Amy-Jill Levine in the Church Times

by Kim on July 15, 2011

Amy-Jill Levine is a professor of Jewish and New Testament studies. She teaches at Vanderbilt University and Wesley House, Cambridge. Here are a few extracts from the “back page interview” in this week’s Church Times.

For Christians interested in promoting a two-state resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, I can help them see how their legitimate concern for Palestinian rights is often expressed in ways that prevent like-minded Jews from working with them.

My students often see Jesus as a feminist who lived within a Jewish world that made the Taliban look progressive. To the contrary, the Gospels tell us about women’s substantial rights: owning homes, having use of their own property, having freedom of travel, worshipping in synagogues and the Jerusalem Temple, and so on. Women did not join Jesus because Judaism oppressed them, and the Jewish women who followed him did not cease to be Jews.

If my work can help eliminate anti-Jewish teachings and preaching in churches and anti-Christian attitudes among Jews, and sexist and homophobic theologies, I shall be more than content.

The Bible offers numerous profound insights: that victims’ voices must be heard; that perpetrators are also humans beings made in the image and likeness of the divine; that violence impacts not only the victim and the perpetrator, but their families, their communities, even their descendents; that violence is not restricted to some other group but is in our own households; that responding to violence with more violence is not the answer; that there is no quick fix; that repentance is possible but that one also must take responsiblity for one’s actions; that no one is immune to sin; that perfect justice is usually elusive.

At the moment I’d like to be locked in a church with Mahmoud Abbas and Bibi Netanyahu, and not let them out until they brokered a peace agreement. I doubt that this would be a pleasant experience, but it has the potential to be productive.

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Pam 07.16.11 at 6:52 am

There aren’t that many women in the Bible who owned property, having freedom to travel, etc. Unless they were recipients of wealth via family connections. More often, women were oppressed. A bit has changed today thankfully!
I think the situation in Israel/Palestine could do with a good dose of ‘empathy’ - on both sides of course.

2

Ray Gaston 07.17.11 at 1:22 pm

Hi Pam re your first point I think A-J Levine is highlighting the way Christian Feminist Theology and liberal Christians generally often used a caricature of Judaism as a foil for a ‘Feminist’ Jesus as Jewish Feminist Judith Plaskow first pointed out. Thankfully the likes of Elizabeth Johnson and Elizabeth Schussler - Fiorenza have taken up Plaskow’s challenge and applied her critique within their own Christian Feminist Theology, however much Christian preaching has not .
See article on Christian Feminism and Jewish - Christian relations at http://www.jcrelations.net/en/?item=756

3

Avraham Reiss 07.17.11 at 4:29 pm

“At the moment I’d like to be locked in a church with Mahmoud Abbas and Bibi Netanyahu, and not let them out until they brokered a peace agreement.”

With a surname Levine, one wonders why a church and not a synagogue is your revenue of choice.

But far more important, your naivety - or your self-confidence - is simply amazing. The late Rabin came along with a similar attitude - “we are going to make peace” - and Israel has suffered more than 1,000 citizens murdered since the infamous Oslo agreement in the early nineties, a fully armed Hamas state has sprung up in Gaza, and Hizballah in the north continues to receive massive quantities of arms from Syria. If a Palestinian state is declared, there will be more bloodshed on both sides.

As ” professor of Jewish and New Testament studies” stick to your subject. You don’t live in the Middle East, and we aren’t raw material for your theories. We have no need or use for dillettantes.

4

Kim 07.17.11 at 7:13 pm

Uh, Avraham, Levine is an Orthodox Jew. And she is highly respected not only as a scholar, nor only as a commentator on Israeli/Palestinian politics, but as balanced, creative, and hopeful contributor to the peace process. If this post is all you know about her, I’d suggest you get up to speed before indulging in such smug, ill-founded, and unhelpful dismissals.

5

Avraham Reiss 07.17.11 at 7:25 pm

Kim,
your comments had nothing to do with the essence of my remarks; possibly you are blinded by the lady’s academic achievements.

An Orthodox Jew would not select a Church for a meeting between a Jew and a Muslem; (neither would the Muslem agree to this).

As for “balanced, creative, and hopeful contributor to the peace process” - what “creative contributions” are we discussing here? Examples?

I repeat: the late Rabin lived his life here in Israel, as a military man and then a politician he was as familiar as anyone with all the relevant material, and yet made a stupid blunder that has so far caused 1,000 or more deaths, all of course in the best of good faith and with the desire to make peace.

