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Should Jews Intervene in Christian Theological Debates Involving Judaism?

Dec. 16 2015

A half-century after the Second Vatican Council released the declaration, known as Nostra Aetate, on the Church’s relations with other religions, David Berger reflects on its effects. Among these is the Catholic hierarchy’s willingness to take into consideration the concerns of Jewish leaders. Berger urges Jews to voice such concerns judiciously:

Jews active in interfaith affairs have not infrequently denounced the Christian belief that the entire world will recognize Jesus as the divine messiah at the end of days. This, in my view, is none of our business, especially in light of the corresponding Jewish belief strikingly expressed in the High Holy Day liturgy and the Aleinu prayer. Many Jews welcome the views of Christian scholars and theologians who maintain that certain anti-Jewish narratives in the Gospels are unhistorical, but we have no right to urge more fundamentalist Christians to reject the accuracy of their scriptures. . . .

The most interesting phenomenon that challenges the convictions of a non-interventionist is Christian missionizing, which brings us back to the covenant. Catholic theologians friendly to the Jews have struggled with the implications of [Nostra Aetate’s doctrine of] the unbroken Abrahamic/Mosaic covenant. This unbroken covenant sits uneasily with the doctrine of the contemporary Church that although those who consciously reject belief in Jesus can under certain circumstances be saved, the vehicle of salvation—even for Jews—is Jesus acting through the Church. In some sense, we are told, there is an implicit belief at work. Moreover, despite the enduring Jewish covenant, Christians are obligated to “witness” to the Jews even though they should not directly proselytize.

It should not be our concern to help resolve these conundrums in Catholic theology, and I am all the more grateful that leading theologians firmly oppose mission to the Jews even though their rationale for this position leaves them with unresolved “mysteries.” However, in relating to Christian groups that do proselytize, it is, I think, legitimate for Jews to make every effort to persuade them to desist despite the fact that this constitutes interference in their internal theology. In this case, the imperative of self-defense is so direct that it overrides countervailing principles.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Catholic Church, Covenant, Interfaith dialogue, Jewish-Catholic relations, Nostra Aetate, Religion & Holidays

The Future of a Free Iran May Lie with a Restoration of the Shah

June 25 2018

Examining the recent waves of protest and political unrest in the Islamic Republic—from women shunning the hijab to truckers going out on strike—Sohrab Ahmari considers what would happen in the event of an actual collapse of the regime. Through an analysis of Iranian history, he concludes that the country would best be served by placing Reza Pahlavi, the son and heir of its last shah, at the head of a constitutional monarchy:

The end of Islamist rule in Iran would be a world-historical event and an unalloyed good for the country and its neighbors, marking a return to normalcy four decades after the Ayatollah Khomeini founded his regime. . . . But what exactly is that normalcy? . . .

First, Iranian political culture demands a living source of authority to embody the will of the nation and stand above a fractious and ethnically heterogenous society. Put another way, Iranians need a “shah” of some sort. They have never lived collectively without one, and their political imagination has always been directed toward a throne. The constitutionalist experiment of the early 20th century coexisted (badly) with monarchic authority, and the current Islamic Republic has a supreme leader—which is to say, a shah by another name. It is the height of utopianism to imagine that a 2,500-year-old tradition can be wiped away. The presence of a shah, [however], needn’t mean the absence of rule of law, deliberative politics, or any of the other elements of ordered liberty that the West cherishes in its own systems. . . .

Second, Iranian political culture demands a source of continuity with Persian history. The anxieties associated with modernity and centuries of historical discontinuity drove Iranians into the arms of Khomeini and his bearded minions, who promised a connection to Shiite tradition. Khomeinism turned out to be a bloody failure, but there is scant reason to imagine the thirst for continuity has been quenched. . . . Iranian nationalism . . . could be the answer, and, to judge by the nationalist tone of the current upheaval, it is the one the people have already hit upon.

When protestors chant “We Will Die to Get Iran Back,” “Not Gaza, Not Lebanon, My Life Only for Iran,” and “Let Syria Be, Do Something for Me,” they are expressing a positive vision of Iranian nationhood: no longer do they wish to pay the price for the regime’s Shiite hegemonic ambitions. Iranian blood should be spilled for Iran, not Gaza, which for most Iranians is little more than a geographical abstraction. It is precisely its nationalist dimension that makes the current revolt the most potent the mullahs have yet faced. Nationalism, after all, is a much stronger force and in Iran the longing for historical continuity runs much deeper than liberal-democratic aspiration. Westerners who wish to see a replay of Central and Eastern Europe in 1989 in today’s Iran will find the lessons of Iranian history hard and distasteful, but Iranians and their friends who wish to see past the Islamic Republic must pay heed.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Iran, Nationalism, Politics & Current Affairs, Shah