International Council of Christians and Jews

Dialogika Resources

Guidelines on the Portrayal of Jews and Judaism in Education and in Teaching Materials

Textbooks in general


Much work has been done in this field, particularly in the last 30 years; indeed, a major purpose of the 1983 ICCJ Consultation was to take stock of it and move forward from it.

It is axiomatic that textbooks, in order to be educationally acceptable, must take into account the latest and best research and scholarship.

They must encourage an attitude of respect for all people.

They must recognize and understand the special historical and theological relationship between Jews and Christians. This relationship must be acknowledged, and further explored, in teaching materials and in teaching methods and approaches.

Historical Considerations

A sense of history must be achieved in the light of present reality. It develops slowly throughout childhood and adolescence; hopefully, it evolves continually in adult life; but particularly in formative years, it requires specific, positive educational help. The learning of history must lead to the acquisition of fundamental values, not the least of which is the direction it offers for the future. The three dimensions of past, present and future come together in the celebration by Jews and Christians of their respective festivals, in ways maintained throughout the centuries and still carried on today.

Throughout European history, Jews have been present (with some gaps of expulsion) in every country. Their contribution to that history has been considerable but it has been significantly neglected. Their experience has in many respects been radically different from that of Christians, and it deserves to be brought back into historical view: the confinement in ghettos, the selective persecution, the restriction of economic, educational and social opportunities, the so-called "final solution", the impact of the creation of the state of Israel.

Recent scholarship, Christian even more than Jewish, has focused on the life of Christ and on the early years of the Christian era. It has brought out major misrepresentations and inaccuracies with respect to Jews and Judaism, and having so long been accepted as truth, pervade textbooks and teachings. This work underlines the need for the review and revision of teaching materials, the writing of new texts, and the re-thinking of education approaches.

Theological considerations

Theology always strives towards greater understanding. Christian and Jewish theologians today are developing a fuller reciprocal comprehension of the relationships between their respective traditions. The complexity of biblical texts, and of the teachings which have derived from them, should not be underestimated. Oversimplification may lead not only to inaccuracy but also to misrepresentation. All teaching of children, however, involves some form of simplification of subject matter: the omission of material and of concepts for which the child is not yet intellectually or psychologically ready. In educational terms, simplification posits a thorough grasp of the matter to be simplified, and this imposes a special responsibility on the teachers.

Christian scriptures can be fully understood only through accurate knowledge of the life and thought of the Jewish world which was contemporary with what they relate, and of the surrounding Graeco-Roman world as well. Jesus, his family and his apostles were Jews. Their lives and practices were typical of the Jewish world of that time. This fact is essential to the understanding of their story.

The teachings of Jesus, and the development of early Christian thinking as recorded in Christian scriptures, can be better understood if illuminated by accurate knowledge of coeval Jewish values and ethics set down in later times, in the Midrashim, the Mishna and the Talmud. These texts are difficult, and their approach requires the careful application of appropriate historico-critical methods.

In the time of Jesus, reference to the Bible was only to what Christians call the "Old Testament" (preferably, "Hebrew scriptures"). It is important to recognize that this Book is still for Jews a coherent and complete text, the source of a living tradition. It has a living and independent validity, as a record and source of Jewish tradition and teaching. Its integrity must be respected, and consideration of it must not be limited to its significance in Christian teaching.

Jewish life and practice in the time of Jesus, and still more so Jewish life and practice today, cannot be circumscribed by reference to the Bible. Throughout the intervening centuries, and continuing in the present time, Judaism has produced a vast and still growing literature which provides theological insights of indispensable value.

Christianity also has been developing throughout the ages. As in the case of Judaism, this development has led to diversity. There is much parallelism in the evolution of both, underlining the origins they have in common and the shared ideals and hopes to which both aspire.


It is the aim of these guidelines to foster the production and use of texts which dispel the inaccuracies and misconceptions which have been the seeds of prejudice and persecution. It is their further objective to encourage continuing scholarship, research and dialogue.