Your “highly respected not only as a scholar, nor only as a commentator on Israeli/Palestinian politics, but as balanced, creative, and hopeful contributor to the peace process” protege is totally - but totally irrelevant to the Middle East arena.

6

Joseph W 07.17.11 at 7:44 pm

7

Avraham Reiss 07.17.11 at 7:49 pm

… and Kim says she’s orthodox Jewish …

8

Kim 07.17.11 at 8:48 pm

Sorry, Avraham, here’s a clarification: in Church Times “back page” interviews, as the last question, the person being interviewed is always asked who s/he would like to be locked in a church with (for an interesting conversation). It’s not as if Levine were proposing her own choice of venue for brokering a peace agreement.

On her being an orthodox Jew, that is how she is how she is described wherever I seem to come across her on the web. I presume that it is how she sees herself.

I hope that helps. What do you know about her that might be helpful?

9

Avraham Reiss 07.17.11 at 10:12 pm

Kim,
You and I are holding two different conversations here in parallel.

You are discussing the person who made a statement, and I am discussing the statement itself.

I regarded the suggestion that locking two oponents in a room together ’till white smoke appeared’ as totally unrealistic in terms of the Middle East problem. That was the main point I was making. As a secondary point, I said that the person making the statement was
totally unqualified to express an opinion on the subject.

Any other comment I made was subservient to the above.

I’ll go one stage further, and say that if Obama had made the same statement, I would have remarked that his opinion was totally unrealistic.

And since we are both people who place religion high on the agenda of our respective lives, let’s get back on track.

The Jewish People were sent to exile two thousand years ago.

Expelled from the Land of Israel.

I refer you to two articles on the subject of the Eternity of Israel, which explain the reason (or at least one of the reasons) for this two-millenia exile.

1.
http://jcwatch.wordpress.com/the-jewish-thought-series/king-solomon-and-the-eternity-of-israel/
2.
http://jcwatch.wordpress.com/the-jewish-thought-series/the-secret-of-israels-eternity/

Now that G-d has decreed that that time is over, Jews began returning to the Land of Israel, built a state, revived the Hebrew language as a spoken language, and many other accomplishments of which you are well aware.

This creates one problem: for the Arabs currently living in the Land of Israel. At the idealogical level at which I now speak, it looks as though they are being unfairly deprived of their land.

I’d even go one stage further and say that I RESPECT an Arab who fights for his land, because he is in fact placing value on the land that I value. (Naturally, I draw the line at terror against women and children).

There are two answers to this. One I cannot reveal because it lies within the realms of Jewish Mysticism (Cabalah), and while far from being an expert on the subject I’m not the person to reveal its secrets.

Two, Arab intransigence has brought the Arabs to where they are now. In 1948 had they accepted the UN Partition Plan for Palestine, there would have been no problems today. And even today, the so-called “palestinians” steadfastly refuse to recognise the State of Israel as a Jewish State.

Given all that, some so-called ‘orthodox’ Jewess who spends half of her academic life on the study of the New Testament rather than in Jewish studies (and I’m sure you understand that was in no way intended offensively towards you), thinks that locking two people in a room will solve a 100 year old problem, is a few sandwiches short of a picnic, to say the least.

10

PamBG 07.18.11 at 1:49 pm

Not offensive to Christians, but certainly offensive to the woman in question. I’m glad that we can Know For Certain about someone we never met and with whom we have never interacted that she is “a few sandwiches short of a picnic”. Life is so much better when one can know for sure that individuals with a different point of view are not in their right minds.

11

Avraham Reiss 07.18.11 at 4:14 pm

Pam, I stand by what I said, and will add: ANYONE - male or female - who thinks that closing two people in a room - any room - and that an agreement vis the Middle East will result - is, to say the least, a fool.

Since 1967 some of the world’s best brains in politics have tried to reach solutions for the Middle East. Gunnar Jaring, Rogers, Kissinger, Albright, Baker - to name a few. All failed. None of them got anywhere.

Then along comes this person (gender irrelevant) who presents him/herself as “Orthodox Jewish” but specialises in the New Testament - Judaically, this is a total logical oxymoron. And that’s apart from the basic stupidity.

