Fairfield University's first annual lecture in Jewish-Christian engagement features community leader and theologian Rabbi Irving 'Yitz' Greenberg


In the book, "Interpreters of Judaism in the Late Twentieth Century," Steven T. Katz wrote, "No Jewish thinker has had a greater impact on the American Jewish community in the last two decades than Irving (Yitz) Greenberg."

A world-renowned rabbi, community leader, and theologian with a doctorate from Harvard, Rabbi Greenberg joined the Jewish-Christian dialogue in the 1960's and now stands as an important voice regarding this crucial subject of theology. Although he initially hoped to challenge Christians to overcome the legacy of the teaching of contempt, he in time was moved to a new appreciation of Christianity. He embarked on a decades-long dialogue of developing a positive Jewish theology of Christianity. He is now president of Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation.

On Monday, March 26 at 8 p.m., Rabbi Greenberg will deliver the First Annual Lecture in Jewish-Christian Engagement, an event co-sponsored by the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies of the College of Arts and Sciences and the Catholic Studies Program at Fairfield University. This venture represents the realization of Ellen M. Umansky, Ph. D., the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Professor of Judaic Studies, and Paul Lakeland, Ph. D., the Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J. Professor of Catholic Studies, that the time is right for Fairfield to establish an annual lecture, jointly sponsored by the centers which the two of them direct, to explore areas of fruitful collaboration and intellectual exchange between the two great religious traditions of Judaism and Christianity.

Rabbi Greenberg's talk is entitled, "Judaism and Christianity: From Contempt to Pluralism and Partnership." The talk will be framed by the past sixty years of Jewish-Christian dialogue that have sparked a spiritual and ethical confrontation of religion that is almost without peer, according to organizers.

This tradition has gone from a teaching of contempt to incipient pluralism and the possibility of partnership. Rabbi Greenberg will explore what is next. Admission is complimentary to the event, which will take place in the Charles F. Dolan School of Business dining room on the Fairfield campus. There is limited seating, so please call Judaic Studies at (203) 254-4000, ext. 2066, to register.

Dr. Umanksy said that co-sponsoring a lecture in Jewish-Christian engagement is something that she and Dr. Lakeland have planned since the inception of the Catholic Studies Program last year. "Our idea was to hold a talk that would emphasize historical, theological, liturgical, and other encounters between Jews and Christians over the last two thousand years. Paul Lakeland will respond to Rabbi Greenberg. Next year, we plan on inviting a Christian scholar to deliver the lecture, for which I will serve as respondent."

Dr. Lakeland said he is excited to be a part of bringing this formal dialogue to campus. "I hope that great things will come of it, not only for the student body but for the large numbers of local people who attend events sponsored by the Bennett Center for Judaic Studies and the Center for Catholic Studies. I am particularly pleased that our inaugural speaker is Rabbi Irving Greenberg, who has spent so much of his life's energies pursuing questions around Jewish-Christian engagement."

Rabbi Greenberg's recent book is "For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: The New Encounter Between Judaism and Christianity" (Jewish Publication Society of America, 2004). Publishers Weekly observed in a review of the book that Rabbi Greenberg is determined to cut across the lines that separate Jews. "His new book goes beyond internal differences within the Jewish community to explore Jewish-Christian relationships, a subject that has long commanded Greenberg's attention."

According to Dr. Lakeland, the book "speaks of Rabbi Greenberg's belief that ancient hatreds and suspicions have an unparalleled opportunity today to give way to 'a second chance to connect, and thus an opportunity to revision themselves.' "

Rabbi Greenberg is president of Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation, which aims to create new institutions and initiatives to enrich the inner life of American Jews. His accomplishments are many. He is the former chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, a position he served from 2000 to 2002. He has been described as a seminal thinker in confronting the Holocaust as an historical transforming event and the beginning of a third era in Jewish history. His perception of the Holocaust caused him to dive in to the Jewish-Christian dialogue and embark on a project of developing a positive Jewish theology of Christianity.

For 23 years beginning in 1974, Rabbi Greenberg served as founding president of CLAL - The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, the leading organization in intra-Jewish religious dialogue and the work of Jewish unity. Previously, he served as Rabbi of the Riverdale Jewish Center. His career as an educator includes founding the Department of Jewish Studies of City College of The City University of New York, where was also chairman of the department and a professor. He was an associate professor of history at Yeshiva University.

On Wednesday, March 14 at 7:30 p.m., Gershom Gorenberg, associate at the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, will give a talk entitled, "The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977," at Temple Sholom, 300 Putnam Avenue in Greenwich, Conn. The talk is presented and sponsored by Temple Sholom and co-sponsored by the Bennett Center. For information and directions, contact Temple Sholom at (203) 869-7191.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on March 7, 2007

Vol. 39, No. 169