Teaching of history

In this field as in every other, attitudes are formed by exposure to teaching approaches and materials, and of course to people

Criteria for the analysis of the portrayal of Jews and Judaism in textbooks for religious instruction and catechesis have been developed in different countries. With regard to the teaching of history such criteria already exist at least in one country (West Germany): Chaim Schatzker, Die Juden in den deutschen Geschichtsbüchern(“Jews in German History Books”), 1981.

On the basis of Schatzker’s school-textbook analysis, the ICCJ and/or the Deutscher Koordinierungsrat der Gesellschaften für christlich-jüdische Zusammenarbeit should submit to German governmental authorities, as well as to school-textbook publishing houses, to authors, to historians and to suitable journals, proposals for the revision of history textbooks. Similar presentations should be made to appropriate authorities in other countries.

A basic principle should be established: that nothing should be presented in isolation from the comprehensive historical context of Judaism, of Jewish life or of Jewish-Christian relations.

Jews in antiquity

The specificity of Jewish life and faith, including Jews’ perceptions of themselves, require careful analysis. Jews must not be disparaged on the grounds of stereotypical portrayals of their relationships to the newly-developing Christianity, in the stereotypical images that the Pharisees manifested moral enmity towards Jesus, that the Jewish people were responsible for Jesus’ death, that only Christianity offered a God of love in contrast to the Hebrew God of law, that Christianity had displaced Judaism, that only Christianity had a universalist orientation. On the contrary, the emergence of the Christian faith community must be shown to have occurred within the framework of Judaism (viz: the Jewishness of Jesus and his disciples, the rapid spread of Christianity across Diaspora Judaism, etc).

The divergence of early Christianity from Judaism must be presented in the full detail of their historical relationships in those early days of the Christian era.

The destruction of the Temple in the year 70 of the Christian era, and of Jerusalem in the year 135, must not be interpreted as denoting the end of Judaism and of the Jewish people. The religious and cultural reconstruction of Judaism by Pharisaic-rabbinic initiatives, enabling the Jewish people to preserve their identity and vitality in a life lived increasingly in the diaspora, requires an attention hitherto not accorded to it.

Jews in mediaeval times

The persecution of Jews was often justified on the basis that they were usurers; but it must be recognized that most other occupations were closed to them, and indeed that other people – Lombards, Fuggers, et al. – were also engaged in money-lending, but did not generally receive the same opprobrium.

The history of mediaeval Jews must not be limited to stories of martyrdom. Due attention must be paid to the economic, social and spiritual contributions of Jews to the life of the world, contributions of which the Christian peoples of the West were significant beneficiaries: in philosophy, astronomy, medicine, trade, linguistics, theology, etc.

Judaism in recent centuries

The evolution of Judaism and of Jewish life in recent centuries cannot be adequately understood without a comprehensive historic consideration of many elements, of which the following seem especially significant:

  • The attitudes towards Jews manifested by Martin Luther and the Reformation;

  • The Enlightenment, together with the presupposition and the reality of emancipation;

  • Jewish assimilation, and its relation to the racialist antisemitism of the 19th century and to the eventual birth of Zionist movement;

  • The contribution of Jews to the cultural, economic and social life of each country;

  • The persecution and extermination of Jews under the Nazi regime, as the culmination of a two-thousand year-old anti-Jewish tradition;

  • The State of Israel, in the light of history and of present-day problems, and its impact on the Jewish people and on the world.

Judaism, the Jewish people and Jewish intellectual activity did not vanish with the arrival of Jesus, remain in ghostly limbo for 1900 years and reappear in the twentieth century. Their continuity needs to be restored to the historical record. It is worth noting that history books have often, perhaps unconsciously, uncritically assimilated theological or religious judgments.

The objective transmission of historical information and analysis is an exacting responsibility for teachers of history. This is even more true where Jewish history is concerned, and the human dimension deserves special attention.


Existing history textbooks require careful and objective re-evaluation. It is true that formal history lessons are not the only factors which influence attitudes; but young people especially must be helped, at the very least in this formal way, to recognize and understand the historical root of prejudice and be motivated towards respect and friendship for all.

