Shaya Cohen -


Judeo-Christianity: Stressing our commonality instead of our differences

Most of us, most of the time, have little tolerance for people who hold different beliefs than we do. In part, we are defensive about the choices we make, and insecure that others do not do as we do. And when it comes to religion, the problem can be even more stark: if you only believe in one “truth,” then everyone who believes differently than you must be false, and perhaps even doomed to hell.

As a result, among Christians (and sometimes Jews), inclusive terms are often rejected out of hand: the adjectival label “Judeo-Christian” for example is often rejected on the basis that there is no such thing as a Judeo-Christian! And only one path can be True – so whatever “those people” do must, of necessity, be excluded as having any validity at all. Either you are with The Truth, or you are the enemy.

Ah … but maybe there is a defense to be made in the text of the Torah for just such a fuzzy and inclusive worldview. A worldview that supports, for example, this freedom-loving Torah Jew living alongside others who hold quite different beliefs. In other words, there is an argument that relies on the text itself to support a wide diversity of thoughts within the broader boundaries of the text.

How could I possibly make such an argument? I think the text gives it to us. I think that the text embraces such an inclusive embrace of diverse opinions. This is because there is a shared word in the text that itself means “connection,” but also serves to connect everything.

This word is “ahd,” and it means a variety of ideas, each part of a larger meaning for this critical word. The word ahd serves to include things that are different from each other.

For starters the word can mean “until” – as in:

By the sweat of your brow shall you get bread to eat, until (ahd) you return to the ground.

But note what the word also does: it connects different things, in this case, sweat and death. It is broadly used in the text to indicate an inclusive range:

All existence on earth was blotted out—(ahd) humans, (ahd) cattle, (ahd) creeping things, and (ahd) birds of the sky;

This very same word is also the root word for a witness or testimony:

You shall not testify against your neighbor false ahd.

Can you see how this word also means “connection”? A witness acts to connect a person with an action, so the testimony is there to create a link between two disparate things.

The strangest use of this word is when it is used to connect things for which being a witness is impossible. Here are those examples, in table form:





Indeed, these seven ewe-lambs you should take from my hand,
so that they may be a witness (ahd) for me that I dug this well.

Sheep cannot witness anything.


Come, then, let us make a pact, you [Jacob] and I, that there may be a witness (ahd) between you and me.” Thereupon Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. … And Laban declared, “This mound is a witness (ahd) between you and me this day.” That is why it was named Gal-ed;

Stones are inanimate; if anything, they are less qualified witnesses than are sheep!


I call heaven and earth this day to witness (ahd) against you that you shall soon perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess; you shall not long endure in it, but shall be utterly wiped out.

Note the transition from specific “witnesses” to global ones.

Heaven and earth cannot be witnesses! So this needs explanation!


Now it shall be
if you forget, yes, forget your G-d
and walk after other gods,
and serve them and bow down to them, I call-witness (ahd) with you today

This seems to be co-witnessed by G-d AND the people. Like mutual accountability. But the word still seems wrong…


I call heaven and earth to witness (ahd) with you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life—if you and your offspring would live—

Again, heaven and earth cannot be witnesses in any legal sense. The Torah is surely not implying that they are independent characters…


Take this Torah scroll and place it beside the Ark of the Covenant of your G-d, and it will be there with you for witness (ahd).

Note how we moved from physical things, to things that are merely a collection of words


Gather to me all the elders of your tribes and your officials, that I may speak all these words to them and that I may call heaven and earth to witness (ahd) with/in them.



Therefore, write down this poem and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths, in order that this poem may be My witness (ahd) within the people of Israel.

Moving into the spoken word makes the “witness” ever-less physical. And note that the object of the “witnessing” is not necessarily the people – it could be G-d.


Set your hearts toward all these words which I have made witness (ahd) with you today, that you may command your children to take care to observe all the words of this Torah.

Words are themselves witnesses?


The Ark of the Testimony, or the tablets that held the Ten Commandments (ahd)

Both are not witnesses – they are visual reminders!

When you put all of these together, you find an easily explainable common theme: “witness” is not the correct translation. “Mental reminder of a connection” might be a much better (though unwieldy) fit. Think of it this way: when we look at heaven and earth, we are to remember the verses connected to them. When we read the Torah, we are to remember its importance and meaning. This is precisely what Avram and Jacob and Laban meant by their sheep and mounds and pillars: the ahd is a reminder of a connection, a meaning where there would not have been one otherwise.

What does this have to do with “Judeo-Christianity”? Everything!

Let’s use the Ten Commandments. Admired and generally accepted by both Jews and Christians, the Big Ten are at the heart of a shared worldview. Indeed, they are so broadly pervasive that key tenets (thou shalt not kill, etc.) are considered obvious by so-called rational atheists (despite most of non-Torah human history suggesting otherwise)! So in that sense the Ten Commandments have succeeded in creating a shared worldview, loosely described as “Judeo-Christian.” Even though there are countless flavors of Jews and Christians, and little agreement on how one should observe, for example, the Sabbath, there remains these shared Ten Commandments. Similarly, Jews and Christians believe, in opposition to paganism, that G-d is not found in natural forces: the wind, the sea, or the earth.

Why does ahd mean a connection between people? This is also found in the text! In the Torah, when people do something together, they are called an ahdass, using the very same root word. That assembly is not a unified body of people. Instead, it is a group of people who are connected to each other. It is different from am, nation, or kahal, congregration, other words to describe the Israelites. The difference is perhaps subtle, but it is critical. The word ahd is never used to connect things that are the same – and in many cases it connects apples and oranges (the first example being the connection of sweat to death). An ahdass is not a unified people: it is an agglomerated group who have chosen to do or believe something together.

The ahdass, the community, exists because everyone in it shares something. So, for example, with the Ark of the Testimony/Tablets, the tabernacle itself forms the nexus, the hub, the shared connection for all the people. And that is why it is called an ahd.

But the Levites are to camp around the Dwelling of Testimony (ahd) … and the Levites are to keep the charge of the Dwelling of Testimony (ahd).

So we see that to the extent that there are shared beliefs or actions between Christians and Jews, then in the language of the Torah itself, we form an adass, an entity comprised of different people who nevertheless have something in common. I present you with “Judeo-Christianity.”

This understanding also supports a wide range of pluralism within Judaism itself: to the extent there are shared connections (and ideally boundaries), then there is an ahdass of Jews.

P.S. I think the progression of the use of the word ahd can teach us that the Jews are not a people of a temple, or even of a book. Ultimately, we are about words and thoughts, non-corporeal things to connect to a non-corporeal Creator.

[an @iwe, @susanquinn, @blessedblacksmith, @eliyahumasinter work!]

Comments are welcome!

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