Christianity is a general term denoting the historic community deriving from the original followers of
Jesus of Nazareth and
the institutions, social and cultural patterns, and the beliefs and doctrines evolved by this community. In the
widest sense, Christianity also refers to the forms of civilization which it created or influenced, thus many elements in modern, secular, Western civilization are still, in one way or another, called "Christian" or attributed to "Christianity."
The vague character of the term provides this wide range of meaning. In Christian tradition itself, however, a variety of more precise words are used to denote specific aspects of the religion; e.g., the body of all believers, conceived as a religious entity living in unity with Christ as head, is called the "Church." The Church itself can be looked at as a spiritual or "mystical body," in which case it is usually referred to in the singular; it can denote particular – nationally or denominationally organized – groups or organizations, in which case one speaks of the "Churches" (e.g., Roman Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, etc.) in the plural. Very often one differentiates between the major historical forms and traditions of the church(es), and hence distinguishes between Roman Catholic, Protestant and Eastern (orthodox as well as non-Chalcedonian) Christianity. Christianity can be viewed as a religious institution (whether as a universal church or as distinct churches), as a body of beliefs and doctrines (Christian dogma and theology), or as a social, cultural, or even political reality shaped by certain religious traditions and mental attitudes. When the reference is to the human societies shaped by these traditions and attitudes, the noun "Christendom" rather than Christianity is sometimes used. The term derives from the Greek word christos (Eng. "Christ") which is the translation, occurring already in the
, of the Hebrew mashi'aḥ (which in English became
), "the anointed." While the precise nature of Jesus' beliefs about himself and the nature of the "messianic" task which he attributed to himself are still a matter of scholarly controversy, there is little doubt that at an early date his followers saw in him the promised mashi'aḥ, the son of David. This view is evident in the gospel accounts which attempt to trace the ancestry of Jesus back to David, evidently for the purpose of legitimizing his messianic status. Jesus himself seems to have rejected the term in favor of other eschatological titles (e.g., the "Son of Man"), but the early community of his followers (see
), believing in his resurrection after the crucifixion, evidently held this term to be the most expressive of the role which they ascribed to their master and "Lord" (Gr. kyrios). In due course the title ("Jesus, the Christ") became synonymous with the personal name, and the word Christ was used by the believers as the name of the risen Jesus (cf. Gal. 1:6; Heb. 9:11). The early followers of Jesus referred to themselves as "brethren" (Acts 1:16), "disciples" (Acts 11:26), and "believers" (Acts 2:44), and the Jews at first called them "Nazarenes" (Acts 24:5) – i.e., probably the followers of Jesus the Nazarene (cf. Matt. 2:23). The term "Christians" seems to have been applied to them at first by outsiders (Acts 11:26), but was soon adopted by them as a convenient term of identification. In 64 C.E., during the Neronian persecution, the term seems to have already become current in Rome (Tacitus, Annals 15:44). In its subsequent usage in modern European languages, the adjective "Christian" has come to mean everything decent, moral, and praiseworthy (e.g., "a real Christian" is a term of praise, and "unchristian behavior" is an expression of opprobrium). In Jewish usage the term acquired a certain pejorative tone, referring mainly to the contrast between the profession of high ideals (religion of love, turning the other cheek) unmatched by actual performance (pogroms, discrimination, antisemitism).
Strictly speaking, the career and ministry of Jesus, and his relations with his disciples, do not come under the heading "Christianity." They are rather part of the history of Jewish sectarian movements toward the end of the Second Temple period. As a matter of fact, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reconstruct with any degree of certainty the career and teachings of Jesus, and many scholars have given up the quest for the "historical Jesus" as hopeless. The extant sources (see
) reflect not the actual events of his life and his authentic preaching, but the emerging consciousness of the developing Christian community and the perspective from which they saw, that is to say, reshaped in retrospect, their traditions and beliefs concerning Jesus. As a result of "telescoping back" the consciousness and beliefs of the early church to the life and ministry of the founder, the use of the New Testament as a historical source requires much philological care and critical prudence. About one development, however, there cannot be much doubt: whatever the nature of the relationship of Jesus to the various Jewish groups of his time (
, and others – including the
Covenanters), the New Testament reflects a stage of development when relations between Jews and Christians had already begun to deteriorate. Hence, the New Testament describes Jesus as engaged in violent polemics against the "Scribes and Pharisees," and especially against the interpretation of Torah and Judaism which they represented. This embattled portrayal, as well as the tendency to ascribe to "the Jews" the responsibility for the passion and death of Jesus – articulated and exhibited in varying degrees in the different books of the New Testament – have made the New Testament, with its scriptural authority, the fountainhead of later Christian misrepresentation of Judaism and theological antisemitism.
Severance from Judaism
A major difficulty in tracing the growth of Christianity from its beginnings as a Jewish messianic sect, and its relations to the various other normative-Jewish, sectarian-Jewish, and Christian-Jewish groups is presented by the fact that what ultimately became normative Christianity was originally but one among various contending Christian trends. Once the "gentile Christian" trend won out, and the teaching of
became accepted as expressing the doctrine of the Church, the Jewish Christian groups were pushed to the margin and ultimately excluded as heretical. Being rejected both by normative Judaism
and the Church, they ultimately disappeared. Nevertheless, several
sects (such as the Nazarenes, Ebionites, Elchasaites, and others) existed for some time, and a few of them seem to have endured for several centuries. Some sects saw in Jesus mainly a prophet and not the "Christ," others seem to have believed in him as the Messiah, but did not draw the christological and other conclusions that subsequently became fundamental in the teaching of the Church (the divinity of the Christ, trinitarian conception of the Godhead, abrogation of the Law). After the disappearance of the early Jewish Christian sects and the triumph of gentile Christianity, to become a Christian meant, for a Jew, to apostatize and to leave the Jewish community. It is only in modern times that in some missionary and other circles, the claim is again made that it should be possible to embrace faith in Jesus as the Christ (i.e., become a Christian) while remaining a Jew. The controversy found dramatic expression in the case of Daniel Rufeisen (see
) – a Jewish convert to Christianity and Catholic priest – who demanded recognition of his status as a Jew and to have the provisions of the Israel Law of Return applied to him. The majority of the court held – on grounds of secular rather than theological or halakhic reasoning – that in the historicosocial consciousness and in the linguistic usage of the ordinary man (and hence, by implication, of the Israel legislator) the term Jew could not be construed to include a Jew who had formally embraced Christianity, this act being tantamount, in the general feeling of most people, to opting out of the historical Jewish community.
The reasons for the extraordinary and tragic tension between Christianity and Judaism are not to be sought merely in the differences in religious beliefs and dogmas, which exist also in relation to all other religions. Neither are they, moreover, due exclusively to the long history of Christian persecution of the Jews (see
), since this was the result rather than the first cause of the tension between Christianity and Judaism. The tension is due essentially to the ambivalent position in which the Church found itself vis-à-vis Israel. By explicitly claiming not to be a new religion, and by conceiving itself the fulfillment of the promises in the Bible (the "Old Testament") as expressed in the
with the patriarchs and in the message of the prophets, the Church placed itself squarely on a Jewish foundation: it was the consummation of the biblical promise. Jesus was not just a divinely chosen savior, but the promised Son of David, the Lord's Anointed (Mashi'aḥ ben David), and hence the Christian community, i.e., the Church, was the "true Israel" of God. It was the messianic universalization of that salvific destiny which God had in mind when He chose Abraham in whose seed all nations should be blessed, but which for reasons connected with God's own ways of allowing history to fulfill itself, was limited to one physical people ("Israel according to the flesh") for a certain preparatory period, i.e., until the coming of Jesus the Messiah. The doctrine that the "Law" – which had been an adequate and divinely willed institution during this preparatory period – had now lost its validity; that in Christ it had been "fulfilled," i.e., terminated, surpassed, and to all practical purposes abrogated; and that the order of Grace had now come in place of that of the Law – all these combined with the Gospel accounts of Jesus' harsh attacks on the Pharisees as hypocrites or as representatives of a mechanical religion of outward devotion, to create a climate of hostility and a negative Christian image of Judaism. The image implied that theologically Judaism was an inferior religion, historically the Jewish people had played out its positive role, and morally the Jews were examples of stubborn blindness and obduracy. Even at its best, i.e., in its biblical phase, Israel had been rebellious and had persecuted its prophets, and its Law – albeit divine – was but a preparatory discipline. Some early Christian writers had an even more negative view of the ancient Law or of Israel's understanding of it. Pharisaic Judaism was judged negatively altogether. The Church being God's "true Israel" according to the spirit, the Jewish people no longer had any vocation or reason to exist except as a witness to the misery and degradation that would befall a people originally chosen by God, but unfaithful to its election by rejecting the Messiah and bringing about his death. While the views sketched in the preceding lines do not describe all facets of Christian teaching on the subject – certainly not that of Paul who, in his Epistle to the Romans (ch. 9–11), grappled with what was to him one of the supreme and most agonizing mysteries of the divine economy of history – they certainly express what has been the dominant attitude of Christianity toward Judaism and the Jews. Had the Jews disappeared from the stage of history, it would have been possible to relate to them more positively as a preparatory phase in the coming of God's kingdom. Had the Church severed its ties to its Israelite antecedents and completely rejected the "Old Testament" and the "Jewish God" (as demanded by Marcion, whom the Church condemned as a heretic), then Christianity would have been a hostile but essentially separate religion. The Church, however, insistently maintained that it was the direct continuation of that divine action in history of which the election of Israel was a major part. Yet the Jews continued to exist, claiming the Bible as their own, their understanding of it as the only legitimate one and labeling Christian interpretations as heresy, falsehood, and idolatry. This mutual opposition created a climate of hostility and negation which made the Christian-Jewish relationship more ambivalent and complex, and hence, also, more pregnant with tragedy than any comparable relationship in history.
Jesus and His First Disciples
As has been indicated before, the teaching and activity of Jesus cannot be properly described under the heading "Christianity" but should rather be seen in the context of the religious, social, and political ferment in Palestine at the end of the Second Temple period, and in relation to the various sectarian movements at the time. Knowledge of the period and of the sectarian doctrines then extant has been revolutionized by the Qumran Scrolls (i.e., the writings of the so-called Dead Sea sect, probably identical with the Essenes), whose significance
in a reappraisal of the origins of Christianity is still being evaluated by scholars. Although it may be difficult to penetrate the layers of tradition and legend in order to arrive at any certainty about the details of the life and ministry of Jesus, there is no valid reason for doubting his historical reality or assuming him to be a purely mythical figure. It is generally accepted that in most of his beliefs and practices, Jesus was closer to the Pharisees than to other contemporary groups, but that, at the same time, he shared the particularly intense eschatological expectations that were rife in certain circles (see
). His meeting with
the Baptist is described in the New Testament as having constituted a major turning point in Jesus' career and in his consciousness regarding his vocation. Jesus' subsequent preaching centered on the imminent apocalyptic events and the coming of the Kingdom of God, but much of it – probably deliberately – was obscure. After a relatively short period of activity as a wandering preacher, mainly in Galilee where he was revered by the multitude not so much for his teaching but for his reputed miraculous power in healing the sick and casting out demons, he went to Jerusalem. There his preaching led to his arrest, arraignment before the Roman procurator
, and subsequent execution – probably at the instigation of groups connected with the Temple priesthood and the Sadducean establishment. The precise background and details of his arrest, trial, passion, and death are almost impossible to reconstruct, since the only extant accounts are relatively late, tendentious, and inspired by the attitudes of the evangelists who were writing at a time when the rift between Jews and Christians had considerably widened, and Christianity was beginning to spread in the Roman Empire (hence the tendency to exonerate the Roman procurator and to ascribe the death of Jesus exclusively to the machinations of the Jews). After the death of Jesus on the cross, many of his followers undoubtedly lost their faith, but others soon came to share the belief that he had risen from the dead and ascended to heaven whence he would return before long in power and glory (the "Second Coming"). The elaboration of the twin themes of suffering and triumph, passion (i.e., death on the cross) and resurrection, subsequently became the warp and woof of Christian theology. The "risen Lord" came to be seen as more than a human figure, while the suffering savior was seen as the fulfillment of the obscure prophecies of the Deutero-Isaiah concerning God's Suffering Servant. The notion of the Davidic messiah, as well as that of a heavenly "Son of Man" merging with the specific Christian experiences, ultimately yielded the concept of the messiah, savior, and redeemer as essentially divine. Being committed to traditional biblical monotheism, as well as to a paradoxical belief in the identity of the human Jesus with the divine savior, Christianity developed a trinitarian conception of the godhead in which the ministry of the divine and pre-existent messiah was explained in terms of an incarnation. This doctrine was formulated by making use of the philosophic notion of a divine
as developed also by
. In the Christology of the Church, however, the logos was identified with the second person of the Trinity which, in its human incarnation as Jesus of Nazareth, was the messiah and savior of the world. Jesus was always present – through the Holy Spirit – in the spiritual community which he had founded and of which he remained the Lord. Life in and with God meant, in the Christian view of things, life in Christ and in the Church. In their development of the idea of the Church, the
subsequently drew heavily on the rabbinic interpretation of the Song of Songs as an allegorical representation of the relationship between God and Israel. The concepts of Trinity (God as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost), of the Son as the incarnate "Word" and Messiah (logos and christos), and of the Church (i.e., the community of God's spiritual people) became the basis of all later Christian theology. Although many of the specifically Christian ideas are apparently incompatible with Judaism, they – or some of their constituent elements – are, to a large extent, transformations of originally Jewish ideas, e.g., the idea of election, of the Holy Ghost (see
), of a messiah, and of
which the death of martyrs brings to the community. Early Christianity tried to buttress its claims by adducing proof texts from the "Old Testament," and hence polemics between Jews and Christians were, for some time, essentially exegetical in character, i.e., concerned with the proper interpretation of scriptural passages, prophecies, and predictions. Thus the so-called servant chapters in Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 53) were interpreted by Christians as referring to the vicarious suffering and atoning death of Jesus. In addition, there arose a kind of Christian Midrash (allegorical or tropological exegesis) which enabled Christians to find allusions to their faith and doctrines almost everywhere in the Bible (see
). For the Jews, the Christian interpretation perverted the obvious sense of Scripture; for the Christians, the Jews were spiritually blind and unable to perceive the true meaning of the "Old Testament" (II Cor. 3:14f.).
