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SIDIC Periodical XXXIII - 2000/3
Ecclesia and Synagoga. A New Future (Pages 12-14)

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

The Future Task of Christian Jewish Dialogue
Dujardin, Jean


I have been asked to reflect on the future task of the Christian-Jewish dialogue. It is not easy to respond to this request since no specific issue, either for the Jewish community or for the Church, was suggested for this reflection. However, it is an interesting request since it forces one to refine some important questions about the future – a task which we generally neglect due to the pressure of events.

Furthermore, the current context is favorable for this reflection. While the difficulties between Jews and Christians have not been totally resolved, the overall climate can be considered positive. This development cannot be attributed solely to the undeniable success of the churches and of the Catholic Church in particular. The various teachings following Vatican Council II are beginning to bear fruit through a variety of efforts: symposia, formal conversations, university teachings, seminary formation, community awareness, etc. This progress has also been marked by very concrete actions. These actions began with the Pope John Paul II’s desire to meet with representatives of Jewish communities during the course of his pastoral visits. These meetings were highlighted by his solemn visit to the synagogue of Rome. In this context it is important to not minimize the significance of the fundamental agreement between the State of Israel and the Holy See signed in December, 1993.

During the past several years new initiatives have been undertaken, initiatives relating to repentance. With the publication of his apostolic letter Tertio Millenio Adveniente, regarding the Jubilee Year 2000, Pope John Paul II invited the churches to purify their memories. This invitation was a definite cause of joy for the artisans of the dialogue between Jews and Christians. Even though some aspects of these initiatives were not universally appreciated, the effort as a whole marks a considerable change in the attitude of the Church toward the Jewish people. These undertakings were crowned by the solemn liturgy of repentance in Rome on March 12, 2000 and by the recent pilgrimage by Pope John Paul II to the land of Israel. Though I will not dwell on this now, it is certain that the Pope’s symbolic gestures – at the Yad Vashem memorial and with the placing of the March 12th prayer of repentance in a space at the Western Wall – have been perceived by the entire Jewish world as evidence of an irreversible change in the Church.

Is it possible to speak of an interest and excitement on the part of the Jews? Though their interest in the person of Jesus is not a recent development, there has been an undeniable gain of momentum in this regard during the past two years.1 What is the significance of these developments? It is not necessary for the church to spend time analyzing the reason for its own interest in this field because it is very obvious. However, the reasons for this development on the part of the Jewish community are much more complex, and we lack a point of reference for an analysis. Without doubt there has always been a universal interest in this and the current research is bearing the fruits of some of these meetings between Jews and Christians. In the current climate of esteem it is possible to further questions about this Jesus who is increasingly being recognized as a Jew. Is it possible today to imagine that the question which is the focus of research for a small number of people is similar to the question articulated by a rabbi several months ago: “We are convinced that Jesus was a very important figure whose legacy it is possible to acknowledge. But the problem for us today is: Who is he really? Who is this Jesus who is able, after 2000 years of history, to effect such a change in the hearts of his disciples?”2

However, fear and doubt have not completely disappeared in the Jewish community. One does not erase so troubled a past in a few decades. Jewish memory and Christian memory are not easily reconciled. The former retains elements of sadness; the latter is at times quite naive. In spite of this conversations during recent years have progressed and it is possible to dialogue without the constant fear of hurting one another.

It is important to directly face the fact that it will never be easy to address theological questions together. Jews do not like to speak of theology and still less of dogma. Cardinal Cassidy’s use of a quotation from Rabbi Toaff illustrates this difference in understanding: “A theological discussion is not possible because it is precisely there that our thinking differs and where an agreement remains impossible. An eventual agreement would signify either that we renounce our position or that the Church renounces its.” Cardinal Cassidy went on to clarify his viewpoint: “I have cited Rabbi Toaff because I think that is precisely the confusion that can exist. When we Catholics speak of theological dialogue with the Jews or with other religions, we absolutely do not think of this dialogue in terms of leading to conversion or renunciation [...]. When I speak of theological dialogue with Jewish representatives I am not speaking of unity of faith but of a dialogue which permits the speakers to understand and accept one another as they are so that they might be what God wants them to be in today’s society, despite fundamental differences.”

This being the case, it is not certain that dialogue can easily occur in this area in spite of positive developments. If it is to happen both sides must remember that they are separated by a cultural chasm. The same words do not necessarily designate the same realities in Judaism as they do in Christianity. Considerable historical work remains to be done for us to understand one another.

What subjects, then, can we approach...and in what spirit?

