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The Interfaith Story behind Nostra Aetate

The Interfaith Story behind Nostra Aetate


JUDITH BANKI: Good afternoon. The Second Vatican Council was an impressive event. Over a four-year period, some 2,400 bishops from every corner of the world, from traditionally Catholic countries where the Church enjoyed a virtual monopoly over religious and cultural life, from democratic pluralist nations, from the emerging nation states of Africa and Asia, and from behind the Iron Curtain -- remember the Iron Curtain? -- representing an enormous range of opinion, met 168 times, heard some 2,200 speeches, submitted over 4,000 written interventions, consulted with 460 officially designated experts, discussed and debated questions ranging from liturgy to nuclear warfare, and in the end, adopted 16 documents. Two of these had particular interest for the Jewish community. Jews had good reasons for being apprehensive about church councils. Early councils had subjected them to humiliating and restrictive legislation: forbidden to appear on the streets during Easter, that was the [third] Council of Orleans 538-545; forbidden to officiate as judges, Council of Mâcon, 581; and the fourth Lateran Council beginning in 1215, gave church-wide endorsement to these and other degrading measures, including the order that Jews must wear a distinctive badge on their clothing; and later rulings outlawed the Talmud, authorized the ghetto, affirmed the validity of forced sermons intended to lead to baptism, and denied Jews admission to the universities. It might be noted that almost every ruling adopted by the Nazis to degrade and de-legitimatize Jews had a precedent in church legislation, except of course, the “Final Solution,” and that is a very, very critical distinction and we must remember that it is. Nevertheless, this time, Jewish organizations expressed a lively interest in the Council, they had a hugely favorable view of Pope John XXIII, who was known to have saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust and who had already revealed himself sympathetic to Jewish hopes that the Council would authoritatively repudiate a negative and hostile tradition of teaching about Jews and Judaism. And that hope was embodied in the declaration eventually promulgated as Nostra Aetate. The struggle over the adoption of this relatively brief document proved to be a genuine cliffhanger. Its fate during the four sessions of the Council seemed tied to a roller coaster. There is no way I can follow the ups and downs, the attempts to eviscerate and destroy the document, the campaign of vilification it endured, within the time allotted to me, so this will be a very simplified description of the struggle of the Second Vatican Council. Who favored this initiative, who opposed it, what did each do, and what were some of the landmines in the road? There were some whoppers.

I also hope to touch on how the vacillations, retreats, and delays along the way impacted on the Jewish community. Among the Catholic architects of change at the Vatican Council were: first and foremost, of course, Pope John XXIII, who issued the call for an ecumenical council to renew the Church. Cardinal Augustin Bea, who was appointed by Pope John to head up the commission which was given the responsibility of preparing a document on the Jews. Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, Father Cornelius Reich in this country, Monsignor John Oesterreicher, Monsignor George Higgins and much of the United States hierarchy which, though off to a slow start, ultimately threw its weight behind the declaration on the Jews and the declaration on religious liberty. And a special mention here for Sister Rose Thering, a feisty nun who carried out the first self study of Roman Catholic textbooks and teachers' manuals in terms of how they portrayed Jews and Judaism. And that study provided the basis of the American Jewish Committee's first initiative to the Vatican Council. In the Jewish community, the French historian, Jules Isaac, who coined the phrase later adopted by both Jewish and Christian scholars to sum up the Christian polemic against Jews and Judaism, "the teaching of contempt", and whose audience with John XXIII is credited with convincing the Pope of the necessity of a fundamental reform in Catholic teaching. And we should also mention Zachariah Shuster of the European office of the American Jewish Committee, Dr. Joseph Lichten of the European office of the Anti-Defamation League, Gerhard Riegner of the World Jewish Congress, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Doctor Eric Werner, and, perhaps primus inter pares, Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, who picked up the pieces of the AJC's initiative and ran with them. A word about these initiatives: The ecumenical council so dramatically announced by Pope John in January, 1959, shortly after his election to the papacy, was seen by both Catholics and Jews as a historic opportunity for the Catholic Church formally and authoritatively to clarify its attitudes toward Jews and Judaism. To repudiate for once and for all that part of its tradition, whereby Jews had been segregated, degraded, charged with wicked crimes, and valued only as potential converts. And to end those tensions between Christians and Jews that had engendered hostility and bitterness across the centuries. The time was ripe. Obviously, such an action would be welcome by all Jews, but some felt that Jews should seek no relationship or involvement with the ecumenical council since it was a totally Catholic internal affair.

Antisemitism, the argument went, is a Christian problem and both the initiative and means for overcoming it should come from the Christian community. It would seem unseemly and undignified for Jews to plead in their own behalf. Others, and particularly Jews associated with organizations that had carried on relationships with church communities on civil rights and church-state matters, felt that Jews had not only the right but also the responsibility to pursue certain aims. And they applied the civil rights model. Antisemitism might be a Christian problem, just as anti-black prejudice is a white problem, but Jews, after all, were their victims and must advocate their own cause; just as African Americans had taken the lead in the struggle for racial justice. Insofar as antisemitism found sanction in Christian teaching about Jews, it was a problem of direct concern to Jews. Insofar as the ecumenical council might put an end to such teachings, that was a legitimate goal to pursue. Obviously, the resolution would have to come from the Christian side, but Jews could and should point to the problems, submit documentation, appeal to the conscience of Christian leaders and communicate their hopes for effective council action. Accordingly, some Jewish organizations devoted substantial time and energy to this end and none more vigorously or systematically than the American Jewish Committee. Over a year before the council convened, the AJC submitted three memoranda to Cardinal Bea. The first was titled "The Image of the Jews in Catholic Teaching," a 32-page document which identified and illustrated slanderous interpretations, oversimplifications, sweeping statements, unjust or inaccurate comparisons, invidious use of language, and significant omissions in American Catholic textbooks. I prepared that memorandum, utilizing Sister Rose Thering's research. A second memorandum, "Anti-Jewish Elements in Catholic Liturgy," prepared for the AJ Committee by an eminent Jewish scholar, Dr. Erich Werner, was later submitted to Cardinal Bea’s secretariat, and I've got to digress for a minute, I hope it won't come off my time, it's a wonderful story. Many researchers know about Rabbi Heschel's role and involvement in the Second Vatican Council, but the work that Dr. Werner did is not as well known. Dr. Werner was a professor of musicology and liturgy at Hebrew Union College, and he was drafted by the AJ Committee to prepare this memorandum on the portrayal of Jews in Catholic liturgy, and I was assigned to work with him. A very fastidious and determined German scholar, he submitted the first draft of this memorandum entirely in Latin. A language my father would have understood, he was a Latin scholar, but not I. And I was told to say to him, Dr. Werner, the American Jewish Committee is an American organization, it cannot submit a document to the Vatican in Latin. It has to be in English. And he grumbled, "Well all right, but they will never take you seriously.” [laughter] Then, of course, a final memorandum was submitted by Abraham Joshua Heschel, who Marc Tanenbaum had sent to Rome to meet with Cardinal Bea, sensing that both biblical scholars would strike it off. Opposition to any positive statement about Jews and Judaism, both within the Council and from outside forces, emerged early and fought vehemently to prevent Council action. A group of ultra-conservative officials of the Curia opposed the statement on theological grounds, holding that Jews indeed had a collective culpability in the death of Jesus. One example, an article in the L’Osservatore Romano, the quasi-official Vatican paper, this is in 1961, claimed that the Jewish people “had stained themselves with a horrible crime deserving of expiation." And, in addition to the theological argument, there was what I call, the “world Jewish conspiracy opposition,” bordering on total paranoia. For example, during the first session, every priest found in his box a privately printed, 900-page volume called "The Plot against the Church" charging that there was a Jewish fifth column among the Catholic clergy plotting against the Church and even justifying Hitler's actions against the Jews. Now, while this crude attack produced mainly indignation from the Council fathers, the question remains, how did it get into every delegate's mailbox? Clearly, the opposition had extraordinary powers of distribution. And the second session of the Council also saw the distribution of antisemitic literature. A document called "The Jews and the Council in the Light of Holy Scripture and Tradition," by a pseudonymous Bernardus, cited authoritative Catholic sources supporting the deicide charge against the Jews, proclaiming that Jews could only wipe out the curse upon them by converting to Christianity, and insisted that efforts to change the traditional view were the result of a conspiracy in the council by Jews and Freemasons working on behalf of Communism.

There was a lot of such stuff circulated at every session of the Council. But the most persistent and vehement attack on the Jewish declaration came from Arab representatives who waged a relentless diplomatic campaign to prevent any positive statement on Jews and Judaism. As early as 1963, Gamal Abdel Nasser’s "Voice of the Arabs" broadcast that there was a "world Zionist plot to capitalize on the Vatican Council to further the oppression of Palestinian refugees." And Arab opposition was double-barreled, coming both from the governments and from the prelates, Catholic and Orthodox, including Coptic leaders in Arab nations who warned of possible reprisals against their communities and they urged the Pope not to quote “absolve” the Jews of their crime of deicide. It should be noted that the Arab investment in the deicide charge was essentially political, it was not a theological issue for Muslims, it was grounded in hostility to Israel. And it might also be noted that these verbal attacks and threats took place years before the Six Day War of June 1967. At that time, Israel did not control the West Bank or have access to its own holy places in the Old City. It was not Israel's occupation of these territories (which took place later) that was the source of this vitriol at the time; it was Israel's very existence. There were a number of bumps along the way that almost derailed the declaration, and may have contributed to its delay and to its weakening and time doesn't permit detailing them here. Suffice it to say they kept the outcome of the declaration in doubt until the very end. Until, as a matter of fact, the concluding day of the Second Vatican Council. Now, what happened within the Jewish community? Needless to say, the ups and downs of the draft declaration, the persistent nagging rumors -- it was in, it was out, its contents had been preserved, its contents had been gutted -- this all impacted on the Jewish community. When the first announcements were made that the ecumenical council would consider a document repudiating the deicide charge against Jews, the information was publicly welcomed by everybody and criticized by only a few voices. But when the second session of the Council ended with no action on the declaration, criticism was more common, and behind this criticism could be sensed a mistrust of the Church's motives. A suspicion that theological dialogue was a honeyed approach to conversion. And simple resentment over the prospect of some 2,500 bishops debating the extent of Jewish culpability in the death of Jesus. Before the Rabbinical Council of America in February 1964, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the leading spokesman for Orthodox Jewry, attacked the proposed declaration as nothing more or less than evangelical propaganda. And he also discouraged religious dialogue with Catholics, and indeed with all Christians. Of this charge, that the absolving of Jews of a crime that they never committed was condescending, …and I've been given my notice so I won't give too many of these quotes, but I will say that the, the Jewish community, which shouldn't surprise anybody, ended up turning on some of its own leadership and people who had led the struggle at the Vatican Council had a very difficult time of it. They were sometimes accused of selling out Jewish interest and Jewish self-respect.

I'll just end by saying that a conversionist call in an earlier draft of the declaration was eliminated from the final document and the final revised text, which represented a compromise between liberal and conservative positions, was approved as the whole by a vote of 1763 to 250. The last-minute efforts of one side to strengthen the document and on the other side to quash it failed in the end. Given Cardinal Bea’s plea for a quick acceptance of the amended document, the lack of discussion on the Council floor, the vote and the promulgation followed in rapid succession, and the end seemed a little abrupt. After four years of battering back and forth, it was over like that. And what did it represent? Was it a victory for the liberals was it a victory for the conservatives? And the secular press and the religious press in the United States welcomed it with reservations. And I will just end by saying the following: Forty years ago, in the American Jewish Yearbook, I wrote the following, I quote myself, “The ecumenical council has concluded and the declaration has been promulgated but the internal Jewish debate continues. Its resolution will depend, to a large extent, on how effective an instrument for change the declaration proves to be. If the affirmations of the statement on relations with the Jews, the call to brotherhood, mutual esteem, and the inferences that certain Catholic teachings are to be revised, are largely ignored by Roman Catholic authorities, then those who have criticized Jewish lobbying in support of the declaration may feel their case has been proved. Nothing will have been affected by these efforts but Jewish dignity and that for the worse. If, however, the declaration becomes the platform for far-reaching changes in Catholic-Jewish relations, then those active in its behalf may be recognized as having performed a genuine service for Jews and Judaism. And 40 years down the line, I think I will let our other speakers talk to how much has been accomplished in that time. Thank you.


EVA FLEISCHNER: As a Roman Catholic, I am profoundly grateful to the Museum for this celebration of Nostra Aetate. Many of us today wish for less centralization and hierarchy in my church. But when it embraces a worthy cause, Rome can indeed bring about historic changes. One of these, and surely among the most important is the major turning point in the Church's attitude vis-à-vis Judaism which was initiated by Nostra Aetate. Thank you for honoring this event. My topic is Heschel, Abraham Joshua Heschel in Rome. Heschel's role at Vatican II was no accident. It grew organically out of who he was and out of the deep relationship to Christianity he had forged over the years. We have here the extraordinary phenomenon of a Jewish religious thinker. Utterly profoundly Jewish, from a long Hasidic line who not only reached out to and touched the lives and thought of Christian theologians and of two Popes, but who influenced the outcome of the Roman Church's relationship to Jews through Vatican II's declaration Nostra Aetate. Edward Kaplan speaks of Heschel's, I quote, "mostly anonymous but fruitful efforts at the Vatican council." Mostly anonymous is an apt designation, because Heschel's efforts took place largely under the aegis of the American Jewish Committee and of the late Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum. The paper delivered by Rabbi Tanenbaum in 1983 at a symposium honoring Heschel at the Jewish Theological Seminary is one of my principal sources for this paper. Inevitably, I'm afraid, some or much of what I'm going to say will overlap with or even repeat some of what Judy, Judith Banki has just said. Please bear with me, I think it is unavoidable. We can discern three distinct stages in Heschel's work at Vatican II.

The first: There was a preliminary stage, prior to the opening of the Council in September 1962, when the Secretariat for Christian Unity under the presidency of Cardinal Augustin Bea was established personally by Pope John XXIII. Its task was to work on the Church's relationship to other religions, Judaism among them. During this first stage, the American Jewish Committee with Heschel's help worked on three memoranda, which Judith Banki has already mentioned. And these were sent to Rome. Also in February of 1962, shortly before the Council's opening, three of Heschel's books had been sent to Cardinal Bea, who warmly acknowledged them as I quote: "A strong, common spiritual bond between us." The second stage: Pope John XXIII, alas, died in June 1963, before the opening of the second session. However, his successor Pope Paul VI supported the secretariat's work very strongly. In a front-page article in The New York Times of October 17, 1963, The Times published a preliminary draft of a proposed council declaration. Heschel welcomed the text in a personal memo as (I quote) "an expression of integrity inspired by the presence of God. May the spirit of God guide the work of the Council" (end of quote). The third stage proved to be one of ongoing upheaval and crisis. Judith has referred to that in greater detail than I will. Despite the promising beginning and Paul VI's personal support, opposition to the proposed statement on the Jews and pressures on the Secretariat began to mount. On November 23, 1963, Heschel wrote to Cardinal Bea, whom he had met personally by this time, expressing his concern that the theme of conversion of Jews had been introduced into the new text. He went once more to Rome and met with Monsignor Willibrands, Bea’s secretary and later, as Cardinal, his successor, who was sympathetic to Heschel's concern and promised to speak to Bea. Nonetheless, the opposition continued. Shortly before the opening of the third session in September '64, a new and watered-down version of the original draft appeared in The New York Times. (I have several times thought, "Thank God for The New York Times in those days.”) In a statement of September the 3rd, '64, Heschel strongly criticized this version, reserving his harshest words for the theme of conversion. I quote only a few lines, which show that Heschel, who in general was so gentle, could be sarcastic and sharp. This is what he said: "It must be stated that spiritual fratricide is hardly a means for the attainment of fraternal discussion or reciprocal understanding. A message that regards the Jews as candidates for conversion and proclaims that the destiny of Judaism is to disappear, will be abhorred by Jews all over the world and is bound to foster reciprocal distrust as well as bitterness and resentment. As I have repeatedly stated to leading personalities at the Vatican, I am ready to go to Auschwitz if faced with the alternative of conversion or death. Jews throughout the world will be dismayed by a call from the Vatican to abandon their faith in a generation which has witnessed the massacre of six million Jews and the destruction of thousands of synagogues on a continent where the dominant religion was not Islam, Buddhism, or Shintoism."

The situation was so critical that the American Jewish Committee arranged an audience for Heschel with Pope Paul VI for September 14, 1964. It was the eve of Yom Kippur. Despite the great personal inconvenience to him, Heschel felt that he must go, and he went. The audience lasted 35 minutes; Heschel later described it as “friendly.” He argued his case forcefully and left a lengthy theological memorandum with the Pope, to be submitted to Cardinal Bea. I find it kind of delightful the Pope is made to be a messenger boy in this case. I quote a few lines from this memorandum: "Why is so much attention paid to what Vatican II is going to say about the Jews? Are we Jews in need of recognition? God himself has recognized us as a people. Are we in need of a 'chapter' acknowledging our right to exist as Jews? Nearly every chapter in the Bible expresses the promise of God's fidelity to his covenant with our people. It is not gratitude that we ask for, it is the cure of a disease, affecting so many minds, that we pray for." The struggle continued into the fourth and last session amid much maneuvering on both sides and as Judith Banki has said, thanks be to God, on October 28th, the original text -- '65 -- the original text was promulgated with no mention of proselytism. Recalling the controversy, Cardinal Willibrands wrote to me of Heschel's role in the struggle, years later in '83. He says, in part, in his letter, "At a certain moment in the fall of '63, there was a rumor, not without some foundation (I consider that Vatican understatement), that the Secretariat for Christian Unity and Pope Paul VI personally had the intention of expressing in the forthcoming document, in one brief phrase, the hope for the conversion of the Jewish people to Christ at the end of time. Professor Heschel learned of this, made a special trip to Rome, asked for a special audience, and explained to the Pope how disastrous such a thing would be, et cetera." Heschel himself, reflecting back on the controversy in '67, had this to say: "The schema on the Jews is the first statement of the Church in history, the first Christian document dealing with Judaism, which is devoid of any expression of hope for conversion. And, let me remind you, that there were two versions." I think one can detect a note of personal pride in these words. And one more recollection, which I owe to a letter from Father Thomas Stransky, the Paulist who was a member of the Secretariat throughout the Council, who wrote to me what he called his most memorable Heschel-Stransky tidbit: “When Heschel was told -- this is from the letters he sent -- when Heschel was told of some minor changes that might be forced into the final draft, I commented that though the text would be better as it stood, the minor changes would not destroy the substance and main force of the document. Heschel bristled and replied, ‘For you, they may be minor, but remember for us Jews, just a scratch from the official Roman Catholic Church on our arms quickly causes a flood of fear in our veins.’" And Stransky comments, "Yes, I've never forgotten that, especially his spontaneous use of the markings on the arm in mention.” In my own comment here, I'm reminded of a quotation from an Israeli I came across not long ago. "Scratch a Jew and you will find terror." This is something that we Christians still do not understand sufficiently. How do we explain Heschel's hard and persistent work to influence the Council's declaration, in particular, his passionate determination to avoid any reference to proselytism? How do we account for the shocking words in his memo already mentioned and repeated two weeks before his untimely death on December 23, 1972, in his NBC interview with Carl Stern (I quote): "I'd rather go to Auschwitz than be the object of conversion." Let me suggest two aspects of his thought that throw light on his work at Vatican II. One is Heschel's deeply held belief in religious pluralism. Not as an evil temporal necessity that we have to put up with but as desire, even as delight, of God. I quote: "God's voice speaks in many languages, communicating itself in a diversity of intuitions. Therefore, Jews must respect Christians for whom knowledge of the Living God has spread throughout the world."

His own tradition taught him that (again I quote): "The pious of all nations have a share in the world to come and are promised eternal life." Heschel asked no less of Christians. He was painfully aware of the sordid history of contempt and forced conversion that had tainted so much of Christian history. He hoped that we were entering a new era, but one of the conditions for this was no more mission to the Jews. The Church must abandon all attempts to convert Jews, for such attempts are a call to Jews to betray their peoples' tradition and proof that the Church still does not recognize Judaism as a valid way to God. Too many Christians still do not understand that (I quote): "We are Jews as we are men." Today we would say, "as we are human beings." I believe that the turbulence surrounding Nostra Aetate, which Judith Banki has described, proved him right, at least back in the 1960s. I'm not sure that we have fully succeeded yet in overcoming our old prejudices, even today, 40 years later. Perhaps, Dabru Emet [“Dabru Emet: A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity”], published in the year 2000, many years after Vatican II, and long after Heschel's death, represents a flowering of the kind of genuine dialogue Heschel hoped for. I'm sure he would have been among the signers. My last few words: Nostra Aetate is the shortest of the 16 official documents produced by Vatican II. It consists of only five paragraphs. Of these, the fourth, dealing with Judaism, is the longest: 17 sentences. The rest deal with other world religions. I believe that the statement on Judaism, and the Church's recognition of Judaism's enduring covenant, opened the Roman Church to the wider issue of its relationship to other non-Christian religions. This may ultimately be the greatest contribution of Nostra Aetate and of the Church's struggle to come to a new vision of its relationship to Judaism. I believe that Heschel's commitment to genuine religious pluralism helped pave the way. Yes, he was fighting for the legitimacy of his own people in the eyes of the Church, but ultimately, I believe he was fighting for the legitimacy of every religious tradition in the eyes of God and of the Church. Thank you.


JOHN T. PAWLIKOWSKI: [testing microphone: I didn't go into outer space. laughs.] Good afternoon. [clears throat] It is certainly my pleasure to join this symposium, part of a really an international series of events commemorating the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate. I've remarked in a number of my presentations this fall that it's remarkable and it's a remarkable testimony, I think, to the continuing importance of Nostra Aetate, that no other Vatican document has received the kind of commemorative attention this year as Nostra Aetate has. And, I think that part of the reason is because the issue of religion as a source of violence and contempt is still very much a part of the reality of our world today not only in this country but globally, and I think in that sense, Nostra Aetate is seen as an opportunity to counteract the violent impulses in religion, which, if not counteracted, will really prevent religion from the positive contribution to global solidarity and harmony that I think, religion has the potential to offer. Just a word or two to add to some of the history. If I were to ask, be asked, what were some of the factors that brought about Nostra Aetate, I would cite three. Some of them have already been mentioned, but one hasn't. Certainly, the textbook studies done on the Catholic side, at St. Louis University, especially, the one done by Sister Rose Thering on religion studies, a series sponsored by the American Jewish Committee for the Protestant, the Catholic, and the Jewish communities, played a very pivotal role. Secondly, I think, the experience of those Christians who had fought in the resistance movements in Europe during the Nazi period was also a very important factor in providing the conviction and the passion that was necessary to get this document through the mechanisms of the Council. But I would add another one from this country, and that is the experience of active collaboration in the '30s and '40s, a time in which the great Monsignor John A. Ryan, from what was then called the National Catholic Welfare Conference, put together an unprecedented coalition of Catholics, Protestants, and Jews to promote the cause of working people in this country, and quite successfully.

While that coalition of Christians and Jews did not discuss theological issues, I think a sense of rapport and solidarity, friendship, developed which carried over into the Council, either by way of direct memory or by a legacy of memory in the Catholic Church. And when we ask why, in the end, were the Catholic bishops so strongly supportive of both the Nostra Aetate and the document on religious liberty, I think, at least a part of that answer is to be found in the memory of positive interreligious collaboration that began in this country, particularly in the 1930s and '40s. Now, what have we accomplished in terms of Nostra Aetate? I would say we have accomplished some very important developments, certainly, I think it goes without saying that Nostra Aetate represented a sea change in the relationship between Christians and Jews in this country and in many other parts of the world. One of the first areas that I think saw the impact of Nostra Aetate were the textbooks. Under the aegis of the Bishops' Conference, major Catholic textbook publishers were brought together. The teachings of Nostra Aetate were clearly presented to them and there was a substantial revision of Catholic textbooks, which I think subsequent studies done by Eugene Fisher and Philip Cunningham have shown to be holding in the main in the past 40 years. So the image of Jews and Judaism being presented in Catholic textbooks is quite different, dramatically different in many ways, from the image that was really being presented in the textbooks studied from the late '50s, early '60s, by Sister Rose Thering. That is a clear example of a major sea change that I think has helped. Another important area where, I think, Nostra Aetate had at least some impact, although the process was already under way to some extent, even prior to Vatican II, was in the area of biblical studies. And I would cite particularly three areas of biblical studies where we've seen some profound changes. Number one, the whole Christian attitude to how we understand the role of the Old Testament or Hebrew scriptures in the self-identity of Christians. In the past, the identity of Christians, basically saw the Hebrew scriptures of the Old Testament, either in the best moments as a sort of a prelude, a foretaste of Christian teaching, Christian belief, in the worst moments, as a kind of foil for the supposed superiority of Christian teaching. And that is something that was quite prevalent in both Protestantism and Catholicism. Now, we haven't seen a hundred-percent change there. But I think, if one now sees the way the Hebrew Bible is being used in a much more constructive fashion I think we have seen the beginnings of a real sea change there compared to where we were before Nostra Aetate.

There are still many, many challenges in that regard, challenges of how we preach the Hebrew scriptures. Do we really see it as a resource for spiritual development, for retreats and so on? But nonetheless, I think there has been a change. And I think part of that change also involves something that Nostra Aetate specifically addressed in chapter 4, namely, the positive influence that the Judaism of Jesus' time had on his teaching and the teaching of early Christianity. If you read the major scripture scholars, even in the '50s, running into the '60-s, you'll see, very prominent, the theme that Jesus was not part of the Jewish tradition; that with his coming, Jewish history had come to an end; that Jews were destined to roam the earth without a homeland of their own as a punishment for the Messiah. Basically, that Jesus was in no way constructively influenced by the teaching of the time. And, that, you can find in writers such as Martin Noth, in some of the other great biblical scholars of the time. And yet today, after Vatican II, someone like Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini can write that there is simply no way that we can understand Jesus and the early Church without understanding his deep grounding in the Jewish tradition of the time. I mean, that too, is another sea change, and I think we need to recognize that. Two of the other biblical areas that I think pose continuing theological problems are first of all, the understanding that Judaism was a far more pluralistic reality at the time of Jesus than we ever imagined. We have said glibly in Christianity, well, Jesus and his teachings fulfilled Judaism. But, scholars such as Jacob Neusner and others are now speaking of “Judaisms.” There wasn't one Judaism that was dominant or prevalent at the time of Jesus, and so, these sort of Christian claims about Christianity fulfilling Judaism need to be discussed much more than they have because they simply don't fit what we know of the actual situation in Judaism of the time. Another major change, which I think has even greater potential impact is the understanding that the split between Judaism and Christianity was a far longer and more difficult process than we ever imagined. Most of us grew up thinking that, by the time Jesus died, the Church was fully established as a separate and distinct entity apart from Judaism. The porticos of the Vatican may not yet have been erected, but nonetheless, Christianity was a totally distinct and separate religion. Important biblical scholars are saying, "That ain't so." That, in fact, there was little, if any, distinctive Christian identity apart from Judaism until after the end of the Jewish war with Rome in 70 of the common era. That has, it seems to me, a profound ecclesialast ….ecclesiological significance for Christian theology. It also has, I think, some theological challenges for Jewish theology as well.

Especially since we now know that ongoing relations between Judaism and Christianity continued in some places into the 2nd, 3rd, and then in a few places, perhaps, even into the 4th and 5th centuries, so that there were substantial numbers of Christians (and we can also assume Jews) who did not automatically regard the acceptance by certain people of the way of Jesus as completely setting them apart from the Jewish community of the time. That's still an area that needs a lot of research. But, apart from the scientific research, it also poses some continuing theological issues. Areas in which we haven't made as much progress: I would say we've made very little progress in the area of liturgy. The basic theology of prophecy fulfillment is still the heart and soul of many of our liturgical seasons, including the one that we celebrate now in Christianity, the season of Advent. We did have a major statement from the bishops' committee on liturgy in this country, I believe in 1987, but that document is very, very little known in liturgical circles and has never really received much implementation. I think that the area of systematic theology, whatever you call it, doctrinal theology, that we've seen some progress there, but we are also seeing now, I think, some potential regression. Cardinal Avery Dulles has written an important piece, in First Things magazine, which he originally gave as a lecture here in this city last March, in which he makes the claim -- I find it incredible, but he makes the claim -- that in fact, Vatican II did not settle the issue of whether the Jewish covenant was still valid. Now, if that thesis holds up -- and I was in the presence of two bishops who supported it only two weeks ago -- that would undercut, my friends, much of what we have gained in the last 40 years. So, this sort of challenge, I think, is still out there. We have some promising developments, even in the thought of Cardinal Ratzinger before he became Pope and so on. But at some point, we are going to have to say, does the thesis of someone like Cardinal Dulles have validity or not? And, do we want to restore, and that was my question to the two bishops in Chicago who supported Cardinal Dulles: "Do you want restored to the textbooks the statement, in Cardinal Dulles’ talk, that the Second Vatican Council did not settle the issue of whether the Jewish covenant remains valid?" If that is restored, then, I am afraid whatever accomplishments have resulted will be kind of washed away.

I think there are other areas, practical areas of collaboration. On the Jewish side, there are increasing voices raising the question of whether or not the separation that has existed in the Catholic-Jewish dialogue, between, if you want to call it, the more secular-political realm and the theological realm, should continue to be maintained, many Jews will say, "This is not the way we understand Judaism." And given the 1974 guidelines’ assertion, the Vatican guidelines' assertion on Catholic-Jewish relations, that Catholic Christians must be sensitive to the way Jews define themselves, we at least have to take concern that is being raised increasingly, very seriously. I think just finally, I would say then while Nostra Aetate was a document that was promoted and passed as a result of people who were committed to new understanding of Christian-Jewish relations, and while it came to be in this country, at a time when we were still fundamentally in the Will Herberg model of America as Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant, we now live in a different world. We live in a much more pluralistically religious world. And the other aspects of Nostra Aetate will have to be taken far more seriously. Not in any way to diminish the special nature of the Catholic-Jewish relationship, which I think has to be preserved, but nonetheless, I think, we have to ask far more serious questions about the relationship with Hinduism and Buddhism but in a particular way with Islam. I said in Rome in late September at a conference and I'll repeat it today: I think the time has come to raise some serious theological questions about the covenantal relationship with Islam as well as with Jews. We need to do that, I think it's …some will say no, there is no covenantal relationship, I think the time has at least come to explore those questions. So, it seems to me while, not losing sight of the centrality of the Catholic-Jewish relationship in terms of Nostra Aetate and continuing to discuss those issues, we must begin to deal far more with the other aspects of Nostra Aetate than we have. As I said, I think we experienced a sea change, Vatican II marked a time when the waters of contempt parted, at least for a moment. It is up to us to really insure that they will remain parted permanently. Thank you very much.


REV. CHRISTOPHER P. LEIGHTON: I believe it was Rabbi Irving Greenberg who once remarked he didn't care what religion or denomination you belong to, as long as you were embarrassed about it. When it comes to pondering the legacy of Nostra Aetate, we Protestants have plenty to be embarrassed about. However incomplete and fragile the achievements of Nostra Aetate, the Roman Catholic Church has begun to reckon with what is arguably the most serious moral and spiritual failure within the Christian tradition: the insidious habit of building the Church's affirmations on the negation of Judaism and the Jewish people. The 17-sentence document whose 40th anniversary we are acknowledging here set in motion a daring reformation and the ongoing commitment of the Roman Catholic Church embodied in people such as John Pawlikowski, Eva Fleischner, Gene Fisher, provides eloquent testimony to a remarkable transformation of mind and heart. Lamentably, the revolution within the Roman Catholic Church has not brought about a parallel transformation among Protestants, despite the issuance of some important statements that condemn antisemitism and bemoan the complicity of Christians for their long-standing dereliction of moral duty. I'm keenly aware that any generalization about a tradition as confused and confusing, as varied and inconsistent, as eclectic and contradictory as the world of Protestantism, is bound to be suspect. But on the question of the mainline Protestant's relations with the Jewish people, I'm saddened to say there is a disturbing uniformity in our theological failings.

With the exceptions of some exceptional scholars and some exceptional clergy and some exceptional congregations, Protestants have all too often been missing in action. We have frequently been spectators, not participants, in the revolution, and we have a long way to go if we're going to learn from the example of our Roman Catholic brethren. In the few moments allotted to me, I want to reflect on why Protestants have in large measure remained on the sidelines, and then conclude with some comments about what I believe needs to be done to counter my tradition's growing malaise. My comments will use my own Presbyterian tradition as a touchstone, which, in many respects, mirrors the sensibilities of other mainline Protestants, only worse. This means that I will sidestep a significant phenomenon namely, the conservative evangelical Christians who have proven themselves stalwart supporters of the State of Israel, but who still support a theology animated by the hope that the Jews will relinquish their atavistic attachments to their tradition, will convert and finally be digested into the mystical body of Christ. In other words, this wing of Protestantism still holds fast to an apocalyptic dream that envisions Israel as the launching pad for the Second Coming and that relishes the prospect of a cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil. This holy war will presumably establish a new world order in which true Christians vanquish their enemies. At the end of days, there will be no observant or faithful Jews or for that matter, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or even according to some, Roman Catholics. And then, at long last, my evangelical colleagues will enter a kingdom without these deviant theologies to gum up the works. And they, the victors, will finally be able to sit down and feast on the spoils of war. I think it's fair to conclude that the spirit of Nostra Aetate is not the guiding light behind this evangelical fantasy. [laughter] So, leaving aside this dispensationalist form of Protestantism, which of course finds popular expression in the best-selling "Left Behind" series, I want to turn to an examination of the attitudes of the mainline Protestant churches and reflect on those factors that have bogged down Jewish-Christian encounters.

We Presbyterians are certainly not unique among Protestants for attempting to ground our theological positions first and foremost in the Bible, nor are we alone in the recognition of the binding character of a tradition that is anchored in credal documents, which we refer to as the confessions. These have accumulated, as you know, over the centuries. Some of these confessions, such as the Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed, we share with other Protestants and Roman Catholics. But our denominational identity is also shaped through confessional statements that folks in the Reformed Christian tradition regard as authoritative. And here we start to rub against some very serious problems. I want to share a few statements to frame the challenge we Presbyterians face. The Scots Confession, written in 1560 by John Knox and five of his colleagues, declares, "We utterly abhor the blasphemy of those who hold that men who live according to equity and justice shall be saved, no matter what religion they profess. For since there is neither life nor salvation without Jesus Christ, so shall none have part therein but those whom the Father has given unto his son, Christ Jesus, and those who in time, come to him, avow his doctrine, and believe in him." This position is woven into the texture of my tradition and the motif still echoes down the corridors of our churches. Just listen to some of the words in the statement entitled "Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ," which was approved at the 214th meeting of the Presbyterian general assembly in 2002. It declares, "Jesus Christ is the only Savior and Lord, and all people everywhere are called to place their faith, hope and love in Him.” No one's saved apart from God's gracious, no one is saved apart from God's gracious redemption in Jesus Christ. Carved into our tradition is a supersessionist ideology. We make exclusivist claims that, were we to follow their dictates, would lead us to regard Jews as worthy conversation partners only insofar as we can convert them. This confessional tradition suggests that there is nothing of theological significance that Christians can gain from Jews because there is no saving truth outside of the Gospel. Now, to add salt to the wound, there are many within my denomination who insist that these exclusivist claims are non-negotiable affirmations because they faithfully recapitulate the teachings of the New Testament. I need not repeat in detail the chapters and verses that are trotted out over and over again. Two quick references will suffice: John 14:6: "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Or Acts 1:2: "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved." So this brings to light some of the most extraordinary achievements of Nostra Aetate.

In studying this historic text, I am struck by the fact that there is really no precedent that was invoked to justify the break with its anti-Judaic legacy. There are no illusions to the teaching of the church fathers, there are no references to earlier ecumenical councils or canonical legislation. The revolution hangs precariously on an argument etched into the writings of Paul, which as you know, were crafted before Jews and Christians had gone their separate ways. That, and the fundamental recognition that became unmistakably clear in the encounter between the Jewish historian Jules Isaac and Pope John XXIII, that the gospel is betrayed whenever it is turned into an instrument of hate or indifference -- an axiom that enabled the Roman Catholic Church to insist that its new teachings were an expression of what "the Church has always held and continues to hold." So this big, lumbering, ecclesiastical giant that Protestants tend to dismiss as encumbered by antiquarian traditions and straight-jacketed by unyielding dogma, turned out to be far more agile and far more discerning than our own Protestant mindset would permit. When it came time to confront the legacy of contempt for Judaism and the Jewish people, it was the Roman Catholic Church that had the courage to do something radically innovative, not us. So I think the challenge is this: We Protestants do not have an ecclesiastical structure or a theological tradition that will permit us to overturn our own anti-Jewish dispositions so dramatically. We Protestants will need to embrace the spirit of Nostra Aetate. We will not be able to embrace the sprit of Nostra Aetate until and unless we develop ways of reading our sacred text and traditions that are new and different. As long as we Protestants reduce the Gospel to a set of doctrinal propositions that demand uncritical consent, as long as we Protestants think that a flattened and literal rendering of the Bible yields a gospel that we can possess, Protestants will sit in the bleachers and ignore the challenge of Nostra Aetate. And we will read the Jewish-Christian encounter as an exercise in political correctness that compromises the hard-edged imperatives of the Gospel. Now, to be sure, there are growing numbers of disaffected Protestants who realize that the theological and ethical integrity of our faith is at stake. They know full well that this reformation is not a fad that is leading us to sell out our traditions because we need to be nicer to the Jews.

What is at issue is nothing less than the spiritual viability of our community and the character of the faith that binds it together. The failure to disarm religious hate will render our church morally bankrupt. So, some of us excavate the Bible and mine our traditions to find countervailing voices that will contest the arrogance and complacency of our churches. We recognize that the Bible does not speak with a single voice, but tosses us into the thick of an ongoing debate, and prompts us to discern what the Bible means for us in our time, here and now. So, what then, does it mean to develop new ways of reading and interpreting our own scriptures and traditions? The enormity of this challenge demands more time and energy than I can muster on this occasion. But let me offer by way of conclusion a few suggestive fragments. Douglas John Hall noted in an essay entitled "What Is Theology?" that the “good news” is good because it challenges and displaces bad news. Gospel addresses us at the place where we are overwhelmed by an awareness of what is wrong with the world and ourselves in it. It is good news because it engages, takes on, and does battle with the bad news, offering another alternative, another vision of what could be, another way into the future. Hall goes on to tell the following story: In the '30s and '40s, Hitler's henchmen were rounding up Jews and sending them to hard labor and extermination camps as everyone knows or should know. In despair over what was happening in and to his society, the then-Dean of the Protestant Cathedral in Berlin, Heinrich Grüber, asked himself, "How can I proclaim the Gospel in this situation? What would ‘gospel’ mean under these circumstances?" And he found himself answering, "Gospel today is this: Jesus Christ was a Jew. Over and against Nazi theories of race, the Christian message had to become an unconditional affirmation of the full and equal humanity of all people. The gospel could only be discovered in the midst of struggle. And the litmus test of any reading of the Gospel is simply this: Does our engagement with our scriptures enable us to recognize, affirm, and act on behalf of the vulnerable other?" I would press Grüber's statement another step. Rather than define the Gospel proclamation in the past tense, perhaps, we need to remember not only that Jesus Christ was a Jew, but to speak in the present tense and insist that Jesus Christ is a Jew and will remain so.

This goes against the grain of a tradition that adapts its Christology to fit the indigenous culture, as is evidenced by looking at the portrayals of Jesus. In Africa, as you know, Jesus is black; in Asia, he is yellow; in Europe, he is white. I think this tendency to represent Jesus in different ethnic idioms runs the risk of misrepresenting and concealing the one thing that we know about Jesus. Namely, his Jewishness. As Paul van Buren of blessed memory commented some years ago, we do not know the color of his complexion, his size or weight, all we know about his physicality is that he was circumcised. And this signifies an indissoluble link with his people. This aspect of his identity is rarely factored into Christian theology, but his Jewishness seems to me to be built into our doctrine of the incarnation. If we took this fact to heart, then we would need to contend with the fact that Jesus comes to us Christians from outside our own fold; that he comes to us as a stranger, and that our doctrines and creeds can never fully domesticate this outsider. This insistence on Jesus' Jewishness would also require us to do more than indulge and talk about our Jewish roots. We would need to recognize that there are fundamental insights into the nature of God and God's covenant that do not belong to us. And the only way we can learn about the multiple ways in which God engages the world, is to pay close attention to the ongoing bond with the Jewish people and by extension I would say others. If the gifts of God are irrevocable, as Paul insisted, then we can discover wisdom and beauty and truth that is not confined to an ancient Jewish past, but is a living legacy, which is only available to us second-hand through the teachings and practice and fidelity of the Jewish people. Our encounter with the Jewish people is crucial, because it breaks the grip of our own narcissism. We are Protestants to recognize the imperative of this Gospel proclamation, perhaps we too, could embrace the spirit of Nostra Aetate, and carry forward the unfinished work of our own Reformation. Thank you.


VICTORIA BARNETT: Thank you. Thank all of you; this has really been fascinating. And I would like to begin our conversation simply with the question to all four panelists, we have a lot of food for thought here. One of the things that strikes me from listening to all of you is the juxtaposition of a document from Vatican II, which one thinks of as coming from the highest ranks of the Catholic Church, from this vast conciliar meeting which lasted several years, and the crucial role of the individuals who were involved. I think that Vatican II or Nostra Aetate would not have happened without people like Abraham Heschel, without Cardinal Bea. So, and this is a question for all you, including Chris. We Protestants don't have a Pope, but we do have people who are engaged individually in interfaith dialogue and activism. How does it come about that these interfaith relationships can achieve critical mass where real change takes place? I think this is an ongoing question. I invite responses from everyone.

JOHN T. PAWLIKOWSKI: I'll the mike on? [tap tap] I'll take a shot at that. I think it does come about through the effort and passion of individual people, individual people at the grassroots level but also leadership. And if I have a concern at the moment, the kind of people in leadership positions on both the Christian and Jewish side who made it possible to have a document such as Nostra Aetate, seem to have disappeared from the scene. I have to confess to you that I saw that in the midst of the controversy over Mel Gibson's film. I saw that when we were arranging for a conference in Nostra Aetate at the Gregorian University back in September. And when we were searching for an opening speaker, which we just…you know, decided had to be a high ecclesiastic. We really had a hard time finding anyone who truly had publicly put Catholic-Jewish, inter-religious relations generally very high on their agenda as leaders. And what I see now, is that the giants who made Vatican II in terms of Nostra Aetate are not being replaced in the same way. And it seems to me that while we can continue and must continue at the grassroots level without a significant push at the leadership level, it's going to be increasingly difficult to maintain the more grassroots initiatives.


