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SIDIC Periodical XXXVI - 2003/1-3
Seeking A Culture Of Dialogue (Pages 32-48)

Other articles from this issue | Version in English | Version in French



April 12, 1933

The opening, on February 25, 2003, of the « German » archives of the pontificate of Pius XI made it possible to publicize Edith Stein’s letter of April 12, 1933 to this same pope. Hitler had obtained full powers on March 23 of that same year. Edith Stein was born in 1891 in Breslau, Silesia, and died in Auschwitz nine years after writing this letter, in August 1942.(1)

April 12, 1933

Holy Father,

As a child of the Jewish people who, through the grace of God, has been a child of the Catholic Church for the past eleven years, I dare to express to the Father of Christianity what is weighing on millions of Germans.

For weeks now, we have seen acts committed in Germany which are entirely contemptuous of justice and humaneness – not to mention the love of one’s neighbor. For years, the National Socialist leaders have been preaching hatred of the Jews. Now that they have seized hold of the power of government and have armed their followers – among whom are proven criminal elements – these seeds of hatred are bearing fruit. Just recently, the government admitted that illegal incidents had occurred. We cannot know the extent of these incidents, as public opinion is muzzled. But judging by what I have learned through personal relationships, these are not isolated exceptions. Under the pressure of foreign opinion, the government has begun to use „milder” methods. It gave orders that „not a Jewish hair should be harmed”. But by means of its boycotts – by taking away people’s means of economic existence, their honor as citizens and their homeland – it is driving many people to despair: in the past week, through private channels, I learned of five cases of suicide as a result of this treatment. I am convinced that we have to do with a general development and that there will be many more victims. We can regret that these unfortunate people did not have sufficient inner strength to bear their fate. But those who brought them to this point have the greater responsibility. And those who remain silent will also bear responsibility.

Everything that has happened and that is still happening daily, issues from a government which calls itself „Christian”. For weeks now, not only the Jews, but thousands of faithful Catholics in Germany and I am sure all over the world, have been waiting for the Church of Christ to raise its voice in order to stop this abuse of the Name of Christ. Is not this idolatrous understanding of race and of State power which is being hammered daily into the masses by means of the radio an open heresy? Is not the fight to destroy those of Jewish blood an expression of contempt of the most holy humanity of our Redeemer, of the most Blessed Virgin Mary and of the Apostles? Is all this not in complete contradiction to the way our Lord and Savior lived, who even on the cross prayed for those who persecuted him? And is this not a black spot in the chronicle of this Holy Year, which was meant to be a year of peace and reconciliation?

All of us faithful children of the Church who see conditions in Germany with open eyes fear the worst for the Church’s reputation if this silence continues. We are also convinced that silence will not be able to buy peace permanently with the present German government. At present, the battle against Catholicism is still being waged quietly and in a less brutal way than that against Judaism, but it is no less systematic. It will not take much longer until no Catholic in Germany can hold a position if he does not submit unconditionally to the new trend.

At Your Holiness’ feet, begging for Your Apostolic blessing,

Dr. Editha Stein

Lecturer at the German Institute for Scientific Pedagogy, Münster i/W., Collegium Marianum


August 13, 2002

We are publishing excerpts from this document.

Reflections on Covenant and Mission


For more than twenty years leaders of the Jewish and Roman Catholic communities in the United States have met semi-annually to discuss a wide range of topics affecting Catholic-Jewish relations. Currently, the participants in these ongoing consultations are delegates of the Bishops Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (BCEIA) and of the National Council of Synagogues (NCS). The NCS represents the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. The Consultation is co-chaired by His Eminence William Cardinal Keeler, the U.S. bishops’ moderator for Catholic-Jewish relations and Rabbi Joel Zaiman, of the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism and Rabbi Michael Signer of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. The dialogues have previously produced public statements on such issues as Children and the Environment and Acts of Religious Hatred.

At its meeting held on March 13, 2002 in New York City, the BCEIA-NCS Consultation examined how the Jewish and Roman Catholic traditions currently understand the subjects of Covenant and Mission. Each delegation prepared reflections that were discussed and clarified by the Consultation as statements of the current state of the question in each community. The BCEIA-NCS Consultation voted to issue its considerations publicly in order to encourage serious reflection on these matters by Jews and Catholics throughout the United States. After taking time to refine the initial statements, the separate Roman Catholic and Jewish reflections on the subjects of Covenant and Mission are presented below.
The Roman Catholic reflections describe the growing respect for the Jewish tradition that has unfolded since the Second Vatican Council. A deepening Catholic appreciation of the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people, together with a recognition of a divinely-given mission to Jews to witness to God’s faithful love, lead to the conclusion that campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church.

The Jewish reflections describe the mission of the Jews and the perfection of the world. This mission is seen to have three aspects. First, there are the obligations that arise as a result of the loving election of the Jewish people into a covenant with God. Second, there is a mission of witness to God’s redeeming power in the world. Third, the Jewish people have a mission that is addressed to all human beings. The Jewish reflections conclude by urging Jews and Christians to articulate a common agenda to heal the world.

The NCS-BCEIA Consultation is concerned about the continuing ignorance and caricatures of one another that still prevail in many segments of the Catholic and Jewish communities. It is the hope of the Consultation that these reflections will be read and discussed as part of an ongoing process of increasing mutual understanding.

The NCS-BCEIA Consultation reaffirms its commitment to continue deepening our dialogue and to promote amity between the Jewish and Catholic communities in the United States.