The themes which I now propose are simply the product of my own initiative and intuition. It is important that my enumerations be heard and understood in the proper methodological framework. Some Jewish scholars, particularly when they study New Testament texts, tend to consider Christianity only from a historical point of view. This problematic tendency leads to the perception that the Old Testament and Jewish thought transcend time and have been free of historical conditioning. Is it possible for a historical Christianity and an a-historical Judaism to enter into a true dialogue? From the Christian point of view, I sometimes warn against a too facile irenicism. This refers to a form of dialogue between “textual” Judaism (ideal inasmuch as it comes from a new reading of the Old Testament) and Christians. This insight has some relevance, even though I do not like the expression “textual Jew”. In all honesty it is likewise necessary to acknowledge the fact that there is also a discrepancy between ideal Christianity as found in the vision of the New Testament and the reality of the church today in its diverse composition. Both parties must admit that, despite changes, there remains a strong continuity, an ongoing inspiration.

This difficulty presents us with the first theme for a common undertaking. It is commonplace to recall that the Jewish and Christian readings of the Bible do not fully coincide. Christians must be more direct about their manner of reading the Old Testament and claim their central theological notion of “fulfillment of the Scriptures.” It is perhaps good for us to go even further and ask ourselves what is the respective place of oral tradition in Judaism and in the elaboration and development of the Christian faith. Both Judaism and Christianity have a relationship with the text which is not simply a textual relationship. Though in a somewhat different manner, the Bible for both is first of all a word and not a piece of writing. It is the communities who appropriate the text; we must ask ourselves how this appropriation occurs.

As a second theme – and precisely because of this understanding of tradition – it is important to study the painful problem of separation. On this Christian sources are more abundant than Jewish sources. This observation is pertinent because it creates a disequilibrium. To understand the process of separation and to adequately clarify its focal point, it is necessary to begin with more dogmatic questions concerning Christology and the Trinity, and with the evolution of Judaism itself.

A third theme, which could evolve from the preceding one, leads us to reflect on the Jewish and the Christian vocation regarding the universality of the biblical message. Today, perhaps more so than in the past, we are aware that we have a witness to give together on this point.

Moreover, and this could be the fourth theme for reflection in today’s cultural and historical context, we have to reflect together on the ethical implications of the preceding theme. Here we can speak without confusion of a common Judeo-Christian heritage. The fact that the contemporary world seriously questions this heritage creates an additional common responsibility. Finally, if, as Rabbi Philippe Haddad wrote, the twenty-first century is “interreligious or not at all,” Jews and Christians must study their respective positions as inheritors of monotheism in this emerging dialogue.

The preceding themes do not yet touch the most fundamental theological questions. They are, however, indispensable since they allow for an initial encounter of real depth. As well, they do not excuse either of us from a more precise reflection on who we are to others. They pose questions for us which, without encouraging us to renounce our identity, oblige us to better articulate who we are, what we think, and how we wish to be understood.

Let me conclude without concluding. Certainly the future conversation and dialogue will require – as it always has but perhaps even more so now – courage, uprightness and clear thinking on how to proceed. However, the need for uprightness and clear thinking does not exclude embracing an unforeseeable future and confidently accepting the fact that we cannot fully see the itinerary nor where it will lead us. It is more than certain that questions which appear insoluble today will appear in a different perspective tomorrow. Should we be fearful about this?

It is important that we move forward. To regress is not an option since we have a common witness to give in today’s world. It is quite paradoxical to note that Jews and Christians are bearers of the same fraternal message. Let us acknowledge, then, that in the course of history we have been a poor and often a counter example. In this Christianity had a major responsibility as recent expressions of repentance have testified. Today it is urgent that the Jewish-Christian relationship witness to the world that, no matter how deep our differences, we are able to regard one another as siblings. We are able to give witness of this through encounter, conversation and dialogue.


* Jean Dujardin, a priest of the Oratory from Pontoise (near Paris), was Secretary of the French Bishops’ Committee for Christian-Jewish Relations until 1999. The article has been translated from French.
1 Recent French publications on this theme include:
Salomon Malka, Jésus rendu aux sien, Paris, Albin Michel, 1999; Armand Abécassis, En vérité, je vous le dis: une lecture juive des Evangiles, Paris, Editions No 1, 1999; Shalom Ben-Chorin, Un regard juif sur l’apôtre des Gentils, Paris, Desclée de Brouwer, 1999; Léon Askénasi, Oeuvres complPtes, tome 1, Penser la tradition juive aujourd’hui, Paris, Albin Michel, 1999 (A number of pages address the relationship between Jews and Christians); Gérard Isräel, La question chrétienne: une pensée juive du christianisme, Paris, Payot, 1999; Jacquot Grunewald, Chalom, Jésus! Lettre d’un rabbin d’aujourd’hui au rabbi de Nazareth, Paris, Albi Michel, 2000.
2 The citation is approximate.


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