Christian-Jewish contacts have progressed significantly at the initiative of the major international Church organizations and of national and regional church bodies. Of special importance are the contacts with the main Church organizations: the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches, the latter being a federation embracing the majority of non-Catholic Churches, but representing mainly the interests and views of the Protestant Churches. Direct contacts with the Orthodox Churches, outside the framework of the WCC, are at a very initial stage. The political situation prevailing in countries with orthodox populations evidently does not encourage interreligious dialogue.
Contacts with the Roman Catholic Church
Since the historic declaration Nostra Aetate on the relationship of the Church to the non-Christian religions (No. 4), issued by the Second Vatican Council on Oct. 28, 1965 (for text see
), the implementation of the Vatican Council's decision was entrusted to the Secretariat for promoting Christian unity, headed by Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, and a special office within the Secretariat maintained contact with representatives of Judaism until October 1974. The aims of this office are: combating antisemitism and racial prejudices, the solution of the problems of
human rights, and in general the desire to start an interreligious dialogue.
On Oct. 23, 1974, Pope Paul VI established a special commission with the aim of advancing and stimulating religious relations between Christians and Jews. The commission, having the status of an independent organism, is linked with the Secretariat for promoting Christian unity and is headed by Cardinal Willebrands. On Jan. 31, 1976, Pope Paul named eight consultants to the commission.
It is noteworthy that whereas the commission dealing with contacts with Judaism is linked with the Secretariat for Christian unity, a similar commission concerned with relations with Islam is linked with the Secretariat for non-Christian religions. The special relationship of Christianity with Judaism is thus also emphasized administratively. At a preliminary Catholic-Jewish consultation held in Rome in December 1970, it was recommended that an annual meeting of an international Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee be held for the purpose of fostering mutual understanding between the two faiths and encouraging exchange of information and cooperation in areas of common concern and responsibility.
The first meeting took place in Paris in December 1971. Its five Catholic members, consisting of clergymen specializing in Jewish contacts, were appointed by Cardinal Willebrands, with the approval of Pope Paul VI. The six Jewish members represented the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC), comprising leading figures from the following Jewish organizations: the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the World Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, the Synagogue Council of America, the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Council for Interreligious Consultations in Israel.
The second meeting was held in Marseilles in December 1972, at which preliminary papers on "Religious Community, People and Land in Jewish and Christian Traditions" were discussed. Information and views on subjects of common interest were also exchanged. The third annual meeting was held in Antwerp in December 1973, at which two papers on "People, Nation and Land" were submitted by Jewish and Catholic experts. The Committee also decided to initiate research on the moral and spiritual basis of human rights and religious liberty, according to the religious traditions of the two faiths.
The fourth meeting was held in Rome in January 1974, a month after the publication of the Guidelines by the Commission of the Catholic Church on Religious Relations with the Jews. The Guidelines and suggestions for implementing the Second Vatican Council declaration Nostra Aetate is a most important document. It was signed by Cardinal Willebrands, president of the commission, and by its newly appointed secretary Pierre Marie de Contenson O.P., and was issued with the aim of guiding Catholics in their attitude to Jews. It was expressly directed to the bishops and to the commissions or secretariats episcopally appointed for that purpose. The introduction to the document recalls the principal decision of Vatican Council II, condemning antisemitism and all forms of discrimination and imposing the obligation of reciprocal understanding and esteem. It advocates a better knowledge on the part of Christians of the essence of Jewish religious tradition and self-identification. The text contains a series of concrete suggestions. One section calls for fraternal dialogue and for the establishment of in-depth doctrinal research and recommends joint prayer meetings.
Mention is made of the links between Christian and Jewish liturgy and the caution needed in dealing with biblical commentaries, and with liturgical explanations and translations. The section dealing with teaching and education clarifies the nexus between the two Testaments. The question of the trial and death of Jesus is touched upon and stress laid on the note of expectation which characterizes both Judaism and Christianity. Specialists are invited to engage in serious research, and the establishment of university chairs of Hebrew studies is encouraged as well as collaboration with Jewish scholars. The final section deals with the possibilities of shared social action in the quest for social justice and peace. The Guidelines conclude with an allusion to the ecumenical aspect of relations with Judaism, the initiatives on the part of local Churches, and the essential lines of the work of the new commission set up by the Holy See.
The International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultation (IJCIC) welcomed the Guidelines at the annual meeting held in January 1974. Reservations were, however, made concerning the lack of reference to the central role of the Land of Israel in Jewish religious thought and what in its view were the concealed conversionist aims of the document and certain of its proposed interreligious activities.
In January 1975 the members of the Liaison Committee had an audience with Pope Paul VI who mentioned the difficulties and the confrontations that had marked contacts between Christians and Jews over the past two millennia. He expressed the hope that the dialogue, carried out in mutual respect, would help both sides to become better acquainted with one another.
The fifth meeting of the Liaison Committee took place in Jerusalem in March 1976 and it was regarded of special significance that for the first time the meeting was held in the capital of Israel. The main subject of this consultation was a joint assessment of major developments in Catholic-Jewish relations since the publication of the Nostra Aetate.