“Life is so much better when one can know for sure that individuals with a different point of view are not in their right minds.”
- that is a dishonest representation of my words. If I believed it, I wouldn’t be in conversation here with people who believe and think differently from me.

12

Avraham Reiss 07.18.11 at 7:36 pm

Ki,,
I’ve looked at Amy-Jill Levene’s CV and history under Wikipedia. The woman documents NO Jewish place of study of Judaism anywhere at any time. Practically all of her writings and activities relate to Christianity. I just don’t see where the “orthodox Jewish” comes in, and in general see little or no understanding of Judaism. Orthodox Jews do not learn Judaism in universities.

13

Avraham Reiss 07.18.11 at 7:37 pm

Sorry, the 1st word in the preceding post should read Kim. Apologies.

14

Tony Buglass 07.18.11 at 8:09 pm

“Then along comes this person (gender irrelevant) who presents him/herself as “Orthodox Jewish” but specialises in the New Testament - Judaically, this is a total logical oxymoron.”

Why? Why should a person of one faith not become an academic specialist in another? The guy who taught me Indian religions and philosophy of religion at university was a New York Jew, who later left his job at the university to become a rabbi. I know a number of practising Christians who are specialists and experts in other faiths. I also know a number of atheists who are academic specialists in theology and biblical studies.

I don’t know anything about Amy-Jill Levine beyond what I’ve read in this thread, but so far I’ve not seen anything which looks like logical oxymoron. Personal faith and academic specialism are not necessarily the same thing.

15

PamBG 07.18.11 at 9:37 pm

Pam, I stand by what I said, and will add: ANYONE - male or female - who thinks that closing two people in a room - any room - and that an agreement vis the Middle East will result - is, to say the least, a fool.

OK, I apologise. It read to me like she was two sandwiches short of a picnic for devoting some time to studying Christian scriptures. In going back to read what you wrote, I see that I misunderstood. (I know of her as a scholar, I don’t know of her religious background, so I’m not getting involved in that conversation.)

So, I guess that when asked the question of what two people she would like to have meet together in a church, that the only right way to answer would have been to reframe the question entirely.

- that is a dishonest representation of my words.

I apologise. Maybe it’s simply a consequence of two people seeing things from entirely different perspectives. I - and I presume others - also have the feeling that our words and perspectives are being dishonestly represented. I guess it’s one thing (different perspective) or the other (dishonest representation).

16

Avraham Reiss 07.18.11 at 10:23 pm

Pam - peace between us. Happy to continue exchanging views and ideas with you and others.

“OK, I apologise. It read to me like she was two sandwiches short of a picnic for devoting some time to studying Christian scriptures.”

Had the person involved been a male, he would have had a religious problem in spending time on anything at the expense of studying the Torah, which is an ongoing and never-completed commandment for Jewish males; studying for a livelihood is acceptable, but other matters can be problematic.

But I certainly would not question anyone’s sanity for studying Christian scriptures. I happen to know a very smart professor at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University who does study Christianity, he told me that it affords him a better understanding of Judaism. While not being either a professor or a rabbi, I totally disagree with him, feeling that the Jewish education I received gave me a full understanding of my religion. But his sanity would never be questioned.

In general, I am constantly aware that I am a Jew being hosted on a Methodist blog, and would never intentionally abuse Richard’s broad-mindedness in hosting me here, by writing anything offensive to Methodists.

17

PamBG 07.19.11 at 11:10 am

I happen to know a very smart professor at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University who does study Christianity, he told me that it affords him a better understanding of Judaism.

Just as a “side comment”, the Methodist theology college I attended has on its premises (I don’t know whether this is a “good thing” or a “bad thing” in your view) The Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations.

As I understood it from the students there, rabbinic Judaism and Christian grew up and mutually informed each other during the first centuries CE, so that make some sense to me, especially as I am a lover of social history. Learning about rabbinic Judaism (I won’t say I’ve “studied” it) has also helped me understand Christianity better.

18

MendipNomad 07.19.11 at 11:32 am

The introduction to Prof. Levine on the Woolf Institute website: http://www.woolf.cam.ac.uk/cjcr/staff/alevine.php She certainly self-defines as a Jew.

Richard - she lectures at the Woolf Institute (which is housed at Wesley House but isn’t Wesley House itself).

19

Kim 07.19.11 at 3:01 pm

That’s down to me, Mendip. I obviously drew the wrong inference from Levine’s self-introduction in the Church Times: “I am … Affiliated Professor, Woolf Institute, Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations, Wesley House, Cambridge.”

