Pastoral Orientations on the Attitude of Christians to Judaism

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French Conference of Catholic Bishops

Francia       16/04/1973

The Jewish community of France, consisting of 600,000 members, is the second largest in Europe. It is a particularly lively community with a future enriched by the encounter that is at present taking place in its own ranks of Jews from both Eastern Europe and North Africa. Today relations between Jews and Christians are increasingly frequent. The Episcopal Committee founded in 1969 by the French bishops is therefore publishing these guide-lines for the faithful; their aim is to put into force in France the declaration Nostra Aetate of Vatican Council II

I. THE EXISTENCE OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE CONSTITUTES A QUESTION FOR THE CHRISTIAN CONSCIENCE

The existence today of the Jewish people, its condition, often so precarious during the course of its history, its hope, its tragic sufferings in the past and above all in modern times, and its partial ingathering in the land of the Bible constitute increasingly for the Christian the basis of a better understanding of his own faith and a greater enlightenment for his own life.

The continued existence of this people from ancient times, its having survived other civilizations, its presence as a rigorous and exacting partner of Christianity are facts of such importance that they cannot be either ignored or despised.

The Church whose founder is Jesus Christ and which, through him, is from her origin and for all time linked to the Jewish people, sees in the age-old and uninterrupted existence of this people a sign which she would wish to understand in all its truth.

II. THE SLOW PROGRESS OF THE CHRISTIAN CONSCIENCE

On October 28, 1965, Vatican Council II solemnly promulgated the declaration Nostra Aetate which contains a chapter on the Jewish people. We reaffirm the importance of this text which recalls the fact that the Church « draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles (cf. Rom. 11: 17-24) » [N.C.W.C. translation, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1966]. It is our duty as the Episcopal Committee for Relations with Judaism to make clear the real meaning of this declaration and to indicate its application.

The stand taken by the Council should be considered more as a beginning than as a final conclusion. It marks a turning point in the Christian attitude to Judaism. It opens the way and enables us to make a just evaluation of our task.

This declaration is based on a return to scriptural sources. It marks a break with the attitude of an entire past. From now onwards it calls for a new attitude on the part of Christians to the Jewish people, not only in the sphere of human relations but also in that of faith. It is impossible to re-examine in one day either all the affirmations made by the Church in the course of centuries or all her historical attitudes. The Christian conscience has, however, begun the process of reminding the Church of its Jewish origins. The essential is that this should be begun, that it should reach all strata of Christian society, and that it should be continued everywhere honestly and energetically.

III. THE PERMANENT VOCATION OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE

It is not possible to regard the Jewish « religion » simply as one among the existing religions. It is through the people of Israel that faith in the One God has been written into human history. It is through them also that monotheism has, with certain differences, become the common property of the three great families descended from Abraham: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

God himself, according to biblical revelation, constituted this people, educated it, confided his designs to it, concluded with it an eternal Covenant (Gen. 17:7) and made it the object of a vocation which St. Paul describes as irrevocable (Rom. 11:29). To it we owe the five books of the Law, the Prophets and the other sacred writings which complete God's message. This teaching, after having been collected in written and oral tradition, was adopted by Christians and retained by the Jews. For Christians the Covenant is renewed in Jesus Christ, but they should nevertheless regard Judaism as a reality not only social and historical, but above all religious; not only as a relic of a venerable and closed past, but as a reality living on through time. The chief signs of the vitality of the Jewish people are the witness of their corporate fidelity to the one God, their zeal in studying Scripture to find, in the light of revelation, the meaning of human life, their quest for identity in the midst of other men, their constant efforts to come together as a reunited community. These signs are for us Christians questions which touch the heart of our faith: what is the specific mission of the Jewish people in God's plan? what is the expectation that animates them? how does it differ from, how does it resemble ours?

IV. NOT TO TEACH ANYTHING THAT IS INCONSISTENT WITH THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST (NOSTRA AETATE 4)

a) It is a matter of urgency that Christians should once and for all cease to represent the Jew according to the cliches developed during centuries of hostility; we must for ever eliminate and, in every instance, courageously oppose caricatures and presentations unworthy of decent men, let alone of Christians: declaring, for example, with undertones of contempt or aversion that the Jew is not like other men, describing him as « a usurer, •an ambitious person, a conspirator », or, with consequences that are still more dangerous, as a « deicide ». These defamatory allusions are, alas, still current today, either overt or masked; we emphatically denounce and condemn them. Anti-Semitism is a heritage from the pagan world, but it has been increased in Christian times by pseudo-theological arguments. The Jew deserves our attention, our esteem and often our admiration, sometimes our fraternal criticism but always our love. It is in this love that we have perhaps failed him the most, and here the Christian conscience is the most culpable.