At the sixth annual meeting held in Venice in March 1977, the main item on the agenda was a study paper on "Mission and Witness of the Church." The paper, delivered by Professor Tommaso Federici, claimed that the Catholic Church clearly rejects every form of proselytism affecting the Jews, including any sort of witness and preaching which constitutes physical, moral, psychological or cultural constraint on the Jews, whether individuals or communities, which might destroy or even simply reduce their personal judgment, free will and full autonomy of decision. Rabbi Siegman, a member of the IJCIC, observed that the paper was a Catholic document dealing with
theological issues, and as such its unqualified condemnation of proselytism among the Jews represented a notable advance in the Catholic Church which is bound to make for a deeper understanding between the two faiths. At this meeting the Catholic chairman introduced the newly appointed secretary, Reverend Jorge Mejia, who succeeded Father Contenson, who passed away in July 1976.
The seventh annual meeting was held in Madrid in April 1978. The opening session was held in the historic El Transito Church, formerly a
, which was returned to the Jewish community a few years earlier. The main topic of the meeting was "The image of Judaism in Christian education and the image of Christianity in Jewish education." Both sides noted significant progress in Catholic teaching on Judaism and Jewish teaching on Christianity. Information was exchanged on the recent Israeli law on conversion, the human rights situation in different countries, the resurgence of antisemitism, the Catholic-Muslim dialogue and contacts between Muslims and Jews. The discussions took place in an atmosphere of frankness and cordiality and were seen by both delegations as an important contribution to better mutual understanding. The members of the two delegations were, however, aware that there did not exist a perfect parallelism between the stand of the two sides because Judaism, unlike Christianity, links religion with peoplehood and land.
The eighth annual meeting took place in Regensurg (Bavaria) in October 1979. The significance of the meeting's being held in Germany was underlined in a telegram from Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. The two main subjects discussed at the encounter were: Religious Freedom, and Education for Dialogue in a Pluralistic Society.
Political Aspects of the Christian-Jewish Relationship
The influence of the political factor is particularly evident in the case of the Roman Catholic Church, since it is both a worldwide religion and a sovereign state. Although no formal diplomatic relations exist between the Vatican and the State of Israel, contacts have steadily improved during the past few years. Foreign ministers and high ranking Israeli officials met Pope Paul VI, his two predecessors, and dignitaries of the Vatican Secretariat. Highly significant was the audience granted by Pope Paul VI in January 1973 to Golda Meir, then Israel's prime minister. According to a joint statement released after the meeting, the Pontiff referred both to the sufferings of the Jewish people and to his humanitarian concern for the plight of the Arab refugees, He also expressed his concern regarding a solution to the problem of the status of the holy places and the maintenance of Jerusalem's universal character. The same solicitude for the Holy City was expressed by the pope during the audience granted in January 1977 to the late Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan. The late Pontiff showed his concern on a number of occasions in his speeches and meetings for the events taking place in the Holy Land and never discarded his proposal for the internationalization of Jerusalem, although he did not exclude other possibilities.
There is ample evidence of progress in the relationship between the State of Israel and the Holy See. Israeli official delegations were invited to the opening and closing sessions of the Vatican Council. Israeli official representatives were likewise invited to the funerals of deceased popes and to coronation ceremonies of the newly elected popes. Friendly messages were exchanged between presidents of Israel and Pope Paul VI, as well as his successors Pope John Paul I and Pope John Paul II. Since his election in October 1978, Pope John Paul II has granted private audiences to several Israeli representatives, among them the director general of the Foreign Ministry Yoseph Cjechanover and Ambassador Moshe Alon.
Political considerations have also influenced the attitude of the WCC toward Judaism and the people in Israel. The Arab Christian Churches, which are members of the WCC, have made their negative influence increasingly felt on the decisions of the prestigious Council, and in August 1980 the Council adopted a strong anti-Israel resolution at its conference held in Geneva, which inter alia urged member churches to "exert pressure on Israel through their respective governments to withhold any action on Jerusalem, the future of which should be included in negotiations on self-determination involving Israel and the Palestinian people." The WCC's Committee on the Church and the Jewish People stands, however, firmly for a relationship toward Judaism, uninfluenced by hostile political influence.
Contacts with the World Council of Churches
The relations of the WCC with Judaism have progressed in recent years and have become firmly established. It has its seat in Geneva and is an umbrella organization, the membership of which in the early 1970s was composed of 250 Churches from more than 80 countries, among them the majority of the Protestant Churches, the Anglican Church, the autocephalous Orthodox Churches, and Monophysite Churches.
The progress found its organizational expression in the inclusion of Judaism in the work of the sub-unit for Dialogue with People of Living Faith and Ideologies (Committee on the Church and the Jewish People), whereas previously the Committee functioned as a commission of the Division on Mission and Evangelism. This change in the administrative structure was carried out in conformity with the recommendations at the meeting in Addis Ababa of January 1971. The first joint meeting, opened by Dr. Eugene Blake, secretary general of the WCC, was held in June 1968. A further consultation was held in Locarno in October 1970.
