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Being the Other in the Context of Jewish Christian Dialogue

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The intention of this brief examination is to outline the task of genuine dialogue and examine one of Judaism and Christianity’s shared resources which equip each individual dialogue-partner to cope with ‘being the Other.’ By looking at the
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  BEING THE OTHER IN THE CONTEXT OF JEWISH CHRISTIAN DIALOGUE  An Examination of Interfaith Dialogue from the Perspective of the Mystical Traditions Jason Michael McCann Pirkei Avot 2 : 20 Rabbi Tarfon says: “The day is short, the task is abundant, the labourers are lazy,the wage is great, and the Master of the house is insistent.” 21 He used to say: “You are not required tocomplete the task, yet you are not free to withdraw from it.” Matthew 9 : 37 Then he (Jesus) said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers arefew; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.” 1  Conversation is not a finished work. Religious dialogue, the moment of encounter between twodistinct and complex others, cannot be, by its very nature, an undertaking tending towards itscompletion; save in an eschatological sense. Nowhere is this conclusion underlined more succinctly than in the Church’s appreciation of its kerygma as ‘Ever Ancient, Ever New.’ Such a Christian self understanding draws attention to the tension felt in all vibrant religious communities between fidelity to ancient tradition and commitment to its translatability within changing modern contexts. Theperception of the possibility of the end of dialogue assumes a conversation between two or more staticentities - a condition which is not possible for constantly evolving human societies locked within thestream of history. John Henry Cardinal Newman gave full recognition both to the ceaseless reality of historical change and the only possibility of its changeless perfection beyond the eschatologicalhorizon when he wrote his oft quoted dictum, “In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to liveis to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” 2  Thus the event of dialogue presupposes discussion between communities and traditions whichare continuously transforming, independent of their relationship with their prospective dialoguepartners, within the dialectical process of history. Moreover, the act of dialogue and the inevitability of relationship invariably accelerate the transformation within each dialoguing tradition. Consequently  both the subjects and the objects of ongoing dialogue are in a constant state of flux; demanding thatdialogue is itself an ongoing process and one which must, whilst fully cognisant of the past, beundertaken anew in each generation. Such gives new meaning to the seeming futility of the object of human labour as articulated by Rabbi Tarfon in Pirkei Avot, “You are not required to complete thetask, yet you are not free to withdraw from it.” Any possibility of a fruitful future harvest with regardto Religious Dialogue 3  requires willing dialogue partnership in the present without any expectation of resolution. 1 All New Testament quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version, Anglicized Edition (Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press 1989 and revision 1995), unless otherwise stated. 2 John Henry Newman,  An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845, revised 1878) 3 Jason McCann, the author of this article, has had extensive personal experience in the field of Interfaith Dialogue. From2004 until 2010 he was a board member of the Youth Leadership Council of the  International Council of Christians and  Jews at Martin Buber House, Heppenheim in the Federal Republic of Germany. He has also acted as an ongoing facilitator for the Irish Léargas funded Youth Connections for Peace project. A project which brought about the successful Intercultural   Having now outlined some of the principal presuppositions of authentic dialogue, one is atliberty to progress into the primary observations of dialogue. Given the brevity of this present articleone is forced to limit such to questions of  commonality and difference – and in precisely that order. Atevery moment of encounter in human history there has been what © Paul Ricoeur labels ‘this curiosity about the foreigner.’ 4  This curiosity arises from the reality that ‘men of one culture havealways known that there were foreigners who had different customs and different languages.’ 