b) It is a theological, historical and juridical error to hold the Jewish people indiscriminately to blame for the passion and death of Jesus Christ. The catechism of the Council of Trent had already condemnedthis error (Pars 1, cap. 5, 11). It is true that historically the responsibility for the death of Jesus was shared in varying degrees by certaid Jewish and Roman authorities, but the Church holds that « Christ underwent his passion and death because of the sins of all men and out of infinite love in order that all may reach salvation » (Nostra Aetate 4). Contrary to a very ancient but contestable exegesis, it cannot be concluded from the New Testament that the Jewish people have been deprived of their election. On the contrary, Scripture as a whole urges us to recognize, in the concern of Judaism to be faithful to the Law and the Covenant, a sign of God's fidelity to his people.

c) It is false to oppose Judaism as a religion of fear and Christianity as a religion of love. The fundamental article of Jewish belief, the Shema Israel, begins thus: « Thou shalt love the Lord thy God », and continues with the commandment to love the neighbor (Lev. 19:18). This was the starting point of Jesus' preaching and hence a dogma common to both Judaism and Christianity.
The sense of God's transcendence, his fidelity, his justice, his mercy, of repentance and forgiveness of sins are fundamental characteristics of Jewish tradition. Christians who claim to possess the same values would be wrong in thinking that they have nothing to receive today even from Jewish spirituality.

d) It must be affirmed that contrary to well established reactions, the doctrine of the Pharisees is not opposed to Christianity. The Pharisees strove to make the Law a principle of life for each Jew by interpreting its prescriptions so that they could be adapted to the different circumstances of daily living. Contemporary research has clearly shown that the Pharisees were well aware of the interior meaning of the Law, as were also the masters of the Talmud. When Jesus denounced the attitude and the formalism of the teaching of certain Pharisees he was not questioning this awareness. Moreover it seems that it was precisely because the Pharisees and the first Christians were close to each other in so many respects that they were opposed, sometimes violently, on such matters as the traditions received from the fathers and the interpretation of the Law of Moses.

V. TO ARRIVE AT A RIGHT UNDERSTANDING OF JUDAISM

Christians, were it only for their own sakes, should acquire a true and living knowledge of Jewish tradition.

a) A real Christian catechesis should affirm the value of the whole Bible. The first Covenant has not been rendered void by the new. The first Covenant is in fact, the root, the source, the foundation and the promise of the new. It is true that, for us, the Old Testament can be fully understood only in the light of the New, but this fact in itself presupposes that it should be welcomed and recognized in its own right (cf. Tim. 3: 16). We must not forget that Jesus, who was through his mother a Jewish man, fulfilled his ministry within the people of the Covenant by his obedience to the Torah and by his prayer.

b) We must endeavor to present the particular vocation of this people as « the sanctification of the Name ». This is one of the essential dimensions of synagogue prayer by which the Jewish people, invested with a sacerdotal mission (Ex. 19:6), offer all human creation to God and give him glory. Their vocation makes the life and the prayer of the Jewish people a blessing for all the nations of the earth.

c) Those who see in the precepts of Judaism nothing but constraining practices underestimate them. These rites are gestures that break through man's day-to-day existence and remind those who observe them of the sovereignty of God. Faithful Jews receive as gifts from God the Sabbath and the rites destined to sanctify human acts. They transcend the literal prescriptions of these rites and find in them light and joy on the road of life (Ps. 119), a way of « building time » and of giving thanks for the entire creation. Indeed the whole of existence should be referred to God, as St. Paul reminded his brethren (1 Cor. 10:30-31).

d) The dispersion of the Jewish people should be understood in the light of their own history.

Jewish tradition sees the sufferings of exile as a punishment for infidelity (Jer. 13:17; 20:21-23), but it is nevertheless true that ever since the letter addressed to the Babylonian exiles by Jeremiah (Jer. 29:1-23), the life of the Jewish people in the diaspora has had a positive meaning: through their suffering they are called to « sanctify the Name » in the midst of the nations.

Christians should at all times combat the anti-Jewish and Manichean temptation to consider the Jews as a people accursed because they have been consistently persecuted. On the contrary, according to Scripture itself (Is. 53:2-4), to undergo persecution is at once an effect and a reminder of the prophetic state.

e) Today it is more difficult than ever before to make a calm theological judgment on the movement of return of the Jewish people to « its » land. Above all, faced with this fact, we as Christians cannot forget that in the past God gave to the people of Israel a land on which they were called to assemble (cf. Gen. 12:7, 26:3-4, 28:13; Is. 43:5-7; Jer. 16:15; Zeph. 3:20).

