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The Protestant-Jewish Conundrum.

The Protestant-Jewish Conundrum. Edited by Jonathan Frankel and Ezra Mendelsohn. Studies in Contemporary Jewry, an Annual 24. The Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Oxford, U.K., and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Pp. 295.

Peter Ochs, Another Reformation: Postliberal Christianity and the Jews. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011. Pp. 278. $27.99, paper.

Simon Rawidowicz (1896-1957), a Jewish classicist and early Zionist, penned a trenchant essay, "Israel: The Ever-Dying People." It argued that each generation of Jews, fearing for its survival in a hostile host culture, believes that it may well be the last. That should help us understand some aspects of the politics and policies of both American and Israeli Jewry. The fear of annihilation leads Jews always to keep close at hand a basic question when facing outward: "Is it good for the Jews or bad for the Jews?" In these two books, utterly unlike in subject matter, tone, and interest, we have two expressions of perennial Jewish vigilance.

Ochs, a Yale-trained, liberal Jewish philosopher teaching at the University of Virginia, proposes that Protestant postliberalism is good for the Jews because it repudiates, or at least delicately avoids, being supersessionist. He scrutinizes the work of George Lindbeck, Robert Jenson, Stanley Hauerwas, John Howard Yoder, Daniel Hardy, David Ford, and John Milbank to argue, in rather stronger terms than may be warranted, that when these theologians are postliberal they are necessarily nonsupersessionist, and when they lapse into classic triumphalist Christian claims--as Yoder and Milbank do--they cease to be postliberal and become "non-nonsupersessionist." Ochs wants to make a tight syllogistic case, but it is likely that it is the deep ecumenical sensibilities of his high church Protestant friends that both attract them to him and make them sensitive to what Ochs idiosyncratically sees as postliberalism and less inclined to classic Christian triumphalism, which is, of course, bad for the Jews.

It is always interesting to get an outsider's read of in-house conversations, and, not surprisingly, this one is idiosyncratic. Ochs reads Protestant postliberalism as "another reformation"--this one to repair the great Western schism. While that longing is strong in Lindbeck and Jenson, and Hauerwas has high-church leanings, it misses the point that the Protestant Reformation was about the purity of the church and that the American postliberals are also committed to that distinctively Protestant agenda. In that context, Yoder is fighting a different fight quite in opposition to that of Milbank, who may be more a postmodern than a postliberal in Ochs's meaning of the word. In any case, it is bold of Ochs to co-opt his interlocutors' projects to the perennial Jewish question.

The Protestant-Jewish Conundrum is a more traditional expression of Jewish vigilance. Its eight main contributions are not theological but are essays by Christians and Jews (Americans and Israelis) committed to uncovering Antisemitism in its various guises and especially to defending Israel and the American Jewish community's defense of Israel. The strength of the collection lies in five essays whose authors are acute observers of Israel's delicate situation on the world stage. Several of the essays are particularly informative and helpful for understanding the politics of American Judaism, American Christian Zionism, and the mainstream Protestant struggle around Jews, Judaism, messianic Judaism, Israel, Zionism, and the Arab-Israeli conflict, especially as played out in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Although written to defend and protect "the Jewish position" on these matters--as if there were only one such, as a group---the essays chronicle the story of American Judaism's withdrawal from classic liberal positions and alliances and its rightward self-protective move to embrace millennialist Protestants with their financial support for Israeli settlements, even if uneasily. The most interesting essays are Haim Genizi's history of the World Council of Churches' attitudes toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Christopher Leighton's astute analysis of the Presbyterian Church's struggles with Judaism and Israel, Timothy Weber's discussion of the alliance between American evangelicals and Israel and its American Jewish supporters, and Motti Inbari's amazing analysis of the collaboration of Christian fundamentalists and right-wing Jews to rebuild the Jerusalem temple. Mark Silk's essay on American Judaism's shifting alliances with Protestants is worth the price of the book in its probing of the American Jewish psyche. A thorough education in Protestant-Jewish relations over the past sixty years is found in these five pieces, although in such a fast-moving arena the essays, written in 2008, are already in need of updating.

Ellen T. Charry, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ
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Title Annotation:Another Reformation: Postliberal Christianity and the Jews
Author:Charry, Ellen T.
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2012
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