A Christian Theologian Living in a “Yeshivishe” Community

Maria Poggi Johnson, a professor of theology and a Christian…

the mother of four, moved into her current home “sort of accidentally,” figuring that while the neighborhood could not be described as upscale, with so many religious people living there, “it wouldn’t get too bad.”

Admittedly, she knew about religious Jews “only in theory. All too often, Christians think Judaism is just a thing that prepared the way for Christ,” she said. “But Judaism is alive and kicking.” (from the New Jersey Jewish Standard)

Being a religion scholar and a keen observer, after a while, she made a remarkable observation:

“The thing that struck me most was all those laws. Yet I was meeting people who loved it and were excited about the rules they had to keep. It’s profoundly anti-cultural,” she said, pointing out that the norm is to pursue independence at all costs.

Upon reading that, it dawned on me that much of the contemporary civil and political discourse as relating to religions and religious people, is informed, or rather, misinformed, by Christian antinomianism, as in Paul’s statement that “before faith came, we were kept in ward under the law, shut up unto the faith …now that faith is come, we are no longer under a tutor,” which, needless to say, is a thoroughly, thoroughly un-Jewish concept (and totally inappropriate in a number of other religions, too). How often do opinion leaders simply assume that religious practice is merely a matter of going to the house of worship, giving alms and occasionally eating special foods and celebrating the odd holiday, while misunderstanding how prayer can be a daily routine including what seems to some like bizarre and even fear inducing rituals, clothing can reflect one’s beliefs, diet can be restrictive, business practices can be impacted (especially marketing), and people may wan to abstain from helping other people sin, and that after all that, religious people do not necessarily resent their restrictions, but find that these actually open spiritual doors? Prof. Johnson’s remark is very much on target.

Prof. Johnson wrote a book about her experience living in a “yeshivishe” (i.e. Chareidi) neighborhood: “Strangers and Neighbors: What I have learned about Christianity by living among Orthodox Jews.”

4 Responses to A Christian Theologian Living in a “Yeshivishe” Community

  1. micha says:

    I wonder if the book’s title was an intentional or accidental reference to Avraham’s words to the Benei Cheis (Genesis 23:4).

  2. Cheski says:

    Mamash mikol melammedai hiskalti! 🙂 Think there will ever be a book about the other way around: what I learnt from the Quakers or so? 😉

    • Arie Folger says:

      This reminds me of an anecdote reported in one of erstwhile French Chief Rabbi Jacob Kaplan’s biographies (there are two IIRC). While he was in the école rabbinique, the program included classes on Jewish philosophy, given by a Jewish professor of, I assume, philosophy (could not have been Bible) at the Sorbonne. One day, the fellow was lecturing on some of the wonderful things the little indigenous Jews of France had gotten from the benevolent Catholic French, for instance, la règle d’or, the golden rule, which, according to the Sorbonne professor, comes from the New Testament.

      The young Jacob Kaplan saw himself obligated to point out that, eh, actually, the golden rule came from … the Torah (Vayiqra / Leviticus 19:18, Love thy neighbor as yourself). 😉

      Jokes aside, R’ Dr. Alan Brill has a post up about Orthodox Jews big love for Mormons, so it may provide some inspiration … 😉

  3. Cheski says:

    I actually had this happen to me while I was studying at the Hogere Economische School in Amsterdam. One of my fellow students told me that he thought the ‘New Testament’ was so beautiful, because of the golden rule. I told him I knew the rule in the original 🙂

    Mormons: Oh no! Hihi, gettting warmed up for Purim now 😉

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