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Within Context: Guidelines for the Catechetical Presentation of Jews and Judaism in the New Testament

Prepared in cooperation with the Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations, National Conference of Catholic Bishops; Adult Education Section, the Education Department, U.S. Catholic Conference; and the Interfaith Affairs Department, Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. Originally published in 1986, it was slightly updated a few years later for inclusion in the companion collection of essays in David P. Efroymson, Eugene J. Fisher, and Leon Klenicki, eds., Within Context: Essays on Jews and Judaism in the New Testament (Philadelphia: American Interfaith Institute, 1993). Posted with the permission of Eugene J. Fisher.


Introduction: Why New Guidelines?

"Because of the unique relations that exist between Christianity and Judaism--'linked together at the very level of their identity' (John Paul II, March 6, 1982)--relations 'founded on the design of the God of the Covenant' (ibid.), the Jews and Judaism should not occupy an occasional or marginal place in catechesis: their presence there is essential and should be organically integrated."

This statement is taken from the recent Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis of the Roman Catholic Church, issued by the Holy See on June 24, 1985 (USCC Publication No, 970). The guidelines which follow aim to provide a practical and readable tool that can be used by the average teacher in an American context to implement the universal catechetical principles set forth by the Vatican Notes.

The discussion of the drafting committee, and consequently these guidelines, centered especially on sections III, IV and V of the Notes. These sections of the Notes deal with the New Testament portrayal of Jews and Judaism, and with the origins of Christian liturgy in Second Temple Judaism. The table of contents illustrates some of the major themes of the Notes which have been expanded in the present document.

No attempt has been made here either to resolve the theological questions raised in other sections of the Notes or to delineate for classroom use the many complex historical issues of Christian-Jewish relations over the centuries (Notes, Section VI). The present attempt has been to stay well within the parameters of what is already clear and certain in the official teaching of the Church since the Second Vatican Council, leaving for a future effort issues still under consideration by the magisterium and in the ongoing dialogue between the Church and God's people, Israel.

It must be stated, however, that the consensus that emerged in the working sessions of the drafting committee, and which is reflected in these guidelines is remarkable. The unanimity of view is especially significant given the often tragic nature of the long history of relations between Christians and Jews that set the inevitable background of our discussions. Two decades of dialogue may appear a fragile screen to interpose between the present and two millennia of troubled past. Yet, in the words of the Notes, a "common hope in Him who is the master of history" and, if I may say, a common faith in the redeemability of history sustained us. At this level, we came to learn, whatever other differences we might have, that essential messages in both Testaments can find a deeper convergence, making possible a joint witness of shared hope and reconciliation.

May, 1986. Eugene J. Fisher



The Background of Within Context: Catechetical Renewal in the United States

It is important to situate the guidelines which follow in the context of efforts already taken in the United States to implement the Second Vatican Council's historic call for a renewal of Catholic teaching regarding Jews and Judaism.

With the promulgation in October, 1965 of Nostra Aetate, the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, a new page was turned in the ancient relationship of the Church to the Jewish people, and therefore in the Church's understanding of its own mission and nature. This was followed in 1975 by the promulgation by the Holy See of its "Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Document, Nostra Aetate, No. 4," and in 1985 by the issuance of the above mentioned catechetical Notes by the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.

Meanwhile, work in the United States to implement Nostra Aetate was also progressing. In 1967, the Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) issued the first "Guidelines for Catholic Jewish Relations." These were updated in 1985 to reflect advances in understanding through dialogue in the intervening years (USCC Publication No. 966). In November of 1975 the NCCB issued its "Statement on Catholic-Jewish Relations," which carried further the theological task of interpreting the New Testament text, especially the Epistles of Saint Paul.

In 1978 the USCC Department of Education and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith (ADL) cooperated in the publication of Understanding the Jewish Experience, which provided model teacher-training programs for Catholic educators.

In 1979, the ADL and the NCCB Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations cooperated in publishing and distributing nationally Abraham Our Father in Faith, a religion teachers' curriculum guide produced by the office of the Superintendent of Schools of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which has since been translated into Spanish for distribution throughout Latin America by CELAM, the Latin American Bishops Conference.

Underlying and supporting such national efforts over the years have been countless academic exchanges and diocesan sponsored dialogues and studies in every region of the United States and Canada. Special recognition should be given here to textbook studies originally initiated by the American Jewish Committee. The first Catholic self-study of religion texts was done by Sister Rose Thering as a doctoral dissertation for St. Louis University in 1961. For a report on the Thering study, see Rev. John Pawlikowski, O.S.M., Catechetics and Prejudice, Paulist Press, 1973. This study was updated in 1976 to include post-Conciliar teaching materials (also in the form of a doctoral dissertation for New York University), by Eugene Fisher, Faith Without Prejudice, Paulist Press, 1977, and again by Philip A. Cunningham for Boston College in 1992.

Thus there existed a rich background, not only in official documentation but also in religious education programming and textbook analysis, which the group was able to bring to bear on the task of interpreting the Vatican Notes and rendering them into practical principles for use in classroom and adult education settings. Within Context can also be used as a helpful evaluative tool for the production of catechetical textbook series and audiovisuals on all educational levels.

