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The Church and the Jews

English translation by Phil Jenkins

I. Jesus Christ - Our Approach to Judaism

He who encounters Jesus Christ encounters Judaism. According to the evidence of the New Testament he, as 'son of David' (Rom. 1:3) and 'son of Abraham' (Mt. 1:1; cf. Heb. 7:14) and 'of their flesh' (Rom. 9:5), was descended from the People of Israel. 'When the appointed time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born a subject of the Law' (Gal. 4:4). According to his human nature, Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew; he stemmed from Judaism. According to his ancestry, he has a place in the history of the people of Israel (cf. the genealogy of Jesus Mt. 1:1-17 and Lk. 3:23-38).

Today Jewish authors too, are discovering the 'Jewishness' of Jesus. Martin Buber saw in Jesus his 'big brother'.1 Schalom Ben-Chorin acknowledges: 'Jesus is for me the eternal brother, not only a human brother, but also my Jewish brother. I feel his brotherly hand which grasps me, so that I should follow him...His faith, his unquestioning faith, absolute trust in God the Father, readiness to submit himself completely to the will of God, that is the attitude that we see in Jesus as an example, and which can bind us-Jews and Christians .2

II. Israel's Spiritual Heritage

Jesus Christ, through his Jewish Origin, brought a rich spiritual heritage from the religious traditions of his people into the Christian faith, so that Christ, is 'spiritually bound to the tribe of Abraham'3 and perpetually draws on this heritage.

1. Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament

First, one points to the Scriptures of Israel, called by Christians the 'Old Testament' (that is, The Hebrew Bible). When the New Testament speaks of 'Scripture' or 'the Scriptures' or refers to that which is 'written' (cf., for example, Mt. 4:6; Mk 1:2; Lk. 24:44-46; Jn 19:36f.; 1 Cor. 15:3f; 2 Cor. 4:13; Gal. 3:10-13), it is referring to the Old Testament. The Second Vatican Council teaches: 'God, with loving concern contemplating and making preparation for the salvation of the whole human race, in a singular undertaking chose for himself a people to whom he would entrust his promises...The story of salvation, foretold, recounted and explained by the sacred authors, is presented as the true Word of God in the books of the Old Testament.4 The Old Testament is a source of belief common to Jews and Christians, although for Christians the New Testament has become a special source of belief. In the Old Testament the God of Revelation speaks, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who is also the God of Jesus. In addition, the Vatican 'Guidelines' on the Implementation of Nostra Aetate (N. 4), issued 1 December 1974 states: 'An effort will be made to acquire a better understanding of whatever in the Old Testament retains its own perpetual value, since that has not been cancelled by the later interpretation of the New Testament. Rather, there is a reciprocal elucidation and interpretation.5 One must not contrast the Old Testament and the Jewish tradition founded on it with the New Testament in such a way that the Old Testament appears to embody a religion of Justice, Fear and Law without the call to love God and one's neighbour (cf. Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18; Mt. 22:3440).6 The Church has rightly constantly refused all attempts aimed at removing the Old Testament from its scriptural canon and leave only the New Testament.

2. Belief in One God

The Hebrew Bible testifies above all to the one God: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is One!' (Deut. 6:4). This sentence is the 'credo' of the Jewish religion that is recited at family prayers, morning and evening as it is in the Synagogue service. To the question of the Scribes, 'Which is the first of all the commandments?' Jesus answered: 'The first is, "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength" '(Mk 12:29f.). The council teaches: God, 'did acquire a people for himself, and to them he revealed himself through word and deed as the one true living God, so that Israel might experience the ways of God with men, and that through the word of God out of the mouths of prophets they had to understand his ways more clearly and more fully, and make them known more widely among the nations (cf. Ps. 21:28f.; 95:1-3; Is 2:1-4; Jer. 3:17).'

3. Belief in the Creation

This one God is also the Creator of the whole world. With classic precision, that is immediately expressed in the first verse of the Bible: 'In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth' (Gen. 1:1). These words maintain the idea that the Creator and creation are not identical or interchangeable. They prevent a worldly idolatry, although Israel has, through her fascinating, thorough system, seen and extolled the world in her prayers. They protect the mind of man from the gnostic-neoplatonic interpretation of the world according to which the world was not created by God but emanates from Him, and guards it from that idealistic philosophy according to which the history of the universe is a self-development of God. Through Jesus and the Church the message of creation in the Old Testament came to the people of the world. It helps to acquire the right relationship to the world.

4. Man Is God's Image

Of particular significance today is the teaching of the Hebrew Bible that man is made 'in the image of God'. 'Then God said, "Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild beasts and all the reptiles that crawl upon earth." God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them' (Gen. 1:26f.). 'God made man imperishable and made him in the image of his own nature' (Wis. 2:23). The precept of man's image in God implies the incontestable dignity of man, and thereby also what man calls today 'human rights'. According to Jewish teaching, one who kills diminishes his likeness in the image of God.8 One may not despise his neighbour, because he is made in the image of God.9 The Lord created man with his own hands and made him in the likeness of his own countenance . . . He who despises the countenance of man, despises the countenance of the Lord!10- The letter of James, taken entirely from this belief of Judaism, puts it thus: 'We use it [the tongue] to bless the Lord, but we also use it to curse men who are made in God's image' (Js. 3:9).

5. Covenant

Israel knows that it has made a covenant with its God. This covenant is grace, and, at the same time, commitment. The demands of the covenant are aimed at the exclusive veneration of Yahweh through Israel. The 'rule of the covenant' reads: 'You will be my people, I will be your God.' The prophets warn their people about breaching the covenant.

