In which I get language-policed

No, rabbis imitating the bad behavior of priests is not, strictly speaking, ecumenical activity; it’s really interfaith work.

A reader hoists me with my own petard:

I typically wouldn’t make an email out of something like this, but given your last post regarding the difference between a testament and a testimony, I think it appropriate. Technically, an orthodox Rabbi acting like a Catholic clergyman is not “ecumenical.” In the religious context, ecumenism generally refers to intra-religous cooperation. More specifically, it typically refers to intra-Christian cooperation. That is to say, someone who acts ecumenically tries to build inter-denominational rather than inter-religious bridges. A rabbi acting like a priest would be something along the lines of interfaith brotherhood rather than ecumenism.

He’s right, of course. That one-liner was an in-joke. Because Vatican II, which promoted better Christian-Jewish relations, was an Ecumenical Council, and because the idea of Jewish-Christian reconciliation was linked to the more properly “ecumenical” work toward Christian unity, “ecumenical” in Jewish circles got to mean anything involving being less standoffish from Christianity, including various liturgical borrowings. A rabbi active in interfaith work might be described as “very ecumenical.”

The joke had rather a nasty barb to it: back when being “ecumenical” was fashionable among Jews, its appeal was on the theologically liberal side: to the Reform, Conservative, and Modern Orthodox traditions. To the haredim, such fooling around with the goyim and their false religion was an approach to apostasy. So I was implying that this group of bigots was not only acting like the Christians they despise but, in doing so, imitating the liberal Jews they hate.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: