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Holocaust, Israel Relatively Ignored in Catholic, Protestant Schools

The two most decisive events of contemporary Jewish history–the Nazi holocaust and the re-birth of Israel–are relatively ignored in the courses of study offered by Catholic and Protestant colleges and theological seminaries in America. That is the “possible conclusion” derived from a nation-wide survey just completed on the specific changes in educational programming that has taken place in these institutions since the Vatican II Conciliar statement on the Jews five years ago. The survey was conducted jointly by the American Jewish Committee and the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University. A preliminary review of the results was offered by Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum, director of the AJ Committee’s interreligious affairs department at a three-day interfaith convocation at Seton Hall which ended today. The survey found that Judaism is taught essentially as a “religion” and probably most specifically as background for or a prelude to Christian theological studies. Very few of the schools that responded to the questionnaire maintains a department of Jewish studies, though nearly half of them provide separate courses in Jewish studies and nearly 70 percent say that they invite local rabbis to join the class when specifically Jewish subjects are being discussed. Rabbi Tanenbaum said the level of response to the questionnaires was an indication of the level of interest in Jewish studies on the part of the institutions queried.

Responses were received from 65 percent of the Catholic colleges and universities and 30 percent of the seminaries. Out of 500 Catholic high schools, 35.4 percent responded. The response from Protestant institutions was 52 percent for colleges and 30 percent for seminaries. Rabbi Tanenbaum reported that a very small percentage of the institutions of higher learning deal with the meaning of the Nazi holocaust. The figure ranges from zero percent of the Protestant seminaries to 2.2 percent of the colleges and 1.3 percent of Catholic colleges to 6.8 percent of Catholic seminaries. But 23.2 percent of the Catholic high schools reported that they treated the Nazi period in religion courses and 13.6 percent said they did so in Church history courses. The survey showed that 10.3 percent of the Catholic seminaries and 5.4 percent of the colleges offered courses on the history of Israel. The figure for Protestant schools was 1.5 percent and 6.8 percent respectively. But 19.6 percent of Catholic high schools offered such courses. Courses dealing with the theological significance of the State of Israel were given in 1.3 percent of the Catholic colleges, 10.3 percent of the seminaries and 25.5 percent of the high schools. No Protestant seminaries and 5.1 percent of the Protestant colleges had such courses.

Rabbi Tanenbaum said that the tendency to treat Judaism as a background to Christianity “does not mean that Judaism must necessarily be presented in a negative light. But it does seem appropriate to question whether certain aspects of Judaism which are critical to Jews as they understand themselves receive full exploration, such as Jewish historical continuity, the strong sense of Jewish peoplehood and Jewish religious development in the post-Biblical period.” The convocation was addressed by the Rev. Cornelius Rijk, director of the Vatican Office of Catholic-Jewish relations who predicted an unprecedented relationship between Judaism and the Catholic Church resulting from recent changes in Catholic attitudes. “Judaism exists as a strong, living, religious reality. The shocking experiences of the last 30 years have opened many eyes. The reality of the Jewish people has been impressed on the non-Jewish world–a reality which can no longer be denied,” he said. The convocation was greeted by AJ Committee president Philip E. Hoffman who said that whatever reservations existed in Jewish circles about the final wording of the Conciliar statement on the Jews, “subsequent developments indicate that Catholic authorities in this country take the Declaration seriously. Better an imperfect declaration positively and sensitively implemented than a perfect document Ignored.”

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