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Winston Churchill is credited with succinctly stating an interesting problem: we are two nations separated by a common language. Of course, Churchill was referring to the United Kingdom and the United States ; however, his observation is also true of the two “nations” - or religious systems - of Judaism and Christianity.Most of us (Jews and Christians, alike) take for granted that when we use the same language, we mean the same thing. In actuality, sometimes, we do, but often, we do not. This assumption of “same language = same meaning” is understandable given the reality that Jews and Christians share thousands of years of history and some of the same sacred literature - Jews call it the Hebrew Bible1  and most Christians call it the Old Testament. Despite this, too often this assumption is erroneous.

For students of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), this issue of language is no small matter.When students are asked to read such authors as Paul Pruyser, Henri Nouwen, Stanley Hauerwas, and Dorothee Soelle (to name but a few examples), Jewish students often have to struggle with concepts that are grounded in specific Christian premises at the same time that they are trying to process the applicability of the pastoral content assigned. Often, these authors use value-laden terms, like grace, atonement, messiah, and salvation. Sharing a general theological framework, most Christians read these words and think of the same – or similar - ideas. However, Jews neither start with nor share the same theological beliefs. This means that Jewish students are perpetually asking themselves, “If the premise isn’t true for me, can the conclusion still contain meaning?”Sometimes it does, sometimes it does not.2 Often, the resulting conflict leaves Jewish students feeling alienated from their CPE supervisors and peers - as though they are strangers in a strange land. Few CPE supervisors realize that although everyone is reading the same material in the same language, there are (at least) two “nations” present who are processing it differently.

© 2004 , Bonita E Taylor & David J. Zucker

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