Guidelines for Teachers

What follows is meant to provide insight and direction for catechists, homilists and textbook publishers in their presentation of the subjects treated. It is hoped that they will help to correct misunderstandings, enlarge vision and, through proper interpretation of the New Testament text in its fuller context, point to deeper interfaith understanding between Christians and Jews today.

Historical Perspectives

The Jewishness of Jesus

Jesus was born, lived and died a Jew of his times. He, his family and all his original disciples followed the laws, traditions and customs of his people. The key concepts of Jesus' teaching, therefore, cannot be understood apart from the Jewish heritage. Even after the Resurrection, Jesus' followers understood and articulated the Christ Event through essentially Jewish categories drawn from Jewish tradition and liturgical practice. An appreciation of Judaism in Second Temple times is essential for an adequate understanding of Jesus' mission and teaching, and therefore that of the Church itself.

Jewish Society in Jesus' Time

The Judaism into which Jesus was born and in which the early Church developed was characterized by a multiplicity of interpretation of the Scriptures and of Jewish tradition. These combined with external cultural and political pressures, such as the attractiveness of Hellenism and the heavy burden of Roman occupation, to lead to the formation of numerous sects and movements. Such groups included the Sadducees, who were closely associated with the Temple priesthood, held to a literal interpretation of the Bible and tended to cooperate with Roman rule; various groups of Pharisees, who developed a uniquely flexible mode of interpreting Scripture and held doctrines opposed by the Sadducees; Essenes, who strove for a life of abstinence and purity in a communal setting and viewed the established Temple priesthood as violating the Torah's sacrificial law (among the Essenes would seem to be the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls); various other apocalyptic circles, who felt the End was near and the redemption of Israel from foreign oppression at hand; revolutionary movements such as the Zealots, who advocated violent rebellion against Rome; and various political groupings, such as the Herodians, who were supporters of the existing political situation and collaborators with Rome. Given the pressure of Roman occupation, these movements existed in a state of flux and tension rather than as neatly discrete groups.

Pharisees and Sadducees

The Pharisees and Sadducees are the two groups perhaps most frequently mentioned in the gospels, often as Jesus' opponents in particular debates. Here, it is important to emphasize that these groups were quite often at odds with one another and, especially in the case of the Pharisees, often divided among themselves on key issues as well.

In Jesus' lifetime the Pharisees were a popularly based lay group, whose main concern was bringing the people as a whole to a level of sanctity and observance of the Torah then understood as being virtually equivalent to that expected of the Temple priesthood. The Sadducees, allied with the aristocracy and the Temple hierarchy, rejected the innovative interpretations of Scripture offered by the Pharisees and understood religious observance to be defined by literal adherence to the written text of the Bible.

The gospel portrayal of the Pharisees and Sadducees is influenced by the theological concerns of the Evangelists at the time the texts were set in writing some generations after Jesus' death. Many New Testament references hostile or less than favorable to Jews and Judaism actually have their historical context in conflicts between local Christian and Jewish communities in the last decades of the first century (Notes, IV). Gospel depictions of conflict between Jesus and groups such as the Pharisees often reflect the deterioration of Christian-Jewish relations in this later period, long after the time of Jesus. So it is at times difficult to ascertain Jesus' actual relations with these groups.

Still, some things are known which drastically change the traditional understanding of Jesus' relationship with the Pharisees. First, his teachings are closer to those of the Pharisees than to those of any other group of the period, and relatively distant from the biblical literalism that characterized the Sadducees. Secondly, the Pharisees were known to be divided among themselves on key issues, principally between the followers of Beth Hillel and those of Beth Shammai. The latter generally took a more strict interpretation of the law and the former a more lenient approach, from what we know of the two movements from later rabbinic materials. Jesus' interpretations, in the main, would appear to have been closer in spirit to those ascribed by later tradition to the "House" of Hillel. Certain of the conflicts between Jesus and "the Pharisees" as depicted in the New Testament then, may well reflect internal Pharisaic disputes, with Jesus siding with one "side" against the other.

Jewish Roots of Christian Teaching and Worship

Despite the difficulties of historical reconstruction, however, we can say with some degree of certainty that Jesus shared with the majority of Jews of his time a deep reverence for the Torah. Further, his teaching had much in common with teachings distinctive to the Pharisees in the period, for example belief in the resurrection of the dead, emphasis on the love of God and neighbor, expectation of the coming Kingdom of God and a final judgment, the importance of both humility before and trust in God, and the confidence to pray to God as a loving Father (Notes III). Likewise, the early Church organized its communal life and worship principally on Jewish liturgical models such as that of the synagogue (Notes V). Hence, Christian liturgy itself cannot be understood without reference to ongoing Jewish practice and tradition, both biblical and post-biblical (See Sacramental Preparation and Catechesis and Liturgy below).

