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Jun 12 15 2:19 AM
The Holy See and the Middle East Peace Process: Is the Agreement with Palestine a help or hindrance?
Vatican Secretary of State speaks about on Israel, Palestine, the peace process, anti-Semitism and Islamist radicalization
For the first time since Francis appointed him Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the key figure of Vatican diplomacy today, expressed his views on the main issues of concern to Israel and Jews around the world: Vatican-Israel, Vatican-Palestine and Catholic-Jewish relations; combating rising anti-Semitism; the responsibility of religious leaders and Muslims in particular to countering Islamist radicalization on all levels; the Vatican’s efforts to further peace in the Middle East; the opening to scholars of the Vatican’s World War II archives.
Our meeting took place in the historic rooms of the Apostolic Palace. We talked for nearly an hour. The date was providential: 50 years after Vatican II and ‘Nostra Aetate’ revolutionized Catholic-Jewish and interreligious relations, and 20 years after the Fundamental Agreement ushered in a new era with the beginning of diplomatic relations between the State of Israel and the Holy see. The conversation, though planned much earlier, came on the heels of Israel’s disappointment over what it considered a premature and detrimental recognition of “the State of Palestine”, and shortly after official Vatican clarification that Pope Francis had not called Abu Mazen “an angel of peace” but rather expressed his hopes that the Palestinian President could become one.
We know that Pope Francis and the Holy See are sincerely committed to helping to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians. However, the recent move to sign an agreement with “the State of Palestine” whose boundaries have yet to be defined by a bi-lateral treaty, has left Israeli disconcerted. Even “angels of Peace” require well thought-out plans of action. Israel fears that Palestinians will continue to seek international legitimation without conceding to direct talks aimed at a two state solution. The Holy See has a distinguished and centuries old reputation for expert diplomacy. What strategy do you envision for convincing both Palestinians and Israelis to make the necessary compromise for a lasting peace, and in this context, what steps could be taken to unify the different Palestinians forces into renouncing all forms of violence and endorsing a democratic Palestinian State based on the recognition of Israel’s right to exist and a pledge to uphold the values expressed in the 1948 UN Charter on Universal Human Rights?
The Holy See repeatedly calls for Israelis and Palestinians to take bold decisions towards reconciliation and peace. Both peoples must first solve internal problems and difficulties, because, unfortunately, there are some who seem not to want peace or who are content to maintain the status quo. I hope, however, that the majority of citizens and groups are in favor of peace. Support from the international community is needed in order to rebuild confidence and facilitate a dialogue that has been hampered by a history of struggle and clashes which have left deep wounds. Certainly, a point of reference for everyone must be, as you mentioned, the values expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the UN resolutions that have addressed the issue.
I wish to underscore that the Holy See does not see the future signing of the Agreement with the State of Palestine as an adverse or contrary initiative to the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. On the contrary! Although this is an agreement that essentially concerns the life of the Church, it is thought of in terms of the good of the whole society. Indeed, an agreement by which the Palestinian state will be committed to recognizing fundamental rights, including that of freedom of religion and conscience, is a step towards contributing to the development of a country that will be democratic and respectful of diverse religious realities. The Holy See also hopes that the Agreement may in some way contribute to the achievement of lasting peace through a two-state solution. This cannot be done at the expense of the legitimate rights of Israelis and Palestinians, who are called to treat each other not as enemies or adversaries, but as neighbors and, I would say more, as friends and brothers, eager and willing to find a negotiated solution for the good of both parties.
It is not up to the Holy See, in and of itself, to have a political strategy to settle the conflict. The Holy See points out general principles and calls for dialogue and peace. In this regard I would like to recall Pope Francis' pilgrimage to the Holy Land last year, whose basic theme was peace as a gift of God and, at the same time, a commitment of man. It was followed by the Vatican's initiative to invite the Israeli and Palestinian Presidents to pray together for peace, in the presence of Patriarch Bartholomew.
Apart from the historic papal visits of John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis, more than 20 years have passed since a high-level diplomatic mission of the Holy See was received in Israel (headed, at the time, by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran). When will there be another one, and how do you view relations between the Holy See and Israel today?
I would frame the matter slightly differently, emphasizing above all the meaning and scope of the last Popes' visits to the Holy Land, which are undoubtedly a sign that the Holy See cares. Just to mention the latest one, I think that Pope Francis conveyed an important message and was able to achieve what seemed at first a very difficult task, namely that everyone felt included and embraced. This result could not be taken for granted. The actual preparation of the visit had not been easy, because one had to prevent the visit, the gestures and the words of the Holy Father from being misused or misinterpreted by either side giving rise to undesirable consequences.
In recent years, a number of Church officials in charge of various Departments of the Holy See came to the Holy Land for various reasons, such as Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Commission for Religious Relations with Jews.
With regard to relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel, I would like to recall that we have recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations, which resulted from the Fundamental Agreement between the Parties, signed on December 30th, 1993 and ratified in early 1994. We have since gone a long way in strengthening the bond of mutual friendship and dialogue. A further outcome of the Fundamental Agreement was the Understanding on the legal entity of the Church, dated November 1997, while another one relating to taxation and property, the so-called "Economic Agreement", is nearing completion after years of negotiation, and I hope that it will be signed in the near future.
Has the Vatican requested that Israel give force of law to the legal agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel concluded more than a decade ago? What is it its present status?
Rather than it being a request from the Holy See, it is an internal requirement of the Israeli legal order, to ensure that what has been agreed to in an international agreement can then be applied within the country in terms of legislation and administration. The issue concerns both the Fundamental Agreement of 1993 and the Understanding on the legal personality of the Church of 1997. Although they have both been ratified, they have not yet been incorporated into Israeli domestic law. The Holy See has raised the issue on several occasions and has received assurances from the Israeli authorities that they would try to remedy this. There are also concrete proposals which are the subject of study and discussion, especially regarding the Understanding on the legal personality of the Church.
Pope Francis, as Benedict XVI, St. John Paul and St. John XXIII before him, communicates well his feelings of closeness and sensitivity to the concerns of the Jewish People. How do you see the state of Catholic-Jewish relations today?
Catholic-Jewish relations have had a very positive development especially after the Second Vatican Council and the Nostra Aetate Declaration of 28 October 1965 concerning the relations of the Church with non-Christian religions, which has helped create a new season of dialogue and brought many benefits. The 50th anniversary of this important document is coming up soon. There is a special Office in the Holy See, the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, which maintains regular contact with various Jewish institutions, including the International Jewish Committee on Inter-religious Consultations. As you mentioned, the last Popes have in various occasions had the opportunity to express closeness to the Jews, who are regarded as "elder brothers", and have also visited several synagogues. When Pope Francis was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he maintained good relations with the Jewish community in Argentina - as he does today with the Jewish community of Rome - and established ties of friendship with some of its leaders. He often receives representatives of various Jewish organizations Jewish from all continents. I can therefore confirm, with satisfaction, that the state of relations between Catholics and Jews has greatly improved in recent decades. We are heading down the right direction of a journey that must always move forward.
World Jewry is very concerned over the explosion of anti-Semitism in Europe, a disease we had hoped had been conquered after the trauma of World War II and the Shoah shook European society to the roots. Every act of Islamist terrorism on European soil in the past decades has singled out a Jewish target either alone or in concomitance with symbols of free speech. Anti-Semitic stereotypes are returning to common speech. European Jewish citizens are presently expatriating from many countries in droves. What statements, what action could the Vatican propose to counter the terrifying phenomenon which, singling out Jews, is also the historically proven first step towards the death of democracy, freedom and human rights?
I can assure you that the Holy See is and feels itself to be in the front lines of the fight against any temptation of renewed anti-Semitism. It has spoken out and explicitly condemned anti-Semitism in many ways, both within the Church and within the international community. I recall Pope Francis' “strong” words in his address to a delegation of the aforementioned International Jewish Committee on Inter-religious Consultations, when he said that because of our common roots, a Christian cannot be anti-Semitic. On that occasion, he also added that humanity needs our common witness in favor of respect for the dignity of men and women, who are created in the image and likeness of God, and towards peace. The Holy See sends out similar messages in various international forums. I would like to add that the Holy See has also spoken out against all forms of intolerance directed towards Christians, Muslims or those belonging to other religions as well.
The Islamist totalitarian ideology is radicalizing many young people all over the world and claiming a terrifying toll of victims among Christians, Yazidis, other minorities and non-extremist Muslims themselves in Africa, Asia and the Near East. How can Jews, Christians and Muslims on one hand, and Israel and the Vatican on the other, work together to combat this common enemy of the entire free world?
One of the major challenges of the contemporary world is terrorism. It is important to counter it with all available means. Since this is a global threat, it requires the cooperation of everyone to deal with it at various levels, from military security, to the political and economic levels, in order to block the sources of financing that fuel terrorist groups. However, the greatest challenge to be met is in the area of ideas and education. In this regard, a great responsibility falls upon religious leaders, who are called upon to promote the education of their flock towards dialogue, peace and the culture of encounter. Jews, Christians and Muslims throughout the world run a large number of schools, associations and educational institutions of various kinds. It is essential that all those heading these institutions re-examine their educational programs. If necessary, we must have the courage to rethink the methods and content of their curriculums in order to work together to draw up paths that will promote those fundamental values without which there can be neither dialogue nor peace. We must fight against a mentality that tends to exclude others and to impose a "monochrome" culture at the expense of diversity. We must denounce, in particular, any manipulation of religion aimed at justifying violence or terrorism. Regarding the Islamist totalitarian ideology which you mention, Muslims themselves have a special responsibility to combat it. Moreover, it is always important to promote respect for minorities, and more generally, respect of human rights that harbor at their core the fundamental right to religious freedom. It is vital to develop the concept of citizenship as a point of reference of social life. Indeed, it is not about tolerating minorities, but recognizing that they are a living part of the community on a par with the majority, and encouraging their involvement in the search for the common good.
The IHRA – the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance – is an international task force that does useful educational work to counter Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism. Why is the Vatican not a partner of the IHRA, at least as an observer?
The Holy See has long been active in the field of education, especially in schools, to counter both Holocaust denial and anti-semitism. The Holy See maintains close contact with the IHRA at the highest level, and some of its representatives have attended the Organization's recent meetings. The Secretariat of State, in particular, has established fruitful relations with the heads of the Organization and has appointed a contact person, Father Norbert Hofmann, SDB, Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews in order to pursue those relations. Further steps to progress in this collaboration that has existed for some years will be duly considered.
This year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II document “Nostra Aetate”, which marks a fundamental change and rapprochement between the Catholic Church and the Jews, as well as with the other world religions. Although there is always more work to be done, this document and all the important subsequent documents issued by the Vatican on this delicate issue have penetrated to parishes all over Europe and the U.S. Latin American countries have lagged behind somewhat. What more could be done to update and transform Catholic teaching in Latin America regarding relations with the Jewish religion and people, especially in view of the great influence of the present, much beloved Argentinian Pope?
Catholic teachings do not change from one country to another or from one continent to another. What is different are the circumstances and feelings which are affected by many factors. For example, the fact that the Pope is Argentinian has had a very positive influence for the Church in Latin America. However, the question to which you refer has been pointed out to us several times by Jewish organizations and we have raised it at the level of the Episcopal Conferences of Latin America.
And finally, the usual question: when will the complete Secret Archives on World War II become open and consultable to scholars?
The issue of the archives and of their opening is always being considered, but the groundwork is taking longer than expected, and this delay is due to technical-archival issues. What makes the situation more complex is the huge number of files that are in the Vatican. As far as opening those related to the pontificate of Pope Pius XII is concerned, it should be noted that the Holy See seeks to contribute to historical truth in its entirety. In this context, the forces which opposed the barbarity of the Holocaust and the dedication, sometimes to the point of sacrifice, of those who saved the lives of many Jews will surely be among the topics to be explored. In this regard, the Catholic Church has been committed to this task at many levels for quite a while, and one could highlight the fact that the diocesan archives around the world are already unearthing big surprises. The Holy See intends, as it has done in the past, to make the documents from its archives available in the same manner as already indicated in recent years. Upon completion of the preparatory work for the consultation, all those who hold the academic qualifications required for historical research will be able to consult the available documentation.
