Swiss Bishops' Conference (SBC) and the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SFJC)
Svizzera 31/03/19921. Background and authorship
In the summer of 1990 the Swiss Bishops' Conference (SBC) and the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SFJC) established a joint Commission for Jewish-Roman Catholic Dialogue (JRCD). The Commission is composed of five Jewish and five Christian experts. The purpose is to explore ways of achieving inward and outward solidarity and reconciliation between Jews and non-Jews in our country. By bringing Jews and Catholics together to discuss issues of interest to both groups, the Commission offers a special opportunity seldom met with in this particular form: here it is not just a case of non-Jews expressing opinions about Jews or vice-versa but, rather, of Jewish and Christian men and women exchanging thoughts shaped by their own experiences and problems.
The first task we set ourselves as members of the Commission for Jewish-Roman Catholic Dialogue was to point out that in Switzerland, as elsewhere, anti-Semitism still exists; to situate anti-Semitism in the context of Christian history and of present-day Christianity; and to suggest possible ways of halting its spread. After detailed study of the memorandum reproduced below, representatives of the Bishops' Conference and of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities told us that our text corresponded to their own ideas, concerns and intentions. They approve of the memorandum's contents and hope that it will encourage fruitful discussions among the public at large.
We, the Jewish and Christian members of JRCD, have thus produced this memorandum on our own responsibility and authority. In preparing it we were aware that helping the Church and the Jewish People toward better mutual understanding and mutual support in times of peril - though never forgetting the rest of the world - is one of the foremost tasks of our time. All the essential points represents the agreed views of the Commission as a whole. Passages which reflect only the Christian members' views (e.g. arguments related to the New Testament) will be identifiable from the context.
Why is anti-Semitism our first topic? There is much else that needs to be discussed, explained and put right between the Jewish and the Christian communities. But first those taking part in the discussion must make clear where they stand on the question of anti-semitism and what they are doing to fight and work against it. There is no other topic more important for Christian men and women with a sense of responsibility towards their community and their own conscience if they want to be credible in the eyes of their Jewish colleagues. What is at stake are the good name, the rights, possibly even the lives of their Jewish fellow-men and women. The Church has no interlocutor more indispensable or more important than the Jewish people. For the Jewish members of the Commission, the point at issue in taking up the subject of anti-Semitism was to cooperate with their Christian colleagues in a responsible manner, so that no untruths or half-truths might creep into their collective thinking and proposals.
2. The expulsion of the Jews of 1492 and its after-effects today
This year, many commemorative events are taking place to mark the "discovery" of America by Columbus 500 years ago - an event followed by the subjugation of the Indian population of America by Spain, the major world power of that time. The year 1492 is often taken to represent the beginning of modern history as characterized by progress, democracy and free trade. But because some appalling oppression also went into the shaping of the historical process, many thoughtful people today feel that there is little cause for celebration. In the same year 1492, between March and August, all Jews were expelled from Spain upon the orders of the country's ruling couple, the Most Catholic Ferdinand and Isabel. Under the expulsion decrees all Jewish males and females of all ages had to leave Spain at once without prospect of return. Failure to comply was punishable by death. More than 50,000 Jewish families from Castile and Aragon alone were thus condemned to the perils and sorrows of exile in many countries notwithstanding the fact that Jews had been settled in Spain for over 1500 years. The grounds given by the "Catholic authorities" were that the Jews were luring people away from pure Catholic doctrine and destroying the unity of the Spanish nation. Elements of nationalism, economic aggressivity and racism ("purity of blood") are discernible behind the facade of religion and national unity. In a situation of general religious and political misrule, the Jews were a convenient scapegoat. Anti-Semitic measures were disguised and rendered seemingly innocuous by the use of a religious vocabulary borrowed from the Bible. The expulsion of the Jews from Spain 500 years ago is not, of course, the only possible starting point from which to warn against slandering, despising and hating the Jews, but it seems to us to represent a significant moment in history which is being recognized as such by a growing number of people today.
Another reason to recall the expulsion of the Jews is that the anti-Jewish clichés and pretexts used at the time - and borrowed, even then, from far earlier periods - are still being peddled around today. They have poisoned the atmosphere between people of different religions, led to the persecution and death of many millions of Jewish fellow-beings and have also indirectly harmed Muslims, asylum seekers, Blacks, etc. It is not surprising, therefore, that the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, coming as it did in the wake of grievous suffering under the Inquisition with its religious terror, its enforced baptisms, its inflammatory sermons and its tortures, should have traumatized Jews and made them suspicious of the Christian world.