Catechetical Principles

The Gospels and the Hebrew Scriptures

It is essential to remember that the gospels represent theological reflections on the life and teaching of Jesus which, while historically based, were not intended by their authors to be eyewitness accounts. Indeed, the gospels were set down in final form some 40 to 70 years after Jesus' death. Thus they reflect a long and complex editorial process (Notes IV). In their final form they make use of a variety of literary genres, styles, and rhetorical devices common to the Jewish culture of the times.

Using methods familiar to us from contemporary Jewish apocalyptic and Essene writings (e.g., the Dead Sea Scrolls), as well as early rabbinic literature, the New Testament authors sought to explain their experience of Jesus in terms of their Jewish heritage, especially by using passages from the Hebrew Scriptures. When reading the prophets (e.g., Isaiah 7:14, 52-53; Hosea 11:1; Micah 5:1), the Evangelists interpreted Jewish hopes for deliverance as foretelling Jesus' coming. Such post-Resurrection insights do not replace the original intentions of the prophets. Nor does Christian affirmation of the validity of the Evangelists' insight preclude the validity of post-New Testament and present Jewish insight into the meaning of prophetic texts (Notes I, II). It can easily be seen, however, how use of the same symbols with different meanings can give rise to misunderstandings and even resentment between Jews and Christians today.

The Second Vatican Council clearly taught that God's covenant with and therefore presence among the Jewish people as God's own people has not been abrogated by the coming of Christ: "now as before, God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their fathers; He does not repent of the gifts he makes or of the calls He issues" (Nostra Aetate, No. 4). Thus post-New Testament, rabbinic Jewish insight into the meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures, which Jews and Christians share, retains its own validity. With discerning respect for the differences between Jewish and Christian readings of the Bible, Christian catechesis can and should profit immeasurably from the traditions of Jewish biblical interpretation and spiritual insight.

Jewish Religious Traditions

Since Jewish tradition provides the context not only for Jesus' message but also for the development of the early Church, an awareness of this ongoing heritage is essential for an adequate Christian catechesis. This heritage, it is important to emphasize, involves not simply biblical Judaism, but rabbinic and present day Jewish religious life as well. Just as each successive generation of Christians has reaffirmed and thereby "made its own" the Apostolic witness preserved in the New Testament, so each generation of Jews has continued to carry on Israel's ancient dialogue with God. Thus, in presenting the early Church's witness as a living reality pertinent to contemporary life, catechists do well to present also the living witness of the Jewish people to God's enduring fidelity to His covenant with them (Notes, VI). A tiny sampling of the spiritual riches pertinent to catechesis in ongoing Jewish tradition is given here in the hope of motivating further and deeper study of Judaism among Catholic religious educators.

The Nature of God.

In Judaism, God is seen as the Lord of history, extending justice to all men and women, and as a loving, merciful parent fulfilling both paternal and maternal roles. Rabbinic commentary interprets God's Name in Exodus 34:6-7 as "thirteen names for mercy." God is both transcendent and immanent, King and Father, worshiped in awe yet close enough to "pitch his tent" with His people.

Jewish Ethics.

Jewish ethics are marked by a sense of "imitation of God," from its understanding of Creation (Gen 1:27) to its understanding of Covenant ("Be holy as I the Lord your God am holy," Lev 19:2). The Jewish Law of Love, reaffirmed by Jesus, finds its source and fuller context in the Pentateuch (Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18, 33-34), as do the works of mercy (Lev 19; Deut 9:10-19), forgiveness of one who has wronged you and even the feeding of one's enemy (Exod 23:4; Prov 25:21-22). Rabbinic commentaries on these and similar biblical passages (e.g., on the need for repentance) can add depth of insight and a challenging concreteness to classroom discussion. On the basis of imitating God, for example, rabbinic commentary has expounded on the works of mercy: "He (God) clothes the naked . . . . You, too, should clothe the naked! The Holy One, praised be He, visited the sick . . . . You, too, should visit the sick!" (B. Sotah 14a). Rabbinic writings on the need to imitate God's forgiveness are numerous: "Rabbi Gamaliel said: Let this be a sign to you, that whenever you are compassionate, the Compassionate One wfll have compassion on you" (T. Bab. K. ix, 29, 30); "Be merciful on earth, as our Father in heaven is merciful" (Targ. Jerus. 1. Lev. 22.28).

Pope John Paul II, during his historic visit to the Rome Synagogue, stated that Jews and Christians are, together, "the trustees and witnesses of an ethic marked by the Ten Commandments, in the observance of which humanity finds truth and freedom. To promote a common reflection and collaboration on this point is one of the great duties of the hour."

The Jewish Sense of Mission.

The Jewish sense of mission is expressed in the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and in later prayers from medieval and modern times as "the hallowing of God's name" throughout the world. It is a call to see that God's Name is known, and praised by, all the nations of the earth. This belief that God should be honored by all humanity is developed in the rabbinic idea that God's Covenant with Noah (as distinct from the one with Abraham) is a universal covenant and a means by which all people can be brought to salvation. This universal concept underlies Judaism's vision of God's Kingdom as a time when all nations will come to worship on the holy mountain, and will gather from the East and from the West to sit down together at God's holy banquet (e.g., Isaiah, Micah, etc). The Jewish sense of mission has resulted in many martyrs, not only in biblical times, as reflected in the books of the Maccabees, but during Christian times as well, for example during the Crusades, when thousands of Jews died rather than abandon their faith. This "heroic witness" of the Jewish people through history (Notes VI) needs to be acknowledged and honored today. It is, finally, part of Jewish belief that when the divine Name is praised throughout the world, God's Kingdom will be fulfilled.