Jun 30 15 2:59 PM
Aug 27 15 9:43 AM
Aug 31 15 11:51 AM
As a Catholic Pole, Elka shouldn’t even have been in the ghetto of Czestochowa, in southern Poland. But the nanny was so devoted to the 12-year-old Jewish boy she had raised since infancy that she refused to leave. She ended up being sent to the Treblinka death camp — where she was murdered with the Jews.Today the boy, Sigmund Rolat, is an 85-year-old Polish-American businessman and philanthropist on a mission. He aims to build a memorial in the heart of Warsaw’s former ghetto to his beloved Elka and the thousands of other Polish Christians who risked their lives for Jews during World War II.While the project has the blessing of Poland’s chief rabbi, it has also sparked strong opposition. Many scholars and some Jews fear that a monument to Polish rescuers at Warsaw’s key site of Jewish tragedy will bolster a false historical narrative that Poles largely acted as rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust. In reality, many Poles were indifferent to the plight of Jews during the war, and significant numbers participated in their persecution.Official Polish narratives about the Holocaust already typically highlight the Poles who risked their lives to save Jews. Poland has been actively promoting the memory of Jan Karski, a resistance fighter who brought proof to the West of the destruction of Poland’s Jews.Yet little is said about the widespread passivity that existed despite such enormous Jewish suffering, or cases where Poles used the breakdown of law and order to blackmail and murder Jews themselves, driven by greed or anti-Semitic hatred.“Poles were victims, but at the same time they were also victimizers of the most fragile members of society,” said historian Jan Grabowski, an opponent of the memorial and author of “Hunt for the Jews: Betrayal and Murder in German-Occupied Poland.”The debate comes against the backdrop of a dramatic, more positive change in attitudes toward Poland’s Jewish history since the country’s repressive communist era. The democratic European Union nation is increasingly celebrating the large Jewish population that flourished in Polish lands for centuries until the Holocaust — the new POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews is a key example of this efflorescence.Under Rolat’s plan, the memorial would be next to the POLIN Museum and near a monument to the Jewish fighters of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.But there is still stiff resistance by the Polish government and mainstream society to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that Poles — who were tortured, imprisoned and murdered in huge numbers by the Germans — also took part willingly at times in the murder of Jews.Nobody questions the heroism of the Polish rescuers, who risked immediate execution along with their entire families. Israel’s Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem has documented more than 6,500 such Poles.Opponents of the memorial, however, argue that the former Warsaw ghetto should remain primarily a site of Jewish mourning, not a site of Polish national glory — given how little help actually reached Poland’s 3.3 million Jews, most of whom perished. They stress that saving Jews was the rare exception and that rescuers had to fear not only the Germans but also betrayal by other Poles.Yad Vashem says even after the war, Polish rescuers sometimes asked the Jews they had helped not to tell anybody, not wanting their neighbors to know.“Polish anti-Semitism was ubiquitous before the war and unscrupulous,” reads an open letter against the memorial project written by three Polish scholars — Bozena Keff, Helena Datner and Elzbieta Janicka — and signed by many others. “That was the context for the Righteous, who acted DESPITE and not with the consent of the majority.”Michal Bilewicz, a psychologist who specializes in anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, describes Polish behavior toward Jews during the war as extremely complex and difficult to convey. Many assume that Poles collaborated with the Nazis, but this is wrong: Poland’s underground state and army even had a unit to help Jews.“They did not collaborate with the Nazis. But at the same time large numbers of these people were anti-Semites,” said Bilewicz, an associate professor at the Center for Research on Prejudice at Warsaw University. “They were more violently anti-Nazi than they were anti-Semitic, but they hated Jews. Sometimes they even said ‘there is only one good thing about Hitler: that he resolved the Jewish issue in Poland.'”
Oct 27 15 3:41 AM
My rabbinic colleague, David Saperstein, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, issued a “glass half full” report earlier this month, noting that “… over the last several years there’s been a steady increase in the percentage of people who live in countries that … have serious restrictions on religious freedom.”At the same time, he noted, “we’ve seen enormous expansion of interfaith efforts on almost every continent to try and address the challenges.”Much of that “enormous expansion of interfaith efforts” can be traced to the historic Nostra Aetate (Latin for “In Our Time”) Declaration that the world’s Catholic bishops adopted 50 years ago at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.Pope Paul VI promulgated the declaration on Oct. 28, 1965 that has transformed the Catholic Church’s relationship with Jews after nearly 2,000 years of troubled relations, centuries filled with religious bigotry and hostile stereotypes. Indeed, there have been more positive Christian-Jewish encounters since 1965 than there were in the first 20 centuries of Christianity.A succinct 624 words in the English language translation, the authoritative Vatican Council teaching rejected the obscene charge of Jewish culpability for the death of Jesus and the false accusation that Jews are eternally “accursed by God” for the Roman Empire’s crucifixion of Jesus.In addition, it says, “preaching of the word of God” must not reflect anti-Jewish prejudice or bias. Nostra Aetate deplored all “hatreds, persecutions, displays of ant-Semitism directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”It also urged Catholics to develop “mutual understanding and respect” for Jews and Judaism, and to establish “biblical and theological studies” as well as “fraternal dialogues” between Catholics and Jews. And for the first time in history, Catholics were called to engage in Jewish-Catholic dialogue and affirm respect for non-Christian world religions.Today some historians and religious leaders believe Nostra Aetate did not go far enough. They correctly note that the venomous term “deicide,” or the killing of God, was deleted from the final draft. They point out there is no mention of the Holocaust or the central role the modern state of Israel plays in the life of the Jewish people and in their religious tradition. Critics also note the lack of specific guidance in the vital areas of Catholic preaching, teaching, ritual and liturgy.While such criticisms may be true, I see Nostra Aetate differently and echo the view of Cardinal Walter Kasper, a prominent Vatican leader and a longtime leader in Catholic-Jewish relations.Kasper has written that Nostra Aetate and its many positive achievements must be not perceived as the “beginning of the end” of religious anti-Semitism, but rather as the “beginning of the beginning” of developing positive relations between two of the world’s oldest faith communities.We still have a long way to go in overcoming the often-lethal prejudice of the past.Nostra Aetate can in some ways be compared to the U.S. Constitution that was adopted 228 years ago in Philadelphia. That foundational document, like the Vatican Council declaration, was approved after intense debate, and critics of the Constitution charged it was too vague, lacked specifics and was limited in its scope.In fact, 10 Amendments — the Bill of Rights — were soon added to the basic text, and 17 more have been added over the centuries. But today no one denies the Constitution permanently changed world history and that hundreds of millions of people have benefited from its passage.Since 1965, Catholic leaders have issued a series of specific guidelines, teachings, statements, notes and documents that have strengthened the tightly worded Nostra Aetate. And as the years go by and as Catholics and Jews work even more closely on issues of mutual concern, there will be more “amendments” added to the original 1965 text.Because positive Christian-Jewish relations, like the U.S. Democracy, is a “work in progress,” the opening words of Robert Browning’s poem “Rabbi Ben Ezra” ring true: “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.”
Oct 31 15 1:37 AM
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the conclusion of Vatican II, and also of the promulgation of Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions.Nostra Aetate was one of the most groundbreaking documents of Vatican II. It was also one of the most difficult documents to draft and to pass for theological and political reasons, both internal and external to the Church.It remains one of the most consequential documents in the history of the post-Vatican II Church and for the relations between Jews and Christians (Catholics especially, but not only Catholics).The story of Nostra Aetate is a story of leadership in the Church. It was only indirectly a fruit of a collective process of reflection on the relations between Jews and Christians in light of the long history of the "teaching of contempt" - as French Jewish historian Jules Isaac called it. The declaration was drafted at the intersection of a new historical consciousness in the Church, the deepening of the meaning of the Jewishness of Jesus, a new awareness of a singular humanity in the global world, and a heightened consciousness of the responsibility of Christians for anti-Semitism and the emergence of the Holocaust studies - an area of research that is particularly marked by what Annette Wieworka called the "age of the witness" and by the need to keep the memory alive.Because of the tragic events of first half of the twentieth century, we could say that the conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate in a sense stands at the intersection between Jewish history and history of Christianity.Nostra Aetate was drafted, received and reflected upon in these last fifty years in a historical, political, and theological context that relies increasingly onmemory - in this case, the memory of the responsibility of the Church in its violent relations with Jews - and less on history. Indeed, in our time memory is often in competition with history - especially when history has been subject to the indictment of some members of the Catholic establishment, who accuse Church historians of emphasizing "change" at the expense of "continuity."We have to rebalance, with our remembering and historicizing, the forgetting that is going on aboutNostra Aetate, Vatican II, Jewish-Christian relations and, of course, anti-Semitism. We remember Nostra Aetatebecause we want to, but also and especially because we have to.We have a moral obligation to those who came before us, and in particular to those three old men who at the beginning of the 1960s were in their ninth decade of age and at the same time were open to the future: at the opening of Vatican II in 1962, Pope John XXIII and Cardinal Augustine Bea were both 81, and the French Jewish historian Jules Isaac was 85. The audience of Jules Isaac with John XXIII, on 13 June 1960, remains one of the most consequential moments in Church history and in the history of Catholic theology. The agenda of the council changed that day, and with it Jewish-Christian relations.I am not a witness, nor an expert on Jewish-Christian relations, but I am a scholar of Vatican II. As an historian I want to try here to "do memory" of Nostra Aetate in light of the history of that text and its reception, knowing that the work of the historian is never neutral - the historian does history (writes history) but he also makes history (what and how he writes has an impact on the facts of history as it develops). But I work also as a theologian, and as such my task is even less neutral: I am called to understand and explain why a particular text is still relevant for us today, making a case for a certain interpretation of it, its history, and its future. Nostra Aetate as a Turning Point and Its Reception1. Nostra Aetate: History and TheologyThe first point to put in evidence about Nostra Aetate is its literary genre. The most important documents of Vatican II are the four constitutions: Dei Verbum on Divine Revelation, Lumen Gentium on the Church,Sacrosantum Concilium on the Sacred Liturgy, and Gaudium et Spes on the Church in the modern world. There is then a large series of decrees on specific aspects of the internal life of the Church. There are also three declarations: the first on Christian education (Gravissimum Educationis) and the other two on religious liberty (Dignitatis Humanae) and on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions (Nostra Aetate).The word "declaration" identifies a text that is about a particular argument, but addressed not inside but outside the Church - that is, ad extra. The text of Nostra Aetate is very brief - only five paragraphs. The fourth paragraph on Judaism takes up about half of the document.Nostra Aetate is not the only text of Vatican II that talks about the Jews. Other documents (Sacrosanctum Concilium, Lumen Gentium, Dei Verbum, Gaudium et Spes and Dignitatis Humanae) have sections on the Church and the Jews. But, as Canadian theologian Gregory Baum said in a 1986 address to the Catholic Theological Society of America, chapter four of Nostra Aetate represents the most radical change in the ordinary magisterium of the Catholic Church to come out of Vatican II.For Nostra Aetate changes substantially the previous tradition about the Jews in four ways. First, the relationship between Israel and the mystery of the Church (par. 4):"As the sacred synod searches into the mystery of the Church, it remembers the bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham's stock. Thus the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to God's saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are found already among the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. She professes that all who believe in Christ-Abraham's sons according to faith are included in the same Patriarch's call, and likewise that the salvation of the Church is mysteriously foreshadowed by the chosen people's exodus from the land of bondage."Second, there is a new understanding of the relationship between the Church and the Covenant with the Jewish people (par. 4):"The Church, therefore, cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles."Third, there is the "deploration" of anti-Semitism (par. 4):"Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone."Finally, there is the collaboration between Jews and Christians (par. 4):"Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues.But there are other reasons for the importance of Nostra Aetate. First, this declaration is a real survivor of Vatican II, given the multiple attempts to delete the issue of the Jews from the agenda of Vatican II, and therefore delete it from the future path of the Catholic Church.Second, Nostra Aetate is more the fruit of Pope John XXIII and a few leaders (like Cardinal Bea and Bishop Jaeger of Paderborn) than the product of a large theological movement in the Church - as is the case, for example, for the liturgical reform and other theological developments of Vatican II. The declaration announces a fundamental shift much more than it receives a theological current which then effected a shift. It is, in other words, a