After recalling the steps taken by the Catholic Church since Vatican II and the spiritual richness of post-biblical Judaism in its Introduction, the text tackles the following subject:

The Mission of the Church: Evangelization

Such reflections on and experiences of the Jewish people’s eternal covenantal life with God raise questions about the Christian task of bearing witness to the gifts of salvation that the Church receives through her “new covenant” in Jesus Christ. The Second Vatican Council summed up the Church’s mission as follows:

While helping the world, and receiving many benefits from it, the Church has a single intention: that God’s kingdom may come, and that the salvation of the whole human race may come to pass. For every benefit which the People of God during its earthly pilgrimage can offer to the human family stems from the fact that the Church is “the universal sacrament of salvation,” simultaneously manifesting and exercising the mystery of God’s love for humanity.

This mission of the Church can be summarized in one word: evangelization. Pope Paul VI gave the classic definition, “The Church appreciates that evangelization means the carrying forth of the good news to every sector of the human race so that by its strength it may enter into the hearts of men and renew the human race.” Evangelization refers to a complex reality that is sometimes misunderstood by reducing it only to the seeking of new candidates for baptism. It is the Church’s continuation of the mission of Jesus Christ, who embodied the life of the kingdom of God. As Pope John Paul II has explained,

The kingdom is the concern of everyone: individuals, society and the world. Working for the kingdom means acknowledging and promoting God’s activity, which is present in human history and transforms it. Building the kingdom means working for liberation from evil in all its forms. In a word, the kingdom of God is the manifestation and the realization of God’s plan of salvation in all its fullness.

It should be stressed that evangelization, the Church’s work on behalf of the kingdom of God, cannot be separated from its faith in Jesus Christ in whom Christians find the kingdom “present and fulfilled.” Evangelization includes the Church’s activities of presence and witness; commitment to social development and human liberation; Christian worship, prayer, and contemplation; interreligious dialogue; and proclamation and catechesis.

This latter activity of proclamation and catechesis – the “invitation to a commitment of faith in Jesus Christ and to entry through baptism into the community of believers which is the Church” – is sometimes thought to be synonymous with “evangelization.” However, this is a very narrow construct and is indeed only one among many aspects of the Church’s “evangelizing mission” in the service of Gods’ kingdom. Thus, Catholics participating in interreligious dialogue, a mutually enriching sharing of gifts devoid of any intention whatsoever to invite the dialogue partner to baptism, are nonetheless witnessing to their own faith in the kingdom of God embodied in Christ. This is a form of evangelization, a way of engaging in the Church’s mission.

Evangelization and the Jewish People

Christianity has an utterly unique relationship with Judaism because “our two religious communities are connected and closely related at the very level of their respective religious identities.”
The history of salvation makes clear our special relationship with the Jewish people. Jesus belongs to the Jewish people, and he inaugurated his church within the Jewish nation. A great part of the Holy Scriptures, which we Christians read as the word of God, constitute a spiritual patrimony which we share with Jews. Consequently, any negative attitude in their regard must be avoided, since “in order to be a blessing for the world, Jews and Christians need first to be a blessing for each other.”

In the wake of Nostra Aetate, there has been a deepening Catholic appreciation of many aspects of our unique spiritual linkage with Jews. Specifically, the Catholic Church has come to recognize that its mission of preparing for the coming of the kingdom of God is one that is shared with the Jewish people, even if Jews do not conceive of this task christologically as the Church does. Thus, the 1985 Vatican Notes observed:

Attentive to the same God who has spoken, hanging on the same Word, we have to witness to one same memory and one common hope in Him who is the master of history. We must also accept our responsibility to prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah by working together for social justice, respect for the rights of persons and nations and for social and international reconciliation. To this we are driven, Jews and Christians, by the command to love our neighbor, by a common hope for the Kingdom of God and by the great heritage of the Prophets.

If the Church, therefore, shares a central and defining task with the Jewish people, what are the implications for the Christian proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ? Ought Christians to invite Jews to baptism? This is a complex question not only in terms of Christian theological self-definition, but also because of the history of Christians forcibly baptizing Jews.

In a remarkable and still most pertinent study paper presented at the sixth meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee in Venice twenty-five years ago, Prof. Tommaso Federici examined the missiological implications of Nostra Aetate. He argued on historical and theological grounds that there should be in the Church no organizations of any kind dedicated to the conversion of Jews. This has over the ensuing years been the de facto practice of the Catholic Church.

More recently, Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Commission for the Religious Relations with the Jews, explained this practice. In a formal statement made first at the seventeenth meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee in May 2001, and repeated later in the year in Jerusalem, Cardinal Kasper spoke of “mission” in a narrow sense to mean “proclamation” or the invitation to baptism and catechesis. He showed why such initiatives are not appropriately directed at Jews:

The term mission, in its proper sense, refers to conversion from false gods and idols to the true and one God, who revealed himself in the salvation history with His elected people. Thus mission, in this strict sense, cannot be used with regard to Jews, who believe in the true and one God. Therefore, and this is characteristic, there exists dialogue but there does not exist any Catholic missionary organization for Jews.
As we said previously, dialogue is not mere objective information; dialogue involves the whole person. So in dialogue Jews give witness of their faith, witness of what supported them in the dark periods of their history and their life, and Christians give account of the hope they have in Jesus Christ. In doing so, both are far away from any kind of proselytism, but both can learn from each other and enrich each other. We both want to share our deepest concerns to an often disoriented world that needs such witness and searches for it.

1.From the point of view of the Catholic Church, Judaism is a religion that springs from divine revelation. As Cardinal Kasper noted, “God’s grace, which is the grace of Jesus Christ according to our faith, is available to all. Therefore, the Church believes that Judaism, i.e. the faithful response of the Jewish people to God’s irrevocable covenant, is salvific for them, because God is faithful to his promises.”