Jewish Understanding of God's Reign.

The Jewish understanding of God's reign is of universal harmony and wholeness (shalom), in which all the peoples of the earth will gather to worship God. This understanding of the End toward which all human history is oriented provides a constant and present challenge to Christians and Jews (e.g., Isaiah 2:11; 25; 35; Micah 4:4).

Jewish Prayer and Liturgy.

Jewish prayer—like Jewish ethics—is structured upon the idea of correspondence between heaven and earth. It is, accordingly, divided into two parts of ascending and descending blessings: the worshiper first offers praise to God, naming a special attribute, then asks for blessings which correspond to that quality. The great prayer of Jesus (the "Our Father") is characteristic of Jewish prayer not only in terms of its special phrasing (every line of the Our Father is paralleled in the Jewish prayer book, Siddur) but also in terms of structure. The first part of the prayer consists of ascending blessings in which God is praised as a Father. The worshiper expresses the missionary longing for the honoring of His Name and the coming of His Kingdom. In the second part of the prayer, the worshiper asks for those descending blessings appropriate for God as a Father to bestow: bread, forgiveness, deliverance. In between the two parts is a "hinge" line expressing the desire for correspondence between heaven and earth.

The desire for this correspondence between heaven and earth permeates the Sabbath liturgy, which invariably begins with the same motifs of praise of God and longing for His Kingdom. In rabbinic interpretation, the Sabbath laws are said to anticipate the Kingdom by freeing every creature from ordinary work (even beasts) and banning even the mention of sickness, death, and war. The harmony of the universe at the moment of Creation is recalled and extolled as God's purpose. The seventh day of peace (the Sabbath) is thus seen as the end of time as well as the beginning. The theme of this total peace (shabbat shalom) dominates the liturgy. This sense of wholeness and unity is intended to mark both the hearing of God's word in the synagogue and the festive Sabbath meal in the home. The Sabbath afternoon prayers recognize, however, that this perfect state has not yet arrived by concluding with the pilgrim psalms: an acknowledgment that humanity is not yet arrived at Jerusalem, is still on a journey to the holy society.

The great Jewish festivals underscore in different ways this constant journeying toward wholeness: Passover (Pesach), which celebrates the deliverance from bondage and the movement toward the Promised Land; Pentecost (Shevuoth), which celebrates the giving of the Torah, God's Word seen as the source of life, a bridge between His transcendent being and His indwelling presence; and Succoth or Tabernacles, which is a Festival of Thanksgiving, a Feast of Ingathering. The solemn feasts of New Year and Atonement (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) acknowledge this journeying as the human condition and express it in the realities of human sin and repentance, divine justice and forgiving love.

Torah and Gospel

While the Jewish term, Torah, is usually rendered in English translations as "Law," a more accurate rendering of the Hebrew would be "Teaching" or "Instruction." In Judaism, Torah is the term used to identify the Pentateuch and by extension the whole of the Jewish "Way" of life in covenant with God (Halakah). Torah is thus understood as the revealed will of God, the response God expects of the people whom He has saved and with whom He has entered into an eternal, unbreakable covenant.

Jesus and the Torah. Jesus lived by this Torah and even entered into disputes concerning its meaning. The authority of Jesus' person and the uniqueness of his teaching are highlighted in the gospel texts, and certain of the gospel accounts of disputes between Jesus and his fellow Jews appear to revolve around the authority Jesus claimed for himself as interpreter of Torah.

Jesus accepted and observed the Law (cf. Gal 4:4; Lk 2:21-24), extolled respect for it, and invited obedience to it (Matt 5:17-20). Therefore, it can never be valid to place Jesus' teaching (gospel) in fundamental opposition to the Torah. The dynamic reality that is Jewish Law should never be depicted as "fossilized" or reduced to "legalism." This would be to misread and absolutize certain New Testament polemical passages apart from their particular context and intent. (See Pharisees and Sadducees and The Gospels and the Hebrew Scriptures above.)

Saint Paul and the Law.

While Saint Paul argued that the Law was not binding on Gentiles who had been admitted to the covenant through what God had accomplished in Jesus, he never suggested that the Law (Torah) had ceased to be God's will for the Jewish people. In Romans 9-11, Paul reveals his deep love for his people (9:3), and insists that God has by no means rejected the Jews (11:1-2). Regarding the Jews and the Torah, Paul states that even after the founding of the Church, the relationship is enduring and valid, for "God's gifts and call are irrevocable" (11:29). Even though God has shown His Mercy in allowing Gentiles to become "the children of God" in Christ (9:6-18), Paul's "kin according to the flesh, the Israelites," possess "the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the law-giving, the worship and the promises" (9:4; cf. 1975 NCCB Statement on Catholic-Jewish Relations).

Catechetical Goal.

Catechesis should make clear the sense of "partnership" in God's plan that should prevail in all relations between Jews and Christians. The process of catechesis, in the words of the Vatican Notes, is to bring students to "a greater awareness that the people of God of the Old and the New Testament are tending toward a like end in the future: the coming or return of the Messiah--even if they start from two different points of view. Transmitted early enough by catechesis, such a conception will teach young Christians in a practical way to cooperate with Jews, going beyond even dialogue'' (Notes II, 10-11).

Presentation of Jesus' Passion

It is crucial for catechesis to provide a proper context for understanding the death of Jesus. Like the New Testament as a whole, the Passion narratives of the four gospels are not entirely eyewitness accounts of the historical events, but later, post-Resurrection reflections from different perspectives on the meaning of Jesus' death and resurrection. Common to all accounts is the core gospel message that Jesus died "because of the sins of all, so that all might attain salvation." (Nostra Aetate, No. 4). Any explanation which directly or implicitly imputes collective responsibility on the Jewish people for Jesus' death not only obscures this central truth, but can also lead to antisemitism.

Reconstructing the Events of Jesus' Death.

Biblical scholarship cannot at present reconstruct with full confidence all of the historical events surrounding Jesus' death. All four gospels, however, reveal a striking similarity in certain essentials: Last Supper with the disciples, betrayal by Judas, arrest in an outdoor area outside the city (because the authorities feared Jesus' popularity with his fellow Jews), interrogation before a high priest, appearance before and condemnation by Pontius Pilate, being led off to death at the hands of Roman soldiers, crucifixion, title on the cross ("King of the Jews"), death, burial, and resurrection. These details provide a level of agreement among the Evangelists practically unique in the Jesus story.

Certain differences of detail reflect the individual author's or redactor's own views from the time in which the narrative was set down. Comparison of the various gospel accounts of the Passion can help the teacher to understand what is particular to a given author and what pertains to the essence of the gospels' common understanding of Jesus' death and resurrection. For example, the phrase, "and all the people shouted back, his blood be on us and on our children," is cited only in Matthew 27:25, while both Mark and Luke distinguish between the "small crowd" before Pilate and "the people" who sympathize with Jesus (e.g., Luke 23:27).

Neither John nor Luke record a formal Sanhedrin "trial" of Jesus, making such a scene historically uncertain. Likewise there is a tendency from the earlier gospels (especially Mark) to the later (Matthew and John) to place more and more of the onus on "the Jews" and less on Pilate, who alone had the authority to order a crucifixion (John 18:31), a notion emphasized in Matthew's hand-washing scene (Mt. 27:24). The use of the general term, "the Jews" in the Passion narrative of the Gospel of John can lead to a sense of collective guilt if not carefully explained.

Such scenes, transmitted uncritically in the classroom, can lead to misunderstanding of the nature of New Testament narrative and even to anti-Jewish hostility among students, as history has shown all too well. Therefore, a careful attempt to contextualize passages describing conflict between Jesus and various Jewish groups is essential in catechesis today.

The Pharisees and the Crucifixion.

The Pharisees should not be depicted as implacable opponents of Jesus. They shared with him much that was central to his teaching. Moreover, the Passion accounts do not mention the Pharisees as playing a significant role in Jesus' death. One passage, Luke 13:31, even tells us that Pharisees tried to warn Jesus of a Herodian plot against his life.

The Role of Pilate.

Educators need to stress what is known from extra-biblical material about the oppressive nature of Roman rule in Judea and about Pilate's unsavory historical character. The Roman governor appointed the high priests of the Temple and could depose them at will. Thus, Pilate would have been in control of the situation throughout the events of Jesus' arrest and crucifixion. Pilate is known to have been a particularly strong and cruel procurator. He crucified hundreds of Jews without recourse to Jewish or Roman law. Among them, as we know from the gospels, was Jesus. Pilate was eventually recalled by Rome to account for his cruelties and the unrest in the Jewish population that they precipitated. The Creed, it should be recalled, mentions only Pilate in connection with Jesus' death, not Jews.

The modern experience of oppressed peoples under totalitarian occupation--from France under the Nazis to Afghanistan under the Soviets--may be utilized for an understanding of the tensions between collaborators and patriots.

Catechetical Goal.

The central focus of catechesis should be on the theological significance of the events and on our own participation in it as sinners (Catechism of the Council of Trent). The above principles are especially important in catechesis preparing for Lent and Holy Week (Notes IV).

Catechetical Practices

Maturity in Faith as Catechetical Goal

Fostering maturity in faith is the central task of catechesis, at the earliest age and continuing through life in ways appropriate to the growth of the believer. Mature faith involves the fullest understanding of one's spiritual identity and the fullest respect for the spiritual identity of another. To understand their own identity, Christians need to know and appreciate their rootedness in Biblical Judaism. They need to recognize and accept the fact that Jesus was a devout Jew, and so cherish the Jewish traditions they have inherited through him. They also need to understand that Rabbinical Judaism developed at the same time as Christianity and that both modern religions are characterized by many similar responses to ancient teachings and customs. If their faith is mature, Christians will not be threatened by dialogue with modern Judaism, but rather, challenged and inspired by its spiritual riches. Mature Christian faith sees itself not as opposing Judaism, but as integrally bound with it in fulfilling God's redemptive plan for the world.