A meeting cosponsored by the WCC and the IJCIC was held in Geneva in December 1972, the Jewish delegation consisting of representatives of the same bodies which met with the Catholic delegation. The principal theme of the meeting was "The Quest for World Community: Jewish and Christian Perspectives." Christian and Jewish scholars presented a series of papers, essaying to clarify common as well as divergent concepts and approaches to the organization of the world community as a "community of the communities." It
likewise provided an opportunity for an exchange of views of the following subjects: the problem of violence; racism in South Africa; human rights in the Soviet Union; the Middle East conflict; the Bible and social justice; and Christian-Jewish cooperation in relation to international organizations for the advancement of human rights. At the initiative of the WCC a consultation was held at Cartigny, near Geneva, in January 1974, which was attended by some 30 Christians from various theological traditions and from different countries. The main topics were the Middle East conflict and the impact of the Bible on the present situation in the Holy Land.
A multilateral dialogue, sponsored by the WCC's Department for Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologies, took place at Colombo, Sri Lanka, Ceylon, in April 1974, and was attended by 50 participants from 22 countries and 5 living traditions: Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. They discussed their resources and responsibilities toward the world community.
A meeting of representatives of the WCC and of the IJCIC was held in London in January 1975 to discuss the concept of power in Jewish and Christian tradition, its application to the contemporary social order and its bearing on joint search for world community.
On Apr. 1, 1975, Dr. Franz von Hammerstein succeeded Rev. Johan M. Snoek as secretary of the Council's agency for Consultation of the Church and the Jewish People (CCJP). Both were well acquainted with Jewish aspirations and needs, having resided in Israel for many years.
The next meeting between representatives of the WCC and the IJCIC was held in Jerusalem in February 1976 and opened with a report on the WCC Nairobi conference and a discussion on its resolution on the Middle East and the status of Jerusalem. In a preliminary debate on "Relations between Churches and the Jewish People in the Wider Context of the Human Community," regret was expressed that the WCC had not paralleled the Vatican in issuing guidelines on Christian-Jewish relations. It was, however, plain that publication of such a document would have to be ratified by a plenary session of the Council and such an attempt might be doomed to failure, in view of the composite structure of the Council.
A planning meeting held in Geneva in October 1976 was followed by a Christian-Jewish Consultation in Zurich in February 1977, under the auspices of WCC and the IJCIC. A number of papers were submitted on the "Jewish and Christian Traditions concerning Nature, Science and Technology."
At a meeting held in Jerusalem in June 1977, representatives of the CCJP began work on a draft of the WCC's guidelines for the Christian-Jewish dialogue. The IJCIC was invited to submit comments on the draft, and did so at a Liaison and Planning Committee (LPC) meeting in Geneva in February 1979. An Ad Hoc Committee of the CCJP gave further attention to the draft in March 1980.
In September 1979 Rev. Allan R. Brockway succeeded Dr. Franz von Hammerstein as secretary of the council's agency for the CCJP.
A meeting on "Science and Faith" took place in July 1979 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
A conference, cosponsored by the IJCIC and the WCC, was held in Toronto, Canada, in August 1980, the theme being "Religion and the Crisis of Modernity."
Contacts with Representatives of the Orthodox Churches
In March 1977, under the aegis of the Lucerne University's Department of Theology, an unprecedented academic dialogue was conducted between Jewish leaders and the representatives of the Greek Orthodox Church. This initial meeting was followed by a much larger forum held in Bucharest, Romania, in October 1979, with representatives of the IJCIC meeting with Orthodox theologians from Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Greece, Romania, Switzerland, and the United States. Following the presentation of papers, the discussions centered on the interpretation of scripture in tradition,
Contacts with National Churches
In February 1979, a two-day meeting took place in Berlin between representatives of the IJCIC and the European Lutheran Commission on the Church and the Jewish People. A decision was taken to appoint a committee of two members from each organization to ensure the maintenance of contact between them.
A meeting between the IJCIC and Consultants of the Anglican Church on Interfaith Consultations was held at Amport House, Andover, Hants in November 1980. The theme discussed was "Law and Religion in Contemporary Society."
Societies for Christian-Jewish Cooperation
In addition to the important Church bodies referred to, there exist in various European and American countries local organizations interested in fostering good relations between Christians and Jews and in combating antisemitism. Most of these societies were established during the Nazi period or immediately afterwards, in consequence of the shock produced by the terrible consequences of antisemitism. Both Catholic and Protestant Church leaders were active in such organizations. Among these societies are the Council of Christians and Jews in Great Britain, which publishes the quarterly Common Ground, and the National Conference of Christians and Jews in the U.S.A. of which Bernard J. Lasker was elected cochairman in March 1978. The other two cochairmen were William F. May representing the Protestant Church and Nicholas V. Petrov, the Eastern Orthodox. This body is 50 years old and has many branches with a considerable budget at its disposal. In 1947 these two societies convened an Emergency Conference at Seelisberg in Switzerland, and the "Ten Points" adopted then have served in the period under review as an important guide for the Protestant Churches in their attitude to Judaism.