The ICCJ should create an appropriate committee for the pursuit of the work begun at the 1983 Consultation including the application of these considerations to the various social sciences.

Seminary education

Specific courses in Judaism and in Jewish history are important, indeed essential, in seminary curricula; but consideration of Christian-Jewish relationships at the theological level also involves central elements of the core courses of those curricula, especially scripture, systematics (dogmatics), liturgy, church history and ethics.

General recommendations

Christian seminary students, and faculty members as well, should be exposed to the active teaching presence of Jewish scholars, especially but not exclusively in the areas of scriptural study and church history. The engagement of one or more full-time Jewish faculty members would be ideal; at the very least, Jewish lecturers should be brought in to deal with pertinent topics.

Qualified Christian theological students should be encouraged (and supported) towards further education at Jewish institutions of higher learning, in rabbinics and other Jewish studies.

Chairs of Jewish Studies should be established at Christian and non-denominational universities.

Attention should be given to continuing education programmes, to the use of the media (e.g. religious publications), and to the development of appropriate curriculum materials for "world religion" courses.

Hebrew Scriptures

The Hebrew Bible must be understood in its own right as the word of God. A historico-critical methodology, proceeding objectively, will provide the initial approach to understanding the text as it was written in its own time.

Christian theological students should be aware of, and able to use, Jewish sources of biblical interpretation, both classical (rabbinic, mediaeval) and contemporary.

Based on this foundation, the implications and consequences of such approaches need to be raised within the context of systematic theology.

One cannot be satisfied with any methodology of "Old Testament Theology" which would organize biblical thought solely around theological categories derived from Christian doctrine.

Christian theological students must be able to read and study the Hebrew scriptures in Hebrew. No translation, or study based on a translation, is really adequate today.

Specifically Christian Scriptures ("New Testament")

Students must develop the skills necessary to read the texts, normally and fully, in a critical way, always aware of their historical development.

Students must develop the ability to understand the Christian scriptures within the richly complex and evolving setting of Second Temple Judaism, with its wide spectrum of attitudes from the apocalyptic to the Pharisaic/rabbinic. Contemporary Jewish literature also has a wealth of pertinence.

The "Jewishness of Jesus" is important not only in terms of Jesus’ heritage and life as a Jew but also for the proper placement of Jesus’ teaching within the framework of the Jewish thought of that time.

Teaching must be founded on the latest and best of modern scholarship, both Christian and Jewish; the latter is less well known to most Christians.

Difficulties exist regarding "problematic" (i.e. "anti-Jewish") texts, both hermeneutically and as regards homiletics. They must be honestly faced. The polemical expressions contained in these texts must not, however, be conceded as valid for authentic Christian reflection on Jews and Judaism today.

Scriptures need to be viewed as historically conditioned. Elements which are of relatively later origin and which may possibly be considered not to be "authentic logia" of Jesus, may thus be judged to have been valid in the context in which they were set down (a complex question in itself) but not binding upon Christians today as a properly Christian approach to the Jewish people. Passages in Christian scriptures must be related to the context of the whole text, and to the underlying spirit of love and truth of the gospel message.

Church history

The parallelism, and frequent intersection, of Church history and Jewish history deserve special study; this will provide enriched illumination of key issues and events. Jewish chronicles and other primary sources should be read together with Christian accounts of major phenomena (the Crusades, the Inquisition, etc.). such "bifocal" views are of exceptional value in understanding history.

Church history tends to be primarily that of the conclusions of theological debates and controversies, and tends to stress that which is deemed positive in the tradition of each denomination. Yet without the "dark underside" of the tradition, even those positive elements may not be properly understood. Thus, to comprehend the teachings of the Fathers, it is vital to deal also, and in depth with the “Adversos Judaeos” tradition which played such a central (if negative) role in the development of Patristic theology. It can be instructive to juxtapose such elements against the "purer" formulations of creedal development.

