The Common Good

The Jewish Roots of Christianity

I was intrigued recently over a story I saw on the news about a Chicago man who faces possible jail time for taking his daughter to church. Apparently in the custody settlement with his ex-wife (a Jew), Joseph Reyes (a Catholic) was barred from exposing this daughter to anything but the Jewish faith. He then very publicly took his daughter to church and is now facing potential jail time for that act. While strong arguments could be made in this particular case that this man acted like a jerk and that custody rulings are often unfair to fathers, what I find most fascinating is the argument he is using in his defense. Basically, Reyes argues that he did not break any court order since Catholicism is a derivative of Judaism. He asserts that he simply exposed his daughter to the teachings of the greatest Jewish rabbi ever.

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I saw his lawyer make that assertion in a TV interview, and the reporter could barely hold it together, saying "what idiot fed you that line?" The lawyer simply said that most Christian theologians would say that Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism, to which the reporter said something along the lines of "good luck with that."

On the human level, I wish these parents weren't using their daughter as a pawn in their bitterness and revenge games. I also don't claim to understand the struggles parents of differing traditions face in choosing how to expose their children to the diversity of their faiths. But on a theoretical level, I am interested in how this has played out. I know that the theological emphasis on the historical roots of Christianity is fairly recent, and that a willingness to see Jesus as the Jewish rabbi he was has been slow to emerge. But one would think there are enough of those cheesy "My Boss is a Jewish Carpenter" bumper stickers around that the wider culture would catch on that Christians are finally acknowledging our roots. I honestly don't know of any Christian who wouldn't say that our faith is based in Judaism, worships the same God, and treasures at least some of the same scriptures (it is a very different story when it comes to acknowledging the mutual roots of our faith with those who practice Islam).

Granted, most of the public perception of Christians is that of hate-filled crusaders fighting to keep away those that are not exactly like them. Since there is such a poor history in how Christians have interacted with Jews in the past, no wonder people would be surprised to hear a Christian claim roots in Judaism (especially for such manipulative ends). I doubt this case will spark real theological dialogue, but I find myself wondering what can (or should) be done to help promote our commonalities. Christianity cannot be understood apart from Judaism (wouldn't exist apart from it). How can that best be discussed in the wider culture without prompting displays of incredulity?

Julie Clawson is the author of Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices (IVP 2009). She blogs at and

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