in certain Christian theological spaces. 

And so the Palestinians are just the Canaanites or are just the indigenous inhabitants of the land, which is now one of the very prominent threads in the anti-Israel or anti-Zionist discourse, is this argument around indigeneity, which I think maps on to all of the United States issues around, maybe the United States is the one that is the settler society. And that there’s actually this kind of double consciousness, if you will, around those dynamics.

Yehuda: Yeah. So as I’ve seen Christian groups come to Israel and we’ve been watching and tracking it, we oftentimes saw two different itineraries that emerged in our efforts around CLI, we’re an effort, we’re a small effort to try to do something in between, but the two common itineraries tend to be, as you said, walking the footsteps of Jesus, in that sense, like the map of Israel, and I really would love for Jewish audiences to see them, the map that Christian tourists, who do footsteps of Jesus, take in Israel. Cause it’s just a totally different map. Like you see sites that Jews simply don’t go to. 

So you have like, that’s on one side and then on the other side is the kind of liberation theology travel, which goes to spend time with Palestinians in Bethlehem and Nazareth, also connected to Christian spaces, but oftentimes also bringing in a kind of racialized analogy or the analogy of indigeneity, and the piece that we have oftentimes seen with Christian participants in our programs is they can’t figure out what to do with Tel-Aviv. Whereas for Zionists and for Jews, well Tel-Aviv is kind of the whole story of Zionism, actually, the building of a new secular Jewish city that’s not rooted in holy land. 

So I would be curious also for you to reflect a little bit on, like, what do you do with Tel Aviv? You are resisting these two moves and trying to inhabit something that’s very different, that actually is trying to maintain a relationship with the Jewish community and connection to the state of Israel.

So what does a Christian do, if you have two easy pathways to liberation theology as opposed to Jesus, what do you do with Tel Aviv? 

Dan: Well let me maybe just back up and just think about land as category, which I’ve really had an awakening to starting with my CLI trip. It’s not impermissible for Christians to have a theological value for the land of Israel as a Jewish state. That is possible. And I think ought to be possible.

And I’d never been to Israel prior to CLI in 2014, which by the way, was when Hamas was firing rockets and et cetera, et cetera. When I went to Galilee, I didn’t do the footsteps of Jesus visits to Galilee. I went to this famous cemetery whose name I’m forgetting that’s right on the shore there with lots of famous figures of Israeli society are buried, and for me to just have a different window of what Galilee meant was really illuminating.

And yeah, so I went to Tel Aviv. What do I do at Tel-Aviv? Tel-Aviv seemed like a nice place to go to the beach. And I went to Jaffa. And so to have that narrative around Jaffa and this complexity was really interesting. But I was aware of how they sat next to each other, but didn’t overlap each other. I didn’t know what Tel-Aviv meant until I arrived in Tel Aviv and was told what Tel Aviv meant. To me Tel Aviv was near the airport. And where you can go to the clubs that you can’t go to in Jerusalem. And can drive on Shabbat, et cetera, et cetera. 

So for me, Tel Aviv, as I perceived it, was secularity turning out to the rest of the Western world, and had a clearly different kind of energy and orientation than being in West Jerusalem. But I had no preconceptions, and I guess no troubling around it one way or the other. It simply was what was.

Yehuda: Okay. So I, but I want to push on this because I do generally believe that Christians should be allowed their narratives, right, which include Jews are protagonists, actually antagonists, in a lot of classical Christian narratives. It’s, you can’t understand early Christianity without understanding its ancient Jewish context. We are always dancing in relationship to each other, right?

Our colleague and friend, Dr. Malka Simkovich wrote a great piece last week saying, why did Jews stop focusing on the Pascal lamb? Well, that’s because Christians take it as a dominant symbol. And so we focus on matzo instead. We’re always dancing in relationship to each other, and that’s like part of this. 

