I was raised in an observant Jewish home and was educated in Jewish parochial schools through my second year of college. At that time I entered the secular world of education completing my secular education with the degree granted to me by Oxford University. I then returned to Yeshiva University and was granted a Rabbinical degree. At that time I was by already married and had two children. I needed to support them and became an international businessman and banker for twenty years. Having accomplished that life task, I decided to return to my earlier love of theology.
Within the course of those twenty years as a businessman and banker, I traveled extensively in South America, Africa, Europe, the Mid-East and the Far East. This was an education as radical as my Oxford experience.
In 1987 I decided to retire from business shortly after my mother's death, my father had died seven years earlier, both had retired to Israel in 1972 - and are buried on the Mt. of Olives. During the years of my business life and before returning to a spiritual life, I was very impressed by the statements of John XXIII particularly his asking forgiveness of Jesus for crucifying him twice the second time being the persecution of his Jewish co-religionists. Similarly John Paul II words at the Jewish Synagogue in Rome as well as statements of Vatican II. All these exercised a profound impact of me. Their declarations, it seemed to me, amounted to nothing less than an apology for centuries of Christian Anti-Semitism culminating in the Shoah. Thus the Shoah exercised a very significant effect on Catholicism (and other Christian denominations) and in effect radically changed Christian theology.
Inevitably I wondered how Jewish theology had changed as the result of the Shoah. The most dramatic change in Jewish life was undoubtedly the establishment of the State of Israel. This event had a dramatic and practical effect on world wide Jewry a haven was created for a million Jews from North Africa who were forced to flee from Islamic persecution and later a million Russians still suffering from Stalinist, Communist and Orthodox Christian Anti-Semitism were relocated. But what of Jewish theology had it changed? Zionism - a biblical, post-biblical and exilic concept had stressed for centuries the dream of a Messianic age and a return to Jerusalem. It was a form of deferred theology. Suddenly this deferred theology had actualized. Has the exile ended? Why do Jews still commemorate the destruction of the Temples, read Lamentations and pray for Jerusalem while being in Jerusalem and sitting in front of the Western Wall? To my astonishment, Jewish theology, in my opinion, has not yet changed.
This suggested to me that God had some other purpose, aside from the protection of the Jewish people in allowing for the establishment of the State of Israel. From my perspective, as a spiritual human being and an observant Jew, I chose to believe that the radical change in Christian theology together with the establishment of the State of Israel in a place holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims was an attempt by God to seek a reconciliation of, at least, the three monotheistic religions.
When I chose to return to a career in the spiritual world, I thus viewed interfaith reconciliation as a personal challenge. Hence my move to Israel was based on professional and personal reasons. In Nes Ammim, a Christian Kibbutz established in Israel, founded thirty five years ago and supported by the Rhineland Church in Germany and the Dutch Reformed Church I became their Rabbi, teacher and a commentator on the Bible in their semi-annual Journal.
Judaism is, to use a Christian term, a religion of 'faith and works'. In order for one to acquire an understanding of Judaism, it is essential to understand both Jewish Thought - ‘faith’ and Jewish Practice - ‘works’.
In addition to teaching and writing I now mentor students from around the world many in graduate programs including Europe, Asia, Africa, the Unites States and Israel.
In teaching Jewish Thought I have used texts and discussions based on the Hebrew Bible and its commentaries, both ancient, medieval and modern, and Jewish mystical and Hassidic (pietistic) Literature. The commentaries include the Talmud and Midrashim, a series of ancient and medieval Jewish commentaries of the Bible. Midrashic literature is a unique form of Biblical commentary using the most widely based forms of exegesis as well as legends depicting famous biblical personalities based on the 'gaps' in the Bible. As part of Jewish thought, I discuss how, in my opinion, Jesus and the Christian Bible are based on Jewish thought, how Judaism and Christianity identified themselves and ultimately separated.
What is the purpose and meaning of 'kosher' within Jewish observance? How do people join the community, marry and bury their dead? What is the role of the Rabbi and how does it differ from a Priest? Are the sacraments of Christianity comparable to Jewish rituals? How do Jews observe and celebrate the Sabbath a weekly event the high point of the week and their numerous holidays some more important to traditional Jews others interestingly more important to Israelis? And what is the Theology behind these rituals?
I feel it is the responsibility of a Professor of Judaism to teach students about the rituals of these holidays and to provide them (if possible) with the opportunity to actively experience Jewish holidays to the extent possible.
I will also note and discuss that while Christian thought with many exceptions comes from Jewish thought, Islam is a religion based more on 'works' than 'faith'. It is therefore in fact closer to Judaism in that way. Jewish 'halakha' (law) is closely related to 'sharai' or Islamic law. As examples Jewish kosher meat is acceptable under Islamic law and vice versa and the 'hajj' pilgrimage to Mecca can be compared to the Jewish pilgrimage to the ancient Temple.
Rabbi Moshe Reiss
RABBI MOSHE REISS, Ph.D.
Bachelor of Arts - Brooklyn College, New York, U.S.A., 1960
M. Litt. - Oxford University, Oxford, England, 1964*
Rabbinical Degree, Yeshiva University, 1968
Chaplaincy of Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.A., 1988 - 1993
United States: 1964-1993
Lecturer at Columbia University 1964-1966
Business and Banker, New Haven, Connecticut, 1968-1988
Assistant Rabbi, Yale University, 1988-1993
Visiting Professor of Judaism, Catholic University of Leuven 2001-2002
Israel: 1993 - Present
Nes Ammim - A Christian Kibbutz
The Jerusalem Center for Bible Studies and Research
The Tantur Ecumenical Center
Yakar: A Center For Jewish Ecumenism And Creativity
Does Jesus Come from the Jewish Tradition
Different Theologies in the New Testament
The Importance of Mystical Safed in the Sixteenth Century
Jewish and Christian Apocalyptic Literature
Jerusalem in Jewish History
Jewish Biblical Exegesis
Judaism and Christianity
The Monotheistic Religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam
Member of the Israeli Interfaith Association
*A Master of Letters is a degree awarded only at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, requiring a thesis as an original contribution to knowledge in addition to other requirements.