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The world of religious dialogue is great deal richer due to the joint efforts of The Center for Dutch-Israeli Studies (Centrum voor Israel Studies-CIS) and the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies.
In this latest collaboration, the two educational institutions have created an innovative continuing education program whereby Dutch Protestant pastors and theologians delve into Jewish texts together with a Schechter lecturer to better understand Judaism, and thus the origins of Christianity.
“The explanation of Scriptures is fundamental to the church and to our faith. Understanding how Jews comment on the Tanach, the ways they explore and explain the Bible, enables us to better grasp Judaism, Jesus – who was a Jew, and really helps us learn more from the Tanach and the New Testament,” says Dutch theologian Albert Groothedde who lives in Jerusalem and represents CIS’ interests here.
For Groothedde, the course is helpful in dealing with replacement theology or Supersessionism, which asserts that the New Covenant and the church through Jesus Christ have superseded or replaced the Mosaic covenant exclusive to the Jews.
According to Groothedde, “We can learn from the Jews. We need to cooperate, to study and listen. We believe in interfaith relations and want pastors, students, and the public to use Jewish textual learning as the basis for improved relations.”
CIS was founded by three Dutch religious organizations: CGK – a Dutch Protestant denomination consisting of some 180 churches, GZB an organization within the mainline Dutch Protestant Church and the Christian University for Applied Science in Ede. CIS’s focus is ‘to encourage and promote Jewish-Christian encounter in various places and ways.’
CIS’ existence came out of the Dutch church’s experiences during the Holocaust (Shoah) that fostered among its pastors, leaders and members the belief that the Christian world is required to stop demonizing the Jews.
The Schechter-CIS course ‘The Written Law and The Oral Law: Where Judaism and Christianity Differed’ uses primary texts from Rabbinic Literature including the Mishna, Talmud and Midrash. Schechter adjunct faculty member Rabbi Dr. Vernon Kurtz is leading the exploration of how Judaism interpreted the Biblical text through the use of the Oral Tradition to set the foundation for the Judaism of today and how Christianity reacted to this methodology and message.
Kurtz, Rabbi Emeritus of North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park, Illinois, USA, says, “As we study these primary Rabbinic texts all of us are seeing where Judaism and Christianity differed during the first centuries of the common era and where there are common elements in our traditions. Studying together the Tanach, the New Testament, and Rabbinic literature we are offering ways to more fully appreciate our own tradition even as we learn of the other’s as well.”
Groothedde, the theologian, is so happy with his course of studies with Schechter faculty that he laughs and says he is ready to become a full time student.
“There is so much connectivity between the two religions. When I read the sources in the Talmud, the Mishnah and Biblical exegesis, I see so many links between us,’ he adds.
Pastor Joan (Yohan) Bonhof, Director of CIS agrees with Groothedde.
“In Christianity we tend to study these texts and topics more rationally, in the western style. With Schechter, we are learning exegesis via the Jewish method and finding connectivity between our sides,” posits Bonhof.
He adds, “This course is helping us try to understand the lost connections between the Tanach and the New Testament.”
For Bonhof, CIS’ purpose is to meet with Jewish people in all of Judaism’s diversity, to talk about Israel and Judaism with fellow Christians for enriching Christian life in the Netherlands, and to connect in deeds by supporting programs with funds and volunteer work in Israel for underserved populations.
Kurtz is thrilled by the class and the interactions within, “As we spend more time together, even on zoom, we get to know one another, appreciate one another and the traditions we live by and teach. It has been a pleasure to meet with the students, share with them, at least, my understanding of Jewish sources and learn from them as well. Their questions have been thought provoking and challenging.”
On a side note, Kurtz has created friendships and scholarly relationships with Bonhof and Groothedde who worked with him to put together the course.
At the end of the day, CIS’s purpose is to influence people. Groothedde notes, “By bringing together our pastors, and deepening their knowledge about Israel and Judaism we are helping them influence Dutch Christianity.”
Bonhof notes that if all goes well in 2023, “We plan on bringing groups of Dutch pastors to Israel for chevruta study at Schechter, a tour of Israel’s holy sites and volunteering with CIS supported projects. Our trips will be deeper than normal holy site tours.”