Other important societies are the German Council for Jewish-Christian Cooperation, which has branches in many towns in Germany and publishes the bi-monthly Emunah ("Faith"); the Jewish-Christian Brotherhood in France which
publishes the quarterly Sens; the Christian-Jewish Cooperation in Switzerland which publishes the magazine Christlichjüdisches Forum; the Action against Antisemitism in Austria; the Christian-Jewish Fraternity of Brazil, which publishes Encontro; the Council of Christians and Jews in Canada; and the Swedish Association for Cooperation among Jews and Christians.
Recently the national societies interested in fostering Christian-Jewish friendship held joint consultations, in order to extend their activities and influence, in view of the recrudescence of antisemitism in many parts of the world. As a result, there was established the International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ), a federation of the various national brotherhoods with an annual rotating chairman. Meetings of the ICCJ have taken place in Vienna (1973); in Basel (1974); in Cologne (1974); in Hamburg (1975); in Jerusalem (1976); in Southampton (1977); in Luxembourg (1977); in Vienna (1978); in New York (1979); and in Sigtuna, Sweden (1980). An ICCJ International Youth Conference was held in Jerusalem in August 1980.
Declaration by National Churches and Other Ecclesiastical Organizations
Most important on the national level was the Declaration of the French Episcopal Committee, headed by Mgr. Elchinger, Bishop of Strasbourg. The Declaration, issued on the eve of Passover 1973, referred to the Jewish document adopted by the Vatican Council, and emphasized that the new approach to Judaism should be considered a beginning rather than an end. Of momentous weight were the references of the Declaration to the ingathering of the Jewish people in the Land of the Bible and the statement that the conscience of mankind cannot deny the Jewish people, which has undergone so many vicissitudes in the course of its history, the right and the means for its own political existence among the nations.
Of special importance also was the manifesto "Christians and Jews," issued by the German Evangelical Church in 1975. It emphasized the Jewish origins of the Christian Church, and examined Christian-Jewish relationships from a theological perspective. The manifesto also recognized that full realization of Jewish life has been bound up with the Land of Israel in all ages, and therefore the present State of Israel, albeit a political entity, must also be understood in the historical context of the Chosen People.
Consultations were held by the Lutheran World Federation, the American Lutheran Church, the Baptist Convention, the General Conference of the United Methodists, the Reformed Church of Holland, and the European Mennonites. In an address given in July 1977 to the Jewish Board of Deputies, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that love, not power, should rule the world and stressed his strong opposition to any sort of racial discrimination.
The InterconfessionaI Dialogue in Israel
The interconfessional dialogue in Israel has been fostered on the initiative of selected groups of Jewish and Christian scholars. Prominent in the interconfessional exchange is the "Rainbow Group," composed of Christian theologians and Jewish scholars, mainly professors of Bible and of comparative religion. The members of the group meet periodically to examine, compare, and evaluate their respective religious traditions and tenets.
Another interconfessional group is the Interfaith Committee, the aims of which are practical rather than scholarly. The committee has taken upon itself to guarantee that proper respect be shown to all creeds represented in the Holy Land. The Christian Fraternity of Theological Research, besides deepening ecumenical relations among Christian denominations, regards its task as the study of the attitude of those denominations toward Judaism. Active in the field of interconfessional dialogue are also the American Jewish Committee's office in Jerusalem, the Ecumenical Institute in Tantur near Jerusalem, the Ecumenical Discussion Center for Students in Jerusalem, and the Interreligious Group in Tel Aviv.
Whereas an interconfessional dialogue conducted between equals is considered positively by the majority of the Jews in Israel, all forms of Christian proselytizing activity among the Jews is deeply resented, and the main Christian Churches, aware of this, generally abstain from missionary activity, In practice, such activity is carried out mainly by some small Protestant sects, with little success. The mission problem, which from time to time agitates public opinion in Israel, became more acute with the appearance on the Israeli scene of the "Jews for Jesus Movement." Jewish religious quarters, which had always advocated antimissionary legislation, took the opportunity given by a change in the political constellation to pass in the Knesset a Penal Code Amendment which outlaws the use of bribery for religious conversion. The Amendment (enticement to change religion), enacted in December 1977, aroused concern in Christian and interfaith circles in Israel and abroad.
[Saul Paul Colbi]
Throughout the years since World War II, and under the impact of the revelation of the facts of the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel, Christians individually and collectively have felt themselves impelled to reassess their relationships with Jews and Judaism, and at the very least to repudiate traditional antisemitism and the "teaching of contempt." This movement has been expressed in Church documents, in theological writings, and in dialogue with Jews. By 1985 the main lines had been drawn, and the last years of the 1980s were essentially a period of consolidation, and of educational initiatives to ensure that the guidelines of Churches would be absorbed into teaching and preaching. At the same time, however, a number of "sticking points" in the dialogue emerged clearly, and a series of incidents created tensions.
The Church of Rome
High level dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Jewish people is undertaken by the International Catholic-Jewish
Liaison Committee (ILC). On the Catholic side, this consists of representatives of the Holy See's Commission on Religious Relations with the Jews, an office within the secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. On the Jewish side, the representative body is the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC), composed of the World Jewish Congress, the Synagogue Council of America, the American Jewish Committee, B'nai B'rith International-Anti-Defamation League, and the Israel Jewish Council for Interreligious Relations.