The Hebrew Bible tells, too, of a former covenant with Abraham (cf. Gen. 15), where God gives to Abraham the sworn pledge of the fulfillment of the Promised Land; and, again, with Noah (cf. Gen. 9:9-17). The picture of salvation, in which the covenant with Noah is involved, is all-embracing, in that it refers to the whole 'earth' (Gen. 9:13), to 'all living creatures, (Gen. 9:10-12, 15, 16), to 'every living creature of every kind that is found on the earth' (Gen. 9:16f.) including the animal kingdom (Gen. 9:10). So it means that 'the history of nature and mankind is based on God's approval of his creation. God's approval of all life, so that neither through any catastrophe in the course of history, nor...through lapse, corruption or rebellion of man, can it be upset. God's promise will continue as strong as iron as long as earth exists11 I God will save the world, even if the earth is once again 'defiled under its inhabitants' feet, for they have transgressed the law, violated the precept, broken the everlasting covenant' (Is. 24:5). God fulfils that which was promised in the covenant with Noah, which he concluded with the whole world, with all mankind.

The guarantor for the final fulfillment of the obligation of the covenant is the 'Divine Servant' whom God selects, in person, to be 'the covenant of my people' and at the same time 'the light of the nations' (Is. 42:6). According to Christian belief, he has appeared in Jesus Christ, whose blood, shed on the Cross, clearly refers to the 'blood of the covenant shed for many (Mk 14:24; Mt 26:28) as does the Chalice offered by him as the 'new covenant in my blood' (Lk. 22:20: 1 Cor. 11:25). Jesus makes use of this concept of Jewish tradition for the interpretation of his death. Salvation manifests itself as a covenant into which God has entered as a permanent act of faith with Israel and the whole world, a "covenant" that God will not forget his creation. The Creator is also the Redeemer (cf. Is. 54:5).

6. Commandments and Conscience

What the pious Jew holds particularly dear to this day is a life conforming to God's doctrine, called in Hebrew, 'Torah'. This 'doctrine' governs the everyday life of Jews before God. The core of the 'doctrine' is the Ten Commandments. Jesus, too, plainly accepted the commandments (cf. Mk 10:19). The 'Ten Words', as they are called in the Old Testament, mark the standard for the conscience of all mankind, not only the Jews. They are the embodiment of the ethical awareness of the human race. According to the Apostle Paul, they are 'by nature' 'written in the hearts [of all men]'-'they can call a witness, that is, their own conscience-they have accusation and defense, (Rom. 2:14f.). They are defined in positive phrases, and without their observation there is no true community life nor true relationship with God. The experience of history teaches that without a conscience based on God's precepts man becomes a beast. Opportunity for tyranny, dictatorship, loss of freedom and personal enmity is great. The commandments describe the spiritual order of man's behaviour; they are, therefore, indispensable for all time.

7. Messianic Hope

Messianic hope originates also in the Jewish religion. Its origins were already bound up in the Dynasty of David. Attention is drawn 2 Sam. 7:12-16: 'And when your days are ended and you are laid to rest with your ancestors, I will preserve the offspring of your body after you and make his sovereignty secure. It is he who shall build a house for my name, and I will make his royal throne for ever. I will be a father to him, and he a son to me...Your house and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me and your throne be established for ever.' The prophets of Israel established the Messianic hope time and again and bore witness to it in a distinct manner. If we ask what brought the Messianic tidings to mankind, three answers present themselves:

  1. The Messianic idea springs from man's cyclic thought. The history of the world does not move in a circle, is not the endless return to the same point; the Messianic promise allows history to be judged.

  2. This movement of history towards a God-centred goal is a movement from disaster to salvation.

  3. The turning towards salvation will be brought by an ultimate Redeemer, who will be called the Messiah.

The Messianic hope came to the expectancies and hopes of the people, even if in a different form, through Jesus of Nazareth, whom the Church acknowledges and proclaims as the promised Messiah. In the first instance, Christian Messianism also wanted to be involved in a deep intensification of the relationship with God, so Jesus himself proclaimed his second coming at the end of time as an event that will concern the whole world: 'Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory' (Mk 13:26). The Apocalypse, in particular, understands the second coming of the Lord as a world event in which the 'Antichrist' is destroyed by the returning Messiah Jesus, and a new heaven and earth will be raised.

Messianism is more influential than ever in the world today, even if frequently in a secularised form. The world no longer wants to go in circles, it looks to the future and towards a goal. The Messianic Belief testifies to the future, because it proclaims a coming saviour for Israel and all people. Moreover, Messianic hope unites with a longing for a just world and for total peace for all mankind, announced by the prophets of Israel as a future salvation, although they often link this proclamation with a censure of the social abuses of their time. The New Testament pursues this line. Christ is proclaimed in it as the one appointed to be the judge of the whole world (Acts 17:31) and who came to bring peace to those who were far away, and to those who were near at hand, that is, to all men (Eph. 2:17). The Church waits, with Israel 'for a new heaven and a new earth, the place where righteousness will be at home' (2 Pet. 3:13). Jesus certainly warned too, of false messiahs, who deceive the people with their ideologies (cf. Mk 13:22). Messianism can be perverted. The Church should know that; 'You, therefore, must be on your guard. I have forewarned you of everything' (Mk 13:23).

8. Prayer

Devout Jews are a praying people, glorifying God. From the great Hebrew treasury of prayer the Church has taken, above all, the psalms, which play a great role in public worship and, in particular, in the prayer of the hours. The Lord's Prayer, too, the 'Our Father', modeled on the Jewish prayers of petition, is, much as it bears the stamp of the spirit of Jesus, marked out as special by the salutation, 'Father'. The devout Jew, too, calls for the coming of God's kingdom, desires the hallowing of 'the Name' and concerns himself with the fulfillment of God's will; he prays for his daily bread, the forgiveness of sins and preservation from temptation. The two great hymns of praise form the time of Jesus' childhood, which are used in the Liturgy, the 'Benedictus' (Lk. 1:68-79) and the 'Magnificat', (Lk. 1:46-55), abound with words and phrases from the Old Testament.

