In the well-known play My Fair Lady Professor Higgins cries out in exasperation, "Why can’t a woman behave like a man!" Though it is a cry of frustration rather than a question, there is a rejoinder. The obvious answer, of course, is that a woman is not a man.
Sometimes Christians express similar frustration in dealing with Jewish people and they ask, "Why can’t the Jews behave like Christians?" They would like Jewish people to hold Christian ideals and values, and when that does not happen they are puzzled, dismayed and even angered. For example, several weeks ago, while many Christians were rejoicing because the Supreme Court upheld the Equal Access Law, some Jewish people and Jewish agencies were making bitter statements and offering dire warnings with regard to extremism. (The Equal Access Law had been passed by Congress and signed by the President to correct the fallacy that students in high school had no right of religious expression while they were on campus.)
The same law that brought joy to Christian leaders caused many Jewish leaders to react adversely because they felt threatened by it. As I read some negative statements by the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai B’rith, I thought to myself: Surely some Christians could misunderstand that harsh reaction and possibly think ill of Jewish people. Again, the crux of the matter is that the Jewish community at large is not Christian, so why expect them to respond like Christians?
Most Christians simply do not realize the substantial philosophical and sociological differences that exist between them and Jews. (Even Jews who believe in Jesus and generally share the same spiritual and ethical values with other Christians might differ in strictly cultural matters.) The Jewish community, on the other hand, does know that the differences exist, but it tends to misunderstand the nature of those differences.
For example, take the idea of "community": The Jewish people see their community as an insular group with self-contained values, institutions, means of communication, etc. This makes it difficult for Jews to understand that there are not similar entities among the Gentiles—like a Baptist community, a Lutheran community, or a Catholic community—which wield an exclusive sphere of influence. They fail to understand that there is a larger Christianized culture that holds to certain common values, like nationalizing religious holidays along with patriotic holidays. Jewish community leaders do not understand the necessity for general societal values. They want our society-at-large to be not merely tolerant of each faith group, but absolutely neutral and generally empty of religiously originated values and folkways. They would like to see each faith group keep its own values and beliefs to itself, except to satisfy the curiosity of the others.
Another difference between Jews and evangelical Christians revolves around the meaning of words like "understanding." Jews offer dialogue with Christians, but they enter into such dialogues for different reasons than do evangelicals. Most Christians assume that if the Jews only understood what they were saying about Jesus, they too would want to believe. The issue is far more complex than that. In essence, the Jewish community is not looking for that kind of new understanding of the Christian faith. Jewish people want two things: for Christians to know and understand enough about the Jewish religion and the Jewish people to respect them; and for Christians to decide that respect entails leaving the Jews alone in their insulated society except in certain matters where Jewish leaders deem it agreeable to interact with Christians. By the word "understanding" Jews mean that they want Christians to know enough not to try to convert them. So the kind of "understanding" that Christians are looking for and the kind of "understanding" that Jewish leaders want are diametrically opposed in meaning.
Any evangelical who enters such a dialogue with Jewish people with anything less than the intention to witness to them in hope of their conversion would betray his own values. Likewise, any Jew who enters a dialogue with a view toward finding out what Christians believe, and discovering whether or not those beliefs are true, would be seen as betraying his own society.
Jews generally hold a more liberal political view than evangelical Christians. The Jewish community is accustomed to attending to the welfare of its own. Some Jews mistakenly think that our entire society is a Christian society, and therefore expect "Christians" (actually the Gentile society-at-large) also to provide more welfare for what the Jews would label "their own." Jews are willing to do more than their share by paying more taxes for welfare programs that essentially benefit non-Jews, since most of the Jewish needy are supported by Jewish agencies.
Furthermore, because of anti-Semitism throughout history Jewish people fear prejudice and intolerance more than any other social ill. Thus, Jewish people usually opt for a liberal society because they think that the more liberal a society is, the more tolerant it will be of them.
At one time another distinctive was that Jews placed a higher value on education than did most other Americans; but more recently, with the influx of many Asians who also highly value education as a means of social advancement, this distinction has lessened. Another difference is that Jews tend to view the extended family as an economic unit that works for co-prosperity, whereas our society-at-large seems to believe that it’s every person for himself or herself, and only the immediate family is an economic unit. But once again, Asian immigrants hold to the value of the extended family and they strengthen one another by working for one another and lending money to one another.
If these statements are giving you the idea that Jewish culture is more of an Asian culture than an occidental culture, you are right. Israel is considered a part of Asia rather than a part of Africa or Europe. Like Asians, Jews hold to a strong work ethic and a strong investment ethic and, like Asians, most Jews would rather be important persons to those within their culture (i.e. their fellow Jews) than relatively unimportant to Jews but important to the world at large.
Yet there remains one more distinction. Unlike other Asians, Jews tend to think in terms of "we" and "they" in a different manner. They not only regard Jewish culture as better, but they also have a constant awareness that historically "they," meaning non-Jews, have oppressed and done violence to the Jewish people. One might conclude that the Jews have a persecution complex, but it must be remembered that within the lifetime of many of today’s living adults more than one-third of all Jews were exterminated. If Jewish people sometimes seem more defensive, evangelical Christians need to know that it is not entirely without a reason.
What, then, should evangelical Christians do for the Jews? If they really care, they must begin by becoming more aware of the differences that exist, and then try to understand and respect those differences. They ought to enjoy Jewish culture and its relationship to the Bible, as in the studies of archeology or ancient Jewish customs. Such information can bring better understanding to Christians about themselves and their faith as well as about the Jewish people. In addition to appreciating that Jewish culture, they should maintain a truly Christian attitude and respect the fact that there are some differences allowed by God but not necessarily decreed by him. Many of these differences are of neutral value, like the color and style of clothing, food preferences and ways and means of in-group communication.
Finally and most important, Christians should not only be determined to give the Jewish people their respect and understanding. They should determine to give them all the good that they can—remembering that the ultimate good is the gift of God to all who are willing to receive it, even our Lord Jesus Christ, Yeshua Ha Mashiach, the Messiah of Israel.