Dialogika

Other Conferences of Catholic Bishops

Statement by the French Bishops' Committee for Relations with Jews

 

I. Jewish existence as a problem addressed to the conscience of Christians

The present existence of the Jewish people, its often precarious fate in the course of history, its hopes, the tragic trials it has known in the past and particularly in modern times, and its partial gathering in the land of the Bible; all these realities can enlighten the life of Christians and add to a more profound understanding of their own faith. The continuity through the ages of this people that has survived other civilizations, its presence as a rigorous and exacting partner of Christendom, are facts of great importance that we must not treat with ignorance or contempt. The Church, speaking in the name of Jesus Christ and, through Him, linked to the Jewish people since her beginnings and for all time, perceives in the uninterrupted existence of this people through the centuries a sign that she would wish fully to comprehend.

 

II. The slow formation of Christian conscience

On October 28, 1965 the Second Vatican Council solemnly promulgated the Declaration Nostra Aetate, which contains a chapter on the Jewish people. We reaffirm the importance of this text, which recalls that the Church nourishes herself from the roots of the true olive tree onto which the wild branches, i.e. the Gentiles, were grafted. As Episcopal Committee for the Relations with Jews, it is our duty to point out the topical significance of this Declaration and indicate its practical application.

The position taken by the Second Vatican Council should be considered a beginning rather than a final achievement. It marks a turning point in Christian attitudes toward Jews and opens a path, permitting us to take the exact measure of our task. The Council Statement bases itself on a return to Scriptural sources and breaks with the mentality of the past. It calls all Christians to a new vision of the Jewish people, not only on the level of human relations but also on that of faith. It is impossible, of course, to re-examine all at once the assertions and historical attitudes of the Church, maintained for many centuries. Christian conscience has initiated a process, however, to recall the Jewish roots of the Church. It is important that a beginning has been made, that all strata of the Christian people be reached, and that the course be pursued with honesty and energy.

 

III. The permanent vocation of the Jewish people

We cannot consider the Jewish religion as we would any others now existing in the world. Through the people of Israel, faith in the One God was inscribed on the history of mankind and monotheism became - it even with certain differences - the common good of three great families, which claim the heritage of Abraham, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. According to biblical revelation, God Himself constituted this people, brought it up, advised it of His plans, concluding with it an eternal Covenant (Gn 17:7), and giving it a vocation, which St. Paul qualifies as "irrevocable" (Rom 11:29). We are indebted to the Jewish people for the Five Books of the Law, the Prophets, and the other Scriptures, which complete the message. After having been collected by oral and written tradition, these precepts were received by Christians without, however, dispossessing the Jews.

Even though in Jesus Christ the Covenant was renewed for Christendom, the Jewish people must not be looked upon by Christians as a mere social and historical reality but most of all as a religious one; not as the relic of a venerable and finished past but as a reality alive through the ages. The principal features of this vitality of the Jewish people are its collective faithfulness to the One God; its fervor in studying the Scriptures to discover, in the light of Revelation, the meaning of human life; its search for an identity amidst other men; its constant efforts to re-assemble as a new, unified community. These signs pose questions to us Christians, which touch on the heart of our faith: What is the proper mission of the Jews in the divine plan? What expectations animate them, and in what respect are these expectations different from or similar to, our own?

 

IV. Not to teach anything that does not conform to the spirit of Christ

a) It is most urgent that Christians cease to represent the Jews according to clichés forged by the hostility of centuries. Let us eliminate once and for all and combat under any circumstances, those caricatures unworthy of an honest man and the more so of a Christian. We are thinking, for instance, of that contention tinged with contempt and aversion that the Jew "is not like other people;" or that Jews "are usurious, ambitious, conspiratorial;" or that distortion so frightful because of its consequences, that the Jew is a "deicide." We strongly denounce and condemn these defamatory designations, which are still, alas, current among us, openly or in disguise. Anti-Semitism is a heritage from the pagan world but reinforced by pseudo-theological arguments in a Christian climate. Jews merit our attention and esteem, often our admiration - at times also our amicable and brotherly criticism - yet always our love. And it is probably the latter, which the Jewish people needed most and in which Christians have been most neglectful.

