Rabbi Gilbert S. Rosenthal is executive director of the National Council of Synagogues.
Remarkable progress has been made in Christian-Jewish relations over these past 50 years or so. Indeed, more progress than in the preceding 19 centuries. Doubtlessly, the Holocaust raised the painfully appropriate questions: How in Christian Europe, bastion of culture and enlightenment, tolerance and multiculturalism, could this have happened? What were the factors that led to the tragedy? Were Christian teachings responsible for the Final Solution? Roman Catholicism reevaluated its teachings and theological positions at Vatican II under the impetus of Pope John XXIII, culminating in the issuance of Nostra Aetate in 1965. The principles enumerated there represent a Copernican revolution in Catholic thinking about Jews and Judaism. Many --but not all-- Protestant denominations have been similarly engaged in reassessing their attitudes towards Judaism. However, those were but beginnings: both individuals and groups have carried on the process.
A unique group of Catholic and Protestant scholars, men and women, professors and clergy, currently located at Boston College, has been laboring since 1969 to undo the harm of centuries and flesh out the principles laid down in that historic document, which has proved to be the jumping-off point rather than the culmination of Christian efforts to atone for its role in preparing the soil for the "harvest of hate." Its goals are significant: eliminate the erroneous portrayal of Jews as unfaithful deicides, accursed by God; expunge the teaching of contempt; revise Christian teachings about Jews and Judaism. The result is a remarkable document, A Sacred Obligation. Rethinking Christian Faith in Relation to Judaism and the Jewish People. The document was released on September 1, 2002. It is signed by 22 of the leading theologians and ecumenists in the Catholic and Protestant world. The headings of its ten, brief paragraphs say it all: "God's covenant with the Jewish people endures forever"; "Jesus of Nazareth lived and died as a faithful Jew"; "Ancient rivalries must not define Christian-Jewish relations today"; "Judaism is a living faith, enriched by many centuries of development"; "The Bible both connects and separates Jews and Christians"; "Affirming God's enduring covenant with the Jewish people has consequences for Christian understanding of salvation"; "Christians should not target Jews for conversion"; "Christian worship that teaches contempt for Judaism dishonors God"; "We affirm the importance of the land of Israel for the life of the Jewish people"; "Christians should work with Jews for the healing of the world."
Midstream magazine has invited a panel of four eminent Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish thinkers who work in the field of interreligious relations to react to the document, which appears first in the following pages, and two signatories to the document, who have been asked to respond to the critiques. It is our hope that we will stimulate our readers to a deeper consideration of the implications of this and other such documents for the future of Jewish-Christian relations. ·