The 1985 meeting of the ILC took place on October 28–30 in Rome, and was a major commemoration and reassessment of the publication 20 years previously of Nostra Aetate no. 4, part of the "Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to non-Christian Religions," the Second Vatican Council document which paved the way for the subsequent development of Catholic attitudes to Jews and Judaism. The progress which had taken place in the intervening years was evaluated, a program for the future outlined, and the importance attached by the Church to the proceedings emphasized by an audience with Pope John Paul II. An added touch to all of the foregoing activity was the recognition, by a special lecture, of the 850th anniversary of the death of Maimonides.
The most substantial discussions at the Rome meeting, however, were in connection with the newly prepared Vatican document, "Notes on the correct way to present the Jews and Judaism in preaching and catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church." This "internal" Church document, intended to develop the teaching of Nostra Aetate and to help integrate it into the everyday life of the Church, met with a mixed response from the Jewish delegation. On the positive side, the State of Israel was for the first time mentioned in a Vatican document, Jewish suffering in the Holocaust recognized, the "ongoing spiritual vitality of Judaism" to modern times appreciated, and guidance given on how to interpret New Testament texts without deriving antisemitism from them. On the other hand, Jews were upset that they had not been fully consulted in preparing the document, felt that treatment of the Holocaust failed to acknowledge any Christian guilt, were dissatisfied with the lack of a positive theological evaluation of Israel, and detected inconsistencies in the theological sections, including remnants of typology and "replacement theology."
On Sunday April 13, 1986, Pope John Paul II made a historic visit across the Tiber to the Synagogue in Rome, where he was welcomed by Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff. The president of the Jewish community, Professor Giacomo Saban, reminded the pope of the illustrious history of the Roman Jewish community, extending back to pre-Christian times. Generally, the visit was welcomed by Catholic and Jewish leaders as a signal of the pope's personal commitment to carrying forward the initiative of Nostra Aetate; indeed, the pope lost no opportunity to address Jewish communities in the numerous cities he visited around the world, frequently welcomed visiting Jewish dignitaries at the Vatican, and used these occasions repeatedly to denounce antisemitism and to recognize Jewish sufferings in the "Shoah," as he consistently called the Holocaust.
It was at about this time that the
Convent controversy erupted (the Cracow Church's approval for the project had been given on September 30, 1984, without attracting attention), and plans for a major Consultation of the ILC on the subject of the Holocaust were postponed indefinitely. Relations were further exacerbated when the World Jewish Congress, in the form of a letter from its president, Edgar Bronfman, dated December 4, 1986, while declaring that its commitment to improving relations with the Catholic Church had never been stronger, launched a "global campaign" to force the Holy See to "recognize" Israel. Although the steering committee of the ILC continued to meet, no full Consultation took place until that in Prague in September 1990. One of the effects of this postponement was delay in producing a comprehensive Vatican statement on the Holocaust. Archbishop Edward (later Cardinal) Cassidy, who led the Catholic delegation at Prague in his capacity as president of the Commission on Religious Relations with the Jews in succession to Cardinal Willebrands, declared in his opening remarks "that antisemitism has found a place in Christian thought and practice calls for an act of Teshuvah (repentance) and of reconciliation on our part as we gather here in this city which is a testimony to our failure to be authentic witnesses to our faith at times in the past." The statement issued from the Prague meeting cited these words and was the first document with Vatican authority to acknowledge, if somewhat obliquely, Catholic guilt in relation to the Holocaust. The statement also stressed the educational task in Jewish-Christian relations, and the opportunities for common social work and spiritual witness. The statement was endorsed by John Paul II when he received the ILC on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Nostra Aetate in December 1990.
Relations moved further ahead as a result of a Conference of the ILC in Baltimore in 1992 when the Vatican participants proposed the establishment of joint Catholic-Jewish delegations to appear before international bodies on matters of mutual concern. They also undertook to extend to other countries the initiative of the Italian bishops who had declared that one day a year in their dioceses would be devoted to the study of Judaism and the Jewish people. In the summer of 1992, the Vatican announced the opening of discussions with Israel for the normalization of relations between the two countries toward the establishment of diplomatic ties, which was finally achieved at the end of 1993. (See
for further developments.)
The World Council of Churches and Protestant Churches
The World Council of Churches (WCC), while unrelenting in its opposition to antisemitism, has progressed only slowly in dialogue in the period under review. This is thought to be partly because of political pressure from the Middle East Council of Churches, and partly because of the reluctance of some member Churches to abandon an actively evangelical approach toward non-Christians including Jews. Moreover,
whereas the Catholic Church has several times stated that relations with Jews and Judaism are at the center of Christian concern, the World Council tends to place the matter lower on its scale of priorities. The World Council is an amorphous federation rather than a hierarchical structure like the Roman Church; it cannot determine standards from the top down, but must work on the basis of consensus.
