Three views of Christian -- Jewish relations A Jewish perspective From suspicion to respect

Joel H. Zaiman

November 28, 1990|By Joel H. Zaiman

This year, the Roman Catholic Church marks the 25th anniversary of "Nostra Aetate," a document issued by the 9 Second Vatican Council that represented a sharp departure in = the church's official attitude toward Judaism. The document

renounced centuries of Christian teaching that blamed Jews for ? the death of Jesus and opened the way for Catholic -- Jewish = dialogue that has had far -- reaching effects. Meanwhile, : Protestants are also re-examining their relationship to Judaism. A As the following reflections show, these efforts at interfaith ? dialogues have profound implications for Christians and Jews = alike.

IT WOULD be hard to overestimate the changes that have taken place in Catholic-Jewish relations since Vatican II. Mutual suspicion, let alone outright rejection, has been replaced by measured respect, extensive collaboration on matters of mutual concern and a genuine desire to deepen understanding and appreciation.

The Catholic Church continues to demonstrate its serious intentions. Catholic textbooks have been revised so hat anti-Semitic references have virtually been eliminated. Guidelines have been developed which reject anti-Jewish themes in liturgies and sermons. It is no longer appropriate to teach that the church displaced Judaism as the heir of God's covenant. In Prague this past September, at a meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee, Archbishop Edward Cassidy, president of the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, clearly stated that the church could have done more than it did during the Shoah, th destruction of six million Jews by Nazi Germany and that "an act of teshuvah (repentance) and of reconciliation" is called for.

Questions remain: How many Catholics are aware of the changes that have taken place in their own church since Nostra Aetate? Are only some among the leadership fully aware and appreciative of those changes?

The history of Catholic-Jewish relations is 1,900 years old, and the bitterness still looms large. The pain and suspicion resulting from the centuries of hatred and persecution cannot be erased overnight. What is utterly remarkable is the progress made in so short a time 25 years.

Christians continue to define themselves in relationship to Judaism and the Jewish people. As Father John P. Pawlikowski correctly notes, Jews "have no concomitant need to include references to Christianity in expressions of their identity as a religious community." Yet, as the teachings of Vatican II are ever more widely disseminated, and as more and more Catholics wrestle seriously with the teachings of that document, Jews must also respond to these changes.

If, indeed, there is more than one route to the same God, what will Judaism teach and preach about that path taken by Christianity? How will Jewish textbooks mediate Christianity to Jewish students? Are Jews ready to think more deeply about Christianity and its role in the divine plan for redemption?

Rabbi Jacob Neusner reminds us of "the incapacity of religions to form for themselves a useful theory of the other." That, he suggests, is the critical task facing religions to be able to understand themselves in such a way as to make room for the outsider.

Pawlikowski, writing in the August 1990 issue of Moment magazine, concludes, "I believe we are living in an era with monumental possibilities for permanently reshaping the historic relationship between Jews and Christians ... Neither Christians nor Jews can afford to ignore the opportunity."

Continued acts of justice and faith are necessary: vigilance against rising anti-Semitism in Eastern and Central Europe; a studied statement by the Vatican on the subject of anti-Semitism; Vatican recognition of the sovereign state of Israel. All of these will, I believe, be forthcoming.

The concluding sentences from the Joint Declaration issued at the conclusion of the Prague meeting expressed the hope of all assembled delegates.

"After two millennia of estrangement and hostility, we have a sacred duty as Catholics and Jews to strive to create a genuine culture of mutual esteem and reciprocal caring. Catholic-Jewish dialogue can become a sign of hope and inspiration to other religions, races and ethnic groups to turn away from contempt, toward realizing authentic human fraternity.

"This new spirit of friendship and caring for one another may be the most important symbol we have to offer to our troubled world."

Joel H. Zaiman is rabbi of Chizuk Amunmo Congregation in

1 Pikesville.

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