Catholicism is by its roots connected with Judaism as with no other religion.
Both Jews and Catholics share an understanding that the Bible is the word of God – “divine revelation” – and they also share a hope for a messianic era.
“This hope is something that profoundly divides us while at the same time unites us,” said Rabbi David Shlomo Rosen, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Department of Interreligious Affairs.
He said that while Christianity is uniquely focused on the personality and divinity of Jesus – and that divides Jews and Catholics profoundly, “the idea that human history has meaning and is progressing toward a vision and that we need to work for the betterment of humanity – that is a shared value.”
These shared values as well as the drive to work toward mutual understanding and achieve joint goals was originally set forth in a document published in 1965: The Nostra aetate, written by the Second Vatican Council. In 2015, on the 50th anniversary of this document, a reflection on theological questions pertaining to Catholic-Jewish relations was published in the form of a letter, which once again stressed the unique status of the Catholic-Jewish relationship within the wider ambit of interreligious dialogue. The document also discusses theological questions, such as the relevance of revelation and the relationship between the Old and New Testaments.
In that document, Pope Francis is quoted as stating, “While it is true that certain Christian beliefs are unacceptable to Judaism, and that the Church cannot refrain from proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Messiah, there exists as well a rich complementarity which allows us to read the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures together and help one another to mine the riches of God’s word. We can also share many ethical convictions and a common concern for justice and the development of people.”
The sanctity and preservation of life, for example, is a major ethical value that Judaism and Catholicism share, said Rosen.
“We don’t see the whole question of the beginning of life in the same way,” he explained. “Aside from that difference, there is a sense that we live in a world where life has been devalued and even instrumentalized – for Jews and Israelis, in particular, with terrorism and violence being abused in the name of religion, but also on the Catholic side, there is this sense that we live in a world where life is no longer being cherished with the reverence it deserves.”
Of course, Jewish life was not always respected by the Catholics. The history of Christianity has been seen to be discriminatory against Jews, even including attempts at forced conversion or murder for the sake of faith. However, the fundamental esteem for Judaism expressed in the Nostra aetate – and re-energized in the 2015 letter – has enabled these communities that once faced each other with skepticism to become better and more reliable partners.
The 2015 letter was signed by Cardinal Kurt Koch, the Most Reverend Brian Farrell and the Reverend Norbert Hoffmann. In that same year, a separate letter signed by Jewish representatives of the Conference of European Rabbis, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Religious Council of America, stated that despite irreconcilable theological differences, “we Jews view Catholics as our partners, close allies, friends and brothers in our mutual quest for a better world.”
“As the Western world grows more and more secular, it abandons many of the moral values shared by Jews and Christians,” the Jewish letter states. “We seek the partnership of the Catholic community in particular … to assure the future of religious freedom, to foster the moral principles of our faith, particularly the sanctity of life and the significance of the traditional family, and to cultivate the moral and religious conscience of society.”
Pope John Paul II laid the groundwork for this 2015 exchange of letters. He took concrete steps toward further improving the Jewish-Catholic relationship when he visited the former concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau and a Roman synagogue. Later, in 2000, he also visited the State of Israel. This visit to Israel led to the establishment of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (ICJIC), which is now the official Jewish representative to the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, a pontifical commission in the Roman Curia tasked with maintaining positive theological ties with Jews and Judaism that was established in 1974. Rosen sits on the ICJIC.
Similarly, in 1983, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein founded the Holyland Fellowship of Christians and Jews to fulfill his vision of building bridges of understanding and cooperation between Christians and Jews. Today, now called the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), the organization promotes understanding between Jews and Christians to build broad support for Israel.
Over the past decades, Eckstein’s organization has worked closely with the Christian community to support Holocaust survivors, Jewish orphans, children and families, as well as the elderly. The Fellowship is now one of the largest philanthropic foundations in Israel.
According to the 2015 letter, the goal of the dialogue is to “add depth to the reciprocal knowledge of Jews and Christians. One can only learn to love what one has gradually come to know, and one can only know truly and profoundly what one loves.”
Other important goals stated in the document is joint engagement for justice, peace, conservation of creation and reconciliation.
Rabbi Dr. Alan Brill, the Cooperman/Ross Endowed Chair for Jewish-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University – where he teaches Jewish studies in the Department of Religion and the Jewish-Christian Studies Graduate Program – said Catholics and Jews are working together in the social, ethical and educational realms. For example, there has been much work together to alleviate poverty. Catholics and Jews – Orthodox Jews, in particular – together have fought to maintain a religious worldview. And, there is a new thrust within the Church to study Judaism and vice versa, even in the Vatican.
The dialogue also consists in jointly combatting all manifestations of racial discrimination against Jews and all forms of anti-Semitism.
Rosen said that through this ICJIC, Jews and Catholics are now likewise tackling issues of science and society and what our sources say about contemporary challenges.
He noted that while one “cannot just dismiss the past – there is a never-ending educational task,” he would suggest that in 2018 the Jews can be looking forward to ways in which the two religions can cooperate for the benefit of humanity.
As its states in the 2015 letter: “When Jews and Christians make a joint contribution through concrete humanitarian aid for justice and peace in the world, they bear witness to the loving care of God.”
Photo is from shutterstock
Guest Author Bio
Silvana Williams is a freelance writer with a deep sense of faith and an intellectual curiosity about all religions, philosophy, and spirituality as well as travel, fitness, and health. She looks for spaces where religions unite rather than divide. Silvana is especially passionate about yoga, her pets, and creating the best life for herself and those she loves while leaving as small a footprint on the earth as possible.
Silvana has worked as a technical writer, proofreader, and content creator. She has also been a professional baker, caterer, and event planner. She has also been a social worker, helping heal families and brings parents and children closer together. She believes that communication is critical, that there can be no conflict resolution without the conflict, but that the process can be creative, productive, and healing.
When not writing, Silvana searches flea markets for old furniture pieces to refurbish and repurpose. She currently lives in Boca Raton, Florida.
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