9. Attitude to God

Israel's basic attitude before God, as shown in Awe of God, Obedience, Recognition of God, Conversion, 'Commemoration', Love, Trust, Holiness, Praise of God and his holy deeds,12 are also basic attitudes of the Christian community; they are not 'discoveries' of the Church, but belong to the spiritual dowry of Israel to the Church, which she in her mission passes on again to all people, established anew and conclusively in Christ.

10. Exodus, Passover, the Passion, Law, Resurrection

From the spiritual heritage of Israel one can quote those events in which the plan of God's salvation of man is an actual historical fact and can thus be shown. In particular, reference should be made to the following, which are linked: Exodus, Passover, the Passion, Judgement, Resurrection.

The Exodus is for Israel the crucial act of God's deliverance, time and again commemorated in the witness of the Scriptures.'' 'Exodus' means the deliverance out of Egypt's 'house of bondage'. 'We were Pharaoh's bondsmen in Egypt, and the Lord our God brought us out therefrom with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Now if the Holy One, blessed be he, had not brought our fathers forth from Egypt, then we, and our children, and our children's children, would be servants to the Pharaoh in Egypt': so begins the answer in the communal Passover meal to the question of the youngest one present: 'Why is this night different from all others?'14 Exodus means wandering through the desert in Israel's most intense encounter with God and with the experience of his help. Exodus is finally and conclusively the march depicted in the arrival in the land promised by God to Abraham and his descendants. The Exodus brought Israel the experience of life's bitterness, too: the experience (often self-imposed) of suffering and judgement, and, in this respect, the experience of suffering combined with the experience of salvation through God. For this reason Jewish tradition is aware of Exodus as a sign of hope and the final salvation through God in the Resurrection of the dead at the end of time.

The Exodus experience of his people is singularly mirrored in Jesus' departure from his native village of Nazareth and from his kin, in his travels, associated with suffering, through the land of Israel, in his way to Golgotha and the Cross, and also in his Resurrection from the dead and his glorification. 'In contrast with other people, the Jewish people do not commemorate the golden age of power, do not boast of a divine lineage, but recognise themselves as the people of bondage who experience God's redemption, and this brings the past into today's recompense and suffering,'15 The Jewish religion is 'a religion of remembrance'; the concept of 'recollection'; 'remembrance' plays a central role in Hebrew Scriptures. The Jewish Festivals are festivals of remembrance: in its festivals Israel commemorates God's salvation of his people and recalls in them this divine salvation to each generation. In no festival is that more clear than at the Passover, when the Jews commemorate the night when they were freed, and when at the same time, hope is awakened for the time when they finally will be free. In the Jewish festivals the three dimensions of salvation, the Past, Present and Future, prevail.

Without recognition of this continuity, one cannot understand the great feasts of the Christian Church's year, especially the celebration of the Eucharist. Salvation in the past, present and future belongs substantially to them as well; they, too, are commemorations of his miracles. At the same time, although they do not run parallel to the feasts of Israel, they stand in a closely related association with them.16

Even though the Church is convinced that with the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead 'the coming aeon'-a phrase from early Judaism-is projected powerfully into this time, so is there also a lasting, common theme of Christian and Jewish eschatology, as, for instance, in the last clause of the Creed. 'With the prophets and the Apostle Paul, the Church anticipates the day when only God is recognised, when all people shall call the Lord with one voice and "serve him under the same yoke" (Zeph. 3:9).'17 'The Day of God plays as important a part in the Hebrew Bible as it does in the New Testament. This 'Day', according to the prophets and the New Testament, embraces the whole world; it plainly leads towards 'the conclusion'. This 'Day', is not a day reckoned by the calendar; only God knows it and directs it hither. This 'Day' fashions history and carries it to its conclusion. But this 'Day' is also a day of passing over into ultimate salvation and is thus a day of hope for Israel and the Church.

III. The Testimony of the Scriptures and the Church Concerning the Relationships Between the Church and Judaism

1. The Witness of the New Testament

  1. The New Testament makes important statements on the Jewish people. The original missionaries themselves were descended, to a large extent, from the Jewish people; Jesus, life and death took place in the land of Israel; Jesus knows himself 'to be sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel' (Mt. 15:24). The Gospel, and, thereby, Christ's salvation, was 'first' proclaimed to the Jews (cf. Mk 7:27: Acts 2:39:3:26: 10:42;13:46; Rom. 1:16;2:10). The question of the salvation of the Jews was of profound concern, particularly to the Jews of the Primitive Church and to the former Pharisee, Paul.

  2. It certainly cannot be denied that there are also to be found critical statements in the New Testament about the Jews at the time of Jesus. Jesus himself says: 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often have I longed to gather your children as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you refused. So be it! Your house will be left to you desolate' (Mt. 23:37f.). Jesus calls the Pharisees 'blind men leading blind men' (Mt. 15:14) whose sin 'remains' (Jn. 9:41). 'The devil is your father, and you prefer to do what your father wants, (Jn 8:44). Jesus thus establishes responsible behaviour. Paul declares that 'not all those who descend from Israel are Israel' (Rom. 9:6); the Jews certainly have 'fervour in God, but their zeal is misguided' (Rom. 10:2). The Apostle asks reproachfully: 'Is it possible that Israel did not understand?' (Rom. 10:19); he speaks of a 'denial', a 'stubbornness' (Rom. 11:8), a 'stumbling' of Israel (Rom. 11: 11) and of his 'rejection' (Rom. 11:15); the Jews are 'enemies of God...only with regard to the Good News' (Rom. 11:28). The Jews are the people who put the Lord Jesus to death, and the prophets, too. And now they have been persecuting us, and acting in a way that cannot please God and makes them the enemies of the whole human race, because they are hindering us from preaching to the pagans and trying to save them. They never stop trying to finish off the sins they have begun' (1 Thess. 2:15f.). Paul ends up, too, speaking of the persecution to which he was exposed through his fellow Jews (cf. 2 Cor. 11:24-26). The Acts of the Apostles tell, too, of the great difficulties which the Jews caused the Christian missionaries (cf. Acts 13:15;14:5-19;17:5-8;19:12 23:12).