Jewish Origins and Influence on Ritual and Liturgy
Christian liturgy and forms of worship bear the mark of Jewish origins and influence. The very concept of church ritual (i.e., assembly of the believers for prayer, reading of Scripture and preaching) is indebted to the example of the synagogue. The reading of passages from the "Old" and the "New" Testaments is a Christian version of the synagogue reading from the Torah and the Prophets. The Psalms, in particular, play an immense role in both Catholic and Protestant liturgy. Some early Christian prayers (cf. Apostolic Constitutions 7:35–38; Didache chs. 9–10) are quotations or adaptations from Jewish originals. The Jewish origin is also evident in many prayer formulas (e.g.,
), the Lord's Prayer ("Our Father which art in Heaven"), and in many ritual institutions (e.g. Baptism) – whatever their specifically Christian transformations. The central rite of Christianity, the Eucharist, Mass, or Lord's Supper, is based on a tradition concerning Jesus' last meal with his disciples (represented in some New Testament accounts as a Passover meal), and contains such traditional
Jewish elements as the breaking of the bread and the use of the cup (kos shel berakhah). Christians subsequently interpreted this "Last Supper" as the ultimate fulfillment of the Passover in which Jesus, the "lamb of God," acted as the true sacrifice. While it is correct to say that Christianity, after its separation from Judaism and its spread through the Roman world, increasingly absorbed non-Jewish, pagan elements and patterns of thought (the so-called "Hellenization of the Gospel"), it should be remembered that much that has formerly been held to be purely Hellenistic may, in fact, have been taken from certain contemporaneous forms of Judaism. The Qumran texts, as well as the apocryphal and pseudepigraphic literature, suggest that there was far greater variety in Jewish beliefs than has previously been allowed for, and that elements in early Christian teaching which patently deviate from the norms of Pharisaic and rabbinic Judaism may be indebted to forms of sectarian Judaism and not necessarily, or always directly, to Hellenism.
Needless to say, the very existence of similarities merely exacerbated the conflict. For the Christians, the similarities were further proof that they were the fulfillment of everything that was valid in the "Old Covenant," and that the Jews preserved nothing but an empty shell, a degenerate and corrupt form of a misunderstood reality. For the Jews it became impossible to see the Christians as merely a strange and completely alien religion, since they appeared as claimants to the Israelite heritage, bent on dispossessing the Jewish people of the validity and authenticity of its religious existence. In due course the Jewish Christians were included in the category of those sectarians (see
) whom the Jewish community rejected and anathematized. The malediction of the minim contained in the daily Amidah was introduced, viz., reformulated, in order to render impossible Jewish Christian participation in the service of the synagogue, and to consummate their separation. The development of gentile Christianity that took place under the influence of Paul's activity (and as distinct from the Jewish Christians in their conflict within the Jewish community) made the estrangement between the two even more evident. The universalization of the ethnic and religious concept of Israel (the "church" taking the place of the Jewish people) and the abrogation of the commandments (faith in the fulfillment of the biblical promises in the person of Jesus the Messiah taking the place of the duty to observe the mitzvot) spelled the parting of the ways. It should not, however, be overlooked that the first gentile Christians were not pagans totally unacquainted with Judaism; they were people who had been attracted to Jewish teaching and ethics and who, as it were, lived on the periphery of the synagogues in the Diaspora but were not ready to accept totally the "yoke of the commandments" (especially circumcision). For some time Jewish influence and example must have been strong or persuasive enough to constitute – in the eyes of Christian pastors – a definite danger to their flock. Accordingly, the polemics against the "Judaizers" in the epistles of the New Testament, and the violent, and even obscene, vilification of Judaism in the sermons of such Christian leaders as, e.g.,
). With its spread among the gentiles, the pagan characteristics of Christianity gained in influence, and after Constantine the Great and the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, the traditional Hellenistic-pagan forms of civic, social, and cultural antisemitism (see
) merged with the specifically Christian theological motifs to form an amalgam that has left a tragic legacy to history.
Missions to Jews
While attempts at forced conversion (see
) were by no means rare, the early Church Fathers and the medieval Church did not cultivate genuine missionary activity toward the Jews. A missionary theology assumes that the gospel, i.e., the "glad tidings," have to be brought to those who do not know it. The Jews, however, were a priori in a different category, being the original recipients of God's promise and glad tidings but who, having rejected them, were living testimonies to obduracy, wicked blindness, and the wrath of God. Additional research is still required to determine the degree of validity to allegations, made by ancient Christian writers, as well as by some modern historians, that Jews instigated the anti-Christian persecutions by Roman emperors, such as Nero. The extent to which Christianity relentlessly persecuted and humiliated the Jews is detailed in the various articles dealing with the history of the Jews in Christian lands. Jewish history in the Christian world was marked by alternations of more or less violent oppression, relative toleration, expulsions, and occasional massacres, and at all times, restrictive legislation. All of these measures have varied according to time, place, and economic or other circumstances, e.g., legislative restrictions were periodically ignored by various rulers or mitigated by special privileges (see
Attitudes Toward Jews
Various factors were operative, creating different combinations at different times. There were the more specifically theological theories regarding the Jews, their status in the divine scheme of things, and their destiny; there was legislation concerning the Jews in different forms: Roman law (see
), canon law (see especially the Fourth
), and various decrees and discriminatory regulations (and occasionally exemptions from the latter by special privileges) issued by rulers, feudal princes, or cities; and there were the attitudes cultivated by popular religion (e.g., Passion plays), reinforced by its understanding or misunderstanding of theological doctrines. The sacramental dimension of Christian religiosity led to the conclusion that the Jews stood outside the sacramental order of society, in fact, they belonged to a parallel, anti-sacramental order: the synagogue of Satan. According to the Law Code of Justinian, the Jews are "detestable people" that "live in darkness and whose souls do not perceive the true mysteries" (Novella 45). Even so, Roman Law provided for a minimum of respect for the Jew's life and person, but was often eviscerated by religious fanaticism and alternative forms of legislation. Thus,
himself on the traditional practice of the Church, as well as on natural law (i.e., the natural rights of parents to their children), opposed taking children away from their parents for baptism, although other canonists defended the practice. Even
*Bernard of Clairvaux
, who energetically opposed the massacres of Jews during the Second
, thereby saving many Jewish communities from a repetition of the fate they suffered during the First Crusade, used as his strongest argument the theory that Jews were not meant by Providence to be killed but rather to live in ignominy and misery until the last Day of Judgment as witnesses to their rejection of Christ. Accusations of desecration of the
and ritual murder (
) increased during the late Middle Ages. In spite of the interest in Hebrew studies, including the
, exhibited by some humanists (see
*Pico della Mirandola
) did not in any way affect the general attitude toward Jews and Judaism. It was only in the 17th century that among Puritans and certain Calvinist and Pietist circles a new attitude toward the Jews began to emerge. This new attitude also gave a new impetus to missionary activity, since the Jews – especially if viewed positively – could not but appear as the "noble nation" of the Old Covenant, which, in the fullness of time, would enter into the perfection of the New Covenant.
The basic Christian pattern of contempt for and negation of Judaism persisted also throughout such later, though not specifically Christian, developments as the Enlightenment (cf. also
), modern nationalism, and other secular movements (e.g., Socialism). Even the writings of anti-Christian or anti-clerical authors echoed the traditional Christian stereotypes regarding Jews and Judaism. The realization that the Christian heritage had decisively shaped the forms of national consciousness of European nations, and not only the general character of Western civilization, provided a basis for a new national antisemitism which was Christian in a socio-cultural, though not in a strictly theological, sense (cf. the
, or the role of Catholicism in France during and after the
Affair, and, for a Protestant example, the movement launched in Germany by the court preacher
). It was only when these developments had run their full course and assumed their final and most diabolic form in 20th century antisemitism, that certain circles in the Christian world began to reexamine their positions. There was a groping toward the realization that antisemitism was in some fundamental sense also anti-Christian and admitting the Christian share in the responsibility for even anti-Christian antisemitism. Therefore, many modern Christian thinkers struggled for an understanding of their Christianity as a genuine fulfillment of the promise of biblical Israel in a manner that would not undercut the legitimacy and authenticity of Jewish existence. By striving to formulate an understanding of Judaism that would detract neither from the dignity of the latter nor from the dogmatic witness of Christianity, a number of Christian scholars and theologians are trying to correct the traditional caricature of post-biblical Judaism as a dead, petrified, or fossilized religion without spiritual vitality and dynamism. It is too early to say whether this effort is a pious wish doomed to failure, or whether it holds the promise for a new type of relationship between two groups committed to what is held by members of both to be a common loyalty to the same (biblical) God, and a common hope in this God's promise to humanity and creation. Many of the Christians rethinking their attitude toward Judaism do so on a narrowly religious basis (i.e., Judaism as a denomination), and consequently are bewildered by the fact that the Jewish people have recovered a sense of their national-ethnic existence with its social and political dimensions. Thus, many Christians who are ready to enter into a "dialogue" with Judaism as a religious (by which they mean denominational, theological, or semi-ecclesiastical) entity are at a loss how to face what is to them the "secular" phenomenon of Zionism and the modern State of Israel.
Within Christianity the various major and minor traditions (especially the three main divisions, Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox) exhibit characteristic differences of style, modes of thought, ethos, theological emphasis, forms of piety, and liturgical orientation. Much of what has been said above regarding a shift in Christian attitudes toward Judaism is true of the "Western" (Roman Catholic and Protestant) rather than the "Eastern" churches where traditionalism is stronger and the anti-Jewish heritage in liturgy and theology has been little affected by recent events. In fact, some Oriental (Uniate) churches in the Near East actively opposed the Vatican II declaration on the Jews not merely for political reasons but because of basic theological attitudes. Leading Russian Orthodox intellectuals have often expressed anti-Jewish ideologies (cf. Dostoevski, Gogol), and even thinkers who sought a theological reappraisal (e.g. Leon Shestov, Nikolai Berdyaev) have never attempted to understand the living reality of Judaism but merely discussed a philosophical construct of their own minds.