This statement about God’s saving covenant is quite specific to Judaism. Though the Catholic Church respects all religious traditions and through dialogue with them can discern the workings of the Holy Spirit, and though we believe God’s infinite grace is surely available to believers of other faiths, it is only about Israel’s covenant that the Church can speak with the certainty of the biblical witness. This is because Israel’s scriptures form part of our own biblical canon and they have a “perpetual value . . . that has not been cancelled by the later interpretation of the New Testament.”

According to Roman Catholic teaching, both the Church and the Jewish people abide in covenant with God. We both therefore have missions before God to undertake in the world. The Church believes that the mission of the Jewish people is not restricted to their historical role as the people of whom Jesus was born “according to the flesh” (Rom 9:5) and from whom the Church’s apostles came. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger recently wrote, “God’s providence … has obviously given Israel a particular mission in this ‘time of the Gentiles.’” However, only the Jewish people themselves can articulate their mission “in the light of their own religious experience.”

Nonetheless, the Church does perceive that the Jewish people’s mission ad gentes (to the nations) continues. This is a mission that the Church also pursues in her own way according to her understanding of covenant. The command of the Resurrected Jesus in Matthew 28:19 to make disciples “of all nations” (Greek = ethnē, the cognate of the Hebrew = goyim; i.e., the nations other than Israel) means that the Church must bear witness in the world to the Good News of Christ so as to prepare the world for the fullness of the kingdom of God. However, this evangelizing task no longer includes the wish to absorb the Jewish faith into Christianity and so end the distinctive witness of Jews to God in human history.

Thus, while the Catholic Church regards the saving act of Christ as central to the process of human salvation for all, it also acknowledges that Jews already dwell in a saving covenant with God. The Catholic Church must always evangelize and will always witness to its faith in the presence of God’s kingdom in Jesus Christ to Jews and to all other people. In so doing, the Catholic Church respects fully the principles of religious freedom and freedom of conscience, so that sincere individual converts from any tradition or people, including the Jewish people, will be welcomed and accepted.

However, it now recognizes that Jews are also called by God to prepare the world for God’s kingdom. Their witness to the kingdom, which did not originate with the Church’s experience of Christ crucified and raised, must not be curtailed by seeking the conversion of the Jewish people to Christianity. The distinctive Jewish witness must be sustained if Catholics and Jews are truly to be, as Pope John Paul II has envisioned, “a blessing to one another.” This is in accord with the divine promise expressed in the New Testament that Jews are called to “serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness before God all [their] days” (Luke 1:74-75).

With the Jewish people, the Catholic Church, in the words of Nostra Aetate, “awaits the day, known to God alone, when all peoples will call on God with one voice and serve him shoulder to shoulder (Soph 3:9; see Is 66:23; Ps 65:4; Rom 11:11-32).”

Jewish Reflections

The Mission of the Jews and the Perfection of the World

(…) The mission of the Jews is part of a three-fold mission that is rooted in Scripture and developed in later Jewish sources. There is, first, the mission of covenant: the ever-formative impetus to Jewish life that results from the covenant between God and the Jews. Second, the mission of witness, whereby the Jews see themselves (and are frequently seen by others) as God’s eternal witnesses to His existence and to His redeeming power in the world. And third, the mission of humanity, a mission that understands the Biblical history of the Jews as containing a message to more than the Jews alone. It presupposes a message and a mission addressed to all human beings.

After speaking of the Jewish people’s mission of covenant and its mission of witnessing, the text continues with:

The Mission of Humanity

The message of the Bible is a message and a vision not only to Israel but to all of humanity. Isaiah speaks twice of the Jews as a light to peoples and we have so far referred to his statement in the forty-ninth chapter. What else does he mean when he speaks of the Jews as a “covenant people and a light to nations?” The medieval commentator, David Kimhi, sees the light that comes forth as the light of the Torah that comes forth from Zion. Since the message of the Torah is peace, the light that comes forth conveys a message of the blessing of peace that ought to reign throughout the world. The messianic vision is: “And he shall speak peace to the nations.” Thus, Isaiah notes that in those times “He will judge among the nations and arbitrate for the many peoples. And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”

It is a mistake to be like Jonah and to think that God is concerned only with the Jews. When Jonah is asked to go to Nineveh, a great gentile city, Jonah refuses God’s command to tell the people of Nineveh to repent. He only learns through suffering that God’s word is to the Ninevites as well. He finally goes there and the people of Nineveh call a fast. Great and small alike put on sackcloth, even the king. Not only did they fast, for the Bible says that they “turned back from their evil ways.”

Though one might have thought that Jonah would be thrilled by his success, he is bereft – and there are probably two reasons for this. First, he believed that sin should be punished and that God’s mercies should not take away that punishment. And second, who were the people of Nineveh? What right did they have to expect God’s intimate concern and forgiving love?

Jonah leaves the city and sits to its east, making a booth and sitting in its shade. And the Lord makes a gourd to grow above him, providing shade over his head. Jonah was so happy! Until God appointed a worm at dawn the next day who attacked the plant until it withered. And then God brought up a light east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head until he fainted. And he wanted to die.
Then God says to Jonah:

“Are you so deeply angry about the plant? … You care about the plant, which you did not work for and which you did not grow, which appeared overnight and perished overnight. And should I not care about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than twelve myriad persons who do not yet know their right hand from their left, and many beasts as well!”

The God of the Bible is the God of the world. His visions are visions for all of humanity. His love is a love that extends to every creature.
The suffering man of the Scriptures, Job, is not portrayed in any way as if he is a Jew. Is it any wonder? The suffering of humanity is limited to no particular people. The covenant might make the issue particularly troublesome for Jews, but all of us try to come to terms with the problem of the righteous who suffer. Job is a universal human being. God’s call to him out of the whirlwind is God’s call throughout the world to the righteous who try to understand the meaning of their fate.

