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Christian-Jewish reconciliation

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Christian-Jewish reconciliation In recent years there has been much to note in the way of reconciliation between some Christians groups and the Jewish people.

A number of large Christian groups have publicly declared that they will no longer proselytize Jews.

Table of contents
1 Post Holocaust relations
2 The Catholic Church
3 Protestant Churches
4 Christian scholars groups
5 Orthodox Christianity
6 Joint efforts
7 Jewish responses
8 External links and references

Post Holocaust relations

In many nations there has been a remarkable decline in anti-Semitism after the horrors of the Holocaust were made public to the larger world population. Anti-Semitism among Christians and anti-Christianism among Jews have not died out entirely, and anti-Semitic acts have been perpetrated by some Christian leaders, as anti-Christian acts have been perpetrated by Jewish leaders. Nonetheless, the leaders of many Christian denominations have developed new positions towards the Jewish people over the last thirty years, and much progress in inter-faith relations has occurred.

The Catholic Church

The Second Vatican Council, commonly known as Vatican II, was a pastoral, non-dogmatic ecumenical council of the Catholic church opened under Pope John XXIII in 1962 and closed under Pope Paul VI in 1965. One of the most revolutionary changes that resulted from interpretations of this council's ambiguous documents are those which concerned the document Nostra Aetate.

True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ. 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.

In 1971 the Catholic Church established an International Liaison Committee for itself and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (this Committee is not a part of the Church's Magisterium).

On May 4, 2001, at the 17th International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee in NYC, they stated that they would seek changes in how Judaism is dealt with in Catholic seminaries. In part, they state:

The curricula of Catholic seminaries and schools of theology should reflect the central importance of the church's new understanding of its relationship to Jews....Courses on Bible, patristics, early church history and liturgy should incorporate recent scholarship on Christian origins. Illumining the complex developments by which both the church and rabbinic Judaism emerged from early Judaism will establish a substantial foundation for ameliorating "the painful ignorance of the history and traditions of Judaism of which only negative aspects and often caricature seem to form part of the stock ideas of many Christians" (Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Catholic Preaching and Catechesis, #27, 1985).

...Courses dealing with the biblical, historical and theological aspects of relations between Jews and Christians should be an integral part of the seminary and theologate curriculum, and not merely electives. All who graduate from Catholic seminaries and theology schools should have studied the revolution in Catholic teaching on Jews and Judaism from Nostra Aetate to the prayer of Pope John Paul II in Jerusalem at the Western Wall on March 26, 2000....For historic reasons, many Jews find it difficult to overcome generational memories of anti-Semitic oppression. Therefore: Lay and Religious Jewish leaders need to advocate and promote a program of education in our Jewish schools and seminaries - about the history of Catholic-Jewish relations and knowledge of Christianity and its relationship to Judaism....Encouragement of dialogue between the two faiths does involve recognition, understanding and respect for each other's beliefs, without having to accept them. It is particularly important that Jewish schools teach about the Second Vatican Council, and subsequent documents and attitudinal changes which opened new perspectives and possibilities for both faiths.

The term "traditional Catholics" often is used to apply to a group of Catholic Christians that broke away from the Catholic Church after Vatican II. Traditional Christians believe that the Pope at the time, and all Popes since, have led the majority of Catholic clergy and layity into heresy. They view interfaith dialogue with Jews as unnecessary and a violation of Christian beliefs. In their view, Jews still are to be held as collectively responsible for murdering God, and all Jews are still believed to be damned unless they convert to Christianity.

Protestant Churches

In 1981 the Assembly of the Church of Scotland declared "its belief in the continuing place of God's people of Israel within the divine purpose."

In 1982 the Lutheran World Federation issued a consultation stating that "we Christians must purge ourselves of any hatred of the Jews and any sort of teaching of contempt for Judaism."