Jewish Attitudes Toward Christianity
The Jewish attitude toward Christianity has been determined by the religious and social factors referred to above. Christianity, especially after it had ceased to be a Jewish heretical sect, became a dominant religion, and assumed its medieval Catholic forms (including the cultic use of images), considered by Jews to be idolatrous. The fact that for many centuries Jewish philosophy was influenced mainly by Muslim thought only strengthened this view, since Islam shared with Judaism a conception of God which could be described as more monotheistic than that of Christianity. Rabbinic authorities debated whether the laws and injunctions concerning commerce and contacts with idolators also applied to Christians. To the Jews the Christian world appeared as the incarnation of Rome, symbolized by Edom or Esau, and as the evil power of this world bent on destroying Jacob, which – but for God's promise and mercy – would have succeeded. Occasionally Jewish thinkers would suggest that Christianity, recognizing the divine character of the Bible and being less polytheistic
than classical and primitive paganism, might be a providential instrument used by God to bring the gentiles gradually nearer to true religion (see
). Yet, in spite of the traditional attitude of hostility and distrust, reinforced by Christian coercion of Jews to participate in disputations and to listen to conversionary sermons, there always was – as is inevitable where cultures coexist – a certain amount of mutual interest. Jewish thinkers (e.g. Maimonides; Ibn
; in modern times especially
) have influenced Christian theologians and biblical exegetes (e.g.,
*Nicholas de Lyra
). Christian presence is noticeable not only in the direct and obvious influences on Jewish thinkers (see
of Verona), but also in the more subtle and indirect ways resulting from what might be called cultural osmosis. Thus
has attempted to demonstrate specific Christian influences on certain aspects of the thought and devotional practice in the Zohar and in German Ḥasidism. The rabbinic theological evaluation of Christianity also had repercussions in the sphere of halakhah, and the exigencies of the latter in turn influenced theoretical attitudes (see
, Exclusiveness and Tolerance). While modern Jewish biblical scholarship has been influenced by Christian "Old Testament" studies (see
Research and Criticism), the latter still has exhibited enough of traditional anti-Jewish prejudice to provoke
's remark "Higher criticism – higher antisemitism," and
's polemics. The liturgical reforms of
have been clearly indebted to the example of contemporary Protestantism.
A comparison between Christianity and Judaism as religious systems, and an analysis of their points of contact and divergence are difficult to undertake, since much depends on the definitions and points of view with which one approaches the task. There are Jewish stereotypes of Christianity and vice versa, and different elements of the religions have been given varying degrees of prominence at different periods. Often similar ideas can be found in both religions (e.g., original sin, or vicarious suffering), but the roles they have played in the total context of the life and history of faith of the respective communities vary considerably. Christian "other-worldliness" has often been contrasted with Jewish "this-worldliness" (sometimes in laudatory and sometimes in derogatory terms), as have Christian asceticism with the Jewish affirmation of this life and its values, the Christian doctrine of mediation with the Jewish belief in immediate communion with and forgiveness from God, the Christian religion of "love" with the Jewish religion of the "Law," Christian "universalism" with Jewish "particularism," the hierarchical sacerdotalism, i.e., dominance of the clergy in many forms of Christianity, with the forms of religious authority in rabbinic Judaism. In addition, comparisons have been made between the respective conceptions of sin and atonement, and dualism in soul/body, i.e., spirit/flesh. Although some distinctions are valid (e.g., Jews do not believe in the Trinity or in the atoning sacrifice of the Messiah, the Son of God, on the cross; Christians do not accept rabbinic tradition as the authentic interpretation of a still valid divine law), many others are inadequate, or have to be qualified, because both Jews and Christians have, in various historical periods, articulated different views about the details of their respective beliefs and the nature of their communities. There is, moreover, considerable variety within the two communities and apologetic interests, as well as the personal commitment and ideology of every writer on the subject, are apt to color his assessment of the issues. The problem is well illustrated by 19th-century idealistic philosophy which took it for granted that Christianity was the superior and Judaism an inferior form of religion. Accordingly, whatever variety in definitions of "Christianity," philosophers (e.g.,
) described that which they considered superior as "Christian" and that which they considered inferior as "Jewish." Some Jewish thinkers, too, would accept the "Christian" norms and merely try to show that they were also taught by Judaism, while others emphasized the contrasts and rejected what was claimed to be the Christian norms. Modern secularism has posed for both religions – as, indeed, all religions in general, and theistic religions in particular – some apparently similar problems, though here, too, the similarities can be misleading since "secularization" has had different implications in a Jewish and a Christian context respectively. What is beyond doubt is the fact that Christianity, in spite of its Jewish beginnings and continuing Jewish associations through the Bible, has become a thoroughly distinct form of religious life with its distinct conceptions of salvation, forms of devotion and piety, emotional and intellectual attitudes, and historical consciousness. The ambivalence created by this sense of both relatedness and difference is still far from being resolved in the Christian world.
Some 20th Century Christian Perceptions of Judaism and the Jews
The "New Look" in Christian attitudes toward Jews and Judaism goes back to the 1930s. The pioneer of new Christian understandings of Jews and Judaism James Parkes published his epoch-making The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue in 1934. He set out to study antisemitism and this brought him to the study of Jewish history and of Judaism. His conclusion was that Christianity based its theology on bad history. He wrote:
The Christian public as a whole, the great and overwhelming majority of the hundreds of millions of nominal Christians in the world, still believe that the Jews killed Jesus, that they are a people rejected by their God, that all the beauty of the Bible belongs to the Christian Church and not to those by whom it was written; and if on this ground so carefully prepared, modern anti-Semites have reared a structure of racial and economic propaganda, the final responsibility still rests with those who prepared the soil and created the deformation of the people. (J. Parkes, The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue (1961), 376).
Parkes cited one predecessor, Conrad Moehlman of the Colgate-Rochester Divinity School, author of The Christian-Jewish Tragedy: A Study in Religious Prejudice (1933) which taught that the charge of deicide against the Jews rested on false accounts in the New Testament (J. Parkes, Anti-Semitism and the Foundations of Christianity, edited by A. Davies (1979), viii). Another pioneer work from the same year was Erik Peterson's Die Kirche aus Juden und Heiden which tried to present Jews in a positive light from the standpoint of Christianity.
But these were still lonely voices and the revision in traditional thinking is essentially a post-World War II phenomenon which began to develop in the 1950s under the rather delayed impact of the Holocaust. Already in 1946, the first International Conference of Christians and Jews meeting in Oxford sought common ground on issues of "Responsibility and Justice" while a pioneering document on Jewish-Christian relations resulted from a further meeting in Seeligsberg, Switzerland, in the following year. This article will treat the issues thematically, quoting not only the new directions but also examples of stubborn retention of historical prejudices.
REJECTION OF JEWS
Even in postwar times, certain Christian theologians have continued to find the roots of their belief in God's "rejection" of the Jews already in the days of the Old Testament. After the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) which ended in 1965, it was difficult for Catholics to express such extreme views (see below). But some Protestant sources, especially in Germany, still see the Jews as betraying the Covenant in the period following the Babylonian Exile. They maintain that the Jewish religion after the Exile was a break with the true faith of ancient Israel and represented a decline from "Israel" to "Judaism." Thus, the Bible scholar Martin Noth feels that the national life of Israel ended after the Babylonian Exile. By the year 70, "Jerusalem had ceased to be the symbol of the homeland, Israel had ceased to exist and the history of Israel came to an end." This was written in 1958 (see E. Fleischner, Judaism in German Christian Theology (1975), 31). Similar lines derived from classical Christian theology can be found in other New Testament scholars, such as Martin Dibelius and Rudolf Bultmann. Much Christian thought has held that if Jesus Christ is the last word, the New Testament is in the final analysis a rejection of the Old Testament. Christians continue to believe that the Old Testament can only be seen through the prism of the New Testament, although the original meaning and significance of the Old Testament is becoming known to growing circles of contemporary Christians, thanks to the insights of much of modern Christian Bible scholarship. The Vatican II declaration, Nostra aetate, stated: "The Church of Christ acknowledges that the beginnings of her faith and her election are already found among the patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. The Church cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God designed to establish the ancient covenant" (H. Kroner, Stepping-Stones to further Jewish-Christian Relations: An Unabridged Collection of Christian Documents (1977), 1).
This has been the signal for radical changes in the Catholic Church and within 20 years great strides have been made to introduce the Catholic masses to the Old Testament – to the chagrin of certain Arab Christian circles, for example in Lebanon and Egypt, which would prefer to see the Old Testament cut off, relegated, and ignored. It is not to be expected, however, that the traditional thrust of Christian interpretation can be dropped. For example, even the positive 1973 document of the Committee for Catholic-Jewish Relations set up by French Catholic bishops, after stating that Christians must understand the Jewish tradition, must study the whole Bible and that the first covenant was not invalidated by the latter, continues "It is true that the Old Testament renders its meaning to us only in the light of the New Testament" (H. Kroner, Stepping Stones, 62).
There are also significant individual voices. The Catholic Cornelius Rijk wrote that the biblical renewal in Christian thinking is of the most utmost importance and the theology is becoming more biblical. To Rijk (in a paper on "The Theology of Judaism") the whole Bible – Old and New Testaments – is gospel because the whole Bible throws the light of God's spirit on human history, revealing God and the covenant relationship. Or, as simply put in the Guidelines on Relations with Jews issued by the Vatican in 1974, "The same God speaks in the Old Testament and the New Testament" (H. Kroner, Stepping Stones…, 13). On the Protestant side, Markus Barth has written:
Every page of the New Testament has a quotation or concept from the Old Testament – not merely as timeless symbols or apologetic proof from prophecy but because they saw their good news as the continuation and coronation of God's history with Israel. The Old Testament is cited in the New Testament as an invitation to listen to the dialogue between God and Israel – and to join in it (M. Barth, Jesus the Jew (1978), 24).
As simply put by Paul Van Buren, "The Bible reminds us we are not the first to be called" (P. Van Buren, Discerning the Way (1980, 156). Mention should be made of the very special significance of the Old Testament for African Christians. Africans identify with the Old Testament and its rituals (such as sacrifice) and this sometimes brings them into conflict with missionaries who emphasize a Christianity based on the New Testament and European cultural taste. Africans want to embrace the Old Testament literally – such as its marriage customs and its emphasis on community – and find inspiration and sustenance in the Exodus theme of Liberation (J. Mbiti, "African Christians and the Jewish Religion," in: Christian Attitudes on Jews and Judaism (October 1977), 1–4).
Moving forward into New Testament times, we find attempts to reach new understandings concerning the Pharisees – although the offensive tones linger, for example, the equation of Pharisaism with hypocrisy. But there are more original views. Paul Tillich has explained that the Pharisees
were the pious ones of their times and they represented the Law of God, the preparatory revelation without which the final revelation could not have happened (C. Klein, Anti-Judaism in Christian Theology (1978), 77). Guidelines laid down by the American Catholic bishops make a point of rejecting the identification of Pharisaism with hypocrisy (E. Fisher, Faith Without Prejudice (1977), 26).
The American Catholic Eugene Fisher writes that modern scholarship has reclaimed the image of the Pharisees and depicted them as they really were (of course this started long before the period we are dealing with, with scholars such as Travers Herford and George Foote Moore). Fisher quotes talmudic condemnations of hypocrisy and adds that Jesus' condemnations of hypocrisy are typical Pharisaic preaching. "To understand the teaching of Jesus," he writes, "one must be open to the teaching of the Pharisees, for in many ways he showed himself to be one of them" (E. Fisher, ibid., 52).
Another American theologian, Father Gregory Baum, notes two directions in which the New Testament was deliberately distorted against the Jews:
(1) Passages that were specifically directed to the Jews of Jesus' time were only later malevolently applied to all Jewish people;
(2) Prophetic passages made for purposes of propaganda of faith and not intended as literal descriptions of 1st-century Judaism received anti-Jewish meanings when repeated by gentile Christians as judgments on the Jewish religion (Introduction to R. Ruether, Faith and Fratricide((1974), 2).
JESUS THE JEW
The American writer Norman Cousins has commented that Jews and Christians have at least one thing in common: both have been unwilling publicly to live with the idea that Jesus was a Jew (see Journal of Ecumenical Studies (Fall 1984), 602). And Roy Eckhardt has written that antisemitism is in part the war of Christians against Jesus the Jew (A.R. Eckhardt, Elder and Younger Brothers (1973), 22). This implies that antisemitism is the triumph of the pagan in Christianity over the Judaic.
This attitude was reflected in the Ten Points of Seeligsberg in 1947 which stated: "Remember that Jesus was born of a Jewish mother of the seed of David and the people of Israel, and that his everlasting love and forgiveness embrace his own people and the whole world" (P. Schneider, Sweeter Than Honey (1966), 71). However, subsequently the subject has been handled gingerly and obliquely in official documents.
Individual theologians are prepared to go much farther. Eugene Fisher quotes a Catholic bishop preaching in Chicago in 1931 who dared to say Christ was a Jew. He was greeted with boos and hisses and a woman called out, "You're not a bishop. You're a rabbi." "Thank you, madam," he replied, "that's just what they called Our Lord." We need, says Fisher, to correct our traditional [Christian] teaching that sought to approach Jesus in isolation from his people, for the denial of Jesus' Jewishness is a denial of his humanity. To miss the distinctively Jewish context of his teaching is to miss the point entirely (E.