20

Avraham Reiss 07.19.11 at 9:25 pm

MendipNomad,
the penultimate word in the link you cited is “homophobic”. While as a side issue I reject the term as misleading, because “phobic” means fear, whereas most people feel disgust and not fear on this subject, my main point is that an orthodox Jew regards homsexuality in the simplest way presented in the OT, with no subsequent commentaries altering this in any way.

Thus an orthodox Jew/ess would not be taking the side suggested here, as does Ms. Levine. Populism is not Judaism.

21

Kim 07.19.11 at 10:58 pm

Avraham,

(1) Don’t be fooled by — or disingenuous about? — the Latin etymology of the term “homophobia”. Language develops. In current usage, “homophobia” may refer to a range of aversions to do with same-sex relations, including loathing and hatred, as well as disgust, and of course fear too. Indeed psychologically, it is precisely fear that is often the underlying aetiology of loathing, hatred, and disgust.

(2) So you are suggesting that anyone who has a more open attitude towards homosexuality than you, as an orthodox Jew, is simply being populist (but then there goes your “most people feel disgust on this subject” — you can’t have it both ways)? That s/he is perhaps bewitched by the promiscuous spirit of the age? That it is not possible to be supportive of same-sex relationships with intellectual and theological integrity? That interpreting the OT with a critical intelligence may not problematise “the simplest way” you yourself read it? No, as you say, “Populism is not Judaism.” But then neither is the insinuation of bad faith in sister.

22

PamBG 07.20.11 at 1:14 am

Avraham: As an honest comment here on the process of communication, I confess that I don’t understand the approach of discounting out of hand an opinion that you don’t hold and then implying -as you did upthread - that you are here to talk to people with different opinions than your own.

You can’t imagine a Jew who supports gay rights? Funny, although I believe men and women have equal rights, I can imagine a woman who thinks that God created men to rule over her. I don’t agree with the position, but I can imagine that someone could hold that position with integrity.

There is a difference between being able to know what one thinks and not being able to imagine any alternative view.

23

Avraham Reiss 07.20.11 at 8:17 am

PamBG and Kim,
Pam:
As an orthodox Jew I “play” by a strict set of rules known as “halacha”, meaning the Jewish Legal system. This starts with the OT, is detailed in the Talmud, and 2,000 years of subsequent commentaries flesh everything out.

I can be challenged by these rules: if I do or say something that appears not to be in line with the set halacha, then I can be asked to provide legal precedent for my behaviour. If I can’t, then I’ve been “caught out” doing something wrong.

The OT attitude towards homosexuality is very clear: men who engage
in such acts have no right to live. That is NOT Avraham Reiss’s opinion, it is a straightforward Biblical command.

There is no circumstance under which an orthodox Jew will condone homosexual activity. Anyone wishing to appear “open”, “liberal”, “tolerant of others” etc, is free to do so, but is out of line with the Bible.

Pam, you write: “There is a difference between being able to know what one thinks and not being able to imagine any alternative view”.

- I am not so naive as to think that there is no “alternate view”, but such a view - in this specific case - cannot fall in line with orthodox Judaism. As far as orthodox Judaism goes, what you describe exists as an “alternative view” but is rejected.

Kim, thanks for the etymology, but its what the man in the street thinks that counts. Presenting any subject as a “phobia” implies that one’s fears can be overcome by discussion, by explanation, and that the subject is not as bad as it seems. It thus tends to “legalize” it, which is against the Bible.

I repeat what I wrote above:
The OT attitude towards homosexuality is very clear: men who engage
in such acts have no right to live. That is NOT Avraham Reiss’s opinion, it is a straightforward Biblical command.

In today’s world, what I have written is not politically correct - but that is a criticism of both “politically” and of “correct”.

As far as I see it, the only way tolerance comes in here, is that since I am not empowered to administer Biblical punishment, I must tolerate the presence of homosexuality. But please don’t expect me to lick my fingers with great appetite, when tolerating.

24

PamBG 07.20.11 at 11:13 am

As an orthodox Jew I “play” by a strict set of rules known as “halacha”, meaning the Jewish Legal system. This starts with the OT, is detailed in the Talmud, and 2,000 years of subsequent commentaries flesh everything out.

