It was an honor that the book by Rabbi David Rosen and me (with Forewords by Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury and Rene-Samuel Sirat, former Chief Rabbi of France) would be launched at Westminster Abbey on March 23rd 2006.
The meeting ‘by invitation only’ began shortly after 12.30 p.m. David’s wife Sharon and my wife Louise sat next to each other on the front row. The Chairman of the Council of Christians and Jews, who with our publisher Hodder and Stoughton sponsored the meeting, introduced David Rosen and me and asked me to begin with the reason for the book. I explained how I became involved in the Alexandria Peace Process (the architect of which is Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury and Andrew White, his envoy to the Middle East), developed a personal relationship with Yasser Arafat and then met David Rosen at a Shabbat Meal which he and his wife Sharon hosted in Jerusalem. I recalled how this meeting brought us to tears. But I noted his positive comments about Pharisees that evening, how this amazed me – I gathered David sees himself as a Pharisee, and that a correspondence with him followed. I later proposed to write a book with him – which we now have. I explained that we agreed to be frank in the book, also in our debate – ‘lovingly at each other’s throats!’ The main issues between us were the nature of sin, faith and the Messiah.
In my opening comments I stated that it is my view that the Jews missed their Messiah 2,000 years ago – namely, Jesus of Nazareth who was born of a virgin, who lived sinlessly for 33 years, fulfilling the Law; that when he died on a cross his blood satisfied God’s justice. We are given assurance of a home in Heaven not by our good works but by transferring our trust in good works to what Jesus has done for us on the cross.
David Rosen replied that all I just said went right over his head, that it was like hearing ‘from another planet’. He believes that we get to Heaven by our good works, keeping the Law. He added that he is a ‘pluralist’ – that there is more than one way to Heaven.
I responded by saying there is a ‘double blindness’ on Jews. First, there is the blindness by the ‘god of this world’ (2 Cor.4:4) – on all men, but, secondly, God himself has inflicted on Israel ‘a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear’ (Rom.11:8).
We took questions. ‘For whom did you write this book?’ asked Sir Sigmund Sternberg. ‘Is this not a book for schools?’ David Rosen replied: ‘I wrote this book for RT.’ I replied, ‘I wrote this for David’, then adding: ‘I am a fisherman, and I love to catch a big fish’.
David insisted that there was no likelihood that I would succeed with him. I replied, ‘Who was the most unlikely person to be converted 2,000 years ago? Was it not Saul of Tarsus? And David, with your brilliant mind, God could make you the Apostle Paul of the 21st century’.
David said, ‘I am a Jew. Jesus was a Jew. I am a Pharisee. Jesus was a Pharisee. RT, I understand Jesus better than you do’. I responded: ‘I challenge you to write another book with me – based entirely on the teachings of Jesus’.
Anton LaGuardia, the Diplomatic Editor of The Daily Telegraph, expressed the hope that this debate would extend to the inclusion of a learned Muslim in the interest of peace in the Middle East. More than one person expressed this hope to David and me during the day. Mr. LaGuardia, author of Holy Land, Unholy War, wrote a Weblog for The Daily Telegraph the next day which you can read here:
‘What do you feel about Messianic believers?’ asked Charlie Colchester. I noted that they generally do not want to be known as Christians, but David thinks Messianic believers should call themselves Christians.
‘Why don’t you respect our Law [the Torah]?’ asked one Jewish person present. I replied that I certainly do and that the greatest way one can show respect for the Law of God is to affirm the one who fulfilled the Law – Jesus who fulfilled the Law including the sacrificial system.
One lady spoke up, ‘I am a Christian, but I find myself agreeing more with Rabbi Rosen than with you’. I replied that I anticipated a comment like that but added, ‘If you wrote back and forth with David I think it would have been a pretty dull book!’
Each of us was asked, ‘What disappointed you the most in your correspondence?’ David answered that it was my incessant attempts to convert him, that when he got a letter he said to himself, ‘Here we go again’. I said that what disappointed me the most was that, whereas the book began with our interpretation of verses in Isaiah and the Psalms, at some stage David switched to quoting the rabbinic authorities rather than Scripture.
David wrote this book to help Christians see that Pharisees are not like those described in the New Testament. I pointed out that there was certainly one way in which he was very like the ancient Pharisees; by appealing to the rabbinic authorities rather than Scripture he made the word of God of no effect by his tradition. David replied that Scripture needs to be interpreted and that Christians do this as well.
I closed the day by saying what an honor it was for me to have David Rosen as a friend. That he certainly has indeed made Pharisees look better, and when it is considered that a another reason David had for writing the book was to help Christians see how much Jews dislike attempts of people trying to convert them, he has made himself exceedingly vulnerable in writing this book with me. He is the most distinguished orthodox Jewish rabbi in Israel, was given the first papal knighthood by Pope Benedict. (David gave the pope a copy of our book the week before.) I stated my love and respect for David and I saluted him for what he has done in being willing to write this book with me.
A number of people present commented that they could tell we love and respect each other.
Lyndon Bowring, Chairman of Care, observed afterwards that ‘one could not have had a better drama anywhere in the West End’ (London’s theatre district).
— R T Kendall