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Interfaith Voices: Learning from within Jewish-Christian family

Interfaith Voices: Learning from within Jewish-Christian family

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I would like to share, as a Jew, what interfaith means to me. I speak only for myself. Others, whether of my faith, another, or none, have their own experiences and opinions.

First, a little about Judaism and Jews. Jews are unique, as far as I know, among the world religions in that we are both a faith (Judaism) and a people (Jews). To be a Christian for example, one must accept certain core beliefs defined as religious; an atheist cannot be a Christian. But a Jew can be an atheist and is still considered a Jew. Caveat: from the little I have read, I have the impression that there may be native/first nation peoples for whom both religion and peoplehood were similarly combined. It would be wonderful to hear, perhaps through a letter to the GT or in another interfaith offering, from an indigenous person about this.

I was blessed to have had both a Jewish and a Christian grandmother. The former was not very religious; the latter, very much so. From my Jewish Nana Ruth, I learned a sense of peoplehood; from my Christian O’Mama, a sense of what we in English call “G-d.” (In Judaism, out of respect, we avoid writing the name of G-d where there is a chance the material bearing the name could be thrown away; hence, the hyphen.)

When I was a child, my Jewish grandmother would tell me the stories of the people in the Bible whose names I and my siblings shared. Rachel, whom Jacob loved so much, he worked seven years for her. Jonathan, whose friendship for David was the greatest ever known. Rebecca, who proved her worthiness to be Isaac’s wife at the well. And Ruth, who said, “I will go where you go; your people will be my people and your G-d will be my G-d.” (There’s your peoplehood and your faith in G-d, right there.)

When I was a child, my Christian grandmother told me, “The world needs both: the justice of the Jews and the mercy of the Christians.” It is a common but mistaken belief that Judaism is a religion of justice only, harsh and unforgiving. Nothing could be further from the truth. Judaism holds that G-d is a G-d of both justice and mercy, each tempering the other. That justice with no mercy would make for a harsh world is obvious. But mercy with no justice would make for equally harsh chaos. Imagine not disciplining a house- or classroomful of kids for a day. They would quickly learn that anything goes and the stronger would dominate the weaker. The same would happen in society that did not dispense justice to those who act in ways harmful to others.

So, my O’Mama was right that the world needs both justice and mercy, although she was wrong that mercy is the province of Christianity only. But this leads to other questions: what is justice? Is it punishment? Is it correction? Is it setting limits? Is it restitution? What is mercy? Is it ignoring or forgetting wrongs committed? Is it empathy with the other, even the one who has offended me? Are the mercy and justice of G-d different than the mercy and justice of man? Of course, human justice will be imperfect; we are imperfect.

I cannot address, let alone answer, these questions in the scope of this short article. They are complex and difficult. But perhaps to answer these questions we need to draw on the wisdom from all the world’s religious teachings, not only Jewish and Christian, but other faiths as well.

Rachel Peck is a transplant from the other Washington (DC). She lived in Salem from 1958 to 1961, and happy memories from that time brought her back to Oregon. She persuaded her husband to check out this part of the world, and they moved to Corvallis in 2005. She likes to read, hike, and try her hand at baking bread, with mixed results.


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