Rabbis Dispute Rabbis on Dialogues Between Christians and Jews

Rabbis who oppose inter-religious dialogues between Jews and Christians came under sharp criticism today from a Reform rabbi and a Conservative one.

The issue arose last week when Rabbi Zev Segal of Newark, N.J., a vice-president of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America, told a midwinter conference of the organization that such dialogues could be dangerous to the faith of Jews taking part in them. Another critic of such conversations, Rabbi Howard Singer, of Laurelton, N.Y., a Conservative rabbi, declaring that such dialogues were reaching “epidemic” proportions, called the discussions “ineffectual” as well as “dangerous and insulting to Jews.” Both Rabbi Segal and Rabbi Singer said they did not oppose discussions between Christians and Jews on “non-religious topics” such as poverty programs or juvenile delinquency. Rabbi Singer expressed his views in an article in the Saturday Evening Post.

The Reform critic of that stand today was Rabbi Balfour Brickner, director of interfaith activities of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Calling such a stand “naive,” Rabbi Brickner said that more than a dozen such dialogues were currently being conducted by his department, and that “we have found a great eagerness among Christians to learn about Judaism and a growing willingness to accept Jewish viewpoints” once they are understood.

The Conservative critic was Rabbi Seymour Siegel, associate professor of theology at the Jewish Theological Seminary, who asserted that “if rabbis and Jewish scholars were to approach interfaith discussions in the same self-defeating spirit as Rabbi Singer, then dialogue would indeed be a ‘farce,’ with little expectation of success.” He said it was “ludicrous” for religious leaders “to meet for purposes of discussing all subjects except the one in which they are most expert — religion.”

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