Council Holds 17th Annual Conference at Providence College

[Providence, R.I.] The Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations held its seventeenth annual conference on November 4-5, 2018. It was sponsored by the Jewish-Catholic Theological Exchange at Providence College. 

Sunday, November 4

Ketzer keynote 2The conference featured as its keynote speaker, Dr. David Kertzer, the Paul Dupee, Jr. University Professor of Social Science, Professor of Anthropology, and Professor of Italian Studies at Brown University in Providence. He is the author of The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara (a finalist for the National Book Award in 1997), and several other important works, including The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 2015. His study of the Mortara case is the basis for a feature film being developed by Stephen Spielberg. In his remarks, Dr. Kertzer discussed a controversy that erupted earlier in 2018 upon the publication of an English translation of Mortara's memoirs and an ensuing book review that defended the actions of Pope Pius IX. (The pontiff had adopted Mortara as his son after removing him from his Jewish family when his clandestine baptism as an infant was discovered.) Dr. Holly Taylor-Coolman [Providence College] and Dr. Matthew Tapie [Saint Leo University] offered responses. 

panel 1 epfThe public keynote address was preceded by a panel that celebrated the publication of a festschrift entitled, Righting Relations after the Holocaust and Vatican II: Essays in Honor of John Pawlikowski. Co-editors Dr. Robert Cathey [McCormick Theological Seminary] and Dr. Elena Procario-Foley [Iona College] were joined by volume contributors, Dr. Yehezkel Landau [Landau Interfaith Training/Consulting] and Dr. Peter A. Pettit [Muhlenberg College] in describing the book's contents. Dr. Victoria Barnett [United States Holocaust Memorial Museum], who was unable to participate as scheduled, sent remarks that were read aloud by Dr. Procario-Foley. 

Shevet achim 2018 bThe evening was capped by the annual CCJR awards dinner, which was sponsored by the Office of Mission and Ministry of Providence College. The Council's Shevet Achim award was presented to Rabbi Dr. Abraham Skorka for his many decades of service to Christian-Jewish relations. Rabbi Skorka served for over twenty years as the rector of the Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano Marshall T. Meyer in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which prepares rabbis, cantors, and educators from throughout Latin America in the Masorti or Conservative Jewish tradition. He also taught Talmud and Rabbinic Literature there and was dean of its Rabbinical School. In addition, he has served for decades as a rabbi for the Benei Tikva Congregation in Buenos Aires. He is the author of numerous articles in newspapers (La Nación, L´Osservatore Romano) and author or editor of specialized journals and books on rabbinical topics, including "Thousands of Years per Week: Reflections on the Weekly Reading of the Torah" (1997);  "Introduction to Hebrew Law" (2001);  "Towards a Tomorrow without Faith?" (2006); and has coedited the volume Topics of Hebrew Law (2012) [titles translated from the original Spanish]. Following in the footsteps of his mentor, Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer, a disciple of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Rabbi Skorka has been deeply committed to interreligious dialogue throughout his entire career. In the 1990s, he found a new Catholic partner with whom to share this commitment when he was introduced to an auxiliary bishop named Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Throughout the years, as Bishop Bergoglio became archbishop and then cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, he and Rabbi Skorka collaborated on many projects, including a series of television programs of informal dialogues together and a book of their conversations, On Heaven and Earth. In 2013, Rabbi Skorka's friendship with Cardinal Bergoglio was suddenly catapulted to international attention when his friend became Pope Francis. Testimonials to honor Rabbi Skorka were offered by Dr. Burton Visotzky [Jewish Theological Seminary; read by Dr. Ruth Langer], Dr. Philip A. Cunningham [Saint Joseph's University], and Sister of Sion Dr. Celia Deutsch [Barnard College]. CCJR Chair, Dr. Kevin Spicer, C.S.C. presented the award to Rabbi Skorka on behalf of the Council. 

The title of the Shevet Achim award comes from the Hebrew text of Psalm 133:1 — "Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell [shevet achim] together in unity!"  The CCJR has bestowed this honor annually since 2008. Click HERE for a list of past recipients.  [Below (left to right): Ruth Langer, Celia Deutsch, David Kertzer, Abraham Skorka, Kevin Spicer, Philip Cunningham, Arthur Urbano.] 

Shevet achim group detail

Monday, November 5

The second day of the conference featured three panel presentations to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel. 

Landau LangerThe first was “The Land/State of Israel in Jewish Theology.” Dr. Ruth Langer [Boston College] and Dr. Yehezkel Landau [Landau Interfaith Training/Consulting] discussed the centuries-long Jewish hopes for a return to their biblical homeland. Since these hopes were framed in messianic or eschatological categories, the 1948 establishment of the State of Israel and the 1967 extension of Israeli control over biblical Judea and Samaria raised many theological questions. Dr. Langer described the factors that shaped Jewish responses to these developments and Dr. Landau offered "a religious Zionist peace perspective" midway between fundamentalist Zionism and the rejection of the existence of a Jewish state in pre-messianic times. 

The second panel discussed "The Land/State of Israel in Christian Theology." Dr. Philip Cunningham [Saint Joseph's University] and Dr. Peter Pettit [Muhlenberg College] respectively offered Catholic and Lutheran perspectives. Post-Shoah efforts to affirm Jewish covenantal life and the foundation of the State of Israel continue to pose complex challenges for Christian theology. Dr. Cunningham proposed that Jewish spiritual attachment to the Land of Israel, and their modern return to it, could be religiously significant for Christians in three possible ways: ecologically, sacramentally, and in terms of covenantal renewal. However, these approaches need authentic peace between Israelis and Palestinians to be compelling. Dr. Pettit assessed the influence of two influential Protestant scholars, W.D. Davies and Walter Brueggemann. He offered the theological paradigm of understanding God as desiring all human beings to prosper on their own lands: Jews, Palestinians, and all peoples. 

AG AS EODThe concluding panel considered "The Land/State of Israel in Christian-Jewish Dialogue." Dr. Adam Gregerman [Saint Joseph's University] analyzed statements about Israel from Christian churches and organizations. He especially focused on a 2004 letter by the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Dr. Emma O’Donnell Polyakov [Merrimack College] summarized her qualitiative study of “Identity and the Idea of the Holy Land among Christians in Israel-Palestine.” Her study interviewed Palestinian Christians, Western Christians living in Israel, and more recent Christian workers from countries in Africa and east Asia. Abraham Skorka discussed "What Jews Need to Tell Christians," reviewing late 19th and early 20th-century Jewish literature and stressing that the secular founders of Israel were strongly shaped by Jewish religious perspectives. A stimulating conversation among all present followed, which drew together many of the day's themes. 

Earlier in the day the Council held its annual business meeting. Its actions included the unanimous elections of Dr. Adam Gregerman to a three-year term as Vice-Chair and Dr. Victoria Barnett to an at-large seat on the Board of Directors. An amendment to the bylaws, which more clearly specified the Council's understanding of the nature of interreligious dialogue, also passed unanimously. In addition, the Board of Directors held a breakfast meeting and the advisory committee to the Council's online journal Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations met over lunch to plan future volumes. 

The conference concluded with unanimous thanks to Providence College and Dr. Arthur Urbano, director of its Jewish-Catholic Theological Exchange, for hosting such a successful gathering.