Ambitious approach to Jewish-Christian dialogue

Deep Calls to Deep, edited by Rabbi Tony Bayfield, SCM, £40


This book gives us a wonderful insight into the process of dialogue between Jews and Christians interested in engaging at depth, over time and with serious intent. Each participant brings not only scholarship, but their lived experience to the debate. They understand there can be no monolithic religious response and so, while normative theology and traditional texts are brought to shed light on to the questions, it is clear that transformation comes from face-to-face encounter with the other. 

Written over more than four years of ongoing dialogue, the book relies on the essayists studying together to begin to ask the questions: what defines us? What is our commonality? What is our distinctive identity?

Intended for a wide readership, this book is scholarly and does not flinch from some of the more difficult questions — indeed, the sections on particularity expose the problems. I was interested that the psalm from which the title is taken is one that veers between despair and hope, containing the verse “Eleh ezkerah”, “These things I remember”, which is so familiar to Jews from the Yom Kippur martyrology liturgy. This piyyut mourns the murder of ten rabbis by Emperor Hadrian, ostensibly as atonement for the sin of enmity between brothers, so the title refracts the historical pain and complex conversation between Judaism and Christianity. 

The essayists ask how their experience living in modern Western culture has a role in shaping religious thought, how they should cope with the realities of the past, what should the meaning of respect between people of faith look like. Given that both rabbinic Judaism and Christianity were birthed in Roman- occupied Judea contemporaneously, they consider how to approach the shared texts, the legacy of those texts, the questions of religious absolutism, Israel, and of the different ways each religion has protected its particularism. 

In this ambitious project, we can hear the echoes of windows opening and bridges built. It underlines the fact that dialogue is not about finding commonalities in order to feel good about our similarities, but that respecting the other and, as the psalm says, trusting in God will move us from despair to transformation.

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