    These are facts that can throw an unfavourable light on Jews. At the same time, however, one must realise that one is dealing with facts from the past which do not warrant an overall judgement of Judaism, and that these negative declarations on the Jews must not be contemplated on their own, but must be seen in association with the many positive declarations in the New Testament.

  3. In the first instance, one recalls the witness of John's Gospel: 'salvation comes from the Jews' (Jn. 4:22). The Saviour, Jesus Christ, stemmed from Judaism.

    Important positive declarations on the Jews are to be found in particular in the letter of St Paul to the Romans: 'Well then, is a Jew any better off? Is there any advantage in being circumcised? A great advantage in every way. First, the Jews are the people to whom God's message was entrusted' (Rom. 3:1f.). This refers to the part of the Hebrew Scriptures that the Christians call the Old Testament. Later it says: 'My brothers of Israel...were adopted as sons, they were given the glory of the covenants; the Law and the ritual were drawn up for them...They were descended from the patriarchs and from their flesh and blood came Christ' (Rom. 9:4f.). Here the prerogative of Israel, as told by the Apostle, is also called its 'privileges', granted by God himself. God does not take these away from the Jews: 'God never takes back his gifts or revokes his choice.'18

    In his letter to the Romans, 11:1f., 'the Apostle writes: 'Let me put a further question then: is it possible that God has rejected his people'? Of course not...I could never agree that God had rejected his people, the people he chose specially long ago.' He asks, moreover, 'Have the Jews fallen for ever, or have they just stumbled'? Obviously they have not fallen for ever, (Rom. 11:11). The Apostle speaks of the 'root' which supports the Church (Rom. 11:18). This refers to the whole people of Israel, not just the 'Fathers' (the Patriarchs). It is not just a question of the 'root', but also of the noble olive and its 'branches' (cf. Rom. 11:16-21).19 That the Apostle stresses the 'root' so strongly-he refers to it four times in Rom. 11:16-18 is because it is the root from which the sap flows to the tree, and through which the tree receives its 'oiliness', that is, its fruitfulness. The (Gentile) Church is grafted on to the holy olive, and through the grace of God 'shares in the root' and the fruitfulness of the olive tree. Even if the Jews for the most part 'stumbled over the stumbling stone' (cf. Rom. 9:32) and, with regard to the Gospel, have become 'blind' (Rom. 11:7.25), according to the Apostle's prophetic announcement the Jews are, nevertheless, not excluded for ever from salvation for this reason: 'God is perfectly able to graft them back again; after all, if you were cut from your naturally wild olive to be grafted unnaturally on to a cultivated olive, it will be much easier for them, the natural branches, to be grafted back on the tree they came from' (Rom. 11:23f.). In addition to this Paul speaks of a mystery which refers to the final salvation of Israel, and which Paul makes known: 'One section of Israel has become blind, but this will last only until the whole pagan world has entered, and then after this the rest of Israel will be saved as well. As Scripture says "the liberator will come from Zion, he will banish godlessness from Jacob" (Rom. l 1:25f.).

    Paul compares the 'blindness' and 'discord' of Israel with regard to the Gospel with a singular, dialectic redemption of pagans: 'Let me put another question then: have the Jews fallen for ever, or have they just stumbled? Obviously they have not fallen for ever: their fall, though, has saved the pagans in a way the Jews may now well emulate. Think of the extent to which the world, the pagan world, has benefited from their fall and defection' (Rom.11:11f.). 'Since their rejection meant the reconciliation of the world, do you know what their admission will mean? Nothing less than resurrection from the dead! (Rom. 11:15) 'God has imprisoned all men in their own disobedience only to show mercy to all mankind, (Rom. 11:32). Only from that point of view is it possible to understand the Apostle's statement that the Jews became antagonistic to the Gospel and enemies only for your sake, (Rom. 11:28), that is, so that the pagans might be saved. There is no question in the letter to the Romans of settling debts with reprisals. We Christians must take seriously the prophetic statement of the Apostle Paul with regard to the final salvation of the Jews, even if we do not know more precisely the way in which God will save 'all Israel.' The Jews remain the 'chosen people, still loved by God' (Rom. 11:28).

    In the Acts of the Apostles one sees the prophetic declaration of the eschatological 're-establishment' of Israel. Thus the Apostles ask of the Risen One: 'Has the time come? Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?' In his answer Jesus does not dismiss this question of the Apostles as an absurd one, he just alludes to the fact that the Father alone, in his authority, decided the appointed time for the 're-establishment' of the kingdom to Israel. The Apostles themselves, however, should proclaim the Gospel as Christ's witness 'indeed to the ends of the earth' (Acts 1:6-8). A re-establishment of the promised kingdom, as the prophets of the Hebrew Bible proclaimed, will also come, even if we do not know more precisely in what way. According to Acts 3:19-21 the Jews must turn to God, 'so that your sins may be wiped out, and so that the Lord may send the time of comfort. Then he will send you the Christ he has predestined, that is Jesus, whom heaven must keep till the universal restoration comes which God proclaimed, speaking through his holy prophets., According to this text, the returning Christ is also the time of comfort for Israel ('for you'-the Jews). The Jews, too, will then be 'comforted' with all the redeemed ones and will be freed from their sufferings and sins. These positive declarations in the New Testament about the Jews and their salvation must be much more strongly considered than previously in Christian preaching and theology, particularly as the Second Vatican Council expressly undertook this task.