You as a Christian should be allowed to see the land of Israel through the metaphorical story of the New Testament. We just want to figure out a way to avoid that being something that turns real live Jews into the object of that metaphor. So I guess what I really want to know is how, like, how do you read your own stories around the land of Israel and Jews and antiquities in ways that affirm your Christianess, and don’t fall into the traps that wind up turning contemporary Jews into being the kind of metaphors that leads to super supersessionism. 

Dan: You’re really touching on a lot of what I strugglewith, or try to articulate as a new way forward in developing a nonsupersessionist theology, which is a core element of my work. One of the key things is what you just said there: let Jews be Jews. Which I see as in parallel to some of the anti-racist work a lot of us is going through. Let others have their narratives and don’t project onto them, or make assumptions.

The trick is for me as a Christian, I’m speaking purely for myself. I regard my status as a Christian, as in some ways dependent on whatever’s emerging out of that first-century matrix in which our two different traditions have their own trajectories. And so what I want to have is an affirmation of those Jewish spaces, as Jewish spaces, without instrumentalists using them for my own benefits.

So I want the Western Wall to simply be the Western Wall and when I visited the Kotel, I saw it as not my space, like really clearly and distinctly. And thinking, this is a different space I can imagine for myself, you know, okay, we’re in the old city, Jesus must’ve walked around here somewhere or Paul or Peter or whoever, but that’s buried however many feet down.

There’s many other footsteps and spaces that exist alongside that. What I want to do is affirm the Jewish spaces as alongside and overlapping my own Christian spaces while allowing for their distinctiveness and their particularity in the moment. And so I’m really clear that when I go to the Christian spaces, especially for me, the Holy Sepulchre is like the Christian space.

I don’t have any truck with that garden tomb over on the other side. And for me, that’s the Christian space and it’s permitted to be the Christian space. And it’s protected as that Christian space, but I I’m pretty clear when I’m out and about in the rest of Israel, that those are different spaces.

There’s overlapping narratives in those spaces, and what’s interesting is when the narratives overlap and we just let the narratives overlap without having to make a big deal of it, or without having to say one of those narratives must be given a priority over the other narrative.

Yehuda: But why, why not allow those? If those narratives overlap, why don’t we embrace the fact that they are in conflict with each other? So I’ll give you my flip side.

First time I went to the Teardrop Church on the Mount of Olives. I think its, Do, Dominus Flevit, right, from the gospel of Luke, right. That Jesus leaves the temple and weeps. The Teardrop Church on the Mount of Olives, for those who haven’t visited, has a window the shape of a teardrop. And the first time I went there, this was a remarkable thing. I’ve never experienced anything like it. This group of Korean pilgrims walk in. Nobody speaks. I’m used to going on tours where like you spend the whole time pointing things out and talking and everybody like, you know, that’s interesting, and takes pictures. Nobody spoke. This group of pilgrims sits down, faces the temple AKA now the Old City of Jerusalem, sings a magnificent hymn, and then all burst into tears.

I was like totally overwhelmed by it. And I saw what I have always embraced as my story through a window of another faith. And I, I wanted to own that those stories are in conflict, Jesus weeping over the temple because of its corruption versus us weeping over the temple for a different reason.

Those are, it’s not enough for me, Dan, to say you have your space, I have my space. I don’t want to actually say, what happens when we’re, our stories are really in conflict with each other. 

Dan: So interestingly. I always interpreted Jesus weeping over the temple as weeping over it’s impending destruction. So I might have a more phyllo Semitic interpretation even of that narrative, but I take your larger point. Yeah. There are obviously clear differences of opinion of deeply held belief about the Christian narrative and the Jewish narrative.

We just celebrated Easter in my tradition, the Orthodox are just about to do it. Clearly there’s a radically different claim being made. I’m very interested in exploring those radical differences and what they mean. I suppose that maybe we have a different sense of what conflict means, right.

When I see difference, I get really curious and energized by the difference. And want to engage in it. I suppose when I hear the word conflict, that means something that I want to step back from. Some intervention that’s been made harmful. So like Christian proselytizing of Jews, I would take as conflictual, and I actually want to step back from that. I wouldn’t want to get curious about that very much. Whereas my claim about who Jesus is versus say, what Toldedot Yeshu says, I’m just super curious and want to engage in those traditions or wherever another example might be. I’m not sure how that works for you and maybe we’re coming from different places here.