3. The need for vigilance after the Shoah: Switzerland is not exempt!
During the Second World War the national-socialistic power-holders attempted the complete extermination of the Jewish people. True, the accomplishment of the "final solution" escaped them. But they did succeed in depriving several millions of Jews of their freedom, in torturing, humiliating and murdering them. The Holocausts (literally, wholesale sacrifice) or Shoah (literally, extermination, catastrophe) is a towering reminder that anti-Jewish sentiment- in whatever form - spells mortal danger for Jews and destroys the Christianity of Christians.
To purify themselves of anti-Semitism, to contribute towards the reappraisal of the causes of this ancient evil, to explore its historical background - these are among the most important tasks facing the Christian churches. Some sporadic attempts to tackle them have been made in Switzerland. We need mention only two examples:
In the wake of "Nostra aetate" No. 4, the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Jews, "Synod 72", which was supported by all Swiss dioceses, denounced anti-Semitism which in its view was still possible in Switzerland - and stressed those Christian teachings and norms that rule out any compatibility between the profession of the Christian faith and anti-Semitism1. A memorandum against racism and xenophobia issued by Switzerland's three national churches, published on 14 May 1991 under the title "On the side of the oppressed - for a shared future", is also devoted to combatting ideologies based on hostility towards minorities and foreigners.
Swiss Jews or Jews who come to Switzerland on vacation are not refugees or asylum seekers. But some of them have been in such a situation in the past. Sections of the Jewish people are today still living in countries where oppression and hatred are the rule. But the Jews of Switzerland - as well as those, of course, of our neighbour countries, the United States and Israel - have come to represent non-Jews in the sense that the same pernicious thought-patterns which in the past served to justify anti-Semitism and the deportation and persecution of Jews are being applied to the asylum seekers of today. The racism directed against Turks, Tamils, Black Africans etc. today is a vicious sequel to yesterday's hatred of the Jews. It is not by accident that the old anti-Semitism keeps coming back in the slogans of today's enemies of foreigners and asylum seekers. Hatred of the oppressed of today can easily turn into hatred of the Jews. Conversely, today's xenophobia is a continuation of the anti-Semitism of the past. The Jews are thus the ethnic group which by it very existence reminds us of the pernicious nature of all oppression and all hate.
Today's anti-Semites rely on racist and xenophobic themes as well as on traditional religious and social resentments. They also try to hold Jewish communities in Europe (co)responsible for political events in and around the State of Israel. Jewish graves have recently been desecrated in our country, at Basel, St. Gallen, Belmont sur-Yverdon, Endingen-Lengnau. Anti-Semitic graffiti have been scrawled and insults proffered in a number of places. Furthermore, an allegedly Christian press is more and more actively reviving old horror stories about Jews and the Jewish religion. These periodicals seek to give a fresh impetus to anti-Semitism by resorting to pseudo-Christian and pseudo-historical motifs (e.g. the Jews as "the synagogue of Satan" or as a clique of intriguers plotting world conspiracy and world domination). Though this press may call itself "Catholic", it has nothing in common with the Catholic faith; it must be warned against. In addition, Switzerland is not entirely free from a certain eruptive racist and anti-Jewish atmosphere now pervading Europe from Russia to the West, with extremist groups taking up the cudgels against Jewry in general and the State of Israel in particular. Each separate case of hostility against the Jewish people or against minorities and foreigners is a blow dealt to the Christian message and to humanity2.
4. The Church on the way from guilt to reconciliation
Christianity is, on the one hand, spiritually borne and nourished by the Jewish root (Rom. 11:18). On the other hand, Christianity itself, through its preaching, catechetical instruction and religious policies, has in the past served as a vehicle for and disseminator of anti-Semitism. Over the centuries, the Church as an institution has also on occasion erred through lack of vigilance and through anti-Semitic propaganda. A radical and consistent repudiation of any ideology or idiom that may lead to anti-Semitism is therefore called for. This is possible only through a sincere change of heart towards the living God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Christians must really want to become true and reliable friends of the Jewish people before God and mankind.
Especially since the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church, like the other churches active in our country, has acknowledged and shouldered its long-neglected duty of refusing to tolerate anti-Semitism and of doing justice to the Jewish people, its calling and its history. In the Council declaration "Nostra Aetate No. 4" of 28 October 1965 we read, inter alia:
"The Church repudiates all persecutions against any man. Moreover, mindful of her common patrimony with the Jews, and motivated by the gospel's spiritual love and by no political considerations, she deplores the hatred, persecutions, and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews at any time and from any source"3.
True, even after the end of the Second World War the Catholic Church hesitated far too long before dissociating itself from its old "doctrine of contempt". But since about 1960 (the date of the Eichman trial) and 1965 (that of the Second Vatican Council) the Roman Catholic Church - the Pope, the Vatican authorities, the bishops and the synods - have issued some 100 statements against anti-Semitism and in favour of religious and human solidarity with the Jews and Judaism. Two of the more recent of such documents are cited below.
(i) In a declaration entitled "The Church and Racism: Towards a more fraternal society" issued by the Pontifical Commission "Iustitia et Pax" on 3 November 1988, racism is described as a traditional and modern evil which "...continues to troubled relations between persons, human groups and nations" (Introduction). Racial prejudice is the illusion "of the biologically determined superiority of one's own race or ethnic group with respect to others" (I/2). The declaration points out that the racial arrogance of the Euro-American groups and peoples has led to enslavement and oppression, particularly in the Third World. In several passages reference is made to anti-Semitism, whose present-day forms the declaration castigates as an expression of racial prejudice: anti-Semitism "...has been the most tragic form that racist ideology has assumed in our century, with the horrors of the Jewish 'holocaust'... As if some had nothing to learn from the crimes of the past, certain organizations, with branches in many countries, keep alive the anti- Semite racist myth, with the support of networks of publications. Terrorist acts which have Jewish persons or symbols as their target have multiplied in recent years and show the radicalism of such groups. Anti-Zionism - which is not of the same order, since it questions the State of Israel and its policies - serves at times as a screen for anti-Semitism, feeding on it and leading to it" (II/15)4.
All Jewish-Christian efforts at maintaining a dialogue are designed above all to bring about the disappearance of anti-Semitism and to facilitate and promote individual and social solidarity accompanied by full recognition of and respect for legitimate religious and cultural differences. Only on such a basis is it possible to work for peace between Jews, Christians and other peoples and religions.
(ii) An important meeting was held in Prague in September 1990 between the Holy See Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations. The concluding joint statement of the meeting describes anti-Semitism and racism as "a sin against God and humanity"5. All hostile thinking runs counter to Christian thinking. We appeal especially to those in our country who profess a religion, but also to those in positions of responsibility in the economic, social and cultural fields and the media, not to give the "sin against God and humanity" a chance.
5. Definitions of anti-Semitism
Many definitions of the term "anti-Semitism" are current today. They should be treated with caution, for anti-Jewish feeling still continues to take many forms ranging from vulgar envy to lies, slanders and destructive attacks.
Anti-Semitism6 is an uncontrolled, wholesale, morally reprehensible prejudice against the Jewish people, its history and its religious, social and cultural identity. It is a prejudice - a stereotype - which, in the course of history, has led to malicious stirring up of public opinion against the Jews, the fostering of antagonisms in the political, social and economic fields, and bloody pogroms instigated by State authorities or by a mob.
Anti-Judaism, thinly disguised as Christianity, can be defined as a hostile and inflexible response to the election of the Jewish people, caricaturally construed to signify Jewish arrogance, hatred of other nations etc. This particular form of anti-Semitism can also be characterized as a group-psychological process of transference whereby certain Christians' own religious and psychological inadequacies are, as it were, projected into the Jewish people. The Jew becomes the scapegoat. Such Christians try to disguise their fear of rivalry behind arrogant theological arguments, expressions of contempt for the Jews and anti-Semitic actions. This process of projections is clearly observable in the Middle Ages, when Jews were considered to be the physical descendants of the prophets of Israel, members of the same tribe as Jesus, and thus the true "messianic specialists". But the fact that, thus equipped, they not only did nothing to confirm the Christians' Messianic faith but vehemently rejected it, irked many Christian groups, which then accused the Jews of all sorts of perfidies (poisoning of wells, ritual murder, desecration of the Host). 500 years ago, the Spanish rulers "unmasked" the Jews as being responsible for the failure of the idea of a purely Catholic empire and therefore drove all Jews - eventually followed by the Muslims - out of the country.
These examples show that anti-Semitism does harm not only to the Jews but also to the society which promotes it. It is a form of blindness which strikes the anti-Semites themselves, distorting their view of reality and imprisoning them inside their own fabrications.