The God who loved Abraham – “But you, Israel My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, seed of Abraham the one I love” – loves all people. For He is the Creator of the world. Adam and Eve were His first creations and they are created long before the first Jews. They are created in “the image of God,” as are all of their children to eternity. Only the human creation is in the divine image.

God created the world with only one original being, the Talmud says, to teach that everyone who destroys a single soul, it is as if he had destroyed the whole world. And everyone who saves a single soul, it is as if he had saved the whole world. And it teaches the concept of peace in the world, such that no one should say: my father is greater than your father.

“Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O people of Israel? says the Lord. Did I not bring Israel out of the land of Egypt? And the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Arameans from Kir?”

All are God’s people.

When Abraham raises the issue of divine justice and mercy with God, he argues on behalf of the people of Sodom, a wicked group. Abraham frames his challenge to God in terms of God acting justly. The innocent should not suffer. And the challenge is not made as a result of any special relation that devolves from the covenant God has made with the Jews. Rather, the Bible assumes that there is a divine justice and mercy that prevail throughout the entire world. Mercy and justice reign because the God of Creation is the God of mercy and justice throughout the world.

When Amos asks that “justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream,” it is because there is a God of the whole world who calls it to justice. When Isaiah rhetorically asks what the meaning of religious fasting is, he answers that God wishes human beings to “loose the chains of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke. Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring the poor, who are cast out, to your house? When you see the naked, that you cover him; and that you hide not yourself from your own flesh?”
Judaism assumes that all people are obligated to observe a universal law. That law, spoken of as the Seven Noahide Commandments, is applicable to all human beings. These laws are: (1) the establishment of courts of justice so that law will rule in society, and the prohibitions of (2) blasphemy, (3) idolatry, (4) incest, (5) bloodshed, (6) robbery, and (7) eating the flesh of a living animal.

The fact of the covenant notwithstanding, Maimonides and subsequent decisors all make it clear that “the pious of all the nations of the world have a place in the world to come.”
Therefore, in Judaism, the absolute value of human beings, their creation in the divine image, as well as God’s overriding concern for justice and mercy is at the basis of a universal joint community of the created, a community called to respond to the love of God by loving other human beings, by setting up the structures of society that maximize the practice of justice and mercy and by engaging unendingly in the religious quest to bring healing to the broken world.

One of the central prayers of Judaism puts it this way: “We hope in you, Lord our God, to quickly see the beauty of Your might, to cause the idols to pass away from the earth and the false gods cut down, to perfect the world into the Kingdom of the Almighty, where all flesh will call upon your name, where all the wicked of the earth will be turned to you.”

L’taken olam b’malkhut Shaddai, to perfect the world into the Kingdom of the Almighty. Tikun ha-olam, perfection or repairing of the world, is a joint task of the Jews and all humanity. Though Jews see themselves as living in a world that is as yet unredeemed, God wills His creatures to participate in the world’s repair.

Christians and Jews

Having examined the three-fold notion of “mission” in classical Judaism, there are certain practical conclusions that follow from it, conclusions that also suggest a joint agenda for Christians and Jews.
It should be obvious that any mission of Christians to the Jews is in direct conflict with the Jewish notion that the covenant itself is that mission. At the same time, it is important to stress that notwithstanding the covenant, there is no need for the nations of the world to embrace Judaism. While there are theological verities such as the belief in God’s unity, and practical social virtues that lead to the creation of a good society that are possible and necessary for humanity at large to grasp, they do not require Judaism in order to redeem the individual or society. The pious of all the nations of the world have a place in the world to come.

Just as important, however, is the idea that the world needs perfection. While Christians and Jews understand the messianic hope involved in that perfection quite differently, still, whether we are waiting for the messiah – as Jews believe – or for the messiah’s second coming – as Christians believe – we share the belief that we live in an unredeemed world that longs for repair.

Why not articulate a common agenda? Why not join together our spiritual forces to state and to act upon the values we share in common and that lead to repair of the unredeemed world? We have worked together in the past in advancing the cause of social justice. We have marched together for civil rights; we have championed the cause of labor and farm workers; we have petitioned our government to address the needs of the poor and homeless; and we have called on our country’s leader to seek nuclear disarmament. These are but a few of the issues we Jews and Christians have addressed in concert with each other.

To hint at what we might yet do together let us look at some of the concrete ways that classical Judaism takes theological ideas and transforms them into ways of living. And, if these be stones in a pavement on which we might together walk, then we will be able to fashion a highway that is a route we share in common toward humanity’s repair and the world’s perfection.

Some Talmudic Thoughts about Repairing the World

Though the prophetic concern for the needy is well known, it should be stressed that it is in the Talmud that the specifics of doing good are laid out in such a way that they become the cornerstones of life.
Tzedakah (charity) and deeds of kindness are weighed in the balance as equal to all the commandments of the Torah. The obligation of charity is directed at the poor and deeds of kindness are directed at the poor and the rich. Charity is directed at the living and deeds of kindness are rendered to the living and to the dead. Charity utilizes one’s money while deeds of kindness utilize one’s money and one’s self.
Already in Talmudic times, charitable institutions to care for the poor were an established and essential part of the community’s life. When, for example, the Mishnah teaches that a Jew must celebrate the Passover seder with four cups of wine, it notes that the public dole (tamhui) must provide that wine for the poor. The poor must celebrate and feel the dignity of being free people – and that is the responsibility of the community. Yet as much as charitable institutions are a central part of the community’s life, Maimonides makes it clear that the highest form of charity is to make it possible for someone to earn a living himself.