Some progress was made at the "Consultation on the Church and the Jewish People" in Arnoldshain, West Germany, February 10–14, 1986, but the most significant advance was the document formulated at the November 1988 meeting at Sigtuna, Sweden, of the WCC's Committee on the Church and the Jewish People. This document recognizes the lack of consensus among its members on mission and on the significance of the Land of Israel, but claimed wide agreement for the following:
1. The covenant of God with the Jewish people remains valid.
2. Antisemitism and all forms of the teaching of contempt for Judaism are to be repudiated.
3. The living tradition of Judaism is a gift of God. 4. Coercive proselytism directed toward Jews is incompatible with Christian faith.
5. Jews and Christians bear a common responsibility as witnesses to God's righteousness and peace in the world.
In addition, it agreed nine affirmations, which recognized Israel's call, acknowledged the spiritual treasures shared by Jews and Christians, made clear that Jews should not be blamed for Jesus' passion, and expressed sorrow at the Christian share of responsibility for Jewish suffering, culminating in the Holocaust.
Like the Vatican, the WCC engages in dialogue at the highest level with IJCIC. One of their most notable joint ventures was an African Christian-Jewish Consultation which took place in Nairobi, Kenya, from November 10–13, 1986; the emphasis here was on the shared concern of Jews and African Christians with tradition and its relationship with Scripture. As was aptly remarked, "Scripture is not a European creation."
Since the WCC can work only by consensus, the statements of its individual constituent Churches are of significance.
The Anglican Communion held its own Consultation with IJCIC at Shallowford House, Stafford (England), in 1986, focusing on two issues of common concern to Jews and Anglicans, AIDS and inner city deprivation, though few who were present would deny that the high point of that Consultation was Dr. Gerhart Riegner's spontaneous and moving narration of the events of 1942 when, from his Geneva office, he had battled against immense resistance to inform the unbelieving world of the implementation of the "Final Solution."
This Consultation undoubtedly fed into the 1988 Lambeth Conference, the 10-yearly gathering of Anglican Bishops from around the world. For the first time in their history they devoted attention to Christian-Jewish relations, and produced and unanimously commended a document "Jews, Christians and Muslims: the Way of Dialogue." This, from assimilating the relationship with Judaism to that with all monotheists, clearly spelled out its special nature and obligations, Christian guilt for the "teaching of contempt" which provided the soil in which Nazism could thrive, and the nature of Judaism as a living religion not to be confused with a literal reading of the Old Testament.
The Lutheran Churches in Germany and elsewhere were among the first and most copious in the production of documents. The Lutheran European Commission "Church and the Jewish People," in its May 8, 1990, "Statement on the Encounter between Lutheran Christians and Jews" (Driebergen, Netherlands), recognizes that a prerequisite to a new, more tolerant relationship with the Jewish faith is "a partial renunciation of the requirement for evangelization of Jews, as well as the call for a self-critical analysis of the Lutherans' own theology."
Excellent statements and guidelines have emanated from other church groups within the WCC, such as Methodists and Presbyterians – and even from those outside the WCC, such as the Unification Church.
Special mention should be made of the June 12, 1990, "Statement by the Synod of the Reformed Church in Hungary on its Relations with the Jews," perhaps the first document of this nature to emanate from a non-Catholic Church in Central Europe since the imposition of communism, yet able to confess repentance in the words of a 1946 statement of its Reformed Free Council: "Under the responsibility resting upon us because of sins committed against the Jews, however late, we now ask the Hungarian Jews before God to forgive us."
The International Council of Christians and Jews and National CCJ's
Much of the dialogue at "grassroots" level is undertaken through local branches of the national Councils of Christians and Jews (CCJ's). The national councils are members of the International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ). With the admission in 1990 of CCJ's in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and New Zealand, there are now 23 national groups.
Members of the national CCJ's are able to meet at the ICCJ's International Colloquium, held each year in a different country. In the period under consideration they have met in Dublin (1985), Salamanca (1986), Fribourg (1978), Montreal (1988), Lille (1989), and Prague (1990). The Salamanca meeting was notable for its strong Muslim participation, and some element of this has been maintained. At the Prague meeting, delegates from Central and East European countries outlined their local situations and problems. Each colloquium is combined with a women's symposium and a young leadership conference, though in 1990 the young leadership conference took place separately, in Israel.
ICCJ had sponsored other major meetings and initiatives, including "Identity and Commitment in the Religious Encounter," Jerusalem, December 1986. It had a first conference in Eastern Europe with its 1985 meeting in Budapest (see below).
This was followed, in September 1987, with a second "Seminar of Jews and Christians from the East and the West" in Buckow, then East Germany – an occasion remarkable for the presence of 12 Israeli scholars. Together with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung it held a Symposium of Jews, Christians and Muslims from May 29–June 2, 1988, in Sankt Augustin, near Bonn, where there was much discussion of the stereotypes which hinder mutual understanding.
The largest popular gathering in Christian-Jewish relations is the National Workshop of the NCCJ in the United States. Such workshops attract well in excess of a thousand participants.
Opening up the East
Long before the demise of communism in Central Europe in 1989, contact had been established with the Churches and with the small remaining Jewish communities and the foundations laid for a positive development in Jewish-Christian relations. At that time the Churches themselves were struggling to exist in the face of a hostile regime. This gave them a sense of solidarity with the Jewish minority, but as against this was the lack of familiarity with Western developments in Christian theology, lack of knowledge of Judaism, and lack of local Jews with knowledge of their own faith.