2. Declarations of the Catholic Church

  1. In its Conciliar statement Nostra Aetate the Second Vatican Council expressed fundamental principles regarding the relationship of the Church to Judaism:

    'Sounding the depths of the mystery which is the Church, this Sacred Council remembers the spiritual ties which link the people of the New Covenant to the stock of Abraham.

    The Church of Christ acknowledges that in God's plan of salvation the beginning of her faith and election is to be found in the patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. She professes that all Christ's faithful, who as men of faith are sons of Abraham, are included in the same patriarch's call and that the salvation of the Church is mystically prefigured in the exodus of God's chosen people from the land of bondage. On this account the Church cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament by way of that people with whom God in his inexpressible mercy established the ancient covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws nourishment from that good olive tree on to which the wild olive branches of the Gentiles have been grafted. The Church believes that Christ who is our peace has through his Cross reconciled Jews and Gentiles and made them one himself.

    'Likewise the Church keeps ever before her mind the words of the Apostle Paul about his kinsmen: "They are Israelites, and to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ" (Rom. 9:4-5), the son of the virgin Mary. She is mindful, moreover, that the apostles, the pillars on which the Church stands, are of Jewish descent, as are many of those early disciples who proclaimed the Gospel of Christ to the world.

    'As holy Scripture testifies, Jerusalem did not recognise God's moment when it came. Jews for the most part did not accept the Gospel; on the contrary, many opposed the spreading of it. Even so, the apostle Paul maintains that the Jews remain very dear to God, for the sake of the patriarchs, since God does not take back the gifts he bestowed or the choice he made. Together with the prophets and that same apostle, the Church awaits the day, known to God alone, when all peoples will call on God with one voice and serve him "shoulder to shoulder" (Zeph. 3:9).

    'Since Christians and Jews have such a common spiritual heritage, this sacred Council wishes to encourage and further mutual understanding and appreciation. This can be obtained, especially, by way of biblical and theological enquiry and through friendly discussions.

    'Even though the. Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ, neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his Passion. It is true that the Church is the new people of God, yet the Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from holy Scripture. Consequently, all must take care, lest in catechizing or in preaching the word of God, they teach anything which is not in accord with the truth of the Gospel message or the spirit of Christ.

    'Indeed, the Church reproves every form of persecution against whomsoever it may be directed. Remembering, then, her common heritage with the Jews and moved not by any political consideration, but solely by the religious motivation of Christian charity, she deplores all hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism leveled at any time or from any source against the Jews. 'The Church always held and continues to hold that Christ out of infinite love freely underwent suffering and death because of the sins of all men, so that all might attain salvation. It is the duty of the Church, therefore, in her preaching to proclaim the cross of Christ as the sign of God's universal love and the source of all grace.'20

  2. On 1 December 1974 the Vatican Guidelines for Implementing Nostra Aetate (N.4) were issued.21 They mark an important milestone in the history of Jewish-Christian relations. They speak of the gap which became deeper and wider 'to such an extent that Christian and Jew hardly knew each other.'22 It is said that 'the spiritual bonds and the historical links binding the Church to Judaism condemn (as opposed to the very spirit of Christianity) all forms of anti-Semitism and discrimination'; furthermore, these 'links and relationships render obligatory a better mutual understanding and renewed mutual esteem.'23 From the monologue which Jews and Christians have each directed to the other a 'dialogue' must come which demands a 'respect for the other as he is' and shuns all 'aggression'.24 A great openness of spirit, an attitude of suspicion towards one's own prejudices, tact and caution are essential in order not to hurt (even involuntarily) those taking part.25 The Liturgy is then referred to, with its common elements, and the perpetual value of the Old Testament and its later interpretation in Christian theology.26 What began with the Council's change of thought must be continued in study and research.'27 The God of Israel and of Christians is the 'same God'. 'The history of Judaism did not end with the destruction of Jerusalem, and in its further growth evolved a religious tradition, whose development is rich in religious values, even if, as we believe, it has a profoundly different meaning with the coming of Christ.'28

  3. On 22 October 1974 Pope Paul VI set up a Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews which is connected with the Secretariat for Christian Unity and whose members also include Jews.

    In his address to the representatives of Jewish Organisations on 12 March 1979 Pope John Paul II drew attention to the Declaration in Nostra Aetate N. 4 where the Council made clear that 'while searching into the mystery of the Church' it recalled 'the spiritual bond linking the people of the New Covenant with Abraham's stock.' He underlined the value of the 'Guidelines' of 1 December 1974 and encouraged the Church to 'fraternal dialogue' and to 'fruitful working together' and to 'overcoming every kind of prejudice and discrimination' against the Jewish people.

    On his visit to Auschwitz during his tour of Poland, the Holy Father observed: 'In particular I pause with you, dear partners in this meeting, before the tablet with the Hebrew inscription. It stirs memories of the nation whose sons and daughters were condemned to total extermination. This people stemmed from Abraham, our "father in faith" (cf. Rom 4:12), as Paul of Tarsus asserted. This very nation, which received from God the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill", has experienced to a pronounced degree what is meant by killing. No one may pass by this memorial with indifference.

  4. The United Diocesan Synod of Bishops in the Federal Republic of Germany declared emphatically in its Resolution 'Our Hope' (V1, 2) 'for a new relationship with the history of the faith of the Jewish people.' The Statement by the French Bishops' Committee for Relations with Jews 16 April 1973 provides an important stimulus.29 The Working Paper of the Workshop on 'Jews and Christians' of the Central Committee of German Catholics, 'Basic Theological Issues of Jewish-Christian Dialogue', 8 May 1979, is helpful, too.