REV. CHRISTOPHER P. LEIGHTON: Well I'm a Presbyterian and therefore inclined to look for the bleakest of possible readings of the, of our current circumstances, it just comes so naturally…. [laughter] and I too share John's concern about the leadership deficit. When I look around at our seminaries there was a good sign that when the new president of Princeton Theological Seminary was installed, there was a symposium that he sponsored, which brought Muslim, Jewish, and Christian interpreters of sacred scriptures together to see how these texts are refracted through our respective traditions' lenses. However, that kind of insight is not integrated into most of the seminaries that I know and love, whether they be Jewish seminaries or Christian seminaries. We do a wonderful job of educating our clergy to live in a world that doesn't exist. And it strikes me that until and unless we start doing much more to acclimate folks to the reality of a world where they'll be rubbing up against divergent, competing, contrasting, sometimes conflicting religious claims, we're really equipping our religious leadership to be speechless in the face of some of the most vexing challenges for us today. I think among Protestants, this is exacerbated by two, well, probably three, one is that 911, the aftershocks of that is that our Protestant seminaries are absolutely infatuated right now, obsessed with the reality of Islam and their own ignorance of Islam, and quite frankly, that imperative to learn more about Islam is overshadowing any real acknowledgment that we better get straight on our relationship with the Jewish people and Judaism if we really are serious about overturning our ignorance of Islam. That's one problem. The second problem seems to me to be demographically, the places where Christianity, where Protestantism is really growing is not in the western world, it's not in the northern hemisphere, it's in the southern hemisphere. We haven't woken up to the fact that there are more Presbyterians in Ghana than there are in Scotland. There're more Presbyterians in Korea than there are in the United States. And these populations live without any encounter with Jewish communities. So how do we establish a convincing rationale that those folks in other countries need to engage and encounter and seriously wrangle with the reality that is Judaism? This is I think, an enormously important challenge that we will have to face.

EVA FLEISCHNER: If John is right, and I suspect that he is, I think that it is the only hope we have is that the rest of us will step in where leadership fails to step in.

VICTORIA BARNETT: I have a question for Judith Banki and your work in the Tanenbaum Center, because this is a center for inter-religious dialogue and increasingly that includes Muslims and peoples of other faiths. How are you addressing this issue in your own work, in your own thinking -- of reaching out not just in terms of just the Jewish-Christian relationship? How does your experience in this Jewish-Christian relationship enrich how you see the approach to other religions?

JUDITH BANKI: Well, I think it’s important to reach out to Muslims and when it's possible for me to do so in a conference setting. I find it's a little complicated in that I personally have not experienced the kind of level of intimate trust with imams and the, I have found that the Muslim representatives with whom we can have more honest exchanges tend to be academics or doctors or attorneys or lay professionals in other fields, and they're less defensive, and more open than the imams, and strangely enough, or maybe not strangely enough, I have found the easiest kind of dialogue to, extends into, to extend the lessons of Jewish-Christian dialogue into general inter-religious dialogue is among women's dialogue, I think women are less defensive, more open, less invested perhaps in defending their own tradition, more able to be a little more objective and critical, and you know, there was a great deal of that that went on during the 1980s. The Tanenbaum Center has a number of programs that I am not personally related to, and one of them is called Peacemakers in Action, where they seek out people of whatever religious tradition, who, motivated by their own faith, have put their lives on the line in situations of armed conflict. And these peacemakers are nominated by an international committee and chosen and I would say certainly more than a third of them have been Muslim and have worked together in their own communities with people of other traditions and other faiths and they are, they come together once a year to exchange their own motivations and experiences. But, I would like to speak very very briefly to the issue that John raises. Now I am not a seminarian. I know that during the 1980s, there was an explosion of inter-religious education going on in Jewish seminaries that more accurate, more honest teaching about Christians and Christianity, not only "how to defend yourself against the missionary" but some attempt to really treat Christianity in a serious, academic way. And that, I think is carried on. Whether that results in seminarians who graduate interested in pursuing inter-religious dialogue, I don't know, and I don't know the statistics on it. I think all of our communities have moved a little to the right. I think the Jewish community is more self-involved, concerned with education, concerned with protecting and preserving Israel, concerned with the recent outbreak of you know, antisemitism around the world. And I would be interested in seeing if there’s some kind of statistical studies of how recent Jewish seminary graduates feel about getting involved in … Getting involved in inter-religious action is very strong, you know, social action, helping the, helping the unfortunate, I mean that's across the boards. Soup kitchens, I know, this kind of work. But whether there is an active interest in theological dialogue, I really don't know, I haven't seen too much of it.

EVA FLEISCHNER: May I shift a little bit? I want to thank Chris for what I found an extraordinarily courageous and dark assessment of your own tradition. As a Roman Catholic, I'd like to mention two very positive things that I've come across this past year. One is that the United Methodist Church of Claremont [California] has published in 1993, and inserts in each of its prayer books, what I consider the best statement on anti-Judaism I've seen anywhere. I'm sorry I don't have it with me. I wasn't prepared for this. That's number one. Secondly, I was asked last year to do a paper on the history of Jewish-Christian relations, 2,000 years, and when it came to the Reformation, thanks to a friend who lives in the same community where I do, a Presbyterian scholar, Jane Douglas, put me on to writings of John Calvin and Oberman’s commentary, where I discovered, and I don't understand why this is not more widely known, passages in John Calvin in which he speaks of the Torah as eternally valid, 400 years ahead of his time. I do not know why -- I have said this, I have shared this with my Presbyterian friends, they thought I was exaggerating and I had to show them chapter and verse. It is a fact, however, that in those parts of Europe that were, oh, Calvinistic, primarily Holland and France, Jews fared better. Le Chambon sur Lignon, which we know was a city of [Huguenots], which became a city of refuge for Jews. They were Calvinists. So I just want to mention at least these two profoundly positive things and I still don't understand why those writings of Calvin are not better known among his Presbyterian followers today.

REV. CHRISTOPHER P. LEIGHTON: This is why it is always a treat to be on a panel with someone like Eva. Yeah, I agree with you, by the way. There are remarkable resources in our tradition that can be tapped, and we haven't done an adequate job in doing that. Not only does he have a … his whole assessment of law as a category is enormously constructive and positive. Which stands in contrast, it seems to me, to some Lutheran sensibilities that set up law and Gospel over and against each other. But still, there are other writings of John Calvin which are very easily pointed to, which suggests that there are two sides to Calvin's mouth and unfortunately, he uses both of them with great agility.

VICTORIA BARNETT: I think I would like to open this now to comments and questions from our audience. Please come forward to the microphone here on my left, your right. Identify yourself, and if you could keep your comment concise, then that gives people more time. Yes, sir.

AL MILLICAN: I'm Al Millican, affiliated with Washington Independent Writers. I was curious if there have been, known affected breakthrough occurrences in the nations where Jewish-Christian relations have been some of the most problematic at least going back to World War II and where the most recent Popes have come from, namely Germany, Poland, and Italy.

JOHN T. PAWLIKOWSKI: I, I can address that a bit, as, particularly in my role as president of the International Council of Christians and Jews, based in Martin Buber House in Heppenheim, Germany. There have been developments, certainly in Germany, there have been textbook changes. There have been many, many conferences. There is a rather widespread number of groups, local groups that comprise the German member organization of ICCJ and so on. Certainly the impact of that work has been limited, any more limited than here in the United States? I'm not so sure, but I think there is a willingness on the part of many in Germany not only to confront the fairly immediate past, but also to deal constructively with Christian-Jewish relations. But there is also a lot of indifference. You have to remember that in many of these societies you are dealing with the reality that religion is very much of a minority situation these days. It's, that's a profound difference, I think, between Europe and the United States. That, in most countries, particularly in Western Europe, religion just isn't that important. They don't care about these discussions because many people simply have no longer, no longer see themselves as part of a practicing religious community. In a country like Poland, there has been change; there is a Polish Council of Christians and Jews. There have been attempts to deal with the situation, not only theologically but on a practical level. There are a number of Polish-Jewish friendship societies and active movements that try to encourage young people to come together, to come here to the United States, to have young American Jews go over to Poland. There have been some attempts to address the, the March of the Living question and so on. I think the leadership in Poland, the political leadership up till now has been very, very positive in trying to address the, most of the aspects of the of Polish-Jewish relations. The one area that still remains quite thorny is the compensation issue, and so on. But, there are developments. And again, what will happen, you now have a, a very, very conservative political regime elected in Poland that unfortunately, in my judgment has brought in the far right into its coalition. It has been warned by the European union recently about some of the things that are going on including things like Radio Maria and its, I would say racism and xenophobia and antisemitism. We'll see how, how the new government, which is in coalition with some of these people, responds to that, but I think there's been leadership in some circles in Poland. I would certainly say that a lot more needs to be done but it's a complex situation so, again, like almost everywhere, there are some positive signs, but there is still a lot of work to be done. And, there are some regressive signs as well that we have to deal with.