Fisher, Faith Without Prejudice, 30). Markus Barth in his Jesus the Jew enumerates Jesus' characteristics and ways of behavior which are typically Jewish:
(1) He cannot be dissuaded from respecting the Jews as the Chosen People. He held on to his God, even in his hour of death, and to the Law which he quoted to the end. He was a body-and-soul member of the Jewish community.
(2) He affirmed creation, and did not denounce the earth as a vale of tears. God's election calls for decisions and deeds.
(3) He eschewed any cheap optimism. He knew the world was unredeemed. He did not preach original sin. He proclaimed forgiveness, healing, revival.
"We cannot believe in Jesus," writes Barth, "without tending love and loyalty to the people out of which he came and whose mission among other peoples he confirmed for all times" (M. Barth, Jesus the Jew, 31).
Christian writers also now stress the fact that Jesus' message was, after all, to the Jews. Hans Küng writes: "Christendom has asserted that Jesus Christ was a human being – but is not so ready to admit he was a Jewish human being." At the time, in the situation, he could not have thought of proclamation to the gentiles. Küng shows Jesus' message as very much a critique of the Judaism of his time, but stresses his message was to Jews; without Judaism there would be no Christianity, and only with Judaism has Christianity a relationship of origin (H. Küng, "Pseudo-Theology about the Jews," in: Christian Attitudes on Jews and Judaism (June, 1977), 1ff.). Of course, allied to this is the Jewishness of the Apostles and Nostra aetate recalls that the Apostles and early disciples sprang from the Jewish people.
Arab Christians tend to read the statement that Jesus was a Jew as Jesus was an Israeli, and Arab Christian scholars often protest any reflection on the Jewish origin and character of Jesus.
THE DEATH OF JESUS
On the subject of Jewish guilt for the crucifixion, the traditional concepts so deeply ingrained in the Christian conscience will not be expunged in a decade or two. The Catholic sister Charlotte Klein in her Anti-Judaism in Christian Theology quotes many sources, mostly German, who continue to take the New Testament literally, while expressing her surprise that these New Testament scholars do not detect the hand of the redactor in the Gospel stories. For example, Martin Dibelius writes "Out of Judaism grew the hostility that led to Jesus' death. In this sentence of death, Judaism passed judgment on itself," (C. Klein, Anti-Judaism in Christian Theology (1978), 112) and Leonhard Goppelt states that in the Jews' rejection of him, Jesus saw the conclusion of the conflict between God and Israel (ibid., 97).
But there are new directions, clearly laid down by the Vatican Declaration: "Not all that happened in Jesus' passion can be charged against all Jews then alive nor the Jews today. Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed" (Biblical Studies, edited by L. Boadt, H. Kroner, and L. Klenicki (1980)).
Fisher cites the 16th-century Catechism to the Council of Trent which reads: "In this guilt (i.e., the crucifixion) are involved all those who fall frequently into sin; for as our sins consigned Christ to death on the cross, most certainly those who wallow in sin and iniquity crucify to themselves again the son of God as far as in them lies and make a mockery of him. This guilt seems more enormous in us than in the Jews since according to the testimony of the apostle, if they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory; while we, on the contrary, professing to know him, yet denying him by our actions, seem in some sort to lay violent hands on him." Fisher notes that the essential Christian teaching has been that all humanity theologically is responsible for the death of Jesus. The same Council of Trent also declared that the crucifixion was Christ's free decision. Thus, guidelines were laid down long ago. The need is not to evolve a new theology but to teach the old (E. Fisher, Faith Without Prejudice, 76).
We now come to the theological core of the Jewish-Christian relationship. The issues dealt with so far have been peripheral to Christian theology, even if they have had such a grim impact on Jewish history. But the question that arises after the crucifixion is basic – the election of Christianity and its assumption of the covenant between man and God. Hitherto, the Jews had been the chosen, the elected people with whom God had made His covenant. What was now the relationship between the new trinity – God, Judaism, and Christianity? With the New Covenant, what was the status, if any, of the Old? The key text here is Romans 9–11. Paul writes that God has brought forth the church from among the gentiles as well as the Jews but He has not cast off Israel and has not rejected the people He acknowledged of old as His own. Salvation has come to the gentiles to stir Israel to emulation. Paul's famous metaphor states "If the root is consecrated so are the branches … it is not you who sustain the root, the root sustains you." After the gentiles have been admitted in full strength, the whole of Israel will be saved.
Paul discerns great continuities between the Church and Israel but the effective discontinuity is greater. This basic text has been quoted and interpreted in many ways. Debate raged as to whether this means that the Jews were rejected, which is the thrust of classical Christian theology still to be heard today in fundamentalist circles – again, especially in Europe. Baum has stated that the anti-Jewish documents are deeply woven into the significant documents of the Christian religion and its expression of faith. At one time, he sought to show that the anti-Jewish trends were later developments in Church history but had to change his mind, recognizing that already New Testament passages reflect the conflict of Church and Synagogue in the first century. "As long as the Christian Church regards itself as the successor of Israel, as the new people of God, no theological space is left for other faiths and especially the Jewish religion," he writes. According to this exposition, the religion of Israel has been superseded, the Torah abrogated, its promises fulfilled in the Christian Church, and the Jews struck with blindness (G. Baum, in: R. Ruether, Faith and Fratricide, 1ff.).
Writing about the Protestant standpoint in 1978, Charlotte Klein finds that German theological books continue to start from the theses that Judaism has been superseded and replaced by Christianity; has scarcely any right to exist; its teachings and ethical values are inferior to Christianity; and so on. She gives some citations:
With the loss of the Temple, the last tie with the homeland was broken and the Jews as a people ceased to exist. Post-exilic Judaism is unhistorical and if it acts as a nation and intervenes in history, this merely shows its lack of trust in God. Obstinacy and guilt deprive the Jews of salvation. The Jews of today are different from those of the Old Testament. Not only did they not enter the plane of fulfillment, but are in opposition to it. (Leonhard Goppelt) (C. Klein, Anti-Judaism in Christian Theology, 30).
This line of thinking is significant in indicating the theological rationale for Christian anti-Judaism, anti-Zionism to be found in certain Protestant circles and which has been encountered, for example, in World Council of Churches contexts. Michael Schmaus, author of the authoritative eight-volume Katholische Dogmatik writes:
Israel is obsolete and its existence meaningless. Its only eschatological hope is redemption by Christ. The tragedy of the Jews, indeed their guilt, lies in the fact that they do not regard themselves as precursors. Consequently, God's curse lies upon them. Israel can neither live nor die; only wait, blinded and hardened. (Michael Schmaus, Katholische Dogmatik (1959)).
Jews have forfeited all claims to be the Chosen People. Jesus' Jewish origin is merely of historical significance. Since his coming, the God whom the Jews worship is no longer the same as the God of the Christians. The Jews, in fact, are the synagogue of Satan and there is no possible way of Jew and Christian working together. The only possible relationship is the missionary one. (J.G. Mehl) (E. Fleischner, Judaism in German Christian Theology, 75).
But here too there are voices who reject "rejection" and, most important, these include official documents which represent Church thinking. For the Catholics, Nostra aetate was a landmark in that it explored the Church's continuity with Israel, referring to the "people of God," "the stock of Abraham," "election," "promise," and "covenantal revelation" (H. Kroner, Stepping Stones, 1ff.). The 1974 Guidelines issued by the Vatican state that the history of Judaism did not end with the destruction of Jerusalem but it has continued to develop traditions rich in religious value (M.-T. Hoch and B. Dupuy, Les Eglises devant le Judaïsme (1980), 360). The Pastoral Council of Catholic Churches in the Netherlands stated: "The Jewish people has a special place in the Church's faith. They can never simply be equated with non-Christian peoples. The Church knows that she cannot be the Church for all nations without being connected with the living Jewish people of today" (H. Kroner, Stepping Stones, 49).
The American bishops in 1975 said that the Church can understand its own nature only in dialogue with Judaism (E. Fisher, Faith Without Prejudice, 27), and there are documents from other countries in the same spirit. This revolution in Catholic thinking has been one of the major achievements in the Catholic-Jewish relationship since the 1960s.
On the Protestant side, the theology is not so monolithic, which makes it easier for extreme liberalism and extreme conservatism to sit side by side. The Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches in 1968 stated that the separation between the Church and the Jewish people has never been absolute. God formed the people of Israel and it was God's own will and decision that made this one distinct people with its special place in history. The Jewish people still maintain their significance for the Church. They make it manifest that God has not abandoned them. "We reject the thought that their suffering down the ages is any proof of guilt. Why, in God's purpose, they have suffered in that way, we as outsiders do not know. What we do know, however, is the guilt of the Christians who have all too often stood on the side of the persecutors instead of the persecuted." It states that there is a difference of opinion among the Protestant Churches as to whether the Church is a continuation of Israel as the people of God or whether Israel is still God's elect people (H. Kroner, Stepping Stones, 74ff.).
The Swiss Protestant Churches in 1977 said that Israel and the Church coexist united in many ways, but divided on basic points. It lists the dividing points as: the Jewish attitude to Jesus; the blame attached by many Christians to the Jews for the crucifixion, for the stress on justice rather than grace, for insistence on ritual law; and because some Christians have seen Jews as cursed, to the extent of extermination. The two have also been divided by Church attitudes on the Holocaust and the State of Israel. The uniting points include: the Jewishness of Jesus and of his teachings; the Old Testament basis of the New Testament; the fact that the Church issued out of Judaism; that the first Christians were Jews; and that Christianity has taken many practices from Judaism (Hoch and Dupuy, Les Eglises, 238ff.).
Most liberal thinkers mentioned have expressed themselves against the concept of rejection. James Parkes was a pioneer in challenging the idea that the Church is successor to the Synagogue, suggesting that Judaism is not an alternative scheme of salvation but a different sort of religion. The fundamental difference is that Judaism is directed to man as a social being while Christianity is directed to man as a personal being. Christianity seeks to transform man; Judaism, to transform society (A.R. Eckardt, Elder and Younger Brothers, 82ff.).
In the German Catholic scholar Franz Muessner's "Traktaet ueber die Juden," we hear for the first time a Catholic priest, who is not a radical, express far-reaching ideas on the subject. His stated object is to prove that Judaism is a living reality which exists rightfully side by side with the Churches. Israel was not only the matrix of Christianity at its origin but remains at the root of the Church today. God's covenant with Israel was not abrogated by a later covenant. He also stresses the special role of the Land of Israel in the religion of the Jews (a subject to which we will return). Christians are not bound to a special country, but the land does form an integral part of Israel's election and covenant. In Judaism, religion, nationhood, and land cannot be separated (Christian-Jewish Relations, No. 71 (June 1980), 23ff.).
One of the main theological issues that has divided Christianity and Judaism has been Christianity's stress on grace at the expense of Law. There remains among the conservative Christians a consistent line, condemning the law and its observance. These translate Torah as "law" and give it pejorative implications. Many could still be living in earlier periods of Christendom. Charlotte Klein quotes a whole succession of writers who have no understanding of law as a spiritual confrontation with God the lawgiver. Père Benoit writes that it is the fault of the Jews that in its historic realization, the system of the law failed, and that God's help and grace are no longer given to the Jew (C. Klein, Anti-Judaism, 66.). Time and again we meet the same polemics, but there are also those who admit that law presupposes God's gift of grace to men and is itself grace.
And here on the positive side, we may quote one of the most influential of books on the subject, Rosemary Ruether's Faith and Fratricide. She points out that the original criticism of Jesus against legalistic aspects was internal Jewish criticism, Jew against Jew. So, if applied today, criticism of legalism and hypocrisy should be applied internally, to one's own people and to Church leaders, and not directed to another people with which the Church no longer identifies. This will recover the valid prophetic critique of the New Testament. The modern equivalent of Pharisees, she suggests, is theologians. She says that the most difficult schism to criticize is alleged Jewish particularism against so-called Christian universalism. What was seen once as the universal mission of the Church is on the wane and today survives mainly in Western imperialism and neocolonialism. Christianity has only conquered completely within the area that is heir to the Greco-Roman tradition; so from a world perspective, Christianity is highly particularistic, one particularism among many other particularisms. On the other hand, universalism and particularism are two sides of the relationship between Judaism and other peoples, with what is generally expressed through the concept of the Noachide laws.
She makes an important point regarding the effect of terminology. Compare Christian language concerning itself and Judaism, and pejorative connotations regarding the latter are apparent. Here are some relevant pairs: old and obsolescent/new; law, legalism, judgment/love, grace; universalism/particularism; eschatology/perfidy; spirit/letter. According to dictionaries "Christian" is a synonym for "humanitarian" and "Jew" for miser or cheat. Brought up and educated in such terminology, the Christian has an inbred attitude of superiority to Judaism, although not always realizing the implication
of his everyday terminology (R. Ruether, Faith and Fraticide, 246).
