The striking image that Rabbi Albert Slomovitz has chosen for the cover of his new book about the Jewish roots of Christianity is direct and dramatic. It shows a young bearded Jesus not with the familiar crown of thorns on his head but with a blue and white Jewish prayer shawl draped over his brow.
The young man’s arms are outstretched as if they were imploring the viewer to thoughtfully consider the title of the book “A New Look at Rabbi Jesus.”
The book carries the subtitle of “Jews and Christians Finally Reconnected.” It is part of an ambitious effort by Slomovitz to emphasize the important debt that Christianity owes to Judaism. It takes as its point of departure the Book of Matthew, one of the four foundational Gospels of the Christian Bible.
Matthew was a Jew and his work is generally considered to be the most generous of the Gospels to Jewish tradition. It contains over 50 references to texts from the Hebrew Bible. But there are many instances where the Jewish ideas that were important to early Christianity, in Slomovitz’s view, are not fully explained.
“The whole gist of my book, in a nutshell, is educating Christians about the Jewish religion,” he said. “I do believe that many Christians are unaware of the connections.”
Slomovitz, who was a Navy chaplain for two decades and has written a history of Jewish chaplains in the military, credits his military service to awakening his interest in developing stronger ties between the two faiths.
“What I’ve found is that most people are open to conversation and that they are open to education and they’re open to dialogue and we, as Jews, don’t do enough of that. There are many churches and synagogues that never get together.”
Slomovitz was the founding rabbi of Congregation Gesher L’Torah, a Conservative synagogue in Alpharetta for 10 years. He has created a new interfaith center. Part of the mission of his Jewish-Christian Discovery Center is to create programs that emphasize the important relationships that Jews and Christians could have. The Marcus Foundation has contributed $100,000 to help establish the center and fund its initial projects.
In December, Slomovitz partnered with Catholic Church of St Ann in East Cobb to establish the J Star Project as a new holiday tradition. Each person who bought a Christmas tree from the church received a six-pointed Star of David, which were made by members of the nearby Congregation Etz Chaim, where Slomovitz is a member. Over 700 of the stars were given away along with information about the center’s work.
Church members were asked to place the stars on their trees in honor of the Jewish birth of Jesus. Jews, in turn, were asked to light the candle on the eight day of Chanukah in honor of righteous gentiles who aided Jews during the Holocaust and at other times in history.
The pastor of the Catholic church, Rev. Raymond Cadran, believes the program helped to underline the importance of the Jewish foundations of Christianity.
“When we added the Star of David it became basically clearer that Jesus wasn’t born a Catholic,” Cadran pointed out. “He was born with tremendously deep Jewish roots and what we were celebrating at this time was the feast of Chanukah that had roots in Jesus’ life. The stars were put on the trees with an explanation card about what the connection was.”
In addition to the new book, which combines the Christian text with source material from the Hebrew Bible and the direct contacts with Christian churches, Rabbi Slomovitz has created a website for the Discovery Center, where the emphasis is on the belief that both Christian and Jews are what the rabbi described as covenanted people.
“This is of enormous significance,” he maintained. “It means that Christianity does not replace Judaism, but rather that Christianity is a representation of a holy connection with G-d as is Judaism and, one could argue, other faiths as well.
For so long, countless conversations have focused on which faith has the primary relationship with the Almighty. It seems appropriate to say that G-d is certainly capable of having different believers at the same time. By beginning to articulate an idea of differing covenants we open ourselves to a totally different spiritual worldview.”