Jews & Catholics: taking stock

Mittleman, Alan L. & Banki, Judith

WHY THE 'NOTES' WERE DISAPPOINTING Jews & Catholics: taking stock JUDITH BANKI & ALAN L. MITTLEMAN ON JUNE 24, 1985 twenty years after the historic conciliar "Declaration on the Relations...

...Its fruits are evident in powerful declarations of national episcopal conferences, including the French, the Swiss, the American, the German, and the Brazilian...
...ONE OF THE considerable frustrations in evaluating this document lies in its schizoid nature...
...The Jewish people is the true relative of the Church, not her rival or a minority to be assimilated...
...These clarifications are helpful...
...In one decisive sweep, the council rejected the pernicious, misconceived accusation of deicide which, more than any other misconception, led to Christendom's legacy of fratricide...
...Edward Flannery has said, Jews have learnt by heart those pages which Christians have torn from their history books...
...After World War 11, provocative theological works by the Jewish scholar Jules Isaac and by Catholics such as Paul Demann set the stage for a searching reconsideration of fundamental issues...
...As with previous documents, much will depend on how they are implemented...
...In an attempt to calm troubled waters, Msgr...
...the Christians, the Passover accomplished in the death and resurrection of Christ...
...Do they also, as some Jews fear, represent a retreat to a pre-Vatican II theology of Jews and Judaism...
...How will the "Notes" affect the progress of Catholic6 September 1985: 467 Jewish relations...
...First, it affirmed that the death of Jesus "cannot be blamed upon all the Jews then living, without distinction, nor upon-the Jews of today...
...in another, "Church and Judaism cannot then be seen as two parallel ways of salvation and the church must witness to Christ as the redeemer of all...
...What is given by one hand, however, is taken back by the other...
...Obviously, one cannot do justice to the depth and range of these disparate statements, forged over the course of almost twenty years...
...These manifestations of supersessionism subvert the intention of the "Notes" to learn and teach how the Jews define themselves, and reflect a strong triumphalist cast...
...The "Notes" appear to empty both events of a possible religious meaning for Christians...
...WHY THE 'NOTES' WERE DISAPPOINTING Jews & Catholics: taking stock JUDITH BANKI & ALAN L. MITTLEMAN ON JUNE 24, 1985 twenty years after the historic conciliar "Declaration on the Relations of the Church to Non-Christian Religions" (Nostra Aetate) the Vatican issued a set of "Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Catholic Church...
...it's a pity they weren't part of the original document...
...The consolidation of these trends into a directed international movement for change in Catholic-Jewish relations occurred during the Second Vatican Council...
...Against this background, and on the basis of their own experience in Catholic-Jewish dialogue, Jews had every reason to expect that the Vatican "Notes'' would be an unambigious step forward toward mutual recognition as well as mutual esteem...
...A 1977 Vatican study paper by Professor Thomasso Frederici also renounced proselytization understood as coercion or manipulation and spelled out the church's commitment to dialogue...
...The acknowledgement of the vital, faithful existence of the Jews from antiquity to modern times is an important corrective to earlier teachings...
...By implication Judaism is presented as a failed religion...
...The council set forth the great themes of a new encounter between Catholics, indeed between all Christians, and Jews...
...The church continually "draws sustenance" from the root that is the people Israel...
...Jorge Mejia, Secretary of the Vatican Commission on Religious Relations with the Jews, issued a press statement concurrently with the publication of the "Notes...
...a call for Catholics to understand Jewish attachment to the State of Israel and the religious significance of Israel for Jews (while not necessarily accepting these positions as their own...
...On the positive side, the ' 'Notes'' affirm that' 'the Jews and Judaism should not occupy an occasional and marginal place in catechesis: Their presence there is essential and should be organically integrated.'' This ' 'presence'' is not that of a relic: Jews area "still living reality," whose permanence in history, "accompanied by a continuous, spiritual fecundity," is "a sign to be interpreted within God's design...
...The council also took note of the Jewishness of Jesus and of the founders of early Christianity...
...What is most disappointing about the "Notes" is precisely their failure to convey to Catholics "those essential traits" by which the Jews define themselves...
...The section on the Jewish roots of Christianity should be particularly helpful to teachers and preachers...
...the Exodus) are incomplete...
...Although these themes appear in earlier documents, the "Notes" develop them in an intensive and heuristic way...
...These substantive problems aside, what probably most distressed the Jewish partners-in-dialogue with the Vatican commission was the lack of opportunity to respond to the "Notes" prior to their publication...
...Without prejudice to whatever we may share in hope, Jews have a very different memory from Catholics...
...Clearly, they provide rich opportunities for new advances in education and new insights in preaching...
...Judaism fails to save its adherents, fails to understand its Scriptures, fails to accept its Messiah...
...Moreover, what is unique to Judaism and to Jewish experience tends to get smothered by the "Notes" under the blanket of our "common spiritual patrimony...
...The "Notes" make plain that many of the anti-Jewish references of the Gospels ' 'have their historical context in conflicts between the nascent church and the Jewish community . . . long after the time of Jesus...
...The latter would seem unlikely in the light of two decades of scholarly advance and human interaction, but there are enough suggestions toward doctrinal retrenchment in the "Notes" to justify Jewish concern...
...It is no wonder that Jews expressed disappointment with the document...
...The Jews should not be presented as rejected or cursed by God...
...but they went further than Nostra Aetate in empathy and historical sensitivity and, taken together, reflect trends enormously heartening to Jews: a genuine expression of esteem for Jews and Judaism...
...Speculation as to how the "Notes" were formulated, edited, and finalized is, perhaps, fruitless, but the document appears to reflect a tug-of-war between two incompatible mind-sets towards Jews...
...Immediately, the "Notes" drew sharp criticism from leading Jewish organizations...
...Both have written widely on various aspects of Jewish-Christian relations...