3. Declarations of Other Churches

It is rewarding to refer to the evangelical reports issued on the theme of the Church and Judaism: 'People, Land and State' - an aid to a theological meditation issued by the Dutch Reformed Church,30 'Christians and Jews' a study by the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany 1975 with the appropriate working paper on the study by the Evangelical Church in Germany,"31 'Reflections on the problem of the Church and Israel,' published by the Executive Committee of the Swiss Evangelical Church of the Confederation, May 1977,32 - and 'Towards the restoration of relations between Christians and Jews - suggestions for the members of Regional Synods, Circuit Synods and the Presbyteries of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland.33

So, at the same time, Christians are thinking of their 'roots', 'Abraham's stock' in a thorough way, more keenly than before. They are reaching a new relationship with their older brethren, the Jewish people, certainly to the benefit of both. Respect and love for one another will come in place of contempt and disparagement. There must no longer be a place for anti-Semitism.

IV. Differences of Belief

In the dialogue between Jews and Christians the differences in Faith must be discussed frankly, even the distinctive, and if necessary, dividing differences; only then will a true and genuine dialogue succeed. The following should also be noted.

1. The Kingdom of God in Jesus the Messiah

In the first instance, the Christian belief is considered, that with Jesus of Nazareth the time has come and the Kingdom of God is close at hand (cf. Mk 1:15). For Christians, Jesus is the promised Messiah, the final era of history starts with him, the kingdom of God extends into 'this eternity'. Jesus' miracles are the 'prophetic sign, of the coming fulfillment, the strength of God's salvation is already effective, particularly in the Sacraments of the Church, the ultimate decisions are made. Christ is our peace, our reconciliation and our life. Indeed, a Christian knows, too, that not all the promises of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible will be fulfilled through Jesus of Nazareth: all-embracing justice is by no means established in the world yet, universal peace is yet to come, death still holds its devastating sway. A Christian must understand when Jews point to this still-outstanding 'balance of promise' and do not want to see Jesus of Nazareth as the promised one.

2. Belief in Jesus Christ

The most profound difference of belief manifests itself in the face of the strong connecting links between Christians and Jews. The Christian belief in Jesus Christ who as a consequence of his crucifixion and resurrection is affirmed and proclaimed, not only as the promised Messiah, but also as the consubstantial Son of God, appears to many Jews as something radically 'unjewish': they see him as an absolute contradiction, if not a blasphemy, to the strict monotheism as it is referred to every day, particularly by devout Jews, in the 'Shema Israel'. The Christian must understand this, even if he himself sees no contradiction to monotheism in the teaching of Jesus, Son of God. For him, the acknowledgement of a 'three-in-one' God is an intensification of the 'oneness' of God, a mystery in which he believes and before which he kneels in prayer.

3. The Problem of the Law

Jesus did not 'abolish the law' but fulfilled it (cf. Mt. 5:17), but to some extent he severely criticised the actual practice of the legal life of his people. He placed the dual commandment of love in the forefront (cf. Mk 12, 30-34). On to the commandment of love he focussed the many commandments and prohibitions of the Torah and the so-called 'traditions of the Fathers', which is the Pharisaic-rabbinic interpretation (called by the Jews 'Halacha'). With regard to the Cross and the Resurrection of Jesus, the Apostle Paul was positive, with the Primitive Church, that the way of man to redemption now leads exclusively through belief in the crucified and risen Christ and no longer through the 'keeping of the law' (Rom. 2:15; 3:20; Gal. 2:16; 3:2-5,10). According to the Apostle's teaching and the Council of Apostles, the Christian was no longer pledged, like the Jew, to live a life directed by the Torah, which certainly did not mean that a Christian might live a 'lawless' life. He is even more bound to the 'law of Christ' which culminates in the commandment of love, in which the law is fulfilled (cf. Gal 5:14; Rom. 13:8-10).

In Christian-Jewish dialogue these differences of belief must be freely discussed.

V. Change of Attitude to Judaism

All too often Judaism was referred to in the Church in a false and distorted way, particularly in sermons and catechisms. False portrayal was the result. Wherever faults or misjudgment exist, rethinking and change of heart are necessary. The following should be particularly noted:

1. The Jews

The expression 'the Jews' which appears repeatedly in St. John's Gospel often leads to theological anti-Semitism insofar as it refers in an uncritical way to the whole Jewish nation in Jesus' time, whereas in reality the expression 'the Jews' meant, as a rule, the adversaries of Jesus who came from the leading groups of contemporary Jews, particularly the priestly caste.34 In addition, one should consider the following: the Evangelist is considering, at the end of the first century, the event of Jesus and his crucifixion. He sets it all on a cosmic universal plane. Thus the 'Jews', insofar as the notion has a negative emphasis, become the representatives of the 'cosmos' hostile to God. The Evangelist suggests, thereby, 'that world' which does not want to know anything of God and Christ. So St John's Gospel sees the trial of Jesus as a 'trial of the world', namely the darkness of the world in opposition to God's light. This has nothing to do with anti-Judaism.

2. The Pharisees

The same applies to the expression 'the Pharisees, often repeated in the Gospels. An examination of the statements about the Pharisees in the Gospels and in the aspects of tradition assimilated in them reveals unmistakably that the Pharisees were increasingly featured as the special enemies of Jesus, and certainly in connection with the process of separation, which was quite severe and difficult, that after Easter divided the Church from Israel. The Pharisees were, at the time of Jesus and later, a rigidly organised and influential group in contemporary Judaism with which Jesus came into conflict, above all because of the interpretation of the Law. They were men for whom the subject of God was of great importance. It is the task of present day exegesis, catechesis and homiletics to speak in a proper way about the Pharisees.

