No two people ever see the same movie or read the same book. We each carry to the theater, or to the armchair, our own experience and other baggage that contribute to perspective. If this is true for something as simple as Where the Wild Things Are, then imagine the chasm of understanding between a Jew and a Christian looking at a crucifix.
But different perspectives are not necessarily conflicting ones. When David W. Weiss, whose family fled Austria in 1938, stayed at an Albanian guesthouse some 75 years later, the crucifix on the wall in his room might have been a point of conflict between him and the inn’s proprietor. As Weiss recounts in The Enemy, it turned out to be a point of comprehension—if not quite a confluence of views.
Most Jews outside Israel live among predominantly Christian populations, so it’s not surprising that we recognize and form opinions about Christian leaders. Many of us can look at the past several popes and distinguish the ones we found sympathetic from those who seemed tone deaf if not exactly hostile and those who conjured up images of the Inquisition or worse. Jay Michaelson observes that a lot of Jews look at Pope Francis and like what they see. Not only that, Michaelson argues that some qualities they see in the pope they wouldn’t mind seeing in their own rabbis.
Jews tend to be acutely aware of living in a Christian environment. But most Gentiles—and some Jews—are often unaware of wandering into a Jewish one. Take, for example, the lyrics of Leonard Cohen. As Seth Rogovoy writes, Cohen has always drawn deeply “from the well of Torah for themes, symbols and inspiration, although much of this aspect may have been lost on the majority of listeners.” It’s likely that most of the 300-plus artists who have recorded Cohen’s most iconic song know something of the composer’s vision. On the other hand, it’s axiomatic that no two artists ever sing the same “Hallelujah.”