Rabbi Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi on Interfaith

Rabbi Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi, (also known as Manitou, 1922- 1996) was one of the leading educators and thinkers of post WWII French Jewry. He was a descendant of the Lurianic Kabbalist Joseph ibn Tabul and the Talmudic commentator, the Rosh. He studied Kabbalah in his native North Africa and later under the influence of Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook and Rav Baruch Ashlag. He studied philosophy, psychology, and anthropology in the University of Algiers, and in the Sorbonne in Paris.

Rabbi Ashkenazi along with Andre Neher and Emmanuel Levinas served as educational directors of the Jewish school system. In 1957, they organized the Annual French Jewish Intellectuals Conferences, which sought to create an academic, philosophical language for understanding the Torah and Jewish culture. Those attending his lectures included a who’s who of younger French Jews, including Prof Benny Gross and Rabbi Shlomo Aviner

In the last five years, at least five of Ashkenazi’s works have appeared in Hebrew. Another half dozen books recently came out in French.

Ashkenazi was active in inter-religion encounter traveling often to give lectures around Europe and Asia. Notably, Ashkenazi was a perenniaist, who saw a common primordial core to all religions. He composed a prayer for the dedication of the Sanctuaire de l’Universel, a Parisian multi-faith venture of the Universal Sufi Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan. Ashkenazi, however, considered this core as the Judaism taught by Abraham of morals and monotheism, rather than a generic theism. He sees that Jews and Christians share the Bible and its values, but differ in the interpretation by means of Talmud and New Testament. After Vatican Two, since Jews are not accused of deicide, the the rivalry between Judaism and Christianity can now end. An open dialogue would be when learn to honor and respect Jewish teachings.

The Bible of the Jews and the Christians is the same Bible… Any differences in our theologies and interpretations do not originate in the Bible… It is not the Jewish and Christian Bibles that oppose one another but rather the Talmudist and the Evangelist, who turn their backs on one another and never communicate. If this dialogue were to open one day, it would be the day that the Christians recognize and respect the Jews as creatures worthy of love of living things and especially the day Christians recognize the honor of Judaism, whose seal is truth.

Our theologies are highly polarized, but there are points of interface regarding ethics.

It was a deicidal nation, an expression that has been rejected since Vatican II. The Church purported to be the New Israel, but mutual recognition brings the rivalry between identities to an end.

Ashekenazi tries to stick close to Rabbinic categories. First and Second century Jews who became Christians are sectarians (minim), those of gentile decent, which are most of today’s Christians have no contention to the life of Jesus.

There is a basic misunderstanding. Contemporary Christians and Jews present themselves as if they were living in the Generation of the Dissociation [the Second Temple Era]—rendering dialogue impossible but so essential.

For us, today’s Jews, Christians are not false witness. They are simply not witnesses at all. They do not represent anything that we did not understand or that we rejected as alien to our mission. Similarly, Christianity is not responsible for the formulation of its faith. Christians inherited it from their sages…
Had they been Jews, the authentic heirs to the covenant, they would be considered idolaters who bear a message of apostasy… They would be like any other Jew who violates the covenant…

Askenazi’s approach to dialogue with Christians was not to start with one’s existential attitude of either closeness or non-reconcilable faith commitments. Neither did he start with the theological differences. Rather, one needs to jointly read scripture and grapple with the fundamental tension of the Bible as historical reality and revelation as opposed to a private faith act. Ashkenazi applies that dichotomy to contemporary events and favors the approach of historical reality since he sees God’s hand in the 20th century Jewish experience and attests that many Christians support Israel since they also see it as Divine providence.

Dialogue at the attitude level has no meaning. This is not the place for opinions, but rather for reading the Book [the Bible] and designating the realities associated with the reading. The problem should not be limited to focus on philosophical issues that ostensibly differ in said religions. Perhaps instead of discussing it would be better to think? On the one hand, historical reality: the Hebrew nation and its history as formulated in the Bible—the ‘Old Testament’ to Christians—through prophetic revelation vs. the founding myth as a matter of faith and not identity or existence.

The long duration of a two-thousand year parting, the horrors of the Holocaust and the shock of the Christian soul and admission of responsibility for anti-Semitism, the fact of the Ingathering of Exiles, recognition of the State of Israel by most world nations—cannot leave the believing person indifferent. And I know many Christians who attest that they have interpreted the incidents as follows: This is Divine Providence at work. Let us help it succeed, with humility and prayer.

The quotes and translations are from Yossef Charvit “From Monologues to Possible Dialogue: Judaism’s Attitude towards Christianity According to the Philosophy of R. Yéhouda Léon Askénazi (Manitou)” In Interaction Between Judaism and Christianity in History, Religion, Art, and Literature, Marcel Poorthuis, Joshua Schwartz, and Joseph Turner, eds., Leiden: Brill, 2009, pp. 319-336.

For some of Ashkenazi’s theology of the unity of Being as applied to Shema and Tractate Berakhot- see here and here.
On his Universalism- here.
On Rav Kook and Kabbalah.
For those who read French- use this site. and here.

4 responses to “Rabbi Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi on Interfaith

  1. Did he have any influence on Benny Levi?

    • He does not claim influence but he certainly heard and knew Manitou. When Levinas gave his Talmudic lectures, Rabbi Ashkenazi and Andre Neher were on the same panel. In later years, it is possible that Manitou and Benny Levi could have been on the same panels in France or J-M.
      http://www.bennylevy.co.il/biographie.asp

  2. Do you know of English language resources dealing with Benny Levy? I’m interested in his story, but I can’t find much in English.

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