Throughout its history Jewish existence has been continually divided between life among the nations and the desire for nationhood in this land. This desire creates many problems for the conscience of the Jews themselves. If Christians are to understand it and the consequent disputes under all their aspects, they should not allow themselves to be carried away by any exegesis that fails to recognize both the religious and the communitarian forms of Jewish life, or by political stands which, though generous, are premature. They must take into account the way in which the regathering around Jerusalem is interpreted by those Jews who, in the name of their faith, look on it as a blessing.

By this return and by its repercussions, justice is put to the test. On the political level there is opposition between the different demands of justice. Beyond the legitimate diversity of political options the universal conscience cannot deny the Jewish people, who in the course of history has suffered such vicissitudes, the right to its own political existence among the nations and the means necessary to pursue it. Furthermore, this right and these possibilities of existence cannot be refused by the nations to those who, as a result of the local conflicts consequent on this return, are at present victims of situations that are gravely unjust. Therefore, let us turn our eyes attentively towards this land, visited by God, and let us bear within ourselves a lively hope that it may become a place where all its inhabitants, Jews and non-Jews, may live in peace. Christians as well as Jews are faced with the essential question: will the ingathering of the dispersed Jews effected under the constraint of persecution and the interplay of political forces be finally, in spite of so many dramas, one of the channels of God's justice for the Jewish people, and at the same time, for all the peoples of the earth, or will it not? How can Christians remain indifferent to what is now being decided in that land?

VI. TO FOSTER A MUTUAL KNOWLEDGE AND RESPECT (« NOSTRA AETATE » 4)

Most of the encounters between Jews and Christians are today still marked by mutual ignorance and sometimes by a certain mistrust. This ignorance and mistrust have in the past, and can again in the future, give rise to grave misunderstandings and formidable evils. We consider it an essential and urgent task for priests, people, and those responsible for education at all levels, to strive to rouse in Christian people a better understanding of Judaism, of its tradition, of its customs and of its history.

The first condition of this is that Christians should at all times respect the Jew, regardless of his way of being Jewish. They must try to understand him as he understands himself instead of judging him by their own categories of thought. They must respect his convictions, his aspirations, his rites and his attachment to them. They must also admit that without detriment to the fundamental unity of Jewish existence, there can be different ways of being Jewish or of considering oneself as such.

The second condition is that in meetings between Christians and Jews the right of each one to give full witness to his faith must be recognized. He must not on this account be suspected of a disloyal desire to draw anybody away from the other community into his own. Such an intention should be excluded not only because of that respect which is a condition of all dialogue between men no matter who they may be, but still more for this particular reason to which Christians, and especially pastors, should be very attentive: the Jewish people, as a people, has been the object of an « eternal Covenant », without which the « New Covenant » itself would not exist. Therefore, far from aiming at the disappearance of the Jewish community, the Church recognizes herself in the quest for a living link with it. A great openness of mind, mistrust of one's prejudices and a keen sense of the psychological conditioning of the individual are, in the face of such problems, indispensable pastoral qualities.

Even if, in the present context of « civilization without frontiers », there are personal proceedings which escape the intentions of the two communities, their mutual respect should not change.

VII. THE CHURCH AND THE JEWISH PEOPLE

a) The Jewish people is conscious of having received, through its particular vocation, a universal mission to the nations. The Church on her side considers that her own mission cannot be situated elsewhere than in the same purpose of universal salvation.

b) Israel and the Church are not complementary institutions. The permanence of Israel and the Church in the position of opposites is a sign that God's plan is not yet fulfilled. The Jewish and the Christian peoples are thus, with regard to unity, at variance, or as St. Paul says, « jealous » (Rom. 11:14, cf. Deut. 32:21).

c) The words of Jesus himself and the teaching of Paul bear witness to the role of the Jewish people in the accomplishment of both the ultimate unity of humanity and that of Israel and the nations. Thus the present quest of Judaism for its own unity cannot be alien to God's plan of salvation. Neither can it be unrelated to the efforts of Christians to find their own unity, although these two intentions are being accomplished in very different ways.

But if Jews and Christians fulfil their vocation in different ways, history shows that their paths are always crossing. Are they not both preoccupied with messianic times? It is therefore to be desired that they should at last begin to recognize and understand each other, to renounce their age-old hostility and turn to the Father in a common hope which will be a promise for the whole earth.

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Inserito 01/01/1970