The European Lutheran Commission on the Church and the Jewish People (Lutherische Europäische Kommission Kirche und Judentum, LEKKJ) is an umbrella organization representing twenty-five Lutheran church bodies in Europe. On May 12, 2003 they issued A Response to Dabru Emet:

In its Driebergen Declaration (1991), the European Lutheran Commission on the Church and the Jewish People...rejected the traditional Christian Óteaching of contemptÔ towards Jews and Judaism, and in particular, the anti-Jewish writings of Martin Luther, and it called for the reformation of church practice in the light of these insights. Against this background, LEKKJ welcomes the issuance of Dabru Emet: A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity. We see in this statement a confirmation of our own work of these past years....We know that we must reexamine themes in Lutheran theology that in the past have repeatedly given rise to enmity towards Jews....Fully aware that Dabru Emet is in the first instance an intra-Jewish invitation to conversation, we see in this statement also an aid to us in expressing and living out our faith in such a way that we do not denigrate Jews, but rather respect them in their otherness, and are enabled to give an account of our own identity more clearly as we scrutinize it in the light of how others see us.

In March 1995 the Alliance of Baptists issued "A Baptist Statement on Jewish-Christian Relations"; a revision of this statement was released on April 25, 2003. In part, is says:

As Baptist Christians we are the inheritors of and, in our turn, have been the transmitters of a theology which lays the blame for the death of Jesus at the feet of the Jews; a theology which has taken the anti-Jewish polemic of the Christian Scriptures out of its first century context and has usurped for the Church the biblical promises and prerogatives given by God to the Jews...The madness, the hatred, the dehumanizing attitudes which led to the events known collectively as the Holocaust did not occur overnight or within the span of a few years, but were the culmination of centuries of such Christian theology, teaching and church-sanctioned action directed against the Jews simply because they were Jews.

This document lists recommended actions that they asked all Christians to join them in:

The United Church of Canada issued a statement in May 1998 entitled "Bearing Faithful Witness: United Church-Jewish Relations Today." This calls upon Christians to:

Bearing Faithful Witness, has continued within the Church as a study program; on August 13, 2003, the 38th General Council of The United Church of Canada received a new report from Bearing Faithful Witness; it then approved a statement on relations with Jews today. Their report states, in part, "No other religion is as closely related to Christianity as Judaism. The Christian God is the God of Israel. Jesus and all the apostles were of Israel. Christian scripture includes the scriptures of Israel." They call for no longer seeking the conversion of Jews. The statement, United Church-Jewish Relations Today, "acknowledges a history of interpreting the New Testament in a way that has failed to acknowledge the context within Judaism in which many passages are rooted; rejects all teaching of contempt toward Jews and Judaism and the belief that God has abolished the covenant with the Jewish people; affirms the significance of Judaism as a religion, a people, and a covenant community and that the State of Israel has the right to exist in peace and security."

Christian scholars groups

The Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations, a group of 22 Christian scholars, theologians, historians and clergy from six Christian Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic Church, works to "develop more adequate Christian theologies of the church's relationship to Judaism and the Jewish people." They issued a statement in September 2002, "A Sacred Obligation: Rethinking Christian Faith in Relation to Judaism and the Jewish People".

This document states, in part, "For most of the past two thousand years, Christians have erroneously portrayed Jews as unfaithful, holding them collectively responsible for the death of Jesus and therefore accursed by God. In agreement with many official Christian declarations, we reject this accusation as historically false and theologically invalid. It suggests that God can be unfaithful to the eternal covenant with the Jewish people. We acknowledge with shame the suffering this distorted portrayal has brought upon the Jewish people.... We believe that revising Christian teaching about Judaism and the Jewish people is a central and indispensable obligation of theology in our time." They then offer ten positions, with detailed explanations, "for the consideration of our fellow Christians. We urge all Christians to reflect on their faith in light of these statements." The ten positions, in brief, are:

  1. God's covenant with the Jewish people endures forever.
  2. Jesus of Nazareth lived and died as a faithful Jew.
  3. Ancient rivalries must not define Christian-Jewish relations today.
  4. Judaism is a living faith, enriched by many centuries of development.
  5. The Bible both connects and separates Jews and Christians.
  6. Affirming God's enduring covenant with the Jewish people has consequences for Christian understandings of salvation.
  7. Christians should not target Jews for conversion.
  8. Christian worship that teaches contempt for Judaism dishonors God.
  9. We affirm the importance of the land of Israel for the life of the Jewish people.
  10. Christians should work with Jews for the healing of the world.

The Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations
(The statement may or may not reflect the views of the scholars' various denominations)

Many smaller Christian groups in the US and Canada have come into being over the last 40 years, such as "Christians for Israel". Their website says that they exist in order to "expand Christian-Jewish dialogue in the broadest sense in order to improve the relationship between Christians and Jews, but also between Church and Synagogue, emphasizing Christian repentance, the purging of anti-Jewish attitudes and the false 'Replacement' theology rampant throughout Christian teachings."

Christians for Israel

Orthodox Christianity

The Fifth Academic Meeting between Judaism And Orthodox Christianity was held in Thessaloniki, Greece, on May 27-29, 2003. The meeting was organized by Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, who heads the Office of International and Intercultural Affairs to the Liaison Office of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the European Union, Brussels, in cooperation with the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, New York, Co-Chaired by Rabbi Israel Singer who is also Chairman of the World Jewish Congress, and Rabbi Joel Meyers who is also the Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Assembly. In his opening remarks, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew denounced religious fanaticism and rejected attempts by any faith to denigrate others. The following principles were adopted at the meeting:

Participants agreed to establish a permanent coordinating committee to maintain and foster continuing relationships. The Committee would jointly monitor principles enunciated at the meeting and would further enhance the dialogue and foster understanding between the respective religious communities.

Joint efforts

The International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ)is an umbrella organisation of 38 national Jewish-Christian dialogue organisations world-wide.

In 1993 (March 1) International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ) published "Jews and Christians in Search of a Common Religious Basis for Contributing Towards a Better World." This document "contains both separate Jewish perspectives and Christian perspectives concerning mutual communication and cooperation as well as a joint view of a common religious basis for Jews and Christians to work together for a better world....These considerations are not 'the' official theological, philosophical nor ideological underpinnings of the ICCJ and its member organisations, but are an invitation to consider what our work is all about. They have no authority other than their intrinsic world..."

Jews and Christians in Search of a Common Religious Basis for Contributing Towards a Better World

The ICCJ runs a website, Jewish-Christian Relations, "which is devoted to fostering mutual respect and understanding between Christians and Jews around the world."
Jewish-Christian Relations

According to their website, "Founded in 1987 by an interfaith coalition of laity and clergy, the Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies offers a variety of educational programs that highlight the distinctiveness of the Jewish and Christian traditions and confront the dangerous misunderstandings that have evolved in our two communities."
The Center for Catholic Jewish Studies

Jewish responses

Robert Gordis, a Conservative rabbi, wrote an essay on Ground Rules for a Christian Jewish Dialogue; through his writings and similar writings of other rabbis in all Jewish denominations, one form or another of these rules eventually became more or less accepted by all parties engaging in interfaith dialogue.

People should not label Jews as worshipping an inferior "the Old Testament God of Justice" while saying that Christians worship a superior "God of Love of the New Testament." Gordis brings forth quotes from the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) which shows that this view is a misleading caricature of both religions, created by selective quotation.

Christians should stop "the widespread practice of contrasting the primitivism, tribalism and formalism of the Old Testament with the spirituality, universalism, and freedom of the New, to the manifest disadvantage of the former." Gordis brings forth quotes from the Tanakh which shows that this view is a misleading caricature of both religions that was created by selective quotation.

"Another practice which should be surrendered is that of referring to Old Testament verses quoted in the New as original New Testament passages. Many years ago, Bertrand Russell, whose religious orthodoxy is something less than total, described the Golden Rule 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself' as New Testament teaching. When the Old Testament source (Leviticus 19:18) was called to his attention, he blandly refused to recognize his error." [Note, Bertrand Russell was a self-described philosophical agnostic and a practical atheist. Of concern to Christians is the Jewish definition of "neighbor" in the context of the "Golden Rule."]

