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SIDIC Periodical XXVII - 1994/2
The New Catholic Catechism and the Jews (Pages 24 - 26)

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

A Christian Centre for Jewish Studies - Ratisbonne
Pierre Lenhardt - Maureena Fritz


It is a great pleasure to respond to SIDIC's request for an article about the Christian Centre for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem where we have lived and taught for a number of years. It gives us the opportunity to describe the goals and the programme of the Centre as well as the difficulties and hopes for the future.


The name of the institute, which is rather long - Christian Centre for Jewish Studies; St. Pierre de Sion (Ratisbonne) - describes its aim. The last part "St.Pierre de Sion (Ratisbonne)" expresses its continuity with the original foundation - the Religious of Notre Dame de Sion. The Fathers of Notre Dame de Sion together with the Sisters founded the institute St. Pierre de Sion, which is now a centre for Jewish Studies. The name "Ratisbonne" recalls the founding fathers of the two religious communities. It is well known that they were Jews who became Catholic priests and founded the Congregations of Our Lady of Sion whose apostolic thrust was originally the conversion of the Jews. However, keeping the name Ratisbonne does not mean carrying on the original aim of conversions. This has been explicitly removed from the Constitutions of both groups and, precisely because they have rejected it, they do not wish either to forget or disguise that original aim which has undergone radical change. It is a question of recognising that we are heirs of a past of which we accept the consequences in order to make amends for mistakes, retain its values and adapt them for a new era. These include an esteem for the Word of God in Scripture, love for the Jewish People, participating in their sorrows and joy, struggling against anti-Semitism. Absent in the past was an appreciation of Jewish religious life, of the mission and witness of the Jewish people, of their fidelity to the covenant, of their authentic seeking after God through study, prayer and the commandments, of their return to God and to Zion in repentance and their expectation of the Messiah. We are constantly reminded of this past and of. the need to change at Ratisbonne. We much prefer a few difficulties from time to time with some Jewish friends rather than to forget or disown the past (1).

The transformation just mentioned enables us to clarify the goals of the Christian Centre for Jewish Studies. It is a question of Jewish Studies which are specifically centred on the Living Tradition of Israel, as it is studied and taught by Jews. This presupposes the assistance of Jewish scholars who have taught us and are still teaching us and who support our teaching. Such support is necessary because the Tradition of Israel, according to the Pharisaic Masters and their successors up till to- day, is the Oral Torah, the Word of God which is transmitted from master to pupil. In this relationship of Christian disciple with Jewish master, we rediscover the value of our Christian tradition which, in Jesus Christ our Master, is nourished by the Tradition of Israel.

So we move on to the Christian character of our Centre. The Centre is Christian because, in fact, we want our Church to discover a fundamental constituent of the patrimony common to the Christian and Jewish people: Tradition as the spoken Word of God which is one with the written Word of God, with the Scripture. As Christians we study the Tradition of Israel because from within it we nurture the Christian Tradition for which we are responsible.
The Programme

Through the programme the goals which have been described are realised. At the moment the programme is taught in English and in French and it runs for one or more years.

Since 1985, through the impetus of Cardinal Lustiger, the Institut Catholique of Paris has assumed academic responsibility for our Centre. The French language programme is therefore under the patronage of the Theology faculty of the Institut Catholique of Paris. The English language programme is affiliated to the Toronto School of Theology at St. Michael's University. Students who need to fulfil the requirements of these Faculties can aim to obtain the academic validations guaranteed by these Faculties, right from the first year.

The first year of study, after an introduction to the Jewish Autumn feasts: Rosh-ha-Shanah, Kippur, Sukkot and Simhat Torah, comprises a first semester from October to January and a second semester from February to June. The first semester lays the emphasis on the learning of Hebrew and knowledge of the country but also includes an introduction to Judaism and studying the New Testament in its Jewish context.