document that opens the door to uncharted territory. It announces that the new relationship between Jews and Christians has to be lived in order to be understood theologically. In this sense, the history of the reception of Nostra Aetate is integrally important.Third, the ecclesiology of Nostra Aetate raises important questions about the distinction between the Church ontologically speaking and the members of the Church. In the initial draft, one can read that the Church "condemns" (damnat) hatred and persecutions, whereas in the final text we find a weaker "decries" (deplorat). It is clearly an attenuation.But there is another serious question here. Who is the "anyone" whose anti-Semitism the council decries? John Paul II repeated the sentence during his historical visit to the Synagogue of Rome (13 April 1986). In his speech, John Paul II quoted the conciliar declaration and said:"Yes, once again, through myself, the Church, in the words of the well-known Declaration Nostra Aetate (par. 4), 'deplores the hatred, persecutions, and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews at any time and by anyone'; I repeat: 'by anyone'."By this repetition the pope certainly wanted to affirm that this "anyone" includes Christians. Arguably, John Paul II also meant to include the Church itself. In subsequent decades, a problem arose about the specification of the meaning of "anyone." At the end of the twentieth century, John Paul II referred to "anyone" in the sense of "the sons and the daughters of the Church," in the attempt to separate the responsibility of the Church as such from the responsibility of the members of the Church. In light of the sex abuse scandal, there are good reasons to rethink this clear-cut separation between the Church and its members that was advocated by John Paul II and Benedict XVI.2. What Happened after Nostra Aetate?The history of the reception of Nostra Aetate is complex and must be considered at different levels. There is a history of the local reception of Nostra Aetate that is very rich and diversified according to the history of Jewish-Christian relations locally. There is a reception of Nostra Aetate in global Christianity, and not only within Catholicism. And there is the magisterial reception of Nostra Aetate in papal documents.What is important to outline here are the significant differences in the reception of Nostra Aetate by the popes of the post-Vatican II period. During the pontificate of Paul VI - who had been very cautious at the Second Vatican Council over the document, and in particular on its fourth paragraph on the Jews - the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews published in 1975 the Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration "Nostra Aetate" (n. 4).The real turning point was the pontificate of John Paul II. During his pontificate, a particular convergence became apparent between his lived experience with Jews in Poland, his interpretation of World War II as an essential part of the modern theological understanding of the world, and an awareness of the new task of the global papacy in a world no longer under colonial design - especially in the Middle East. In 1985 the Vatican published Notes on the correct way to present the Jews and Judaism in preaching and catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church. In the 1990s there were several statements from European and American episcopates about the history of anti-Semitism. In 1993 the Pontifical Biblical Commission published The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, and between 1993 and 1994 there was the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel. In 1997 the Vatican organized a conference on Christianity and anti-Judaism (in preparation for the Jubilee of 2000), and in 1998 the document of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, We Remember. A Reflection on the Shoah, was published. In 1999 the International Theological Commission published its document Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past. In 2002 the Pontifical Biblical Commission published The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible.All these documents are just one side of the magisterium of John Paul II on the Church and the Jews, the "magisterium of the gestures" being an essential part of his pontificate and especially for the issue of interreligious relations. The year 1986 is the most important, with the pope's historic visit to the Synagogue of Rome (the first for a pope, 13 April 1986) and the interreligious prayer for peace in Assisi (27 October 1986), until his visit to Israel of 21-26 March 2000 (when he visited Yad Vashem and the Western Wall) - a visit that took place less than ten days after the liturgy of 12 March 2000 in St. Peter's for the request of forgiveness, where a cardinal in St. Peter's solemnly recited a "Confession of sins against the people of Israel."As John Paul II's health declined, the theological voice of Joseph Ratzinger became more prominent, as did adifferent kind of reception of Nostra Aetate (this was visible in the year 2000 in Dominus Iesus, a declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith "On the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church"). It was, in fact, the beginning of a new phase in the reception of Nostra Aetate. During the pontificate Pope Benedict XVI, there was a different reckoning with the Shoah, especially in considering the history of the relations between the Christian "teaching of contempt" against the Jews as relevant to understanding the role of the Church as such (and not just of individual Christians) in the history of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.It is useful to remember that, in the Cologne and Birkenau address of May 2006, Benedict XVI never made reference to the document We Remember. The incident of January 2009, related to the lifting of the excommunication of the four traditionalist bishops of the Lefebvrite community known as the Society of St. Pius X, was indicative not only of the mismanagement of information about the Society in the Vatican (I refer here to the fact that Bishop Williamson, one of the four bishops "pardoned" by Benedict XVI, was a holocaust denier). It was also indicative of Joseph Ratzinger's interpretation of Vatican II and its "discontinuities."With Pope Francis, the reception of Vatican II entered a new phase, and the reception of Nostra Aetate with it. Francis has an existential and non-dogmatic expression of his relationship with non-Catholics and non-Christians. It is interesting that his first direct reference to the Council occurred during his address at the meeting with the fraternal delegates from other churches and religions on 20 March 2013. Pope Francis explicitly recalled John XXIII and the decision to convene the Council, and he cited paragraph 4 of Nostra Aetate. Bishop Bergoglio had a deep relationship with Argentinian Judaism, and he held with Rabbi Abraham Skorka a series of inter-religious talks, seeking to build bridges among Catholicism, Judaism and the world at large.It is thus not by chance that Nostra Aetate is the first conciliar document quoted by Pope Francis in the course of his pontificate. But it is still too early to assess the particular kind of theological reception Nostra Aetate will have in his pontificate. A Few Open QuestionsThe importance of Nostra Aetate in the Catholic Church and in other churches, and its impact on the whole of Jewish-Christian relations, are impossible to overestimate. Its fruits are countless - and not all of them visible and measurable. But Nostra Aetate leaves open a number questions that now, fifty years later, are clearly visible, not only in light of the changed theological landscape, but due to the history of these last few decades of Jewish-Christian relations.1. Theological IssuesThe first set of issues is theological, and related to the fact that Nostra Aetate is technically a "declaration." Its scope is at the same time limited and fundamental: limited because it was unable to prove all its statements;fundamental because it represents a key moment in the relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Jewish people.The limited nature of Nostra Aetate is rooted in the fact that the declaration could not quote from the previous Catholic tradition because it could not find anything to quote from previous councils, encyclicals, Fathers of the Church and so on. In a sense, Nostra Aetate is the most "Protestant" of the documents of the council of the Catholic Church that was Vatican II because all the quotations are from the Scripture: sola Scriptura, and no tradition. This fact becomes more relevant if we read the incipit of paragraph 4 of Nostra Aetate: "As the sacred synod searches into the mystery of the Church, it remembers the bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham's stock." The Catholic theological tradition is not quoted - not even when Nostra Aetatespeaks of the mystery of the Church. (I am here indebted to Piero Stefani's lecture to the meeting of the Lutheran delegates for Jewish-Christian dialogue, presented in Venice earlier this year 2015.)For us today and for the future of the Church, the issue is to understand how much Nostra Aetate and its reception - especially the papal reception of it - has created a new tradition that a future council could build on. John Paul II and Benedict XVI had very different readings of Nostra Aetate. John Paul II emphasized the teaching in his gestures and left a rather thin "paper trail" that is no match for the theological writings of Joseph Ratzinger who, as a theologian, as a Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for 24 years, and then as a pope, and then pope emeritus, had a quite different take on Nostra Aetate and on the relations between Jews and Christians in general.Only a history of the magisterial reception of Nostra Aetate at all levels - starting with its reception by the popes of the post-Vatican II period - can shed a light on one of the most (if not the most) important case of the reception of a substantial "change" in the Church's tradition in these last fifty years.2. The Political-Theological IssueThe world has changed more in these last fifty years than Vatican II imagined - nowhere more so than the Middle East. Vatican II follows chronologically the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, and the issue of the State of Israel played a huge role in the drafting of Nostra Aetate - though more behind the scenes than overtly. This issue was particularly problematic for Catholic bishops of Arab countries at Vatican II. They were opposed to the introduction of this very word "Israel": its appearance seemed to justify Israel as the political entity. This would bring about severe consequences for the Christian communities living in the Arab countries.This was one of the reasons Nostra Aetate talks about Israel only from a religious point of view, deliberately avoiding the State of Israel. Given the circumstances, Vatican II could do little else, probably, and it is a miracle that we have Nostra Aetate at all. But fifty years later, this is no longer sufficient.Nevertheless, the problem at Vatican II was not only political in nature; it was also theological. The absence of the word "Israel" in the conciliar document certifies that, at that time, the theological thinking about the election of the Jewish people was still uncertain. Nostra Aetate does not have a theology of the State of Israel. The political-theological issue, for us today, is that Catholicism still does not have a theology of the State of Israel. Some may think that it is safer for both Catholicism and Israel that the Catholic Church does not have a "theology of the State of Israel" - and this lack persisted even after a pope like John Paul II articulated a "theology of nations" (probably something only a non-Italian pope could do). But this lack can be also seen as a failure to recognize one of the most important "signs of the time" (to quote Gaudium et Spes, par. 4): the State of Israel and its meaning for the Jewish people worldwide.3. The Historical-Theological IssueThe third issue is historical-theological and has to do with a deeper appreciation of history to understand Vatican II, Nostra Aetate and the Jewish-Christian relations. Vatican II was a global event - in terms of the participation of the global Catholic Church in the reflections and decisions it made. But it was also global because it made a claim about what the Church has to say to the world. All of this was influenced - maybe implicitly, but evidently - by World War I, World War II, the Holocaust, the creation of the State of Israel and the Cold War. But to understandNostra Aetate we have to pay closest attention to the triad: World War II/the Holocaust, the State of Israel and Vatican II.The Holocaust and the State of Israel were at the same time absent and present at Vatican II. But they became much more visible and part of the life of the Church during these last fifty years after the end of the council. The Holocaust has become an integral part of Christian theological reflection today (and not just of academic theology) - something that we do not find at Vatican II. Italian Jewish author Paolo De Benedetti understands well the Christian reception of the Holocaust when he writes, "the pilgrimage to Yad Vashem is something Christians should consider as a sacramental experience" - a pilgrimage that must be done without a Christian appropriation of the Holocaust.The change in our world and geopolitics has provided us also with new meanings of Jewish-Christian dialogue. Politics and theology became much more interconnected after the 1970s: in this sense, the events of 11 September 2001 was the final moment of disclosure of a new, post-secular age for the relations between religion and politics. Expressions like "Jewish-Christian" and "Judeo-Christian" have a more palpable political-ideological connotation today than they did in 1965 - a time when the Catholic Church was at the same time avoiding and not considering relevant the fact of the existence of the State of Israel, and when an international Islamic militancy placing religion at the centre of the world stage did not yet exist. Once again, Nostra Aetate has proven both fundamental and limited. The Importance of History for Vatican II - Especially in Light of the Reception ofNostra AetateAll of the preceding can only be understood within an historical perspective on the history of theology, the history of Vatican II and Church history in general. For these reasons, 2015 is particularly important for the reception of the council and of its most important teachings, especially those teachings that present a clear discontinuity with the past - and Nostra Aetate is one of those teachings.The end of this four-year long and eventful anniversary of Vatican II (2012-2015) is important for two reasons: one internal to the debate on Vatican II, the other more generally relevant for the Church and its relationship with its past and with modern culture.1. Anti-Vatican II Revisionism and Nostra AetateThe debate over Vatican II has been "liberated" by Pope Francis - paradoxically, by the distance this pope from Argentina put between himself and the historical-theological debate, in a departure from his predecessor. It is very well known that Benedict XVI addressed the issue of the interpretation of Vatican II early in his pontificate, in December 2005, and a reassessment of what happened at Vatican II in light of what happened after Vatican II became an integral part of his program.But the complex "hermeneutic of reform" of Vatican II announced by the last pope who was at Vatican II (as an expert theologian, Joseph Ratzinger) could not be matched by the intellectual calibre of most of his admirers. This gap