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Jews Urged to Recognize Dramatic Changes in the Catholic Church and Take “Yes” for an Answer

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
January-February 2003

In recent years, the Roman Catholic Church “has not only neutralized its traditional teaching of contempt toward Judaism and the Jewish people, but effectively reversed it, no longer seeing the Jews as cursed but blessed,” writes Yossi Klein Halevi, Israel correspondent of the New Republic and author of At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land. (The Jerusalem Post, Jan. 10, 2003)  

Halevi notes that, “When the pope made his pilgrimage to the Western Wall in March 2000, the media focused on the apology for anti-Semitism contained in the note he placed between the stones. But the real story was the wording of that message: the pope referred to the Jews as ‘the people of the covenant,’ repudiating 2,000 years of supersessionism, Christianity’s insistence that the blessings of the covenant were no longer valid for the ‘old Israel’ and had been usurped by the Church. Now, though, the Church was reversing one of its seminal doctrines and insisting that two parallel covenants could coexist, one for Christians, one for Jews. The shift is hardly confined to obscure doctrine. Its message is regularly preached in Catholic churches and taught in Catholic schools and seminaries ... One concrete result is the repudiation of Catholic missionizing toward Jews.”  

Pointing also to similar changes in mainline Protestant denominations, Halevi states that, “... these revolutionary changes form the most extraordinary religious story of our time: the process of healing humanity’s deepest religious wound. No religion has ever challenged its own negative theology toward another faith as profoundly as have Catholicism and parts of Protestantism.”  

In response, Halevi laments that, “The story of the Church’s astonishing transformation leaves many Jews unmoved ... So rather than celebrate one of the great Jewish victories in the post-Holocaust era, many Jews continue to cling to an archaic perception of the Church as enemy, weighing its every pronouncement for hints of recidivism. We delight in each new expose of the Church’s unsavory past.”  

When Jewish-Catholic dialogue began nearly 50 years ago, Jewish groups confronted the Vatican with two non-negotiable demands. The first was that the teaching of contempt be repudiated. The second was recognition of the State of Israel. Halevi writes that, “The Vatican has fulfilled both demands, and in the case of theological contempt, has gone well beyond mere repudiation. ... Now we’ve entered the second generation of dialogue. And when one side continually offers overtures and the other side responds with sullenness or worse, the temptation is to withdraw. A one-way process of reconciliation cannot sustain itself indefinitely.”  

Halevi argues that it is time for Jews to accept “Yes” as an answer. “Most profoundly,” he declares, “Christians need to hear from Jews that we respect their spiritual authenticity and relationship to the House of Israel, and don’t despise them as ‘goyim’ or worse, as potential Nazis. ... Few would have believed a half century ago that the victim would be capable of reversing supersessionism, a doctrine that seemed integral to the identity of the Church. For a world struggling against despair, the Christian-Jewish dialogue proves that religion is still capable of contributing to the evolution of humanity.”

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