Beliefs Culture

Israeli institute gets $2.2 million to help Christians study Jewish thought

President of the Herzl Institute Yoram Hazony. Photo courtesy of the Herzl Institute

(RNS) A new institute in Jerusalem has been awarded $2.2 million to help Christians and Jews study Jewish texts, launching what’s being billed as a new kind of Jewish-Christian cooperation.

The Herzl Institute was awarded what’s being called the first ever multimillion-dollar grant in Jewish theology by the U.S-based Templeton Foundation, a philanthropic organization that has focused much of its giving on science-related projects. The Herzl Institute is a research institute that focuses on the development of Jewish ideas in fields like philosophy and history.

President of the Herzl Institute Yoram Hazony. Photo courtesy of the Herzl Institute

President of the Herzl Institute Yoram Hazony. Photo courtesy of the Herzl Institute

The institute is named for Theodor Herzl, considered the father of modern political Zionism, ideas that have found much support from conservative and evangelical Christians in the U.S.

Jewish and Christian collaboration has often been relegated to the political level, said Herzl President Yoram Hazony. The partnership reflects a new kind of engagement between Christians and Jews, he said.

“We’re not just talking about Christians wanting to help Jews out of solidarity or charity,” Hazony said. “We are talking about the dominant faith of Western civilization saying: ‘The Jews have something to give us, something that we need.’ This is not something that appears in the old playbook for Jewish-Christian dialogue.”

The King’s College in Manhattan and the Herzl Institute also announced a partnership to send Christian students to a “Hebraic Heritage” course where they will study and learn from Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem for a summer. Hazony said professors at Assumption College in Massachusetts and Wesleyan University in Connecticut will also recruit students to study in Jerusalem.

“What we’re seeing right now is not the old kind of interfaith dialogue where Christians talked about their Messiah and Jews talked about their Messiah and everybody agrees to disagree,” Hazony said. “This is completely new dialogue, where we look at Old Testament text and rabbinic texts and Christians are willing to look at Judaism and the Jewish text through Jewish eyes with Jewish lecturers.”

Courses will include studying Hebraic tradition, the impact of biblical ideas on modern-day Israel and the Middle East, and the relationship between Jews and contemporary Christianity and Islam.

“This new sense that there are many Christians who want to hear what Jews have to say fits very well with a dormant Jewish feeling that we have a mission to say something but for a long time people weren’t interested in hearing what we have to say,” Hazony said.

Though the institute is not focused on Israel as a political ideal, the institute could be seen as a way to keep Christians theologically committed to Israel, said Mark Braverman, a Jewish theologian who is executive director of Kairos USA, a pro-Palestine group.

“What we’re seeing now is Israel is of course feeling threatened by world opinions,” Braverman said. “They’re embarking on all kinds of fancy public relations campaigns. One strategy is to get Christians on their side theologically across the world.”

The Herzl Institute aims to serve as a hub for research relating to the “big questions” of human existence through science, ethics, philosophy and religion.

Hazony’s book, “The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture,” took him to the White House in 2012. He spoke to then-chief of staff Jack Lew, himself an Orthodox Jew, and a half-dozen Obama aides about the unifying possibilities of recognizing the Old Testament as philosophy that can be studied by all Americans, including in public schools.

“Especially after the Holocaust, much of Jewish discourse has been about what Jews can do to survive,” Hazony said. “Jews of all movements have the same sense, this same feeling that Judaism has been for too long about talking to ourselves.”


About the author

Sarah Pulliam Bailey

Sarah Pulliam Bailey is a national correspondent for RNS, covering how faith intersects with politics, culture and other news. She previously served as online editor for Christianity Today where she remains an editor-at-large.


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  • This is long overdue. Too long Christians have treated Judaism as if the “Old Testament” was the sum total of Judaism and have completely ignored the Midrash, commentary, and Talmud that followed from the Torah. Judaism was seen as being superseded by Christianity and there was nothing to learn from Jewish texts. I think this is an important step. Although I hope that they also continue their learning from non-Orthodox rabbis in Israel or America.

  • This is wonderful. Much of my teaching and writing centers around what Christians need to know about Judaism. My only concern is that what Christians are learning here seems to be dominated by Orthodox Judaism, which is the minority of the Jewish people worldwide. We need liberal Jews reaching out and building alliances of learning: we represent the vast majority of the Jewish people.

  • Through our book, Rainbow Covenant: Torah and the Seven Universal Laws, our newsletter, Covenant Connection, website, 1stCovenant, and – one day soon, we hope – programs through our bricks and mortar center here in Michigan, we help students of ALL religious backgrounds become more conscious servants of HaShem. (We’re big fans of Herzl, z’l, and still feature articles from Yoram Hazony’s Shalem Center.)

  • This is excellent, but let me add that neither side — Christian or Jewish — fully understands what they’re getting themselves into — ie the revolutionary implications of serious dialogue for both church and synagogue. Both sides have a vested interest in preserving their odd 20-century-old relationship — a kind of unwritten and unspoken agreement which keeps Christians away from adult discussions about their Hebraic roots and Jews away from adult discussions about the Jesus question.

    Real dialogue, in other words, will lead to uncomfortable questions that will threaten both Christianity and Judaism.

  • David, the fact that something is a web site doesn’t give it automatic credibility. The idea that Jesus never existed is based on a confusion about what constitutes historical evidence. It’s based on an ignorance of the way historians go about determining what actually happened in the past and what didn’t.

    Simply stated, the view that Jesus never existed is based on a faulty methodology which, if applied to all questions of history, would lead us to question whether almost anyone from the past really existed.

  • Let me add that it won’t threaten the core of Christianity or Judaism. What it will do is threaten some of the cherished beliefs of each religion as it developed over the centuries and millennia.

    In other words, if this leads to honest dialogue, both religions will be left standing at the end, but both will have to do some major reassessments.

  • The value of non-Orthodox rabbis is, for starters, to debunk the view that Judaism is a complete monolith that began with Moses and went through no changes at all until the modern era. Christians need to understand this.

    But Jews need to understand the same about Christianity.

    The truth is that both religions have gone through many changes — not in their core, but regarding some very important matters nonetheless.