Dr. David Berger Responds to Rabbi Riskin in Makor Rishon

In May 2012 the Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon ran a lengthy feature article by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin in their "Shabbat HaGadol" supplement. The subject matter was whether or not Jewish-Christian theological dialogue is permissible. In that article Rabbi Riskin appeared to have inverted the long-standing position of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, z"l, (the Rav) by offering a reinterpretation of "Confrontation", the Rav's renowned treatise on the subject of interfaith dialogue.

In a lengthy rebuttal of Rabbi Riskin's position, which was published in Makor Rishon on November 16th, Rabbi Dr. David Berger upheld Rav Soloveitchik's stance as it had long been understood.


Dr. Berger is the dean of Yeshiva University's Bernard Revel Graduate School, as well as chair of Yeshiva College's Jewish Studies department. He is a recognized scholar on Jewish-Christian relations and serves on the Rabbinical Council of America's (RCA) Interfaith committee. 

Dr. Berger's article is in Hebrew and can be read here. The Hirhurim-Musings blog offers a synopsis and translation of Dr. Berger's position in English. Excerpt:

"In summary, there is room to argue that Rav Riskin’s efforts are appropriate in the emergency situation which we currently face, although I don’t think so. However, the attempt to justify teaching Torah to Christians based on the Rambam’s responsum poses an existential threat to Jewish-Christian dialogue, and the argument that Rav Soloveitchik did not oppose interfaith theological discussion at all, and certainly not in current circumstances, is entirely untenable."

JewishIsrael notes that last August Rabbi Hershel Schachter also challenged Rabbi Riskin's position on interfaith dialogue (albeit with an emphasis on the Catholic church*) and Riskin’s attempts to reinterpret the position of the Rav. Excerpt - Experimental Judaism: Playing with Fire Part l:

"Years ago Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik warned, both in his public addresses as well in his written essay (”Confrontation”) against having any such contact with the church. How shameful it is that people who claim to be “disciples” of his have “reinterpreted” his words to mean the exact opposite of what they really say, and have then added that even if at one time he did prohibit such interaction with the church, this clearly no longer applies today. To the best of my understanding, moshiach has not yet arrived and the world is still full of avodah zarah!"

[*Note: In addition to teaching Torah to evangelicals, Rabbi Riskin's theological center has been sponsoring special educational programs for Catholic priests to explore the commonalities between faiths.]

In October Rabbi Schachter's second part to that article was posted online. Excerpt - Experimental Judaism: Playing with Fire Part ll :

In the introduction to the Ketzos Hachoshen (a classic commentary on Choshen Mishpat) the author points out that often one might come up with an original Torah insight or idea (i.e. a chiddush) which is not correct, and such a chiddush is a distortion of the Torah and of Hashem (since the entire Torah is a veiled description of Hashem). One of the Rambam's thirteen principles of faith is that the laws of the Torah are immutable. As such, while chiddush (a new insight which deepens our understanding of the Torah) is highly desirable, the distortion inherent in a shinui (an incorrect "insight" or idea) is a violation of this principle of our faith. Rav Soloveitchik has pointed out (see note 98 in "Halachic Mind") that there is a fine line between chiddush and shinui, and one must be quite a Torah scholar to discern the difference.

JewishIsrael is pleased that eminent scholars such as Dr. Berger and Rav Schachter, who are well versed on Rav Soloveitchik's position on interfaith matters, have taken a stand. We feel their strong rebuttals of Rabbi Riskin's opinion and activities serves to bolster JewishIsrael’s stance which can be read in full here.

JewishIsrael deferred the posting of our lengthy rebuttal after consulting with those who were close with Rav Soloveitchik and being assured that noted Talmudic scholars would step forward in the defense of the Rav.  This has indeed happened and we now feel that this is an appropriate time to publish our comprehensive investigation and examination of Rabbi Riskin's position.

Related Post:

JewishIsrael Responds to Rabbi Riskin's Reinterpretation of Rav Sol...


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