3. Observance of the Law

The devout Jew delights in the Torah. At the end of the Feast of Tabernacles he celebrates a special festival 'rejoicing of the law.' 'In the way of your decree lies my joy, a joy beyond all wealth' (Ps. 119:14): 'I find my delight in your statutes. 1 do not forget your word, (Ps. 119:16) : 'Your decrees are my delight, your statutes are my counselors' (Ps. 119:24); 'Meditating all day on your law, how I have come to love it, (Ps. 119:97). The Jew is aware of the Torah as a pleasure, not as a burden.35 He understands life according to the directions of the Torah, not as 'accumulating of gain' or as prominent 'achievement' to win glory before God, as many Christians suppose. A life according to the Torah, as appreciated by the Jew to this day, must be understood to have three basic elements which determine Jewish understanding of the Law: trust, realisation in deed, and sanctification of the mundane.'' The devout Jew cannot envisage a belief in the One God without obedient realisation of God's instruction according to the Torah. Life conforming to the Torah sanctifies the mundane for this is the true sense of the instructions of the Torah in Jewish understanding. He who, daily and in all things, submits to the yoke of the law, "thereby frees the mundane from profanity and sanctifies his whole life in all his deeds and words. The Jew, Ernst Simon, formulated the facts thus: Jewish law moulds a way of life which is partly ascetic. No sphere of existence, no part of the world is excluded, everything is absolutely set free." The distinguished teacher of early Judaism, Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakki (first century A.D.) said: 'If you have learnt much Torah, do not ascribe any merit to yourself, since it was for this you were created.'38 The Christian must see this, if he wants to judge accurately the life of the devout Jew.

4. Deicide

The Jews must not be referred to as the 'killers of God'. The Council teaches: 'Even though the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ, neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his Passion.'39

Instead of putting the blame for Jesus' crucifixion on others we should think of our own sins, through which we are all implicated in the Cross of Jesus. The Roman Catechism teaches us that not only individuals, but all men are implicated. 'In us such guilt may indeed seem deeper than it was in the Jews, inasmuch as, according to the same Apostle [Paul] "if they had known it (God's wisdom) they would never had crucified the Lord of Glory" (l Cor. 2:8): whereas we both profess to have known him, and yet, denying him by our "works" seem in a way to lay violent hands on him.'40

It was precisely that violent death of Jesus on the Cross that developed into something that made unusually heavy demands on the relationship between the Church and Judaism. This 'historical burden' must be removed by impartial discussions about Judaism. This can be obtained by thorough historical enquiry through Christian theology and the Jewish/Christian dialogue which the Church demands of us.41

Even though the Church had already separated from Israel in the first century A.D., the significance of Israel's redemption and God's pledge of redemption to Israel still continues. We are discouraged from making public statements in this connection, because the salvation of Israel is concealed in God's mystery, just as is the salvation of the whole non-Christian world (Rom. 11:25f).

5. Anti-Semitism

A serious dialogue of reciprocal love and understanding must replace the 'anti-Semitism' which, to some extent, still lives on in Christians. The 'spiritual bonds and historical statements that bind the Church and Judaism condemn any form of anti-Semitism as contradictory to the spirit of Christianity.'42 Anti-Semitism is not only directed at the Good News of Jesus Christ, but ultimately against him himself.

Even though it must be emphasised that Auschwitz was an outcome of the decided defection from Jewish, as from the Christian, faith, so must the terrible happenings which are connected with Auschwitz and the other concentration camps shock us Christians, and stir us to rethinking and a change of outlook.

6. Prayer

Time and again we must comply with the demands of the Good Friday Liturgy: 'Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God, that they may continue to grow in the love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant.' Included also in the Christian duty towards the Jews is the perpetual prayer for the millions of Jews murdered in the course of history and the constant plea to God for forgiveness for the frequent failures and the numerous occasions of neglect which have made Christians guilty in their attitude to the Jews.

7. Guilt and Atonement

In Germany we have particular cause to ask forgiveness of God and of our Jewish brethren. Even though we thankfully remember that many Christians supported the Jews, often at great sacrifice, we may not, nor do we wish to, either forget or suppress what has been done by our nation to the Jews. We call to mind what the Fuldaer Bishops' Conference in 1945, their first meeting after the war, proclaimed: 'Many Germans, including Catholics, allowed themselves to be deluded by the false teachings of National Socialism, and remained indifferent to the crime against human freedom and human dignity; many abetted the crime through their behaviour, many became criminals themselves. A heavy responsibility rests on those, who by reason of their position, knew what was happening in our country, who through their influence could have prevented such crimes and did not do so, and so made these crimes possible, and by so doing, declared their solidarity with the criminals.'43

Once more we admit: 'Among us, countless human beings have been murdered because they belonged to the people from whose stock the Messiah took flesh.' We beg the Lord: 'Lead all to understanding and change of outlook, and those who among us were also guilty, through conduct, neglect or silence, lead them to understanding and change of outlook, that they may atone for their sins. For the sake of your Son, in your boundless mercy, forgive the immeasurable guilt which human atonement cannot expiate.'44

VI. Common Ground

  1. The devout Jew, in everyday life, is conscious of the realisation of God's precept as it is laid down in the Torah. He is preoccupied with 'conduct'. The word 'conduct' also plays a central role in the preaching of Jesus, as the Gospels show. The precepts of the Torah and Jesus, precepts are relevant to the will of God. The Psalmist prays: 'To do your will, my God, is my delight (Ps. 40:9). Jesus teaches:' It is not those who say to me: Lord! Lord!, who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven, (Mt. 7:21). Of himself he acknowledges: 'My food is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to complete his work, (Jn 4:34). Thus the realisation of God's will in the world should be the shared aim of Jews and Christians.