The large section of the Talmud that deals with civil and criminal law, Nezikin or Damages, specifies and protects workers’ compensation. It gives concrete form to the Torah’s prohibitions against interest and extends the laws prohibiting interest to include many types of financial transactions that appear to be interest, even when they are not. All this is done in order to create an economy where people are encouraged to help each other financially as an expression of their common fellowship, rather than as a way of making money. Financial instruments are created that enable people without funds to become partners with others rather than borrowers – another way of protecting human dignity and encouraging the development of a society where this dignity is manifested in everyday life.

Acts of kindness that are required and developed in detail by the law include the obligations to visit the sick and to comfort mourners. Jews are required to redeem captives and to provide for brides, to bury the dead and to welcome people to their tables. The Talmud details the obligation of Jews to show deference to the old. “Standing up” and showing special signs of respect to the old are responses to the physical problems of aging. As a person’s own sense of dignity diminishes, the community is asked to reinforce the individual’s dignity.

Of course Jewish law is directed at Jews and its primary concern is to encourage the expression of love to the members of the community. It deals not in sentiments but, principally, in actions. But it is important to note that many of these actions are mandatory toward all people. Thus the Talmud says: “One must provide for the needs of the gentile poor with the Jewish poor. One must visit the gentile sick as one visits the Jewish sick. One must care for the burial of a gentile, just as one must care for the burial of a Jew. [These obligations are universal] because these are the ways of peace.”

The Torah’s ways of peace manifest a practical response to the sacred creation of humanity in the divine image. They help perfect the world into the Kingdom of the Almighty.
Does not humanity need a common path that seeks the ways of peace? Does not humanity need a common vision of the sacred nature of our human existence that we can teach our children and that we can foster in our communities in order to further the ways of peace? Does not humanity need a commitment of its religious leadership, within each faith and beyond each faith, to join hands and to create bonds that will inspire and guide humanity to reach toward its sacred promise? For Jews and Christians who heard the call of God to be a blessing and a light to the world, the challenge and mission are clear.

Nothing less should be our challenge – and that is the true meaning of the mission which we all need to share.

September 1, 2002

Christian personalities who form the Christian Scholars Group publicized a text which they “submit to their Christian coreligionists for reflection.”


Rethinking Christian Faith in Relation to Judaism and the Jewish People

Since its inception in 1969, the Christian Scholars Group has been seeking to develop more adequate Christian theologies of the church’s relationship to Judaism and the Jewish people. Pursuing this work for over three decades under varied sponsorship, members of our association of Protestant and Roman Catholic biblical scholars, historians, and theologians have published many volumes on Christian-Jewish relations.

Our work has a historical context. 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 repent of this teaching of contempt. Our repentance requires us to build a new teaching of respect. This task is important at any time, but the deadly crisis in the Middle East and the frightening resurgence of antisemitism worldwide give it particular urgency.

We believe that revising Christian teaching about Judaism and the Jewish people is a central and indispensable obligation of theology in our time. It is essential that Christianity both understand and represent Judaism accurately, not only as a matter of justice for the Jewish people, but also for the integrity of Christian faith, which we cannot proclaim without reference to Judaism. Moreover, since there is a unique bond between Christianity and Judaism, revitalizing our appreciation of Jewish religious life will deepen our Christian faith. We base these convictions on ongoing scholarly research and the official statements of many Christian denominations over the past fifty years.

We are grateful for the willingness of many Jews to engage in dialogue and study with us. We welcomed it when, on September 10, 2000, Jewish scholars sponsored by the Institute of Christian and Jewish Studies in Baltimore issued a historic declaration, Dabru Emet: A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity. This document, affirmed by notable rabbis and Jewish scholars, called on Jews to re-examine their understanding of Christianity.
Encouraged by the work of both Jewish and Christian colleagues, we offer the following ten statements for the consideration of our fellow Christians. We urge all Christians to reflect on their faith in light of these statements. For us, this is a sacred obligation.

1) God’s covenant with the Jewish people endures forever.

For centuries Christians claimed that their covenant with God replaced or superseded the Jewish covenant. We renounce this claim. We believe that God does not revoke divine promises. We affirm that God is in covenant with both Jews and Christians. Tragically, the entrenched theology cf. supersessionism continues to influence Christian faith, worship, and practice, even though it has been repudiated by many Christian denominations and many Christians no longer accept it. Our recognition of the abiding validity of Judaism has implications for all aspects of Christian life.

2) Jesus of Nazareth lived and died as a faithful Jew.

Christians worship the God of Israel in and through Jesus Christ. Supersessionism, however, prompted Christians over the centuries to speak of Jesus as an opponent of Judaism. This is historically incorrect. Jewish worship, ethics, and practice shaped Jesus’s life and teachings. The scriptures of his people inspired and nurtured him. Christian preaching and teaching today must describe Jesus’s earthly life as engaged in the ongoing Jewish quest to live out God’s covenant in everyday life.

3) Ancient rivalries must not define Christian-Jewish relations today.

Although today we know Christianity and Judaism as separate religions, what became the church was a movement within the Jewish community for many decades after the ministry and resurrection of Jesus. The destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by Roman armies in the year 70 of the first century caused a crisis among the Jewish people. Various groups, including Christianity and early rabbinic Judaism, competed for leadership in the Jewish community by claiming that they were the true heirs of biblical Israel. The gospels reflect this rivalry in which the disputants exchanged various accusations. Christian charges of hypocrisy and legalism misrepresent Judaism and constitute an unworthy foundation for Christian self-understanding.

4) Judaism is a living faith, enriched by many centuries of development.

Many Christians mistakenly equate Judaism with biblical Israel. However, Judaism, like Christianity, developed new modes of belief and practice in the centuries after the destruction of the Temple. The rabbinic tradition gave new emphasis and understanding to existing practices, such as communal prayer, study of Torah, and deeds of loving kindness. Thus Jews could live out the covenant in a world without the Temple. Over time they developed an extensive body of interpretive literature that continues to enrich Jewish life, faith, and self-understanding. Christians cannot fully understand Judaism apart from its post-biblical development, which can also enrich and enhance Christian faith.

