Continued: New Hope for Jewish-Catholic Dialogue
Changes in Jewish-Christian Relations: "Nostra Aetate"
These symbolic steps are the culmination of decades of serious study and educational efforts by the Catholic Church to address the too often fierce schism between Judaism and Christianity. During Vatican Council II we also had witnessed bold and unexpected steps to bridge the dangerous chasm which had grown up between Jesus' own brethren and Christianity, which often spoke of itself as having superceded Judaism.
The Vatican II Decree "Nostra Aetate" in 1965 was the foundational document upon which more than 35 years of initiatives have greatly advanced the dialogue of modern-day Catholics with Jews. We have been blessed with a new time of discovery of Christian roots in first-century Judaism. Deepening appreciation for our common ancestral bonds in biblical revelation, liturgy, and moral commitment encourages new ways of relating to one another.
Scholarship among Jews and Christians focusing on the first century of the Common Era, the Christian first century A.D., has increased mutual understanding of those troubled times. We now have more accurate knowledge of the political and religious struggles which characterized the lifetime of Jesus and the subsequent decades of the first century. Significant factors in the gradual marginalization of Judaism from the developing Christian communities were new ways of interpreting the Hebrew scriptures in relationship to Jesus as Messiah and Lord, extensive evangelization of Gentiles, and the antagonism which deepened after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple by the Romans in A.D. 70.
These diligent scholarly efforts on the part of the Church in recent decades have inspired some Jewish scholars to extend a daring invitation to their brothers and sisters in the Jewish faith to take a new look at Jesus and Christianity. In The New York Times and elsewhere on Sept. 10, 2000, four Jewish scholars of different viewpoints presented a delicately crafted statement entitled "Dabru Emet: A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity." The Hebrew phrase meaning "Speak the Truth" appropriately describes this bold effort to catalyze more fruitful discussion between Jews and Christians in the midst of modern society where our common message needs to be heard. The statement and related matters of interest are available at the internet site of The Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies.
"Dabru Emet" inaugurates a new effort in mutual understanding, this time from the Jewish side of the table. Matters of common heritage mentioned include worship of the same God, seeking authority from the same book (Tanakh, called Old Testament by Christians), and acceptance of the moral principles of Torah. The statement maintains that a new relationship between Jews and Christians will not weaken Jewish practice, realistically addressing fears about intermarriage, conversion to Christianity or a false blending of the two faiths. It exhorts both groups to work for justice and peace. Few would disagree on these matters.
Other parts of the statement touch on contemporary issues which inspire more questioning and division, even among the Jewish community. For example, one paragraph says that Christians can respect the claim of the Jewish people upon the land of Israel. Given the question of how such a religious belief would influence a resolution of conflict between the state of Israel and Palestinian groups who also claim long-term ties to the same land, this statement may not find total support.
Likewise, the point that "Nazism was not a Christian phenomenon" was the element in the statement which caused significant controversy among various sides of the Jewish community.
The whole statement can best be appreciated in the context of a book entitled "Christianity in Jewish Terms" in which the authors of the statement provide argumentation supporting each aspect of their discussion. The book contains ten essays on various Christian beliefs by Jewish scholars, followed by responses from a Jewish and Christian perspective. The authors' purpose is to help fellow Jews to understand Christian faith better so that dialogue with Christians may proceed with some new vigor. May their efforts inspire all of us to "speak the truth."
Boys, "Has God Only One Blessing?: Judaism as a Source of Christian
Self-Understanding" (NY: Paulist Press, 2000)