In Separated Siblings, John E. Phelan, Jr., an evangelical pastor and scholar, attempts to explain to his coreligionists the basic facts of Judaism, its relationship with Christianity, and Jewish history. Gerald McDermott notes a few “gaps,” especially pertaining to Zionism and Israel, but overall finds the book both informative and effective:
Christian readers will find resonance in Jewish texts they might otherwise overlook. The kaddish, for example, is a daily Jewish prayer that begins with words nearly identical to the first petition in the Lord’s Prayer: “May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified.” Phelan observes that while the Talmud . . . might appear, to outsiders, as obsessed with “minor matters” of religious law, faithful Jews regard it as a divine guide to everyday holiness that puts reason to work “in service of love and obedience.”
This book should also surprise readers who have been led to believe that God rejected the Jews as His chosen people when most 1st-century Jews rejected Jesus as their messiah. Phelan argues that while God’s covenant with Moses was conditional on Israel’s obedience, His covenant with Abraham was unconditional. Moses warned that God’s people would lose control of the land if they turned to idolatry (Deuteronomy 28:36), but they would remain God’s chosen.
If the surprises Phelan documents are intriguing, they are also painful. He highlights many moments in the last two millennia when Christian leaders taught hatred for and persecution of Jews. Erasmus, for instance, refused a trip to Spain because it was too “full of Jews.” Martin Luther preached that if Jews would not convert, “We [Christians] should neither tolerate nor endure them among us.”
Of particular interest is Phelan’s treatment of the great mid-century European Protestant religious thinkers: the Swiss theologian Karl Barth (cited frequently by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik) and the German pastors Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who founded the Confessing Church as an alternative to the Nazis’ official racialized Christianity) and Martin Niemöller (best known for his saying, “First they came for the socialists, . . . then they came for the Jews. . . .”).
As Phelan explains, even Barth, Bonhoeffer, and Niemöller, who “spoke out against the Nazis and anti-Semitism” before and during World War II, nevertheless in their “records reveal anti-Jewish stances and equivocal support for Germany’s Jews until it was once again too late.” The Barmen Declaration (1934) famously declared that Jesus Christ was Germany’s only leader (Führer), but it said nothing about the persecution of Jews because “the Confessing Church would not have accepted it.”