5) The Bible both connects and separates Jews and Christians.

Some Jews and Christians today, in the process of studying the Bible together, are discovering new ways of reading that provide a deeper appreciation of both traditions. While the two communities draw from the same biblical texts of ancient Israel, they have developed different traditions of interpretation. Christians view these texts through the lens of the New Testament, while Jews understand these scriptures through the traditions of rabbinic commentary.
Referring to the first part of the Christian Bible as the “Old Testament” can wrongly suggest that these texts are obsolete. Alternative expressions - “Hebrew Bible,” “First Testament,” or “Shared Testament” - although also problematic, may better express the church’s renewed appreciation of the ongoing power of these scriptures for both Jews and Christians.

6) Affirming God’s enduring covenant with the Jewish people has consequences for Christian understandings of salvation.

Christians meet God’s saving power in the person of Jesus Christ and believe that this power is available to all people in him. Christians have therefore taught for centuries that salvation is available only through Jesus Christ. With their recent realization that God’s covenant with the Jewish people is eternal, Christians can now recognize in the Jewish tradition the redemptive power of God at work. If Jews, who do not share our faith in Christ, are in a saving covenant with God, then Christians need new ways of understanding the universal significance of Christ.

7) Christians should not target Jews for conversion.

In view of our conviction that Jews are in an eternal covenant with God, we renounce missionary efforts directed at converting Jews. At the same time, we welcome opportunities for Jews and Christians to bear witness to their respective experiences of God’s saving ways. Neither can properly claim to possess knowledge of God entirely or exclusively.

8) Christian worship that teaches contempt for Judaism dishonors God.

The New Testament contains passages that have frequently generated negative attitudes toward Jews and Judaism. The use of these texts in the context of worship increases the likelihood of hostility toward Jews. Christian anti-Jewish theology has also shaped worship in ways that denigrate Judaism and foster contempt for Jews. We urge church leaders to examine scripture readings, prayers, the structure of the lectionaries, preaching and hymns to remove distorted images of Judaism. A reformed Christian liturgical life would express a new relationship with Jews and thus honor God.

9) We affirm the importance of the land of Israel for the life of the Jewish people.

The land of Israel has always been of central significance to the Jewish people. However, Christian theology charged that the Jews had condemned themselves to homelessness by rejecting God’s Messiah. Such supersessionism precluded any possibility for Christian understanding of Jewish attachment to the land of Israel. Christian theologians can no longer avoid this crucial issue, especially in light of the complex and persistent conflict over the land. Recognizing that both Israelis and Palestinians have the right to live in peace and security in a homeland of their own, we call for efforts that contribute to a just peace among all the peoples in the region.

10) Christians should work with Jews for the healing of the world.

For almost a century, Jews and Christians in the United States have worked together on important social issues, such as the rights of workers and civil rights. As violence and terrorism intensify in our time, we must strengthen our common efforts in the work of justice and peace to which both the prophets of Israel and Jesus summon us. These common efforts by Jews and Christians offer a vision of human solidarity and provide models of collaboration with people of other faith traditions.

Signed by members of the Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations (2)

Paris, October 16, 2002

On October 16, 2002, when people in France were commemorating the 60th anniversary of the first roundups of Jews, the president of the French Bishops’ Conference, Mgr. Jean Pierre Ricard, accompanied by several bishops, including Mgr. Francis Deniau, the president of the Episcopal Committee for Relations with Judaism, Mgr. G. Poulain, a member of that committee, Prof. Pezzetti, the director of the Center for the Commemoration of the Shoah in Milan, and Dr.Richard Prasquier, the director of Yad Vashem in France, went to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

60 years ago, by means of violence, the Nazi Reich tried to impose a pagan Europe by getting rid of every reference to the Law that was given to the Jewish people at Sinai.
Today, aware of our responsibility, we can only gather our thoughts in humility and in the silence of prayer while thinking of the millions of Jewish victims, children, adults, old people, who were exterminated for no other reason than that they were born Jews.

Nor do we forget all those who were killed or persecuted as victims of Hitler’s racial ideology.

In Auschwitz-Birkenau, we want to recall that the Europe of today would not be what it is without its Jewish, Christian and humanist roots.

Every human person was created in the image of God,

racism and Antisemitism are sins against the human person, against the Creator,

sins which nothing can justify.
(Translated from the French by K.E. Wolff )

January 18, 2003

At the initiative of the Pontifical Council for Interfaith Dialogue, an international symposium was held in Rome January 16-18, 2003. At the end of the meeting, the following declaration was published.

As conflicts divide neighbors and nations and the threat of war hangs over us like a shadow, too many people see and employ religion as a force of divisiveness and violence, rather than a force for unity and peace. Between 16-18 January, 2003 in Rome, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue organized a symposium, on «Spiritual Resources of the Religions for Peace ». In this symposium, 38 participants from 15 countries dedicated themselves to exploring the rich resources of religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism) for peace. This encounter was a follow-up to the Interreligious Assembly held in the Vatican on 25-28 October, 1999, the Day of Prayer for Peace which took place in Assisi, 24 January, 2002 and the Forum for Peace which preceded it.

The talk of war has intensified in recent months, but there has not been much increase in the talk of peace. Dedicated efforts are needed to examine how, in a world that is increasingly interconnected, we can find new ways to respect our religious differences while forging peaceful bonds based on our common humanity.

