The Day of Judaism

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Council of the Christian Churches of Milan

Italia       17/01/2004

“Considering the importance of the Jewish-Christian relation as indicated in the Charta Oecumenica (§ 10)”, the Council of the Christian Churches of Milan on April 8, 2003, resolved unanimously to “promote for the city of Milan, also in collaboration with the Teshuva group, appropriate initiatives for the Day of Judaism, starting from January 17, 2004, with the view of encouraging among Christians of all confessions the knowledge of the spiritual heritage of the Jewish people and the Christian awareness regarding the relation connecting the Church of Jesus Christ with the people of Israel”.

Since January 17, 1990, the Italian Episcopal Conference is proposing to the Catholic community the “Day for an in-depth study and development of dialogue between Catholics and Jews”, which in Milan has been called simply “Day of Judaism”. The Council of the Christian Churches of Milan decided to share the view of this day and involve the Milanese communities of all the churches belonging to the Council, hoping that this occasion for reflections and teaching will become a fixed and important date in the lives of all the church communities of different confessions present in the territory. The Orthodox and Protestant and Anglican Churches belonging to the Ecumenical Council of the Geneva Churches set up in 1948, as well as the Roman Catholic Church since the 2nd Vatican Council, have developed a lengthy reflection on Christian-Jewish relations, how they were in past centuries and how they are to be re-discovered in the light of the dramatic questions posed by the Shoah, the extermination of the Jews decided by Nazism. Questions have been asked and are still being asked about how it was possible for this tragedy to happen in European nations with such great and profound Christian traditions.

This reflection exposed the need for a purification of memory by the Churches. It also exposed a profound renewal in relationship with the people of Israel; the people of the promise, a promise that has never been revoked, as the Apostle Paul teaches us. A big step was taken with the recognition of the permanent Jewishness of Jesus, with rejection of the false and infamous accusation of deicide that was made against the Jewish people for centuries. The path taken, as important as it is, cannot be thought of as concluded. It is a path of real and true conversion in which the Christian churches are called to adjust their preaching, their catechesis, their very reading of the Bible to a vision which is free from prejudices against the people of Israel. Thus, they will be able to re-discover the great faithfulness of the tradition of Israel to their Scriptures, a faithfulness carried on despite discrimination and persecution, often caused by civil powers and authorities calling themselves Christians.
One necessary step in this path is the awareness of the way the Jewish people, through their tradition, have read the Scriptures, live their faith today and relate to their history. It is exactly in the light of this knowledge that we place the decision of our Council of Churches. This Council, including the different Milanese churches, hopes for a better comprehension and a deeper rootedness in the Jewish world and a higher esteem of its spiritual riches. It must not be forgotten that already the first attempts to re-open a dialogue with the Jewish world after 1945 were made in Ecumenical circles. In particular, we recall and make our own the intuition of Karl Barth, the great Swiss theologian, according to whom “In a final analysis, there is only one big ecumenical problem: that of our relation with the Jewish people”. An it is, in fact, in the light of this affirmation that the Day of January 17th was set immediately before the beginning of the Week of prayer for Christian unity, in order to indicate the profound connection existing between the path toward Ecumenical unity and a renewed self-awareness of Christianity in relation to Judaism.

The theme proposed in Italy, at the national level, for the Day of Judaism changes every year. The proposal for January 17, 2004, which the Council of Christian Churches of Milan received favorably, is treated in the book of the prophet Zephaniah and is very evocative:

“They shall serve the Lord supporting each other shoulder to shoulder”
Jews and Christians in the service of the one God.
The translation of the text of Zephaniah 3,9 “At that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech so that all will invoke the name of the Lord and serve the Lord supporting each other shoulder to shoulder” (literally “with one shoulder”) is one of the possible translations. Jewish tradition teaches that, even though the revealed text is only one, there are many ways in which it can be read. In any case, the verse indicates explicitly that, according to that view, the peoples of the nations, and therefore the ex gentibus churches, are called together with the people of Israel to submit themselves to the same yoke. In fact, one alongside the other, Jews and Christians support each other in turn in serving the one God: it is the service of liberty and the call to salvation, a service which is grace and which, consequently, also involves the burden of responsibility to be shared relating to this precious and mutual gift.

Jews and Christians, whose religious identities remain today different in history and irreducible among themselves, can however become more and more aware of being called to witness to the same God and to live is message of faithful love and universal salvation so that it will become the common heritage of humanity. But also the ethic commitment can constitute a common path both for the safeguard of the integrity of creation and of the human beings to whose care it is entrusted, as well as for the promotion of justice and peace, which must be assumed in relationship between peoples, communities and individuals. If it is important that this commitment be side by side, it is in any case indispensable that it happens today while maintaining the distinct identities and as fruit of friendship and dialogue, while respecting the different gifts received form God. We have to recognize that Israel was the first to acknowledge and to hear the One God and, at the same time, have and witness to a more lucid awareness of the newness which the Father showed in the person of Jesus, His son, who, by the work of the Holy Spirit, we, as did the apostles, proclaim Lord and Christ.

To give a concrete sign of the will to place itself in a listening attitude in relation to the spiritual wisdom of the Jewish tradition, the Council of Churches has agreed with the Jewish Community of Milan to invite Christian men and women to the Central Synagogue of Milan, in Via della Guastella, on January 17, 2004 (at 17:30) to take part in the conclusive part of the Jewish liturgy of the Shabbath (Havdala Shabbath) and to listen to a comment, given by Chief Rabbi Prof. Giuseppe Laras, on the theme chosen for our Day of Judaism. It will also be the occasion for expressing solidarity with the Jewish Community in times of explosive and violent forms of anti-Semitism. We must also commit ourselves to working towards a lasting peace in the tormented boundaries of the Israeli-Palestinian region. All Christians pray for the day that in Jerusalem and in its martyred land the legitimate aspirations of justice, liberty, independence, safety, development and democracy, which are in conflict today, would be respected and promoted by both peoples who live there.

Translated by SIDIC

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