So, you are “just following the rules”? When you speak in the manner of “I can only imagine this as being right, I can never imagine why anyone else would think anything different”, that’s you just “following the rules” rather than actually saying that you can’t imagine anything different? Serious question.

I don’t know you in person, but the way that you are writing, it appears to me that you genuinely believe that there really is no other alternative to thinking about this matter than the one you hold and that anyone with a different opinion is slightly (or maybe more than slightly) crazy.

But please don’t expect me to lick my fingers with great appetite, when tolerating.

Oh. So whereas most people feel disgust and not fear on this subject is you expressing tolerance? So you would actually “tolerate” me not feeling disgust and having my own opinions and feelings on the matter, would you?

In my experience “most people feel….” means “most right-thinking people agree with me.”

25

Avraham Reiss 07.20.11 at 1:47 pm

Pam,
I really don’t know if you are twisting my words, or if I have not

explained myself clearly. From the following quote from you, where you put into my mouth words I have never said, it sounds

deliberate.

[quote]
So, you are “just following the rules”? When you speak in the manner

of “I can only imagine this as being right, I can never imagine why

anyone else would think anything different”, that’s you just “following

the rules” rather than actually saying that you can’t imagine anything

different? Serious question.
[quote]

I never said anything like that, and certainly don’t think that way.

Maybe you don’t understand “rules” as I do. After all, Christianity took almost all the rules (commandments) of the OT and decided that they were no longer applicable.

My take is that rules are necessary when there are alternatives. They

guide people as to which alternative to select from amongst a number

of possibilities.

If I were to say (which I have not so far) “I can only imagine this as being

right”, it would be if the Torah had told me to do this at the exclusion of

all other possibilities. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other possibilities,

but for me they are wrong. I would certainly say that about homosexuality, but you can’t conclude anything else from that specific example. If you are tolerant of homosexuality, please explain how you align this with the OT.

As for ” I can never imagine why anyone else would think anything

different” - I never thought or said that - that is your invention. The

whole point of Life is that freedom of choice enables many possibilities, so perforce one admits the existence of many varying possibilities.

I don’t, for example, believe in Christianity. But as opposed to your “I

can never imagine why anyone else would think anything different”, I

see the religion in which I do not believe as a step forward from the

world of idolatry - the world of the Romans and others at the time of the

start of Christianity. And I can well understand the appeal of a religion that is far less demanding than Judaism. In microcosm, that explains today’s Jewish Reform Movement.

I think that your concept of “turn the other cheek” - if someone hits you, let him do it again - has become a blanket tolerationof evil. If Jews thought that way, there would be no State of Israel today.

And I expect you to accept this as part of your creed.

“In my experience “most people feel….” means “most right-thinking people agree with me.””

- that’s YOUR experience; and you obviously can’t accept that other people think differently. Which negates the main part of your post under discussion.

26

PamBG 07.20.11 at 6:06 pm

Avraham, I simply give up trying to understand. I genuinely was trying to understand, but I give up.

You’re right. Everyone who disagrees with you is wrong. Whatever. I’m frustrated.

27

Avraham Reiss 07.20.11 at 6:50 pm

Pam, simply put you are trying to demonize me. You don’t understand me, but I understand you.

” Everyone who disagrees with you is wrong” - more words put in my mouth, that I never uttered.

28

PamBG 07.20.11 at 10:45 pm

Avraham, honestly, I don’t know how to communicate with you and I’m just tired of trying. I have no more strategies left.

Your opinions seem to me - and “seem to me” means “If I’m wrong please show me if I’m wrong” - to leave no wiggle room for any other perspective than your own. You speak in a language of absolutes but we are not supposed to take them as absolutes?

OK, here. Using your mode of speaking. “You are wrong. Most people are not disgusted by homosexuality. Most people don’t think about it much and don’t care.”

29

Avraham Reiss 07.20.11 at 10:53 pm

Pam, the very fact that I as a Jew converse with Methodists, means that I appreciate perspectives other than my own. I can afford to do so, because I have a strong weltaunschung and can listen to other opinions without fearing that my own will be shaken.

I suggest we wind up this thread here (or at least leave it open for others).

30

PamBG 07.21.11 at 12:19 am

Right, Avraham. I’m done.

31

MendipNomad 07.22.11 at 9:27 pm

Kim - sorry, I did mean you not Richard. Was in a rush and didn’t ‘click’ that you’d posted.

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