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Light shines eternally

Rabbi Fred Morgan. Photo courtesy of Rev Dr Lorraine Parkinson

Contemporary Judaism is complete, comprehensive, has its own integrity, and does not await fulfilment through any other religion, explained Rabbi Morgan to members and guests at the gathering of the Council of Christians and Jews in Western Australia on Thursday 9 August at St Peter's and Emmaus Church in Perth.

The gathering focused on discussing the Uniting Church's document, "Jews and Judaism: A Statement by the Uniting Church in Australia", which is the basis of the DVD and booklet publication, Light Eternal.

Executive member Rev Marie Wilson welcomed invited speakers Rabbi Fred Morgan from Temple Beth Israel St Kilda, Victoria, and Rev Dr Geoffrey Lilburne, Director of Lay and Continuing Education, Perth Uniting Church in Australia Theological Hall, who posed the questions "Why are there Christians here?" and "Why are there still Jews here?"

Many Christians, by viewing Judaism as a phenomenon from the past, have failed to appreciate that Judaism has developed as Christianity has, so that today's Jewish practice has little to do with how it was lived in Jesus' time.

Most threatening to contemporary Judaism is "replacement theology" (supersessionism) which holds that all has been fulfilled via prophecies – meaning that Jews, because they rejected Jesus as the Messiah, have "missed the boat" and are now no longer in covenant.

This implies that what Jews do now has no meaning.

Yet the covenantal relationship (berit) with God/Torah, no longer mediated by the priesthood for Jews is "now" and living; Jews experience God as a God of grace as much as do Christians.

In the New Testament, Gentiles joined themselves to the covenant.

However, talk of a "New" Covenant, combined with failure to acknowledge that the Jewish faith has evolved, and equating the covenant under the Law (the Torah) with "legalism", can become destructive.

Christian scriptures, which draw heavily from the Hebrew scriptures, should alert us to a developing understanding of God in scripture, from an oft-violent God to a more compassionate one.

Rabbi Morgan recalled the project's origins.

The Working Group on Christian-Jewish Relations (UCA Synod of Victoria and Tasmania) sought to inform Christians that Jesus was a typical Jew working from a framework that all Jewish people were working from two thousand years ago.

It produced the statement "Jews and Judaism: A Statement by the Uniting Church in Australia", for the education and information of Uniting Church members.

On that basis the Church"s Assembly published Light Eternal, to continue this process of educating its people.

Such education hopefully leads to the question: "What happened that led to Christians allowing the Shoah?"

In terms of dialogue, an immediate Jewish response might be "We can't trust Christians."

A more productive response is "We must tell the Christians how we see life, what this means to us, who we are.

"The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and the expulsions, sit in our 'memory', but no-one ever asked us about it."

Rabbi Morgan asked his community what they would like him to say to that.

They told him, "Jews and Christians live side by side – often without speaking to each other.

"We are divided by the same scripture; we fail to understand each other because we read it in entirely different ways.

"How can we overcome this? As Jews, engaging with scripture means enquiry, grappling with it. What do Christians do with scripture?"

Rabbi Morgan responded with an explanation from Christology.

When Christians deliberate on the "historical Jesus", they feel driven to understand the Jewishness of Jesus, to find that he was not against Jews, nor trying to be "other" than his culture.

At the conclusion, the floor was opened to questions and a lively discussion ensued – a response in keeping with the aims of Light Eternal.

The UCA Assembly's Light Eternal discussion kit has now been available to all congregations in the UCA for two years in the hope that it might serve as a resource toward achieving the prize of human community, even beyond the Uniting Church.

Dr Judith Schneider teaches in the School of Philosophy and Theology, Fremantle, The University of Notre Dame, Western Australia

Photo : Rabbi Fred Morgan. Photo courtesy of Rev Dr Lorraine Parkinson