MISSION TO THE JEWS
The subject of mission remains a thorny question in Christian-Jewish relations. The traditional position is clear. The Jew existed, and was allowed to continue to exist, as an object of mission. The non-Christianization of the Jews delayed the Second Coming and therefore mission to the Jew was integral to the Christian plan. Certain Christian enthusiasm for Zionism has not been out of identification with Zionism per se but out of the belief that the return of the Jews to their land was one step before their Christianization and two steps from the Second Coming. Such ideas are frequently heard in the context of fundamentalist evangelical theology.
Christianity, then, has been dominated by the hope for the conversion of the Jews. But new voices, formulations, and attitudes are making themselves heard in liberal Christian circles. There is, for example, the demand that there be no active proselytization, and there is the conviction that any hope of conversion should be deferred and left in the realm of eschatology, with a belief that the whole concept should be recognized as a mystery of God. Man should leave it to the Divine and, until such time as God makes Himself manifest on this issue, we should recognize and respect each other, walking side by side on our respective paths to God. This parallels the approach on the Jewish side by
. Most recently this has been beautifully expressed by Paul Van Buren. "The desire to share a blessing can be commended," he says, "and so the desire to show other gentiles that there is a Way through the mess of this world is to be commended. But the Jews are already in the Way. The only proper call is to a secularized Jew, calling him to be faithful to the Way of his people" (P. Van Buren, Discerning the Way, 53.).
Whether the mission to Jews is special or is the same as mission to other non-Christians is an oft-discussed question. Old-school theologians say that there is no difference; Judaism has lost its privileges and is in the same league as paganism. Others say Israel is no longer among the peoples of the world, but that it occupies a unique privileged position. Reinhold Niebuhr, who is seminal to contemporary liberal Christian thinking on Jews, wrote that missions are wrong because the two faiths, despite differences, are sufficiently alike for the Jew to find God more easily in terms of his own religious heritage than by subjecting himself to the hazards of guilt feeling involved in the conversion to a faith which, whatever its merits, must appear to him as a symbol of an oppressive majority culture (A.T. Davies (ed.), Anti-Semitism and the Christian Mind (1969), 145).
There are also voices from the Catholic side. Hans Küng has written: "The Church can never seriously take up the task of missionizing the Jews. The Gospel cannot be presented as something alien and external to them. They have never been guilty of false faith. In fact, before the Church existed, they believed in the one true God" (H. Küng, The Church (1967), 142). Paul Démann has distinguished between Israel and missionizable people. The Christian missionary task is to implant and give flesh to the gospel in a soil that has been alien. Since Israel is the mother soil out of which Christianity has grown, the concept of mission is not applicable. We must shift, he says, from a missionizing to an ecumenical outlook. This is easier among Catholics than among Protestants because missionary work among Jews has been less organized and more sporadic among the Catholics (E. Fleischner, Judaism in German Christian Theology, 31). An important Catholic statement, made by Tommaso Federici, said that the Church rejects all forms of proselytism (Hoch and Dupuy, Les Eglises, 371ff.). Indeed, another major post-Vatican II development has been the cessation of Catholic missionary activities aimed at Jews. In the words of Gregory Baum: "After Auschwitz, the Christian churches no longer wish to convert the Jews as this would only reinforce the Holocaust. Major churches have come to repudiate mission to the Jews and to recognize Judaism as an authentic religion before God" (G. Baum, in Auschwitz: Beginning of a New Era, edited by E. Fleischner, New York 1977, 113). The Dutch Catholic bishops in their 1970 statement said that any intention or design for proselytism must be rejected as contrary to human dignity (Hoch and Dupuy, Les Eglises, 197ff.).
Far less satisfactory, by and large, are the official Protestant statements. Many of these continue to be rooted in past prejudices and sometimes betray little awareness of post-Holocaust sensitivities. Of course, the pluralistic composition of Protestantism must be remembered, with the impossibility of an ex cathedra statement at the top and with the input of variegated churches, including the less liberal, from below.
The document of the first assembly of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam in 1948 is ambivalent. There were conflicting statements by two subcommittees, and they were both put in without any attempt to reconcile them. On the one hand, it stated: "To the Jews, our God has bound us in a special solidarity, linking us together in His design. We will call upon all our churches to make this concern their own." Those who wished to pursue dialogue have seized on this text. But the document also says: "Jesus Christ said, 'Go ye into the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.' The fulfillment of this commission requires that we include the Jewish people in our evangelistic task. The Church has received its spiritual heritage from Israel and is in honor bound to render it back in the light of the Cross. We have, therefore, to proclaim to the Jews, 'The Messiah for whom you wait has come.'" It goes on to express regret that the mission to the Jewish people, the first Mission of the Church, has been neglected – but states it should now be a regular part of parish work and churches should have special ministers for this task.
The World Council of Churches' 1968 Faith and Order Commission also spoke in two voices, although in some ways it was an improvement on the earlier pronouncement. "If we stress the Church as the body of Jesus Christ," it says, "the Jews
are outside and the Church's mission is to bring them to acceptance of Christ. The Church and the Jewish people can be thought of as forming the one people of God and the attitude to Jews should be different from that to other non-believers. We reject proselytising in the sense of the corruption of witness, in cajolery, undue pressure, or intimidation or improper words" (H. Kroner, Stepping Stones, 81–82).
According to the "Ecumenical Considerations on Jewish-Christian Dialogue," issued by the World Council of Churches' Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologies in 1983, "Christians are called to witness to their faith in word and deed. The Church has a mission and it cannot be otherwise. Christians have often distorted their witness by coercive proselytism … rejection of proselytism and advocacy of respect for the integrity and identity of all persons and all communities of faith are urgent in relation to Jews, especially those who live as minorities among Christians. Steps towards assuring non-coercive practices are of highest importance" ("Ecumenical Considerations on Jewish-Christian Dialogue," World Council of Churches (1983), 9). The Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation in 1984 recommended a statement which repudiated "organized proselytising" of Jews ("Luther, Lutheranism and the Jews," Lutheran World Federation (1983), 9).
The Rhineland Protestant Synod of 1980 came out with a statement: "We believe that Jews and Christians in their calling are witnesses of God in front of the world and in front of each other. Therefore, we are convinced that the Church has the testimony to bring its mission to other people – but not to the Jewish people."
This conclusion stirred up strong opposition in Germany where theological circles often stand strongly behind mission. A widespread counter document to the Rhineland Synod was published by a group of well-known theology scholars at the University of Bonn. It stresses the importance of mission. The gospel of Christ is for all people, it says, and the Church cannot give up the idea of teaching gospel to all people" (B. Klappert and H. Starck (eds.), Umkehr und Erneuerung (1980), 256; Erwagungen zur kirchlichen Handsreichung zur Erneurung des Verhältnisses von Christen und Juden, Evangelisch-Theologisches Seminar der Rheinisches Friedrich-Wilhelm Universitat Bonn, May 1980).
ANTISEMITISM AND THE HOLOCAUST
This subject requires a separate essay; a few individual insights may be mentioned. In various writings, Rosemary Ruether has explained that modern radical antisemitism is not a direct continuation of Christian anti-Judaism, but Christianity provided the essential background for this development. Without 20 centuries of Christian vilification of the Jews it is impossible to understand why it was the Jews, rather than some other group, that became the main Nazi victims. Christian anti-Judaism was not genocidal in the modern sense; in Christian terms, the final solution of the Jewish problem was conversion.
The Church, which fomented a cultural myth about the Jew as Christ killer, must now meet itself as Jew killer. Those who pursued the Jews for deicide are now guilty of at least laying the ground for genocide. In the long run, Rosemary Ruether has been deeply pessimistic. She suspected that anti-Judaism was too deeply embedded in the foundations of Christianity to be rooted out without destroying the whole structure (A. Davies (ed.), Anti-Semitism and the Foundations of Christianity (1979), 230ff.; R. Ruether, Faith and Fratricide, 11ff., 227ff.).
Many Christian scholars have been concerned with the chain leading from Christian antisemitism to Auschwitz. Roy Eckhardt lists in parallel columns Nazi law and Canon anti-Jewish law, showing them to be virtually identical. "Streicher" he says, "was simply carrying out what Luther had summoned any believer to do" (A.R. Eckhardt, Elder and Younger Brothers, 12.). It should be mentioned that the Lutheran Synod of New York has disavowed the antisemitic views of Luther and called upon its council to submit a declaration expressing their regrets to the Jewish people for the harm done by Christians to the Jewish people, especially that nourished by the views of Luther. It states that Luther's "On the Jews and Their Lies" is in flagrant contradiction of the New Testament and for four centuries has been cited by antisemites to justify the persecution of the Jewish people. It regrets that it has just been published in English, as part of the complete works of Luther, and calls for any profits made by the sale of the book to be used to fight antisemitism (Hoch and Dupuy, Les Eglises, 141–42). The Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation in 1984 recommended a statement rejecting Luther's anti-Jewish views (Hoch and Dupuy, Les Eglises).
Christians of all colors and denominations have expressed their condemnation of antisemitism – "a sin against God and man," as the World Council of Churches stated in 1948, also saying, "In the light of antisemitism and gas chambers, Christian words have become suspect in the ears of most Jews." However, some of the condemnations are tepid and remind us of Eckhardt's comment on Vatican II's remarks about the Jews: "They would have redeemed a little in the 13th century" (A.T. Davies (ed.), Anti-Semitism and the Christian Mind (1969), 43). Another American Christian scholar, Franklin Littell, has published extensively on the responsibility of German Christianity in making the Holocaust possible.
Various writers feel that despite efforts on the part of ecclesiastical authorities and some theologians, not much in the Church's attitude to Jews has really changed. Charlotte Klein concludes that Christian postwar theology speaks of Judaism as it did before the War, certainly in the European ambience in which she specializes (C. Klein, Anti-Judaism, 13). Since she wrote, however, the Synod of Protestant Christians in the Rhineland has stated unequivocally that Christians were guilty and co-responsible for the Holocaust, for the persecution and murder of Jews (Klappert and Starck, Umkehr und Erneuerung, 264).
ZIONISM AND ISRAEL
With reference to attitudes to Zionism and the State of Israel, this too is a full subject. The situation
is complex and a few haphazard quotations would be a distortion. Therefore a selection of some official Church pronouncements follows.
Vatican statements avoid or skirt the subject while the statements of the World Council of Churches are, for Jews, highly disappointing. Its 1948 statement remarked that a Jewish State threatens to complicate antisemitism with political fears and enmities. It failed to mention the problem of the refugees and the Holocaust survivors (H. Kroner, Stepping Stones, 71ff.). By 1968 its Faith and Order Commission had to mention the State, "an event of tremendous importance for the great majority, giving them a new feeling of self-assurance," but also with evenhandedness it adds that it has brought suffering and injustice to the Arab people (ibid., 74–75). The World Council of Churches' International 1974 Consultation on Biblical Interpretation and the Middle East carefully sets out the contrasting positions: it mentions first those who hold that the Old Testament has no specific bearing on the Middle East today. In their opinion one cannot speak of the theological or biblical relation between the modern State of Israel and the ancient state of Israel, or of the promise of the land and its present occupancy; nor is there any connection between the election of the people of Israel in the Old Testament and the Jewish community in the world today. It then quotes the opposing view that God's promises are irrevocable and that there is a theological foundation for a national self-expression on the part of the Jewish people in the land. Far from being nullified or transmuted by the Christ event, these promises and events are seen as confirming the faithfulness of God. The report of the Consultation focused on the question of justice, seeking equal justice for both the Palestinian people and the Jewish people in the Middle East. It called for mutual recognition and equality, with freedom and self-determination for both parties (documents published by World Council of Churches, Program Unit in Faith and Witness, March 11, 1974). The 1983 "Ecumenical Considerations on Jewish Christian Dialogue" of the WCC acknowledges the links between the Jews and their land saying "there was no time in which the memory of the Land of Israel and Zion, the city of Jerusalem, was not central in the worship and hope of the Jewish People," adding that "the continued presence of Jews in the Land and in Jerusalem was always more than just one place of residence among all the others." It goes on to say, "Now the quest for statehood by Palestinians Christians and Muslims – as part of their search for survival as a people in the Land – also calls for full attention" ("Ecumenical Considerations on Jewish-Christian Dialogue," World Council of Churches (1983), 8).
