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January 15, 1988 - Image 77

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-01-15

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Neither seeks conversion. They seek an
Equal Opportunity Cleric.
They each have vague sentimental at-
tachments to the faith in which they were
raised and genuine filial fidelities to their
parents. They have thought out the dilem-
ma of raising their children. They will offer
them the dual advantages of two religious
civilizations. "If it's a boy, we'll have him
both circumcised and baptized," they agree.
Far from seeing conflict in the ar-
rangement, they are convinced that the
wisdom of both Old and New Testaments
will enrich their lives and confirm Malachi:
"Has not one Father created us. Hast not
one God made us." They see vindication in
the similarities of the mother sister tradi-
tions. Toward their own and each other's
religious belief and practice they offer
benign neutrality.
The discussion wandered. At one point,
possibly out of frustration, I asked them
what they thought of my officiating as
both rabbi and priest. They were taken
aback at this bold ecumenicism. "You're
not serious?" they asked. "Well let's play
it out. I know the church sacrament, the
nuptial blessings, and I certainly know the
seven blessings of the Judaic tradition," I
said. Peggy thought such synchronistic
virtuosity a bit too much. She couldn't
quite conjure up the union of surplice and
tallit, swinging rosaries and tallit fringes.
Still if we have one Father, why not one
rabbi-priest?
They were not slow to see the "reductio
ad absurdum" of my argument.
The rabbi-priest idea dropped, Peggy
went on to explain that she was not a prac-
ticing Christian. Why then, I asked her,
was it so important to have her child bap-
tized? She answered with a personal anec-
dote of a cousin whose infant had died. "If
that happened to me I couldn't face the
thought that my child was unbaptized."
Unbaptized, her child would be suspended
between heaven and hell, consigned to
"limbus infantum." I asked about the
status of her husband-to-be. Would an un-
baptized Sam be subject to limbo or dam-
nation? Would her beloved Sam be saved?
There followed a long and deep silence.
In that silence, I pondered over the ne-
glect of Jewish theology and philosophy in

Sam's life. Sam's Jewishness — he had at-
tended a Jewish day school and performed
well at his Bar Mitzvah — amounted to
casual observances of a pastiche of rituals,
a vague sentimentality towards Jewish-
ness, and an attachment to his Jewish
parents.
But Judaism offered him no way of map-
ping the world, no distinctive view of
human nature, God's character, or the
quest for meaning. Sam was liberal in the
manner of polytheists for whom every god
is good enough. For Sam, and for Peggy
as well, religions are all the same. If they
appeared indifferent it was because for
them there were no true differences be-
tween the traditions. It seemed such a
shame to dissolve a love because of a few
ethnic residual memories. Preference for a
colored Easter egg or a Seder burnt egg,
a swaying evergreen or a shaking lulav, are
more matters of taste than of principle.
But in truth there are radical differences
between Christianity and Judaism and for
their sake, and that of their children, Peggy
and Sam ought to understand them for
they entail world views and values which
affect them more than they think.
ORIGINAL SIN AND OTHER DIFFERENCES
lb begin with, Christianity is rooted in
the dogma of original sin. By "original" is
not meant the invention of new sins, but
inherited sin ("erbsuende") traced back to
Adam and Eve's initial disobedience of
God's prohibition against eating of the
'free of Knowledge. That "culpa originales"
is transmitted to every living human
action "by generation, not by initiation."
That sin is not a consequence of an in-
dividual's choice, a congenital curse from
which there is no human cure. Only by
faith (sola fide) in the incarnation of the
man-God and his unmerited kindness in
dying for God's children is the stain of in-
herited sin wiped out. The crucified Christ
is the sinless sacrifice that alone can loosen
Eve's children from the grip of the Satan.
"Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my
blood has eternal life and I will raise him
in the last day" (John 6:53). That promise
is ritualized in the eucharist, mass or com-
munion sacrament wherein the miracle of
transubstantiation or consubstantiation
takes place. The wine and wafer are trans-

formed into the blood and flesh of Christ
crucified. To what degree of literalism such
transformation is understood remains a
Christian debate that needs not concern us
here. But no matter the version of the sac-
rament, it is a far cry from the wine of the
Kiddush which remains wine and the chal-
lah of the Motzi which remains bread.
Baptism is a sacrament critical for Chris-
tian salvation. The Roman Catholic rite of
baptism includes exorcism of the Prince of
darkness. The priest blows on the face of
the infant ordering the spirit of Satan to
depart; moistens his thumb to touch the
ears and nostrils of the infant, and asks the
patrini, the sponsors of the child, to re-
nounce the power and pomp of Satan.
Those who are baptized and who believe
are saved, those who refused are stigma-
tized by the inherited sin that remains in-
delibly inscribed in the unredeemed soul.
We may better appreciate Peggy's serious
concern over the infant's baptism and her
silence over its absence in Sam's life.
When during the trial of Adolph Eich-
mann, a Canadian Christian minister flew
to Jerusalem to offer Eichmann's soul the
opportunity to confess his belief in Christ,
reporters asked him whether Eichmann's
confession would save his soul. The
minister affirmed that it would. Asked
whether the soul of Eichmann's victims
would be saved without such confession,
he answered "no." "No one comes to the
Father but by me," said Jesus according to
John 14:6.
For many of the Church fathers Judaism
is a vestigal anachronism, a "has been"
whose purpose was that of "preparatio
evangelica," preparing the path for the
good news of the advent of Christ. In the
gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, we
read that on the day that Jesus died some
forty years before the destruction of the
second temple, the veil of the temple was
rent in twain from the top to the bottom.
The temple, the priests, the sacrificial
system, the authority of the rabbis col-
lapsed and the instruments for communion
with God fell exclusively into the hands of
the true believers in Christ crucified and
resurrected.
It is noteworthy that the Christian Bible
includes the "Old Testament" with the

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

79

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