Judaism on the Religious Other
Judaism is home to many different perspectives on relations with non-Jews. From biblical times the Jewish community was defined both through kinship ties and through a shared covenantal relationship with God, expressed in the law of the Torah. The ancient experience of war and exile reinforced this communal identity and frequent denigration of foreigners, although the Hebrew scriptures also counsel hospitality to strangers. The theme of universality is also very prominent. God is the God of all, and the prophet Isaiah, in particular, shares a vision of universal human brotherhood. The Talmud is the site of debates between rabbis for whom Jews are God’s chosen people surrounded by enemies and idolaters and others for whom that chosen status is compatible with God’s saving plan for all humanity. For much of Jewish history, the experience of discrimination and persecution, particularly in Christian Europe, strengthened support for the more exclusivist position. In the contemporary era, Judaism’s diverse branches—Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and their many variations—have differed on the proper approach to interfaith dialogue. Some see it as a potential threat to Jewish identity and tradition, while for others it is a way to communicate God’s will and call to justice and service to a wider circle of humanity.