6. Tasks to be undertaken
Anti-Semitism is a complex phenomenon which goes back more than 2000 years in recorded history and beyond it into early history of Revelation. Everything must therefore be done to make all strata of our society as deeply and lastingly aware as possible of every aspect of the problem. This requires discussion, both of intellectually challenging theological issues and of purely practical matters of mutual understanding and coexistence.
1. A task that Christians in Switzerland can undertake is to proclaim their out and out rejection, based upon religious love, of any kind of religious or cultural denigration of Jews and Judaism, and to explain this rejection to the inhabitants of our country. First and foremost, they must completely abandon all ideas of superiority. It is not possible for Christians to think of the Jews as of a people whose responsibility for divine revelation has been revoked or annulled. God's covenant with His people is not and never has been broken7. Christians were not "grafted on" the good olive tree (cf. Roms. 11:17-24) ahead or, still less, in place of the Jewish people. Christians must not overlook the great promises of salvation of the Hebrew Bible: God will reunite, replenish and raise up Israel, though it be scattered and decimated; in restoring Israel, He will let salvation shine forth in all nations "unto the ends of the earth"8. Lest the non- Jewish peoples arrogate to themselves the role of Israel's antagonists, the Book of Judith (2nd century BCE) formulated a courageous woman's prayer that may stand as the quintessence of all Jewish biblical expectations: "And make every nation and tribe of Thine to know that Thou art God, the God of all power and might, and that there is none other that protects the race of Israel but Thou" (Jud. 9:14). Therefore no nation or tribe has the right to decide whether Israel shall or shall not exist.
2. Our Christian thinking must not, however, mislead us into trying to foist the Christian faith upon our Jewish fellow-citizens by arguing that Jesus was, after all, a Jew, emphasizing the Jewish elements of Christianity, or insisting that the excellence of the Christian faith must surely appeal to the Jewish mentality. Rather, Christians should accept the fact that the Jewish people has always seen itself, on the strength of the Torah, as a nation apart. In Num. 33:9 the seer Balaam says of Israel "Lo, this people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations". Jews are quick to detect anything that could lead to the impairment of Jewish identity and the Jewish mission. That is what accounts for their reluctance to engage in theological discussions or pray together with Christians and their reservations about mixed marriages between Christians and Jews.
3. A sound knowledge of the Jewish people, its religion, its history and its present should be promoted and required at all educational levels. In the declaration "Nostra Aetate" (no. 4) we read "Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred Synod wishes to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit above all of biblical and theological studies and of brotherly dialogues".
In 1974 the "Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate No. 4" of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews stated that "... research into the problems bearing on Judaism and Jewish-Christian relations will be encouraged". Catholic universities and research institutions in association with other Christian institutions and experts were invited "to contribute to the solution of such problems"9. In the spirit of those Guidelines, Swiss educational establishments should be invited to provide adequate opportunities for replacing anti-Semitism by solidarity, knowledge, understanding and friendship.
4. But knowing about the Jewish people, its revelation and its history does not always mean accepting them. There have been anti-Semites even among biblical scholars and historians, and misapprehensions are not rare to this day. The only way for Christians to overcome anti-Judaism is through love of Judaism and of the Jews. Such love springs initially from a spiritual and mystical awareness of all that the Church owes to the Bible's people and its Jewish descendants. It also derives from the recognition of the Christian religion's enduring roots in Judaism and from the shared hope for the full unfolding of the Kingdom of God. We must therefore strengthen our potential for loving and our religious energies so as to resist any temptation towards envy, pride, rejection and violence. Our own love of God as well as our humanity will be enhanced thereby.
5. Nor should we underestimate the value of simple contacts between Jews and Christians in everyday life as a means of overcoming anti-Semitism. Let us accept one another as human beings of equal worth - fellow citizens, neighbours, colleagues; let us perceive one another and experience one another's presence; let us respect each other's different religious convictions and traditions and let us learn more about them.
6. Through misdirected preaching and catechetical instruction, the Church contributed towards creating the climate in which the murderers of the Nazi Reich were able to perpetrate their crimes against the Jews. Not the Church alone, political, economic and social forces, too, gave way both before and during the Nazi era. By studying the mechanisms of their failure, by allowing a genuine change of heart to motivate us in practising greater vigilance against present day forms of anti-Semitism, by remembering how many people there were who committed godless and inhuman acts against the Jews, we serve the cause of our own faith and of humanity. Have we not seen over and over again how smoldering enmities can lead to civil war as well as to wars between nations? Yet Christ's commandment that we should love our enemies (Mt. 5:43-47) means that enmity must be fought at its very root.