  2. What is striking in the study of the prophets of Israel is the protest which they raised against existing injustice in economic and social fields and against all ideological oppression. Such protest is a permanent obligation for both the Church and Judaism. It is a protest against the many threats to freedom, a protest for the benefit of true humanity and of human rights, of love and of common interest: a protest against the ever-widening spread of lies in the world and in history: a protest against fascism, racism, communism and capitalism. The Judaic-Christian religion is therefore the anti-'opium' for all people.

  3. Christians and Jews should, and can, mutually intercede for that which is known in the Hebrew language as 'Shalom'. This is an all-embracing conception, which means Peace, Joy, Freedom, Reconciliation, Partnership, Harmony, Truth, Communication and Human Concern. 'Shalom' is, furthermore, a universal reality when all mutual relationships are finally settled, the relationships between God and man and between man and man. There must be no more racially-restricted concepts of peace. God does not want an 'Iron Curtain'! The precept of God's image in the Hebrew Scriptures as it applies to each individual, must, through the Gospels, become a universal reality: that all men know each other as brothers. For this reason, religions can no longer identify themselves with specific political doctrines. Judaism and Christianity must work together intensively and steadfastly for unrestricted peace in the whole world.

  4. Man, by himself, is not in a position to lead the world to ultimate salvation. That power is God's alone; that is the conviction of believing Jews and Christians. At the same time, the experience of history helps them. Neither through evolution, nor through revolution, will the world reach ultimate redemption. Evolution produces 'Nature' but not 'Redemption'. Only God leads the world to final salvation. He creates and grants 'the new heaven and the new earth' for which both Jews and Christians are waiting (Is. 65:17; 66:22; Rev. 21:1).

  5. With classic conciseness the Apostle Paul formulated the final goal of all history, and the history of salvation, in 1 Cor. 15:28 - 'God all in all'. Both Jews and Christians can agree with this idea, 'God all in all'. It signifies: Ultimately God and the essence of God will take effect in the universal salvation of mankind. 'The last enemy to be destroyed is death, (1 Cor. 15:26). That God, whom Israel, Jesus and the Church proclaim, will then be revealed. He will awaken the dead and thus show his invincible might. We wait for the resurrection of the dead and the life in the world to come. To bear witness to that in the eyes of the whole world is the mutual task of Jews and Christians.


1. M. Buber, Werke I, (Munich/Heidelberg, 1962), p. 657.
2. Sch. Ben-Chorin, Bruder Jesus, der Nazarener in jüdischer Sicht (Munich, 1967), p. 12.
3. Vatican 11 on the Jews, Nostra Aetate (n. 4). Cf. H. Croner, ed., Stepping Stones to Further Jewish-Christian Relations (London/New York: Stimulus Books, 1977), pp. If.
4. Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum (n. 14). Cf. A. Flannery, ed., Vatican Council II Documents (Dublin, 1975). An American edition appeared at Wm. B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1975.
5. Ibid. Cf. also H. Croner, op. cit., pp.11f f.
6. Ibid.
7. Dei Verbum (n. 14).
8. Mekhilta Bahodesh 8, 72f.
9. Ibid. 20, 26.
10. 2 Enoch 44, 1.
11. C. Westermann, Genesis I (Neukirchen, 1974), pp. 633f.
12. Cf. F. Mussner, Traktat uber die Juden (Munich, 1979), pp. 103-120.
13. Cf. A.H. Friedlander, "Die Exodus Tradition. Geschichte and Heilsgeschichte aus jüdischer Sicht", in H.H. Henrix/M. Stohr, eds., Exodus and Kreuz im okumenischen Dialog zwischen Juden and Christen (Aachen, 1978), pp. 30-44.
14. Ibid., p. 35.
15. Ibid., p. 40.
16. Cf. N. Fuglister, Die Heilsbedeutung des Pascha (Munich, 1963).
17. Cf. Guidelines, in H. Croner, op. tit., pp.11ff.
18. Nostra Aetate (n. 4), with reference to Rom 11:28f; cf. also the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium (n. 16), in A. Flannery, op. cit., pp.350ff.
19. Mussner, op. cit., pp. 68-70.
20. Nostra Aetate (n. 4).
21. Cf. H. Croner, op. cit., pp. 11ff.
22. Ibid.
23. Ibid.
24. Ibid.
25. Ibid.
26. Ibid.
27. Ibid.
28. Ibid.
29. Ibid., p. 60.
30. Ibid., p. 91.
31. Ibid., pp. 133 ff.
32. Cf. Mussner, op. cit., pp. 281-291.
33. Cf. H. Gross, "Tora und Gnade im Alten Testament", in Kairos, NF 14 (1972), pp. 220-231; R.J.Z. Werblowsky, "Tora als Gnadc", in ibid. 15 (1973), pp. 156-163; E. L. Ehrlich. "Tora im Judentum", in Evang. Theologie 37 (1977), pp. 536549.
34. Cf. N. Oswald, "Grundgedanken zu einer pharisaisch-rabbinischen Theologie", in Kairos 6 (1963), pp. 40-58.
35. E. Simon, Brucken, Gesammelte Aufsätze (Heidelberg, 1965) p. 468.
36. Abot 11. 86.
37. Nostra Aetate (n. 4).
38. Catechismus Romanus ex Decreto Concilii Tridentini 1, cap. V qu. 11.
39. Nostra Aetate (n. 4).
40. Cf. Guidelines, in H. Croner, op. cit., pp. 11ff.
41. Pastoral Statement of the German Bishops, August 23, 1945.
42. From the Prayer for the murdered Jews and their persecutors, which on the instructions of the German Bishops' Conference was offered in all German Catholic Churches on June 11, 1961.