Christians should understand that while Judaism is based in the Hebrew Bible, it is not identical to the religion described in it. Rather, it is based on the Bible as understood through the lens of rabbinic literature such as the Mishnah and Talmud. "To describe Judaism within the framework of the Old Testament is as misleading as constructing a picture of American life in terms of the Constitution, which is, to be sure, the basic law of the land but far from coextensive with our present legal and social system." The Jewish Encyclopedia indicates "... and with the destruction of the Temple the Sadducees disappeared altogether, leaving the regulation of all Jewish affairs in the hands of the Pharisees. Henceforth Jewish life was regulated by the teachings of the Pharisees; the whole history of Judaism was reconstructed from the Pharisaic point of view, and a new aspect was given to the Sanhedrin of the past. A new chain of tradition supplanted the older, priestly tradition. Pharisaism shaped the character of Judaism and the life and thought of the Jew for all the future." In other words, "Old Testament Judaism" is quite different from post-Temple Judaism.

Jews must "rise above the heavy burden of historical memories which have made it difficult for them to achieve any real understanding, let alone an appreciation, of Christianity. It is not easy to wipe out the memories of centuries of persecution and massacre, all too often dedicated to the advancement of the cause of the Prince of Peace.....[It is] no easy task for Jews to divest themselves of the heavy burden of group memories from the past, which are unfortunately reinforced all too often by personal experiences in the present. Nevertheless, the effort must be made, if men are to emerge from the dark heritage of religious hatred which has embittered their mutual relationships for twenty centuries. There is need for Jews to surrender the stereotype of Christianity as being monolithic and unchanging and to recognize the ramifications of viewpoint and emphasis that constitute the multicolored spectrum of contemporary Christianity."

Jews should "see in Christian doctrine an effort to apprehend the nature of the divine that is worthy of respect and understanding" and that "the dogmas of the Christian church have expressed this vision of God in terms that have proved meaningful to Christian believers through the centuries." Gordis calls on Jews to understand with tolerance and respect the historical and religious context which led Christians to develop the concepts of the Virgin Birth, the Incarnation, the Passion, and the Resurrection, even if Jews themselves do not accept these ideas as correct. Similarly, Gordis calls on Christians to understand with tolerance and respect that Jews do not accept these beliefs, since they are in contradiction to the Jewish understanding of the unity of God. (The Root and the Branch, Chapter 4, Robert Gordis, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1962)

Rabbis from all the non-Orthodox movements of Judaism became involved in inter-faith theological dialogue with a number of Christian churches. Conservative Jews and Reform Jews now commonly engage in inter-faith theological dialogue; a small number of Modern Orthodox rabbis engage in such dialogue as well.

Most Orthodox rabbis do not engage in such dialogue. The predominant position of Orthodoxy on this issue is based on the position of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik; he held that Judaism and Christianity are "two faith communities (which are) intrinsically antithetic". In his view "the language of faith of a particular community is totally incomprehensible to the man of a different faith community. Hence the confrontation should occur not at a theological, but at a mundane human level... the great encounter between man and God is a holy, personal and private affair, incomprehensible to the outsider..." As such, he ruled that theological dialogue between Judaism and Christianity was not possible. However, Rabbi Soloveitchik advocated closer ties between the Jewish and Christian communities. He held that communication between Jews and Christians was not merely permissible, but "desirable and even essential" on non-theological issues such as war and peace, the war on poverty, the struggle for people to gain freedom, issues of morality and civil rights, and to work together against the perceived threat of secularism. As a result of his ruling, Orthodox Jewish groups did not cooperate in interfaith discussions between the Catholic Church and Judaism, nor did they participate in the later interfaith dialogues between Protestant Christian groups and the Jewish community.

National Council of Synagogues

The National Council of Synagogues (NCS) is a partnership of the non-Orthodox branches of Judaism. (Orthodox Jews have always been welcome to join; Orthodox leaders have ruled that an Orthodox rabbi may not work with non-Orthodox rabbis as a matter of religious principle.) This group often deals with interfaith matters, and meets regularly with the representatives of the United States Catholic Bishops Conference, the National Council of Churches of Christ and various other denominations and religions. Their goal is to foster religious conversation and dialogue in the spirit of religious pluralism.

Reflections on Covenant and Mission is a statement, contradicting Catholic doctrine, developed jointly by the NCS and the Catholic Bishops Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Dabru Emet

Recently, over 120 rabbis from all branches of Judaism signed a document called Dabru Emet ("Speak the Truth") that has since been used in Jewish education programs across the U.S. See the entry on this topic for more details.

See also: Religious pluralism, Christianity and anti-Semitism

External links and references

November 20, 2000]