Attentive to the same God who has spoken, hanging on the same word, we have to witness to one same memory and one common hope in Him who is the master of history (Notes, I, II).

Sacramental Preparation

While the Catholic definition of a sacrament as "a sign instituted by Christ" might seem to make marginal any reference to Judaism, the reality is that here, as elsewhere in his teaching, Jesus and the early Church drew upon the riches of Jewish tradition. While Jews have never used the vocabulary of "sacrament" as developed in Christian liturgical tradition, the "sacramental view" of life--that Creation is holy and that God speaks and is present to us through material signs--is inherently Jewish.

Signs of God's Presence.

A Jewish concept which profoundly implies this "sacramental" view is found in the rabbinic use the term shekinah, a feminine word signifying divine Presence. Numerous biblical stories describe ways in which God becomes present to the chosen people through concrete signs, e.g., the burning bush, the parting of the Red Sea, the cloud and pillar of fire in Exodus, the cloud which filled the Temple at its dedication (1 Kings 8), and the rush of the spirit upon David at the time of his anointing. Connected with such stories of liberation and empowerment are the Jewish rituals of washings (mikveh), and anointing. The Christian practice of baptism derives from the Hebrew mikveh. Christian practices of anointing reflect the Biblical practice of anointing kings and prophets. The Hebrew term "Messiah" means "the anointed one."

Sacramental Theory.

In addition to the sacramental perspective and the Jewish origins of Christian ritual, Christian sacramental theory is rooted in Jewish concepts of the biblical and Second Temple periods: that human beings stand in constant need of repentance and atonement for sin; that the religious community may make use of the mediating ritual of priests; and that the commitment of married love is so holy that it can stand as a metaphor for the covenant between God and the people of God.

The Eucharist.

The central action of Christian worship--the Eucharist--not only has its origins in the prayers and rituals of the Passover meal (e.g., the blessings over the bread and wine), but takes its essential significance from the Jewish understanding of Zikkaron ("memorial re-enactment"), i.e., the concept that God's saving presence is not only recalled but actually re-lived through a ritual meal. The Synoptic Gospels thus imply that Jesus instituted the Eucharist during a Passover Seder celebrated with his followers.

Catechesis and Liturgy

A primary task of catechesis is preparation for the liturgy. Here, it can be stressed that both Jews and Christians find in the Bible the very substance of their communal worship: proclamation of and response to God's Word, prayers of praise to God and intercession for the living and the dead, recourse to the divine mercy.

The Liturgical Cycle.

The Church's liturgical cycle of feasts parallels that of the Synagogue, and in great part draws its origins and continuing sustenance from it. Both Christians and Jews celebrate the Passover. Jews celebrate the historic Passover from slavery to freedom, and look forward to the fulfillment of human history in an age of universal justice and peace (shalom) for all humanity at the end of time. Christians celebrate the Passover Exodus accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus, likewise awaiting its final consummation at the end of time.

St. Luke describes Jews coming to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost, which celebrates the giving of the Torah. Christians celebrate the Jewish feast of Pentecost as the occasion of the giving of the Spirit to the apostles. Both traditions observe periods of fasting and repentance in their annual cycles. The liturgical spirit of Advent and Lent is paralleled by the equivalent (though in many ways profoundly distinct) spirit of teshuvah ("turning," repentance) and reconciliation evoked by the High Holy Days culminating in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Commentary on this feast in the Jewish Daily Prayer Book (the Siddur) spells out Jewish belief in free will and "the Evil Inclination," the different levels of sin, and the need for continual confession, remorse and a resolution of amendment.

Spiritual Bonds.

Not only the great liturgical cycle but also innumerable details of prayer form and ritual exemplify the "spiritual bond" which the Church shares with the Jewish people in every age. The prayer of hours and other liturgical texts draw their inspiration from Synagogue Judaism and a common Bible (especially the Psalms), as do the formulas of the Church's most venerable prayers, such as the Our Father and other Eucharistic prayers. The offering of bread and wine, for example, is rooted in the Jewish Berakah ("Praising"): "Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth."

As Pope John Paul II stated: "The faith and religious life of the Jewish people, as they are professed and practiced still today, can greatly help us to understand certain aspects of the (liturgical) life of the Church."

Catechist Formation

What is true of catechesis in general is of necessity all the more true of programs designed to prepare catechists. Fostering a positive and accurate appreciation of the Jews as God's people still today and of Judaism as a living witness to God's Name in the world should be an essential and not merely an occasional goal in all program planning (Notes, 1).

Catechists and all teachers of religion share in a special call to hand on the faith of the Church. Catholic faith and Jewish faith are, in the words of Pope John Paul II, "linked together at the very level of their identity" (Rome, March 6, 1982). It is vital that all programs of catechist formation and teacher training provide the elements of Jewish tradition, not only biblical but rabbinic and spiritual traditions and liturgical practice as well. In this way catechists will be better prepared to foster in the students a "full awareness of the heritage common to Jews and Christians" spoken of by the Pope (ibid.) and to share the richness of that heritage.