b) It is a theological, historical, and juridical error to hold the Jewish people without distinction guilty of the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ. The Catechism of the Council of Trent already rejected this error (para 1, cap 5,11). If it is true that historically- speaking the responsibility for the death of Jesus lies with a number of different Jewish and Roman authorities, the Church holds that Christ in His great love submitted to His passion and death for the sins of all men and for their salvation (Nostra Aetate, n. 6). Contrary to what an ancient but contested catechesis has sustained, we must not deduce from the New Testament that the Jewish people were deprived of its election. Scripture as a whole asks us to recognize, on the contrary, that the fidelity of the Jewish people to the Law and Covenant is a sign of the fidelity of God toward His people.

c) It is wrong to oppose Judaism as a religion of fear to Christianity as one of love. The Shema Yisrael, the fundamental article of Jewish faith begins: "You shall love the Lord your God," followed by the commandment to love one's neighbor (Lv 19:18). This is also the point of departure for Jesus' preaching, and therefore, a doctrine common to Judaism and Christianity. Feelings for the transcendence and faithfulness of God, His justice and mercy, for repentance and pardon for transgressions are fundamental traits of the Jewish tradition. Christians who appeal to the same values would be wrong in thinking that they no longer have anything to gain from Jewish spirituality.

d) Contrary to established ways of thinking, it must be emphasized that Pharisaic doctrine is not opposed to that of Christianity. The Pharisees sought to make the law come alive in every Jew, by interpreting its commandments in such a way as to adapt them to the various spheres of life. Contemporary research has shown that the Pharisees were no more strangers to the innermost meaning of the law than were the masters of the Talmud. It as not that which Jesus meant when He denounced the attitude of some of them or the formalism of their teaching. On the contrary, it seems that because the Pharisees and first Christians were in certain respects quite close to one another that at times they fought fiercely about the traditions received from the ancients and the interpretation of the Mosaic Law.

 

V. To gain a fair understanding of Judaism

Christians, if only for their own good, should acquire a true and sincere understanding of Jewish tradition.

a) A genuinely Christian catechesis must stress the topical importance of the entire Bible. The First Covenant was not made invalid by the Second. The former is the root and source, the foundation and the promise. If it is true that the Old Testament renders its ultimate meaning to us only in the light of the New, it is nevertheless required that we should first receive and understand it by itself (2 Tim 3:16). We must not forget that Jesus, by His obedience to the Torah and its prayers, accomplished His ministry within the pale of the Covenant people.

b) We should describe the particular vocation of this people by the "Sanctification of the Name." It is one of the essential dimensions of the synagogue prayer by which the Jewish people, invested with a priestly mission (Ex 19:6), offers all human activity to God and thereby glorifies Him. This vocation makes the life and prayer of the Jewish people a benediction for all the nations of the earth.

c) We would underestimate the precepts of Judaism were we to consider them mere restrictive practices. Its rites are gestures, which interrupt the commonplace existence, reminding those who fulfill them of the sovereignty of God. Devout Jews consider the Sabbath as well as other observances as gifts given by God. Beyond their literal meaning, these ritual acts shed light and joy on the path of the Jew's life (Ps 119). They are a way to "prepare the time." and render thanks for the entire creation. We must, indeed, relate our whole existence to God, as St. Paul urged his brothers (1 Cor 10:30-31).

d) The dispersion of the Jewish people should be understood in the light of its history Though Jewish tradition considers the trials and exile of the people as a punishment for infidelities (Jer 13:17; 20:21-23). It is nonetheless true that, since the time when Jeremiah addressed his letter to the exiles in Babylon (29:1-23), the life of' the Jewish people in the diaspora has also held a positive meaning. Throughout its trials the Jewish people has been called to "Sanctify the Name," amidst the nations of the world. Christians must constantly combat the anti-Jewish and Manichean temptation to regard the Jewish people as accursed under the pretext of its constant persecutions. According to the testimony of Scripture (Is 53:2-4), being subjected to persecution is often an effect and reminder of the prophetic vocation.

e) Today more than ever, it is difficult to pronounce a well-considered theological opinion on the return of the Jewish people to "its" land. In this context, we Christians must first of all not forget the gift once made by God to the people of Israel, of a land where it was called to be reunited (cf Gn 12:7: 26:3-4; 28:13; is 43:5-7; Jer 16:15; Soph 3:20).