Our Scriptures and traditions are the most important spiritual resources which each of us possesses. We believe that the Scriptures of each religion teach the path to peace, but we acknowledge that our various sacred writings have often been and continue to be used to justify violence, war, and exclusion of others. Our various communities cannot ignore such passages which have often been misinterpreted or manipulated for unworthy goals such as power, wealth, or revenge, but we must all recognize the need for new, contextual studies and a deeper understanding of our various Scriptures that clearly enunciate the message and value of peace for all humanity.

Believers need to examine those Scriptural passages that depict people of other religions in ways that conflict with their own self-understanding. This requires a renewed effort to educate properly our own adherents to the values and beliefs of others. Such interreligious education, that takes seriously the self-understanding of other religious traditions, is essential for communicating the message of peace to new generations. That challenge is to remain true to our own faith without disparaging or distorting that of others.

Spiritual resources for peace include not only our scriptural foundations, but also the example of our fellow believers who, down through history, have taught peace and acted as peacemakers. These include saints, poets and martyrs who have suffered and often given their lives in non-violent commitment to truth, justice and fellowship, which have been the foundations of human progress. They include countless persons of every religion whose names are not recorded by history, but who have valiantly acted to prevent conflict and war, who have assisted victims of violence without regard to religion or nation, and who have worked for justice and reconciliation as the basis for establishing peace. By their actions, they have borne concrete witness to the mission of each religious community to be agents of peace amidst the harsh realities of injustice, aggression, terrorism and war.

The spiritual resources for peace also include interreligious encounters which have helped many to come together to learn about each other’s faiths and shared values, and to discover the possibility of living and working together to build societies of justice and peace. Such encounters seek to instill a spirit of mutual respect and genuine understanding of one another and have helped us to see our religions as a force for good. Mutual respect and honoring differences are not simply lofty goals, but achievable reality.

Opting for peace does not mean a passive acquiescence to evil or compromise of principle. It demands an active struggle against hatred, oppression and disunity, but not by using methods of violence. Building peace requires creative and courageous action. A commitment to peace is a labor of patience and perseverance. It involves as well a readiness to examine self-critically the relationship of our traditions to those social, economic and political structures which are frequently agents of violence and injustice.

We recognize that in the interrelated context of our contemporary lives, interreligious cooperation is no longer an option, but a necessity. One could say, to be religious today is to be interreligious. Religion will prosper in this century only to the extent that we can maintain a sense of community among people of different faiths who work together as a human family to achieve a world of peace.

February 26, 2003

1. After a preliminary meeting in Jerusalem on June 5th, 2002, high ranking delegations of the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel met in Villa Cavalletti (Grottaferrata - Roma) from February 23rd to 27th, 2003. The discussions, held in a warm and friendly atmosphere, centred on the subject of how to further peace, harmony and religious values in contemporary societies.

2. We acknowledged that the basis for our ongoing dialogue must be truthfulness and honesty, respecting our different religious identities. We are dialoguing as people of faith having common spiritual roots and patrimony. Dialogue is a value in itself and excludes any intention of converting. Following the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and of Pope John Paul II, the Catholic Church recognises that “God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues” (Nostra Aetate, Nr. 4; cfr. also Romans 11:28-29). We take into account our different traditions and respect each other in our otherness. We feel the call to proclaim testimony to the One God in the world and we are willing to cooperate in fostering common religious values, peace with justice, truth and love.

3. The following topics were agreed upon for discussion and cooperation:

a) The sanctity of human life

b) Family values.

4. The Sanctity of Human Life

4.1. Human life is of unique and highest value in our world. Any attempt to destroy human life must be rejected, and every common effort should be made, in order to promote human rights, solidarity among all human beings, respect for freedom of conscience.

4.2. Our common religious motivation for this central affirmation is based on the biblical statement that the human being is created in the image of the living God, in His likeness (cfr. Genesis 1:26). God is the Holy One and the Creator of human life, and the human being is blessed and obliged by His holiness. Therefore every human life is holy, sacrosanct and inviolable. According to Leviticus 19:2 God’s holiness constitutes an essential imperative for the moral behaviour: “You shall be holy for I am Holy, the Lord your God!”

4.3. To protect human life is an evident ethical consequence of this conviction. Every believer, particularly religious leaders, should cooperate in protecting human life. Any attack against the life of a human being runs contrary to the will of God, is a desecration of God’s Name, directly opposed to the teaching of the prophets. Taking any human life, including one’s own, even in the name of God, is sacrilegious.
As was emphasized time and again by Pope John Paul II in his message for the World Day of Peace 2002, no religious leader can condone terrorism everywhere in the world. It is a profanation of religion to declare oneself a terrorist in the name of God, to do violence to others in his name. Terrorist violence everywhere in the world is a contradiction of faith in God, the Creator of man, who cares for man and loves him.

4.4. As religious leaders of faith communities we have an extraordinary responsibility for the education of our communities and particularly the younger generation in respect for holiness of human life. We should not admit any killing in the name of God who commands “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20: 13; Deuteronomy 5:17), avoiding fanatical or violent abuse of religion, as Jewish, Christian and Moslem leaders declared in the common statement of Alexandria (January 2002). We all should unite our energies towards the construction of a better world for life, brotherhood, justice, peace and love among all.

4.5. There are cultural and educational implications regarding our cooperation in this field. All educators should strengthen their efforts in devising programmes to educate the young in respect for the highest value of human life. Against the present trend of violence and death in our societies, we should foster our cooperation with believers of all religions and all people of good will in promoting a “culture of life”.

5. Family Values

5.1. The institution of the family stems from the will of the Almighty who created human beings in the image of God; “male and female He created them” (Genesis 1: 27). Marriage in a religious perspective has a great value because God blessed this union and sanctified it.

