One of the youngest head rabbis in Reform Judaism, Moffic leads Congregation Solel in Highland Park, Illinois. Of the three main branches of Judaism in the US—Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform—his takes the most progressive approach to a Torah-honoring lifestyle. Reform Jews are most open to social justice issues, interfaith families, and learning from Christianity, he said. “It is a Judaism at home in America.”
As Moffic became involved in interfaith education and dialogue, he discovered the profound desire among Christians to explore the Jewish roots of their own faith. For many Jews, such curiosity can make them bristle, or at least feel uncomfortable; Christians have been accused of misappropriating Jewish tradition or awkwardly conflating the two faiths. But instead of backing away or becoming defensive, the young rabbi approached their curiosity as sincere. He answered Christians’ questions and did all he could to teach them more.
“Several years ago when I was a rabbi in Chicago, I was asked to teach a class on this topic at a nearby church. The class was at 8 on a Sunday morning so I wasn’t expecting a big crowd,” he said. “The first week, 15 people showed up. By the end of the series, 80 people were attending the class.”
He found himself speaking to Christians of every theological stripe who expressed deep hunger to know more about the Jewishness of their own faith. Their questions—and his own—led him to pen two books on the subject: What Every Christian Needs to Know about Passover: What It Means and Why Matters (Abingdon, 2015) and What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Jewishness of Jesus: A New Way of Seeing the Most Influential Rabbi in History (Abingdon, 2016). Moffic’s graciousness, curiosity, and insight have caught the attention of evangelicals including Scot McKnight, Eugene Peterson, Lynn Cohick, and Ken Davis.
During Holy Week, we often reflect on Jesus’ own Jewish traditions as we commemorate the Last Supper and his death, burial, and resurrection. With Passover still a month away (April 22-30 this year), I spoke with Rabbi Moffic about why he thinks Passover belongs to Christians too.
Christians have grown eager to understand Jesus as a member of the Jewish community and place him in his first-century context. As you speak in churches, what questions or issues have most surprised you?
I’ve found there are still some persistent negative stereotypes about Jews. Some are based on parts of New Testament texts that haven’t been grappled with. I get asked questions like, “Isn’t the New Testament all about love and the Old Testament about a vengeful, punishing God?” or “Weren’t the Pharisees bad guys?” I don’t think most of the people asking those questions understand that they reflect a supercessionist theology. These are the truths people were raised with.
I’ve also discovered there’s a yearning for community among Christians. People are longing for people who are committed to look out for them. This is one area I believe Christians can learn from Jews. Jews have historically been such a strong community. Christianity is often focused on the individual and his or her relationship with God. Judaism is more about the community’s role and responsibility for one another. It’s much more group oriented, more community oriented. Churches at their best can provide that kind of community, but it seems to be a little more individualized. When people discover the Jewish roots in early Christianity and see the Jewish focus on the group and community life, there are some good lessons there for congregations today.