The second semester offers principally the study of texts with their starting point in the original in the principal areas in which the Tradition of Israel is expressed: Prayer, Rashi (commentary on Scripture), Midrash and Talmud. Lectures, usually given by Jewish Professors, shed light on certain aspects of the Tradition and the History of Israel, bring students face to face with the unfathomable reality of the Shoah and help them to understand the current political, social and religious situation of the Jewish people, in the Land of Israel.

These Jewish studies are set within a framework of Christian reflection which is grounded in and supported by courses and seminars in biblical and dogmatic theology, given by competent Christian professors, either invited to or resident in Jerusalem.

The first year is only a beginning. We hope it will be followed by another or several other years, without which we could not hope for the continuation of our Centre. For this reason the few students who are already in their second, third, fourth, even fifth and sixth year and who are beginning to teach, constitute the future of our Centre.

Difficulties and Hopes

Our course of studies is in complete conformity with the Church's orientations and they are supported by an ever-increasing number of Theology Faculties. They have already received much encouragement. Yet we have to do even better and promote Jewish studies even further in the theology faculties, in seminaries, in religious congregations and in dioceses. These studies are not only useful for certain specialists but are a source of nourishment for all Christians. The battle has begun but it is not won.

We should mention also the fundamental difficulty posed by these Jewish studies when undertaken by Christians. How can we listen to the Tradition of Israel from Jewish Masters and how can we receive it as Christians without deforming it, without transforming and appropriating it? This is precisely our difficulty as teachers at the Centre, with the responsibility of supporting the Jewish studies of our Christian students.

The solution is not to take refuge in an academic neutrality in which our Jewish teachers and Christian students would only be concerned with some knowledge of Judaism, similar to the practice in Germany in certain "scientific" milieux during the last century.

In reality there is no ready-made solution. Relations between Jews and Christians are very complex. They are not symmetrical. They require mutual - non-symmetrical - knowledge and trust. Trust, always necessary but particularly so when it is a question of Oral Torah, is built up with time and deepened by practice which is not always easy. When the Centre was first set up we asked our Jewish masters for authorisation to teach the Tradition of Israel to Christians. Such authorisation has always been given, but we do not take it for granted. We feel we have to earn it. This is of particular concern in the first year of the programme when, as we have seen, the topics are dealt with chiefly by Christian professors. In subsequent years, since the teaching is given mostly by Jewish professors, there is less difficulty, but vigilance and critique remain vital.

These demands should not stifle our work but rather stimulate our creativity. Indeed, we have to contribute actively by study and teaching to a progress which is ongoing and exemplified by the recent agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel. In the preamble to this accord, signed on 30 and 31 December 1993, the parties mention the "historical process of reconciliation and growth in understanding and mutual friendship between Catholics and Jews". We want this growth to be real and irreversible. We rejoice that the Church authorities not only call for a knowledge of Judaism but for a relationship which accepts the true existence of the People of Israel in the Land of Israel, as a State which is recognised as being representative of the people.

This new relationship underpins studies in Jerusalem from where "comes forth the word of the Lord" (Is. 2.3). In a concrete way at the beginning of March 1994, our Centre received a visit from Cardinal Ratzinger and Mgr. Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. The encouragement we received on that occasion was completed by that of Cardinal Martini who had also come to Jerusalem for an international conference which brought together Jewish and Christian Religious authorities.

In this way our Centre has benefitted from a series of circumstances which we interpret as "a sign of the times". The encouragement received has already become a reality. One of these realities has been the nomination, which took effect in January 1994, of Monsignor Fumagalli from the Diocese of Milan as Academic Director of the Centre. We are aware of Cardinal Martini's great love for Jerusalem and the Jewish people. Our gratitude goes to him for having released Mgr. Fumagalli for our Centre. We share with him the hope of a just peace between Arabs and Jews.

1. Ed. cf. C. Klein nds "From Conversion to Dialogue: The Sisters of Sion and the Jews. A Paradigm of Catholic-Jewish Relations?" Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 18:3, Summer 1981.


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