Fifty years ago, at the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church reversed its attitude toward the Jewish people, rejecting the charge of deicide and acknowledging that the Jewish covenant with God remained valid.
Two weeks ago, a group of Orthodox rabbis returned the favor.
In its statement, “To Do the Will of Our Father in Heaven: Toward a Partnership between Jews and Christians,” the rabbis who signed the statement “seek to do the will of our Father in Heaven by accepting the hand offered to us by our Christian brothers and sisters.”
“It is a groundbreaking statement,” Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn said. “It’s the only statement I know of by an international Orthodox body that talks about the practical and theological relationship with the Roman Catholic church after Nostra Aetate.”
Rabbi Korn, who lives in Teaneck and Jerusalem, was one of the drafters of the statement, which was published by the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, an interfaith center in Israel founded by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. Rabbi Korn is the center’s academic director.
“The real importance of this Orthodox statement is that it calls for fraternal partnership between Jewish and Christian religious leaders, while also acknowledging the positive theological status of the Christian faith,” Rabbi Riskin said in the press release announcing the statement. “Jews and Christians must be in the forefront of teaching basic moral values to the world.”
This was made possible by the Catholic Church’s new respect for Judaism.
“Now that the Catholic Church has acknowledged the eternal Covenant between G-d and Israel, we Jews can acknowledge the ongoing constructive validity of Christianity as our partner in world redemption, without any fear that this will be exploited for missionary purposes,” the statement said.
“Jewish thinkers have previously crafted statements like ‘Dabru Emet’ in 2000 on Jewish-Christian relations and theology, but few Orthodox rabbis could go along with those theological and practical claims in light of their understanding of Jewish tradition,” Rabbi Korn said.
“This proclamation’s breakthrough is that influential Orthodox rabbis across all centers of Jewish life have finally acknowledged that Christianity and Judaism are no longer engaged in a theological duel to the death, and that Christianity and Judaism have much in common, spiritually and practically. Given our toxic history, this is unprecedented in Orthodoxy.”
In what Rabbi Korn called “a consistent extension of the halachic and rabbinic tradition,” the statement cited past rabbinic thinkers, from Maimonides to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch through Rabbi Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, a recent chief rabbi of Haifa, who affirmed that Christianity is part of God’s plan for humanity.
“We acknowledge that Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations,” the statement reads. “In separating Judaism and Christianity, G-d willed a separation between partners with significant theological differences, not a separation between enemies.”
It continues: “We Jews and Christians have more in common than what divides us: the ethical monotheism of Abraham; the relationship with the One Creator of Heaven and Earth, Who loves and cares for all of us; Jewish Sacred Scriptures; a belief in a binding tradition; and the values of life, family, compassionate righteousness, justice, inalienable freedom, universal love and ultimate world peace.
Besides Rabbis Korn and Riskin, the statement’s drafters included Rabbi Irving Greenberg and Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee. It has now garnered 50 signatures. So far, the names seem to align with the liberal Orthodox International Rabbinical Fellowship, rather than the Rabbinical Council of America.
“We are not saying that we agree with all of Catholic theology,” Rabbi Korn said. “In fact, the statement says we do not want to minimize the very serious differences that we have.”
Rabbi Korn’s statement came on the eve of the Vatican’s release of “The Gifts and Calling of God are irrevocable,” a 10,000 word “reflection on theological questions pertaining to Catholic-Jewish relations on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate.”
Rabbi Korn said that while much of the document is a history of the last fifty years of the Jewish-Catholic relationship, “and in that sense there’s nothing that’s really new, it’s an important statement because not many Jews or Catholics are familiar with all of this.”
The document drew headlines for its explicit statement that, in Rabbi Korn’s words, “there is no mission to convert the Jews to the Catholic church.”
That statement drew condemnation from Jews for Jesus, which accused the Catholic church of selling out the Gospel.
“It’s important for the Jewish community to understand that the Catholic church has changed its position regarding missionary work with regard to the Jewish people,” Rabbi Korn said.
The renunciation of missionizing was “implicit” in Nostra Aetate, and “has emerged to be more and more explicit over the past 50 years,” Rabbi Korn added. “Nostra Aetate said the covenant between God and the Jewish people started in the Bible is still valid. The logical implication is there’s no need to convert us out of fidelity from the covenant.”
While the rabbinic statement is explicitly addressed to the Catholic church, Rabbi Korn noted that “the overwhelming majority of Christians in the world are Catholics. Of 2.2 billion Christians, 1.3 billion are Catholics. When they make a formal statement, it reverberates throughout Christianity.”
The full text of the statement is at cjcuc.com.