A different angle was conveyed in the 1970 statement of the Dutch Reformed Church on "Israel: people, land and state." It opens its statement: "Today the State of Israel is one of the forms in which the Jewish people appear. We would be closing our eyes to reality if we were to think about the Jewish people without taking the State of Israel into consideration." It develops the statement that Israel was always convinced that the Land was an essential element of the covenant and being allowed to dwell in the Land was a visible sign of God's election and a concrete form of salvation. The enforced separation of people and land has been abnormal. Then the statement executes some curious acrobatics, with: "This cannot be said of the city of Jerusalem or of the independent state, which were not inherent in Israel's election. The special importance of Jerusalem was based on the place of the sanctuary, chosen by God; the city of the Davidic kingdom as a symbol for the land and the people…." "We do not know," it continues, "if Jerusalem still has eschatological significance…. We rejoice in the reunion of the people and the land. But this is not to imply that this is the final stage of history or that the people can never again be expelled from its land. God's promise is people-land, not people-State. Perhaps some time in the future Jews could live unhindered without forming a specifically Jewish state, but as of now only a State safeguards the existence of the people and offers them a chance to be truly themselves" (H. Kroner, Stepping Stones, 94ff.).
The Swiss Protestant Churches in 1977 also addressed themselves to the theme. Zionism, their statement says, is a movement with biblical roots. Many Christians, and especially Jews, see in the foundation of the State, the fulfillment of certain prophecies. Others, Jews and Christians, only see in it a political act originating in human and political problems. The Swiss take a midway stand, stating that the birth of the State was good news for some, bad news for others. "If we are concerned for the Jewish people, we are also concerned for the Palestinians," and proceeds to balance the two. On Jerusalem, it is positive. "We know the Israeli government is making great effort to adapt itself to the situation but it is impossible to satisfy all interested." It pays tribute to Israel's care for the Holy Places and notes that there is more religious freedom in the country today than under the British or Jordanians (Hoch and Dupuy, Les Eglises, 236ff.).
Other Christian statements, many emanating from the United States, have expressed a deep understanding of the State of Israel and its significance for the Jewish people and for Jewish-Christian relations. One of the most recent, issued by the National Conference of Brazilian Catholic Bishops, says that "we must recognize the rights of the Jews to a calm political existence in their country of origin, without letting that create injustice or violence for other peoples. For the Jewish people these rights become a reality in the existence of the State of Israel."
There has been argument as to whether one can speak of a "Judeo-Christian tradition." For Tillich, for example, this was an historical and present reality, not a pious fiction manufactured to promote goodwill between adherents of the two faiths. Jews and Christians, he maintained, are united insofar as both regard a unique series of events recorded in the Hebrew Bible as revelatory. They belong to each other in a special way: it may properly be said that Christianity is a Jewish heresy, and Judaism is a Christian heresy. Christianity will always need the corrective influence of Judaism.
Judaism is a permanent ethical corrective of sacramental Christianity (B. Martin, "Tillich and Judaism," in Judaism, 15, 2 (Spring 1966), 180ff.).
Ruether finds the phrase "Judeo-Christian tradition" a misleading oversimplification. She calls on Judaism to reexamine its misunderstandings of Christianity: that it is polytheistic (as it sees the Trinity); that good works have no place in Christianity; that it espouses blind faith; that it is ascetic and otherworldly (in contrast to Jewish this-worldliness); that it is pessimistic; that it maintains belief in magic and superstition; that it believes only Christians can be saved. These, she finds, are Jewish misnomers. According to Pawlikowski, Christianity would be enriched from aspects of Jewish tradition, especially its affirmation of life, its sense of peoplehood and community, its positive valuation of sexuality, its close interweaving of prayer and social action, its sense of creation as a visible experience and locale of God's presence, its emphasis on dynamism over form in religious experiences. Ruether goes further. To accept Jewish covenantal existence, Christians must learn the story of the Jews after Jesus; they must accept the Oral Torah as an authentic alternative route by which the biblical past was appropriated and carried on. This requires the learning of a suppressed history (Journal of Ecumenical Studies (Fall, 1974), 614; R. Ruether, Faith and Fratricide, 257).
Another statement comes from Markus Barth: "The intervention by Jews on behalf of social justice, their generosity, their joy in work, their steadfastness in suffering shame us. Often they carry out what was entrusted to the Church. Their survival and security, in Israel or the Diaspora, is essential for the continuing existence and faith of the Church if the Church is not to become a pagan culture and social institution but is to represent, together with the Jews, the one people of God on earth" (M. Barth, Jesus the Jew, 39).
Krister Stendhal, former dean of Harvard Divinity School and now Bishop of Stockholm, has written:
Christian theology needs a new departure. We cannot find it on our own but only by the help of our Jewish colleagues. We must plead with them to help us. We must ask if they are willing, in spite of it all, to let us again become part of their family – relatives who believe themselves to be a peculiar kind of Jews. Something went wrong at the beginning. Is it not possible for us to recognize that we parted ways not according to but against the will of God (E. Fleischner, Judaism in German Christian Theology, 122).
Paul Van Buren, in his Discerning the Way, the first of a projected four-volume work on "the Jewish-Christian reality," puts it this way:
We define ourselves as gentiles by reference to the Jews because Our Way has no starting point and no possible projection except by reference to the Way in which Jews were walking before we started and are walking still. The first walkers who produced the Apostolic Writings were convinced that our Way could only be walked with the help provided by carrying with us the Book that Jesus and all his apostles had understood to be their one and only Scriptures – which St. Jerome liked to call the 'Hebrew truth.' That book, backed as it was by the continuing vitality of the Jewish people, most of whom at least hear it in its original tongue, reminds us that we are gentiles, not Jews, although gentiles who worship Israel's God. When we talk of God we mean the one called in the Scriptures 'the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.' We mean always and only the God of Israel. In everything that has to do with our future movement along the Way, we are profoundly dependent upon the Jews. We use a Jewish vocabulary (such as 'law,' 'prophets,' 'creation,' 'covenant,' 'sin,' 'repentance,' 'holiness,' 'Sabbath,' 'judgment,' 'resurrection'). God's dealing with Israel made our walk possible in the first place. The Church developed the view that the Jews have been cast off and developed the teaching of contempt. The Holocaust and the foundation of Israel have forced a re-thinking. If God was not faithful to His people, why should we assume He will be any more faithful to the gentile Church? What is our final hope in the Jewish-Christian conversation? To be one? How? Not one assimilating the other. Maybe walking side by side. (P. Van Buren, Discerning the Way, 25ff.).
And a final Catholic voice – Cornelius Rijk (in a paper on "The Theology of Judaism"):
One critique of Vatican II was that it spoke about Jews in Christian categories and showed no understanding for how Jews think about or see themselves. The later documents show development in this area, with their emphasis on reciprocity and their exclusion of proselytism. They emphasize the permanence of the religious values in Judaism and advocate social collaboration between the two religions because both have the concept of human dignity. Common involvement in the service of the world in the name of justice, covenant and charity is an efficient way of understanding each other, even on the theological level. Moreover, Jewish-Christian relations are essential for Christian unity as this unity cannot be attained without returning to the sources of Christianity.
SOME OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS
For the statement issued at the end of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, see
. Ten years later, the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews issued the following "Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration":
The Declaration Nostra Aetate, issued by the Second Vatican Council on October 28, 1965, "On the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions" (n. 4), marks an important milestone in the history of Jewish-Christian relations.
Moreover, the step taken by the Council finds its historical setting in circumstances deeply affected by the memory of the persecution and massacre of Jews which took place in Europe just before and during the Second World War.
Although Christianity sprang from Judaism, taking from it certain essential elements of its faith and divine cult, the gap dividing them was deepened more and more, to such an extent that Christian and Jew hardly knew each other.
After two thousand years, too often marked by mutual ignorance and frequent confrontation, the Declaration Nostra
Aetate provides an opportunity to open or to continue a dialogue with a view to better mutual understanding. Over the past nine years, many steps in this direction have been taken in various countries. As a result, it is easier to distinguish the conditions under which a new relationship between Jews and Christians may be worked out and developed. This seems the right moment to propose, following the guidelines of the Council, some concrete suggestions born of experience, hoping that they will help to bring into actual existence in the life of the Church the intentions expressed in the conciliar document.
While referring the reader back to this document, we may simply restate here that the spiritual bonds and historical links binding the Church to Judaism condemn (as opposed to the very spirit of Christianity) all forms of antisemitism and discrimination, which in any case the dignity of the human person alone would suffice to condemn. Further still, these links and relationships render obligatory a better mutual understanding and renewed mutual esteem. On the practical level in particular, Christians must therefore strive to acquire a better knowledge of the basic components of the religious tradition of Judaism: they must strive to learn by what essential traits the Jews define themselves in the light of their own religious experience.
With due respect for such matters of principle, we simply propose some first practical applications in different essential areas of the Church's life, with a view to launching or developing sound relations between Catholics and their Jewish brothers.
To tell the truth, such relations as there have been between Jew and Christian have scarcely ever risen above the level of monologue. From now on, real dialogue must be established.
Dialogue presupposes that each side wishes to know the other, and wishes to increase and deepen its knowledge of the other. It constitutes a particularly suitable means of favoring a better mutual knowledge and, especially in the case of dialogue between Jews and Christians, of probing the riches of one's own tradition. Dialogue demands respect for the other as he is; above all, respect for his faith and his religious convictions.
In virtue of her divine mission, and her very nature, the Church must preach Jesus Christ to the world (Ad Gentes, 2). Lest the witness of Catholics to Jesus Christ should give offense to Jews, they must take care to live and spread their Christian faith while maintaining the strictest respect for religious liberty, in line with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council (Declaration Dignitatis Humanae). They will likewise strive to understand the difficulties which arise for the Jewish soul – rightly imbued with an extremely high, pure notion of the divine transcendence – when faced with the mystery of the incarnate Word.
While it is true that a widespread air of suspicion, inspired by an unfortunate past, is still dominant in this particular area, Christians for their part will be able to see to what extent the responsibility is theirs and deduce practical conclusions for the future.
In addition to friendly talks, competent people will be encouraged to meet and to study together the many problems deriving from the fundamental convictions of Judaism and of Christianity. In order not to hurt (even involuntarily) those taking part, it will be vital to guarantee, not only tact, but a great openness of spirit and diffidence with respect to one's own prejudices.
In whatever circumstances as shall prove possible and mutually acceptable, one might encourage a common meeting in the presence of God, in prayer and silent meditation, a highly efficacious way of finding that humility, that openness of heart and mind, necessary prerequisites for a deep knowledge of oneself and of others. In particular, that will be done in connection with great causes, such as the struggle for peace and justice.
The existing links between the Christian liturgy and the Jewish liturgy will be borne in mind. The idea of a living community in the service of God, and in the service of men for the love of God, such as it is realized in the liturgy, is just as characteristic of the Jewish liturgy as it is of the Christian one. To improve Jewish-Christian relations, it is important to take cognizance of those common elements of the liturgical life (formulas, feasts, rites, etc.) in which the Bible holds an essential place.
An effort will be made to acquire a better understanding of whatever in the Old Testament retains its own perpetual value (cf. Dei Verbum, 14–15), since that has not been canceled by the later interpretation of the New Testament. Rather, the New Testament brings out the full meaning of the Old, while both Old and New illumine and explain each other (cf. ibid., 16). This is all the more important since liturgical reform is now bringing the text of the Old Testament ever more frequently to the attention of Christians.
When commenting on biblical texts, emphasis will be laid on the continuity of our faith with that of the earlier Covenant, in the perspective of the promises, without minimizing those elements of Christianity which are original. We believe that those promises were fulfilled with the first coming of Christ. But it is nonetheless true that we still await their perfect fulfilment in His glorious return at the end of time.
With respect to liturgical readings, care will be taken to see that homilies based on them will not distort their meaning, especially when it is a question of passages which seem to show the Jewish people as such in an unfavorable light. Efforts will be made so to instruct the Christian people that they will understand the true interpretation of all the texts and their meaning for the contemporary believer.
Commissions entrusted with the task of liturgical translation will pay particular attention to the way in which they express those phrases and passages which Christians, if not well informed, might misunderstand because of prejudice. Obviously, one cannot alter the text of the Bible. The point is that, with a version destined for liturgical use, there should be an overriding preoccupation to bring out explicitly the meaning of a text, while taking scriptural studies into account. (Thus the formula "the Jews," in St. John sometimes according to the context means "the leaders of the Jews," or "the adversaries of Jesus," terms which express better the thought of the Evangelist and avoid appearing to arraign the Jewish people as such. Another example is the use of the words "Pharisee" and "Pharisaism," which have taken on a largely pejorative meaning.)
The preceding remarks also apply to the introductions to biblical readings, to the Prayer of the Faithful, and to commentaries printed in missals used by the laity.
