Scholar Discusses Jewish, Christian Relations

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At 7 years old, Amy-Jill Levine experienced an anti-Semitic incident on a school bus that influenced the course of her life.

Though Jewish, she grew up in a Portuguese Roman-Catholic neighborhood, and, on one fateful day, a classmate accused her of killing Jesus. “A somewhat precocious child,” Levine said, she began searching for answers. Levine told her parents she wanted to start taking catechism classes to learn where this hateful idea came from, which marked the beginning of more than 50 years of her formal education in Christianity.

Amy-Jill Levine | Photo provided

Her mother, she recalled, imparted her with words of wisdom: “It’s good to know about your neighbors’ beliefs, but also remember who you are.”


From May 11 to 13, Levine, now a Vanderbilt University professor of New Testament and Jewish studies, will lead the inaugural Estelle B. Solomon Scholar-in-Residence Weekend at Congregation B’nai Jacob (CBJ) in Phoenixville.

She will lead several conversations at the synagogue, as well as at St. Ann’s Chapel in Phoenixville. The theme for the weekend is “Judaism, Jesus and Jewish-Christian Relations — How Jews and Christians Misunderstand Each Other.”

Levine is an author and speaker on the topics of Jewish and Christian relations, the origins of Christianity, and biblical views of gender and sexuality.

“The Bible, both the Tanakh — the Jewish scriptures — as well as the Christian Bible, tend to raise really good questions rather than always provide answers,” Levine said. “Ideally, people who are with me will read the text differently and have permission to read the text differently. It doesn’t mean that you’re wrong.”

Topics will include “How Do Jews and Christians Read Scripture Differently? — It’s Not a Zero-Sum Game,” “The Bible and Immigration: Jewish and Christian Perspectives,” “Jewish and Christian Relations, and the Biblical View of Gender and Sexuality: David and Bathsheba and the #MeToo Movement,” among others.

Mark Snow, immediate past president at CBJ, has wanted to bring Levine to talk there for five years, since he and his wife heard her speak at a United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism conference in 2013. Her talk there, on misunderstandings between Jews and Christians on the other’s religions, inspired them.

“Because of our experience in hearing her five years ago and then doing some research and talking to others, I would just say what was really clear to us is Dr. Levine is a leader in Jewish-Christian interfaith relations,” Snow said. “We’re just thrilled to be able to have her spend the weekend of May 11 at our congregation with our community. It’s exciting to see people help us realize this vision that’s taken us five years to pull together. The support from our synagogue community to help make this happen is quite special.”

Snow said he is expecting an interfaith audience. The synagogue reached out to the Phoenixville Area Clergy Association through CBJ Rabbi Jeff Sultar’s involvement in that group, and a number of different clergy from area churches are expected to come. In addition, CBJ partnered with St. Ann Roman Catholic Church to host the weekend’s activities.

In Levine’s experiences, Jews and Christians tend to have different interests and perspectives on religion, including on the Bible, though she said these tendencies are “gross generalities.” Christians, for example, tend to start with how the text related to them personally, while Jews tend to start with the historical context.

“Jews tend to relish the multiplicity of readings. They very much like to look at the Hebrew. They like to look to see how different people within the Jewish tradition have interpreted the same text,” Levine said. “Christians tend to look at a singular reading, or the one right reading.”

Levine said this difference comes from Jews identifying more as a people, rather than a religion. Christians, in contrast, understand themselves as sharing a belief system.

Levine said she hopes that, from the scholar-in-residence weekend, participants gain a greater respect for the other’s religion.

“I’m not interested so much in coexistence or toleration,” she said. “I’m interested in mutual respect. I’m also interested in explaining how knowing more about someone else’s tradition, knowing more about Christianity, makes me a better Jew, and knowing more about Judaism makes Christians better Christians.” 

szighelboim@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0729

1 COMMENT

  1. We have always produced our own enemies with a smile as a dagger. This is no different. Real Jews do not go to Catechism nor invite Christians in their synagogues. By the way, Christians do not read their mistranslated “Old Testament.” They have a new and improved New Testament.

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