between Ratzinger and his followers unleashed a series of ideological "readjustments" in the Church that belong to Church politics more than to a genuine work of reflection on the most important religious event of the twentieth century. This politics has translated into an absolute emphasis on the "continuities" of Vatican II with the previous tradition and a denunciation of whatever of Vatican II is in "discontinuity" with the past tradition.In the case of the liturgical reform, the movement for the so-called "reform of the reform" succeeded in reestablishing the pre-Vatican II rite as a rite that is celebrated - unfortunately - in many Catholic Churches (especially in the United States) in lieu of the rite based on the reform voted by the 99% of the fathers of Vatican II and promulgated by Paul VI. Pope Benedict XVI's role in that decision was crucial.But this becomes even more serious if we look more specifically at the consequences of the denial of the discontinuities of Vatican II in the case of the reception of Nostra Aetate. The declaration on non-Christian religions, and especially its fourth paragraph, is in undeniable discontinuity with the past tradition. The case ofNostra Aetate is particularly important now because we see the serious consequences of this anti-Vatican II revisionism, which is sometimes described as an amusing, if not charming, obsession of some people for old-fashioned liturgical practices. It is actually much more than that.The reception of Vatican II in the Church can be summed up in many different ways. But we can say that there is a vast majority that accepted Vatican II and put it into practice; a minority that shows apathy and indifference towards Vatican II, but also knows that they could not live in a pre-Vatican II Church (the relevance of the teaching on religious liberty for the Catholic Church in the United States today is eloquent); and a tiny minority that openly resists Vatican II. In this tiny minority, some left the Roman Catholic Church, joining the Society of St. Pius X, the schismatic community created by French bishop Marcel Lefebvre. Some others stayed in the Church while hoping to see Vatican II fade away (and some of them became bishops and cardinals).It is not a surprise that in those Catholics that in one way or another reject Vatican II, we find a problematic reception of Nostra Aetate. It is clear that to a given reception of Vatican II corresponds a given type of reception of Nostra Aetate, and vice versa. Not all of the sceptics of Vatican II are anti-Semite or Holocaust deniers, of course. But the view of the role of Jews and Judaism for the Church and Catholic theology is substantially different between the sceptics of the discontinuities of Vatican II and those who accept Nostra Aetate in its discontinuity with the previous tradition, and accept what we have learned about the limitations of Nostra Aetatein light of the post-Vatican II theological and magisterial (papal especially) tradition. The limited role granted to Nostra Aetate by the late Cardinal Avery Dulles - one of the most widely read interpreters of the theology of Vatican II in the United States - is telling in this respect.The rejection of Vatican II in some Catholic circles (sadly, also in some Catholic colleges and universities) is based on a hermeneutical approach that most of its advocates cannot credibly defend. But it is a rejection of Vatican II that "works" on the young generations of Catholics - who usually never heard of Vatican II - because it feeds the "identitarian" temptations of a Catholicism that sees itself in terms of visible power, socially and politically. The rejection of Vatican II in terms of the "continuity yes, discontinuities no" approach means in practice (in a subtle, implicit way) a rejection of Nostra Aetate, of its theology, and of most of what happened in these last 50 years of Jewish-Christian dialogue.What is clear, however, is that if you take Nostra Aetate out of Vatican II, and the Jewish-Christian dialogue out of these last fifty years of Catholicism, what you have is a delusional picture of twenty-first century Catholicism living with a nineteenth-century theology - that is, a theology that in one way or another avoids taking seriously what happened in the twentieth century, especially the Holocaust, and its relevance and meaning for Christian theology.2. The History of Vatican II and Nostra Aetate: Why Memorializing Is Not EnoughThe present moment in the history of the reception of Vatican II is important also because of the pontificate of Pope Francis. In different ways, the popes from Paul VI to Benedict XVI received the council in light of their experience at Vatican II. The spiritual testament of John Paul II mentions the council as "a compass" for the future of the Church; Benedict XVI's last audience with the clergy of Rome emphasized once again in his personal experience the difference between the hopes of Vatican II and the disappointments of the post-conciliar period. Paul VI's and John Paul II's experiences at Vatican II made them defend Vatican II; Benedict XVI's shock for the turbulence of the post-Vatican II period led him to the position of the most important hermeneutical corrector of Vatican II in light of the post-Vatican II period.One of the differences between Francis and his predecessors is that John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI were all personally present at Vatican II, working at the very highest level on the most crucial issues of the council's agenda. Jorge Mario Bergoglio was never at Vatican II, having been ordained a priest in 1969. Pope Francis has avoided tackling the hermeneutical issue of Vatican II per se during his pontificate. He has always mentioned Vatican II in the most important documents and acts of his pontificate, but he never ventured into making a causal connection between what happened at Vatican II and the post-Vatican II period.This is important on many levels - two in particular. First, we now know what happened at Vatican II because of the research done and the historical studies published, especially thanks to the foundational and groundbreaking teamwork carried out under the leadership of an international team of scholars between the 1990s and the early 2000s. There are now many studies, in many languages, which give us a history of Vatican II that is richer andmore complex than any ideological narrative on Vatican II. For those who want to study Vatican II seriously, there is no shortage of good bibliography.A completely different picture is the state of our knowledge on Catholicism after Vatican II. There are still only different, if not opposite, narratives of the post-Vatican II period, while there is no historiography of the global, post-Vatican II Catholicism that can give us a unified picture of what happened in these last fifty years. The election of Francis has finally put the papacy above the temptation to draw direct and immediate connections between the theology of Vatican II and the social-political fortunes of post-conciliar Catholicism in the Western world - which is exactly the way the sceptics of Vatican II approach the issue. Our past illuminates our present - especially our present of interreligious relations - but it is a past we have to know.The second level has more to do with the reception of Nostra Aetate directly. The fact that Pope Francis was not at Vatican II has put the papal reception of Vatican II finally beyond the "age of the witness." Francis accepts the history of Vatican II (in the sense that Francis shares the sensus fidei, in the global Church, for what happened at Vatican II) without relying too much on his personal experience. This is important because our perception of the event of Vatican II, just like our perception of the Second World War and of the Holocaust, has relied much on the witnesses and maybe less on a shared sense of history. It is the "invasion of memory" that Paul Ricoeur talked about; it is the temptation that memory can replace history; it is the temptation of the "I was there, believe me."There is nothing wrong with the memory of the witnesses. We need them. History and memory are not mutually exclusive, but complementary. Nevertheless, relying on the witnesses only can become for us a temptation not to think hard on the history of complex historical events. This is particularly dangerous for the reception of Nostra Aetate. The history of the relationship between the Church and the Jews and of the "teaching of contempt" against the Jews are highly complicated issues that must include Nostra Aetate as a moment of change, as a point of no return in the relations between Christians and Jews. When memory substitutes history, the relativization of "what happened" becomes much more likely in absence of the witnesses.There will be a time when all the witnesses of Vatican II and of the pre-Vatican II relations between Christians and Jews will be gone, and we need a history that allows the formation of a reception that is not relying entirely on the witnesses. In fact, the failure to comprehend Nostra Aetate is a problem we have already - in some cases despite the witnesses, in other cases because of them: "Because Catholics fail to appreciate the change that took place in the 1960s, they continue to return to pre-revolutionary patterns of thought without knowing it."Vatican II and Nostra Aetate must be celebrated - it is something we have to do - but we have to be aware always of the dangers of ritualizing memory, the risks of institutional commemorations. Only history can save from oblivion the memory of the importance of Nostra Aetate as a turning point in the relations between Christians and Jews, because history is a key part of the self-understanding of Jews and Christians.Following John XXIII's decision in June 1960, after meeting with Jules Isaac, to engage Vatican II in the issue de iudaeis, Abraham Joshua Heschel was asked by the American Jewish Committee in 1962 to help draft a memorandum that would change the tone of the discussions concerning Catholic-Jewish relations. He wrote:"Both Judaism and Christianity share the prophets' belief that God chooses agents through whom His will is made known and His work done throughout history. Both Judaism and Christianity live in the certainty that mankind is in need of ultimate redemption, that God is involved in human history, that in relations between man and man, God is at stake."
"Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues.
"Yes, once again, through myself, the Church, in the words of the well-known Declaration Nostra Aetate (par. 4), 'deplores the hatred, persecutions, and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews at any time and by anyone'; I repeat: 'by anyone'."
Nov 2 15 6:56 AM
Nostra Aetate at 50And the cardinal that helped it through the Second Vatican CouncilAustrian Cardinal Franz König (1905-2004) never tired of saying that it was “indeed a miracle” that Nostra Aetate, the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, “was ever passed at all”.For König it remained “one of the Council’s really trailblazing, lasting stimuli”.He spent the following 39 years of his life promoting this radical change in the Church’s approach to the non-Christian religions, especially towards the Jews. And he relentlessly spoke out against all forms of anti-Semitism and xenophobia.When Nostra Aetate was passed on 28 October 1965, König was Archbishop of Vienna. He was 60 years old and had been a priest for over 32 years.Already as a young priest and scripture scholar in the early 1930s, König was deeply shocked when he realized that for centuries certain passages in the Good Friday liturgy had been misunderstood and had encouraged Christians to spurn Jews. He often recalled that it had preyed on his mind that he and his fellow priests and theologians had waited until the Council before refuting and openly opposing Christian anti-Judaism.As a young curate in Lower Austria during the Second World War, König soon realized that Nazi persecution was primarily aimed at the Jews. When religious instruction was forbidden, he secretly went on teaching his former pupils in the woods at night and acquainted them with the dangers of Nazi ideology and its virulent anti-Semitism.When the Gestapo found out they summoned König to their headquarters in Vienna. For some unknown reason, let him go. In spite of this, the feeling that he had not done enough never left him.There was no doubt at all in König’s mind that Pope St. John XXIII had personally sowed the first fragile seeds of Christian Jewish dialogue when he welcomed a group of American Jews to the Vatican. They had come to thank him for deleting certain passages in the Good Friday liturgy that had led to repudiation of the Jews. The Pope greeted them with the words, “I am Joseph, your brother”.Shortly after Pope John’s election, König was invited to join a small working group led by Cardinal Augustin Bea. The German Jesuit and leading biblical scholar was responsible for reflecting on how the Jewish question, which weighed heavily on the Council Fathers’ minds in the aftermath of the Holocaust, could be incorporated into the Council’s deliberations. König thus witnessed, first hand, the many crises and continual ups and downs the brief declaration went through. The mere fact that the Jewish question was to be discussed at all immediately met with violent opposition from the Arab world, the Eastern Churches and from the small but vociferous conservative group of Council Fathers connected to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Right up to the end of the Council, König received sacks of letters, many of them from Christians in the Middle East, begging him to prevent a Council declaration on the Jewish question.When yet another draft was blocked, it was König who found a way out. The way he proceeded is perhaps best described by the Austrian Jesuit Joseph Neuner (1908-2009), who spent most of his life at De Nobili Jesuit College in Pune (India) and was the Council peritus (theologian) of Bishop Andrew d’Souza of Bombay.“One day I found a note under my door asking me to come to the sacristy in St Peter’s the following day. I had no idea what this meant,” Neuner said.“The following morning I learnt that a few theologians from different countries had received similar notes without any explanation,” he continued. “Then Cardinal König came and explained: ‘You have seen how the text on the Jews cannot get through. The only way to rescue it is to put it into the wider context of the Church’s attitude towards the non-Christian religions’.”And so a small group of theologians began to prepare what eventually became Nostra Aetate. They had to be brief and avoid complicated issues that would lead to unnecessary controversies. Of course, they faced considerable resistance to the end. But at long last, on 28 October 1965, the Council Fathers accepted Nostra Aetate with a vote of 2,221 in favor, 88 against and 3 in abstention.König was fully aware of how difficult it would be to put Nostra Aetate into practice, especially in his native Austria, but he made it his lifetime task. He was determined to do all he could to heal what he called the “festering wound” of Christian anti-Judaism, which had led to anti-Semitism and the horrors of the Holocaust. For the 39 years that were left him, König promoted Christian-Jewish dialogue in and outside Austria.The best proof of how successful he was is possibly to quote Paul Chaim Eisenberg, Chief Rabbi of Vienna and Austria, who came to know König well.“On particularly festive occasions we, too, liked to invite Cardinal König to the opening ceremony”, he has often recalled.Eisenberg, who is still Chief Rabbi, is fond of saying that in König’s case “one can confidently use the term ‘King of the Church’, rather than ‘Prince of the Church’.