In November 1985 the International Council of Christians and Jews, together with the Interchurch Peace Council in Hungary, sponsored a four-day conference on "Jewish-Christian Dialogue and its Contribution to Peace." Hungary has not only a substantial Jewish community but also several native Jewish scholars. Mention has already been made of the September 1987 "Seminar of Jews and Christians from the East and the West" which took place in East Germany.
In Poland there had been, through much of the communist era, a fascination with Jewish culture, as manifested for instance in the continuation of the Yiddish theater, but only in the 1980s did a serious attempt at critical reassessment of the past commence. The pope, in his 1979 visit to Auschwitz, had perhaps initiated the process by referring there to "the great sufferings of the Jewish people." A highly significant series of articles appeared in the Catholic journals ZNAK and Tygodnik Powszechny, commencing in 1983; Jan Blonski's challenging 1987 article "The Poor Poles Look at the Ghetto" deserves special mention. In May 1986 the Polish Bishops' Conference set up a sub-commission (later upgraded to a full commission) to examine, in a Polish context, relationships with Jews and Judaism, and under its chairman, Bishop Henrik Muszynski of Wloclawek, this group has led the Polish church to take seriously the new attitudes to Jews and Judaism emanating from Rome, and in 1990 published a book of recent Catholic documentation on Judaism and the Jews. Since the beginning of the decade there have been large international scholarly gatherings on the history and culture of Polish Jews; the Jagellonian University at Cracow has a special department for these subjects. International conferences on Jewish-Christian relations have also taken place, including one arranged by the Bishops' Commission together with the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith (Tyniec, 1987), and another at Cracow in November 1989, at which the Catholic sponsors were the KIK (Catholic Intellectuals' Club) of Cracow, which has all along taken a leading part in these matters. Educational work has proceeded apace; 22 Polish seminary professors spent seven weeks in Chicago in 1989 studying together with rabbis and other Jewish scholars, and in April 1990 a British scholar, Rabbi Norman Solomon, lectured at the Academy of Catholic Theology in Warsaw.
THE CHURCHES AND THE RESURGENCE OF ANTI SEMITISM
On the downside of the 1989 Central European rejection of communism has been a resurgence of antisemitism, coinciding with similar phenomena in Western Europe. It is difficult to know how much of this arises from Church influence, andhow much from nationalist sentiment, but it has been interesting to observe the reactions of the Churches which, far from encouraging such attitudes, have been strongly condemnatory. In his letter of August 8, 1990, Dr. Emilio Castro, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, reaffirmed the council's 1948 pronouncement that "antisemitism is a sin against God and man," reminded Christians of their special responsibility for antisemitism, and called upon them not to fail in resolute action against it. Responses from the Vatican and from the Lutheran World Federation were equally strong, and have been followed by declarations from numerous church bodies and leaders worldwide. The real interest focused on the Orthodox Churches which, though members of the World Council, have not previously evinced much interest in dialogue. They are dominant in many of the countries in which incidents have occurred; it was therefore reassuring that Archbishop Kirill, of the Russian Orthodox Church, unambiguously condemned, with the authority of January 30–31, 1990, meeting of his episcopal synod, "any teaching of hatred, violence or national exclusivity," though it remains to be seen to what extent this condemnation will influence the behavior of Russian Christians.
The problem is that although the Churches do indeed condemn antisemitism, they will continue to foster it unintentionally unless they can achieve the reinterpretation of basic Christian teachings in the light of the new theology, thus abandoning "replacement theology" and the "teaching of contempt." One should not underestimate the magnitude of such a task especially in countries where clergy training is minimal and old habits of thought persistent.
Latin America and the Theology of Liberation
Whereas for Europeans and North Americans the Holocaust casts its shadow over contemporary theology, the burning issue in South American and much third-world theology has been liberation from the centuries of bondage and oppression, even genocide, imposed by European Christian colonists, and from the grinding poverty and deprivation suffered by the masses still today. The biblical Exodus is the great paradigm
for the theology of liberation, though too few liberation theologians have perceived its relevance to the story of the modern Jewish liberation from the bondage of European oppression and Nazism to the freedom of independent statehood in Israel. Still, the return through Exodus to the "Jewish Old Testament," and the emphasis of the new theology on "praxis" rather than theory, have combined with some influx of the new Catholic outlook on Jews and Judaism to enable serious Jewish-Christian dialogue to get under way.
The first Pan-American Conference on Catholic-Jewish Relations, jointly arranged by the American Jewish committee and the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops, São Paulo, Brazil, took place on November 3–5, 1985. The most recent major gathering was the November 1990 25th anniversary commemoration of Nostra Aetate, attended by Archbishop Cassidy, who agreed to transmit back to Rome a number of resolutions of the Brazilian National Commission on Catholic-Jewish Religious Dialogue, including a protest against the proposed canonization of Queen Isabella, and a denunciation of anti-Zionism as a current form of antisemitism.
Obstacles and Irritants
Incidents apart, there are two themes which constantly give rise to friction within the dialogue.
