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On October 25th, Christian Theological Seminary students in the Jewish Christian Dialogue class visited the American Jewish Archives and Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. The group was led by co-teachers of the course Rabbi Dennis Sasso and Dr. Helene Russell. CTS President David Mellott joined the excursion (seen below holding a cuneiform from 2,000-2,500 BCE from the Archives collection). Students had the opportunity to explore rare books from the Archives, discuss the history and importance of preserving Jewish history, and were addressed by Rabbi David Saperstein, former Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.

Promoting Jewish Christian dialogue has been a central tenet of Christian Theological Seminary for many decades. The concept of promoting dialogue between the two faith groups is more important than ever in our culture with the unfortunate recent rise of antisemitism. According to the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that tracks anti-Semitic behavior in the United States, there were 2,717 anti-Semitic incidents in 2021. That number means there was an average of more than 7 anti-Semitic incidents per day and represents a 34% increase from 2020. Christians have a leading role to play in undoing two thousand years of anti-Jewish bias. CTS has made an intentional effort to stay at the forefront of this work with its Jewish Christian Dialogue course team co-taught by a Rabbi and a CTS faculty person for more than 50 years.

Dr. Helene Russell, CTS’ Associate Professor of Theology, shares: “Much of anti-Judaism springs out of Christianity. And yet, it runs counter to our Christian values of love and respect of each and every human being. This course teaches Christians how to uncover and ameliorate their embedded assumptions about Judaism and Jews. Some of those assumptions come out of the way the Gospels are read; some interpretations of the gospels makes it seem like the Jews killed Jesus when, in fact, the Romans killed Jesus.” Dr. Russell points out that early on, Jews and the early followers of Jesus worshipped together. People who followed Jesus (a group known as The Way) could also be found regularly going to synagogue. She suggests that Rabbis are descended from Pharisees, and that both have a lot in common with Jesus Christ’s message as well. Jesus likely agreed with the Pharisees much more than He disagreed with them. “You can take something Jesus said like “do to others what you would have them do to you” (commonly known as the Golden Rule and taken from Luke 6:31, NRSVue) and find it reflected in Jewish texts and history. Rabbi Hillel said, ‘What is hateful to you, don’t do to others” less than 100 years earlier,” says Russell. But things started changing in 70 CE when the Temple was destroyed.

Since that time, Jewish Christian relationships have sometimes faced tension, prejudice, and even violence. Antisemitism is an evil not yet eradicated from our everyday world. Dr. Russell hopes the students in this class will be agents of reconciliation and promoters of dialogue between Jews and Christians for the rest of their lives.

Jewish Christian Dialogue is a 14-week class currently offered every 3 years at CTS. Dr. Russell has co-taught the class with Rabbi Dennis Sasso since 2003. The course originated over 50 years ago with the late Clark M. Williamson, CTS Professor Emeritus of Christian Thought. Over its tenure, the course has brought various conferences and gatherings of Jews and Christians from all over the country to Christian Theological Seminary. CTS remains committed to exemplifying the necessary work Christians must do to celebrate, love, and lift up our Jewish friends and neighbors.