Nov 27 15 12:57 AM
The bishops of England and Wales have appealed to Rome to change the Good Friday prayer for Jews as it is said in the Extraordinary Form.The prayer reads: “Let us also pray for the Jews: that our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Saviour of all men.”The prayer was revised by Benedict XVI in 2008 after he permitted wider celebration of Mass in the older form with his apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum. Previously the prayer had included references to the “blindness” of Jewish people and their “immersion in darkness”.But the prayer remains different from the Novus Ordo version introduced after the Second Vatican Council, which reads: “Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God, that they may continue to grow in the love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant.”Archbishop Kevin McDonald, chairman of the bishops’ Committee for Catholic-Jewish Relations, said the difference had caused “great confusion and upset in the Jewish community”.He said: “The 1970 prayer which is now used throughout the Church is basically a prayer that the Jewish people would continue to grow in the love of God’s name and in faithfulness of his Covenant, a Covenant which – as St John Paul II made clear in 1980 – has not been revoked. By contrast the prayer produced in 2008 for use in the Extraordinary Form of the liturgy reverted to being a prayer for the conversion of Jews to Christianity.”He said the English and Welsh bishops had “added their voice” to that of the German bishops, who had already asked for the prayer to be amended.Archbishop McDonald said: “Such a change would be important both for giving clarity and consistency to Catholic teaching and for helping to progress Catholic-Jewish dialogue.”Joseph Shaw, president of the Latin Mass Society, said: “It is surprising that the bishops are unhappy with a prayer composed by Pope Benedict as recently as 2008, which, like the prayer it replaced, though in more measured language, reflects the theology and imagery of 2 Corinthians 3:13-16.”Blogger Fr John Hunwicke said he hoped the bishops would clarify “what exactly it is in the prayer which contradicts which precise affirmations of [Vatican II document] Nostra Aetate.”
Dec 9 15 5:21 AM
Orthodox rabbis’ statement calls Christianity part of God’s plan(RNS) A statement by a group of Orthodox rabbis calls Christianity part of a divine plan in which God would have Jews and Christians work together to redeem the world.Although signed so far by 28 rabbis mostly from the more liberal wing of the most traditional branch of Judaism, the statement marks a turning point for Orthodox Jews, who until now have limited interfaith cooperation to working on social, economic and political causes. But this statement puts Christianity in a distinct Jewish theological perspective — and an extremely positive one.“(W)e acknowledge that Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations,” the seven-paragraph statement, issued on Dec. 3, asserts. “In separating Judaism and Christianity, God willed a separation between partners with significant theological differences, not a separation between enemies.”“We understand that there is room in traditional Judaism to see Christianity as part of God’s covenantal plan for humanity, as a development out of Judaism that was willed by God,” said Rabbi Irving Greenberg, a signatory to the statement, titled “To Do the Will of Our Father in Heaven: Toward a Partnership between Jews and Christians.”The signatories include Orthodox figures who have been at the forefront of interfaith dialogue efforts, such as Rabbis David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee and Shlomo Riskin, founding rabbi of New York’s Lincoln Square Synagogue.Still, Greenberg conceded that most Orthodox rabbis will not sign on to the statement because they reject the idea that it is the will of God to reach out to gentiles through Christianity, and that Christianity is a divinely willed phenomenon.Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, one of the largest groups representing Orthodox rabbis, said the group values its partnerships with Christians. The reluctance to engage over theology, he said, is rooted in the teaching of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, one of the most esteemed Orthodox rabbis of the 20th century, who prohibited engagement with other religions on theological matters.“Soloveitchik said very clearly that each faith community is unique and entitled to the integrity of its own positions, which are neither negotiable, nor able to be fully understood by people from other faith traditions,” said Dratch, who added that Soloveitchik understood Jews as a small and vulnerable group.“There are still groups which have as their mission the evangelization of the Jewish people,” he added.The rabbinical statement begins with a reference to the Holocaust as “the warped climax to centuries of disrespect, oppression and rejection of Jews and the consequent enmity that developed between Jews and Christians.” It then goes on to praise Nostra Aetate, the 50-year-old Vatican declaration that repudiated the idea, once common among Christians, that the Jews killed Christ and were deserving of the centuries of persecution they had suffered.“Today Jews have experienced sincere love and respect from many Christians that have been expressed in many dialogue initiatives, meetings and conferences around the world,” the statement continues. Though not a direct response to the anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the statement continues that the Catholic document had paved the way for a Jewish one.“Now that the Catholic Church has acknowledged the eternal Covenant between God and Israel, we Jews can acknowledge the ongoing constructive validity of Christianity as our partner in world redemption, without any fear that this will be exploited for missionary purposes,” it reads.The rabbis who signed on to the statement, which was released by the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation in Israel, come from the U.S., Israel and Europe.The statement has met with appreciation from Christian theologians, including Michael Peppard, a Fordham University theology professor. He noted on the blog of Commonweal, the Catholic journal, that while the Reform and Conservative movements in Judaism — representing most American Jews — have long engaged in interfaith theological discussions, Orthodox Judaism has in the past found such dialogue problematic.By calling Christianity “neither accident nor error,” Peppard says this Orthodox rabbinical statement is going further than a similar document titled “Dabru Emet,” signed by mostly by non-Orthodox rabbis and Jewish leaders in 2000.It may be that “Orthodox Judaism is in the midst of a serious reckoning with the fundamental tenets of Christianity,” Peppard wrote. “This theologically compelling and provocative statement is quite a 50th anniversary present for Nostra Aetate.”The Orthodox statement includes no reference to Islam, which, with Judaism and Christianity, also traces itself back to the biblical patriarch Abraham. Greenberg said he believes Islam is not ripe for such a statement, because too much of Islamic culture currently is steeped in anti-Semitism and “almost genocidal hostility to Israel.”But as the evolution of Christian-Jewish relations has shown, hatreds need not last for all of history, and one day, he hopes, the statement released this month can serve as a model for one on Islam and Judaism.
Dec 10 15 6:39 AM
Catholics should not try to convert Jews, Vatican saysCatholics should not try to convert Jews and should work with them to fight anti-Semitism, the Vatican said on Thursday in a major new document that drew the Church further away from the strained relations of the past.Christianity and Judaism are intertwined and God never annulled his covenant with the Jewish people, said the document from the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with Jews."The Church is therefore obliged to view evangelization to Jews, who believe in the one God, in a different manner from that to people of other religions and world views," it said.It also said Catholics should be particularly sensitive to the significance to Jews of the Shoah, the Hebrew word for the Holocaust, and pledged "to do all that is possible with our Jewish friends to repel anti-Semitic tendencies"."A Christian can never be an anti-Semite, especially because of the Jewish roots of Christianity," it said.The document coincided with the 50th anniversary of a revolutionary Vatican statement that repudiated the concept of collective Jewish guilt for Jesus' death and launched a theological dialogue that traditionalists have rejected.They feel there should be a so-called "Jewish mission" to convert Jews because they did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, and were therefore bound to be displeased by the new official stance on conversion, a senior Vatican official said."In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews," said the document, adding that there was a "principled rejection of an institutional Jewish mission".A Vatican expert in Catholic-Jewish dialogue said it was the first time a repudiation of active conversion of Jews had been so clearly stated in a Vatican document.Dr. David Kessler, director of the Woolf Institute for the study of inter-religious relations in Cambridge, said much education of the young had to be done to dispel the notion that Christianity had "replaced and substituted" Judaism."Humble and sensitive"Kessler, who is Jewish, told a Vatican news conference that both sides had to "ensure the transformation in relations is not limited to the elite, but extends from the citadels of the Vatican to the pews of the Church as well as from the offices of the chief rabbis to the floors of our synagogues."Until about 1960, prayers at Catholic Masses on Good Friday, the day commemorating the death of Jesus, labeled Jews "perfidious" and called for their conversion.That prayer was eliminated from general use after the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council introduced a new missal, or prayer book used at Masses.But later a prayer for the Jews was allowed to remain in the old-style Latin Mass, sometimes called the Tridentine Rite, used by ultra-traditionalists such as the Society of Saint Pius X, whose members reject the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.In 2008, then-Pope Benedict further reformulated the prayer used by the traditionalists to remove language that Jewish groups found offensive, such as "the blindness of that people".Thursday's document said Catholics should "bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ also to Jews" but that they should do so in "a humble and sensitive manner, acknowledging that Jews are bearers of God's word..."
Dec 11 15 1:53 AM
Fifty years after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) produced a groundbreaking document on Jewish/Catholic relations titled Nostrae Aetate, the Vatican released a new text on Thursday reiterating the Church’s commitment to fighting anti-Semitism, playing down the idea of missionary efforts directed at Jews, and recalling the Jewish origins of Christianity.Called “The Gifts and Calling of God Are Irrevocable,” the new document was presented in a Vatican press conference with two Vatican officials and two Jewish leaders.In all honesty, nobody’s likely to call this new 10,000-word text “groundbreaking.” It’s a fairly routine statement, the most direct assertions of which are largely repetitions of points already made in Nostrae Aetate or elsewhere, while on other matters it acknowledges, but doesn’t resolve, questions that still produce heartburn in the relationship.In a sense, however, that’s not the point. What the document actually illustrates is that there are times when routine is itself revolutionary, because it shows just how far we’ve come.Fifty years ago, to call Jewish/Catholic relations “strained” would have been putting things mildly. There was little formal theological exchange, feelings on both sides were dominated by the weight of history, and politically the Church and world Judaism were at loggerheads over Israel.When Pope Paul VI visited the Holy Land in 1964, he never even uttered the word “Israel” in public. If you can’t talk about one of the central concerns for the other party in the conversation, dialogue probably isn’t going anywhere fast.Today, Catholic/Jewish conversation and friendship have become so commonplace as to seem utterly par for the course.One proof of the point is that the new Vatican document isn’t even the most important declaration on the subject to appear in the month of December. That distinction belongs to a text called “To Do the Will of Our Father in Heaven: Toward a Partnership between Jews and Christians,” signed by more than 25 prominent Orthodox rabbis in Israel, the United States, and Europe.It’s the first time in more than 2,000 years that a group of Orthodox rabbis, as opposed to clergy from the more liberal Reform branch of Judaism, have issued a public statement advocating partnership with Christians and appreciating the religious value of Christianity.“This proclamation’s breakthrough is that influential Orthodox rabbis across all centers of Jewish life have finally acknowledged that Christianity and Judaism are no longer engaged in a theological duel to the death, and that Christianity and Judaism have much in common spiritually and practically,” said Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn, academic director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation in Israel.“Given our toxic history,” Korn said, “this is unprecedented in Orthodoxy.”Granted, neither the rabbis’ proclamation nor the new Vatican document solves all the outstanding issues in Catholic/Jewish relations.During the news conference on Thursday, for instance, Rabbi David Rosen expressed disappointment that the Vatican document doesn’t go further in acknowledging the “centrality that the land of Israel plays in the historic and contemporary religious life of the Jewish people.”Dr. Edward Kessler detected ambivalence over the idea that Christianity has “replaced” Judaism in God’s plan, which over the centuries has been the basis for some nasty Christian attitudes toward Jews.Even though the document doesn’t dispel those tensions, this is probably one of those cases in which it’s not the destination that matters, but the journey. Here’s an anecdote to illustrate where things stand on the ground today as opposed to just a half-century ago.In 2009, I published a book with Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York called “A People of Hope.” As part of the reporting, I trailed Dolan around for a few weeks, including a visit in mid-December to New York’s Temple Emanu-El in order to light the first candle of Hanukkah.Dolan had been invited by the senior rabbi, David M. Posner. We arrived a little early that night, which gave Posner and Dolan a chance to stand together on the bima, the elevated platform at the front of the synagogue, and chat informally.Bear in mind this was just after Pope Benedict XVI had visited the Rome synagogue, an occasion used by the president of Rome’s Jewish community to renew criticism of Pope Pius XII, and not long after the US bishops had mysteriously deleted a reference in their catechism to the eternal validity of God’s covenant with the Jews. That, however, is not at all what Posner and Dolan used their time together to discuss.Instead, the topic was far more prosaic: Money.Basically, they compared notes about differing approaches to tapping their congregation’s wallets. Posner explained that as opposed to the Catholic custom of passing the collection plate, most synagogues send out bills for dues to registered members once a year. Posner lamented the costs of operating such a cavernous building on Fifth Avenue, a frustration he knew Dolan could appreciate.Watching the rabbi and the archbishop together, it was as if there were a shared assumption that didn’t need to be spoken aloud. It went like this: Yeah, we know there are headaches, but we also know that things have developed to a point where nothing is going to fundamentally split us apart again, so we can afford to talk about other stuff like friends do.That’s more or less the spirit of the new Vatican document, too, and in itself, that’s something worth acknowledging as these two faiths celebrate Hanukkah and the Christmas season.
Dec 11 15 9:48 PM
Rabbi Rosen Proposes that Pope Francis Makes New Peace Initiative for Holy LandRabbi David Rosen has proposed that Pope Francis should make another initiative for peace in the Holy Land, particularly given this great moment of tension where “we have most acute and massive breakdown of trust, certainly over the course of the last 25 years.”He’s not made this proposal directly to the pope, but he has made it to the local Catholic leaders in the Holy Land “to communicate it to Rome.”He believes that if the pope could bring together “the religious representatives” of the different faiths and—most importantly—“coordinate this with the political leadership” on both sides, then “it could have a significant effect.”He also thinks that the Vatican should be “more proactive” in this field and says “the Catholic Church could do things with political consequences if it coordinated with political leaders.”Rabbi Rosen is International Director of Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee and lives in Jerusalem. He is also advisor to Israel’s Chief Rabbinate on interreligious affairs, and served as a member of the Permanent Bilateral Commission of the State of Israel and the Holy See that negotiated the establishment of full diplomatic relations between the two sides. He talked about his proposed peace initiative when I interviewed him for America on Dec. 10. We spoke some hours before he took the plane back to Jerusalem, and our conversation focused mainly on the significance of the new document from the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, which the Vatican published earlier that day and which addresses questions that have arisen in the Catholic-Jewish dialogue in recent decades.Rabbi Rosen came to Rome for the presentation of this text when, for the first time ever, the Vatican invited two Jewish representatives (Rabbi Rosen and Dr. Edward Kessler, founding Director of the Cambridge Woolf Institute), to be part of the panel that presented the document at a Vatican press conference, along with Cardinal Kurt Koch and Fr. Norbert Hofmann, president and secretary of the pontifical commission.He warmly welcomed this new text, which is a study document rather a magisterial one, particularly because it affirms for the first time that the church “neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission directed towards Jews,” and also because it calls on both sides to work together to combat anti-Semitism. But he felt that what’s still “missing” in the document is an appreciation of “the centrality that the Land of Israel plays in the historic and contemporary religious life of the Jewish People.”**********This is the third major statement to come from the Vatican on Catholic-Jewish relations since the Second Vatican Council’ s landmark document “Nostra Aetate” on the church’s relations with other religions, in 1965. It is not a magisterial text the Vatican said, rather it is a study document aimed at sparking reflection on some important questions in this field. How important is this document in your estimation? All the three subsequent documents after “Nostra Aetate” were published by the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. There are a few things that are exceptional about this document but the most remarkable aspect of it is that it is gathering together, if you like, all the loose significant comments, teachings, over the course of the decades that have not been part of the formal documentation; comments of popes, especially from John Paul II and now Pope Francis. It has integrated these comments into a document. Thus, for example, this is the first formal document that says there’s no mission to the Jews, and that Jews are in a salvific relationship with God, and then it acknowledges that it cannot square the circle about the covenant with God and how is it then that everyone has to come to God through Jesus. The answer is: we don’t know, it’s a mystery which goes back to [St. Paul’s Letter to the] Romans. This is the first time it’s been affirmed that there is no mission and therefore it’s inappropriate in fact to seek to proselytize Jews, and even though the document again speaks of the importance of Christians bearing witness to their faith, that’s very important.It’s also important in as much as it’s the first document not only to condemn anti-Semitism but to say that we’ve got to work together on this, and work together on a broad range of other issues.I would also say the document reflects the passage of the last decades of this remarkable attitude of esteem towards Judaism which is only, to some extent, barely nascent in “Nostra Aetate.” Now you see an attitude that expresses an understanding of the centrality of the Torah in Judaism in a remarkable way, that quotes from the Mishna and the Talmud and other resources, that recognizes that the Jewish way of understanding Scripture not only has an integrity in its own right, but that it is important for Christians to understand too. So I would say that what this document reflects is how far the church has come in its approach towards Jews and Judaism in the last 50 years.I was struck that the document highlighted that up to the third or fourth centuries you had a Christian-Jewish church and a Christian-gentile church, and that the separation of the church from the synagogue may not have been complete until well into those centuries.Indeed, and this emphasizes the idea that was first attributed to John Paul II, the idea of being ‘the beloved elder brother,’ of a sibling relationship, and the documents speaks of the church’s relationship with Judaism as intra-religious. I’m not sure that from a Jewish perspective one could necessarily agree with that, but from a Catholic point of view it’s affirming in a very deep way the unique relationship with Judaism and the Jewish people.Today’s document says Article 4 of “Nostra Aetate,” which deals with the church’s theological relation with Judaism, “represents almost the heart” of that key text of the Second Vatican Council which also addresses the relation of the Catholic Church to other religions. To speak of it as “almost the heart” of “Nostra Aetate” is quite a strong statement.It is, but from a historical point of view it could even be stronger because the whole history of the “Nostra Aetate” as a document comes out of John XXIII’s desire to address the Jewish religion. It [took this form] only because of opposition coming from different quarters that this might be seen as an endorsement of Zionism, or from certain conservative theological elements, or even geographical elements in the Far East that said Hinduism and Buddhism is our focus, why this specific focus. And so in order to get the majority support that was necessary it had to become a document of Christians relations with the other religions.So in effect this is not just the heart of the document it is the seed, it is the root of “Nostra Aetate.” But, you might say, the fact that the church opened up its message to the other religions happened only because it had to address its relation to the Jewish people. And of course the other side of that coin is that because it had to address its relation to Judaism it has also to address its relation to the rest of the world, and that to some extent highlights the responsibility of the Jewish and Catholic communities to the world at large, the joint responsibility.At the press conference you highlighted the fact that the Catholic Church has still not come to terms with the relation of the Jewish people to the land. You emphasized that “to fully understand Jewish self-understanding, it is also necessary to appreciate the centrality that the Land of Israel plays in the historic and contemporary religious life of the Jewish people,” and added that such an appreciation “appears to be missing.”Cardinal Koch to some extent responded in the question and answer session at the end with this—as much as I love and respect him—with this rather feeble excuse that is the traditional Vatican excuse that we separate religion from politics, we understand that from the Jewish perspective there is this inextricable link, but that our competency is to deal with religion not with politics. But my point is that it is not an issue of politics—I actually departed from my text to emphasize that particular point; this is a matter of Jewish self-understanding; there is an inextricable relationship between the land and the people of faith, we are a people that emerges out of a religion, the land does not just arise out of modern political Zionism, the whole Bible is continuously replete with ‘you shall keep my commandments in the land that I am bringing you into, it is the land of your fore fathers, of Abraham’s and Jacob’s and Isaac sojourning.’ So the land is an inextricable part of Jewish self-identity.Of course God is everywhere, and you can lead a good Jewish life everywhere, but wherever you lead it there is a relationship to the land. And in terms of your calendar, your seasons are determined by the agricultural seasons of the land. You pray for rain sometimes in places where you don’t want it because it is due to the agricultural seasons of the land. Your direction of prayer is Jerusalem, the restoration to Jerusalem is central to all daily prayers and grace after meals. So the land is so central to the Jewish ethos and identity.Indeed, if you say as the Vatican does, based on the guidelines of “Nostra Aetate,” that the Jews have to be understood the way they understand themselves and you don’t mention the centrality of the land for people’s identity, then it suggests that you still have something of a problem in that regard. Here the response is yes, the problem is politics. But that’s not a good enough excuse in my opinion.In the 1985 guidelines it was said that you need to understand the significance of the land. But my point is that in reviewing the highlights that the historical survey also deals with, the Fundamental Agreement establishing diplomatic relations between Israel and the Holy See should be mentioned as having religious significance, in keeping with the preamble to that agreement which precisely puts it in the context of reconciliation between Catholics and Jews and, more than that, if it hadn’t been for that Fundamental Agreement the popes would not have been able to visit Israel, the bilateral commission with the Chief Rabbinate would have never been established. And nothing more than the diplomatic relations with Israel testified that the Catholic Church has indeed repudiated its approach that the Jews have to wander forever as an eternal punishment until the end of time.You know that from the Vatican’s point of view, from the Christian community in the Holy Land’s point of view, this issue of the land is a bone of contention.I understand the problem and that’s why I acknowledged also the point regarding “Nostra Aetate’s” internalization is also crucial in that political context. As I was saying before, if Christians—let alone Muslims—in the land, precisely in the context of all that political complexity, don’t understand what it means for the Jewish people, then you’re never going to be able to resolve the conflict because the conflict can only be resolved when the different parties have a decent appreciation of the other’s attachments.And if you avoid that appreciation then you are actually compounding the problem, you are not enabling people to understand why they are there in the first place. In this context therefore the Catholic Church could play a very important part if it was able to educate its own particular faithful in the Middle East and in that way communicate to the Arab world that you can be critical of political positions and you can be critical of certain policies, and you can even be diametrically opposed to some of them, but to fail to understand the historical attachment of the Jewish people to the land, to fail to understand why they are there, which is a failure to come to terms with their presence, then the longer this continues the longer the conflict is going to be exacerbated.The documents following “Nostra Aetate” speak about anti-Semitism, and since John Paul II the church’s position on this has been quite strong. But many people would say that part of the anti-Semitism that has grown over these decades is a direct result of the conflict over the land.I would say I can understand how that would happen and I lament it greatly and that’s precisely the reason why the church has to behave responsibly and not avoid the issue of Jewish attachment to the land, and be able to emphasize that this is something it respects while reserving the position and the responsibility to be critical of certain political policies. But for as long as you avoid it all and say one is the same as the other you are actually compounding the problem and not contributing to its resolution.I’ve been to Jerusalem and the Holy Land many times and I have seen that there are some Jewish groups who claim it is their birthright, their God-given right, to have all the land. How do you reconcile that with the right of another people—the Palestinians who were born in that land—to live there?You’re asking me how do I reconcile Jewish attachment to the land with Palestinian dignity and aspirations! Well that’s very, very important. God’s promises are God’s business; our business is to live in accordance with God’s words, to teach that every human being is created in the divine image and to behave accordingly. Therefore I have to respect individual human integrity, and I also have to respect the peoples and the communities there.I would say that if Israel is not a democratic state then it’s not authentically Jewish, because at the heart of Jewish ethical teaching is a respect for human dignity. Moreover, the Hebrew Bible repeats in Leviticus and Deuteronomy that the people’s ability to be able to live in the land depends on their moral responsibilities and if we fail to live up to these moral responsibilities we undermine our own integrity and security; and the fact that two commonwealths have been destroyed in the past is not a reason why a third commonwealth cannot be destroyed.So we have an obligation to behave with moral responsibility and dignity towards Palestinians and that’s why I believe a peaceful resolution of the conflict is not only necessary for Palestinian dignity, it’s essential for Israel’s survival, because in order to be able to be a democratic Jewish state we have to have a natural majority and we cannot afford to hold onto territory where we are not a majority; it is also critical for Judaism’s survival as a religion because as long as we are in conflict our ethical and moral responsibilities are undermined.The document speaks about, as you did in your talk, the need for Christians and Jews to work together for peace, for justice, for the protection of the environment and so on. How much of that is happening in the Holy Land today?Well today in the Holy Land we are facing a very sad situation because we have the most acute and massive breakdown of trust, certainly over the course of the last 25 years, and because of this breakdown of trust it’s very difficult for the inter-faith organizations and inter-group organizations to function effectively. There is now a blanket Palestinian policy of anti-normalization, which intimidates those who want to be involved with Israeli groups and activities from doing so, believing that this is necessary in order to advance the Palestinian cause. So the present situation is very sad. One also needs to bear in mind that the Christian communities are to some extent divided by the conflict. People who go to the Holy Land tend only to meet the Palestinian Christians, that is in East Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the Ramallah areas, but the vast majority of Christians are in Galilee and they are Israelis and they have an interest in being part of the Israeli society and they are to some extent also torn by that particular conflict in this situation.So you can’t really expect the local Christian community to be a bridge in this context, but you can expect the Vatican, through its particular communities, to be more proactive. This was also an allusion in my comments. It’s very nice that Pope Francis brings representatives from the different faith communities to come and pray in the Vatican Gardens, but this was done without any involvement of the key political players in Israel at the time. It was done with a president who was within a couple of weeks out of his presidency and with not even a Nihil Obstat [no objection] from the Israeli political authorities. So you have a very nice photo opportunity and a very nice spiritual message but it doesn’t have any political consequence. The Catholic Church could do things with political consequences if it coordinated with political leaders and so, for example, if there was a round two of this effort for peace—and whether this would take place here in Rome, or somewhere else is another question—then Pope Francis could convene both the religious representatives of the faiths, coordinated with their political authorities.For example, precisely at this particular time when there is tension around Jerusalem, to affirm the significance of Jerusalem to all three faiths, and to affirm respect by each faith for the other faith’s attachments, and to call on its particular adherents to live in mutual respect. This is not an issue of sovereignty, it is not an issue of political maneuvering, it is a matter of respect. And in my opinion, if he were to bring them all together, and this was coordinated with the political leadership, it could have a significant effect.Have you made this proposal to Pope Francis?No, I haven’t made this proposal to the pope, but to tell you the truth I have made it locally to Catholic leaders to communicate it to Rome. I haven’t written a proposal but I have suggested it.Pope Francis will visit the Rome synagogue on Jan. 17, just as John Paul II did in 1985 and Benedict XVI in 2010. How significant is it that Francis is going there too?Let me respond with two points. First of all in Jewish tradition three is considered confirmation. So in that sense Pope Francis’ visit is almost something that has now become the fabric of the church; the pope is expected to visit the great synagogue in Rome as an expression of the friendship and the special bonds with the Jewish community.But there is something else that is special and that is there’s never been a pope, if you like since Peter, who has had such an intimate relationship with the Jewish religion and the Jewish people as this one from the time when he was cardinal in Buenos Aires. The world knows that, the world knows that he is a friend of the Jews.Moreover, there has never been a pope who has been a media star in this way. Maybe if John Paul II were alive today he would have been the same, but the reality is that the media, the social communications are so much more attentive today and Pope Francis is the ultimate superstar. Nobody can compete with that. Therefore the visibility of him going to the synagogue and greeting the Chief Rabbi, and of him being with the Jewish community, is of enormous consequence in telling the world, as the world will never have seen before to same degree, that there is a fundamentally a radically new relationship between the Catholic church and the Jewish people.