Likewise of great significance for the understanding of Patristic and mediaeval thought are parallel developments in rabbinics and in Jewish scholastic philosophy and biblical reflection. In the "Golden Age" (from a Jewish perspective) of Spain, for example, at the turning point of the first millennium there took place, especially in Toledo, a brilliant period of exchange among Muslim, Jewish and Christian thinkers. Such exchanges had a profound impact on the development, first of scholastic, then of Renaissance and ultimately even of Reformation thinking in European Christendom. It is indeed impossible adequately to relate these seminal developments in Western tradition from the viewpoint of Western Christian thinkers alone. One thinks not only of Raymond Lull (13th century Barcelona) but also of Jewish textual criticism and of the influence, by way of translations by Jewish scholars, of Arabic philosophy upon the West. In an age of "internationalization" such as our own, such precious moments of interreligious and intercultural meetings deserve a priority of place in the telling of the Christian "story" through the ages. Further, to understand 20th century Jewish movements, one needs to know their origins in the 18th century “haskalah” (Jewish Enlightenment Movement).

Of significant concern is the lessening of general interest in Church history within theological training.

Liturgy ("Practical Theology")

Scholarly studies in the Jewish roots of Christian liturgy, especially the sacraments but also ecclesial and communal structures, are of central importance and need to be furthered. It is essential to explain the meaning of the use of terms such as "the Jews" in the lectionary. This is especially important in the teaching of homiletics. Christian theological students should be introduced to Jewish liturgy, and given opportunities for participation in synagogue and Jewish home services. The relationship between Jewish law and canon law, and the principle of “halacha” as a life and ritual orientation are a relatively new field of studies. For sacramentology and the theology of marriage, this has special significance.


The promise fulfillment concept to describe the nature of the relationship between the Jewish people and the Church, and the problem of the covenants, are matters of current study which may lead to reinterpretation. Such studies deserve intensive support, and require the cooperation of biblicists and systematicians. The central problem is to state the significance of the Christ event in such a way as to allow "theological space" for Judaism, i.e. to develop an adequate “locus theologicus” regarding Judaism and the relationship within God’s plan between the Church and the Jewish people. This is an undeveloped theological mystery (properly so-called) that lies at the heart of the very identity of the Church. The implications of the acknowledgement that the “Jewish covenant has not been revoked” by God remain also to be developed, and stand as a challenge to the categories of traditional Christian doctrinal affirmation. Here too, biblicists and systematicians need to work together.

A very complex and challenging set of questions lies in the area of “mission and dialogue.” This also needs to be considered from the ecclesiological point of view. With respect to “eschatological” insights of the "already/not yet" tension of Christian theology must be taken into account. Christians and Jews each in their own tradition, await the "perfect fulfilment" of the Messianic promises in the final coming of the Kingdom (“malchuth”) at the end of time.

Recent official Church documents, such as the 1982 "Ecumenical Considerations on Jewish-Christian Dialogue" of the World Council of Churches and the 1975 "Vatican Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate (No 4)", raise profound questions which require in-depth study in systematics (dogma, doctrine) courses in graduate theology schools.

Reclaiming a proper accent on the absolute supremacy of “the Father” (1 Cor 15:28) in prayer and spiritual formation can be helpful in avoiding misunderstanding. The Roman liturgy, save for the prayer for peace is mainly addressed to the Father. Unity in witnessing to the very same, One God, the God of Israel, is an emphasis vital to proper dialogue (cf. Acts 22:14). The uniqueness of the relationship between the Church and the Jewish people, especially as related to Christian unity but also to dialogue with Islam, deserves fuller attention. Jewish-Christian-Muslim "trialogues" exist today in only a few places, but this three-way dialogue deserves increased academic attention. The changing evaluations of the Hebrew Scriptures need to be systematically considered. It is essential to the integrity of the Christian faith that the two "Testaments" be deemed of equal value as the Word of God.

Continuing problems

Current manifestations of antisemitism form a distinct pastoral problem with which students will be faced in their ministries. There are theological, ethical and sociological questions involved in honestly confronting the Holocaust within Christian educational settings.


In each country, and indeed in each community, people of good will must seek unending opportunities for dialogue and understanding, and exert influence towards improvement of the society in which they live.