Michael Novak’s Reflections on What Jews and Christians Hold in Common

Feb. 23 2017

The distinguished Catholic thinker Michael Novak died last week at the age of eighty-three. Perhaps best known for The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, which advances the moral case for economic freedom, he wrote extensively on a number of subjects, including Christian-Jewish relations. Herewith, an excerpt from his 1993 essay on the French Catholic theologian Jacques Maritain (1882–1973) and his writings on the Jews:

The debt Catholics owe to Jacques Maritain for his reflections on Judaism is enormous. As teacher to a whole generation of bishops and theologians, his contribution to the statement of Vatican II on the Jews was significant, perhaps philosophically indispensable. Maritain saw . . . that God’s covenant with the Jews is unbreakable; and that the friendship between Christians and Jews is an obligation springing directly from the vocation of both as vessels of God’s inscrutable love. . . . Further, he viewed the history of Judaism as a mystery linked to the fate of the entire world. . . . Maritain read all of history in the light of this mystery—including, in his later writings, the existence of the new state of Israel. . . .

[T]he Jewish interpretation of Christianity is at odds with the Christian interpretation of Judaism. Of this there is no doubt. Still, to assert that each must deny certain claims of the other and let these mutual denials dominate attention is to go too far. It is wrong to allow the sharp and central point of difference between Christianity and Judaism to obscure all that they hold in common. It is wrong not to walk together as far as possible, on the excuse that at one crucial point there is a clear difference. For neither in Jewish nor in Christian thought is it held that this difference must last for all eternity, or even for the entire duration of temporal history. . . .

To be a Christian is not only to be “spiritually a Semite” [in Maritain’s phrase], but in some very subtle sense to be a Jew. A great many of the prerogatives of the Christian faith belong first of all to the Jews. Many of the elements basic to a Christian way of life were first basic to a Jewish way of life: a reverence for the Scriptures; a sense of the sacred; respect for the law; humility before the transcendent; the cherishing of the human capacity for reflection and choice; the sharp taste of the existing (as distinct from non-existing), and of being (as opposed to nonbeing), and therefore of the blessed contingency of this created world; the practice of compassion; the ideal of friendship with God and of “walking with God”; the habit of prayer; and a sense of the presence of God during the activities of every day—all of these are habits of life that Christians share with Jews and have learned from Judaism.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at First Things

More about: Anti-Semitism, Catholicism, Christianity, Jewish-Catholic relations, Jewish-Christian relations, Judaism, Religion & Holiday

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank