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RELATIONS WITH THE JEWS

 

The religious relations of the Catholic Church with world Judaism through the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity have been marked by a series of notable events since the last Plenaria.

These events are set out below in chronological order.

 

I. The setting up of a Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews

The Commission was set up on October 22, 1974 and was presented at a press conference in the Vitican by Father Carlo Martini, S.I., at which Monsignor Charles Moeller and Father Pierre M. de Contenson, O.P., Secretary of the new Commission, were participants. A parallel Commission for Islam, but attached to the Secretariat for Non-Christians, was set up at the same time.

 

II. The visit to Jerusalem of the Secretary of the new Commission

Fr. de Contenson stayed in Jerusalem from 10 to 28 November, 1974. During his stay he visited the various leading Catholic figures in Jerusalem: the Latin Patriarch, the Greek Catholic Bishop, Monsignor Achkar, Bishop of Lattakia (who is temporarily replacing Monsignor Capucci), and the Custodian of the Holy Land. He was able to have lengthy conversations with priests ministering to Hebrew-speaking Catholics or engaged in various types of work among the Jews.

Fr. de Contenson visited the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and other leading Christian figures: the Armenian Orthodox Patriarch, the Lutheran Provost, the leading Anglican clergy, etc.

He likewise visited other institutes and centres, including the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, the Dominican Ecole biblique, The Franciscan Biblical Institute, the Franciscan Religious News Center, the Ecumenical Fraternity, the Jerusalem Rainbow Club, the Ratisbonne Centre, etc.

Of particular note were the meetings with numerous Jewish personalities, including officials of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the two Chief Rabbis of Israel, several professors of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, leaders of the Mapam Party, various intellectuals, and so on.

 

 

III. The publication of "Guidelines and Suggestions"

Bearing the date 1 December, 1974, and the signature of Cardinal John Willebrands, President of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, there was published on 3 January, 1975, a document enticed "Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration 'Nostra Aetate' (n. 4)".

Apart from certain modifications made in the course of the last few months, the text of thedocument is the same as the one approved, after amendments, by the last Plenaria of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, account having been taken of the alterations requested by this Plenaria in November 1973.

A) The welcome given to this text by yhe Catholics engaged in dialogue with Jews and especially by the Jewish circles receptive to the idea of such a dialogue has been in general very favourable and even warm, in spite of certain reserves (which were foreseeable), the tactical motivations of which are generally not negligible. The main points which were favourably noted are as follows:

In the first place there is the fact that a document applying Nostra Aetate, 4 has finally been published, a sign that the problem of the development of religious relations between Catholics and Jews has not been put on one side by the Church.

Warm approval has been given to the allusions to age-old confrontations, to a deplorable past and to the Nazi massacre. Particular comment has been given to the clear condemnation of antisemitism and discrimination.

The mention of the efforts and progress already achieved in various countries has also attracted attention.

Satisfaction has been expressed at the fact that the Guidelines invite Christians to find out the essential traits by which Jews define themselves, and to get to know the other side while respecting it and with a great openness of mind and mistrust of personal prejudices.

Note has been taken of the affirmation of modern Judaismss religious values and continuity with the past.

The mention of a possibility of prayer in common in certain circumstances and the invitation to common action for justice and peace have on several occasions been interpreted as a token of confidence and a proof that the Church considers the Jews as worthy partners.

Common action for peace and social justice has been very widely considered as a privileged area of future relations between Catholics and Jews, and the brevity of the chapter devoted to this theme has not prevented some people for considering it as one of the most important passages of the Roman document.

Emphasis has been given to the importance of the directives regarding the care for exactitude in translations of and commentaries upon texts of Scripture.

There has been equal satisfaction at the invitation to include the study of Judaism among the subjects taught in Catholic educational institutions.

Finally, it was much appreciated that the invitation was extended to the various Catholic authorities to set up organizations at their own level and to train leaders for dialogue between Christians and Jews.

B) It is only fair to add that the reservations expressed by some have been transformed into bitter criticism in certain more intransigent, more traditional or more activist Jewish circles. To the extent that they come from groups in Israel deeply engaged in national politics or, on the contrary, from fairly prominent personalities of the Diaspora, these criticisms must always be interpreted either in reference to problems of Israeli internal politics or in the framework of the constant tensions and rivalries that may exist between the different Jewish organizations.

Whatever their origins, the main criticisms levelled against the Guidelines and Suggestions can be thus summed up:

a) The text is silent on the spiritual bond existing between the Jewish faith, the people and the land o Israel.

b) The reminder, contained in the document itself, of the Church's duty to proclaim Jesus Christ is an encouragement to proselytism and contradicts what is also said in the document about respect for the faith of Jews.

c) Certain formulas regarding the relationships between the Old Testament and the New are not acceptable to Jews.

Other remarks have also been expressed:

d) The mention of the possibility of prayer in common is unacceptable to the strict outlook of Orthodox Judaism.

c) The position of the problem of responsibility for the Passion and death of Jesus remains that set forth by the Second Vatican Council, and is therefore equally ambiguous and unsatisfactory for the Jews.

f) The existence of the State of Israel is not mentioned, not even as a reality deeply affecting contemporary Judaism.

g) In addition, in some of its parts, this text seems to presuppose a certain inferiority of Judaism vis-à-vis Christianity.

h) Finally, this document is not the fruit of work in common or of shared dialogue: it is a unilateral act of the Catholic Church.

C) These reservations and criticisms deserve to be answered with attentive care, since they very often touch upon misunderstandings and difficulties that are at the very core of the Jewish/Christian dialogue. There follows a short synthesis of certain possible replies.

1) Having in fact been drawn up by the authorities of the Catholic Church; for Catholics, the document in no way tries to give a description of Judaism such as the Jews themselves understand it. Such a description in a Catholic document would be very difficult to give in a way that would satisfy everyone. Similarly, it would be difficult for the Jews to give in a document worked out by themselves a description of Catholicism that we could consider adequate.

2) Since the document is not the fruit of a dialogue, even though in fact it has benefited from relations already happily established in some places, it seeks precisely to create on the Catholic side and for the whole Church, in the very framework of her faith, conditions that will permit a dialogue to develop, if, following their own line, our Jewish brethren decide to correspond to it.

3) From this point of view, the intention of the document is first and foremost practical. It seeks to suggest and encourage all the attitudes and actions that, at whatever level, can favour a dialogue and a common action of Catholics and Jews. Furthermore, the text insists upon the need to act at all levels, and it particularly encourages local initiatives and cooperation with other Christians in this domain. It is precisely this which characterizes the document, which is therefore presented as a first step but one of worldwide importance, as a point of departure proposed for everyone and not as a limit opposed to developments already taking place.

4) The major intention and importance of the document being thus defined, the reply to criticism 

h) is thereby given.

5) Criticism 

a) can be answered by what is said in 1) above, with the added observation that the mention of the place occupied by land and people in the Jewish religion would have a political meaning in this document, since no other essential elements of Jewish faith, such as the Sabbath, circumcision, etc., are expressly mentioned in it.

6) Criticism 

d) must lead one to make a careful distinction between what the Jews most often mean by prayer, namely an act of liturgical worship by a community or representatives, and listening to the Word or silent meditation by several people gathered together, which for the Catholics are some of the possible forms of prayer. Moreover, the document says that this is possible when the two partners agree to do it.

7) As for criticisms e), b), c) and g), it must be clearly admitted that dialogue between Catholics and Jews presupposes respect for the Jewish faith on the part of the Catholics, but also on the part of the Catholics fidelity to all the essential components of their own faith. It is quite certain that there could be no dialogue if mutual respect and fidelity on both sides were not practically compatible.

 

IV. Meeting of the Liaison Committee between the Catholic Church and Judaism

The meeting of the Liaison Committee was the fourth since its foundation in 1970. The programme of the meeting was dominated by the new perspectives opened up thanks to the creation of the Commission and the publication of the Guidelines and Suggestions. Unanimously Liaison Committee felt that a new stage in relations between Jews and Catholics may well have begun.

The inauguration of a common study on the "rights of man" was likewise felt as capable of being the source of important and enriching work.

 

Appendix 1: Press communiqué on the Liaison Committee's meeting. 

 

V. Papal Audience granted to the members of the Liaison Committee

The new climate created by the Catholic initiatives and the holding in Rome of the meeting of the Liaison Committee were crowned by the audience granted by the Holy Father to the members of the Committee.

His Holiness received the Committee in his private library, the members being presented by Cardinal Willebrands. The tone of the official addresses, the attitude of the personalities present on the occasion of these addresses, but still more the private exchanges between the Holy Father and the various participants which followed the official exchanges, were marked by mutual warmth and an atmosphere of "détente", simplicity and frankness which impressed all taking part.

It may be added finally that this audience was given maximum publicity by L'Osservatore Ramano, a fact much appreciated by all participants.

Appendix 2: Address of the Jewish spokesman of the Liaison Committee and the Holy Father's address to the Liaison Committee (L'Osservatore Romano, 11th January, 1975, 115, N. 8).

 

Conclusion

In spite of the hopes that may be raised by the recent events recalled above, one must face the fact that Jewish/Christian relations are difficult as the result of a combination of various factors.

1. One first factor is very important at the present time because of its psychological effects, though it is to be hoped that this importance will gradually lessen if dialogue develops: the memory and feelings of the Jews are very much affected by the sufferings endured during the distant and recent past. The Jews ascribe the main responsibility for these sufferings to the Christians, for they consider the pseudo-theological motives of antisemitism to have been the main cause. Christians, on the other hand, are largely ignorant of the sufferings endured by the Jews or in any case take no interest in them; at the same time and with good faith they do not consider that their Church had a real share of responsibility in them.

2. Another factor causing difficulty is perhaps in essence fundamental and permanent: it lies in the radical differences which distinguish Judaism and Christianity from each other. These difficulties are to be found particularly at the level of the basic ideas underlying and determining the two religious traditions as they are at present lived, in spite of everything that they nevertheless have in common. At this level, special mention should be made of the different interpretations given by Judaism and Christianity precisely of everything that is common to them.

These differences are also fairly clearly apparent if one considers the difference in internal structure of each of the two human groupings constituted by Judaism on the one hand and Catholicism on the other.

3. The fundamental and permanent factor just referred to is reinforced by a present situation that one hopes is transient and that may be described in overall terms as a situation of ignorance as regrettable as it is unconscious.

To speak only of the Catholic side, we may note that Catholics still think (in perfectly good faith) that they know contemporary Judaism and that they understand what the Jews do or say. They sometimes even think they know what Christians ought to say or do in order to conduct a dialogue with the Jews. This conviction is based upon the fact that, as Catholics, they have a picture of the Jews constituted essentially by what they think they read about the Jews in the New Testament and by what the Christian interpretation of the Old Testament teaches them about Judaism.

It is very difficult for a Catholic in good faith to realise that:

a) Our present-day reading of the New Testament is, with regard to the Jews, oriented and coloured by the previous centuries of misunderstanding and confrontations.

b) The Christian interpretation of the Old Testament, read in the light of the New Testament, is very different from the interpretation given to it by contemporary Judaism. Moreover, this Christian interpretation is quite far removed from the most immediate literal interpretation.

c) Contemporary Judaism is the present fruit of an evolution that has continued since the beginning of the Christian era, and it is still today a conviction that presents a real and original vitality that deserves our respect and attention just as much as others and indeed more.

Now that these present difficulties have been briefly described, we may express the hope that the Document applying Nostra Aetate (4) will be put into practice at all levels and in all parts of the Church, so that the memory of past confrontations may be erased as quickly as possible, present ignorance may be removed, and, in spite of the fundamental profound differences, a true dialogue may be established between Christians and Jews, both sides proclaiming themselves sons of Abraham, such as do also the Moslems, but each side following its own perspective.

 

APPENDIX 1

Press Release

The fourth annual meeting of the International Catholic/Jewish Liaison Committee took place in Rome on January 7-10, 1975.

The meeting was presided over by Rabbi Joseph Lookstein, chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, by Rabbi Henry Siegman, by Rev. Edward Flannery and Father Bernard Dupuy, O.P.

Recent developments in the field of Catholic-Jewish relations were discussed. The establishment of a Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and the publication of the Guidelines and Suggestions for the Implementation of Nostra Aetate (No. 4) were considered as encouraging steps for the practical application of the conciliar Declaration on the relations between the Catholic Church and the Jews in different essential areas. The document establishes a framework for the development of Catholic-Jewish relations in a spirit of mutual respect, with due recognition of basic differences. It opens new avenues for further clarifications of important and sometimes controversial issues.

The Jewish delegation expressed appreciation for several aspects of the Guidelines, particularly the condemnation of antisemitism, the recognition of the continuing development of Jewish history and religious tradition also after the rise of Christianity, the encouragement of study of Judaism in Catholic education, and the call for joint social action.

The Jewish side raised questions about several aspects of the Guidelines, including their failure to note the essential significance of peoplehood and land in Jewish faith. Questions were also raised with regard to the affirmation in the Guidelines of the obligation of Catholics to witness to their faith within the context of dialogue, and the suggestion for common prayer.

The Catholic delegation made it clear that neither the document taken as a whole nor any part of it should be understood as an attempt at proselytizing Jews.

Furthermore the Catholic delegation stated that the document did not make a general recommendation for common prayer, but referred only to circumstances in which this would be acceptable to both sides.

The meeting also discussed the concept of human rights in the Christian and the Jewish tradition with the participation of members of the Pontifical Commission Justice and Peace. It was decided to pursue this study and to envisage in the future practical cooperation in the field of human rights.

Finally, the meeting exchanged information on a series of matters of mutual concern, on the future programme and on the effectiveness of the methods of work of the Liaison Committee.

His Holiness Pope Paul VI received in audience the members of the Liaison Committee on Friday morning, January 10 in the presence of Cardinal Jan Willebrands, President of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.

 

Present at the meeting were:

From the Catholic side:

Members of the Liaison Committee:

The Most Revd. Roger Etchegaray, Archbishop of Marseille, France.

The Most Revd. Francis J. Mugavero, Bishop of Brooklyn, N.Y., U.S.A.

Msgr. Charles Moeller, Vice-President of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, Rome.

fr. Pierre-M. de Contenson, O.P., Secretary of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, Rome.

fr. Bernard Dupuy, O.P., Secretary of the French Episcopal Committee for Relations with Judaism, Paris.

 

From the Pontifical Commission Justice and Peace:

Msgr. Andrea di Montezemolo, Pro-Secretary.

Msgr. Bernard Lalande, Expert.

Revd. Romano Rossi, Expert.

 

Experts at the meeting:

Revd. Edward Flannery, Secretary of the Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish relations of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the U.S.A., Washington, D.C.

Prof. Cornelius Rijk, Director of SIDIC (Service International de Documentation Judéo-Chrétienne), Rome.

 

From the Jewish side:

Members of the Liaison Committee:

Dr. Joseph L. Lichten, Consultant of Anti- Defamation League of Bsnai Bsrith, Rome.

Dr. Gerhart Riegner, Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress, Geneva, Switzerland.

Rabbi Henry Siegman, Executive Vice President of the Synagogue Council of America, New York, U.S.A.

Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, National Director of Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee, New York, U.S.A.

Prof. Shemaryahu Talmon, Chairman of the Jewish Council for Interreligious Relations in Israel, Jerusalem.

Rabbi Joseph Lookstein, Chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) and Vice-President of the Synagogue Council of America, New York, U.S.A.

 

Experts at the meeting:

Dr. Fritz Becker, permanent representative in Rome of the World Jewish Congress.

Dr. Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich, Director for Europe of Bsnai Bsrith, Basel, Switzerland.

Prof. Louis Henkin of Columbia University Law School, New York, U.S.A.

Dr. Zachariah Schuster, consultant of the American Jewish Committee, Paris, France.

 

 

APPENDIX 2

 

Address of the Jewish spokesman
of the liaison
committee to the Holy Father 

January 10, 1975

Your Holiness,

The International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations warmly appreciates the privilege of this audience.

This is an important occasion. Relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people have had many unhappy chapters. This meeting, we are hopeful, marks a new stage in our relations.

In our century, the Jewish people suffered the greatest tragedy in its history, the annihilation of the overwhelming majority of the Jews of Europe. In this century, too, the Jewish people has experienced the rebirth of the State of Israel.

The creation by Your Holiness of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, and the Guidelines for implementing the Conciliar Declaration 'Nostra Aetate' will, we believe, encourage better understanding and improve relations between Catholics and Jews, in a spirit of mutual respect and the recognition of basic differences.

We welcome the condemnation of antisemitism, at a time when this ancient hatred is again being propagated by enemies of the Jewish people.

We welcome the call on Christians to "strive to learn by what essential traits the Jews define themselves in the light of their own religious experience". We are hopeful that this striving will lead to a wider appreciation that peoplehood and the land of Israel are essential to Jewish faith. We note with appreciation the recognition by Your Holiness, in the recent address to the College of Cardinals, of the place of Jerusalem also in the love and longing of the Jewish people.

We welcome the call for joint social action. The struggle for universal justice and peace is a fundamental imperative of Judaism. We are eager to work with Christians for social justice and peace for all, everywhere. Such collaboration can also do much to foster mutual understanding and esteem.

We express our warm respect to Your Holiness and to Catholics throughout the world. May He who establishes peace in His heaven bring peace to all mankind.

 

Address of the Holy Father to the liaison committee
between the Catholic Church and world Judaism

January 10, 1975

 

Gentlemen,

You, the Catholic and Jewish members of the Liaison Committee between the Catholic Church and World Judaism, decided a little over a year ago in Anvers, to hold your fourth annual meeting in Rome. We rejoice in this decision of yours to meet this time in the city which is the centre of the Catholic Church: it has made possible today's fraternal meeting.

Your session is taking place a short time after we have set up, last October, a Commission of the Catholic Church for religious relations with the Jews, the first important act of which has been the publication a few days ago of the "Guidelines and Suggestions" for the application of the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate in the sphere of Jewish-Catholic relations.

We will not return at this moment to the details of that document, which was addressed to the faithful of the Catholic Church by the central authority of the Church and which has doubtless been, together with the question of human rights and still other problems, one of the objects of study and shared reflection to which your session has been devoted.

This text evokes the difficulties and confrontations, with all the regrettable elements involved, which have marked relations between Christians and Jews over the past two thousand years. While this reminder has been salutary and indispensable, one should not forget that there have also been between us down the centuries elements other than confrontations. There are still many people who can witness to what was done by the Catholic Church during the last war, in Rome itself, under the energetic impulse of Pius XII Y as we personally testify Y and by numerous bishops, priests and members of the faithful, to save innocent Jews from persecution, often at the peril of their own lives.

Moreover, as we look at history as a whole, we cannot fail to note the connections, often too little remarked upon, between Jewish thought and Christian thought. We may here merely recall the influence exercised at various periods in the most exalted spheres of Christian reflection by the thought of the great Philo of Alexandria, who was considered by Saint Jerome as "the most expert among the Jews", a judgment echoed by, among others, the Franciscan Doctor Bonaventure of Bagnoregio. But, precisely, since the Catholic Church has just commemorated, at the same time as the seventh centenary of the death of Saint Bonaventura of Bagnoregio, that of the philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas, who died, like Bonaventure, in the year 1274, there very naturally come to our mind the numerous references of our Angelic Doctor to the work of the rabbinic scholar from Cordoba, who died in Egypt at the dawn of the thirteenth century, Moshe ben Maimon, in particular his explanations of the Mosaic Law and the precepts of Judaism.

For his part, the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas was to expand in its turn in the scholarly tradition of mediaeval Judaism: as has been shown for example by the studies of Professor Charles Touati of the School of Higher Studies in Paris and by Professor Joseph Sermoneta of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, there existed in the Latin West at the end of the thirteenth and in the fourteenth century, a whole Jewish Thomistic school.

These are merely some examples drawn from many others. They bear witness to the fact that at different periods and at a certain level there has been a real and profound mutual esteem and a conviction that we had something to learn from one another.

We formulate, gentlemen, the sincere wish that, in a manner appropriate to our age and thus in a field that to some extent exceeds the limited domain of merely speculative and rational exchanges, a true dialogue may be established between Judaism and Christianity.

Your presence here as some of the most authoritative representatives of world Judaism bears witness to the fact that this personal wish finds a certain echo in yourselves. The terms with which we express it, the presence of the devoted Cardinal President of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, that of our brothers in the episcopate, the Archbishop of Marseilles and the Bishop of Brooklyn, are dear indications to you of the sincerity and collegial decision with which the Catholic Church desires that there should develop at this time that dialogue with Judaism to which the Second Vatican Council invited us by its Declaration Nostra Aetate (cf. no. 4).

We hope that this dialogue, conducted with great mutual respect, will help us to know one another better and will lead us all to know better the Almighty, the Eternal One, to follow more faithfully the ways that have been traced out for us by him who, in the words of the prophet Hosea (11:9), is in our midst as the Holy One, who takes no pleasure in destroying.

We dare to think that the recent solemn reaffirmation of rejection by the Catholic Church of every form of antisemitism and the invitation that we have extended to all the faithful of the Catholic Church to pay heed in order "to learn by what essential traits the Jews define themselves in the light of their own religious experience" may, on the Catholic side, provide the conditions for beneficial development.

We do not doubt that you on your part will correspond, according to your own perspectives, to our effort, which can only have meaning and fruitfulness in reciprocity.

In the perspective of understanding and friendship which we evoked before the Sacred College on 23 December last, we formulate for you here present, gentlemen, and for your families, but more widely still for the entire Jewish people our best wishes of happiness and peace.

           

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