Dec 13 15 3:57 PM
Dec 14 15 4:26 AM
Jews and Catholics must implement new interfaith partnershipThe new Vatican document on the Catholic Church’s changed relationship with the Jewish world will only be effective if it is shared “on the streets, in the pulpits, in the pews of our churches and synagogues”.That’s the view of Dr Edward Kessler, founding director of the interfaith Woolf Institute in Cambridge and one of the two Jewish speakers at a press conference presenting the new Vatican document on Thursday.The document, entitled ‘The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable’, marks the 50th anniversary of the ground-breaking Vatican II declaration ‘Nostra Aetate’ and was drawn up by the Vatican Commission for the Religious Relations with the Jews. Kessler and Rabbi David Rosen, international director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, gave their perspective on the presentations by Cardinal Kurt Koch and Fr Norbert Hofmann of the Vatican Commission.Kessler talked with [Vatican Radio's] Philippa Hitchen about the significance of the new document and the thorny theological questions that it opens up for discussion by Catholics and Jews together.Dr Kessler says the new Vatican document "does break new ground" by taking on issues that have traditionally divided Christians and Jews. He notes that among the interesting theological questions the document explores are issues of God’s covenant with the Jewish people, the meaning of salvation, the universality of Christ, and the understanding of the Word of God in Catholic and Jewish scriptures.He says the presence of Rabbi Rosen and himself in the Vatican press office to present the document represents “a genuine openness” to further explore these issues together. He says the document will not just end up “on dusty library shelves in the Vatican or Cambridge University” but will be followed up by a meeting at Woolf Institute next year to “take it forward and ask the difficult questions that lie at the heart of the Jewish-Catholic encounter”.Commenting on why it has taken half a century for the changes, called for by Nostra Aetate, to bring concrete results, Dr Kessler says it was only during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, that events such as recognition of the State of Israel and the papal visits to Israel and to Auschwitz convinced Jews that “things had really changed”. There is still much work to be done, he admits, adding that this document must be implemented joint “intellectual, educational and practical” actions “on the streets, in the pulpits, in the pews of our churches and synagogues”.
Dec 15 15 12:07 AM
Fifty years ago, the Second Vatican Council effected the most important repair of Jewish-Christian relations since the two sides parted ways in antiquity. Pope John XXIII had laid the groundwork by getting rid of the Good Friday prayer for the “perfidious (faithless) Jews,” but in the fourth section of Nostra Aetate — the Declaration of the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions — Roman Catholicism went where it had never gone before, repudiating the charge of Jewish deicide and abjuring all expressions of anti-Semitism.Marking the anniversary of Nostra Aetate last week, the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews — which for 40 years years has fostered increasingly amicable ones — issued “The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable,” a theological essay that takes its title from chapter 11 of the Epistle to the Romans, where the Apostle Paul informs his Gentile audience that “all Israel will be saved.” Embracing something like this Pauline position, the essay declares that the Church must therefore refrain from conducting or supporting missions to the Jews.Not that the economy of Jewish salvation is clear. “That the Jews are participants in God’s salvation is theologically unquestionable, but how that can be possible without confessing Christ explicitly, is and remains an unfathomable divine mystery,” it asserts.Taking this mystical via negativa represents a significant if not (yet?) official departure for a tradition that much prefers scholastic positivism. Catholic theology may, however, have no better approach.Meanwhile, on the Jewish side, 25 Orthodox rabbis from Israel, Europe, and the U.S. also marked the anniversary of Nostra Aetate by issuing a statement recognizing the role of Christianity in God’s plan: “Now that the Catholic Church has acknowledged the eternal Covenant between G-d and Israel,” they write, “we Jews can acknowledge the ongoing constructive validity of Christianity as our partner in world redemption, without any fear that this will be exploited for missionary purposes.”That’s pretty good for a bunch of Orthodox rabbis, to be sure from the liberal end of the spectrum. And give them credit for working hard to find statements from Jewish tradition to support their position, including by the two greatest Jewish writers of the Middle Ages: “As did Maimonides and Yehudah Halevi, we acknowledge that Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations.”OK, that’s a bit of a stretch. Halevi’s alleged acknowledgement comes from the Kuzari, a dialogue among representatives of the three Abrahamic religions and the king of the Central Asian Khazars who is trying to figure out which religion to embrace. in Book 4, section 22, the king praises the Christians and Muslims (as opposed to the Jews) for valuing humility and martyrdom over power and material prosperity.As for Maimonides, the rabbis cite a passage from his codification of Jewish law (the Mishneh Torah) that Jewish authorities in 17th-century Europe censored because of its hostile view of Christianity. After noting that Jesus “aspired to be the Messiah,” the sage writes:Can there be a greater stumbling block than [Christianity]? All the prophets spoke of the Messiah as the Redeemer of Israel and its Savior, who would gather their dispersed and strengthen [their observation of ] the Mitzvot [the commandments]. By contrast, [Christianity] caused the Jews to be slain by the sword, their remnant to be scattered and humbled, the Torah to be altered and the majority of the world to err and serve a god other than the Lord. Nevertheless, the intent of the Creator is not within the power of man to comprehend, for His ways are not our ways, nor are His thoughts, our thoughts. [Ultimately,] all the deeds of Yeshua of Nazareth and that Ishmaelite [Muhammad] who arose after him will only serve to prepare the way for the Messiah’s coming and the improvement of the entire world [motivating the nations] to serve God together, as [Zephanaiah 3.9] states: I will make the peoples pure of speech that they will all call upon the Name of God and serve him with one purpose.”You’d have to say that, as unfathomable mysteries go, that’s about as unfathomable as it gets for Jews. But as with “The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable,” the via negativa is often the theological way forward.
Can there be a greater stumbling block than [Christianity]? All the prophets spoke of the Messiah as the Redeemer of Israel and its Savior, who would gather their dispersed and strengthen [their observation of ] the Mitzvot [the commandments]. By contrast, [Christianity] caused the Jews to be slain by the sword, their remnant to be scattered and humbled, the Torah to be altered and the majority of the world to err and serve a god other than the Lord. Nevertheless, the intent of the Creator is not within the power of man to comprehend, for His ways are not our ways, nor are His thoughts, our thoughts. [Ultimately,] all the deeds of Yeshua of Nazareth and that Ishmaelite [Muhammad] who arose after him will only serve to prepare the way for the Messiah’s coming and the improvement of the entire world [motivating the nations] to serve God together, as [Zephanaiah 3.9] states: I will make the peoples pure of speech that they will all call upon the Name of God and serve him with one purpose.”
Dec 17 15 7:11 AM
Oh, how I like this Pope.I like Pope Francis because of his open-minded attitude towards the Church and the world.I also like him because of the deep relationships that he has had with Jews and Judaism.As Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the Pope was very close to the Argentinian Jewish community. He collaborated with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, the rector of the Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano in the creation of On Heaven and Earth.That leads us to last week’s historic Vatican proclamation, specifying that Catholics should not undertake organized efforts to convert Jews.In many ways, this is the most appropriate follow up to Nostra Aetate, which just celebrated its fiftieth anniversary — which, among other things, contained the Roman Catholic Church’s historic declaration that the Jewish people would not be held responsible for the execution of Jesus.The Pope’s declaration follows in a long, redemptive line of statements, coming from both Judaism and Christianity, that have sought to bridge the theological gulf and to come to a greater sense of shalom between the faiths. In particular, I have in mind Dabru Emet (“Speak Truth”), now fifteen years old, in which Jewish scholars outlined the areas of possible agreement and harmony between Judaism and Christianity. I am proud to have been one of the signers of that historical statement.Most recently, there was the Orthodox Rabbinic Statement on Christianity. This statement goes further than any previous statement in acknowledging Christianity’s spiritual gifts, freely calling upon great Jewish sages and theologians for support in this holy endeavor.But, back to the Pope. Here is what he was saying: the centuries of Christian animus against the Jews; the adversus Judaeus (anti-Judaism) tradition of Christianity; the time when Christians viewed their faith as superior and Judaism as a fallen, widowed, broken woman; the age of the Crusades, Inquisitions, and church-sponsored blood libels (anti-Israel blood libels are something else altogether) — those days are over. Literally, they are history.And, when you consider the growing violence against Jews in Europe — a violence that accompanies the decreasing influence of Christianity on that continent, realize that the Pope was essentially saying: At a time when anti-Semites are coming after Jews, the Church will defend Judaism.You would think that everyone would be happy about the Pope’s statement that Catholics would no longer seek Jewish converts.Wrong.Consider the reaction of Jews for Jesus.David Brickner, executive director of Jews for Jesus, said that his organization finds the Pope’s position to be “egregious, especially coming from an institution which seeks to represent a significant number of Christians in the world.”“How can the Vatican ignore the fact that the Great Commission of Jesus Christ mandates that his followers are to bring the gospel to all people? he asked. “Are they merely pandering to some leaders in the Jewish community who applaud being off the radar for evangelization by Catholics? If so, they need to be reminded that they first received that gospel message from the lips of Jews who were for Jesus.”The great Jewish theologian and activist, Abraham Joshua Heschel, once recalled a conversation with the Jesuit theologian, Gustave Weigel.I posed the question: Is it really the will of God that there be no more Judaism in the world? Would it really be the triumph of God if the scrolls of the Torah would no more be read in the synagogue, our ancient Hebrew prayers in which Jesus himself worshipped no more recited, the Passover Seder no more celebrated in our lives, the Law of Moses no more observed in our homes? Would it really be to the greater glory of God to have a world without Jews?Weigel shook his head: No, it would not be to the glory of God for there to be a world without Jews.That was to be Heschel’s last conversation with Weigel. The Jesuit teacher died the next day.Jews for Jesus might believe that Jews can maintain their Jewish ethnicity and “simply” adopt Christianity as their religion. Or, more likely, they believe that Jews can believe that. They have said that they can be ethnically Jewish and religiously Christian.Let us, at long last, strip away the masks of the proselytizers. Jews for Jesus (and Messianic Jews) have only one goal. They want Jews to become Christians. Therefore, they desire the destruction of Judaism as a religion.You are free to hope and pray that everyone will someday recognize Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.But my strong preference — indeed, Judaism’s strongest preference and heart-felt demand — is that you see that the Jewish people still has a valid and powerful covenant with God. Jews do not need Jesus to experience intimacy with God; they already have that intimacy, going back to Sinai.If you cannot see that, and if you persist in trying to convert Jews to Christianity, then you want Judaism to disappear.And that, my “friends,” is called anti-Semitism.Thank God (really) that the world has this Pope, who so clearly believes that Judaism is part of the divine economy of the world — that the world needs both Judaism and the Jews.