Teaching and Education
Although there is still a great deal of work to be done, a better understanding of Judaism itself and its relationship to Christianity has been achieved in recent years thanks to the teaching
of the Church, the study and research of scholars, as also to the beginning of dialogue. In this respect, the following facts deserve to be recalled:
It is the same God, "inspirer and author of the books of both Testaments" (Dei Verbum, 16), who speaks both in the old and new Covenants.
Judaism in the time of Christ and the Apostles was a complex reality, embracing many different trends, many spiritual, religious, social, and cultural values.
The Old Testament and the Jewish tradition founded upon it must not be set against the New Testament in such a way that the former seems to constitute a religion of only justice, fear, and legalism, with no appeal to the love of God and neighbor (cf. Dt 6:5; Lv 19:18; Mt 22:34–40).
Jesus was born of the Jewish people, as were his apostles and a large number of his first disciples. When he revealed himself as the Messiah and Son (cf. Mt 16:16), the bearer of the new Gospel message, he did so as the fulfillment and perfection of the earlier Revelation. And although his teaching had a profoundly new character, Christ, nevertheless, in many instances, took his stand on the teaching of the Old Testament. The New Testament is profoundly marked by its relation to the Old. As the Second Vatican Council declared: "God, the inspirer and author of the books of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New" (Dei Verbum, 16). Jesus also used teaching methods similar to those employed by the rabbis of his time.
With regard to the trial and death of Jesus, the Council recalled that "what happened in his passion cannot be blamed upon all the Jews then living, without distinction, nor upon the Jews of today" (Nostra Aetate).
The history of Judaism did not end with the destruction of Jerusalem, but rather went on to develop a religious tradition. And, although we believe that the importance and meaning of that tradition were deeply affected by the coming of Christ, it is nonetheless rich in religious values.
With the prophets and the apostle Paul, "the Church awaits the day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and serve Him with one accord (Soph 3:9)" (Nostra Aetate).
Information concerning these questions is important at all levels of Christian instruction and education. Among sources of information, special attention should be paid to the following: catechisms and religious textbooks, history books, the mass media (press, radio, movies, television).
The effective use of these means presupposes the thorough formation of instructors and educators in training schools, seminaries, and universities.
Research into the problems bearing on Judaism and Jewish-Christian relations will be encouraged among specialists, particularly in the fields of exegesis, theology, history, and sociology. Higher institutions of Catholic research, in association if possible with other similar Christian institutions and experts, are invited to contribute to the solution of such problems. Wherever possible, chairs of Jewish studies will be created, and collaboration with Jewish scholars encouraged.
Joint Social Action
Jewish and Christian tradition, founded on the word of God, is aware of the value of the human person, the image of God. Love of the same God must show itself in effective action for the good of mankind. In the spirit of the prophets, Jews and Christians will work willingly together, seeking social justice and peace at every level – local, national, and international.
At the same time, such collaboration can do much to foster mutual understanding and esteem.
The Second Vatican Council has pointed out the path to follow in promoting deep fellowship between Jews and Christians. But there is still a long road ahead.
The problem of Jewish-Christian relations concerns the Church as such, since it is when "pondering her own mystery" that she encounters the mystery of Israel. Therefore, even in areas where no Jewish communities exist, this remains an important problem. There is also an ecumenical aspect to the question: the very return of Christians to the sources and origins of their faith, grafted onto the earlier Covenant, helps the search for unity in Christ, the cornerstone.
In this field, the bishops will know what best to do on the pastoral level, within the general disciplicary framework of the Church and in line with the common teaching of her magisterium. For example, they will create some suitable commissions or secretariats on a national or regional level, or appoint some competent person to promote the implementation of the conciliar directives and the suggestions made above.
On October 22, 1974, the Holy Father instituted for the universal Church this Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, joined to the Secretariat for promoting Christian Unity. This special Commission, created to encourage and foster religious relations between Jews and Catholics – and to do so eventually in collaboration with other Christians – will be, within the limits of its competence, at the service of all interested organizations, providing information for them, and helping them to pursue their task in conformity with the instructions of the Holy See."
Various Bishops' Conferences have issued their guidelines for local implementation of the Vatican documents. One of the recent ones, issued by the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops issued in 1983, reads as follows:
ORIENTATIONS FOR CATHOLIC-JEWISH DIALOGUE
National Commission for Catholic-Jewish Religious Dialogue: CNBB National Conference of Brazilian Bishops)
After twenty centuries of co-existence which were given a particular hall-mark by the events in Europe which preceded and accompanied the Second World War, a new awareness of the origins and history of both Judaism and Christianity demonstrates the need for reconciliation between Jews and Christians. This reconciliation must take the form of dialogue, inspired by a healthy desire for knowledge of one another, together with mutual understanding.
It is indispensable for dialogue that Catholics should strive to learn by what essential traits the Jews define themselves, that is to say, as a people clearly defined by religious and ethnic elements.
The first constitutive element of the Jewish people is its religion, which in no way authorizes Catholics to envisage them as if they were simply one of the many religions in the world today. It was in fact through the Jewish people that faith in the one true God, that is to say, monotheism, has entered into human history.
It should be noted, on the other hand, that according to biblical revelation, God himself constituted the Hebrews as a people. The Lord did this after having made a covenant with them (cf. Gen. 17:7; Ex. 24:1–8). We are indebted to the Jewish people for the five books of the Law, the Prophets and the other sacred books which make up the Hebrew Scriptures that have been adopted by Christians as an integral part of the Bible.
Judaism cannot be considered as a purely social and historical reality or as a left-over from a past which no longer exists. We must take into account the vitality of the Jewish people which has continued throughout the centuries to the present. St. Paul bears witness that the Jews have a zeal for God (Rom. 10:2); that God has not rejected his people (Rom. 11:1ff); He has not withdrawn the blessing given to the chosen people (Rom. 9:8). St. Paul teaches also that the Gentiles, like a wild olive shoot, have been grafted onto the true olive tree which is Israel (Rom. 11:16–19); Israel continues to play an important role in the history of salvation, a role which will end in the fulfillment of the plan of God (Rom. 11:11, 15, 23).
It is thus possible for us to state that all forms of antisemitism must be condemned. Every unfavorable word and expression must be erased from Christian speech. All campaigns of physical or moral violence must cease. The Jews cannot be considered as a deicide people. The fact that a small number of Jews asked Pilate for Jesus' death does not implicate the Jewish people as such. In the final analysis, Christ died for the sins of all humanity in general. Christian love, moreover, which embraces all persons without distinction, in imitation of the Father's love (Matt. 5:44–48), should likewise embrace the Jewish people and seek to understand their history and aspirations.
Particularly in catechetical teaching and in the liturgy, unfavorable judgments with regard to the Jews must be avoided. It is desirable that courses in Catholic doctrinal formation, in addition to liturgical celebrations, should emphasize those elements common to Jews and to Christians. It should be pointed out, for example, that the New Testament cannot be understood without the Old Testament. The Christian feasts of Easter and Pentecost, as well as liturgical prayers, the Psalms especially, originated in Jewish tradition.
A contrast must not be made between Judaism and Christianity, claiming, for example, that Judaism is a religion of fear while Christianity is one of love. We find, in fact, in the holy books of Israel the origins of the expressions of the great love which exists between God and humanity (Deut. 6:4; 7:6–9; Pss. 73–139; Hos. 11; Jer. 31:2ff; 19–22; 33:6–9).
It is fitting to recall, as well, that the Lord Jesus, his holy Mother, the apostles and the first Christian communities were of the race of Abraham. The roots of Christianity are in the people of Israel.
In what concerns the land of Israel, it is well to remember that, as the fruit of his promise, God gave the ancient land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants in which the Jews lived. The Roman occupation and successive invasions of the land of Israel resulted in harsh trials for the people who were dispersed among foreign nations. We must recognize the rights of the Jews to a calm political existence in their country of origin, without letting that create injustice or violence for other peoples. For the Jewish people these rights become a reality in the existence of the State of Israel.
We should emphasize, finally, the eschatological expectation which is the hope of Jews and of Christians, in spite of their different ways of describing it. Both are awaiting the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God; this has already begun, for Christians, with the coming of Jesus Christ, while Jews are still awaiting the coming of the Messiah. At all events, this eschatological perspective awakens as much in Jews as in Christians the consciousness of being on the march, like the people who came forth from Egypt, searching for a land "flowing with milk and honey" (Ex. 3:8).
(Taken from a French translation)
In 1983, the Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologies Department of the World Council of Churches published "Ecumenical Considerations on the Jewish-Christian Dialogue."
One of the functions of dialogue is to allow participants to describe and witness to their faith in their own terms. This is of primary importance since self-serving descriptions of other peoples' faith are one of the roots of prejudice, stereotyping, and condescension. Listening carefully to the neighbors' self-understanding enables Christians better to obey the commandment not to bear false witness against their neighbors, whether those neighbors be of long-established religious, cultural or ideological traditions or members of new religious groups. It should be recognized by partners in dialogue that any religion or ideology claiming universality, apart from having an understanding of itself, will also have its own interpretations of other religions and ideologies as part of its own self-understanding. Dialogue gives an opportunity for a mutual questioning of the understanding partners have about themselves and others. It is out of a reciprocal willingness to listen and learn that significant dialogue grows
(WCC Guidelines on Dialogue, III.4)
In giving such guidelines applicable to all dialogues, the World Council of Churches speaks primarily to its member churches as it defines the need for and gifts to be received by dialogue. People of other faiths may choose to define their understanding of dialogue, and their expectations as to how dialogue with Christians may affect their own traditions and attitudes and may lead to a better understanding of Christianity. Fruitful "mutual questioning of the understanding partners have about themselves and others" requires the spirit of dialogue. But the WCC Guidelines do not predict what partners in dialogue may come to learn about themselves, their history, and their problems. Rather they speak within the churches about faith, attitudes, actions, and problems of Christians.
In all dialogues distinct asymmetry between any two communities of faith becomes an important fact. Already terms like faith, theology, religion, scripture, people, etc. are not innocent or neutral. Partners in dialogue may rightly question the very language in which each thinks about religious matters.
In the case of Jewish-Christian dialogue a specific historical and theological asymmetry is obvious. While an understanding of Judaism in New Testament times becomes an integral and indispensable part of any Christian theology, for Jews, a "theological" understanding of Christianity is of a less than essential or integral significance. Yet, neither community of faith has developed without awareness of the other.
The relations between Jews and Christians have unique characteristics because of the ways in which Christianity historically emerged out of Judaism. Christian understandings of that process constitute a necessary part of the dialogue and give urgency to the enterprise. As Christianity came to define its own identity against Judaism, the Church developed its own understandings, definitions and terms for what it had inherited from Jewish traditions, and for what it read in the Scriptures common to Jews and Christians. In the process of defining its own identity the Church defined Judaism, and assigned to the Jews definite roles in its understanding of God's acts of salvation. It should not be surprising that Jews resent those Christian theologies in which they as a people are assigned to play a negative role. Tragically, such patterns of thought in Christianity have often led to overt acts of condescension, persecution, and worse.
Bible-reading and worshipping Christians often believe that they "know Judaism" since they have read the Old Testament, the records of Jesus' debates with Jewish teachers, and the early Christian reflections on the Judaism of their times. Furthermore, no other religious tradition has been so thoroughly "defined" by preachers and teachers in the Church as has Judaism. This attitude is often enforced by lack of knowledge about the history of Jewish life and thought through the 1,900 years since the parting of the ways of Judaism and Christianity.
For these reasons there is special urgency for Christians to listen, through study and dialogue, to ways in which Jews understand their history and their traditions, their faith and their obedience "in their own terms". Furthermore a mutual listening to how each is perceived by the other may be a step towards understanding the hurts, overcoming the fears, and correcting the misunderstandings that have thrived on isolation.
Both Judaism and Christianity comprise a wide spectrum of opinions, options, theologies, and styles of life and service. Since generalizations often produce stereotyping, Jewish-Christian dialogue becomes the more significant by aiming at as full as possible a representation of views within the two communities of faith.
Towards a Christian Understanding of Jews and Judaism
Through dialogue with Jews many Christians have come to appreciate the richness and vitality of Jewish faith and life in the covenant and have been enriched in their own understandings of God and the divine will for all creatures.
In dialogue with Jews, Christians have learned that the actual history of Jewish faith and experiences does not match the images of Judaism that have dominated a long history of Christian teaching and writing, images that have been spread by Western culture and literature into other parts of the world.
A classical Christian tradition sees the Church replacing Israel as God's people, and the destruction of the second temple of Jerusalem as a warrant for this claim. The covenant of God with the people of Israel was only a preparation for the coming of Christ, after which it was abrogated.
