A Trans-Atlantic Conversation on Jewish-Catholic Relations

by Ophir Yarden, Director of Educational Initiatives and of the Center for Interreligious Encounter with Israel for ICCI

Together with the American Center (a section of the Office of Public Affairs of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv) ICCI convened a video-conference on Jewish-Catholic relations in the U.S. and their implications for Israel yesterday, June 13th. Speaking to a group of Catholic and Jewish interreligious leaders in Jerusalem were Rev. Dr. John Pawlikowski, Professor of Social Ethics at Catholic Theological Union, and Rabbi Dr. Burt Visotsky, Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Relations at the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York.

The conversation commenced with an appraisal of the accomplishments of Jewish-Catholic relations in the last 50 years — since the Second Vatican Council. Fr. Pawlikowski stated, and Rabbi Visotsky concurred, that the sea change in the Catholic Church’s attitude towards Jews and Judaism was remarkable.

Following the appreciation for the Council’s major achievement in the realm of interreligious relations, Nostra Aetate, the conversation turned to a discussion of some of the contemporary issues in Catholic-Jewish Relations including: (a) the Tridentine Mass; (b) the question of whether the lessons and outcomes of the council have spread widely and deeply within the Catholic and Jewish worlds; and (c) the relevance of religion in the 21st century.

Fr. Pawlikowski opined that the changes in the Catholic Church were widespread and pointed out that 50 years is a short time for such far reaching changes in a body as large as this. Rabbi Visotsky applauded the wide-spread phenomenon of Jews teaching Jewish Studies in Catholic universities, particularly Vatican universities. (As one who teaches in a variety of Christian institutions, I wholeheartedly concur.)

Rabbi Ehud Bandel, vice-president of the International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ) asked what challenges remained in Jewish-Christian Relations after the achievements: Nostra Aetate, relations with the State of Israel, and the Vatican’s “We Remember” document about the Holocaust, among others. Both speakers agreed that there was much tikkun olam (repairing the world) work to be done, for which Jewish-Catholic cooperation would be very fruitful.

Fr. Pawlikowski concluded by expressing his hope that Kurt Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, would be able to arrange for a Vatican publication re-affirming Nostra Aetate in 2015, on the 50th anniversary of its publication.

— Ophir Yarden

One Response

  1. I occasionally attend Catholic services in Montreal with my Québecoise wife, and have noted over the past years a phenomenally positive change in the way that Jews are portrayed and how Jesus and his life are described as part of Jewish culture. However, the occupation and the perceived injustice of our relationship with the Palestinians is also very present in the social-justice dialogue of the church with its parishioners. Only when a truly just settlement of the relationship between our peoples is achieved, will the church’s positive turn toward its Jewish roots and today’s Jewish people take deep root and bear real fruit.

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