Rabbi Weinberg argued that we must formally declare that we hold like the Meiri [13th century French sage], that all the negative things in the Talmud against non-Jews were only stated with regard to the wicked pagans of old, but didn’t apply to non-Jews as a whole.
We must relate to non-Jews just like to Jews, being absolutely honest in all monetary matters and regard them as having dignity as creations of God.
In your writings, you cite and quote from a staggering array of sources. How do you dig them up?
I am fortunate to have a job in which I am able to learn many hours every day. I was told not too long ago that I should give all this stuff up and learn Shas and poskim so that I would amount to something.
Do you find special meaning in teaching Judaism to Christian students in a Jesuit school (the University of Scranton)?
Well, first, the people I work with are chassidei umos ha’olam. I will also tell you that the two volumes of Rabbi Weinberg I published in Hebrew were published with the assistance of the university, which might be the only two seforim in history ever published with money from a Catholic university.
This isn’t 50 years ago. I asked my students the first day of the Holocaust course, “Does anyone know the expression ‘Christ killer?’ “- and more than half of them never heard the expression, something their parents and grandparents all knew from birth.
There’ve been great changes in the Catholic Church and there’s a great respect for Judaism and for Jews; many Catholic thinkers see Jews as the older brothers of Catholics. I think it behooves us to acknowledge the real changes in the Church and try to contribute to make sure these changes continue and that we treat them with the respect that they’re treating us.
Do you think it advantageous that you, an Orthodox Jew, are teaching these students rather than a Conservative or Reform Jew?Christianity rejects Jewish law, so if you get a Reform rabbi up there whose attitude is also that the law isn’t important, they really don’t get an understanding of how Judaism differs. If you have someone who affirms the significance of Jewish law, they get a sense of what true Judaism is.
Many of these students come from small towns in Pennsylvania. They’ve never met a Jew before, they don’t know what a knish is. This is their first exposure and will last them a lifetime.
What will your next book be about? My next book is called Studies in Maimonides and His Interpreters. I discuss differences between the academic interpreters and the traditional interpreters. I show how they differ and also how the academic approach could benefit from many of the traditional insights.
And then, following that, I have a contract to do a book that will be called Changing the Immutable: How Orthodox Judaism Rewrites Its History. It’s about how uncomfortable ideas, which used to be acceptable, basically have been moved out of the tradition through censorship.