Dec 27 15 8:11 AM
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Dec 29 15 7:26 AM
In Israeli cities, Jews show an increase in interest in ChristmasJERUSALEM (CNS) -- On Christmas Eve, the entrance to the West Jerusalem YMCA was decked out in colorful lights against the night sky, and a Christmas tree sparkling with ornaments stood in the lobby. Jewish Israelis and international visitors, guests at the YMCA's popular restaurant, stopped to take pictures in front of the tree.Nearby, the YMCA's auditorium was packed with mainly Jewish Israelis who had come to listen to a concert of Christmas music.A group of secular rabbinical students from the center of the country who had come to experience Christmas in Jerusalem followed their guide through the building to hear about Christmas traditions. A little later, a smaller group of Jewish teen nature Scouts took a quick glimpse at the tree as they rushed to be on time the Christmas Mass at the nearby Italian Consulate."It is interesting to see different customs," said 15-year-old Dvir Sagury of Jerusalem.His friend, Harel Guttel, 15, said Israelis have some inkling about the Muslim Arabs living among them, but with Christians a tiny minority in Israel, there is very little opportunity to come in contact with their traditions."I'd like to see what (are) the traditions are of another religion, see the prayers," he said.The scene was a far cry from the one a few weeks earlier when a handful of members of the group, Lehava, led by Bentzi Gopstein, demonstrated against a Christmas bazaar held at the YMCA, calling it a "murder of Jewish souls." They held signs demanding the "impure ones" to leave the country. In an op-ed piece in a religious newspaper, Gopstein later called Christians "blood-sucking vampires."From the West Jerusalem restaurant displaying a Christmas tree to Jewish children cajoling their parents to decorate at Christmastime, to groups like Lehava, Jewish Israelis are extremely divided when it comes to Christmas, said Father David Neuhaus, patriarchal vicar for Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel."Israeli society is becoming more and more divided on every single issue, including this issue," he said. "Some people are terrified of a kind of obscuring of the boundaries, and we have Rabbi Gopstein saying terrible things, which elicits a contrary reaction. We had a number of rabbis and Israeli Jews coming to Mass at our parishes and who are open (to seeing symbols and learning about Christmas)."He said others are happy to embrace the outward trappings of the holidays with the tree and the decorations because they are pretty, but they are not very interested in learning about the significance of the holiday."What interests us more are the people who are open to learning about the other without losing their own identity," he said. "I don't know where this is going or who will have the upper hand, but there is a large majority (of people) who have good will or really don't care. (But) in an atmosphere of fear, a lot of power is given to the marginal groups. If the right political leader came along, they would find a lot of support."Rabbi Sivan Maas, 57, who was heading the group of secular rabbis for the evening, said she felt there is increasing interest and acceptance of seeing the symbols of Christmas in public spaces. With their wide exposure now to Christmas on the Internet and in the media, Israelis like the feeling of being cosmopolitan and fashionable, she said. Many even like to travel abroad specifically at this time to see the decorations in their full glory and hit some of the Christmas sales."It is more the fun of (Christmas), not so much the message," she said."I think it is a very beautiful holiday, and I think that as a country we don't give enough room for the holidays of the other traditions that live here," said Yuval Moran, 21, who accompanied her mother on the rabbi's tour. Moran, from the almost completely Jewish city of Kfar Saba, she did not even know when Christmas was until two years ago."In mixed cities like Jerusalem and Haifa, people are more exposed to it. I didn't know what the tree symbolized. It's not that I am celebrating their holiday, I am joining them in their celebration," she said.Her mother, Galit Oren, 49, said that although she had always loved the decorations and lights of Christmas, she felt the need to delve deeper into the significance of the holiday."It's important to know about the traditions of the people who live with us," she said.In their Jerusalem living room, Ella and Emily Bolton-Laor adjusted the lights on their small Christmas tree. It was the second year Ella, 15, spearheaded the Christmas decorating, including in her bedroom. A classmate is the daughter of a foreign worker from the Philippines and celebrates Christmas, so she and another friend decided to put up decorations in their own homes. Bolton-Laor's father took her to Jerusalem's Old City to buy Christmas ornaments."I like the way it looks with all the lights and smells, and it is my mom's birthday. It's winter time," she said.Emily, 11, said she first started getting interested in Christmas from YouTube, where families posted their Christmas videos."I wanted to see what kids really get for Christmas. It looked like kind of fun, and (the decorations) give me a feeling of having my family all around me," she said. Her interest led her to doing a school project on the significance of Christmas two years ago.Tamar Herman, 63, traveled to Jerusalem from the coastal town of Netanya over the Christmas weekend. She said attending the YMCA concerns was about making a statements against the increasing extremism she has noticed."I came here especially to hear the bells (at the end of the concert)," she said. "The whole world is becoming more fanatical, and I hope that in my own little radius, in my own way, I am doing something to counter that."
Jan 5 16 6:40 AM
Reflecting on the Vatican’s Jewish-Catholic relations ‘Reflection’Following the Vatican’s recent release of its latest document on Jewish-Christian relations, the takeaways for most mainstream media were manifested in headlines making such pronouncements as, “Vatican says Catholics should not try to convert Jews,” or “Jews don’t need Christ to be saved.” But advocates and scholars who have worked to foster Jewish-Catholic relations for decades have more nuanced perspectives on the new document and the history that preceded it.On the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking Nostra Aetate declaration, the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews published a text titled, “For the Gifts and the Calling of God Are Irrevocable: A Reflection on Theological Questions Pertaining to Catholic-Jewish Relations on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of ‘Nostra Aetate’ (No. 4).” At the core of the new document, experts say, is the Church’s rejection of both replacement theology and the notion that the covenant of the Jews with God has been negated.In 1965, Nostra Aetate marked the Vatican’s rescinding of an age-old belief that the Jewish people were guilty for the crucifixion of Jesus, in addition to the Church’s rejection of all forms of anti-Semitism.“As a result of a soul change, epitomized by Nostra Aetate, the Roman Catholic Church shifted from what was, for the most part, a need to condemn Judaism to one of a condemnation of anti-Judaism,” said Dr. Edward Kessler, founder of the Woolf Institute think tank and a fellow at St. Edmunds College in Cambridge, United Kingdom, who participated in a panel discussion with the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Rabbi David Rosen to provide a Jewish response to the new Vatican document. Rosen, AJC’s international director of interreligious affairs, said during the panel that Nostra Aetate “opened up the way for subsequent popes to further affirm the unique bond between the Church and the Jewish people which this [new] text documents, and to see Jewry as a living source of divine inspiration for the Church.”Now, the Church’s “Reflection” document gives the public new insights into decades of Jewish-Catholic dialogue. It remains unclear, however, whether most observers in the general public are interested in delving into the complexities of that dialogue.Philip A. Cunningham, president of the International Council of Christians and Jews, said it is understandable that the new document might be either misunderstood or not fully understood.“In parts, the document is written in specialized Catholic theological terminology, inevitable because of the complexity of the topics it discusses. Therefore, it can easily be misconstrued by readers unfamiliar with relevant past texts or recent topics in the dialogue,” Cunningham told JNS.org.While “Reflection” was released for public consumption, Cunningham explained, the text is “primarily addressed to a Catholic audience, and to some degree to a specialized Catholic audience: church leaders and theologians who pursue research in and engage in dialogue about the Catholic and Jewish relationship.”“Jewish interlocutors are a secondary audience, but more noteworthy is that there were Jewish advisers as the document was being drafted and who offered comments at the press conference as the document was issued. That may have been a historic first,” said Cunningham, a professor of theology and director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations of Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.Rev. Norbert Hoffman, who appeared at the press conference and along with Cardinal Kurt Koch compiled the first draft of the document, agreed that the document “is aimed primarily at those who are active in this dialogue”—that is, “Catholic theologians engaged for a long time in Jewish-Catholic dialogue.”“However, it may also be useful to those interested, more generally, in Jewish-Catholic relations,” Hoffman said.Cardinal Koch said at the press conference that the text is not official Church doctrine, but rather “a study document of our Commission, whose aim is to deepen the theological dimension of the Catholic-Jewish dialogue…[and] to provide inspiration and stimulation for further theological discussions.”The three primary topics addressed in the document are the “old” covenant, salvation, and evangelization. “Reflection” completely rejects the theology known as supersessionism, or replacement theology, and affirms that God’s “new” covenant for Christians does not negate the “old” covenant with Jews.“If this term (supersessionism) is understood to mean that Jewish covenantal life with God was ended or replaced by the Church’s covenanting with God in Christ, then this document rejects it. It repeats several times that the Church did not replace Jews as a people of God and that Jewish covenantal life with God was never abrogated,” Cunningham told JNS.org.“The document sees Christianity as in continuity with biblical Israel, and indeed as ‘fulfilling’ terms of Israel’s covenanting, but, again, not in the sense of rendering Jewish covenantal life or Jewish traditions as obsolete or antiquated. It doesn’t define exactly what it means by ‘fulfillment,’” said Cunningham.Kessler, however, warned that “fulfillment easily slides into replacement [theology], and substitution theory is alive and well in the pews.” He added that he welcomes “further reflection” on what exactly the document means by fulfillment “in terms of relations with Judaism and how we can ensure the transformation in relations is not limited to the elite, but extends from the citadels of the Vatican to the pews of the Church, as well as from the offices of the chief rabbis to the floors of our synagogues.”The document also addresses “the thorny issue of how to understand the fact that Jews are saved without believing explicitly in Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel and Son of God,” Koch said.Cunningham said that “without ever exactly defining ‘salvation,’ the document makes it clear that Jews [are in a] covenant with a saving God.”“It also asserts that Christ is involved in the salvation of all people, which in a mysterious way also applies to Jews,” he said, noting how this does not mean that Jews must be baptized to be “saved.”Regarding evangelism, the text says that the Catholic Church “neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews,” though Christians are still called on to “bear witness to the faith.”Cunningham said that broadly speaking, Catholics “understand ‘evangelization’ to include any activity that spreads the ‘good news’ of Christ and prepares the way for the coming of the reign of God.” According to this understanding, evangelization can include proselytization, but can also include many other activities such as interfaith dialogue.The Vatican document, continued Cunningham, “states that the way Catholics should evangelize Jews is by giving witness to their faith in Christ, but in the context of interreligious dialogue. Dialogue by definition does not seek to ‘convert’ the other, or to persuade the other to adopt the convictions of their conversation partner. Dialogue between Catholics and Jews is an exchange of their different experiences of God.”Years of interfaith discourse have resulted in a reevaluation of theological matters such as the “old” covenant, salvation, and evangelism in Catholicism, opening the door for new possibilities in Jewish-Catholic relations. “Let me express my particular appreciation for the document’s emphasis on the responsibility of educational institutions, particularly [those for] the training of priests, [to] integrate into their curricula both Nostra Aetate and the subsequent documents of the Holy See regarding the implementation of the Conciliar declaration….Arguably, this remains the most notable challenge in taking the achievements from their Olympian heights down to the grassroots [level] universally,” AJC’s Rosen said.Betty Ehrenberg, executive director for the World Jewish Congress in North America, told JNS.org that the Vatican document “represents the fruits of a productive longterm dialogue between the Catholic and Jewish communities” and “reflects the development of a mutual understanding that did not exist 50 years ago.”“The fact that the document asserts that the Torah serves as the instruction for Jewish life and that there should be no missionizing to the Jews are statements, in addition to others in the paper, that our community has long waited to hear,” said Ehrenberg, who has worked extensively with the Vatican on Jewish-Catholic relations.“In the course of our 40-year dialogue,” she said, “there were many ups and downs, yet we persisted in our unrelenting efforts to speak to one another and to forge a relationship. This important Vatican paper represents our mutual determination to find those common threads that bind people of faith. This is a very important moment in our shared history.”
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