Whether Jew, Christian, Muslim, or atheist, we all toot our own horn: Ours is the real deal, while others are in error. Some say it out loud, while others think it without saying it. As a rabbi, I would like to make a statement that may shock some Jews and surprise some Christians. We Jews, perhaps because of our small numbers and our long history of being persecuted, have mainly focused on our own survival and our uniqueness. At the same time, another faith sprang of our midst that became the world’s largest religion, namely, Christianity. This faith reaches out to all the people of the earth, and has been spreading the gospel of the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of the one God.
However, as an Episcopalian priest who was a good friend of mine told me long ago, there is a fundamental difference between Christianity and Christendom. The first is a faith with its lofty ideal of universal love, while the second is a political term referring to the aggregate of all the people in the world who call themselves Christian. History teaches us that not all those who call themselves Christians practice the ideals of their faith. In fact, life has taught me that true Christians are few in number, while Christians who ignore the teachings of their faith are numerous, with a vast majority in between that is neither one nor the other, but rather goes through the motions of Christian life without doing either much harm or much good.
So while I have sufficient reason not to be enamored of the idea of “Christian love” as manifested in the conduct of most Christians, I do believe that the Jewish concept of “love your neighbor as yourself” as enunciated in the Christian teachings of loving all people, is an attempt to expand the original Jewish concept from the confines of the people of Israel to the entire human race. This expansion is confirmed by the pre-Christian Hebrew prophets from Isaiah to Malachi, and should guide anyone who considers her or himself a Jew for whom the teachings of the Hebrew prophets are the touchstone of what it means to be a Jew.
Hence, as a rabbi, I look to practice not the Christian love of Christendom, but the true Christian love that flows out of original teachings of my own faith, which I understand to mean that all men and women on this planet are my brothers and sisters; that we all are the children of the one God, including those who do not profess to believe in this God; that we are all responsible for one another; and that, to recall the words of the founder of Christianity, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers you do to me.” I couldn’t say it any better.
Rabbi Schreiber is the author of the recent book Why People Pray: The Universal Power of Prayer