The first of these is the Christian commitment to evangelization. While the Roman Catholic Church and many other major Churches no longer target Jews, only a few Christians, whether because of the Holocaust or for more fundamental theological reasons, would demand the positive exclusion of Jews from evangelization. All nowadays reject coercive or deceitful evangelization, though definitions differ. However, a recent feature of Christian life has been the rise of small, independent evangelical sects who are beyond the control of the major Churches; some such groups do target Jews. Moreover, the 1990s were declared a "decade of evangelism," and a fine balance would have to be struck between mission and dialogue. The 1980s saw a strong growth of Jewish anti-missionary groups, and it is difficult for mainstream Jews and Christians engaged in serious dialogue to remain indifferent to the snapping at their heels on both sides. The second major topic of friction is Israel, and this has both a political and a theological dimension. On the political level, both Jews and many Catholics found it hard during the period under review to accept the failure of the Holy See to establish normal diplomatic relations with the State of Israel. Of course, only the Roman church had this problem, as other churches do not claim to be sovereign territories. What is often overlooked is the extent to which documents from the non-Roman Churches affirm the existence of Israel. For instance, the World Council of Churches, in the Statement on the Middle East it adopted at its Sixth Assembly in Vancouver in 1983 and upheld subsequently, unambiguously affirmed "the right of all states, including Israel and Arab states, to live in peace with secure and recognized boundaries," reflecting the terminology of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242. The Lambeth Conference Resolutions of 1988 were similarly forthright, though few churches have gone as far as the Hungarian Reformed Church which declared, in the document cited above, "We express our joy over the fact that our country established diplomatic relations with Israel."
Theological views differ. Conservative Evangelicals are often the strongest supporters of Israel, because they see the state as the fulfillment of prophecy, heralding the second coming of Jesus – and the conversion of any remaining Jews! The Roman Catholic Church made clear in the 1985 Notes that, while it understands the Jewish religious attachment to the Land, the Church itself related to the State of Israel solely on the basis of international law; Church spokesmen strongly denied that there was any theological impediment to full diplomatic relations. Others steer a middle course, seeing the restoration of the Jews to Israel as a significant divine act, but without commitment to literal interpretation of prophecy.
There are several irritants which one hopes will prove temporary rather than permanent sources of friction within the dialogue. The Auschwitz convent has been one of them, and the beatifications of Edith Stein and Maximilian Kolbe another. Requests for the beatification of Queen Isabella in 1992 have been formulated in certain Spanish Catholic circles. Several actions of the pope – his reception of Yasser Arafat and of Kurt Waldheim, some unfortunate Easter sermons – have been irksome. In the non-Catholic world Passion Plays, such as that at Oberammergau (greatly improved in 1990), have strained the Jewish-Christian relationship.
The 1980s saw a proliferation of writing in Jewish-Christian relations. Scholarly and deeply sensitive works appeared by Protestant scholars such as Hans-Joachim Krauss, Roy Eckardt, and Paul van Buren, and Catholics such as Franz Mussner, John Pawlikowski, and Eberhard Bethge. Churches of many denominations and in many countries produced statements and guidelines. Serious consideration has been given to the reinterpretation of fundamental Christian beliefs in the light of the new understanding of Jews and Judaism.
The Jewish-Christian dialogue reached a stage of maturity. It is not without problems and is not yet firmly rooted in either of the religious communities involved. The main task, however, remains that of education, of ensuring that the new insights of the Churches and their theologians actually become part of normal Christian teaching and preaching, not only in the better educated West, but amongst Christians in all lands.
For Vatican II and subsequent developments, see
Christian-Jewish Relations, a quarterly published by the Institute of Jewish Affairs, London, in conjunction with the World Jewish Congress, published not only academic articles on the important themes, but the major documents and reports on
events, including those in Israel. It ceased to appear in 1993. lmmanuel, published by the Ecumenical Research Fraternity in Jerusalem, carries high-caliber theological and historical articles, many of them translations of Hebrew articles. Other journals carrying documentary and original material are the SIDIC newsletter published in Rome by the Sisters of Sion and El Olivo, published in Madrid by the Centro de Estudios Judeo-Cristianos.
The last years of the 1980s saw a proliferation of books summing up the dialogue so far. In 1988 the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee published its account of "Fifteen Years of Catholic-Jewish Dialogue 1970–1985" through the official Vatican publishers. In the same year the World Council of Churches published its documents and those of member churches, with an illuminating commentary by Allan Brockway and others, and an authoritative Jewish account of the dialogue, Jewish-Christian Relations since the Second World War by Geoffrey Wigoder, also appeared in 1988. David Novak's Jewish-Christian Dialogue: A Jewish Justification was published in 1989. One of the most sensitive and balanced Christian accounts is Marcus Braybrooke's Time to Meet: Towards a Deeper Relationship between Jews and Christians (1990).
Of the documentary collections the most comprehensive (though there are lacunae) is Rolf Rendtorff and Hans Hermann Henrix's Die Kirchen und das Judentum: Dokumente von 1945–1985. For English readers, the two volumes of Stepping Stones edited by Helga Croner (1977 and 1985) are the most useful.
Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group.
All Rights Reserved.