That this is a task for Catholic "diocesan and parochial organizations, schools, colleges, universities and especially seminaries" is made clear by the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christians (Nostra Aetate, No. 4) and subsequent documents of the Holy See and our own National Conference of Catholic Bishops. It is a task "incumbent upon" teachers and theologians, in the words of the 1975 NCCB Statement on Catholic-Jewish Relations. A rich reservoir of resources for teachers and teacher trainers is already in existence (See Resources for Teachers below).


Preparation and Evaluation of Textbooks


As Bishop Jorge Mejia, then of the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, stated in announcing the promulgation of the Vatican Notes, "It is, in fact, a practical impossibility to present Christianity while abstracting from the Jews and Judaism, unless one were to suppress the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures), forget about the Jewishness of Jesus and the Apostles, and dismiss the vital cultural and religious context of the primitive Church" (L'Osservatore Romano, June 24, 1985). To be true to the task of presenting the Church's own "story" and message to the world, one must strive to present Judaism and the Jewish people accurately, fully and positively.

Publishers should be encouraged by the progress made in Christian-Jewish relations since the Council, and by the Council's own mandate, to grasp the opportunity given today to infuse their textbooks, teacher manuals and audio-visuals with materials drawn from the rich spiritual heritage of Judaism. The principles and practices listed briefly above will provide publishers with a handy checklist of criteria to give to authors and evaluators of all teaching materials. School texts, prayerbooks and other media should, under competent auspices, continue to be examined in order to remove not only those materials that do not accord with the content and spirit of the Church's teaching, but also those that fail to show Judaism's continuing role in salvation history in a positive light.

Reclaiming the Jewish origins of Christianity, together with a sense of the continuing fruitfulness of the Church's spiritual links with the Jewish people today, can greatly enrich and deepen Christian education.

Concluding Reflection

The stress in these guidelines, which are meant to complement rather than replace present Catholic religious education curricula, has been on the "common spiritual patrimony" shared by Christianity and Judaism. This is not meant to diminish the uniqueness of Jesus' message or that of the Church, but rather to deepen that message with an appreciation of its interrelatedness with the ongoing witness of the Jewish people.

Pope John Paul II, addressing the Jewish community in the great synagogue of Rome on April 13, 1986, expressed this vision:

Jews and Christians are the trustees and witnesses of an ethic marked by the Ten Commandments, in the observance of which humanity finds its truth and freedom. To promote a common reflection and collaboration on this point is one of the great duties of the hour . . . . In doing this, we shall each be faithful to our most sacred commitments and also to that which most profoundly unites and gathers us together: faith in the one God who 'loves strangers' and 'renders justice to the orphan and the widow' (cf. Deut 10:18), commanding us too to love and help them (cf. Lev 19:18-34). Christians have learned this desire of the Lord from the Torah, which you here venerate, and from Jesus, who took to its extreme consequences the love demanded by the Torah . . . . The Jewish religion is not 'extrinsic' to us, but in a certain way 'intrinsic' to our own religion. With Judaism therefore we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers . . . . (Origins, April 24, 1986).

Resources for Teachers


Claire Huchet Bishop, How Catholics Look at Jews (Paulist Press, 1974). Studies of Italian, Spanish and French Catholic teaching materials.

Mary C. Boys, Biblical Interpretation in Religious Education (Religious Education Press, 1980). The problems and possibilities of the "salvation history" approach in catechetical theory and practice.

Douglas Charing, The Jewish World (Silver Burdett, 1985). Beautifully illustrated introduction for the late grade or high school.

Emil Bernhard Cohn, The Immortal People (Paulist, 1985). A short and dramatically told popular narrative of Jewish history for adults.

Helga Croner, ed., Stepping Stones to Further Jewish-Christian Relations (Stimulus, Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, 1977) and More Stepping Stones (Paulist Press, Stimulus Series, 1985). These two volumes include the major Catholic and Protestant statements on Christian-Jewish relations.

Philip A. Cunningham, Jewish Apostle to the Gentiles: Paul as He Saw Himself (Twenty-Third Publications, 1986). An excellent popular introduction to Paul's Epistles and their implications for Christian life today.

Annette Daum and Eugene J. Fisher, The Challenge of Shalom for Catholics and Jews (Union of American Hebrew Congregations/National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1985). A dialogical discussion guide to the Catholic Bishops' 1983 Pastoral on Peace and War.

Eugene J. Fisher, Faith Without Prejudice: Rebuilding Christian Attitudes Toward Judaism (Crossroad, 1993). Written for Catholic elementary and secondary teachers, with practical suggestions for classroom use.

Eugene J. Fisher, Homework for Christians Preparing for Jewish-Christian Dialogue (National Conference of Christians and Jews, revised, 1986). A six-session program for high school and adult education programs.

Eugene J. Fisher, Seminary Education and Christian-Jewish Relations (National Catholic Educational Association, 1988). A curriculum and resource handbook for all teachers of theology.