5  Hereone can imagine that the presence of the foreigner elicits curiosity not from essential difference butfrom recognition; one desires understanding of the other because one is aware of the essential sameness 6 of that other. There is an impossibility of translation between things which have othernessas their essence. For between such things there is no possibility of intelligibility or curiosity.It is therefore the encounter with commonality and the familiar which draws one to seek anunderstanding of the foreigner, the alien and the other. It is at this juncture, where the desire to beunderstood takes on, according to © Slavoj Žižek, the form of the primal trauma; where we areaccosted by dissimilarity and an awareness of our own difference. Each party then constantly desiresto understand the other and, in turn, be understood by the other. Christian Jewish Dialogue happens,like every other intercultural dialogue, at this moment; where both partners seek sincerely to achieve afuller understanding of the other from their obscured sense of the other’s familiarity and in fullawareness of their often radical otherness. Much in the same way that Christians are like other  Christians whilst being different (the same can be said of Jews and other Jews), so Christianity is like  Judaism whilst being simultaneously as different as to being completely foreign.Deliberately echoing Moses’ vision of Yahweh on Mount Sinai (Exod. 34:8), Peter, James andJohn ‘fell to the ground and were overcome by fear’ while ‘up a high mountain’ with Jesus at hisTransfiguration (Mt. 17:1-13). Literalist readings of these sacred scriptures serve only to do great violence to these quintessentially mystical texts. 7  The cognitio dei experimentalis ( à la Aquinas) 8  nature of the Sinai and Transfiguration encounters is betrayed by their elevation; being as they aresituated on mountains, and thus agreeing with the universal psychological commonality of the ascent   in the mystical experience. In both Jewish and Christian tradition the approach to God is  (Cf. Mic. dialogue between Cross-Community Irish teenagers (from both Ireland and Northern Ireland) with their peers from variousArab Palestinian Christian Communities. 4 Paul Ricoeur, On Translation (London: Routledge, 2006), 32 5    Ibid    6 It has been voiced that the terminology of  essential sameness may be confusing (Amy Louise Daughton, personalcommunication, April, 4 th 2011). This term has been employed in the text of the presentation, as opposed to other cognateterms such as ‘commonality,’ primarily because it demands the priority of common identity. ‘Commonality’ implies acertain quantity of shared details subsequent to the recognition of difference. This discussion shall be expanded for theupcoming publication. 7 It is clear from the variety of textual material in the Masoretic Text (MT) and the New Testament (NT) that there are linesof scribal development in both traditions which attempt to explicate the experience of God. These redactions inevitablycreate variations of the ‘srcinal’ account. Exodus 33:20-23 goes to some length to provide a zetetic elench to the claim thatMoses spoke with Yahweh ‘face to face (Exodus 33:11).’ 8 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiæ 1 q. 43, 5, ad 2m; this is a term which Bonaventure understood to be ‘wisdom,’ notexcluding wisdom gained from the mystical experience. See Commentary of the Sentences of Lombard  , 3 d. 35 q. 1  4:2); a ‘going up’ or an ‘ascent.’ 9   When Jews and Christians dialogue, it is at first an acknowledgementof their shared witness to God in the world. Thus it becomes an ascent into the darkness andconfusion of an encounter with the supreme other who is God. Here we are forced ‘to sacrifice ourcomfortable and familiar concepts of knowledge, and come face to face with all that we know wecannot know.’ 10  Something of the isolation of the mystical ascent is captured by © Clive Staples Lewis in hissplendid children’s story, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950). At the reconciliation of Aslan(a thinly veiled Christ) and Edmund the other children see Aslan and Edmund walking together “apartfrom the rest.” Lewis continues: “There is no need to tell you (and no one ever heard) what Aslan wassaying, but it was a conversation which Edmund never forgot.” 11 Like Moses in the Exodus narrative,Peter, James and John in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, and Edmund in Lewis’ story we ascend to theexperience of the divine alone. In this ascent we are disconnected from our own self; insofar was weunderstand that self  to be. Before God the Jew and Christian accept the absolute vulnerability of encounter; which is to say that before our maker all ύποκρίτοι (all the masks we wear, theinnumerable repressions and projections which are the sum of our self-created self) are removed.Before God one stands naked of all pretence; other to the self one pretends to be.The cat killed by the curiosity to understand the foreigner is the realisation that one, by courageously entering into dialogue, transgresses perceived sectarian boundaries and the purity taboos of the orthodoxy of one’s own community. Thus by entering into an authentic andtransformative dialogue with the other one becomes tainted  and is therefore seen as other by therigidity of partisan or tribal particularism.Not only is the labourer in the field of dialogue subjected to the absolute vulnerability beforeGod and the consequent loss of self, qua self-created self, and partial – if not total – alienation fromhis or her own home, he or she is ultimately shaken by an otherness even to God. For by accepting the hospitality of the foreigner one encounters the beauty of holiness lived before the God of the other.Such a traumatic sense of divorce from one’s cultural acceptance or tradition of God is expressed by the Psalmist in captivity when he laments, “How can we sing a song of the Lord on alien soil (Ps.137:4)?” 