VICTORIA BARNETT: Next question.

STEVEN SAGE: I'm Steven Sage. I'm a fellow at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, currently working on the Holocaust in Bulgaria. Hence the question. Unless I'm mistaken, the Eastern Orthodox churches have not taken the step toward recognizing the central, covenantal, validity of Judaism that the Roman Catholic Church did with Nostra Aetate. But the Roman Catholic Church continues its interest in a rapprochement with the Eastern Orthodox churches. In the view of the two Catholic spokespersons here, will this “Drang nach Osten” of the Catholic Church in any way conflict with its rapprochement with Judaism.

JOHN T. PAWLIKOWSKI: I would say that's an excellent question as something that I addressed, I think in Rome in September. I believe that what has been said and proclaimed in terms of Catholic-Jewish relationship must be taken to other dialogues, whether inter-Christian dialogues or dialogues with people from other religious traditions. And, I certainly have pressed this, that I think in dialogue say with the Orthodox, where there have been some important individuals who have spoken very positively and done research on Catholic-Jewish, Christian-Jewish relations, but where the Church as an institution generally has not spoken even in the same way as Protestants have, with statements. It's very important and it's a challenge. Actually, I said this once to Cardinal Walter Kasper, that I really felt that his role as working both on Catholic-Jewish relations and on inter-Christian relations, could be very, very significant because I think he would have the ability to carry over what he understands and supports from the area of Catholic-Jewish relations to the other dialogues, particularly the, what is seemingly now a very important dialogue for the Vatican, the dialogue with the Orthodox Christian community. I would hope what would happen, to be candid, I don't see a lot of signs of it.

JUDITH BANKI: At the time of the weakening of some of the language and content of the declaration Nostra Aetate, one of the Catholic commentators issued a statement saying that one of the reasons that it had been weakened was that the Pope was also interested in unification conversations with the with the Eastern Orthodox, and the Eastern Orthodox had made clear that there was no hope of unity if the deicide accusation was completely eviscerated from the … completely repudiated in the in the then current language. On the other hand, let me be realistic about this. About six or seven years ago, my daughter came to me and told me that she had volunteered for a year of service as a volunteer for the Joint Distribution Committee in Bulgaria. Well I can't think of another Jewish mother who wouldn't be hysterical about that but I wasn't, because I knew that there was a second country Europe besides Denmark that saved all its Jews. And at the beginning of World, World War II, there were 43 thousand Jews living in Bulgaria and at the end of World War II there were 43 thousand Jews living in Bulgaria. They couldn't save the Greek Jews but they saved their own Jews, and that was partly because of the strong opposition to deportation from the Bulgarian Orthodox primate, who, I understand led a march in the streets of Sofia on behalf of the Jews. The Romanian Orthodox Church was incredibly antisemitic and the Romanians did not wait for the Germans to invade them to slaughter their own Jews. So, there is a difference in terms of their attitudes toward Jews and Judaism on a practical level between those two Orthodox Churches. And even, and I think John has had some experience with this, with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch: one in St. Petersburg and one in Moscow, right? One being quite antisemitic and the other less so. And I think the main point, though, is a good point, that there hasn’t been this leavening of tradition or an examination of attitudes toward Jews and Judaism on a theological level. But let's honor the practical differences.

VICTORIA BARNETT: Eva did you want to...okay. Chris…

REV. CHRISTOPHER P. LEIGHTON: Gene has heard me, and John has too, on beating this, this horse, but I'm going to do it again. It strikes me that there's oftentimes the occasion that Christian-Jewish dialogue is framed as in practice as Roman Catholic-Jewish dialogue. My own denomination, the consequences of that neglect are all too evident in both the divestment overture that has been circulated and gotten so much attention, as well as the support for the messianic Jewish congregation that came to that congregation outside Philadelphia. I have been stunned to discover how many Presbyterian clergy have never had a serious and sustained conversation with a Jewish counterpart. In large measure Protestants have not been as integral to this conversation. And it seems to me we very much need your help to make sure we're at the table, that we're invited to the table and that invitation needs to come from both our Jewish colleagues and our Roman Catholic colleagues. So the exclusion of Protestants, it seems to me, has very serious consequences.

[AUDIENCE COMMENT]: I wish to express my gratitude to each of you for the fine exercise in historical criticism and hermeneutics and interpretation and to that end may I suggest two observations: in reading Nostra Aetate for about the hundredth time since I taught it once 40 years ago when it first came out, I have been struck by the reference to Abraham in three separate sections. Abraham as replying, relying, as that which .. as he who is accepted by Islam. Abraham, as he who is accepted in the covenant of Abraham and the sons of Abraham. And lastly, of course, Abraham in Paul, where he becomes the ancestor for the Christians, yet I have never seen a hermeneutic about that particular portion or portions. Secondly, an observation that's a little bit juridical. Declarations in the Roman Church are to be contextualized and there are two kinds of declarations: a major one, such as Nostra Aetate, and a minor one such as a decree, which was the name given to the task by John XXIII to Cardinal Bea, write a decree. Now we heard the history of how that move from a decree to declaration. Now, what has that got to do with anything? Constitutions of the Church such as Lumen Gentium [1964] and the ecumenical activities and so forth trump decrees and trump declarations, so that Roman Catholics when they look at and do a hermeneutic expression of Nostra Aetate, always have in the back of their mind the teachings about the Church and its constitutive elements and that primarily is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, that's never going to be extracted out of any kind of Roman Catholic discussion about the hermeneutics or the meaning of Nostra Aetate. Thank you.

VICTORIA BARNETT: I think we have time for one brief question or comment. It's almost five.

JOE FISHER: My name is Joe Fisher. I am an attorney by profession. I come to a lot of events here at the Holocaust Museum. You really do marvelous work here. These symposiums. I was raised Roman Catholic in formative years in the pre-Vatican church. Several years spent as a boy doing Good Friday services and Stations of the Cross. My issue is the Mel Gibson movie that Father related to. When that movie came out, I was fully expecting the Church to come down with it on a ton of bricks. Seemingly, it was discordant voices, seemingly no real direction from the Vatican. Prior to the movie, I read a book by a Columbia professor Jim Shapiro, who wrote a rather, it was a rather upbeat book really, on the Oberammergau play, the last one, and he detailed the good faith dialogue between Christians and Jews, the people in the village that participated in the passion play and then that result, of course, was a completely recast passion play with all of the nasty bits taken out, and this was just right before this movie. In his book, he had a list of guidelines, apparently, as I recall that the Vatican had laid down for how these were to be depicted. I took a glossy of the movie and I took Jim Shapiro's book and I went down it and it violated it in almost every single particular, and I'd just like to get some sense is, because this is where the rubber hits the, hits the road so to speak. You have a wonderful document, but when somebody comes out with something like this, it would seem to me that that's when you take them to the woodshed. Why such silence on the part of the upper Catholic clergy?

JOHN T. PAWLIKOWSKI: I did try to take Mel Gibson to the woodshed but not all that successfully. The reality is that beside the issue itself the controversy got caught up in a, in a growing internal struggle within the Catholic Church. And I think I have said that Gibson's film is as much a threat to the forces promoting Vatican II as it is to Catholic-Jewish relations. Unfortunately, we almost had an escalation of the situation because when Cardinal Pell of Sydney applied for permission to host the next World Youth Day meeting in 2008, one of his proposals was that Mel Gibson should organize the event and that we would have a culmination of World Youth Day with a march through Sydney culminating in the cathedral in Sydney, Catholic cathedral, where there would be a live depiction of the passion. Fortunately Mel Gibson seems to have turned down the offer, but the fact that it was even given remains profoundly disturbing to me. So that's one of the realities, but it it was caught up in and remains caught up, I think in an internal struggle. Mel Gibson represents a real challenge to the basic realities of Vatican II and there are, there are forces even at the Episcopal level in Roman Catholicism who, while they may not support him 100 percent in their challenge, support him sufficiently to want to promote what he was doing. It's unfortunate.

VICTORIA BARNETT: I would like to take the final two questions please. Yes.

ALICE GREENWALD: Thank you, I'm Alice Greenwald. I'm the Associate Museum Director here for Museum programs and thank you very much, it was a wonderful program. I have a question about motivation and timing. It's clear that Nostra Aetate came at a point in time that was conditioned by a set of extraordinary people from Sister Rose to the Rabbis Tanenbaum and Heschel to Pope John XXIII. It was an extraordinary combination of personalities that made this happen. As Father John said, it was also conditioned by the fact that you had had decades of conversation and dialogue that laid a groundwork. I am interested to know from your perspective whether the world's witness to the cataclysm that was the Holocaust made Nostra Aetate possible and if it had not happened, whether Nostra Aetate would have happened. And second question: as we get further and further and further away from that point in history, what the implications are for this continuing dialogue and achievement.