...a call for Christians to listen to how Jews define themselves...
...Fair enough...
...Reflective of the same approach, the complex parting of the ways between the young church and the Jews is reduced to a simple "sad fact": the failure of Jews to believe in Jesus...
...In an empathetic and forthright statement on the Holocaust, he noted its significance for Christians as well as for Jews...
...tianity," condemns anti-Semitism, and calls for "objectivity, justice, and tolerance" might well have asked, "What in the world do the Jews want...
...The question can only be answered by understanding both the long and potent tradition of Christian antiSemitism and the progress made in recent decades in confronting and correcting the teachings which fed that tradition...
...After stating that Jews should "define themselves in the light of their own religious experience," the "Notes" immediately proceed to define the Jews in the light of traditional categories (e.g...
...The 1950s and 1960s saw the undertaking, through the initiative of the American Jewish Committee, of landmark Protestant and Catholic textbook "self-studies" in the United States and Europe which documented the extent of anti-Jewish prejudice in teaching materials...
...In an otherwise excellent passage calling for cooperation in the pursuit of social justice, human rights, and international reconciliation, Jews and Christians are said to have "one same memory and one common hope in him who is master of history...
...An educated reader of an article in the New York Times (June 25), noting that the Vatican statement emphasizes the "Jewish roots of ChrisJUDITH banki is associate national director of the The American Jewish Committee and the editor of the Committee's Inter-religious Newsletter, rabbi alan l. mittlkman is program specialist of interreligious affairs for The American Jewish Committee...
...The two great orienting events of modern Jewish experience the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel are given short shrift...
...The council laid out some principles which greatly facilitated the pursuit of these goals...
...In another section, however, "the Exodus . . . represents an experience of salvation and liberation that is not complete in itself...
...they have been nourished by networks of ongoing communication...
...Without doubt, this framework is a valuable step forward in Commonweal: 466 Catholic-Jewish relations...
...Given this abiding linkage, this common "spiritual patrimony," the council urged that "mutual respect and understanding" prevail...
...If Jesus is severe toward them, "it is because he is closer to them than to other contemporary Jewish groups...
...Attention to the Jewish foundations of the church a fact too easily obscured in the course of history provided fertile subject matter for the joint-scholarly ventures recommended by the council...
...a vision of Catholics and Jews as two pilgrim peoples "on the march.'' Added to this roster of progress, at least two study papers, probing theological aspects of Catholic-Jewish relations, suggested that the church should abandon efforts to convert Jews...
...From a Jewish perspective, progressive affirmations in one section are undercut by regressive formulations in other sections...
...In one section, Jewish and Christian liturgical practices are compared in a balanced and objective manner: "Christians and Jews celebrate the Passover: the Jews, the historic Passover looking toward the future...
...Inherently contradictory theological views of Judaism are papered over by expressions of noble intention...
...These were auspicious beginnings...
...The tender shoots of this new tradition have emerged from dialogues, conferences, and scholarly studies...
...Why did the Jewish leaders react in so critical a manner...
...As Rev...
...Beliefs and practices which Jesus and Paul shared with the Pharisees are specified in detail...
...Not all, but many of the objections to the document might have been resolved had there been consultation...
...Thus, in one section, "the permanence of Israel" is providential ("a sign to be interpreted within God's design...
...But if one searches them to find in what Jewish chosenness consists, only one explicit reason is given: "to prepare the coming of Christ . . . notwithstanding their difficulty in recognizing in him their Messiah...
...Although Nostra Aetate was significantly weaker in its final text than in earlier drafts, it nevertheless initiated a process which has forged a new Catholic tradition vis a vis Jews and Judaism...
...It envisioned mat such respect would flow from joint biblical and theological studies and "brotherly dialogues...
...Its central and formative events (e.g...
...The "Notes" describe formative Judaism as a rich, diversified religion within which Jesus' life and work find a natural home...
...Much evidence of good will in the "Notes" notwithstanding, this preparatory function is the only reason explicity given for Catholics "to appreciate and love" Jews...
...Their reception was accompanied by acute disappointment...
...Almost every attempt in the "Notes" to provide some independent theological space for Jews and Judaism is countered by the reassertion of a traditional stance with which the new insights seem to be incompatible...
...What, indeed...
...Continued on page 466) 6 September 1985: 463 Nostra Aetate affirms that "Abraham's stock" and the "people of the New Covenant" are not strangers to one another, rather they are linked by a mysterious "spiritual bond...
...A 1973 study paper of the National Catholic Commission for Relations with the Jews, Belgium, declared: "To insist that the church has taken the place of the Jewish people as salvific institution is a facile interpretation...
...Salvation and liberation are already accomplished in Christ and gradually realized by the sacraments in the church.'' Is this a statement that transmits Jewish self-understanding to Catholics...
...The "Notes" clearly assert that Israel "remains a chosen people...
...Indeed, the' 'Notes'' do make several steps in the right direction, but they also appear to take more than a few steps backward...
...an admission of the anti-Judaic legacy of Christian theology and a commitment to reformulations...
...The historical record is set straight on the much maligned Pharisees...
...He specifically denied that the "Notes" intend to depict the Jewish people as superseded: "Of course, they can and should . .. draw salvific gifts from their own traditions...
...promise and fulfillment) which tie Judaism to a procrustean bed of theological suppositions...
...These study papers were not doctrinally authoritative, but they seemed to point to the direction in which Catholic theological thought was developing...

Vol. 112 • September 1985 • No. 15


 
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