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Op-Ed

Catholics and Jews: Setting the Record Straight

Rabbi Eric J. Greenberg and Dr. Eugene Fisher

This article originally appeared in ADL on November 20, 2012

One of the most important goals of honest interfaith dialogue is to make sure your own faith is being presented accurately and fairly to the "other side."

Getting to know and understand your dialogue partner's beliefs, history, traditions and yes, even their internal religious issues, helps build mutual understanding and respect. The goal is to disseminate this information to members of both communities, and help build bridges of trust -- from the top representatives of each religion to the people in the pews and shuls -- resulting in a more peaceful society.

Misrepresenting the other's faith creates serious obstacles to this goal. David Turner's recent article in The Jerusalem Post, "From Scripture to Shoah: Christianity today and the Holocaust" (Nov.2) is an example of such an obstacle.

Turner's piece highlighted only the negatives in Jewish-Christian history and, less than subtly, misleadingly suggested that Christianity remains a lethal threat to Judaism. He failed to distinguish between the different dialogue Jews have with Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Protestants and Evangelicals. (The fact is each relationship has its own history, opportunities and challenges.) He took disconnected problematic episodes and patched them together to craft a disingenuous argument about all Christians.

In short, Turner cherry-picked negatives about Christian views of Judaism to weave a deceptive indictment against Christianity while ignoring all of the profound changes of the past half a century, especially in Catholic teaching.

No doubt there are some people who accept these themes at face value. If you are a Catholic in Israel and read what the majority culture is saying about you, as reflected in a major newspaper, it is certainly cause for concern.

That is why it is the responsibility of Jews and Catholics of good will to set the record straight and present an accurate picture of the state of Catholic-Jewish relations today. It is especially important this year, as both Catholics and Jews mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council on October 28, 1962, an important milestone in the history of the church and its relation to the Jewish people.

Vatican II Council culminated in the adoption in 1965 of a groundbreaking statement on Jews and Judaism.

The statement, Nostra Aetate, which is Latin for "In Our Time," ended the ancient teaching of contempt of Jews and Judaism and established the foundation of a new Christian understanding of the relationship of the churches with the Jewish people. It definitively rejected the collective guilt canard against the Jewish people for the death of Jesus and affirmed God's "irrevocable" covenant with the Jewish people.

Since Nostra Atetae, a series of official Vatican documents, papal statements and actions have reaffirmed and continued to build positively upon this profound theological foundation. These have been implemented throughout the world by the National Bishops' Conferences.

For example, the 1974 "Guidelines" for implementing Nostra Aetateencouraged Christians to learn "by what essential traits Jews define themselves in light of their own religious experience." The 1985 "Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis" states that Jews are to be presented as a chosen people and "the people of the Old Covenant, which has never been revoked by God."

In addition, each of the papacies since the Council -- Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI -- have affirmed the teachings of Nostra Aetate and developed it further. Pope John Paul II prayerfully visited the Great Synagogue of Rome and the State of Israel, placing a prayer of repentance for Christianity's sins against Jews over the centuries in the Western Wall.

John Paul II also established diplomatic relations with the State of Israel, acknowledging the full right of Jews to a state of their own in what Jews and Christians both understand as the land God has promised to the Jewish people.

Further, numerous official teaching documents issued by the Holy See and national bishops' conferences in the Americas and Europe solidified this new Christian appreciation of the Jews as the People of God.

It is a dramatic story of reconciliation arguably without precedent in human history and one which Israelis as well as Jews worldwide should know and appreciate.

Today, we are in a new era of dialogue between the Church and the Jewish People, a dialogue which offers great hope not only for us both as peoples of God but for all of humanity.

While it is important to keep in mind the enmities and tragedies of the past, we must also be reminded of the great changes that have taken place, which offer the potential for a far different and more positive future.


Rabbi Eric J. Greenberg is the director of Interfaith Affairs of the Anti-Defamation League.

Dr. Eugene Fisher is a distinguished professor of Catholic-Jewish Studies at St. Leo University.

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