EVA FLEISCHNER: I would, in my in my view the fact that the Shoah, the Holocaust had happened, was absolutely a crucial element in the Church's considering its relationship to Judaism because for the first time in our history, Christians were faced with the results to which the teaching of contempt could lead. You know, the ifs of history are unanswerable, ultimately, but I think it played an enormous, a decisive role. And for me, one of the reasons why we must continue to teach and to try and understand what happened during the Shoah is so that this process can continue, because you are quite right in saying that we are chronologically, we are moving farther and farther away. Our young people have not lived during that time. It’s one reason, I think, why this Museum and, and its programs are so absolutely essential for the future.

JOHN T. PAWLIKOWSKI: Just one comment on your question. I already said that many of the people who are motivated to promote the idea of a statement of Vatican II did so out of their experience, particularly in resistance movements. However, it also has to be said that there was tremendous resistance on the part of many in leadership within the Catholic Church and I would say some of the other churches, but just let me say the Catholic Church right after the war to the proposals by people like Dr. Gertrud Luckner and others in Germany to change the teaching. Dr. Luckner was subjected to an investigation by a Vatican representative about the authenticity of her teaching. That representative was Cardinal Bea. In the investigation, she persuaded him of the wisdom of her viewpoint and he went on of course to be transformed and became a principal advocate for Nostra Aetate and for Catholic-Jewish relations. So again, a testimony to the power of personal encounter. My own organiz…the organization that I serve as president, International Council of Christians and Jews was subjected to an official admonition or warning from the Holy Office, you know, about Catholics not being able to join the organization. We now have an official Catholic liaison, so there are there are changes that do take place.

JUDITH BANKI: I agree with Eva that it was indispensable and I think what happened after the war when Christians of good conscience woke up and saw that one half the Jews of Europe and one third of the Jews of the world had vanished up the chimneys and asked themselves how this could have happened in countries of Christian tradition? And began to look at their own history and I think that was a primary motivation. No question about it. Yes, it is a problem that today it is a thing of memory and there are a few survivors left and that's why it is important to, you know, to document their history. I'm also concerned about the entire industry of denial. You know. People, the increasing claim that it never happened that it wasn't really gas chambers, that they were decontamination chambers, I mean this goes on a great deal and as the survivors vanish, it's quite possible that that these claims can be continued. So I think it is very important to keep the memories vivid and to keep the history honest. And today I'm not sure what motivates young people to get into dialogue and to try to make these changes. I'm not sure that it’s the memory of the Shoah, I think it just may be the desire for good relations, a willingness to overcome a prejudice, to fight discrimination, to fight for social justice. I'm not sure what the motivations are, but whatever they are, we have to do our best to feed them.

REV. CHRISTOPHER P. LEIGHTON: I think the Holocaust clearly generated such intense guilt and that guilt in turn has animated a fair amount of the Jewish-Christian encounter. And far be it for me in any way to diminish or minimize the value of guilt. Goodness, if I were to eliminate such a dynamic in my own religious self-definition, I'm not sure what would be left. But having said that there's no doubt in my mind that, that the guilt and the shadow cast by the Holocaust no longer functions as the catalyst for the engagement that it once did. And that provides, I think a very serious challenge for us, but also an opportunity. Namely, we have to find ways in which the encounter between Christians and Jews results in positive learning and positive discovery about what it means to be a Christian and Jew, and why there is distinct attributes and characteristics and light that emerges from each of those traditions. And in the encounter, the discovery of each tradition's precious qualities are brought to light. It seems to me that that positive aspect needs to be profiled through the kind of biblical studies, the theological studies and the, the human interactive communal engagement that is really so pivotal to redefining the character of the larger community.


JOHN BORELLI: Yes, I'm John Borelli from Georgetown University. Mine's a brief question but it has contemporary implications, I believe, and to ask it I have to criticize the fellow, I'm sorry, who made the two fine observations, one about Abraham and the other about the nature of a declaration. Thomas Stransky, Judy [Banki] identified as a member of the staff of Bea’s secretariat, was not just a member of his secretariat, he probably knew the words of Nostra Aetate better than anyone else. And in an article in America magazine in October this year, he made clear that there was no mandate given for a text from John XXIII to Bea. But that they discussed: could something be done following Jules Isaac’s recommendation. And this is borne out too in the five-volume set of the history of the Vatican II that's gradually coming out. The fifth volume is yet to appear. But what I wanted to say is it seems though, that Bea was naïve in thinking that in some way a theological statement could be made about Judaism at such a high level, at such a public event, as a general council of the, of the Latin church. But what about that naïveté and what about the implications of that for contemporary inter-religious dialogue -- Jewish-Christian as well as Islamic-Jewish-Christian -- and the political entanglements?

JOHN T. PAWLIKOWSKI: I would just say that I think political entanglements are always going to be there and they are going to have to be taken seriously, particularly in terms of institutional declaration. Individual theologians can kind of write what they want, often without such entanglements, but, but the church, any religious institution is going to be concerned about the political dimensions and I think that if you're going to be successful in translating new theological vision into the soul of society, you're going to have to deal quite judiciously with the political realities. I think someone like Monsignor George Higgins did that spectacularly in terms of Nostra Aetate, even though his name in terms of the text itself is not all that well known. Let me just say though yeah Bea, but you know Bea also produced a book right after the Council, which carried on some of the old theological vision, not as badly as some instances of that, so I'm not sure that Bea himself completely understood the full ramifications of the, of the document. I mean, his book had, was criticized, critiqued by some.

JUDITH BANKI: So, I would like to comment, John. The, the declaration in its draft form never made a reference to Israel, didn't refer to the Middle East, had and was continually said by all of its spokespersons to be basically nonpolitical, and they were very, very clear that it made no reference to Israel. And the whole idea was to remove this terrible 2,000-year-old assumption of a curse on the Jews. The fact that it, that it triggered so much political hostility, I think, was not the fault of Cardinal Bea, you know, and maybe it was a certain naïveté, but something has to be said quite directly about the motivations of the people who opposed it politically. Now some as I said did it for theological reasons, but some of them did it because they thought anything that would take the curse off the Jews was bad for the Arabs. I think that was a political miscalculation.

EVA FLEISCHNER: Guilt, to come back to what Chris was saying, guilt is useful but not enough, and I come back here to Heschel, I think we need -- and Heschel played a tremendous role in this -- we need to rediscover the beauty and the richness of Jewish tradition. That ultimately, is the only safeguard.

VICTORIA BARNETT: My favorite essay by Abraham Joshua Heschel is a wonderful little essay that is called “No Religion is an Island.” And, I think that this afternoon's panel has testified eloquently to that, that reform and change and generosity of spirit emerged from encounter and dialogue. It has been a real privilege for me to listen to this conversation and I think the audience will join me in thanking all of you. Thank you.


The year 2005 marked the 40th anniversary of one of the most significant breakthroughs in Jewish-Christian relations, the ratification in 1965 by the Second Vatican Council of Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. In its explicit repudiation of the centuries-old “deicide” charge that held Jews responsible for the death of Jesus, its condemnation of antisemitism, and its acknowledgement of the enduring validity of Judaism, Nostra Aetate opened a new era in interfaith dialogue.

Little is known today about the interfaith efforts during the 1950s that laid the foundation for Nostra Aetate or about the discussions in Rome between Catholic and Jewish leaders that had a profound influence on the final document. This panel analyzed the interfaith history of this document as well as its lasting legacy on interfaith relations and the fight against religious prejudice in the wake of the Holocaust.

Roundtable discussion

December 7, 2005

Moderator—Victoria Barnett, PhD, Director, Committee on Ethics, Religion, and the Holocaust, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM)

The Role of the American Jewish Committee

—Judith Banki, Director of Special Programs, Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, New York City

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in Rome

Rabbi Abraham Heschel greeting Cardinal Augustin Bea.

Rabbi Abraham Heschel greeting Cardinal Augustin Bea, 1965. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of the American Jewish Committee Archives, New York.

—Eva Fleischner, Professor Emeritus of Religion, Montclair State University, New Jersey

Nostra Aetate and Catholic Theology, Church Polity, and Catholic-Jewish Relations

—John T. Pawlikowski, OSM, Professor of Ethics and Director, Catholic-Jewish Studies Program, Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois, and President, International Council of Christians and Jews

The Impact of Nostra Aetate and Vatican II on Protestant-Jewish Relations

—Rev. Christopher P. Leighton, Executive Director, Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies, Baltimore, Maryland

This program has been made possible by the Hoffberger Family Fund.