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How a Rabbi Found Affirmation in A Church

Recently, my wife and I took a cruise from Montreal to Boston. As with most vacations, one of our goals was to leave work behind and focus on relaxing. My work is different than most. I am the founder of The Jewish-Christian Discovery Center. The goal of this non-profit organization is to educate Jews and Christians about their shared religious traditions. The ultimate aim is for people to realize that we are, in my opinion, spiritual siblings.

We arrived in Montreal a few days early to enjoy this beautiful city prior to our cruise. On our first day we took a walking tour of the historic Jewish area of Montreal. We explored a number of buildings from a century ago and learned of the many sacrifices that the first immigrants to Canada endured. That experience was parallel to that of many new immigrants around the world. 

It was on the second day that I had two, almost revelatory experiences. Near our hotel is the stunning and ornate Church of the Notre-Dame Basilica. A Basilica is a Catholic Church which has been accorded special privileges by the Pope.  Our hotel host told us that while it is a functioning church, every day, hundreds line up to come in for a formal tour. We did exactly that. Our visit, led by a guide, began with the church’s history. Built in 1672, Notre-Dame Basilica has had a long spiritual connection to this grand city. The altar contains a massive panorama of Biblical figures depicted by life-size, wooden carved statues.  In the top- center is Jesus with Mary and John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene.

It was the figures,  however, that surrounded this centerpiece that caught my attention. All around Jesus are the Biblical figures of Abraham, Moses, Aaron, and Melchizedek. Each of these beautifully created works of art were chosen because of their spiritual connections to Jesus and Christianity. Each figure was represented with a scene from the Bible. Abraham is shown on Mt. Moriah following God’s  commands about his son Isaac. Aaron, the high priest, is shown offering a lamb to God. Similarly, Moses and Melchizedek are featured based on their Biblical stories. 

These stunning works of art were placed in this church because they represented actions or ideas that were significant to Christianity. God directing Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, which is not ultimately done, is seen as a precursor to the crucifixion of Jesus.  Aaron sacrificing a lamb is a spiritual precedent to the sacrifice of Jesus, the Paschal lamb, during Passover.

Recently, my wife and I took a cruise from Montreal to Boston. As with most vacations, one of our goals was to leave work behind and focus on relaxing. My work is different than most. I am the founder of The Jewish-Christian Discovery Center. The goal of this non-profit organization is to educate Jews and Christians about their shared religious traditions. The ultimate aim is for people to realize that we are, in my opinion, spiritual siblings.

We arrived in Montreal a few days early to enjoy this beautiful city prior to our cruise. On our first day we took a walking tour of the historic Jewish area of Montreal. We explored a number of buildings from a century ago and learned of the many sacrifices that the first immigrants to Canada endured. That experience was parallel to that of many new immigrants around the world. 

It was on the second day that I had two, almost revelatory experiences. Near our hotel is the stunning and ornate Church of the Notre-Dame Basilica. A Basilica is a Catholic Church which has been accorded special privileges by the Pope.  Our hotel host told us that while it is a functioning church, every day, hundreds line up to come in for a formal tour. We did exactly that. Our visit, led by a guide, began with the church’s history. Built in 1672, Notre-Dame Basilica has had a long spiritual connection to this grand city. The altar contains a massive panorama of Biblical figures depicted by life-size, wooden carved statues.  In the top- center is Jesus with Mary and John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene.

It was the figures,  however, that surrounded this centerpiece that caught my attention. All around Jesus are the Biblical figures of Abraham, Moses, Aaron, and Melchizedek. Each of these beautifully created works of art were chosen because of their spiritual connections to Jesus and Christianity. Each figure was represented with a scene from the Bible. Abraham is shown on Mt. Moriah following God’s  commands about his son Isaac. Aaron, the high priest, is shown offering a lamb to God. Similarly, Moses and Melchizedek are featured based on their Biblical stories. 

These stunning works of art were placed in this church because they represented actions or ideas that were significant to Christianity. God directing Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, which is not ultimately done, is seen as a precursor to the crucifixion of Jesus.  Aaron sacrificing a lamb is a spiritual precedent to the sacrifice of Jesus, the Paschal lamb, during Passover.

However, there are additional ideas to be considered.  These four mentioned Biblical figures also symbolize the faith that Jesus lived. They represent the two thousand year history of beliefs, holidays and religious traditions that he was born into, preached about and practiced his whole life. Jesus, as a highly educated Jewish leader, was well versed in the stories of these Biblical patriarchs. 

These stunning works of art reflect the powerful relationship between Jews and Christians: Judaism is the mother faith to Christianity.  I suggest that we are inexorably bound together by a common history of faith, the Bible, religious leaders, prayers and spirituality. Unfortunately, over the last two millennia, this has not been the case. Jews and Christians have had a sad and often painful past. 

As I was thinking about the relationship between the faiths, the tour of the Basilica was proceeding. Our guide showed us a magnificent and ornate two story pulpit. This elevated platform was built in the 1800’s. It gave the priest a raised stand to deliver his sermons.  While admiring the artistry and practicality of the raised pulpit, the guide drew our attention to the base of the pulpit stairway. In this area were two life-like statues: The Biblical prophets of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

These two prophetic figures were deliberately placed at the foundation of the pulpit-stairway. I presume they were placed there as symbols of spiritual inspiration and holiness. I imagine that anyone about to give a sermon would pass these figures and perhaps pray about offering meaningful messages. 

All of these Biblical leaders were placed in prominent positions to emphasize the connections between the two traditions. Indeed, the Church has an informational pamphlet which it offers to its thousands of visitors. One sentence stands out: “Like the altarpiece, the pulpit represents how the Bible’s Old Testament is the basis of the Christian faith.”

In effect, the Church is acknowledging my contention: Judaism is the spiritual parent of Christianity and we are spiritual siblings. In my upcoming book, “A New Look at Rabbi Jesus,” I show the numerous faith, Biblical, and historical connections that Jews and Christians enjoy. I invite you to read it, listen to our podcasts, and stay connected to the Jewish Christian Discovery Center. Our ultimate goal is for all of us to realize that we are linked together by thousands of years of spiritual DNA.

The next time you are in Montreal, visit the Basilica and let me know what you think!

Dr. Abraham (Albert)Slomovitz. 

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