Learning to Love My Jewish Neighbor

Joella Ranaivoson

April 17, 2024

"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” -Jesus, Mark 12:30-31

Perhaps you have some acquaintances who are Jewish. You may understand your faiths are related, but know that it’s a bit tricky and not that simple? Let’s get into it.

First, remember that this person is your neighbor.
Not your Jewish neighbor, just your neighbor. Imagine how you would treat any other neighbor, or how you yourself would like to be treated, and engage accordingly. Being respectful, being kind, and being generous is just normal human neighborly behavior.

A few things we have in common 

Christianity is itself a branch of Biblical Judaism. The central figure of the Christian faith, Jesus of Nazareth, was a Jew from Judea about 2000 years ago. He studied the Jewish scriptures, observed Jewish holidays, and worshiped in both synagogues and the Jerusalem temple. His disciples and first followers were all Jewish. They welcomed non-Jews into their faith, and over time, gentile Christians have far outnumbered the Jewish Christians.

Today, Christianity and rabbinic Judaism share common sacred texts. The Hebrew scriptures are what Christians call the "Old Testament." The Torah, the primary holy scriptures of Judaism, includes the first five books (a.k.a. the Pentateuch, or Books of Moses). Judaism also honors the many books of the Prophets and the Writings, which comprise the rest of the Old Testament. Judaism does not hold the Christian New Testament or the Islamic Quran as holy scripture, as they view these as going beyond the original expressed Word of God.

Thus, Judaism and Christianity share Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Elijah as key prophets and messengers of God. For Christians, these prophets point to a coming messiah, a promised savior that was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was God’s Christ, the one through whom the kingdom of God would be ushered in, and who is the fulfillment of God’s promise to the biblical people of Israel and the world. Rabbinic Judaism does not share this belief about Jesus being God’s messiah.

Worship is deeply central to the faithful’s relationship to God in both religions. Especially after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple by the Romans, both Jews and Christians spread out and developed local gathering places of worship throughout the world. They both practice weekly services and liturgies devoted to worship of God. There are similar rites in each tradition including scripture readings, prayers, teaching, and singing, as well as rites of washing and eating together.

In both Judaism and Christianity, people understand themselves as people chosen by God. In Judaism, this is through a claim of bloodline and inheritance as a part of the ancient people of Israel. For Christians, this is by faith in Jesus as God’s Christ. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches” as a metaphor for how dead branches can be nourished. All people who come to faith in Christ are like cut branches being grafted into the living vine that originated in Judaism, making a new thing. For Christians, the Church, as the organic body of Christ made up of humans all over the world (not buildings), are people chosen by God to find new life in him.

What can we learn from our Jewish neighbors?

We can learn from our Jewish neighbors a faithfulness that endures through the ages. Religious Jewish people hold to promises made by God 4000 years ago that mark and identify their beliefs and place in the world. That’s a remarkable thing--faithfulness through thousands of generations.

Christians can also learn an observed weekly sabbath. Christians have a day of worship on Sunday (the Lord’s Day), but rest as integral to that day has faded in prominence. For many Jewish people, the intentional stopping of work for the sake of resting and being present with God and loved ones, sharing a meal, and saying prayers is a sacred practice and tradition.

It is important to note that Judaism is both a religion and also a lineage. There are Jewish people who are not religious, and various types of rabbinic Judaism that have emerged over the years. Furthermore, there are Jews all over the world from Ethiopia to Russia. Being Jewish does not look only one way. Just as with Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and any other tradition, Jewish people are not a monolith, but diverse in expression.

Remember, friend, God is a God of surprises and wonders. From Moses parting the Red Sea to Jesus being born in a cattle shed, God is always at work in ways we cannot predict, ways we probably would not imagine the Most High would engage. Stay open, stay curious. Be kind, practice embodied action-based love. That’s what we’re called to as followers of Jesus.

About the author — Joella Ranaivoson

Joella is an artist using words in writing, songs, and acting to convey truths about being human. Storytelling is the joy. Everything feeds everything, so take it all in and let it feed your creativity.

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