What do Jews think of Christianity, whose followers worship a Jew?
Jewish views on Christianity vary widely. A lot depends on the personal history and attitudes of the Jewish person you ask. My father’s first wife was Christian, and his father — my paternal grandfather — objected strongly to their courtship and marriage because she wasn’t Jewish. Consequently, my father drifted away from Judaism and Jewish community, and was estranged from his father, for many years. My mother (my father’s second wife) is Jewish, and I had some of the typical Jewish identity-building experiences as I grew up. I attended Hebrew school starting at age 5, had a bar mitzvah at 13, and co-led religious services in our lay-led Reconstructionist congregation throughout my teen years.
However, my parents impressed upon me the importance of building friendships with a diverse collection of people, regardless of their ethnic background, socioeconomic level, or religious faith (or lack thereof). My father in particular emphasized to me that religion can be a positive thing until and unless it divides people needlessly or even tears families apart. I was raised, in short, to be as different as possible from the way my father described his father to me. His father apparently distrusted non-Jews so much that he became paranoid about them. If you consider that my father was born in 1932, and his father was probably born around the turn of the century, you can recognize that that was a very different era for Jews in America, and some of that distrust was probably warranted.
In any case, I didn’t grow up seeing Christianity as an oppressive force in American society that thoughtlessly eclipses minority religious groups. Some Jews, on one extreme of the spectrum, probably see Christianity that way. They may also believe that all Christians, or at least the vast majority, are itching to proselytize Jews in order to save us from the fiery pit of hell. Do such Christians exist? Of course. But much is gained when we as American Jews don’t carry around the assumption that most Christians we meet think and operate this way.
Many Jews I’ve met are amused at the fact that Christians worship a Jew. Not amused in a mean-spirited way, but simply in the way that it’s easy to be amused when you consider the complexity of, and many interconnections between, Judaism and Christianity. As you probably know, a great many Christians feel a reverence toward Judaism as the foundation of their Christianity. That Judaism is revered by some Christians for being a mere stepping stone to their supposedly higher understanding of life, the universe, and everything — i.e., Christianity — is a double-edged sword, but from the right perspective, there’s something amusing to that whole phenomenon as well.
I’d bet that the majority of American Jews are relatively open-minded toward Christians as long as Christians don’t go the proselytizing route or otherwise judge or demean Judaism. I also wonder — I’d love to see polling on this — how many American Jews have close relationships with one or more religious Christians. I imagine the figures would vary depending on which denomination of American Judaism — Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, etc. — the Jews in question identify with. (Most polls of American Jewry, such as those produced by Pew Research Center, break down the results by denomination.)
A native of Detroit, Neal Schindler has lived in the Pacific Northwest since 2002. He has held staff positions at Seattle Weekly and The Seattle Times and was a freelance writer for Jew-ish.com from 2007 to 2011. Schindler was raised in a Reconstructionist Jewish congregation and is now a member of Spokane’s Reform congregation, Emanu-El. He is the director of Spokane Area Jewish Family Services. His interests include movies, Scrabble, and indie rock. He lives with his wife, son, and two cats in West Central Spokane.