Yehuda: Let’s take proselytizing, I mean, proselytizing is a great example. If part of the mission of the church is actually the pursuit of the universal church and the bringing of kingdom of heaven on earth and the universalizing a message in Christ. How does a Christian resist that voice with, then stay authentic to their own tradition?

It’s not that I want Christians to proselytize Jews, let me be clear. But I kind of feel like it’s a fair, I feel like it should be a fair fight. As long as it’s not violent or unfair. That’s part of what our religions seek to do is to pursue truth claims, right, up until the point that those truth claims become violent towards others, but not to step back away from those truth claims. 

Dan: Right. And so again, with my own work, and the field of Jewish Christian relations and where Christian theology has gone in certain fields about affirming the ongoing covenantal status of the Jewish people and differentiating say in this newer interpretations of Paul’s theology of what is the status of Israel.

I can step away from proselytizing and say, actually, we, if you want to talk about a two covenant theory or a one covenant theory or all these different issues that float around in Jewish Christian theology, we can do that. But speaking from my Anglican tradition, there is a group of Anglicans still, in the church of England and elsewhere, who believe that the Jews have to be converted.

And Christ church in the Old City, as you go in the Jaffa Gate there stands there and you go into Christ Church and you have the 10 commandments and the Apostles Creed written in Hebrew. And that that’s an edifice committed, maybe not as explicitly now, to the conversion of Jews. And I don’t think that’s actually authentic to how I think Christianity as I understand it ought to be looked.

So this goes back to who are we going to be in conflict with? One of the things I’ve observed in interfaith circles, as you noted at the beginning is, some of our deepest conflicts are with our co-religionists versus with those that we’re seeking to engage with in other ways. And the place where I struggle, if you want to talk about proselytizing is what do I do then with, with these, um, Jews who have become Christian?

This is becoming an increasingly contested issue in the field of Jewish-Christian relations that some are arguing, that in order to really have this conversation, we need to bring these Jewish-Christians to the table, and engage with their uh, messianic theologies.

Yehuda: What’s the end game for you about the interfaith encounter? You can see that part of what’s happening between Jews and Christians on the political left and the political right, is that the end game is allyship around concrete political causes. For the de-proselytizing world, the end game is more people of their own faith, right? The reason you do interfaith is to get people adjacent, you know, the most limited view would be you do interfaith to reduce conflict. But what’s the end game for you?

Dan: The end game for me as a Christian is to continue the work of repairing harm. What I want to do is, more fully have Christians be aware of the ways in which they interpret scripture. Talk about Israel. Talk about Jews. Develop their theology. Not only has negative ways, say of speaking about Jews, but can actually lead to actual harm.

So for example, I’ve been doing a lot of work recently with revising the Good Friday liturgy in the Episcopal church, which involves having to read the Gospel John’s passion, which has these repeated references to the Jews, as antagonists to Jesus. And my issues with that is simply saying, we need to be aware of how this liturgy historically has operated in being weaponized against the Jewish community.

And even if we assume in the United States that it won’t do that, it doesn’t mean that rhetorical violence has no real victims to it, right?

So I want to keep on doing this work of having Christians step back and look at how they interpret their materials and talk about Jews. Because I think that if the theology is left untreated, it will eventually lead to harm to the Jewish people. And the Jewish people are perceived as the original theological other in Christianity.

I think if we can deal with the problem of how do we reframe this theological other, that unlocks for us how to deal with problems of the otherings Christians in the West have historically done to many other populations, whether it’s Islam, whether it’s, in the United States, African-Americans and the slave trade, or indigenous populations.

Yehuda: I mean, it’s a pretty deep idea, Dan, and I, so I want to put a pin in it, which is, a lot of I think what passes for interfaith is basically political work. And what you’re saying is no, the real work is, is going to be theological because you might say political waves come and go, right.

