In an unparalleled historical development, a major Orthodox Jewish institution has announced its decision to begin theological dialogue and fellowship with Christians.
Shlomo Riskin, Chief Rabbi of Efrat, Israel, and founding member of The Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding & Cooperation, said that the center would help bridge gaps between Jews and Christians while emphasizing their common heritage and shared Judeo-Christian values that emphasize harmony, the sanctity of human life and dignity, and world peace.
"Both Judaism and Christianity have profound messages for the world and each must speak to humanity and to each other," he explained.
The center will be hosting joint seminars for Jewish and Christian scholars and theologians on topics as diverse as salvation, messianism, and Jewish-Christian relations.
Riskin emphasized that the religious affiliations among scholars, although different, would not compromise the otherwise valuable research that the teams would pursue. Mutual respect for the faith of others would be the norm, and while the seminars will point out the areas where Jews and Christians disagree, they will also point out the areas where they share similarities, Riskin explained.
"Their research will break new ground to realize the Center's goal of making religion an instrument of peace for Israel and all countries of the world," he said. "We are certain that through these dialogues we will find more that unites us than divides us."
Riskin credited the historical dialogue between Orthodox Jews and Christians as unique to this era.
"A sea change has occurred since the Shoah (Holocaust)," he said. "Most churches now teach that G-d remains faithful to His covenant with the Jewish people, and that the Biblical promise is continually being reaffirmed by the Jewish return to its homeland in Zion.
Riskin emphasized his hope that dialogue would help promote a new understanding between Jews and Christians that would "spread the message of a God of love and peace to the world."
"While faith requires that we wait for the divine answers, we dare not leave all to God," he said.
The center, which will begin hosting conferences in the beginning of June, will have a facility for 36 lodging rooms, classrooms, and a large conference center for 350 people.