Academic journal article Theological Studies

"I Am Joseph, Your Brother": A Jewish Perspective on Christian-Jewish Relations since Nostra Aetate No. 4

Academic journal article Theological Studies

"I Am Joseph, Your Brother": A Jewish Perspective on Christian-Jewish Relations since Nostra Aetate No. 4

Article excerpt


As MARY BOYS HAS SHOWN in her fine contribution to this volume, it is not too bold to suggest that Nostra aetate (NA), published October 28, 1965, toward the end of the Second Vatican Council, helped transform Jewish-Christian relations. According to Edward Flannery, it "terminated in a stroke a millennial teaching of contempt of Jews and Judaism and unequivocally asserted the Church's debt to its Jewish heritage." (1) The aggiornamento ("a bringing up to date") marked the beginnings of a fresh approach when the Roman Catholic Church "came in from out of the cold" and joined the Protestant churches in reflecting positively on the "mystery of Israel." Looking back 50 years later, it is noticeable that the document was forceful in deploring antisemitism, although it omitted any mention of the Holocaust or the Christian contribution to antisemitism (nor did it mention the existence of the state of Israel). Most of all, NA ushered in a new era, fresh attitudes, a new language of discourse never previously heard in the Catholic Church concerning Jews, which can be seen in phrases such as "God holds the Jews most dear" and "mutual understanding and respect." However, the document's possibilities were one thing, its success another, and the latter was dependent upon "things still to be worked out." (2)

Since then the Holy See has issued four major documents on Jews and Judaism:

* 1974, Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra aetate

* 1985, Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis

* 1998, We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah (3)

These three documents were produced by the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. It is somewhat surprising that, as far as I am aware, no further documents are expected in the near future.

More encouragingly, however, is that in 2001 the Pontifical Biblical Commission produced the fourth major statement, The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible. (4) This is significant because it implies that consideration of the Christian-Jewish encounter extends beyond the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. It is the concern of the Roman Catholic Church as a whole.

Consequently Christians, so long instigators of negative attitudes toward Jews, began to rediscover a respect and admiration for Judaism, and the once-close relationship, which had become a distant memory, has been to a large extent restored. For Jews, the traditional view that Christianity was simply an enemy has been replaced by a realization that collaboration with Christians is possible.

Over the course of the last half-century, the Roman Catholic Church has become aware of the need to learn about developments in post-biblical Judaism, as demonstrated by the 1974 Guidelines, which asserted that "Christians must strive to learn by what essential traits the Jews define themselves in the light of their own religious experience" (5) and the 1985 Notes, which called on preachers and catechists to "'assess it [the patrimony common to Judaism and the church] carefully in itself and with due awareness of the faith and religious life of the Jewish people as they are professed and practiced still today." (6)

Two themes emerge: first, the history of Judaism did not end with the destruction of the Second Temple but developed an ongoing innovative and living religious tradition, and second, Christians need to understand Judaism as a living faith. I do not think the church knew in 1974, nor yet knows, the challenges these two themes present. This ignorance is neatly illustrated by Yossi Klein Halevi's portrait of an encounter with a Sister of the Beatitudes in Israel. The danger of the reassertion of the "old theology," the sister informed Klein Halevi, is illustrated when Christians simply say, "'Thank you, Jewish people, for giving us the Bible. …

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