5.2. Family and home unity provides a warm and protecting surrounding that nurtures children and ensures their proper education, in keeping with tradition and beliefs. The family unit is the basis for a wholesome society.

5.3. Doubtless the electronic and media revolution has brought about positive changes in society. However, at the same time too often, a negative influence on behaviour of society has developed. Adults and the young alike are exposed to distorted and perverted aspects of life, such as violence and pornography. As religious leaders we are challenged by these destructive developments.

5.4. More than ever, we are obliged to educate at home and in the school towards family values, following our rich religious traditions. Parents should devote much more time to show their love to their children and guide them towards positive attitudes. Among other important family values we should stress love, unselfishness, care for life and mutual responsibility for children and parents (cfr. Exodus 20: 12; Deuteronomy 5: 16). In such perspective, we cannot agree to alternative models of couples’ union and of the family.

Concluding Biblical Quotation “For I have chosen him [Abraham], so that he will direct his children and his household after him, to keep the way of the Lord, by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him” (Genesis 18: 19).

Grottaferrata – Roma (Villa Cavalleti), February 26, 2003

Rabbi Shar Yishuv Cohen (Chairman of the Jewish Delegation)
Jorge Cardinal Mejía (Chairman of the Catholic Delegation)
Rabbi Ratzon Arrusi
H.E. Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo
Rabbi David Brodman
P. Georges Cottier op
Mr Oded Wiener
P. Elias Shacour
Mgr. Pier Francesco Fumagalli
P. Norbert Hofmann sdb
H.E. Mr Shmuel Hadas
H.E. Archbishop Pietro Sambi

(Translated from the French by K.E. Wolff)

Kraków, May 29, 2003

We, Europeans, recognize the great dignity inherent in each person - his or her inalienable right to life, to freedom, and to worthy participation in cultural heritage.
We recognize that each person is significant and indispensable, and each is responsible for the other.

We recognize that each person has the right to full partaking in his or her own national culture and a responsibility to develop it, as well as to propagate a dialogue of cultures serving broader universalization of shared values.

We, Christians, are convinced that each person is a child of God, summoned to take part in His life and called upon to follow Our Lord, Jesus Christ who lived for all mankind and bestowed us with the promise of Eternal Life through His martyrdom and Resurrection.

We, Jews cherishing tradition, believe that each person is descended of our common ancestor and hence we are all one family whose concordant coexistence will bring closer the day in which we all understand that “the Lord is one and His name is one.”

We, Muslims, believe in One God who is the Father of us all - merciful, compassionate, and forgiving.

Grateful to our forebears for the heritage, material assets and spiritual values they have passed down to us, for their seeking out truth, goodness and beauty, for their labors and suffering, and for their concern for future generations, we regret that we have not avoided negligence and wrongdoing. We obligate ourselves to eradicate the consequences of these transgressions and to forestall new harm and injustice.

We aim to build a society in which no one is abandoned, nor anyone indifferent to the fate of others. We strive to develop dialogue and cooperation.

We aim to develop a democracy based on equal rights and the possibility of full involvement of each person in all spheres of life.

We aim to shape people who attach importance to their local communities, to their national societies, and to a common Europe.

We aim to build a Europe in which all cultures will be appreciated and in which there is universal recognition of the fundamental values embodied in the Ten Commandments.

In the name of the Polish Council of Christians and Jews:

Stanisław Krajewski
Jewish Co-Chair of the Council

In the name of the Joint Council of Catholics and Muslims:

Zdzisław Bielecki
Catholic Co-Chair of the Council

[signed in Kraków, 29 May 2003]

Translated by Annamaria Orla-Bukowska

Cf. www.forum-znak.org.pl


1. Translated from the German for Sidic, by K. E. Wolff
2. Dr Norman Beck, Poehlmann Professor of Biblical Theology and Classical Languages; Dr Mary C. Boys SNLM, Skinner and Alpin Professor of Practical Theology, Union Theological Seminary, NYC; Dr Rosann Catalano, Roman Catholic Staff Scholar, Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies, Baltimore, MD; Dr Philip A. Cunningham, Exec. Director for Christian-Jewish Learning, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA; Dr Celia Deutsch NDS, Adjunct Associate Professor of Religion, Barnard College/ Columbia University, NYC; Dr Alice L. Eckardt, Professor emerita of Religious Studies, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA; Dr Eugene J. Fisher, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Washington, DC; Dr Eva Fleischner, Montclair (NJ) State University (emerita), Claremont, CA; Dr Deirdre Good, General Theological Seminary of Episcopal Church; Dr Walter Harrelson, Distinguished Professor emeritus of Hebrew Bible, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN; Rev. Michael McGarry CSP, Director, Tantur Ecumenical Institute, Jerusalem; Dr John C. Merkle, Professor of Theology, College of St Benedict, St Joseph, MN; Dr John T. Pawlikowski, Prof. of Social Ethics, Director, Catholic-Jewish Studies Program, Catholic Theological Union Chicago, IL; Dr Peter A. Pettit, Institute for Christian Understanding, Muhlenberg College, Allentown, PA; Dr Peter C. Phan, The Warren-Blanding Professor of Religion and Culture, Catholic University of America, Washington, DC; Dr Jean-Pierre Ruiz, Associate Professor and Chair, Dept. of Theology and Religious Studies, St John’s University, NYC; Dr Franklin Sherman, Associate for Interfaith Relations, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Dr Joann Spillman, Professor and Chair, Dept. of Theology and Religious Studies, Rockhurst University, Kansas City, MO; Dr John T. Townsend, Visiting Lecturer on Jewish Studies, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA; Dr Joseph Tyson, Professor emeritus of Religious Studies, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX; Dr Clark Williamson, Indiana Professor of Christian Thought, emeritus, Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, IN.


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