On Thursday, Pope Francis met with a delegation of Jewish leaders at the Vatican to discuss the history and future of Jewish-Catholic relations, receiving their response to the Catholic Nostra Aetate, in which the rabbis called for a “new era in Catholic-Jewish relations” while declaring the Christians to be “our partners, close allies, friends, and brothers”. The rabbis also called on the Vatican to unite in the battle against religious persecution and radical Islam.
The Jewish delegation presented the pope with a 9-page response to the Nostra Aetate, entitled “Between Jerusalem and Rome: Reflections on 50 Years of Nostra Aetate”. The document acknowledged the “irreconcilable differences” while paving the way for improved relations.
We acknowledge that this fraternity cannot sweep away our doctrinal differences.It does, rather, reinforce genuine mutual positive dispositions towards fundamental values that we share, including but not limited to reverence for the Hebrew Bible.
Doctrinal differences do not and may not stand in the way of our peaceful collaboration for the betterment of our shared world and the lives of the children of Noah. To further this end, it is crucial that our faith communities continue to encounter and grow acquainted with one another, and earn each other’s trust.
Despite the irreconcilable theological differences, we Jews view Catholics as our partners, close allies, friends and brothers in our mutual quest for a better world blessed with peace, social justice and security.
The rabbinic statement also called for a united front against religious persecution and radical Islamic terror.
We call upon the Church to join us in deepening our combat against our generation’s new barbarism, namely the radical offshoots of Islam, which endanger our global society and do not spare the very numerous moderate Muslims. They threaten world peace in general and the Christian and Jewish communities in particular. We call on all people of good will to join forces to fight this evil.
The Nostra Aetate represented a step forward in Jewish-Christian reconciliation after a millennium of difficult relations. Released in 1965, the document declared that Catholicism distanced itself from replacement theology and withdrew blame from Jews for the death of Jesus, creating a space for Jewish-Catholic relations where there had been only enmity.
“Religious Jews and religious Christians today are blessed to live in a new era of fraternal relationship,” Rabbi Korn wrote in an official statement. “Jews and Christians today can approach each other, respecting each other’s religious commitments, without betraying their religious traditions.
“In a world filled with secularism, moral relativism and religious extremism, Jews and Christians today have more in common than what separates them. Neither community can realize God’s prophetic mission for His children by itself. Only together can we fulfill what God asks of us.”
The CJCUC posted the statement on their website in support.
“Any positive statement from Orthodox rabbinical bodies mainstreaming Jewish-Christian relations is much appreciated and encouraged,” David Nekrutman, CJCUC executive director, told Breaking Israel News. “Not everyone has to agree on the theological dialogue that we hold so sacred. This is an example of a great leap of courage by these rabbis that shows how Jewish Christian relations are so different than they were just half a century ago. We are living in miraculous times.”
The response, signed by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the Conference of European Rabbis and the Rabbinical Council of America, was welcomed by other Jewish groups as a large step towards improving Jewish-Catholic relations.
In 2015, the CJCUC acknowledged the 50th anniversary of the Nostra Aetate with a statement signed by over 70 Orthodox rabbis stating “that the emergence of Christianity in human history is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations. In separating Judaism and Christianity, God willed a separation between partners with significant theological differences, not a separation between enemies.”
They cited Rabbi Jacob Emden, who wrote, “Christians are congregations that work for the sake of heaven who are destined to endure, whose intent is for the sake of heaven and whose reward will not denied.”
The document concluded, “In imitating God, Jews and Christians must offer models of service, unconditional love and holiness. We are all created in God’s holy image, and Jews and Christians will remain dedicated to the Covenant by playing an active role together in redeeming the world.”