Such a theological perspective has had fateful consequences. As the Church replaced the Jews as God's people, the Judaism that survived was seen as a fossilized religion of legalism – a view now perpetuated by scholarship which claims no theological interests. Judaism of the first centuries before and after the birth of Jesus was therefore called "Late Judaism". The Pharisees were considered to represent the acme of legalism, Jews and Jewish groups were portrayed as negative models, and the truth and beauty of Christianity were thought to be enhanced by setting up Judaism as false and ugly.
Through a renewed study of Judaism and in dialogue with Jews, Christians have become aware that Judaism in the time of Christ was in an early stage of its long life. Under the leadership of the Pharisees the Jewish people began a spiritual revival of remarkable power, which gave them the vitality capable of surviving the catastrophe of the loss of the temple. It gave birth to Rabbinic Judaism which produced the Mishnah and Talmud and built the structures for a strong and creative life through the centuries.
As a Jew, Jesus was born into this tradition. In that setting he was nurtured by the Hebrew Scriptures, which he accepted as authoritative and to which he gave a new interpretation in his life and teaching. In this context Jesus announced that the Kingdom of God was at hand, and in his resurrection his followers found the confirmation of his being both Lord and Messiah.
Christians should remember that some of the controversies reported in the New Testament between Jesus and the "scribes and Pharisees" find parallels within Pharisaism itself and its heir, Rabbinic Judaism. These controversies took place in a Jewish context, but when the words of Jesus came to be used by Christians who did not identify with the Jewish people as Jesus did, such sayings often became weapons in anti-Jewish polemics and thereby their original intention was tragically distorted. An internal Christian debate is now taking place on the question of how to understand passages in the New Testament that seem to contain anti-Jewish references.
Judaism, with its rich history of spiritual life, produced the Talmud as the normative guide for Jewish life in thankful response to the grace of God's covenant with the people of Israel. Over the centuries important commentaries, profound philosophical works and poetry of spiritual depth have been added. For Judaism the Talmud is central and authoritative. Judaism is more than the religion of the Scriptures of Israel. What Christians call the Old Testament has received in the Talmud and later writings interpretations that for Jewish tradition share in the authority of Moses.
For Christians the Bible with the two Testaments is also followed by traditions of interpretation, from the Church Fathers to the present time. Both Jews and Christians live in the continuity of their Scripture and Tradition.
Christians as well as Jews look to the Hebrew Bible as the story recording Israel's sacred memory of God's election and covenant with this people. For Jews, it is their own story in historical continuity with the present. Christians, mostly of gentile background since early in the life of the Church, believe themselves to be heirs to this same story by grace in Jesus Christ. The relationship between the two communities, both worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is a given historical fact, but how it is to be understood theologically is a matter of internal discussion among Christians, a discussion that can be enriched by dialogue with Jews.
Both commonalities and differences between the two faiths need to be examined carefully. Finding in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments the authority sufficient for salvation, the Christian Church shares Israel's faith in the One God, whom it knows in the Spirit as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. For Christians, Jesus Christ is the only begotten
Son of the Father, through whom millions have come to share in the love of, and to adore, the God who first made covenant with the people of Israel. Knowing the One God in Jesus Christ through the Spirit, therefore, Christians worship that God with a Trinitarian confession to the One God, the God of Creation, Incarnation and Pentecost. In so doing, the Church worships in a language foreign to Jewish worship and sensitivities, yet full of meaning to Christians.
Christians and Jews both believe that God has created men and women as the crown of creation and has called them to be holy and to exercise stewardship over the creation in accountability to God. Jews and Christians are taught by their Scriptures and Traditions to know themselves responsible to their neighbors, especially to those who are weak, poor and oppressed. In various and distinct ways they look for the day in which God will redeem the creation. In dialogue with Jews many Christians come to a more profound appreciation of the Exodus hope of liberation, and pray and work for the coming of righteousness and peace on earth.
Christians learn through dialogue with Jews that for Judaism the survival of the Jewish people is inseparable from its obedience to God and God's covenant.
During long periods, both before and after the emergence of Christianity, Jews found ways of living in obedience to Torah, maintaining and deepening their calling as a peculiar people in the midst of the nations. Through history there are times and places in which Jews were allowed to live, respected and accepted by the cultures in which they resided, and where their own culture thrived and made a distinct and sought after contribution to their Christian and Muslim neighbors. Often lands not dominated by Christians proved most favorable for Jewish diaspora living. There were even times when Jewish thinkers came to "make a virtue out of necessity" and considered diaspora living to be the distinct genius of Jewish existence.
Yet, there was no time in which the memory of the Land of Israel and of Zion, the city of Jerusalem, was not central in the worship and hope of the Jewish people. "Next year in Jerusalem" was always part of Jewish worship in the diaspora. And the continued presence of Jews in the Land and in Jerusalem was always more than just one place of residence among all the others.
Jews differ in their interpretations of the State of Israel, as to its religious and secular meaning. It constitutes for them part of the long search for that survival which has always been central to Judaism through the ages. Now the quest for statehood by Palestinians – Christian and Muslim – as part of their search for survival as a people in the Land – also calls for full attention.
Jews, Christians, and Muslims have all maintained a presence in the Land from their beginnings. While "the Holy Land" is primarily a Christian designation, the Land is holy to all three. Although they may understand its holiness in different ways, it cannot be said to be "more holy" to one than to another.
The need for dialogue is all the more urgent. When under strain the dialogue is tested. Is it mere debate and negotiation or is it grounded in faith that God's will for the world is secure peace with justice and compassion?
Hatred and Persecution of Jews – A Continuing Concern
Christians cannot enter into dialogue with Jews without the awareness that hatred and persecution of Jews have a long persistent history, especially in countries where Jews constitute a minority among Christians. The tragic history of the persecution of Jews includes massacres in Europe and the Middle East by the Crusaders, the Inquisition, pogroms, and the Holocaust. The World Council of Churches Assembly at its first meeting in Amsterdam, 1948, declared: "We call upon the churches we represent to denounce antisemitism, no matter what its origin, as absolutely irreconcilable with the profession and practice of the Christian faith. Antisemitism is sin against God and man." This appeal has been reiterated many times. Those who live where there is a record of acts of hatred against Jews can serve the whole Church by unmasking the ever-present danger they have come to recognize.
Teachings of contempt for Jews and Judaism in certain Christian traditions proved a spawning ground for the evil of the Nazi Holocaust. The Church must learn so to preach and teach the Gospel as to make sure that it cannot be used towards contempt for Judaism and against the Jewish people. A further response to the Holocaust by Christians, and one which is shared by their Jewish partners, is a resolve that it will never happen again to the Jews or to any other people.
Discrimination against and persecution of Jews has deep-rooted socio-economic and political aspects. Religious differences are magnified to justify ethnic hatred in support of vested interests. Similar phenomena are also evident in many interracial conflicts. Christians should oppose all such religious prejudices, whereby people are made scapegoats for the failures and problems of societies and political regimes.
Christians in parts of the world with a history of little or no persecution of Jews do not wish to be conditioned by the specific experiences of justified guilt among other Christians. Rather, they explore in their own ways the significance of Jewish-Christian relations, from the earliest times to the present, for their life and witness.
Authentic Christian Witness
Christians are called to witness to their faith in word and deed. The Church has a mission and it cannot be otherwise. This mission is not one of choice.
Christians have often distorted their witness by coercive proselytism, conscious and unconscious, overt and subtle. Referring to proselytism between Christian churches, the Joint Working Group of the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches stated: "Proselytism embraces whatever violates the right of the human person, Christian or non-Christian, to be free from external coercion in religious matters" (Ecumenical Review, 1/1971, 11).
Such rejection of proselytism, and such advocacy of respect for the integrity and the identity of all persons and all communities of faith, are urgent in relation to Jews, especially those who live as minorities among Christians. Steps towards assuring non-coercive practices are of the highest importance. In dialogue ways should be found for the exchange of concerns, perceptions, and safeguards in these matters.
While Christians agree that there can be no place for coercion of any kind, they do disagree – on the basis of their understandings of the Scriptures – as to what constitutes authentic forms of mission. There is a wide spectrum, from those who see the very presence of the Church in the world as the witness called for, to those who see mission as the explicit and organized proclamation of the gospel to all who have not accepted Jesus as their Saviour.
This spectrum as to mission in general is represented in the different views of what is authentic mission to Jews. Here some of the specifics are as follows: There are Christians who view a mission to the Jews as having a very special salvific significance, and those who believe the conversion of the Jews to be the eschatological event that will climax the history of the world. There are those who would place no special emphasis on a mission to the Jews, but would include them in the one mission to all those who have not accepted Christ as their Saviour. There are those who believe that a mission to the Jews is not part of an authentic Christian witness, since the Jewish people find its fulfillment in faithfulness to God's covenant of old.
Dialogue can rightly be described as a mutual witness, but only when the intention is to hear the others in order better to understand their faith, hopes, insights, and concerns, and to give, to the best of one's ability, one's own understanding of one's own faith. The spirit of dialogue is to be fully present to one another in full openness and human vulnerability.
According to rabbinic law, Jews who confess Jesus as the Messiah are considered apostate Jews, but for many Christians of Jewish origin, their identification with the Jewish people is a deep spiritual reality to which they seek to give expression in various ways, some by observing parts of Jewish tradition in worship and life style, many by a special commitment to the well-being of the Jewish people and to a peaceful and secure future for the State of Israel. Among Christians of Jewish origin there is the same wide spectrum of attitudes towards mission as among other Christians, and the same criteria for dialogue and against coercion apply.
As Christians of different traditions enter into dialogue with Jews in local, national, and international situations, they will come to express their understanding of Judaism in other languages, styles, and ways than have been done in these Ecumenical Considerations. Such understandings are to be shared among the churches for enrichment of all.
Many individual Protestant Churches have also issued statements. During the Lutheran year (1983–84), the Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation recommended to its constituents the following statement concerning Luther's utterances about the Jews:
We Lutherans take our name and much of our understanding of Christianity from Martin Luther. But we cannot accept or condone the violent verbal attacks that the Reformer made against the Jews. Lutherans and Jews interpret the Hebrew Bible differently. But we believe that a christological reading of the Scriptures does not lead to anti-Judaism, let alone antisemitism.
We hold that an honest, historical treatment of Luther's attacks on the Jews takes away from modern antisemites the assumption that they may legitimately call on the authority of Luther's name to bless their antisemitism. We insist that Luther does not support racial antisemitism, nationalistic antisemitism or political antisemitism. Even the deplorable religious antisemitism of the 16th century, to which Luther's attacks made an important contribution, is a horrible anachronism when translated to the conditions of the modern world. We recognize with deep regret, however, that Luther has been used to justify such antisemitism in the period of national socialism and that his writings lent themselves to such abuse. Although there remain conflicting assumptions, built into the beliefs of Judaism and Christianity, they need not and should not lead to the animosity and the violence of Luther's treatment of the Jews. Martin Luther opened up our eyes to a deeper understanding of the Old Testament and showed us the depth of our common inheritance and the roots of our faith.
Many of the anti-Jewish utterances of Luther have to be explained in the light of his polemic against what he regarded as misinterpretations of the Scriptures. He attacked these interpretations, since for him everything now depended on a right understanding of the Word of God.
The sins of Luther's anti-Jewish remarks, the violence of his attacks on the Jews, must be acknowledged with deep distress. And all occasions for similar sin in the present or the future must be removed from our churches.
A frank examination also forces Lutherans and other Christians to confront the anti-Jewish attitudes of their past and present. Hostility toward the Jews began long before Luther and has been a continuing evil after him. The history of the centuries following the Reformation saw in Europe the gradual acceptance of religious pluralism. The church was not always the first to accept this development: yet there have also been examples of leadership by the church in the movement to accept Jews as full fellow citizens and members of society.
Beginning in the last half of the 19th century antisemitism increased in Central Europe and at the same time Jewish people were being integrated in society. This brought to the churches, particularly in Germany, an unwanted challenge. Paradoxically the churches honored the biblical people of Israel but rejected the descendants of those people, myths were perpetuated about the Jews, and deprecatory references appeared in Lutheran liturgical and educational material. Luther's doctrine of the Two Kingdoms was used to justify passivity in the face of totalitarian claims. These and other less theological factors contributed to the failures which have been regretted and repeatedly confessed since 1945.
To their credit it is to be said that there were individuals and groups among Lutherans who in defiance of totalitarian power defended their Jewish neighbors, both in Germany and elsewhere.
Lutherans of today refuse to be bound by all of Luther's utterances on the Jews. We hope we have learned from the tragedies of the recent past. We are responsible for seeing that we do not now nor in the future leave any doubt about our position on racial and religious prejudice and that we afford to all the human dignity, freedom and friendship that are the right of all the Father's children.
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