7. The land of Israel plays an important role in the Jewish faith. The Hebrew Bible contains promises concerning the land as well as rules on how to live and dwell in it. But the modern State of Israel is based not only on the Bible and tradition but also on international law, which all nations invoke. The right which the State of Israel derives from its existence, its history and its policies as well as the strife generated by its founding are summed up in the following statement issued in 1973 by a commission of the French Bishops' Conference: "Over the course of history the existence of the Jewish people has always been divided between life in the midst of nations and the longing for a national existence upon this land. The return (of the Jews to the land of their longing) and its consequences have put justice to a severe test. In political terms, one is faced with several conflicting claims for justice"10. Israeli State policy, like any other, is open to criticism. What must be rejected, however, is the uncritical reeling off of anti-Jewish slogans which sometimes occurs even in Christian circles and which can amount to challenging Israel's right to existence. True Christian behaviour is measured by the "spiritual bond linking the people of the New Covenant with Abraham's stock" and the high esteem with which the Church also views "the Muslims, who adore one God, living and enduring, merciful and all-powerful, Maker of heaven and earth and Speaker to men"11. Yet not only Jews but also Muslims were driven out from Spain 500 years ago. Would it not be a great feat of historical symbolism if a genuinely peaceful solution were found for the Near East if possible already in 1992, a solution that could - taking account especially of the unresolved problem of the Palestinians and of Israel's security needs - lead to a peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs, Christians and Muslims? Our hope for the Palestinians is that they will exist and flourish as a people by Israel's side and at peace with Israel.
8. The Jew are not the only minority in Switzerland. They represent only 0,35% of the Swiss population (which means barely 18,000 individuals organized in communities). But there are also over 100,000 Muslims at present living in our country; not to mention the increasing flow of refugees from countries in Asia and Africa who profess other religions. To these human beings, too, we must not say that the "boat is full", as we did during the Second World War to Jews seeking refuge from the murderous Germany of the Nazis. Our bond with the Jews and Judaism should serve as a powerful motive for greater readiness to receive other human beings as well. We must seek to build an open community based on solidarity between Jews and Christians, a community that other human beings in need can also look to for help and protection. If we learn to recognize the Jews and their special identity and to treat them with respect, this will affect our relations with all other men and women, whatever the colour of their skin or the nature of their belief.
(1) The statements of "Synod 72" were published in 1975 in all Swiss dioceses under the title "Special Commission 5: The ecumenical message under Swiss conditions". They are also cited in Rolf Rendtorff/Hans H. Henrix Die Kirchen und das Judentum. Dokumente von 1945-1985, Paderborn 1988, 156- 164. If in this memorandum we refer principally to Jewish and Roman Catholic documents, that is due to the specific nature of our task. We are most certainly aware that especially the Protestant Church, but also the other Christian communities in our country have been more zealous in opposing anti-Semitic attitudes.
(2) On the subject of anti-Semitism in Switzerland, cf. a recent publication by Ernst Braunschweig (Ed.) Antisemitismus-Umgang mit einer Herausforderung, Zurich 1991.
(3) International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee, Fifteen Years of Catholic-Jewish Dialogue 1970-1985, Libreria Editrice Vaticana et Libreria Editrice Lateranense, Roma 1988, p. 291-292.
(4) The Church and Racism, Vatican City, 1978, p. 23. (5) L'Osservatore Romano, Engl. cd. 5 November 1990. SIDIC XXIII 3. 1990.
(5) L'Osservatore Romano, Engl. ed. 5 November 1990. SIDIC XXII 3. 1990.
(6)The word "anti-Semitism" originates in the l9th century and means principally those forms of hostility against Jews which slander Jews as being a contemptible or even harmful race. The term has also developed into a general concept covering all forms of anti-Jewish sentiment. It should be noted that racial themes were generally speaking not invoked in medieval anti-Semitism. Only in Spain was there any question of "purity of blood".
(7) Roms. 11:29. Pope John Paul II gave this interpretation to this verse on the occasion of his meeting with Jews at Mainz in 1980, and has frequently repeated it since. cf. Fifteen Years, op. cit., p. 301-303.
(8) Is. 2:2f. 19:19-25; 49:6; Za. 2:14f; 9:9f; Ps. 83:19; II Ki. 19:19.
(9) Fifteen Years, op. cit., p. 297.
(10) Helga Croner, Stepping Stones to Further Jewish-Christian Relations, Stimulus Books, London-New York, 1977, p. 630.
(11) Second Vatican Council Nostra Aetate.
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