- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2001

Near the close of "Jews and Christians: A Journey of Faith," Bible scholar Krister Stendahl says both groups should share a "holy envy."
By that he means they should envy what is good in each other's traditions in hope of erasing centuries of conflict and misunderstanding.
This handsome, two-hour PBS documentary by Maryland filmmakers Gerald Krell and Meyer Odze demands mental engagement. Ideas, contrasts and comparisons are many in "Jews and Christians." Indeed, the project is an attempt to put dramatic flesh on a scholarly interfaith work, "Our Father Abraham," by evangelical historian Marvin Wilson.
The production moves from biblical sites in Israel to East Coast churches and synagogues and interviews 40 scholars and clergy. It also drops in on the Interfaith Family Project in Silver Spring and follows a visit by black churchgoers to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
After a survey of the Jewish roots of Christianity, the film covers the divergence of beliefs about God, salvation and the meaning of rituals. Mr. Wilson says in closing that "well-meaning talk" about the faiths will be useless if Jews and Christians don't work on attitudes.
Interest may be high in "Jews and Christians" as the Jewish High Holy Days end Thursday with Yom Kippur. The Jewish observance, Mr. Stendahl says, can teach Christians that Judaism is not just about laws, which may be a popular impression.
"There is much forgiveness in the Jewish tradition," he says of Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement. Mr. Stendahl is a professor emeritus of Harvard Divinity School.
The Jewish roots of Christianity surprise members of both faiths, the film suggests, although the subject is now the cutting edge of studies between the two traditions.
"Jews believe God is spiritual. Christians believe God is incarnational," Mr. Wilson says. In Jerusalem, the Lord's Prayer is traced to its Jewish roots, and the Baltimore Choral Society sings Christian fare that is none other than some of the 150 Hebrew Psalms.
Rabbi David Rosen, head of interfaith work for the American Jewish Committee, agrees that the Christian prayers have a Jewish feel, but he says that ends when prayer goes through Jesus. "That, from a Jewish point of view, is incompatible with the direct relationship each individual has with God," he says.
Later, Rabbi Rosen explains how St. Paul's tradition of humanity having original sin, forgiven once for all through Jesus, is a world apart from Jewish notions that being "sincerely contrite" can wash away the sins of life. "There is no cosmic transformation that is needed here," he says.
Christians have also drawn on ancient Jewish belief in a resurrected dead, in ritual baptism and in rituals involving meals. A visit to an Episcopalian Eucharistic service and a Jewish seder meal in a home shows these common roots.
Despite the overlaps, there also is historic conflict. That began, the film explains, as early church fathers denigrated Judaism to emphasize Christianity's exclusivity and started "the Christian teaching of contempt."
The film does not tie these Christian errors to the Nazi Holocaust, but it comes close. The viewer feels the film's struggle to balance an honest encounter over past wrongs with politically correct guilt.
Christian scholars proclaim "triumphalism" of the church and its art, and a rabbi laments that the only Jewish identity that secular Jews may have today is aversion to Christianity. This aspect of the Jewish-Christian dialogue will always have a risky asymmetry, for Christians are the majority and the Holocaust has no bottom to the guilt it can impose.
The documentary breaks up some of this asymmetry, but just by a little. In sessions between followers of the two faiths, a Christian believer says she resents the guilt Jews impose and another wonders why Jews abhor marriage to gentiles.
A rabbi visits a Catholic school to shatter simplistic images of his religion, and a Catholic priest does the same at a Jewish day school.
Rabbi Irving Greenberg, chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, credits the churches with a "remarkable attempt at repentance and self-correction." In Catholic teacher training, the idea is well taken: "Jesus was Jewish," one teacher says. But each side struggles to "preserve [its] own identity," says a Jewish day school teacher.
Amid this desire to keep religious identity, Bishop Stendahl's concept of holy envy becomes handy. Jews and Christians can be themselves but gain from the other a simple idea that makes the two hours of mental note-taking worthwhile.

* * *
WHAT: "Jews and Christians: A Journey of Faith"
WHEN:
10 p.m. to midnight Monday on WETA (Channel 26); and 10 to 11 p.m. Monday (Part 1) and 10 to 11 p.m. Tuesday (Part 2) on WMPT (Channel 22)
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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