Celia M. DEUTSCH, Eugene J. FISHER, James  RUDIN (eds), Toward the Future: Essays on Catholic-Jewish Relations in Memory of Rabbi Leon Klenicki. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Books, 2013. Pp. 255 + index. $24.95 pb. ISBN978-0-8091-4841-7. Reviewed by Nathan KOLLAR, St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY 14618

Leon Klenicki was a key figure in Catholic-Jewish dialogue. His research, lectures, and personal involvement in the dialogue provided insight and community to its present state of creative advancement. This book is, in its own way, a festschrift in honor of Leon Klenicki. It begins with a seventeen page section of tributes to his engaging personality and his challenging interfaith research and contacts. What follows are seven sections dealing with scripture, Jewish identity, theological challenges, liturgy, spiritual practice and mysticism, the interface of Jewish-Christian dialogue and Latinos/as in the U.S, and, finally, reflections dealing with the future of dialogue.

Several chapters deserve special mention. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi’s reflections on the “other” in the Tanakh enable us to understand the elasticity of the covenant community’s boundaries. Her helpful reminder that to expect the bible’s clear support for current forms of interfaith dialogue is an anachronistic expectation. Such a reminder urges us to create a future where current interfaith dialogue is an expectation, not an exception. Shira Lander’s survey of questions dealing with Jewish identity puts us on notice that interfaith dialogue between Jews and Christians sometimes may be between those who have no explicit set of beliefs.  Christian demands for common belief within a religious community are not necessarily a demand found among other religions . The question, then, becomes for Christians involved in theological interfaith dialogue: what does one dialogue about if not beliefs?

Elizabeth Groppe’s chapter dealing with covenant partners highlights the importance of how the Abrahamic religions view their relationship with God. Is it inclusive of other religions or exclusive?  To begin any dialogue with the clear rejection of the other’s reason for existence is always a challenge, to put it mildly.  Supersessionism, for example, whether by Muslims in regard to the other people of the book or Christians in regard to Jews, is always a formidable barrier to theological interfaith dialogue.  The same must be said for the Christian claim that Jesus is God incarnate.  Hans Hermann Henrix does a good job of clarifying both sides of that debate between Jews and Christians. The clarification that he brings to the Jewish-Christian dialogue, however, will not be helpful in Jewish-Christian-Muslim conversations. Both chapters dealing with liturgy provide the reader with insights into the Jewish and Christian use of liturgy to either enhance a positive or negative view of the other. This is so important in theological dialogue because many times dialogue becomes an exchange of words, when people’s lives, especially among Roman Catholics and Jews, are one of daily ritual.  Hopefully we will find more writings in the future about the liturgical aspects of the religions involved in interfaith dialogue.  

Central to this book is what might be called institutional interfaith dialogue: when the dialogue occurs between institutional representatives, especially clergy and scholars authorized by a religion. These are a unique group of people deeply involved in the politics of their respective faith communities. If the interfaith movement does not move beyond these people it will die. The last chapters in the book are aware of these political pressures within each religious community, especially those pressures that advance past prejudices and exclusivist beliefs. The move toward a future for Catholic-Jewish dialogue must include a deep hope that it will occur both at the institutional level and the grassroots level. It must include, of course, continual actions to keep the dialogue going.
We need more emphasis upon the future of the interfaith movement. Looking to the past many times only brings reminders of when members of one faith or the other murdered, isolated, or caused mayhem among members of other faiths. Once we acknowledge that we can learn from the other we open ourselves up to the possibilities of continued growth in our own faith within the necessary environment of a pluralism of ideas and religions. Such an opening offers the possibility of a new, mature, future for all faiths. Currently seventy-five percent of earth’s populations are not free to learn from other faiths.  

A book such as this enables us to learn from one religion.  Yet it is necessary that we learn from all religions. My experience of fifteen years in the interfaith movement tells me that most dialogue today is at the novice level. We need to go beyond that. We must deepen our knowledge of the beliefs and morals of the religious other; intensify in building relationships with those who are religiously different from us; and must encourage the necessary cultural pluralism that enables us to mature in our individual and communal faith life. This book is, at least, a beginning of such a “deepening” process.