12 So the idol crafted in our own image which one had imagined heretofore as sacred andparticular to one’s self and one’s native community is shown to be a counterfeit of the transcendentGod who escapes every claim of ownership. In this manner dialogue moves one from one exposure toanother until one is brought by the experience of the other into an acute awareness of one’s ownotherness to self, community and to God. As nature abhors a vacuum, so such loneliness seeksresolution. 9 The use of Classical or Biblical Hebrew follows the text preserved in the Codex Leningradensis (c. 1008 CE) and issupplemented by the  Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (1968-77). 10 Claire E. Carroll, “Another Dodecade: A Dialectic Model of the Decentred Universe of Jeremiah Studies 1996-2008,” Currents in Biblical Research 8.2 (2010): 175 11 C. S. Lewis, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997), 126 12 All quotations from the Hebrew Bible are taken from the Jewish Publication Society TANAKH translation (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1985 and revision 1999), unless otherwise stated.    As was said above, conversation cannot end save at the final eschatological terminus . In likemanner the radical and total alienation elicited by dialogue and encounter can have no resolution thisside of the Jordan. Yet there is a consolation . Jewish and Christian Traditions situate this consolationright at the inception of the crisis; not so as to cure pre-emptively, but to ensure that we move fullcircle. It is the ‘go’ square on the board; the place we pass to collect our two hundred pounds. As oneencounters the familiarity of the other in the foreigner, the familiar in the known and the self beneaththe self-created self, one comes to recognize the image of God – which is both strange and familiar.This realisation, as © Martin Buber would have it, moves us from an appreciation of the other as ‘it’ tothe other as ‘You.’ To this end he concludes: “In truth, this dogma (accepting the world as object and theother as ‘it’) only leads him deeper into the slavery of the It-world. But the world of the You is not locked up. Whoever  proceeds toward it, concentrating his whole being, with his power to relate resurrected, beholds his freedom.” 13   Liberty is made complete in both Traditions by encounter with the perfection of the image of God; the moment of   fear before God. It is only in this final and mystical experience at the zenith of thecircle that one arrives at the epiphany that the ‘I’ of the self too is an integral component of the imagodei  seeking its perfection with God (and God seeking the perfection of that image in all humanity)equation. This provisional resolution (consolation) is best summed up in the Rastafarian ‘I and I;’ where ‘I’ is both You and I, and ‘I’ is God. Thus God is I with I. In this liberating schema I and I is  Irie . 14   13 Martin Buber,  I and Thou , trans. Walter Kaufmann (London: Touchstone, 1996), 107 14 In Rastafarian vocabulary  Irie refers to positive emotions or feelings, or anything that is ‘good.’ Specifically it refers tohigh emotions and peaceful vibrations. It is a phonetic equivalent of ‘all right.’  SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY BooksThe Jewish Study Bible, featuring the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation. Adele Berlinand Marc Zvi Brettler, editors. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004The Way In New Testament: New Revised Standard Version. Introduction and Notes by David Winter.Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997The Complete Artscroll Siddur (2005). Rabbi Nossom Scherman and Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, editors.Brooklyn, New York: Mesorah Publications.Buber, Martin (1996, first published in 1970), I and Thou (Translated from the original German by  Walter Kaufmann). New York: Touchstone.Fromm, Erich (2003), Man for Himself. London and New York: Routledge.Kearney, Richard (2002 and 2006), On Stories: Thinking in Action. London and New York:Routledge.Lévi-Strauss, Claude (2009), Myth and Meaning. London and New York: Routledge.Lewis, C.S. (1997), The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. London: Harper-Collins.Ricoeur, Paul (2006), On Translation: Thinking in Action. London and New York: Routledge.Scholem, Gershom (1995, first published in 1941), Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. New York:Schocken Books.Žižek, Slavoj (1994), The Metastases of Enjoyment. London and New York: Verso.Žižek, Slavoj (2001), On Belief: Thinking in Action. Oxon: Routledge. ArticlesCarroll, C. E. (2010), ‘Another Dodecade: A Dialectic Model of the Decentred Universe of JeremiahStudies.’ Currents in Biblical Research, 8, (2), 162-182
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