Eugene J. Fisher and Leon Klenicki, Root and Branches, Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity in Their Early Periods (St. Mary's Press, PACE Monograph Series, 1986).

Eugene J. Fisher, James Rudin and Marc Tanenbaum, eds., Twenty Years of Jewish-Catholic Relations (Paulist, 1986). Essays by leading thinkers on the biblical, liturgical and educational implications of the dialogue since the Second Vatican Council.

Edward H. Flannery, The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty-Three Centuries of Anti-Semitism (Paulist Press, 1985). Father Flannery's classic text has been substantially revised and updated.

Leon Klenicki and Eugene J. Fisher, "Basic Jewish and Christian Beliefs in Dialogue," PACE 13 (St. Mary's Press, 1983).

Leon Klenicki and Eugene J. Fisher, "Toward a Catholic High School Curriculum for Teaching the Holocaust," PACE 10 (St. Mary's Press, 1979).

Understanding the Jewish Experience (ADL/USCC Department of Education, 1979). Models for parish teacher-training programs.

From Death to Hope: Liturgical Reflections on the Holocaust (Stimulus Foundation, 1983). A Christian-Jewish Holocaust Memorial Service.

Leon Klenicki and Gabe Huck, eds., Spirituality and Prayer: Jewish and Christian Understandings (Paulist Stimulus, 1983).

Leon Klenicki and Geoffrey Wigoder, eds., A Dictionary of the Jewish-Christian Dialogue (Paulist Stimulus 1984). Many terms Jews and Christians share have different meanings in the two traditions. The Dictionary explains from both viewpoints such key terms as after-life, church, election, eschatology, faith, justice, law, love, martyrdom, Messiah, repentance, sacrament, salvation, sin, and tradition.

John T. Pawlikowski, O.S.M., Sinai and Calvary (Benziger, 1976). Teacher background on Judaism and Christianity through history.

John T. Pawlikowski, O.S.M., What Are They Saying About Christian-Jewish Relations? (Paulist, 1979). Survey of contemporary theological and scholarly biblical opinion for the general reader.

John Pawlikowski, O.S.M., and James Wilde, When Catholics Speak About Jews: Notes for Homilists and Cathechists (Archdiocese of Chicago, Liturgy Training Publications, 1987). Guidelines and ideas on the proper presentation of Judaism by catechists and homilists.

A. James Rudin, Israel for Christians (Fortress Press, 1983). A rabbi discusses Zionism and the modern state of Israel for Christian readers.

Anthony J. Saldarini, Jesus and Passover (Paulist, 1984). Popularly written exposition of the Passover and its relationship with Christian liturgy.

Lawrence H. Schiffman, Judaism: A Primer (Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, 1986). A basic introduction to Jewish beliefs, practices, and history.

F. M. Schweitzer, A History of the Jews (Macmillan/ADL, 1971). By a Catholic author for the general reader.

F. E. Talmage, Disputation and Dialogue (KTAV/ADL, 1975). Key readings from Christian and Jewish masters over the centuries on topics such as Messiah and Christ, Law and Grace, Letter and Spirit.

Rose Thering, O.P., Documentary Survey Report of Catholic Institutions' Implementation of Official Church Teaching Since the Second Vatican Council (Seton Hall University, 1985). A study of educational programming concerning Jews and Judaism on the elementary, secondary, college, and university levels.

Norma Thompson and Bruce Cole, eds., The Future of Jewish-Christian Relations (ADL/Character Research Press, 1982). Essays on the prophets, the Holocaust, mission, liturgy, and education.

Edward Zerin, What Catholics And Other Christians Should Know About Jews (Wm. C. Brown, 1980). High school level introduction to Judaism for Christians.

Abraham, Our Father in Faith (Superintendent of Schools Office, Archdiocese of Philadelphia, 1979). A curriculum guide for religion teachers on the primary and secondary levels.


Face to Face (Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, 823 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017). An interreligious bulletin of Christian-Jewish relations. Quarterly.

SIDIC (Via del Plebescito, 112, 00186, Rome, Italy). Published by the Sisters of Sion in Rome, each issue (three times a year) is devoted to a special subject of interest to educators, such as catechesis, the family, the chosen people, prophetic texts, and liturgy.


Christians and Jews: A Troubled Brotherhood, a filmstrip created by Sister Suzanne Noffke, O.P., presenting through images of art and sound the history of the relationship over the centuries.

Heritage: Civilization and the Jews. A nine-part public television series with text by Abba Eban and viewer's guide with discussion group activities available from Heritage Education Division (WNET/THIRTEEN, 356 W. 58th Street, New York, NY 10019). A Christian-Jewish Study guide has been prepared by the Interreligious Affairs Department of the American Jewish Committee (165 E. 56th St., New York, NY 10022).

A Moment in History. Visit of Pope John Paul II to the Rome Synagogue. Catholic Telecommunications Network (3211 Fourth St. N.E., Washington, D.C. 20017).

The Courage to Care. Rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust, with text ed. by Carol Rittner, R.S.M., and Sandra Myers (ADL).