Throughout history, Jewish existence has always been divided between life among the nations and the wish for national existence on that land. I This aspiration poses numerous problems even to Jews. To understand it, as well as all dimensions of the resulting discussion, Christians must not be carried away by interpretations that would ignore the forms of Jewish communal and religious life, or by political positions that, though generous, are nonetheless hastily arrived at. Christians must take into account the interpretation given by Jews to their ingathering around Jerusalem, which, according to their faith, is considered a blessing. Justice is put to the test by this return and its repercussions. On the political level, it has caused confrontations between various claims for justice. Beyond the legitimate divergence of political options, the conscience of the world community cannot refuse the Jewish people, who had to submit to so many vicissitudes in the course of its history, the right and means for a political existence among the nations. At the same time, this right and the opportunities for existence cannot be refused to those who, in the course of local conflicts resulting from this return, are now victims of grave injustice.

Let us, then, turn our eyes toward this land visited by God and let us actively hope that it may become a place where one day all its inhabitants, Jews and non-Jews, can live together in peace. It is an essential question, faced by Christians as well as Jews, whether or not the ingathering of the dispersed Jewish people - which took place under pressure of persecution and by the play of political forces - will despite so many tragic events prove to be one of the final ways of God's justice for the Jewish people and at the same time for all the nations of the earth. How could Christians remain indifferent to what is now being decided in that land?

 

VI. To promote mutual knowledge and esteem.

Most encounters between Jews and Christians are still marked by mutual ignorance and a certain distrust. Such attitudes have been in the past and could become again in the future, sources of grave misunderstandings and formidable ills. We consider it essential and urgent that the faithful, priests, and all those responsible for education endeavor to create among Christians a better understanding of Judaism, its traditions, customs, and history.

The first condition is that Christians always be respectful of Jews, no matter how they express their Jewishness; that they seek to understand the latter as they understand themselves, instead of judging them by Christian ways of thinking. Christians must respect Jewish convictions, aspirations, and rites, as well as the attachment that Jews bear them. Christians must admit that there are different ways of being a Jew, of considering oneself Jewish, without detriment to the fundamental unity of Jewish existence.

The second condition is that in encounters between Christians and Jews there should be recognized the mutual right to bear witness to one's faith, without being suspected of a disloyal attempt to detach the other from his community and draw him to one's own. Such an intention must be excluded not only out of respect which must apply to dialogue with any person, but for a particular reason to which Christians, and especially the clergy, must pay more attention. That reason is that the Jews as people have been the object of an "eternal Covenant" without which the "new Covenant" would not even exist.

Far from envisaging the disappearance of the Jewish community, the Church is in search of a living bond with it. Pastors must face these problems with intellectual openness, distrust for their own prejudice, and an acute sense for the psychological conditioning of others. Even if in the present context of a "civilization without frontiers," there occur personal démarches, removed from the determination of the two communities, their mutual esteem must remain unchanged.

 

VII The Church and the Jewish people

a) The Jewish people is aware of having received, by its particular calling, a universal mission towards the nations. The Church, on the other hand, knows that her own mission is a part of that same universal plan of salvation.

b) Israel and the Church are not complementary institutions; their permanent vis á vis is a sign that the divine plan is not yet complete. Christians and Jews are thus in a situation of mutual contest or, according to St. Paul, of "jealousy" with regard to unity (Rom 11:14; cf Dt 32:21).

c) The words of Jesus Himself and the teaching of Paul testify to the role of the Jewish people in the fulfillment of the ultimate unity of mankind, as a unity of Israel and the nations. Jewish search for unity in our day cannot be removed from the divine plan, nor can it be unrelated to the efforts of Christians for such unity, even though each is proceeding along a different road.

Though Jews and Christians accomplish their vocation along dissimilar lines, history shows that their paths cross incessantly. Is not the Messianic time their common concern? It is desirable that they enter the road of mutual acceptance and appreciation and, repudiating their former enmity, turn toward the Father, with one and the same movement of hope, which will be a promise for the entire world.