Your allies now might not be your allies later on, but that the sustainable work over time is actually the surgical around theology, which is also by the way, the least popular and the least accessible to the general public.

So there’s also kind of tje question of what does scale look like around that theological change? 

Dan: Well, so, again, I’m Episcopalian, for me, it always shows up in liturgy. And so if we move past to like Holy Week liturgy, I think the scale where it shows up is in the lectionary itself in the Episcopal church, which, what we have as our cycle of readings for every Sunday is, first lesson is from, as we call it, the Old Testament, a Psalm, also from that same collection books, a second reading, that is usually from one the Pauline epistles or something like that. And then a reading from one of the four canonical gospels.

Often what’s done is that first reading is set up in some kind of negative antithesis from a reading from the New Testament. And so one of the things to sit with is like the lectionaries aren’t accidents, right. That, they’re intentionality done. And so what’s the theological message of this lectionary reading.

And often these lectionaries in their kind of structure come from the Latin middle ages, and there’s been some attempts to revise it, but I think there’s a lot more work to be done in saying, what is a new kind of theology that can be developed with that first set of readings. And again, what I want to get away from is saying, whatever’s in that first reading from the scriptures of Israel has to immediately speak to whatever that gospel reading is or where that epistle reading is.

But rather to simply say, what do the scriptures of Israel say? What do we want to learn from that? And what does it mean to learn from them on their own terms, without always feeling the compulsion to apply Christological lens? I think applying a Christological lens is something Christians can do, sometimes need to do, because the New Testament itself applies a Christological lens to the scriptures, but it doesn’t have to be the exclusive or only or necessary reading.

And that’s an initiative I’m really excited about.

Yehuda: Let me ask the last question and it goes back to our, kind of our main topic here. What would you want the Episcopal Church’s agenda and maybe Christianity more generally, to be in relationship to both Jews in Israel, as well as Palestinians, right? Because I have no expectation nor do I actually want like, oh, pick a team, right?

The Christians are going to have a responsibility to Palestinian, whether they’re Christians or Muslims, just by virtue of the fact they’re human beings. I don’t generally believe that, like, this is a zero-sum game between supporting Jewish rights to self-determination or Palestinian rights to self-determination.

So what would you want as opposed to what currently exists? What would you want that agenda to look like for the church in relating to both of these claims, those of the Jews in the 21st century and as well as Palestinians. 

Dan: When I testified before the same committee that you spoke to, I really did call back to some previous General Convention resolutions that basically affirm what you just said. Israelis, uh, Jewish self-determination, Palestinian self-determination. I would like to see it step back from adjudicating the political rights and wrongs of the state of Israel. 

When it does choose to do that, I would like to see it also attempt to adjudicate the political rights or wrongs of the Palestinian Authority or Iran or Syria or Hamas as well. So I would like to have some equal time if we’re going to lay blame of the feats of various people.

But I think more productively, I would like to see positive investment in civil society, in Israel and Palestine, which is part of what I think that the Hartman Institute’s agenda is. If we’re gonna get involved, let’s just get involved with tangible initiatives that actually build stronger bonds between communities, rather than trying to figure out which political side we’re going to be on.

If it’s really about people, let’s seek to foster the well-being of all people in that area. 

Yehuda: Well, thank you all for listening to our show this week and special thanks to my guest, the Reverend Dan Joslyn Siemiatkoski.

Identity Crisis is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute. This week’s episode was produced by David Zvi Kalman and edited by Silver Sound NYC with assistance from Miri Miller and Shalhevet Schwartz, and music provided by Socalled. Transcripts of our show are now available on our website, typically about a week after an episode airs. To find them and to learn more about the Shalom Hartman Institute, you can visit us online at

We’re always looking for ideas of what we should cover in future episodes. So if you have a topic you’d like to hear about, or if you have comments on this one, please write to us at [email protected]. You can rate and review the show on iTunes to help more people find the show. You can subscribe to our show everywhere podcasts are available.

We’ll see you next week. We wish you happy holidays, whichever ones you’re celebrating. And thanks for listening.

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